Saturday, August 11

Bang, zoom, straight to the moon!

In Michael Ignatieff’s recent mea culpa , not only does he acknowledge that he was wrong about the Iraq invasion but he reveals a humility that has endeared so many Canadian voters — not. Peppering his earlier paragraphs with quotes from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, he faults his error in judgment on the academic’s propensity to view the world through ideas and knowledge rather than simple understanding of reality. This convoluted explanation of the difference between the intellectual and politician serves as some kind of proof that he has rappelled the walls of his ivory tower to embrace the simplicity of thought of the common man. And who better to represent that common man than Ralph Kramden!

“As a former denizen of Harvard, I’ve had to learn that a sense of reality doesn’t always flourish in elite institutions. It is the street virtue par excellence. Bus drivers can display a shrewder grasp of what’s what than Nobel Prize winners. The only way any of us can improve our grasp of reality is to confront the world every day and learn, mostly from our mistakes, what works and what doesn’t. Yet even lengthy experience can fail us in life and in politics. Experience can imprison decision-makers in worn-out solutions while blinding them to the untried remedy that does the trick.”

The “bus driver” has a shrewder grasp of reality because he bumbles along in life and picks up a few “what’s what” by learning from mistakes. You have to wade through some 15 or 16 paragraphs that grapple with the obstacles faced by politicians and the challenges of dealing with Iraq before Ignatieff actually and clearly acknowledges that he was wrong because others were less wrong. Those who were against the Iraq invasion were too common and simple to know they were right!?! How else can we interpret this:

“We might test judgment by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out. But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.”

Ignatieff’s so-called apology is pompous and self-serving. In the paragraph that follows, he basically calls those who demonstrated good judgment callous cynics who didn’t suppose the human rights ideals that fueled his own belief that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. His vision and good intentions, like those of Bush and such honourable Iraqi exiles as Ahmed Chalabi, were his failings? Ignatieff and his fellow neo-conservative pundits do owe an apology for defending and boosting the Bush administration’s ridiculous and illegal plans to liberate Iraq by bringing ruin and insecurity to a nation that had not posed any threat to the US or its allies.

Ignatieff might learn a thing or two about the common man by renting The Honeymooners on DVD. Robert Svedi had this to say about the appeal of this television classic:

“Another reason for The Honeymooners long shelf life is that the problems that the Kramden's and the Norton's faced some fifty years ago, are the same problems that still plague people today. Money shortages, being stuck in a dead-end job, housing and relationship issues and the desire to better one's condition are all things that are dealt with on a daily basis for most of the population every day. The Honeymooners allow us to laugh at ourselves while teaching us that the most valuable commodities are really love and friendship.”

Jackie Gleason’s bus driver has more insight into the human condition than this wannabe Prime Minister.

Saturday, August 4

As Time Goes By

It’s nearly two years later from when I last posted. Things have gone from bad to worse. On a professional front, I arrived to a fork in the road and chose a direction that led to a dead end. Not that I have any regrets since it afforded me the opportunity to learn a great deal about the World Bank and the whole realm of international development and finance. I got to write papers on the systemic failures in protecting the rights of poor and indigenous peoples when it comes to infrastructure and economic development projects, and I was invited to attend international conferences where I basically enumerated World Bank failures in advancing social impact mitigation mechanisms. In the end, it was a fun ride but the position I took didn’t earn me any paid work. Frankly, the so-called Millennium Development Goals make for great policy sound bites but have little impact in alleviating poverty and racism.

On a personal front, we are struggling with the loss of an incredible woman, my mother-in-law Sue Potvin. She woke up before I did and noticed that our governments were failing the little people. She worked with a number of independent thinkers such as Mel Hurtig, Lorne Nystrom and David Orchard and went on to launch her own alternative publication, Discourse and Disclosure. Her approach to politics was more issue oriented than my own, but more importantly, she was action oriented. We didn’t see eye to eye on every issue but we certainly shared a strong commitment to social justice and environmental sustainability. Sue became a key contributor to an informal news group that evolved from a bunch of friends sharing articles of interest when it felt like the mainstream media was marching to the same talking points in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I had the chance to spend quality one-on-one time with Sue in the past many months as she struggled to accomplish her final goals after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in February. I discovered how loved and respected she was by her immediate community – one that she gave so richly to through her volunteer work and generous friendship. I also learned the meaning of grace. She accepted her fate without fear, anger or depression. She paved the way for our acceptance of her loss, so that her husband Don could state so eloquently at her funeral that for many months he cried tears of sorrow but that with her passing he could cry tears of joy.

It has been a time of reflection and appreciation of what keeps us grounded in life – the love and laughter that come from being connected to family, friends and community. World events still anger and depress me. And I hope to write soon about the political, social and economic challenges that influence our future. But for the moment, I raise my glass to the memory of Judith Sue Potvin.