Wednesday Night #1607

The evening was enhanced by seasonal treats supplied by Catherine (the famous mince pies), Katherine Waters (Scottish shortbread) and Gerald (chocolate truffles) as well as two delightful and interesting guests introduced by Dave and Katherine Waters: John and Susan Hoecker-Drysdale, both professors of sociology who were recruited independently of one another before the Concordia merger, Susan for the Loyola Department of Sociology  and John by Sir George Williams; subsequently both have taught at American University in Washington, D.C., where John is Scholar in Residence in the Department of Sociology.

As the end of 2012 approaches, the fiscal cliff acquires more the appearance of a mediocre theatrical performance than a national threat.  There is no doubt that neither of the two U.S. national political parties will take action leading to the fall from grace of the country it represents.  It seems clear that the maximum debt level will be raised and/or income tax rates will be raised slightly and/or a value added tax will be introduced.  The solution will give both national parties the satisfaction of claiming to have saved the country from a fate worse than death.

Greece remains a cause for concern.  The economic difficulty through which Greece has been passing has proven to have been a boon for the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn.  Foreign workers have proven targets for its propaganda and its popularity is eerily reminiscent of that of the nascent Nazi Party in Germany.  In absolute terms, the degree of indebtedness of the Greek government was not that great when compared to that of other Euro members but the evolution of the repayment plan strikes a discordant note to those who can recall the beginnings and rise of the Nazi Party in pre-World War II Germany.

The culture of violence
Despite the popularity of  U.S. President Obama, there is considerable evidence of lingering violence and racism in America. President Obama never attained over forty-five percent of the White vote and there are numerous expressions of hateful anti-Black sentiment that color the actions of more than a few politicians, not to mention voters. The debate over gun control is inextricably linked to these factors and introduces  a much broader and more complex issue of culture.
While the culture of violence is not universal, it is sufficiently prevalent to be the cause of worry. Moreover, there are regions and pockets of regions where gun use by young people is actually encouraged rather than discouraged or eliminated; and where, for a young man (and sometimes woman), gun culture is seductive, weapons represent a form of masculinity, transition to adulthood, or empowerment.  It was noted that the area of Connecticut where the Sandy Hook shooting occurred is one where the gun culture (in terms of norms and values) is strong.
Rage is building up in the United States, exacerbated by the adherents of strict interpretation of the constitutional right to bear arms (Second Amendment).  It is to be hoped that public reaction to the tragedy in Connecticut represents the recognition that a less permissive interpretation of the Second Amendment (which was conceived for a far different era from the 21st century) is possible and should be introduced.   Whether or not this is done, the recent shooting sprees could be interpreted as a building up of rage in young people, tragically too often expressed in multiple homicides.  Obvious questions arise such as the role, if any, of violence in films and video games, why the killers appear to be always male, or why schools are so frequently the targets.  Despite the shock of the Connecticut school shooting, it is claimed that violence has, in fact, diminished in the United States over the last two decades.
Certainly, although mental health care has advanced considerably since the introduction of phenothiazine in the 1940`s the resulting rise in the number of mental patients previously hospitalized has decreased.  The subsequent decrease in government funding may have resulted in an increased number of people who have slipped through the system, are out on the streets and have become part of the problem. How is the rise of bullying – by parents or peers – of school children related to the increase in mental illness? Is there an increase in mental illness among the population, or an increased awareness generated by media reports of the horrific events such as Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Columbine?
What is Violence? What is often overlooked in discussion of gun control and the culture of violence is the cultural malaise that has arisen from the cultural shift of the last 50-60 years.  Children are deprived of  traditional carefree and safe environments that allow them to come to an understanding of the world after passing through periods of fantasizing. This has come about partly because of technology but  more importantly, the context of technology, and is  connected  to so many issues that we tend to isolate, e.g.  poverty, homelessness, the breakdown of community and family, children with guns, children bullying other children …  a veritable cultural volcano.
What can be done?  Education has to be part of the solution, however the introduction of the home-schooling movement in the U.S., which is associated with other changes, has led to a deterioration of the authority of the school  and  teachers, resulting in serious constraints on the entire school system. Until we take that into account, we cannot expect schools and universities to do what we traditionally believed that they would do.

P R O L O G U E

WN has successfully survived the 12-12-12 phenomenon and indeed enjoyed spirited conversation about the fiscal cliff, politics at home and abroad and assorted other topics.
While the 19th could be the last WN ever, if the apocalypsians (sounds like a Caribbean steel band) are to be believed; we prefer the view of Professor Lorenzo DiTommaso of Concordia and will join in asking What will You be Doing on December 21st?
Many are leaving for holidays in warmer climes, or are preparing to welcome family members from away, but for all who are in the neighbourhood, the doors are open for Wednesday Night #1607 on the 19th and #1608 on the 26th of December (provided we do not succumb to the Mayan prophecy*) – the last two Wednesday Nights of 2012. And, in accordance with a fine tradition, #1607 will be Catherine Gillbert’s mince pie night. For those who are away, or otherwise engaged in one or more of the numerous seasonal social activities on offer, we extend our warm and affectionate greetings and wishes for the happiest of whatever it is you choose to celebrate.
We are so very happy to learn that our OWN Alexandra Tcheremenska Greenhill has been awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal. Joyce Murray made the announcement earlier this month, after creating an independent committee to select the 30 recipients from her Vancouver Quadra riding. Congratulations to Alexandra who shares this unique honor with Wednesday Nighters Ilona Dougherty, Margaret Duthie, Alan Hustak, Margaret Lefebvre, Brian Mitchell and Beryl Wajsman. We are very proud that each of you has been recognized for your important contributions to the community.
We would normally propose a light-hearted seasonal theme for this last Wednesday Night before Christmas, a retrospective of the year, or a thoughtful essay on what the holiday season means to each of us, however the over-riding topic must be the tragic Sandy Hook School shooting and the public policy issues that are once again the subject of overwhelming media coverage.
We have attempted a triage of the more thoughtful commentary on our page Firearms, gun control and politics (see also Wednesday-Night.com page on gun control); in addition, the Guardian has extensive coverage of all developments, including the various reactions on Sunday’s talk shows. What most (except the Ann Coulters of the world) agree on is that while the Second Amendment is untouchable, more regulation of firearms is needed. But in this case, it appears that the guns used were registered in conformity with the laws of Connecticut, apparently one of the stricter State regimes. Why Nancy Lanza thought it necessary to have 5 guns in a house that she shared with her mentally disturbed son remains a burning question. Shouldn’t authorities be asking why someone needs the gun(s) he or she is registering?
Of everything we have read or heard, however, the most important comment comes from Liza Long in her heart-wrenching  I am Adam Lanza’s Mother which the National Post’s Jonathan Kay picks up on in his own piece There are other Adam Lanzas out there. Just ask “Anarchist Soccer Mom,” Liza Long, pointing out that “She ends by noting that in many jurisdictions (including Canada, it might be said) cutbacks on mental-health treatment mean that people such as Michael don’t get sent to proper facilities. Instead, they are warehoused (eventually) in prison, or with well-meaning relatives who do not have the skills to deal with them.”
We would likely all agree that anyone who commits this type of massacre is not sane. Therefore it behooves us to act on Ms Long’s message and insist that the state identify and provide treatment/care for those individuals -and their families- who, through no fault of their own, are prone to violence.
And what about the role of the media in reporting on this and similar tragedies? Is the blanket coverage an incitement to copy-cat incidents? We have read that Anderson Cooper has resolutely refused to utter Adam Lanza’s name – is this an approach that should be recommended? How to eliminate the egregious errors made in the early hours/days of reporting and the pervasive invasion of the privacy of the grieving families? (Please see this critique of the media’s behavior during tragic events – many worthwhile comments also. Thank you, Liam)
Although there have been horrific events in other countries, including Australia, Norway and Scotland, in every other country, gun laws have been tightened … [and] in every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. The U.S. has established a gruesome record of mass shootings – as President Obama stated in his address at Newtown on Sunday, “this is the fourth time [during my presidency] we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America …”
Finally, it is appropriate to remind all of Dr. [Rodrigue] Tremblay’s article of January 11, 2011, The Gun Idolatry in Current American Culture:
Dr. Tremblay is of the opinion that the killing of children or of other human beings with guns is a crime against humanity, and that any individual who politically opposes restrictions on the ownership and use of automatic assault weapons with a high capacity magazine is a participant in such a crime. He or she shares a moral responsibility in that massacre.
We count on the wisdom of Wednesday Nighters to provide some thoughtful public policy proposals to address the problem.

A few other notes
* Maya apocalypse and Star Wars collide in Guatemalan temple
(Reuters) – At the center of the rebel base where Luke Skywalker took off to destroy the Death Star and save his people from the clutches of Darth Vader, Guatemala is preparing for another momentous event: the end of an age for the Maya. … This week, at sunrise on Friday, December 21, an era closes in the Maya Long Count calendar, an event that has been likened by different groups to the end of days, the start of a new, more spiritual age or a good reason to hang out at old Maya temples across Mexico and Central America.
The withdrawal of Susan Rice from consideration as the next U.S. Secretary of State appears to resolve a number of problems. Despite her undoubted qualifications, we had our reservations as did many others; however, she did not deserve the witch hunt led by John McCain. She will likely remain as ambassador to the UN, or be named National Security Advisor. Best guesses have Senator John Kerry the candidate to try to fill Hillary Clinton’s shoes.
We confess that we had not followed the elections in Japan which saw the Liberal Democratic Party return to power with Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister. According to reports, Mr. Abe has promised to embark on a bold program of economic reform, saying that he will press the Bank of Japan to take steps to increase inflation and end the decades of stagnant growth that have become a hallmark of the Japanese economy. Abe has said that he plans to force the BoJ to raise its inflationary target and push it to engage in “unlimited” quantitative easing, in addition to passing a stimulus bill. More worrisome for other Asian nations, Foreign Policy reports that “Abe’s election has also raised the prospect of increased tensions between China and Japan”, which have spent much of the past the year sparring over disputed island claims.
The situation in Syria continues to worsen. Patrick Coburn sums it up in his grim analysis: Syria — The descent into Holy War; The world decided to back the rebels last week, but this is no fight between goodies and baddies … there is compelling evidence that the movement has slid towards sectarian Islamic fundamentalism intent on waging holy war.
As expected, the constitutional referendum in Egypt has not gone smoothly. Although supporters claim a majority vote in favour, protestors charge illegalities in polling and are calling for renewed nation-wide protest.
For the skeptics at Wednesday Night, Bloomberg reports that “a leaked draft of the UN’s most comprehensive study ever on climate change shows increasing evidence that links human activity to global warming.”
Rodrigue Tremblay has published a new essay: The Five Pillars of the Growing Inequality in the U.S.
“On November 6, 2012, American voters chose not to entrust their central government to ultra-conservative billionaires and their candidates and they rejected their anti-government, low taxation and no regulation ideology.
One reason may be that there is a perfect storm brewing in the United States in the direction of an ever greater income and wealth inequality. However, a majority of Americans are beginning to understand that the ultra-conservative ideology and the government policies it generates play a large role in the fact that a minority of very rich people are getting richer while a majority of poor and middle income people are getting poorer.”
Céline Cooper writes in the Gazette: Lisée charts wrong course for Montreal
Jean-François Lisée, the Parti Québécois’s minister responsible for Montreal, is to be commended for the talk titled Pourquoi je suis Montréalo-optimiste — a manifesto on his vision for the future of Montreal — that he gave last week to the Jeune Chambre de Commerce de Montréal.
I would like to open up a conversation with Minister Lisée about the dissonance between his vision for Montreal as a world-class city of creativity and innovation in a Quebec that is “open to the world,” and the social engineering being proposed to achieve those aims.

John Curtin advises that he has finished editing his most recent oeuvre Serving the Royals – it will be aired on CBC next month. You can see the trailer and mark your calendar for January 17th – can’t wait to hear what his plans are for a documentary on THE BABY (or BABIES).

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm