Wednesday, May 30, 2018

My Log 628 May 30 2018-05-30: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 65; Turn-up for the books: Justin becomes our very own oil magnate, at our expense!

This is what in sporting circles we would call a turn-up for the books. The Trudeau Liberal party government has made official something that a year or two ago none of us could have expected: it no longer deplores the Alberta Tar Sands as a source of energy, and the damage they are doing to the globe, but it actively supports them to the extent that it is investing billions and untold billions of Canadian taxpayer’s money in ensuring that their production should be doubled and more.
They have done so with a cavalier disregard for other well-founded negative opinions. Did not Mr. Trudeau himself say in a recent speech in the United States that no government could afford to leave 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground?  And he could have added: “And to be damned with the rest of the world and its survival! All we care about is getting rich!”
Mind you, I am not sure of this, but I don’t think he has ever had the courage to say that to a Canadian audience, for fear of being torn limb from limb. You know us: we are everybody’s friend, we are the sensible nation every other nation is trying to emulate.
Our leaders  never mention the shame-making mess that the tar sands have created in northern Alberta, they act as if it doesn’t exist, so in announcing their decision to expand the mess I suppose it is inevitable that they should try to hide under such ludicrous euphemistic phrases as “we have to get our resources to market, like any other country”, or “we have to defend federal jurisdiction”, or “we don't want to give the impression to the rest of the world that we aren’t a good place to invest in,” or, the most outrageous of all of them, “to expand the tar sands is the cornerstone of our policy to prevent climate change through human action,” all of these made, without, so far as I know, any of these shameless hypocrites blushing.
I used to be critical of Elizabeth May for playing on both sides at the same time --- working for he Mulroney government and the Sierra Club at the same time --- but she has come up big in his controversy, and I have to take my hat off to her. Her account of the economic realities of this pipeline seems never to have reached the minds of our established media, and would be enough to turn any reasonable person against the project. In addition, according to another article I read by a dissenting economic guy, the bitumen does not meet a ready market in Asia, as the government claims, but is mostly destined for refineries on the American West Coast.  To achieve which noble result, apparently billions of Canadian money is to be poured out. Isn’t there something wrong with this? I know Trudeau seems not to understand India, but I thought he had the measure of the Americans. And yet the Kinder Morgan (a successor to Enron, according to Ms.May) people have played him so skilfully that they seem likely to come out of it all with a substantial profit of more than a billion dollars without lifting a spade.
And as Bill McKibben, the U.S. environmental activist writes
“history will remember Justin Trudeau, not as a dreamy progressive, but as one more pathetic employee of the richest, most reckless industry in the planet’s history.”
Way to go, Justin!

Link of the Day 2, May 390 2018: Justin Trudeau, the world’s newest oil executive

Whereas Barack Obama, confronted with the same dilemma, decided not to carry on the destruction of the world, and cancelled a major oil pipeline, Justin Trudeau has made the opposite decision, and “We know now how history will remember Justin Trudeau,” writes environmentalist Bill McKibben in The Guardian, “ not as a dreamy progressive, but as one more pathetic employee of the richest, most reckless industry in the planet’s history. “ Read the entire article here.

Link of the Day: May 30 2018: Kinder-Morgan Fiasco: The Cat Is Out of the Bag at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board

It has always seemed anomalous to me that the vast funds held for investment by various pension funds tend to be invested not in the interest of workers, but according to the rules of the financial markets: that is, they are obliged to seek the highest-paying investments, regardless of their social purpose. The fact that the government is apparently depending on these funds to bail them out of their ridiculous self-created dilemma over the Kinder-Morgan pipeline is he basis of a thoughtful article by activist Bob Farkas in a recent Bullet published by the Socialist Project. He posits all sorts of socially progressive ways this money could be put to use to the benefit of ordinary Canadians, and especially of workers, while maintaining the security of the funds in relation to their pension benefit progammes, and the article may be read here.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

My Log 627 May 25 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 64 As archaeologist Bruce Trigger showed us, the priests have always been with us; and as a recent programme about a priesthood cult in Ghana proves, they are still doing their dirty work

It was my great good fortune about 30 years ago to make the acquaintance of the late remarkable Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Bruce Trigger. The occasion followed my reading of his great book, The Children of Aataentsic, a 900-page epic dealing with the history of the Hurons up until the year 1660. This book had been published in 1976 in 1,500 copies, had been reviewed by only one non-academic paper, and had thereafter nestled on the shelves of public libraries, little read, but acknowledged  by those who had read it as surely one of the greatest books ever written by a Canadian.
I wrote an article in Saturday Night magazine saying just that, and on the basis of that article the publisher reprinted the work and put it back into the circulation it so richly deserved. Trigger was so grateful for that small service that thereafter he often mentioned me in the references to whatever pamphlet or book he was publishing, a totally unnecessary but very thoughtful gesture, that was  typical of his generosity of spirit. I have a special category in my mind of people I call Big Brains, and he was certainly one of them, a really amazing scholar.  His central argument in relation to the indigenous people was that they had complex systems of social and cultural behaviour and governance, and there were no grounds for the great myth of the European settlers that their society was superior. I believe this is now a position of great influence among today’s anthropologists. (An extension of his argument held that the Eurocentric preconceptions of many anthropologists and academics had fatally contributed to the unfavorable non-native opinions held  about indigenous people, and in his professional life he did his utmost to correct that imbalance, by supporting indigenous groups who protested, even going so far, unless my memory is betraying me, as to suggest on one occasion that the indigenous should control all anthropology conducted about them).
 In addition, when he died in 2006 Trigger was widely regarded as the world’s leading expert in the history of archaeology, a fact attested to in a book of essays by archaeologists published not long before his death.
He told me once that he hoped to write a book that would explain  from the archaeological record where the authoritarian impulse in human society originated. A few years later I asked him if he had written this book. He said he had tried but had never been able to discover what he was looking for. He had, however, written a book called Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study , in which he compared the similarities and differences between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Shang civilization of China, the  Aztecs and Mayans of Middle America, the Inkas of the Andes and the Yoruba of Africa. I read this book, most of which was away out of my depth, but I did take one message from it: that even before there was a human civilization, the priests were already in charge, a self-appointed cult whose function was to mediate between the natural world and the super-natural --- the latter arising, I suppose, from such elements as thunder, lightning, storms, earthquakes, and so on, all of which were made to represent the anger of the Gods. The Gods must be propitiated at all cost. At times I think this has never changed: the priests are still in charge of large numbers of human beings, who accept what seem to me to be their outlandish prescriptions without question.
*                                             *                                           *
What set me off on this whole line of thought was a fascinating half-hour programme I saw two days ago on Al Jazeera about a practice that has existed for more than 300 years in Ghana, called trokosi, that demonstrated the continuing power held in some parts of the world by these medieval priesthoods This is the practice of a family buying back any misfortune it might have suffered by giving away a child, whose banishment from the community is payment for the crimes of the family. The programme was built around a young woman called Brigitte Soussou Perenyi, originally from Togo, who, at the age of seven, was delivered by her parents to her uncle, who said he could offer her a better education, but instead dropped her off in neighbouring Ghana at what was referred to as The Shrine, run by a priesthood that can only be described as a cult.
Two professors from the University of Ghana said the practice was for the priests to sleep with these virgin girls, who lived a life of slavery, working, cleaning, carrying stuff far beyond their strength, not allowed to play, given no education, and held for years in total isolation. When the trokosi is slept with, a woman has to sacrifice a girl, or her family will get sick.
Fortune smiled on Brigitte: a visiting American TV crew visited the shrine when she was seven, and the reporter was so impressed by this lovely, shy little girl, held there in solation from her family, and facing all sorts of terrors,  that he returned and negotiated to buy her from the priesthood. He adopted her and took her to America, where she was raised and educated. Nowadays she lives in Accra, the city she feels most at home in.
In 1987 an investigation of the practice indicated that there were 5,000 trokosi girls in Ghana. In 1998 the practice was  banned, but it still continues to the present day, and no prosecutions have ever been brought. The programme recorded a visit made by Brigitte to the village where she was born, a place so remote along dirt roads as to be difficult to find. It showed a remarkable moment where she was greeted by her mother, a woman so overcome with emotion that she clung to her daughter for some time, without looking at her, and then scurried away into the house, so ashamed was she of what she had done.  There was an interview with an unrepentant father, who said nothing good could come from this conversation with his daughter, if she wanted to blame someone, she should blame him, but that was all he wanted to say on the subject. Later, at her insistence, he relaxed, and they embraced.  He claimed neither parent had known what was to happen to their daughter when the uncle took her away for what they thought would be a better life.
Brigitte, incarcerated in the Shrine at the age of seven, and then transferred to America, lost her native language and could not even speak French, the second language of her parents. The rupture from them seemed complete, except for her intense emotion, and that of her mother, on being re-connected.
She looked up a friend from the same village, Christiana, a young girl who wanted to become a doctor, but who was sent to the Shrine after the death of her father, when the education stopped. After five years as a virtual sexual slave of the priests,  she was freed from the Shrine following a 1997 news report. The two young women clung to each other as Brigitte tried to get her friend to talk about something she evidently wanted to --- but never could --- forget. The programme --- it can be seen in the Al Jazeera World series  on that network’s web site, and is called My Stolen Childhood --- ended with Brigitte saying that all the interviewing, the emotion, had upset her, and she had a splitting headache.
Just another triumph of religion, like the tens of thousands of sexual abuse cases now proceeding against the Catholic clergy world-wide.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

My Log 626 May 23 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade:63; A mind-blowing blast against the primacy in universities of the Business School: bulldoze them all, says a man who has taught in them for 20 years

Every day as I walk along Sherbrooke street towards my regular coffee house, I pass the imposing entrance to what is announced to be the Desautel Faculty of Management. And of the confident-looking stream of young people who enter as I am passing, I always think, “There they go, the self-appointed future masters of the universe.” It goes without saying (at least in my mind), that most of them are from well-heeled families who can afford to send them there, even the many who appear to be some of the thousands who come from foreign countries. And that, by studying business or business management, they are self-selected on a route to becoming among the controllers of our society.
I mention this because I have just read something that is extremely rare: a mind-blowing article on a subject of maximum concern to everybody. It is by a man called Martin Parker, and it is published in The Guardian Weekly, of London, to which I subscribe, under the heading Bulldoze the business school! with the sub-heading : “The world being produced by management graduates is not pleasant. It’s a utopia for the wealthy and powerful.”
I don't know a lot about business schools, but I nevertheless have a visceral distrust of them, because they have always been high among the targets, in those days when occasionally I was invited to speak at universities, when I would introduce my talk by saying, “I am so glad to be back at one of these great institutions that produce the people who are making such a mess of the world.” It usually went over quite well.
Parker’s article says that there are now no fewer than 13,000 business schools scattered across the globe, whose MBA graduates have had, and are having, a malevolent effect on human society. I looked up Montreal to find at least five, including the John Molson school of Business at Concordia University, and the HEC (Hautes Etudes Commerciales) with several thousand students between them. In Canada in total there are no fewer than 83 business colleges, with most big cities having at least five.
This man Martin  Parker confesses to have taught in business schools for twenty years, and after running over some of the consequent societal problems that have arisen, he says, “I have come to believe that the best solution to these problems is to shut down business schools altogether.”  He says that although this is not a typical view among his teaching colleagues, it is surprising how much of the criticism levelled against them has come from within the institutions themselves. He admits that the business college ethos has absorbed this kind of criticism effortlessly, because  the teachers are “too busy oiling the wheels to be worried about where the engine is going.” (He might well say the same of any other of the endless specializations being thrust upon us by science. The difference being that business schools are involved in teaching how  the business elite thinks our societies should be managed.)
His primary charge is that the business college teaches only one form of organising, which he calls “market managerialism,” something that, within the business college, has become an ideology.  “If we want those in power to become more reasonable,” he writes,” then we must stop teaching students that….the purpose of learning about taxation is to evade taxation, or that creating new desires is the purpose of marketing.” He says that in the university in general, not only in the business schools, there has risen since 1970 a hidden agenda.  Researchers have shown how social class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and so on has been taught implicitly in the classroom. (This has long been an argument I have made, especially in relation to schools of journalism: that such schools, for the most part funded by large media organizations,  are in effect brainwashing institutions, designed to turn out people who basically think the same about the underlying realities of our societies, and are thus designed to keep control in the hands of the wealthy.)  But in the business school, Parker says, both “the explicit and hidden curriculums, sing the same song. The things taught, and the way they are taught generally mean that the virtues of capitalist market managerialism are told and sold as if there were no other ways of seeing the world.
“The message that management research and teaching often provides is that capitalism is inevitable, and that the financial and legal techniques for running capitalism are a form of science. This combination of ideology and technocracy is what has made the business school such an effective, and dangerous institution.”
He runs through various subjects as they are taught, for example, human resource management, which treats humans as if they were a resource to be used by management to achieve a desired result. And he adds that it is here, in this so-called human resource management, that we find the area of study most likely to deal with the problem of organized resistance. “And, in case it needs saying,” he tosses off,  “human resource management is not on the side of the trade union.” As if we need to be told that. It is not an accident that the working class --- an expression the elite sedulously avoids using, instead always calling it, as our governing Liberal party does, “the middle class” ---  has been detached over recent decades from its only real weapon of defence, the trades union, with its right to strike. (Incidentally, no one thing is more clearly indicative of the cowardly ineptitude of the so-called social democratic parties, such as our NDP, than their willingness to prate on endlessly about their concern for “the middle class” when what they mean, if only they had the courage to say so, is their traditional base of support, “the working class.)
Coming at last to ethics and social responsibility, Parker says they are there, but are used only as window-dressing for the selling of the business school and its works.  Within the business school, capitalism is assumed to be the end of history, an economic mode that has trumped all others, and is taught as science, not ideology.”
I feel I have known all this instinctively from my lifelong distaste for businessmen and their methods, but I have never before come across it so brilliantly exposed by someone who knows the subject from within, a man who has written books with titles such as Against Management, Fuck Management, and, the one from which this article appears to have been drawn, Shut Down the Business School: what’s wrong with Management Education (Pluto Press).