Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On Entitlement and Unfettered Rage

One of the benefits or downfalls of the internet is that it allows fringe groups to find each other online. When it comes to feeling like nobody in the world knows about climate change or the Myanmar genocide (or philosophy), because nobody in my immediate vicinity is too concerned or interested, then it's invaluable to find clusters of intelligent people writing about them regularly online. Finding people with the same concerns about the world can be a game-changer when you've all but given up on working towards a solution for a grave social injustice.

But it's a tragic downfall of cyberspace when the "social injustice" is that you can't get laid. People in some fringe groups who, as individuals, would all be seen as rare deviants in need of help, are able to find each other now, and cluster together to reinforce and normalize their warped version of reality.

Such is the case with the van killer in Toronto. I won't use his name because I hope it's forgotten and he's forgotten rather than becoming infamous. But we can't forget that he was part of a movement of "involuntary celibates" (incels) who are outraged at their misfortune with women. Instead of blaming their own approach or attitude or maybe something they said along the way, they put all the blame on women for not flocking to them they way they expected would happen.

Part of the problem that we all face is that expectation that we can have all the things that we see others have, or that we think others have. All that time on social media reinforces what a crap life we have. For most of us, it leads to anxiety, depression, and self-loathing. For some of us, it leads to violence. With this group, it's leading to premeditated murder.

Read this excellent twitter thread by Arshy Mann on the movement. This bit is one of the most important parts:
"His attack should probably be described as terrorism, although the lone wolf variety. Incels have an ideology and the goal is to terrorize women and 'normies.'"
It took until 2014 for "sex" to be included as an identifiable group that could potentially be targeted in a hate crime in Canada. When it happened, the Montreal Massacre didn't technically qualify, regardless the very clear intention to kill all the women who took a man's place in university.

Then check out the book Mann recommends for further understanding of this group: Kill All Normies, and the blog, We Hunted the Mammoth. Also see Chris Hedges Empire of Illusion. His chapter on pornography gets at this type of subculture with prescience, as one male porn star told him,
"My whole reason for being in the industry is to satisfy the desire of the men in the world who basically don't much care for women and want to see the men in my industry getting even with the women they couldn't have when they were growing up....We're getting even for their lost dreams....When I've strangled a person or sodomized a person or brutalized a person, the audience is cheering my action, and then when I've fulfilled my warped desire [by coming on a woman's face], the audience applauds" (74). "All I know is that large segments around the world like to watch young girls being tortured" (75).
But there's something else being discussed here too. Does he have Autism Spectrum Disorder? Apparently his mom said he does, and some of his classmate report repetitive arm movements that might be stimming. He didn't have friends, but, unlike the Florida shooter, he was generally likeable enough to make cordial smalltalk in the hallways.

He might have ASD, but already groups are coming out insisting it's all a lie because Autism isn't associated with violence. The interesting thing with that article is that it starts by suggesting that ASD and mental health problems are two different things, but ends by reminding us that,
The Canadian Mental Health Association has also urged people against connecting mental illness with violence, noting that those who suffer from mental health challenges are far more likely to self-harm or be a victim of violence than to be violent themselves.
It's not the ASD or a mental health condition causes murderous tendencies, absolutely. And very few of either group are violent like this. But very few of any group are violent like this.

I understand that people don't want anything horrific like this associated with a condition that a kind and gentle loved one has who needs to be cared for and not feared or preemptively profiled and punished. But I see it from the opposite angle as well. If we acknowledge that the killer was on the spectrum and had some mental health problems, then we can demand more funding for both of these. If we want to ensure that this never happens again on our streets, then one of the things we might try is to make sure children and teens with ASD and anyone with mental health concerns can access the best quality help as needed. It wouldn't hurt.

And then lets also keep working that warped mindset that suggests women are here for the gratification of deserving men. We need to dig it out from the crevices its fallen into. It's starting to sprout.

ETA: This seemed apropos (from here):

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day

It's the 48th Earth Day, and it's the 20th anniversary of Mann's hockey stick graph made famous in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

So we've known, for sure, that climate change is a human-made issue for a couple decades now, but Trudeau will still do what it takes to get pipelines built.

It's a beautiful day for the first long bike ride of spring, but sometimes it's hard to be hopeful there will be many years left of food production. I'm going to leave this here and hopefully look back on it one day as the last Earth Day before Canada completely and seriously committed itself to reducing greenhouse gases. As Krugman said earlier this week,
Believers in the primacy of fossil fuels, coal in particular, are now technological dead-enders; they, not foolish leftists, are our modern Luddites. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage.
But then Richard Conniff offers a bit of hope:
“'In casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye,” Churchill declared, “I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.' . . . what the natural world is experiencing is a bottleneck — long, painful, undoubtedly frightening and likely to get worse in the short term — but with the forces of an eventual breakthrough and environmental recovery already gathering strength around us. . . . They should stand up in ways large and small to help life on Earth through the current dreadful bottleneck. They should act now so some future generation — our grandchildren of the breakthrough — will look back at what we have done with something bordering on gratitude."

Saturday, April 21, 2018

On Peterson, Political Correctness, and Postmodernism

Peterson was on Bill Maher last night. They're both people that have some clever ideas, but also promote a few questionable notions in a way that's slick enough to just get a pass from some intelligent people instead of necessarily getting the scrutiny deserved. Here's an innocuous and pleasant exchange between mutual fans:


In the video Maher defined political correctness as, "the elevation of sensitivity over truth," and lamented the "emotional hemophiliacs" who will bleed at the littlest thing, but instead of avoiding sharp objects, they make the world cover everything in bubble wrap. Peterson went one step further: "It's more like the elevation of moral posturing of sensitivity over truth." He explained a bit about resilience: "Security doesn't come from making the world safe, because that's not possible. You make people resilient by exposing people to things that make them uncomfortable . . . over-coddling leads to stupid and narcissistic people."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

On Progressive Education - Seven Questions

I recently watched a film, Most Likely to Succeed, which has inspired a lengthy post about educational reform.


(If educational theory isn't your bag, then just scroll down to the next bit.)

Is it true that, "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow"? It's highly probable that John Dewey never said it despite the misattribution making the rounds online. If you read just one or two of his essays, it's clearly not his typical wording and syntax (and now we can easily "command-F" our way through his books). Regardless the source, I believe we also do a disservice to education by tossing what we did yesterday in favour of the newest idea. New isn't always better.

Here's what Dewey does say, though,

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On Extra Time and IEP Designations

We administered the literacy test yesterday with one new twist that most teachers weren't privy to until the previous evening: There would be no specific accommodations for students with IEPs (Individual Educational Programs) that call for extra time. Instead, we would allow extra time for anyone that needs it.

This is a significant shift in accommodating special needs. It's something I've done for years in my classroom, so I'm already on board. My rationale is about access to the IEP designation. To get an IEP, many students get a professional assessment. This can be done for free through publicly available psychometrists, but there's a wait list that's years long. Or, if you've got the kind of job that insures this, it can be done privately at a cost of two to three thousand dollars. So, right off the bat, there's a bit of a class issue around the designation. Adding to that, there's the fact that many parents aren't aware that this is a thing. Or, if they've heard about IEPs, they don't quite understand what they are or what they're for, and they're not sure they're necessarily a good thing. This all boils down to the reality that in any class, I'll have some kids with noticeable barriers to their ability to do the work who don't have an IEP in place. So I make my tests a bit shorter, then let them do other work once they finish, but let everyone have the full period if they need it.

The downside of this is that some of them slow right down. They take their sweet time and might not  learn to work efficiently, to train their brains to read and think and write all at once in a timely fashion. Thinking quickly is a skill that's useful in most jobs and definitely necessary in college and university. I can only hope that the offer of time to finish other work is enough to make them get their test off the table. My oldest progeny, with IEP in hand, ran into difficulties at university after many years of teachers giving them all the time in the world instead of their specifically allotted time and a half. Their first term was a disaster because they had never learned to write quickly.

For the lit test, one effect was immediate. In previous years, we might have up to a third of our students needing an extra time accommodation. This year, offering an extra 15 minutes per booklet for those who wanted to take it instead of leaving for the full break, plus allowing them to go to a "late room" (I prefer "extra time room") if they wanted more time than that, meant only a handful of students actually took extra time to finish.

What I wonder is, had students known ahead of time (like they will next year), would they have slowed down to take the full double time available? And, this year, sitting in a room where everyone is scrambling to finish in the usual allotted time, with most people getting up to leave at the earliest dismissal time for break and at the end, how many rushed to finish, when otherwise, in a room where everyone was designated extra time, they would have taken the time to craft a better final sentence and more thoroughly check over all their work? That's a concern, for sure.

Despite these potential issues, however, there's something else I really like about the shift. I'm not a fan of labels. I hate when I see people's behaviour mocked, then a bit of backstory about their childhood or their condition, maybe ADHD or ASD or whatever, and suddenly they're treated with more kindness and compassion. But we've all got some issues. We're all a little bit something. Imagine if we could treat one another with kindness and compassion without knowing any backstory! With the IEP designation, some students reveal the framework of their abilities, but others don't. Ignoring the designation, but accommodating everyone as needed, takes away the expectation of always needing the extra time, takes away the 'specialness' of certain kids, and provokes us to see the unique needs of each of our students. And each other.

With my own experiences as a mother with two children with an IEP, I found the process of discovering specific barriers can be enlightening and incredibly useful for the child and parent about half the time. I don't want to throw that away. But how we attend to all these types of designations could use a reworking. It will be interesting to see how this change plays out in the coming years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On Masculinity

Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger: A History of the Present, wrote an interesting article in The Guardian last Saturday on the rise of a new idea of masculinity as linked in part to industry:
The moral prestige of Gandhi’s murderer is only one sign among many of what seems to be a global crisis of masculinity. Luridly retro ideas of what it means to be a strong man have gone mainstream even in so-called advanced nations. In January Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian self-help writer who laments that “the west has lost faith in masculinity” and denounces the “murderous equity doctrine” espoused by women, was hailed in the New York Times as “the most influential public intellectual in the western world right now”. . . . 
As manly virtues arose, attacks on women, and feminists in particular, in the west became nearly as fierce as the wars waged abroad to rescue Muslim damsels in distress. In Manliness (2006) Harvey Mansfield, a political philosopher at Harvard, denounced working women for undermining the protective role of men. The historian Niall Ferguson, a self-declared neo-imperialist, bemoaned that “girls no longer play with dolls” and that feminists have forced Europe into demographic decline. More revealingly, the few women publicly critical of the bellicosity, such as Katha Pollitt, Susan Sontag and Arundhati Roy, were “mounted on poles for public whipping” and flogged, Barbara Kingsolver wrote, with “words like bitch and airhead and moron and silly”. At the same time, Vanity Fair’s photo essay on the Bush administration at war commended the president for his masculine sangfroid and hailed his deputy, Dick Cheney, as “The Rock”. . . . It is also true that historically privileged men tend to be profoundly disturbed by perceived competition from women, gay people and diverse ethnic and religious groups. In Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle (1990) Elaine Showalter described the great terror induced among many men by the very modest gains of feminists in the late 19th century: “fears of regression and degeneration, the longing for strict border controls around the definition of gender, as well as race, class and nationality”. . . . These majestically male makers of the modern west are being forced to think twice about a lot today. Gay men and women are freer than before to love whom they love, and to marry them. Women expect greater self-fulfilment in the workplace, at home and in bed. Trump may have the biggest nuclear button, but China leads in artificial intelligence as well as old-style mass manufacturing. And technology and automation threaten to render obsolete the men who push and pull things – most damagingly in the west. . . . 
It is as though the fantasy of male strength measures itself most gratifyingly against the fantasy of female weakness. Equating women with impotence and seized by panic about becoming cucks, these rancorously angry men are symptoms of an endemic and seemingly unresolvable crisis of masculinity. . . . Pop psychologists periodically insist that men are from Mars and women from Venus, lamenting the loss of what Peterson calls “traditional” divisions of labour, without acknowledging that capitalist, industrial and expansionist societies required a fresh division of labour, or that the straight white men who supervised them deemed women unfit, due to their physical or intellectual inferiority, to undertake territorial aggrandisement, nation-building, industrial production, international trade, and scientific innovation. . . . Upper-class parents in America and Britain had begun to send their sons to boarding schools in the hope that their bodies and moral characters would be suitably toughened up in the absence of corrupting feminine influences. Competitive sports, which were first organised in the second half of the 19th century, became a much-favoured means of pre-empting sissiness – and of mass-producing virile imperialists. It was widely believed that putative empire-builders would be too exhausted by their exertions on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow to masturbate. . . . 
The first victims of the quest for a mythical male potency are arguably men themselves, whether in school playgrounds, offices, prisons or battlefields. This everyday experience of fear and trauma binds them to women in more ways than most men, trapped by myths of resolute manhood, tend to acknowledge. Certainly, men would waste this latest crisis of masculinity if they deny or underplay the experience of vulnerability they share with women on a planet that is itself endangered."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

On the Necessity for a Public Takedown

When, a couple months back, I read Katie Way's depiction of a date between "Grace" and Aziz Ansari, at first I felt badly for him to be outed as such a crappy date. How embarrassing. Then in the New York TimesBari Weiss responded that Ansari was being asked to be a mindreader. My rejection of that idea led me to a more nuanced understanding of the issue. I commented there,

But then, as is so often the case, a discussion with students in my class clarified the issue even further.

This is an important issue to be raised. It's still seems, based on this conversation with a room full of teenagers, a common problem on dates. Guys will ignore body language and use subtle leaning, pushing, guiding, and grinding as a way to progress an event that isn't explicitly desired by the pushed and leaned upon party. By using movement rather than words, it feels easier to act as if they merely misconstrued the situation. By taking it out of the realm of verbal communication, they can better claim a problem with interpretation instead of straight up consent.

On UW's Mental Health Recommendations

After another suicide on the campus of the University of Waterloo, the university compiled 36 recommendations to try to alleviate the mental health crisis and held (and taped) a forum as well. It really says something about our lives that one of the recommendations is about the process of communicating suicides to students. At my school board, when I was a union rep, we had long conversations on this same topic. Suicide is now common enough to elicit developing a standard operating procedure for WHEN it happens.

We are clearly in the midst of a profound mental health crisis everywhere, not just in the universities. But because we're still on shaky ground trying to determine the cause of the problem, it's so hard to find the best solution. I had a good discussion with my class about Johann Hari's Lost Connections, and they were quite defensive at the suggestion that anxiety and depression are anything but biological conditions. People with these conditions are "actually sick," they insisted. Of course they are. But we can be sick without the cause of the illness being an inborn chemical imbalance. Clearly we can get lung cancer from living in a city where we swim though polluted air on our daily commute. So, like particulates physically affect our lungs, loneliness, trauma, ongoing stress, a lack of control over our environment, losing hope for the future, and perfectionism physically affect our brains. The effects can be seen in an MRI. It's no less real and no less an externally imposed condition in our brains than pollution is in our bodies.

Monday, February 19, 2018

On Hari's Lost Connections

"There's violence to knowing the world isn't what you thought. . . . Sometimes the world doesn't make a lot of sense, but how we get through it is, we stick together, okay?" - Gloria Burgle, Fargo

I watched Joe Rogan's interview with (interrogation of) Johann Hari about his new book, Lost Connections. Rogan wasn't quite buying what Hari is selling, which is unfortunate because his premise is intriguing. He told a few stories through the podcast, but his book, while still a casual read, is heavily footnoted, and his view thoroughly supported with the most up-to-date peer-reviewed research. He even encourages us to "Kick the evidence. See if it breaks. The stakes are too high for us to get this wrong" (14). It's just this: Anxiety and depression are not primarily caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and drugs only work a little bit for very few people.

He needs all the footnotes because his claims are extraordinary, and the worst thing would be if this were seen as a mere conspiracy theory against Big Pharma. This is just a brief summary without all the data and examples. He interviewed many contemporary researchers and compiled the evidence necessary to convince the masses of our wrong turn on this one. And it's not about the cellphones!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Swimming Lessons

"As for our bodies, there comes a time when no one wants to come near them." ~ Mr. Perlman speaking one of the saddest line from the lovely film Call Me by Your Name.

I took my youngest daughter to the gym with me one Saturday. She wanted to use the treadmill, but there were actual other human beings in the room, so she just used the bike. She's not confident with the treadmill yet and doesn't want to look stupid. I told her, "Don't be silly; nobody in the room will even notice how you look on it!" But, apparently, I just don't understand.

Well, she's young, right? She'll get over that feeling of being observed and judged.


The very next day, I headed to my first swimming lesson in about forty years. I mean my lesson, not one for my kids.

On Free Meds and Mental Health Care

Perfect timing.

My son just finished telling me about his trip to our family doctor in which he tried but failed to get a form filled out that will enable our benefits to cover his ridiculously expensive drugs, when I came across this post on my Twitter feed from the perspicacious Jenny Lawson:

I don't usually rant on social media. I save it for this blog where there's more room to clarify the issues in carefully worded posts. But I was just jazzed enough to fire off this whiney retweet:

Sunday, January 28, 2018

On Conflict

We're raised to understand conflict from the perspective of good guys and bad guys. But it's rarely so clear. The battle for land and resources can be utterly nonsensical, particularly where there is plenty to go around. I watched the documentary Jane last night, in which Goodall described the horrors of the Chimp Wars of the mid-70s when a peaceful group of chimpanzees divided into two factions, seemingly randomly, and then one completely slaughtered the other over a period of about four years. They didn't stop until every single one was dead, even though some of the chimps were killing former childhood friends. Primates kill other primates. And we're primates. But we have something no other primates have: complex language. At what point will we use it instead of violence?

Turkey launched an assault on Rojava last Saturday, sparked by a US announcement that the US wants to create a border force 30,000 strong to patrol the area, which will include the Kurdish military. So far, at least 23 civilians are dead, and 5,000 displaced. It's a tragedy that must be stopped, absolutely. In the words of Sean Crowe, it's wrong on so many levels and must be condemned:

In one sense it seems simply a territorial war not entirely dissimilar to conflicts between animals everywhere who don't want that group in this place. But it's also very complicated. (Or complicated to me.) I'm just trying to figure it all out here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Monbiot's Out of the Wreckage

The book cover says the book "provides the hope and clarity required to change the world." Well, he certainly tries. He's got a plan of action that's possible, but I didn't get the requisite hope necessary to be spurred to action. It's a bit of an overview of many ideas from different places, many of which are already in action somewhere in the world, and it left me with a solid  book list to peruse, but it also left me with a sinking feeling that this will never work. We're never going to get our shit together enough to do any of this. But I've been wrong before.

The first part is a mix of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries, Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, Robert Reich's Inequality for All, and Noam Chomsky's talks on solidarity. Then he gets into specifics about our ideas around our communities, environment, economics, and democracy.

On School Holidays

If we can't move or shorten the "winter break" because, let's face it. we're running on a Christian calendar with lengthy holidays around Christmas and Easter and no time off for any other religion (well, we recognize Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but would we if they were at a different time?), if we can recognize we're not quite secular yet, then could we start the school year in August and end it in May with a June-July summer? June is getting hotter (h/t climate change), and August is often rainy anyway, right? I know it's tricky to change things like this, but it's silly to continue on with a system that isn't optimal for the people being served. In many states, they've already shifted to an August start.

In the high schools, after two weeks of eating and sleeping excessively, we come back for just two weeks of learning, quickly followed by review and final exams. For grade 12s hoping to get in to college or university, this is the most important semester of their lives, and they often come back sluggish and in need of a refresher that we don't have time to offer. If we start in August, then the break will fall at the half-way mark between the two semesters. Kids can have a real break without assignments hanging over their heads--that most don't actually get done over Christmas despite their best intentions. This year I had many students completely forget about a major assignment that was due after the break - and I had changed the due date from before to after on their insistence that they'd do a much better job with more time. And then January is a nice, fresh start for everyone. It will take some adjusting as summer camps shift their schedules, but it's clearly do-able.

Then March break and Thanksgiving are both centred nicely in the middle of the semesters. But, while we're at it, can we attach the March break to Easter (or just ditch that Easter Monday invention) and shorten it, then add a few of those days to Thanksgiving to have more even semesters? October is a beautiful time for a holiday, and the number of holidays breaking up our second semester makes it difficult to have any continuity.

I know it's not all about me, but these are largely school holiday that are placed in the worst arrangement in respect of school success. Frankly, I'm all for year-round schooling, but that's likely going too far for some.

ETA - This is timely: WRDSB is considering year-round schooling. But the trustees make the mistake of suggesting that our current model is for outdated agrarian purposes. Historian Kenneth Gold says otherwise:
“What school on the agrarian calendar actually looked like was a short winter term and a short summer term....And if you think about farming needs, that’s actually what makes sense....Kids in rural, agricultural areas were most needed in the spring, when most crops had to be planted, and in the fall, when crops were harvested and sold. Historically, many attended school in the summer when there was comparatively less need for them on the farm....the current school year was really a conscious creation...A long break would give teachers needed time to train and give kids a break. And while summer was the logical time to take off, the cycles of farming had nothing to do with it."
ETA - BUT, as much as I support year-round schooling, I'm not in favour of their proposed calendar, which makes no sense in terms of balanced semesters:

The first semester looks fine, but why add in a week in February and then leave three months, April, May, and June, without any breaks. If they have a leftover week of holidays, give the kids a long weekend - or even one Wednesday "catch-up" day each quarter. Then make the spring break fall right in the middle of the semester, rather than have 8 weeks in one quarter and 13 weeks in the next. Who does that benefit??

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Long Wait - A Bandaid for the Emergency Room Crisis

This is just an off-the-cuff comment, but enduring a long wait in a crowded, infection-ridden emergency room just once should be enough to spur people into action - or at least into innovation. At the time of my first extended wait, I asked a nurse if I could just take a number or somehow find out where I am in line and/or have a means to hold my place so I could leave to get food and come back again later.

She said, "No, you just have to wait with everyone else."

Fair enough, but what if we could wait at home??

When we first sign-in at the hospital now, it's all on a computer. It seems feasible, to me, to develop a means of signing-in from home. I mean, we can check the general wait-times online already:

But because that time can vary depending on what type of illness or injury shows up after we get there, it doesn't tell us much. And the longer we wait to make our way to the hospital, the longer we could end up waiting there because there are no guarantees that the wait time will diminish.

The computer log-in provides the first line of triage, and that wouldn't change. But patients could provide more information to the triage nurses online instead of having a waiting period followed by a brief interview and then another waiting period. Most people can take their own temperature at least, provide a sense of their pain or distress on a scale of 1-10, and fill in a questionnaire about symptom onset, duration, and severity, enough to get a sense of if their condition is emergent, urgent, less urgent or non-urgent. I realize triage is a complicated process, so a trained nurse could ask further questions as needed or even ask for photos to be sent if necessary, and the system could be made to flag any typical symptoms that might indicate a fatal condition. The system could estimate wait time based on each patient's own specific need for treatment, and sick people could stay home until just 15 minutes  before their name is likely to be called. Anyone anxious about the system not working effectively, can wait the five hours on a hard chair potentially surrounded by people with contagious conditions and a TV blaring nearby. People would need to sign in with a valid health card number to prevent any shenanigans. Abusers of the system would have to face consequences similar to those faced by 911 prank callers.

Of course there's nothing that can match a professional seeing a patient in person to judge if they're just uncomfortable or scared and in need of reassurance rather than actually needing emergency care, and they'll have to err on the side of assessing people as more urgent, but, until we're able to actually fix the system, maybe something like this might at least make it more bearable. Any time I've called Telehealth, they've just sent me to emerge anyway. Maybe putting it in the hospitals as a first-line  assessment service could make the waiting easier. I wouldn't be as annoyed about waiting for hours if I could do it in my living room.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Oxygen Depletion in the Oceans

This can't be good:

"The oxygen content of the open ocean and coastal waters has been declining for at least the past half-century, largely because of human activities that have increased global temperatures and nutrients discharged to coastal waters. These changes have accelerated consumption of oxygen by microbial respiration, reduced solubility of oxygen in water, and reduced the rate of oxygen resupply from the atmosphere to the ocean interior, with a wide range of biological and ecological consequences."

From Science Magazine 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

War is a Terrible Back-Up Plan

Noam Chomsky is certain that the only two things we should be worried about right now are climate change and nuclear war. Adam Ellick and Jonah Kessel's article in the NYTimes from last month, "From North Korea with Dread," is terrifying. Some think it's not something to fear because of course the U.S. will win against them, but, living less than 500 km from Washington DC as the crow flies, we would definitely be affected by just one lone strike on American soil. The claim that North Korea wouldn't be dumb enough to strike at all against a country so much more powerful is somewhat eradicated by the video at the link.

The citizens interviewed, albeit largely prompted by the interpreter and some unnamed guy in the background, seem to view themselves as ants in a colony, willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the group. One young woman explains that "we all die eventually." Some of the people interviewed looked terrified and refused to speak, and it's hard to say if they were more afraid of the American reporters or of being caught speaking freely or of the prospect of impending doom. So who's to say what they really think. They repeated many times that the entire country has signed up for military duty, willing to fight on the front lines, but it's not clear to me how much that matters now that we have nuclear warhead and drones. And citizen support of war isn't necessary under a dictatorship except in an attempt to appear benevolent. But they want to be sure we know they're all in.

The video is frustrating in its lack of clarity, which might have been improved with a reporter familiar with the language at least enough to ask questions without prompts required. But maybe that's against the rules anyway.

Jeffrey Lewis, in Foreign Policy, backs up some of these concerns,
"We're like hack screenwriters who have written ourselves into a corner. We don't know how to write the happy ending, so we're looking for a deus ex machina to appear and solve it for us. At the moment, that's China. But that's not a very plausible ending, not even for a fairy tale. And so the war talk goes on."

North Korea did many terrible things to the U.S. before it had nuclear weapons, so it's not inconceivable it won't act now if we can't get Trump to settle down. Yikes.

ETA this interview with a South Korean general discussing what war would be like with North Korea:
“I try to explain to the Americans — if we have to go into North Korea, it is not going to be like going into Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s not going to be like toppling [ex-Iraqi President Saddam] Hussein. This would be more like trying to get rid of Allah....I have had the opportunity to speak to North Korean soldiers who have defected to South Korea — and you cannot imagine how indoctrinated they are. These are people who have defected, and yet there is still an innate belief in their system which is close to ridiculous....North Korean pilots would likely use their planes in kamikaze-style attacks, since the aircraft are too old to reliably fly well over long periods of time. That matters since the North Korean air force has around 1,000 planes. Plus, North Koreans receive 100 hours of training on how shoot a weapon a year starting at the age of 14, underscoring how militarized the society is.”
So, there's that.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On Fostering Illusions and the Qualitative Leap

What do you do when well-meaning people dear to you advise you to ignore your doctors? (And what if the doctors are wrong?)

I generally rally against non-scientifically verifiable medical claims. I'm pretty open minded and willing to try anything, but I also scrutinize any available research before I write off some new thing as the next solution to everything, like coconut oil or vitamin D. A year ago I wrote about people trying to peddle naturopathic cures to me after I was first diagnosed, but more recently I've been challenged by some scientifically-minded friends and family over some of the changes I've actually adopted in my life after all that cancer stuff.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

On Shame, Honour, and Vulnerability

I was forwarded this 47 minute podcast with Brené Brown on 1A, and some of the ideas she has are remarkably similar to Timothy Snyder's views in On Tyranny (e.g. connect with others in real life, speak truth to bullshit), so I bought her newest book, Braving the Wilderness. I was sorrily disappointed. She has done a bit of useful research, but it's written in such a self-helpy way that makes it all seem so dubious: anecdotes from childhood, some forced acronyms, lots of repetition of ideas, a slightly bigger font than most books, the sort of thing that feels questionable but likeable. She's very popular. She's a TED Talker, which can also boost popularity but detract from credibility in equal measure (see herehere, and here). Luckily, I found her original research (but just that one journal article), which is a much better starting point.

I'm interested in her findings but also concerned with some ideas left out of her analysis. Granted I haven't read all her books, but I think I get the gist of her ideas.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

I finally got to this pocket-sized book, which is full of the kind of lessons that were passed down from my folks and that I've been saying for decades and of some others that I'm hearing over and over in the past year. The behaviours are nothing new, and it is good to be reminded, but it's the background that's missing from my summary: Snyder's (no relation) clear link between pre-holocaust behaviour and now, what helped and what hindered. From a thorough understanding of history, Snyder gleaned twenty tips to help us avoid global catastrophe or at least preserve some semblance of freedom for ourselves in the coming years:
"The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why" (11).
I merged them all down to five to better remember them all: