Month: April 2015

Integrity and Respect — Endangered Words

INTEGRITY: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

RESPECT: Due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others and wishes of others; politeness, courtesy, civility, deference.

Two words once held in high esteem, difficult to earn and hold but always obtainable, and until not long ago always desirable to be sincerely stated on a character reference for any male or female capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong.

Two words now on the verge of extinction from the English language because they are no longer sought as qualities to be desired in character; qualities that should be taught every day of childhood until children become teenagers and teenagers become adults. Hopefully by then to believe the greatest accolades ever to be won in our short span on earth remain – respect and integrity.

Their decline and near demise in value has not been sudden. But it has been steady and at faster pace since two cataclysmic world wars shook our faith in so many things. Many small gestures appreciated as courteous good manners in 1939 had disappeared by 1945. Small things, seemingly inconsequential, but each one weakening the mortar of respect and integrity that holds together a caring neigbourhood, city, province or nation.

Small things. When I was 15 it was customary for children to doff their school caps and male adults their hats as all pedestrians bowed heads as a funeral cortege rolled by. It was only a thirty second pause. Other traffic – and it’s true there wasn’t a great deal in 1939 – slowed down or stopped to give the cortege the right of way. It was just a gesture of respect from sidewalk strangers to a grieving family. Back on the street where the hearse had begun its somber journey neighbours pulled down blinds or closed curtains until its passing. Just a mark of respect

When I was 20 that brief outreach of affection had been long abandoned. Too many dead, too many funeral processions, too many listed dead from faraway places. No time for courtesies to strangers we never really knew.

Small things.  By the time I was an adult it was no longer automatically fashionable to open a door for a woman or offer her a seat on crowded bus or tram. What had been deemed a gesture of respect since Walter Raleigh threw down his cloak to keep his Queen’s feet dry is now declared condescending by many women and downright insulting to many. Demeaning they said.

Each small step away from the old standards of courtesy and respect in dress and demeanor made it easier to forget the other desirable and once essential quality of integrity – especially among our political and business leaders. The procession of trials for unethical behaviour seems endless these days with media salivating over every “scandal” large or small – but only rarely, if ever, shyly mentioning its own failure to meet standards that were once the norm.

A few weeks ago Elections BC published the official list of major donors to political parties prior to the 2013 general election. One of the donors was F. David Radler, named a couple of years ago as acting publisher of the Times-Colonist. He is listed as donating $50,000 as the principal officer of Canadian Classified Network and $21,500 in his own name F. David Radler to the BC Liberal Party.

Now let it be stated quite clearly there is nothing wrong with Mr. Radler donating whatever he wants to donate to any political party of his choice. And let it also be said he is not alone as a newspaper owner, publisher – acting or permanent – contributing to the war chest of a political party. But I’m just left wondering why the Times-Colonist didn’t publish a small story on the event – or even devote a two page feature with the names of every major donor? A little shy, maybe? Not wanting to reveal to other advertisers what they might consider a generous bonus to a major client? Or not wanting to explain how the boss can kick in $71,500 to a rich political party’s treasury while keeping Times-Colonist newsroom costs to a tight-fisted minimum?

Or how about a well written ethical defence of how newspaper publishers can financially support a government in power while their publications remain unbiased? I’m sure a case for such involvement can made in a world where we all now seem to accept belief that “the end justifies the means”.

But I’ll still hang onto the memory of the days when respect and integrity were journalistic orders of the day. The days when an old city editor charged with impaired driving gruffly ordered.“Run it front page – and spell my name right.”

Respect. Integrity. Not easy, but honorable.

Presumption Of Guilt and Rush To Judgment

Here we go again with Canada’s favoured corruption of the chorus we piously sing in praise of truth and justice in our legal system. It should resound with the oft repeated phrase that in our enlightened society no man or woman is deemed guilty of an offence under law until the charges against them are proved beyond a shadow of doubt in a court of law.

It should so sound, but not longer does.

We still boast the “presumption of innocence” is one of the great foundation stones in our democratic way of life, but no longer believe. . We chant instead the vicious, destructive, doctrine of “presumption of guilt”

The latest example flashed into headlines from Halifax just a few days ago when four navy men were arrested and charged with various assault charges – including the most vicious, “sexually assaulting a woman.”

The four men were quickly and repeatedly identified as members of the Royal Navy not the Royal Canadian Navy. Print stories were careful to mention in all stories that the offences listed were “alleged”, a wonderful protective word which allows lots of scope for salacious reporting without fear of law suits.

On television CHEK News proudly show the accused being marched into court, hand-cuffed and foot-shackled. The pictures do not catch even a whisper of what should be a brain alert cautionary warning of the “presumption of innocence.” I watch the screen and see only four young men trying to hide their faces, chains dangling from their wrists; the camera makes sure I see the chains around their ankles. Visually, to me and I’m sure to many others, the “presumption of guilt” is clear – and worrying.

There may well be a true horror story of violence and brutality here. If there is justice and society by rule of law will demand payment.

But I am reminded that three years ago John Furlong, a highly respected and internationally admired gentleman living in Vancouver, was accused of sexual and physical abuse of students in his care decades earlier. The allegations were reported, the details lurid. And one by one the charges were dropped, some of the accusers never having been in schools where Furlong taught.

Although free of all charges Furlong will always carry the scars, especially the ones inflicted by the society he had served so well, a society all too eager to rush to judgment to presume guilt while ignoring any possibility of innocence.

Last year two Toronto doctors faced trial on charges of gang sexual assaults and drugging. The names of the accusers and female witnesses were protected by court order. The names of the doctors were not

Both men were acquitted, but not before the presumption of guilt had done its ever-lasting harm.

I could go on with reminders of the BC school teacher still trying to repair a reputation wrecked by shocking accusations of sadism, later admitted to being figments of the imagination of a student. He can never completely repair the damage.

I could go for larger pictures from universities, in Canada and the USA, where false accusations have seen careers and faculties ruined by charges laid and later withdrawn too late to halt the presumption of guilt tidal wave. Best known on that sordid list of presumptive news reporting is the Rolling Stone’s major story on the gang rape of a female student.

Early in April Rolling Stone published a long apology for printing a sensational story that had little or no foundation in fact. And the highly regarded Columbia School of Journalism published a detailed report on how the lies came to be presented as fact.

Now back to those four Royal Navy tars. Just remember they are “alleged” to have committed crimes but are, and should be, must be, presumed innocent of until proven otherwise. And TV should  leave the pictures of chained hands and feet until the day, if found guilty, their punishment begins.

Who Was “The Meanest of the Mean?”

It was somewhere around 1809 that revered poet Lord Byron described a newspaper reporter – with extra emphasis for a columnist, retired or active – as: “A would-be satirist, a hired buffoon/A monthly scribbler of some low lampoon,/ Condemned to drudge, the meanest of the mean,/And furnish falsehoods for a magazine.”

No hint as to why he was upset but it can be assumed that someone had published something Byron didn’t like. The observant will note that  Byron was writing about “a monthly scribbler”, a writer for a monthly magazine, not the hard working daily reporters of truth and justice who have been known to tap out stories disguised as facts and caring little about the damage  careless words may cause. Others will quickly point out that Byron who, according to biographers and historians, lived a life full of “aristocratic excesses, huge debts, (and) numerous love affairs with more than one gender” (Wikipedia), had little cause for complaint whatever the news sheets said.

Byron was 36 when he died on April 19, 1824 – that’s next Sunday, a day when lovers of beautiful writing will remember Byron for his tender ’’She walks in beauty like the night”, the hinted bawdiness of “So we’ll go no more a roving” and the sadness of “Fare thee well”. And they will possibly respond in angry dismay when this “scribbler” reminds them Byron was far from a loyal lover or friend and cared little for whose lives his selfish arrogance ruined.

It is written that he contracted a fever while being treated by what was then the standard procedure of bloodletting. Some authorities suggest the use of unsterilized instruments used in the process led to sepsis and his death. When the news reached England the reaction was traumatic. A national hero in the UK – and revered in Greece where he had gone to join that nation in its war with the Ottoman Empire – his body was embalmed and returned to England. Some sources say his heart was removed before that final journey. The people of Greece wanted some part of their hero to remain with them.

In England his body lay in state for two days and news reports of the day record “huge crowds” lining the streets to pay their respects before he was interred in Westminster Abbey. But the Abbey balked at the request from supporters of a man they felt of “questionable morality” and denied the request. Undeterred Byron’s friends – and they were many – launched a successful fund raising drive to commission a statue. That work by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen was completed in 1834. It stayed in storage for 10-years while the country debated where to place it. The British Museum declined to display it. So did St. Pauls Cathedral, the National Gallery – and holding fast to its original refusal, Westminster Abbey. Trinity College, Cambridge, finally found a quiet corner for the statue.

In 1907 a lively debate calling for some sort of recognition for Byron was supported by the New York Times. In a column signed “Galbraith” the NYT suggested England should be proud to honor Byron not ashamed of him. The writer admitted “neither Byron’s writing nor his mode of life are such as to appeal to the straitlaced, this seems to be no excuse for refusing the great poet proper recognition.

1969 – 145 years after his death – a modest memorial was finally placed in Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner. It is a replica of one the King of Greece donated to mark Byron’s grave at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

And it all leaves me to wonder how the play would end if replayed today. Would the easily frenzied media be in high dudgeon concentrating only on “the drudge?” Would the Twittering class be breaking viral records regurgitating the latest Byronic sexual romps –usually with titled Ladies of title but not always. He was generous with his sexual favours hetero or homo.

All of which leaves one last question. Should there be a spot in Westminster Abbey for such a betrayer of the love his poems professed to honour?

Just asking.

(As usual Google will lead the way to a wealth of detail and Wikipedia provides scholarly background)

Indifference At Easter

Taking a note from television, readers are advised the following content may be disturbing. At least I hope it will.

Not that you are about to be shocked by startling revelations but  discomfited, I hope, by reminders of old thoughts tucked safely  and sleeping comfortably in brain memory banks. It will not be the first time I have used another man’s words to stir a little  discomfort in my own comfortable pew – and hopefully others.

A hundred or so years ago  Anglican parson Studdert Kennedy,  was plucked from a comfortable living in the beautiful county of Worcestershire, given officer status as an army chaplain, and assigned to the muck and rubble of Europe  as it ripped itself apart in World War One. It was his job to bring comfort to a generation of young men as they lay dying of unthinkable wounds – and strengthen the resolve of those who survived,

The survivors gave him a nickname – “Woodbine Willy” – derived from the cigarettes he always offered the badly wounded before his prayers for mercy and salvation. Other chaplains in the field thought the title denoted disrespect for white collared clergy in general and Chaplain Kennedy in particular.

To the critics “Woodbine Willy” wrote: “They gave me this name like their nature, compacted of laughter and tears, a sweet that was born of the bitter, a joke that was torn from the years. Their name! Let me hear it – the symbol of unpaid, un-payable-debt. For the men to whom I owed God’s Peace I put off with a cigarette.”

I mention it here because, if you’ve read this far, I want you to understand a little of the nature of Studdert Kennedy when he reminds us of the death of another young man and what thoughts Easter should bring. He titled it “Indifference.”

“When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged him on a tree. They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary. They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were his wounds and deep, for those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

“When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by, they never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die; for men had grown more tender and they would not give Him pain, they only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

“Still Jesus cried ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do! And still it rained the winter rain that drenched him through and through; the crowd went home and left the streets without a soul to see – and Jesus crouched against the wall and cried for Calvary.”

But surely, you say, today is April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday, a day of celebration in the still Christian world. And so it should be – but with chocolate rabbits, Easter eggs, exchange of gifts and a dinner feast that has become a standard essential for all our celebrations?

Somewhere along the way we got lost, our myriad of Christian faiths lost sight of core values in the confusion of interpretation. Those of every sect, from Pentecostal chapel to Roman Catholic cathedral and the multitude of faiths between, publicly walk the path of apparent harmony – while each believes it alone understands and holds the truth.

In the process each and all of us seem to have lost sight of so many of the basic beliefs of the young preacher who set high but reachable standards of good behaviour. His first and second commandments were borrowed from other ancients. Love of God was first. The second: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  (And) there is no other commandment greater than these.”

Now, scroll back a few paragraphs to Woodbine Willie’s few lines on “Indifference”, substitute your own city of residence for Birmingham, remember that second commandment, add “inasmuch as you have done it for the least of one these my brethren, you have done it for me” and ask how you’re doing in life.

My own marks are much lower than they should be. And yours?