Monday, November 18, 2013

Perspective and Priority

Washington, Illinois November 18th, 2013
I came to the realization that today is a very sad day. It’s sad for a number of reasons, all of them calamitous, some for many, some for few. Years ago, I recall reading the riot act to a young RCMP constable I worked with, who blew off a young boy who had come in to report that his bike had been stolen. The boy was about 8. A stolen bike is not a career-making case for a police officer but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tragedy to the child.

I remember being barked at by a nurse in the hospital one day when I was very pregnant for the first time. I reminded the doctor when he chimed in that while he might deliver babies every day, I didn’t, and it would be nice if he could remember that. I also reminded him that I took car accident reports every day, but never once did I minimalize his trauma when he was in a fender bender. That same doctor, several years later, held my hands and cried when he told me that while he had delivered the news to someone about a diagnosis of cancer, he never really understood what those words meant to the patient, until he heard them himself. He thanked me for helping remind him from time to time about perspective.

When I was a telephone operator, we were taught to cut in to a call in case of an emergency, but that we had to confirm it was a real emergency. The problem is, as our supervisor was careful to point out, emergencies are not always what we think they are. Her experience had been that she cut into a call for an emergency call to be put through to that number. As required by the phone company, she stayed on the line to ensure it was, in fact, an emergency. The caller who requested her to interrupt the current call was in tears, but her emergency when she finally got through was to beg for someone to bring her some curlers for her hair. An emergency? Well, maybe not in our everyday worlds, but it was definitely one for the caller. It was her wedding day, she had one hour to get ready, and her steam rollers had died. Her hair was a disaster on the most important day of her life. Even emergencies, I suppose, can be relative.

The point about all of this is that all of these stories are about perspective and priorities. Each story, each situation, has several perspectives and each has to be looked at according to priorities. Why is that so hard for us to remember or respect these two facts? Why is our judgment of what is important so skewed?

Last night, in Washington, Illinois, disaster struck. It blew into town, hell bent on destruction. Homes were ruined, livelihoods were destroyed, some lives were taken. It happened in winter, where night temperatures, even in what I might consider a southern climate, can be brutal, especially when you have absolutely nothing left. Unfortunately, instead of talking about this disaster, the story fell in line after twenty minutes of Rob Ford, the infantile over-indulgent mayor of Toronto in his mid-life Justin Beiber wannabe crisis.

Tacloban, Philippines Nov 18, 2013
Last week, there was a typhoon of epic proportions in the Philippines. Bodies are still being uncovered. Aide is still desperately needed. Entire communities are lost, and the prospects, like in Illinois, are not promising for the families touched by these storms. It will take weeks, years in fact, before life can possibly turn to something sort of resembling normal for these people, who will forever be haunted by what can happen in the fury of a storm in the blink of an eye. Instead of telling us how to help, what organizations actually move the aide forward instead of using it to line their own pockets or to pay for their high corporate first class flights and five star executive offices, we have to hear more about... Rob Ford and his lunatic ravings.

Radioactive sea water from Fukushima Nov 2013
Last year, there was an earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, that caused extensive damage to the nuclear reactors there. Ten days ago, they started work to try to get the reactive cores out of the plants, a task that is so fraught with danger, one slip of one fraction of an inch could result in an explosion many times that of the bombing of Hiroshima. While this is going on, though, radioactive contamination is spilling into the pacific at about the same speed as a BP oil leak. The nuclear contamination is spreading hundreds of thousands of square miles into the ocean, already almost on the shores of that ecological gem, Hawaii. It is less than a year away from the shores of North America. There is no contingency plans, no assistance being accepted, no protocol for dealing with what is happening in our water, something that could destroy the majority of ocean life on half of the globe. What is the news covering? Rob Ford, his crack and his wife's bountiful attributes.

Today, the Center for Global Development released their statistics, stating that Canada was at the bottom of the barrel – the very bottom of the barrel – in their commitment to providing aide, in various forms, to the poor of the world and in our commitment to protect the environment. Our Environment Minister also stood up today and knowingly, unabashedly lied about Canada’s commitment to the UN Climate Change Conference, stating that we are making progress that even documents from her own department show are false. One has to wonder at the sad irony of these news stories all playing out right now, where climate change and record-breaking weather anomalies, caused by climate change, are destroying lives by the tens of thousands. What did we hear on the news today about this story? Nothing. We were watching Rob Ford knock down fellow city council members and proclaiming his Jesus moment that made him turn over a new leaf (however temporarily that leaf may be turned). 

No Mo Ro Fo -- Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto
I readily acknowledge that the claims made against the mayor of Toronto are news, and do need to be taken seriously. It is abhorrent to think that a public official at such a high level in the largest municipality in Canada has opened the doors, putting his family, his council and his co-workers at what could be immense peril because of his criminal connection and business. He has opened his children up to ridicule, and to danger. He is dealing with a criminal element, by his own admission, on more than once occasion, in a manner that is absolutely not acceptable. He can play his word games, he can thunder around and bully, because that is what we seem to reward in politics and business these days, but it doesn’t change the fact that because of his actions, people could have been killed, kidnapped, extorted, injured, or illegally financially rewarded. Yes, this is news, but it is not 20 minutes at the top of every news show for days on end. We know what he has done, we are aware of the allegations. Let the city council now do their job to mitigate the damage this moron and his brother can do, and relegate them to where they belong in the news cycle – after the serious, new news. The people of Toronto deserve better. The people who live off the ocean, or eat the fish, or swim in the water deserve better. God knows, the people of Washington, Illinois and those in the Philippines definitely deserve better. It’s time for the media to step up to the plate, own their share in this mess, and get back to being reporters of news.