Archive for May 2013

The Vox populi on EQAO

May 31, 2013

 

images

Always read the Letters to  the Editor where often shards of light appear, cris de coeur from smart people who are feel unheard and patronized. This of course is the major malady in the Catholic church today—but that’s another story.

Today’s letter from the Heslers of Penatang, Ontario shines a light on the corporate assault on education. Read on.

Won’t let kids take EQAO

FRI May 31 2013

We are in the unfortunate position this year of having two children due to sit the EQAO tests. Due to the flawed way in which this test is put together, administered and the data used, we are unwilling to put our children through the ordeal.

The principal of our school has told us that they will be forced to write the test, unless we keep them home for two weeks surrounding the testing period. Really? Forced? Against our will?

I wonder if the public in this province knows that this testing costs our education system millions of dollars (last figure I heard was $52 million)? And most of that money goes out of Canada, as the tests are printed in the U.S. I thought we didn’t have enough money to pay our teachers properly?

Does the public realize the amount of cheating that goes on prior to the test (called “preparation”) and during the test (e.g. in the form of reading the test to them — a reading test is read to those students who can’t read)? I think this invalidates the data somewhat. In schools, months before the testing, special education support is withdrawn from kids who need it and reassigned to help push kids through EQAO.

Why aren’t we standing up to this? What benefit does it have for our children? This testing needs to stop. The system is using our children as political pawns in a game for which the only benefit is bragging rights?

Jacqui and Steve Hesler, Penetanguishene

All those who have been to West Bank or Gaza raise your hands

May 28, 2013

The Mayor’s executive  committee allowed Toronto  citizens to speak on whether the city should allow Queers against Apartheid to march in the Pride parade. The usual suspects from the Jewish community spoke against the report which basically allowed this small group to carry their banners with the words Israel apartheid on them.

images

What was predictable was that all the jewish groups had never visited the West Bank or Gaza to taste Palestinian life and then they  resorted to the tired canard of “antisemitism.” or “hate”. The only “facts on the ground”  is the diminished reality of Palestinian life. The Israel firsters were not interested and are not interested  in discovering these bitter herbs.

Address to the Anti-discrimination Committee  City Hall May 28, 2013

Citizen Schmidt at your service this morning.

I bring to my fellow citizens and  its representatives my plea for openness, tolerance and understanding. We all support  a No Discrimination policy on city-funding events.

I bring credentials that few of you possess.

My early life as a Shabbes Goy amid Toronto’s Jewish community gave to me,unbidden and unasked, a universal appreciation of the effects of racism. As the sole non-Jew on Harbord Collegiate playground team I was targeted as a Jew. This had a profound effect on me. It led me  as a Roman Catholic teacher  to be the first teacher in Canada  to create a Holocaust awareness program in secondary schools. Irt led me to pray besidr the crematoria in auschwitz.This began in 1968. I worked with Ruth Cohen for the Holocaust Remembrance Committee. I was honoured by B’nai Brith for my work. I spoke in many shuls about my experience as written in my memoir Shabbes Goy: A Catholic Boyhood on a Jewish Street in Protestant Toronto. .

Then i travelled to Israel and as  my friend and colleague Mary Jo Leddy warned me, “Your heart will be broken.” She was right.  I met the effects of racism and oppression again. This time it was native Palestinians who were suffering and are suffering under a brutal occupation and second-class citizenship in the country they were born in. As the Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu stated, the situation in Israel/Palestine it was worse than the apartheid in South Africa.

Yet my commitment to the state of Israel has never flagged. Now I have a double solidarity to that state but also as a Christian to the suffering of the Palestinian people… and let me state for the record, there are countries much more oppressive  than Israel but justice there  will greatly relieve Muslim grievances around the world.

I am a Marxist—of the Groucho Marx kind. When asked about evidence versus opinion, Groucho wittily replied, “Who do you believe, me or your eyes.” The brilliant israeli journalist Amira Hass whose mother survived Bergen-Belsen asked her countrymen the same question: How  can you not see what is going on.

To all who serve on this Council I say with respect: If you have not seen up close life in Gaza and the West Bank, you really have nothing to say. Tribal loyalties are not enough. What is enough are the universal values we learned from the Shoah. We must as Amira Hass’s mother told her, speak out against oppression and discrimination whenever we see it. This is what the Shoah taught us. This is what Torah teaches.This is what Gospel insists on.

The use of Israel/apartheid is a red herring. A sign in a huge parade is hardly worth discussing. At this time this city council has much bigger fish to fry. Do not be pressured by those who have not seen nor tasted the bitter fruit of marginalization. Who do you believe indeed.

Israel is a country. Countries may be criticized. Those who love her like I do will speak truth to her.Those who tolerate the unjust status quo there and say nothing are not friends. They are enablers of too much suffering.

I close with words of the former speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg:
We will vow again and again that “Never again” includes everything; it will not happen again to anyone, anywhere anytime..after the Shoah genetic Judaism must end. First and foremost we will stand together  with the civilized nations at the forefront of the worldwide struggle against hatred wherever it is..

 

The fight against high-stakes testing

May 23, 2013

 

images

What? No standardized tests in high schools? Only in Seattle’s Garfield High School where Quincy Jones and Jimmi Hendrix got their starts.

In January some brave teachers began a boycott of standardized testing, the simplistic and time-consuming attempt to evaluate students. Long the darling of right-wing ideologues who use the test results to club teachers, break unions and shame both teachers and students, the tests have long been a huge neuralgic issue in the teaching community. Many have seen it as an attempt to privatize education  and open up the billion dollar market to test providers and text book writers. The major criticism of course was that wholesale use of testing was far too simplistic as well as leaching precious time from the humanities, always the first to be scuttled. Washington state a leader in these high stake tests spends $100 million a year on these tests.The teachers argued for tutoring programs instead.

On Monday the Seattle school district backed down and invited teachers to find alternative ways to gauge student performance

Daniel  Horan a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province of New York recently wrote an article in America magazine (May 13) detailing the depression teachers  almost universally feel about using such short-sighted metrics for evaluating students. He wrote about a teacher friend “a paragon of what a committed, intelligent, creative and motivated young teacher should be”. This marvelous woman has seen her vision “built on the best resources and pedagogical foundations available” sacrificed to evaluations imposed by external education department  and paid consultants. As a result she felt that her” professional and spiritual vocation has been sold from beneath her feet. “ This is not an unusual experience of those professionals closest to their students.Bear in mind teachers do not dispute the need for  periodic testing but these massive, tension-packed tests should simply be one part of a more comprehensive program.

DownloadedFile-1

The best person to read on this is a former true believer in high stakes testing Diane Ravitch. Her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education (Basic Books, 2010) is a devastating critique of this assault.

She writes, “Testing should be used for help—to diagnose learning problems—not as a basis for rewards and punishments.”

Creative teachers under great pressure from superintendents are forced to “teach to the test” but this does little to enhance critical thinking, imagination, creativity, curiosity, compassion or moral courage.This huge industry, corporate driven has little interest in the induplicable ikons of God, our children. They have become numbers sacrificed on the altar of fuzzy thinking and the greed of the free market privatizers. Schools are the last bastion of sacred protection for vulnerable children.

It is more than ironic that such obsessive  and narrow testing are virtually absent from the practices of high-performing nations. They seem to know better. They are less receptive to the incessant and deleterious demands of “the free market” system which has little or no respect for the weak, the marginal or the average.

The push back has begun in Seattle.Time will tell whether the system which openly proclaims the dignity and uniqueness of all of God’s children will wake from their slumber and begin to advocate for children. So far the leadership has been lacking, the imagination sclerotic and the understanding of the Catholic imagination has been anemic and inadequate.

Who owns the Spirit?

May 20, 2013

 

DownloadedFile

Pentecost—50 days after Easter.

It would be interesting to hear homilies in our churches on this day.

Was the Spirit absent from the world before Jesus? Hardly. The Holy One has been at work right from the beginning. The life force has been working within all of creation forever. It was this deep intuition, in the scripture it is called “kingdom” or basileia in the language of the New Testament, this felt reality which brought Jesus. He was hardly the first to be so touched. There have been other avatars.  Christians believe of course that his response was the fullest, a breakthrough moment in history. Ernst Troeltsch said this: “Jesus did not bring the kingdom, the kingdom brought Jesus” and it is bringing us—if we are open to its dynamism, creativity, relationality. One needs an evolutionary perspective to come close to understanding this.

We fumble with language, metaphor, ways of expressing this. Biblical words like Advocate and Comforter are not helpful.

So what did we hear in our churches? I don’t know. My hope is that we might first grasp the  Johannine wisdom that “the Spirit blows where it wills.” The Catholic Church has no exclusive claim to this. We all know people of no religion who exhibit Spirit like qualities and committed energy to justice and the common good to cosmic and global sustainability. They are vehicles of the holy energy.The kingdom has come close in these people.

Why newspaper readership is sinking

May 19, 2013

media-con226 0f 28 dailies in Canada  promoted Stephen Harper as our PM.

No one has done more to destroy Canadian democracy than Harper.Who owns the papers?

Have you ever heard of the Sun chain doing anything other than opinion.

At least the Star digs like newspapers should.

The Sun and many US rags channel the positions of the wealthy owners. Hence the support of Harper.

Of course the Internet is worse, giving free rein to the angry white men crowd—-yet, yet there are many sites which bring excellent information—but generally don’t look to corporate controlled papers.

Queen Victoria would not agree.

Ronald Reagan: Accessory to murder

May 17, 2013

images

Now that the fundamentalist thug Rios Montt has been convicted of genocide, how about putting on trial St.Ronald Reagan as accessory to genocide. REagan consistently supported the fundamentalist Christian  Montt’s scorched earth policy among the Mayan populace. According to Reagan, Montt,”born again” was “a man of great personal integrity”, who was “totally dedicated to democracy.” This human rights champion Montt was “getting a bum rap” on this file. The spin was that this was  “disinformation spread by communist sympathizers.”

The confused American electorate always fell for the Gipper’s “Aw shucks shtick’ while in fact he was a pliable pitchman for empire. His defense of Latin American murderers was particularly egregious but no mind, Americans elected him twice.Not only that they wanted to put him on Mount Rushmore.

That a small country like Guatemala, dismissed as a banana republic could stand up to this murderer and his cadre of business supporters is worthy of deep respect and puts USA democracy to shame.Americans have been consistently clueless about Reagan’s horrible foreign policy in El salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala

It was years after the Great Communicator left office that the truth was bared for all to see, the rancid underbelly of US foreign policy under Reagan.

Government documents were declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1999  and they showed that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people  and that  the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings.

As an aside two of the most blind fanatics  of the period who served the empire were uber Catholics, William Casey and  General Vernon Walters.

Now the truth is laid bare: Ronald Reagan accessory to murder.

65th anniversary of the NAKBA

May 15, 2013

 

DownloadedFile-1

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, when over 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from the land that became Israel. Protests, analysis and much more on the losses and hardships, lest we forget, Palestinians continue to endure.

 

DownloadedFile

Mothers’ Day: An anti-war reminder

May 12, 2013

 

images

The horrendous slaughter of men and boys in the American Civil War (1860-65) produced significant repulsion especially among women, already disenfranchised and victims of patriarchy.

The 20th century of course saw a quantum leap in bloodthirsty carnage and the haunting spectre of underdevelloped men cavalierly sending other people’s children to their deaths.

The brilliant German philosopher Immanuel Kant  nailed it:”Often war is waged only in order to show valor; thus an inner dignity is ascribed to war itself, and even some philosophers have praised it as an ennoblement of humanity, forgetting the pronouncement of the Greek who said, “War is an evil in as much as it produces more wicked men than it takes away.”

Here is the original Mothers’ Day Proclamation of  Julia Ward Howe penned in Boston in 1870. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. We still see the cowardly activity of the Dick Cheney’s of this world, a man who had 5 deferments in the Vietnam years yet blythly sent 100s of minority  and working class kids to their deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So Mothers’ Day today has become the latest victim of capitalist amnesia: turn a radical remembrance into flowers and chocolates!

Remember Julia Ward Howe!

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, 

Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: 

“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, 

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. 

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn 

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. 

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country 

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

 

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. 

It says: “Disarm! Disarm! 

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” 

Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. 

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, 

Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. 

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means 

Whereby the great human family can live in peace, 

Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, 

But of God.

 

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask 

That a general congress of women without limit of nationality 

May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient 

And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, 

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, 

The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.    

 

Justice in Guatemala

May 11, 2013

images

Former Guatemala dictator Rios Montt has been  convicted of genocide

(Reuters) – Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was found guilty on Friday  May 10 of genocide and crimes against humanity during the bloodiest phase of the country’s 36-year civil war and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

“Iusticia” the crowd roared when the verdict was read.The consummate liar and mass murderer now 86  met his deserved fate albeit many years too late.

A 50 year sentence was handed down for his shocking scorched earth policy of mass murder of Guatemala’s Mayan Indians.

What was surprising about the verdict was the bravery of the state judiciary which had to prosecute Montt wearing bullet proof jackets. It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his or her own country. It is estimated that 200,00 were murdered by Montt and his state thugs.

 

images-1

Montt, the crazed evangelical Christian in his disgusting testimony denied all of the charges.He would have made Pinocchio proud of his incredible testimony which was obviously disbelieved by  all

I never authorized, I never signed, I never proposed, I never ordered that there be any attacks against a race, an ethnic group or any religion. I never did it. And with everything they’ve said, there has been no proof of evidence of my participation.

Well there was proof and lots of it. 100  prosecution witnesses described massacres, torture and rape committed by Guatemalan state forces.

The brilliant journalist Alan Nairn interviewed Montt when he was ousted from power  and he  asked him whether he thought that he should be put on trial for his role in the massacres and whether he should be executed, since he, Ríos Montt, is a big supporter of the death penalty. When  Nairn asked him that, he suddenly leapt up to his feet and shouted,.  “Yes, try me! Put me against the wall!” But then said, that if he was going to be put on trial, the Americans should be put on trial with him. He specifically mentioned Ronald Reagan, who was one of his great sponsors.

And this is the main point here.

Reagan shockingly stated that  Ríos Montt was a man of great integrity who was totally devoted to democracy and was getting a bum rap on human rights.Both the United states and Israel bear much blame for this human disaster. The USA supported Montt all the way and Israel supplied the weaponry. By 1983, the New York Times reported  that Israel was not only acting as a surrogate for the United States (in a similar fashion to its actions in Nicaragua) was  growing  the market for Israeli arms.

The cooperation didn’t just involve UZIs and hand grenades; it also included providing intelligence and operational training, both in Israel and in Guatemala, to the right-wing government. Rios Montt openly declared on  ABC News that his success was due to the fact that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” Ethical voices were raised at that time by israelis of conscience. according to a Mother Jones article  in 1985 Yossi Sarid protested on the floor of the Knesset that the country had “abandoned the green route of agriculture for the red and bloody route of arms.” The Jewish magazine The Tablet quoted the relatives of   a man buried at a cemetery in Chichicastenango,  “In church they tell us that divine justice is on the side of the poor; but the fact of the matter is, it is the military who get the Israeli guns.”

In 1982 Israeli military advisers helped develop and carry out ‘Plan Victoria’ the devastating scorched earth campaign which Rios Montt .unleashed on the highland population, many Mayan ndians. In June 1983, the Guatemalan embassy in Washington confirmed that “personnel sent by the Israeli government were participating in the repopulation and readjustment programs for those displaced. The complicity of Israel with These Guatemalam murderer’s was never a secret

At a cemetery in Chichicastenango, relatives of a man killed by the military stated, “In church they tell us that divine justice is on the side of the poor; but the fact of the matter is, it is the military who get the Israeli guns.”

In  May of 1982 The Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a pastoral letter saying, “Never in our history has it come to such grave extremes. These assassinations now fall into the category of genocide.”

Justice  finally caught up with Montt.It has yet to catch up with USA or Israel.

Stephen Hawking joins Boycott of Israel

May 8, 2013

The endgame is approaching for Israel, First it was the israeli film The Gatekeepers where the former Shin Bet (secret service, M-5 or CIA,take your pick) heads basically said that the appalling treatment of the Palestinians can not continue. Now the world’s most famous scientist Stephen Hawking has joined the international cultural boycott in the hopes that this amazing country regains its moral compass and stops the Occupation of Palestinian land..This was run in the Guardian.

DownloadedFile-1

You may note that this event was to celebrate Shimon Peres 90th birthday.One can be happy that this gentleman has become a nonagenarian but sad that the leadership of Israel still sees the world through the optic of the military eye.As a great former spokesman of the Knesset  Avraham Burg said, “The Holocaust is Over, We must rise from the  Ashes)—the title of his book.

A statement published with Stephen Hawking’s approval said his withdrawal was based on advice from academic contacts in Palestine.Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.

Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

In April the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first lecturers’ association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so.

In the four weeks since Hawking’s participation in the Jerusalem event was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to persuade him to change his mind. In the end, Hawking told friends, he decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.

By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh.

DownloadedFile-2

Since then, his attitude to Israel appears to have hardened. In 2009, Hawking denounced Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan on Al-Jazeera that Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza was “plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”

The office of President Peres, which has not yet announced Hawking’s withdrawal, did not respond to requests for comment. Hawking’s name has been removed from the speakers listed on the official website.