History through the Looking Glass: JFK Saint or Sinner?

As The United States of America and many of its allies acknowledge, honour and remember the late president John F Kennedy through observing the 50th anniversary of his assassination the question ‘What if JFK had lived’ has been raised. ‘What if’ questions from an historical perspective are well worth asking because they require an analysis of the past from a number of different perspectives. For example, what if Japan hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbour? Would the United States have maintained its policy of isolation? Where and when would have the nuclear bomb been tested in the theatre of war? (It would have only been a matter of time). Some of the most fascinating historical ‘what if’ questions are in regards to Adolf Hitler. What if Hitler hadn’t survived the numerous attempts to assassinate him? What if the Soviet armies hadn’t been able to repel Hitler’s Wehrmacht? Would Stalin have shaped up to be a more humane leader?
While ideological movements like National Socialism require the inspiration and momentum of charismatic leaders, once they are well established they develop a momentum all of their own. Hitler established a hierarchy which allowed him to be above the brutality and ruthlessness of his own political party and its various divisions, and while giving tacit, often silent agreement to its actions he was adept and astute at avoiding full accountability. Sir Ian Kershaw makes this point well in arguing that Hitler had plenty of people to carry out ‘The Final Solution, and that Himmler and Heydrich were at the end of the day its main architects. (Rees, 2013) For every Hitler that is assassinated or hadn’t existed others were sure to arise-as events since WWll have shown us. The world is never spared its suffering at the hands of madmen.
Good men throughout history are perhaps more difficult to locate. Shakespeare reminds us so “The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with the bones” (Shakespeare, 1999). John Fitzgerald Kennedy was considered an extraordinary man for his time. A WWll veteran, who unlike many of his successors saw action in the theatre of war, went on to become the 35th president of the United States. He is most remembered for navigating his country through the perilous difficulties of the Cold War with the USSR, the Civil Rights movement, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space race, and the Apollo space exploration program. Like all people who hold political office he was subject to public scrutiny of his private life and it was well known at the time that J Edgar Hoover –his arch nemesis kept a detailed file of JFK’s private life. In the 50 years since he died there’s been a lot of research and study into Kennedy’s private life and attempts by some to discredit him as a weak moral leader. But despite these attempts at sullying his reputation, John F Kennedy remains one of the few contradictions to Shakespeare’s view that the good men do is lost on their death, because a lot of the good JFK began lives on to this present day. In particulars it was his hope for a better future which resonates with millions today when his named is invoked. In reality John F Kennedy is neither saint nor sinner-he is a dead man who continues to inspire hope in a secular world seemingly desperate for something positive to grasp and hold on too. There’s no doubt that if the US congress instituted the processes of beatification and canonisation JFK would be on top of their list.
Rees, L. (2013, November 23). Hitler and the Holocaust. Retrieved from WW2 History.com: http://ww2history.com/experts/Sir_Ian_Kershaw/Hitler_and_the_Holocaust
Shakespeare, W. (1999). Julius Caesar, Act 3, Sc. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

What’s To Be Done about the Acceptable Institutionalization of Bullying?

The shocking revelations about bullying in American Football has left many people around the globe perplexed, bewildered and befuddled about the perception and understanding of bullying in the world today.
Richie Incognito claims leaving racists and threatening voice mail messages on another team member’s mobile phone telling them you’ll assault their mother and defecate in their mouth is no more than harmless football related locker room behavior. Similarly, Jonathan Martin’s equally outrageous threats to Incognito’s family are a deep cause for concern too given that such communications are considered de rigueur in their NFL locker room. Their obvious lack of moral understanding and responsibility for their actions is reflected in comments by a Fox News broadcaster too. Tucker Carlson of Fox News claimed that bullying is a fad just like the notion of self esteem, and will soon die out and that we are simply witnessing a case of mass hysteria over a very small internal matter between major NFL players. Other former NFL players and commentators like Tim Ryan, Tiki Barker and News anchor Rick Williams offered similar poorly reasoned justifications for Incognito and Martins debased and immoral behavior.
Tucker Carlson, Tim Ryan, Tiki Barker and Rick Williams are wrong. Get your head out of the sand boys!
Bullying occurs in every institution-from schools through to corporate, governmental and sporting bodies. It is rife in every human institution. It is a world-wide phenomenon which must be eliminated. It causes terrible personal suffering and is known to be a prime cause of suicide throughout the world.

Recently a string of bullying related sexual offenses came to light in the Military institutions of the United States and Australia -these serious incidents are more than just a fad guys!

The statistics are frightening. It is estimated that one in four adolescents are bullied. Nine out of ten Lesbian and Gay students experience online harassment and physical harm in schools. It is estimated that as many as 160,000 students stay at home daily because of the fear of being bullied. What’s more extraordinary is that up to one in five children and adolescents admit to being a bully. 43% of school kids fear being bullied using a school bathroom. It is estimated that 228, 000 students are physically attacked in high schools each month. Over 40% of kids have been bullied online and it is claimed that 93% of middle school children are bullied while online. 21% of kids have received mean or threatening emails, while 53% of kids clam to have said mean or threatening things to another person. (Hunter, 2012)
Some people think that bullying or ‘hazing’ is a normal right of passage into adulthood because it exists as acceptable behavior in sporting and other institutions. Well, it isn’t normal and it isn’t a right of passage. It’s cruel and violent and marks the beginning of a lifetime of intentional, cruel and callous psychopathic behavior for the perpetrators as evidenced by Incognito and Martin’s behavior.
Richie Incognito offers the opportunity for a global reflection on what we are doing to kids in our society’s institutions to turn them into thugs and bullies. In the meantime Mr. Incognito along with his supporters would do well to remember that contempt of others is as Alice Miller explains “the weapon of the weak and a defense against one’s own despised and unwanted feelings of inadequacy”. (Miller, 1985)
Hunter, O. (2012, February 14). National statistics on bullying in schools. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from ALICETX.COM: http://www.alicetx.com/news/article_87be339a-5658-11e1-a087-0019bb2963f4.html
Miller, A. (1985). For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence . Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Backyard Brains often Lack Intelligence

Backyards conjure up lots of images of recyclable materials and storage space or nicely cultivated lawns and gardens as a place to relax and enjoy the labors of the day. On the other hand Backyard Brains creates a mixed metaphor and one needs to dig a little deeper to find out exactly what’s hidden in the backyard to see if there’s anything of real value. A bit like treasures in the attic I suppose.
With the help of the BBC News I did discover something rather unusual about a company named Backyard Brains and there commercial exploitation of digital learning, along with the imprecise and often unequivocal area of neuroscience, and children’s vulnerability and fascination with how things work, at a time when they have a penchant to be masters of their own environment while being dependent upon it.
According to the BBC News report Backyard Brains has developed a very small electronic device which is glued to the back of a cockroach and a downloadable app from a mobile phone is able to control the movement of the creature. Interestingly on the same page of this news story the BBC ran an advertisement on a program detailing the legacy of the Nazi medical experiments inclusive of a picture of Hitler- ironic or not I thought the coincidence appropriate.
The company Backyard Brains (aptly named perhaps?) argues that through allowing children to dismember other creatures, place electronic devices into them and then control their movements they are giving them a 5 year head start on those in graduate schools studying neuroscience. They further argue that they are aware of the shortcomings of the kinds of experiments their bizarre equipment enables kids to perform on other creatures, but claim that they are justified due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age.
It is by all accounts a disingenuous and dishonest argument.
I learned a lot at primary school about neuroscience without being asked to dismember another creature. I recall a wonderful teacher who would take us for walks and lets us smell the earth, flowers, sea, and explain why we had such a painful reaction to standing on a broken shell, or nail or piece of glass-it was all quite wonderful, intriguing and followed up with diagrams and drawings of humans and other creatures on how the brain and central nervous system of sentient beings worked. It instilled in me a life long love of science and a mutual respect for all living creatures-even those I didn’t like-the cockroach, spider and ants to name a few. I learned their role in the wonderful complex eco-system called life along with the importance of a human being’s necessary moral relationship with other creatures.
It is the lack of concern shown by the Backyard Brains’ company to our moral relationship with other creatures which should worry parents, educators and children alike. The thinking which underpins the concept of Backyard Brains is based upon the myopic and disdainful thinking of early Western thinkers who claimed that humans lack any kind of contractual and ethical relationship with other creatures because they are not moral agents and they lack feelings, therefore if we do not perform experiments on them we are failing science. Such ideas have been used over the centuries to push some creatures to the edge of extinction through hunting and killing for body parts. The irrational arguments of Rousseau, Robert Boyle and Voltaire on race and the natural world often led to the justification of inequality and to enslave people of differing religions, politics, beliefs, color, and women and even to justify the oppression of children. According to the philosophy which underpins the work of Backyard Brains; Rousseau’s outrageous claim that “woman is especially made for man’s delight” would be acceptable today! We have after all inherited the imperfect irrationality of Rousseau and his ilk on our relationships with other creatures.
There are much more acceptable moral and ethical ways to teach neuroscience to children than having them turn defenseless and helpless creatures into electronic toys that may be controlled by a mobile phone application. Just as causing unnecessary pain and suffering to one another is unacceptable, it is unacceptable to cause pain and suffering to other creatures.
The study of neural circuitry is important in medical science and has been studied at the appropriate age and level for many years with wonderful success. To argue that allowing children to capture dismember, insert electrodes into the head and body of another creature will ‘create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists and physicians’ is disingenuous and dishonest.
The kinds of experiments designed to harm other creatures and marketed by Backyard Brains under the guise of human scientific endeavors runs counter to the idea that we live in a very fragile world, morally, ethically, environmentally and socially. Humans and other creatures have an equal interest in maintaining an eco-system which ensures the survival of all species-other creatures matter a lot. It is this key idea which children need to understand and learn to live with more, to counter the illusions of the digital age and the dishonest marketing ploys of companies like Backyard Brains.

It’s Difficult to Beat a Person Who Never Gives Up!

Rafael Nadal has ended his 2013 competitive year as Number 1 on the ATP rankings. This is a spectacular and amazing achievement for a young man who had to leave his beloved sport of tennis for over 6 months because of a serious knee injury. He only returned to the game earlier this year. With the support of his family, friends and numerous others, hard work and determination have proved again to be the key attitudes and attributes that lead to favourable results of any kind in life.
What I like about this story is that Nadal acknowledges his own foibles and struggles as a person and professional sportsman with a degree of humility. He also holds a rational view of the world and a judicious understanding of himself as a human being in it.
Nadal is a great role model for everyone; but perhaps more so for younger generations who may feel they’ve been abandoned and lost in the ‘kingdom of glass’; somehow cast adrift in a virtual world where it may appear that they are owed a living rather than having to make one for themselves.

It could be counter-argued I guess that Nadal and other professional sportsmen and women get paid a handsome price for their work and this in itself is their main motivation. But none of these sports superstars were born as such. Initial guidance and direction perhaps supported them on their way, but this was surely followed by sheer hard work and failure after failure to produce the kinds of successes in their sport we are able to enjoy as spectators today.
The story of Rafael Nadal’s success as the world’s number 1 professional tennis player is a welcome antidote to the kind of ‘it’s my time’ and ‘my dream’ reality television and consumer based celebrity culture that is so seductive and titillating, yet at the same time so misleading to 21st century digitally raised children and young people. I guess the moral to Nadal’s triumph is that there’s no short cut in life to any place worthwhile going to, and with appropriate support, hard work, determination, and a rational view of the world, victory against adversities is guaranteed.