‘When everyone’s talking and no one is listening how can we decide?’

Image result for poppy lest we forget

This is the week that we wear poppies and take time to remember the sacrifices made by all those who have fought to institute and maintain freedoms that we value pretty highly. November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada.

Our neighbours to the south call it by another name, and the messaging is also somewhat different. But we set aside the time to remember. Lest we forget.

That need for remembrance was brought home to me in a very real way on Tuesday – and again the following morning, when I realized that I hadn’t been imagining what was happening before I called it a night and shut off the tv at midnight. I didn’t sleep well – I’m not sure if it was my thoughts about what was happening or actual nightmares that were keeping me awake. Those two things became inextricable in the harsh light of day, and that awareness isn’t getting any easier to handle.

Back in March I wrote this: https://colemining.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/no/. Even though it was not my circus, so the behaviour of its clowns shouldn’t have concerned me all that much, after too many months of nativistic, misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric I HAD to say something.

See, we went through a similar thing – on a much smaller scale – in my hometown too recently for comfort.

8 months ago I said:

Supporters of the ideology that drives the inflammatory rhetoric of people like Trump (and most of the other GOP contenders, for that matter) are the both the products and symptoms of a system that discourages progressive development and critical thinking.

THIS is what happens when you cut funding to education programs (especially those in the Humanities), while advertising a faulty ‘dream’ predicated on the drive to acquire meaningless stuff, while squandering individual benefits, without thought to the larger community.

THIS is what happens when history is treated as little more than a footnote in a perspective that is, increasingly, deemed ‘academic’ and, therefore, unimportant.

Imagine my surprise when my warnings about that particular path went unheeded and the world ended up with the distressing reality that the demagogue in question will be the 45th President of the United States of America.

What little history that most of us are taught is quickly forgotten once the test is passed, or the class dropped. Its relevance is under-emphasized to an almost-pathological degree. The idea that ‘what’s done is done’ is insidious in its ubiquity.

That attitude pains the entirety of my being. I’m an historian. The irrational and irresponsible ignorance of history is a fundamental concern that I have tried to address many times over the years here in my little WordPress world.

That fundamental concern – driven by the colossal failure of education and critical thinking skills-training – when combined with the ‘get over it’ rhetoric that I’m hearing all over the place this week has turned into something of an existential crisis for me.

Again, I get that I’m not a US citizen. Despite what some might think, I had no real horse in this race. There was one horse’s ass about whom I spoke quite vociferously and at length, when given an opening to do so, sure. That said, I did not want to see HRC ascend to the Presidency because she is a woman. Someone I work with suggested that that is the case as he was baiting me yesterday. I did leap to defend her record of public service when that was called into question by those who get the totality of their political insights from places like Fox ‘News’, but that defence was, and remains, sourced in an examination of her public history – drawn from evidence from multiple and varied sources.

Would it have been historically of note had she become the first female POTUS? Of course. And it would have demonstrated a necessary evolution in a milieu that has already been shaken up with the impressive eight-year tenure of an outstanding statesman and leader, who happens to be a person of colour.

Fortunately, we live in times that have seen women achieve positions of power and responsibility the world over (check out Ms. Merkel’s wonderful first message to the new President-elect, if you need a recent example). That the US is ridiculously behind the curve in this, isn’t of foremost concern to me. Not when you look at all the other things that were at stake in this particular election cycle.

Although I did, I admit, come close to throwing something when my colleague offered that dismissive suggestion, the unfortunate reality is that I’m used to that sort of nonsense. I’ve learned to roll with the punches as they are dealt from a place of that sort of latent-yet-apparent sexism. I spent a pretty big chunk of my adult life as a female academic in a male-dominated discipline. Been there, bought that t-shirt.

I don’t like it, I rail against it, but it’s just one of my life’s intersections, and I can hold my own in that particular sphere. I can work toward pay equity. I can emphasize the importance of participation in a modern-day feminism that acknowledges and welcomes all sorts of intersectionality. I can shout into the wilderness where those who are privileged enough to be okay with the status quo choose to live.

I haven’t been doing enough of those things lately. I was complacent in my certainty that the population of the United States was reasonable and rational enough to see the GOP nominee for what he is.

I was wrong. I watched with horror and disbelief as the results rolled in.

Pretty much all I’ve done over the past couple of days is read stuff. The accusations and apologetics and ‘suck it ups’ are pretty indicative of how we got here.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and lots of people willing to stand up and shout J’accuse! Whether or not they’d bothered to stand up and shout at any time before Tuesday night.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders are screaming about the ‘DNC machine’ – you know, the one that promised HRC the candidacy post-Obama – as they justify their protest votes for ridiculous and unviable third-party candidates. Or the fact that they didn’t vote at all.

While we’re desperately searching for scapegoats and denying our own varied roles in this outcome, it has to be said that the media is going to have to seriously check itself in the aftermath of having wrecked itself. Trump is, in large part, a creature of their willingness to abandon journalistic integrity in favour of ratings and advertising dollars. But that blame needs to be shared with a general population that is more interested in infotainment than in critical news reporting and legitimate, even-handed political analysis (I’m not talking about the proliferate paid pundits. Real political analysts).

Then there are the voters who insist that they aren’t racists/bigots/misogynists/xenophobes/unconscionably ignorant. They were just trying to take down the establishment that wasn’t working for them. Because jobs. Or ‘disenfranchisement’. Cry me a river of relativity, white folks. (Interestingly, they didn’t seem as concerned about changing the make-up of the House – that institution that consistency stalled progress during the last Administration. Not sure what that’s about…). As much as such people may assert that they don’t subscribe to the hatred that has been role-modeled as of Tuesday, they have clearly communicated the reality that their concerns about their achievement of their interpretation of the American Dream are more important than the basic human rights of their neighbours and fellow-citizens. Material concerns have trumped (how weird is it to use that word, now? We’re going to have a to create a new term that isn’t caught up in the negative baggage of its new associations) those of decency, equality, fairness… the list goes on and on.

In addition to all the assignments of culpability for the outcome, we are being told how we should feel. A lot of people are invalidating feelings of fear and alienation with insipid and insulting cliches like ‘the people have spoken’.

Know what? Don’t tell me how to feel. My opinions about this whole debacle are coming from a place of knowledge and understanding of history and its disasters. They are not hysterical and womanish (words we should probably get used to hearing again in this new reality) rantings that over-exaggerate the danger we, as collective humanity, have exacerbated with this insanity.

And, most definitely, don’t go telling those who feel directly threatened with imminent violence and further displacement in society that they are wrong to feel significantly concerned about the future – or the present, for that matter. In this situation, fear is the most reasonable and rational reaction to the hatred espoused and disseminated by the President-elect.

Think the danger isn’t real? Have a look at any news feed out there right now. The anecdotal indicators are coming in fast and strong, sure to be supported by statistical analyses once the pollsters regroup and opt to make that sort of reporting their new raison d’être.

Apologists might try to tell you that they don’t think he really means those things he says and does. And you know what? Maybe he doesn’t. Sure, the hatred and pandering to the lowest of the low of the commonest of denominators may just be all about expedient rhetoric, designed to shake up a system that, to be sure, needs overhauling (I will never understand the unnecessary complexities and inequities of the US system of election. Super Pacs? Popular vote vs. Electoral College??? W.T.F?). I don’t, personally, buy any of that, but then I’m one of the leftist elite, so that’s hardly surprising.

But his sincerity or lack thereof is not the totality of the problem. This election has validated hatred in a manner that is historical in its infamy. Anachronistic idea(l)s, hidden by a thin semblance of civility have been exposed in all their hideous shame. A putative war on ‘political correctness’ has permitted free reign for those who ‘tell it like it is’ – as they advocate for blatant, sanctioned returns to that fictional period in history when ‘America was great’.

What do we do with all those people who either bought into his pandering propaganda whole cloth (those who maintain that ‘he says the things I’m thinking’), or those who continue to deny that he is likely to really do all those things he said he was going to do? Or that he has actually done all the things he is accused of having done?

I don’t know. I truly don’t. I have a few people in my life (although the number is decreasing. I don’t have the time/energy/heart to debate irrationality these days) who refuse to read or attempt to understand opposing views. Intellectual laziness encourages things like cognitive dissonance and an extremity of complacency that permits soundbites and unsubstantiated statistics to drive opinions and decision-making processes.

This US election has demonstrated the disturbing prevalence of confirmation bias – and its sub-species: the halo- and horns-effect. Haters of HRC were supported in this opinion by everyone from the alt-right media to the FBI. They were likewise presented with myriad opportunities to see Trump as the saviour they require – the halo-effect permitting them to disregard any less-than-savoury aspects of the hero’s character.

As I said earlier, this is symptomatic of that which is driving my personal crisis in all of this noise. In addition to my fear for my fellow humans (that fear extends to a whole lot of people, but I’ll call out PoC, the LGBTQ+ community, and women), I despair at the failure of education that has made this debacle possible. Lack of understanding of the importance of context and the inability to think critically – when presented with more than one source/perspective of information – creates a culture in which the perfect storm of cognitive biases are permitted to flourish.

In the scientific world (a world that the President-elect doesn’t seem to acknowledge. ‘No such thing as climate change’, my ass), bias represents a systemic error.

We have just seen the end result of a systemic error that has been developing for far too long. We have to change the paradigm of this dialogue. After months of debates (and can we even call those things ‘debates’? None of them looked like any of the debates – with their rules of conduct and fair play – that I attended or in which I participated in High School) we need to approach this new reality with a different type of dialectic.

We know what is wrong. Partisan divisiveness is not going to mend any fences (and, since I live too close for comfort to the US, I reallyreally hold to be true what some American poet had to say about fences and neighbours). We seem to be coming at our communication problems from frames of reference that are incompatible in every conceivable way.

Those of us who still believe that education and openness and critical examination of situations and circumstances, alongside a knowledge of the history that has brought us – for better or for worse (right now it’s leaning heavily to the ‘worse’ side of things) – to this place in time, need to lead the change. And we need to do it loudly.

A lot more people are more afraid than ever (certainly more afraid than they were on Monday) to raise voices of dissent against ignorance and newly-validated systems of racism and sexism. Trump is okay with that. He has no problem with the thought of ruling by fear. Bullies love the rush that accompanies intimidation and misuse of power imbalance.

I’m not about to lose my access to health care, or the ability to control my own body and its reproductive functions. I’m very fortunate in that. My country may struggle with some pendulum-shifts from time-to-time, but I’m pretty confident (although never again will I be complacent – keeping my eye on that Kellie Leitch idiot, the one who thinks we need some more Trump-like stuff hereabouts. She will NOT be leader of the Conservative Party, let alone anything more. Not on my watch), that our current trajectory is one of progressive development and momentum.

The disaster across the border does threaten my way – and view – of life in significant ways, even if the repercussions might be less-direct than those that will begin to feel the effects down south as soon as the President-elect becomes POTUS. My Twitter feed indicates that the repercussions are ramping up in real time already.

The perceived right to assault – physically, emotionally, verbally, or otherwise – other humans has been validated through the choices that an all-too-significant portion of the electorate made (don’t even get me started on the fact that so freakin’ many white women voted for him. I can’t start to address that salient point now- this post is unwieldy as it is).

Children – all over the world – are afraid. They have been told that they, or their friends, or their family, are ‘other’ – and that they will be dealt with in ways that run counter to the ideas that most people had about what the United States, historically, claims to stand for.

Entire communities of people have been told that they are less than – because of the colour of their skin, the place they left in search of a promised better life, their gender, their sexual identity or orientation, or the fairy tale deity in which they choose to believe (in a country that, supposedly, trumpets the separation of Church and State).

A significant part of the failure of education that has led us, as humans sharing a planet, to this place is the mis-remembrance of history. The whole ‘again’ word, as part of Trump’s sloganeering, permits the continuation of an illegitimate portrait of world events as they really happened. And the false narrative that he has presented throughout the election period diminishes the progress that we have made.

At times of crisis, it may seem as though we haven’t done so well with the whole progress-thing. As an historian – one who studies history going back significantly farther than the institution of a New World that includes both my home and native land and that of our southern neighbours – I know that we have come a long way. And I also know that there have been periods in which we have backslid. When it seemed as though civilization’s crash would be irrecoverable (they didn’t call them the ‘Dark Ages’ for nothing).

We humans are pretty adaptable – recent events and decisions notwithstanding. And we also tend to be hopeful. We are, none of us, perfect. Our friends in the UK demonstrated a comparable struggle with some of the same issues as they made their own colossally bad decision. And us Canadians are not immune, either. We have a likely-proportional number of citizens who stand behind the ugliness that won the day in the US this week (the posters, encouraging support of the alt-right, that went up in my neighbourhood the other day are a distressing example).

We can do better. Those of us who know, who remember the lessons of history, need to ensure that the messages of the sacrifices and hard-won enlightenment aren’t lost to intellectual indolence. I hope, among other things, that we’re about to see the return, in force, of protest songs (how timely that Mr. Zimmerman is the newly-minted Nobel Laureate in Literature).

As we take time to reflect on those we have lost, in the name of freedom and equality and shared values, those remembrances can help bring us together in our common experience of mourning and deep appreciation for those who did the work and paid heavy costs for the betterment of future generations. We need to recall the lessons of generations past – and hold our leaders to the promise of positive progression that our collective history demonstrates.

Disregarding, dismissing and downplaying the realities of history have led us into another dark place. On today, of all days, set aside some time to remember – or learn, if you’ve never taken the time to do so before – just what this day is all about. That is where we will find the light – and the strength to move into a period of recovery or rebuilding or even revolution – if that was is required to continue our progressive, human evolution.

Daylight again
Following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago
How my fathers bled

I think I see a valley
Covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older
Been asking after you

Hear the past a’ calling
From Armageddon’s side
When everyone’s talking and no one is listening
How can we decide?

Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down

(Stephen Stills)

Some of us haven’t forgotten the past and its messages, its glories, and its misfortunes.

I remember. Je me souviens. 

To all those who have served the good and won those freedoms we value, thank you.

Cottage on the Bay

What’s up with the weather gods in TO?

Seriously.

Tuesday and Wednesday we were dealing with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees (that’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re still using that quaint means of measuring) when the humidity was factored in.

Today?  Chilly north wind.  Tomorrow?  CHILLIER north wind.

And I’m going to be on a rock in the middle of the Bay.  About 2 degrees Celsius overnight.  TWO DEGREES.

I’m not ready for summer to end, so, despite the less-than-ideal temperature, I will do the true Canadian thing and head north this afternoon for an annual pilgrimage with some of my best peeps.

We try to do this every year.  A couple of nights away, sans spouses/significant others, to just hang out and catch up a little.

We have known each other for decades (as I both date myself and make myself feel old) and have been hanging out through thick and thin- camp, school, higher education, marriages, divorces, kids, houses, jobs, great gains and huge losses and, generally, life.  As friends, roommates, brothers, sisters, confidant(e)s…

We’re family.

We are privileged to have access to a family cottage/compound on Georgian Bay that SCREAMS Canada.

A September Gale by Arthur Lismer
We will likely experience a gale or two over the next couple of days

Georgian Bay is filled with landscapes that are quintessentially Canadian.  It was a popular subject of the Group of Seven, and such images are, internationally and here at home, as Canadian as toques and two-fours, poutine and politesse.  There will be certainly be two-fours this weekend, and toques might be advisable- given the forecast.  Poutine isn’t as likely, but the politesse is ingrained and therefore a given.

Of a sort, anyway.  Good manners and polite discourse are relative when you’re on an island and there is beer and barbeque involved.

And then there’s the Bay Cup.  That annual Risk Tournament that I mentioned here.  As I said, I will not participate due to a past traumatic Risk-related occurrence- except to occasionally pop my head in to goad or slander or critique the strategy of one of the combatants.  Unfortunately the defender of the Championship Title (and current Keeper of the Cup) is not able to join us this year, so it remains to be seen whether or not the battle can legitimately be waged.  It will be up to the Rules Committee.

Whatever.

I have my cottage book lined up (sadly, not Ray Davies’ new one- but only because it isn’t yet available).  Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982 is solid CanCon and highly appropriate for a real Canadian cottage weekend.  Plus I passed him on the street the other day as he was on his way into the CBC studio.  Reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read the book.

There will be food and games and talking and general shenanigans.

And there will be music.

The cottage weekend has to be finely mediated in the musical department.  No one person gets to control the selection for more than 5 songs at a time (this is veryvery necessary.  No one needs to hear 48 straight hours of Phish.  No one).  This keeps the peace- which is certainly required after the full contact Risk Tourney.

Early on there is all kinds of variety as we all offer up some of the newer stuff we’ve been listening to recently.  A lot of attempting to persuade those of, shall we say, established tastes to just listen to this song- give it a chance.  We start off with choices that are generally chill and part of the background to whatever else is going on.

As the stars come out (and there is NOTHING like a clear night under the stars at the Bay) music is the focus, and the selections become more nostalgic- and predictable.  The comfort in the predictability is palpable.  Years fall away as the selections are chosen.

The fire will be stoked (‘Stoke the fire again’, a quote from Commander Worf, will be heard ad nauseum) and the singalong will begin.

These are some of the songs of the Bay.

Donovan.  I have only ever met a handful of people who have actually heard this song.  Everyone knows Mellow Yellow and Hurdy Gurdy Man, but you can really tell a lot about a person by what they think about Atlantis.  If you don’t like it, I’m really not sure we can be friends anymore.

Harsh, but there it is.

(I’ve actually used this song in classes in which we were discussing myths of Atlantis.  The reactions of undergraduate students to hearing it for the first time is always illuminating- and pretty accurate in gauging how ultimately invested in the course they would be.  It’s a pretty solid litmus test.)

Futurama used a version of the song- sung by Donovan himself- about the sinking of Atlanta.  Hilarious episode.  I’m going to miss that show. Again.

History, life and love under the waves.

Ultimate cottage song.

Kenny.

This song is mainly included as a source of remembered silliness.  Short version of connected back story: it involved someone wearing a woven basket-like plant holder as a hat.  There might have been alcohol involved.

It IS filled with good advice though.  SO important to ‘know when to walk away and know when to run.’  Great inspiration when one is feeling like one is ‘out of aces’.

Simple Minds’ 1982 tune is connected with this year’s reading material and recalls summers past while reminding us of the wonderful things yet to come.  Like their show at Massey Hall in October.  Looking back and forward all in one song.

I’ve already referenced this song this month, so I won’t talk about it again.  But it will be heard.  More than once.

The Last Resort, also previously discussed and best played as the sun is setting, is especially resonant when appreciated in the beauty and quiet and peace of the Lake.  Its cautionary message- ‘You call someplace paradise kiss it goodbye’– makes my heart hurt thinking that THAT particular paradise could ever be lost.

This one generally ends the night(s).

Appropriate since it’s the song that never ends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can appreciate Phish and all, but this song is sooooo very long.

(I will totally understand if you don’t actually watch that one all the way through.)

And, if we let them, there are those among us who will try to play back-to-back various live versions of the song as their 5 selections.  Not on my watch.

It will be a weekend of relaxation and shoring up of resources- something I very much need right now- with people I love and respect- and who never cease to make me laugh and think about things differently than is my day-to-day wont.

A weekend to remind myself just how fortunate we are.  How fortunate I am.  To live in Canada and to have the friends and family I have.

Hope your weekend is as restful and restorative as mine is sure to be.

‘Sailing a reach’

“When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This has been a weird week.

And it’s only Thursday so who knows what else might get thrown in my general direction before the weekend.

There’s been lots of introspection and trying to work things out/find next directions- much of which has been done through this little forum of mine here at colemining (thank you for your patience if you’re still following along).

I’m trying.  Really.  To keep it together.  To tie a knot.

Trying.

It’s a lovely, sunny, breezy day here in this burg by the Great Lake, so between all the ropes and knots and winds, this most recent bout of wishing I was anywhere but here has me out on an imaginary sailboat, enjoying the day, instead of once again way too locked up in my brain.

I love sailing.  It’s been too long since I’ve been out on a boat, feeling the tension between controlling the tiller and the sails yet knowing that no matter how closely you watch and try to read your surroundings, the wind and the water are still in charge.  It’s about being in control- to a point, and going with the breeze- or choosing to drop the sail- when control slips through your hands like a recalcitrant jib sheet.

I’ve ended up in the drink far too many times to forget that seeming to be in control and being in control in actuality are two very different things.  Sailing is full of such lessons.

A whipping knot is a whipcord binding that is tied around the end of a rope to prevent its natural tendency to fray.  The sailmaker’s whipping is one of the most durable whipping knots, threading the twine diagonally through the rope and wrapping and reef knotting the end to secure the whole shebang.

Looks pretty well-wrapped, doesn’t it?

Since I’m feeling somewhat less than well-wrapped at the moment, and given the propensity of the ends of ropes to fray, in order to keep on holding on, per FDR’s advice, I’m feeling in definite need of a secure whipping (minds out of the gutter, people.  Keep with the context) just now.

There’s this song.

(‘of course there is a song’, you’re saying to yourself if you’ve come to know me at all).

It’s about running away and facing reality, and holding on and letting go.  And the comfort to be found in sailing and the ultimate consolation of music.  All at the same time.

It’s beautiful (like all CSN(Y) creations).

From Crosby, Stills and Nash’s 1982 album, Daylight Again, ‘Southern Cross’ describes an existential struggle and the wisdom that can be found under the constellation ‘Crux’, the Southern Cross, in the seas near French Polynesia.

In addition to being the Latin word for ‘cross’, a crux can be both the central, critical point and a puzzling or seemingly insoluble matter.

The Maori name for the Southern Cross is Te Punga– the anchor.  Stephen Stills sings that his ‘love is an anchor‘- both a good thing- for its stability, and not so great in light of his inability to let go of the past and move forward.

Fitting locale to try to figure things out, no?

Stephen based the song on one by Rick and Michael Curtis that needed some tweaking and focus.  He combined their original template with the long sailing trip he took after a major change in his life and transformed it into a story about using the power of the stars, water and winds to heal wounds and grant perspective.

The Curtis Brothers’ original song was called ‘Seven League Boots’, a nod to a motif used in European folkloric traditions, including the stories of Charles Perrault, whose use of pre-existing folk tales formed the foundation of fairy tales as a literary genre, and included such stories as Cinderella (Cendrillon) and Bluebeard (La Barbe bleu).

Seven league boots allow the wearer to stride said seven leagues with each step taken, and generally were given to the heroes of the stories by a magical intermediary seeking to help ensure the completion of an important task.

Jack the Giant Killer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles (in Faust), for example, use the boots to accelerate the action to the climax of their particular goals.

To sail ‘a reach’ is to sail approximately perpendicular to the wind and ‘a following sea’ describes wave direction that matches the direction the boat is traveling.  It is used interchangeably with the points of sail below a beam reach and suggests good winds and smooth sailing.

I find myself at a true crux right now- in both senses of the word.  No supernatural intercessor has shown up to hand me a pair of seven league boots, and I am, sadly, without access to a sailboat at the moment or the ability to visit Papaeete any time soon.

But, as Stephen notes, there is always something that I can rely on when the thinking and the analyzing and the planning next tacks have become too much, and coherence and optimism have left the building.

‘I have my ship, and all her flags are a’ flying, she is all that I have left, and music is her name.’

I will spend my evening in her company (perhaps with a Corona in hand in memory of good times with my sailing peeps) and be grateful for her continuing presence as my sailmaker’s whipping, until I’m ready to once again go looking for an ideal reach and calmly following sea.

‘In the Southern Cross’.