Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Game Changers: A Bit about Persuasion and Reason and Eating Your Vegetables

I've come to believe that determining the very best diet is as individual as figuring out the best course of action to treat anxiety or depression. We are each our own guinea pig. Individually, we each have to try a few things, gradually, while monitoring our energy levels, abilities, and general feelings of good health and wellbeing, to see what actually works for us. That takes time to get right. I was raised on meat and potatoes, but then I read Diet for a Small Planet when I was a teenager, and it convinced me to eat low on the food chain. Ever since, I lean towards fruits, vegetables, and grains with the occasional brick of cheese melted on top, and an even less frequent gorge on chicken wings. After having cancer and reading many studies on the correlation between animal consumption and cancers, I hesitate to eat animal products quite so much. To clarify, I still eat them because ... yum!, but I sit with some cognitive dissonance each time. I clear my conscience with my favourite salad: a bowl of raw vegetables smothered in cilantro and basil, no dressing. I don't get repeat invites to potlucks.

I just watched The Game Changers (their sources are here), and I'm going to try to sort out the fact from fiction in the film as well as in some of the many 'debunkings' I've found, which are sometimes equally suspect.

It's fascinating to me how often passion overrules reason in these discussions. What is it about food that makes people swing to the extremes? I've written before about even the brilliant Chris Hedges getting sucked into some weak evidence, and I've met many reasonable people who don't see any problems with some of dubious claims on only this issue. There's often an outrage just below the surface of these docs that suggest that, if you don't believe it, then either you're a horrible person or a complete idiot. I'm not convinced by the outrage. I'm not a nutritionist, and I'm definitely not a foody, but I do have a background in research methods and in logic and critical thinking. And some claims made in this field, on both sides of the aisle, are really problematic. Full disclosure, I have been vegetarian a couple times, for a few years each time, but I've never even tried to be vegan despite opening my classroom doors for a plant based club each week. Maybe this is the time to give it a shot.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Pre-COP25 Panel of Speakers: the Intersection of Climate and Race

A headache kept me home from work today, so I got some fresh air and checked out the climate strike. It was great timing for the strike, on Black Friday, with COP 25 starting in Chile - scratch that - Madrid three days from now.


It's a really hard sell to get a protest going on a cold day. There were about 200 people there, which was great, but it could be better, couldn't it. We can't have field trips to the protests, but could I book a field trip to see a movie and then accidentally get side tracked on the way?? Oh look, that protest is today too. Let's check it out for a minute! I have to say, it's really cool when you're at a march and suddenly a huge group of people join at once. It's like the cavalry coming in to save the day!



The protest started with an indigenous smudging ceremony, drumming and singing from Idle No More. Some dancing in unison, holding hands with the strangers next to us, can be so useful for developing community. It's necessary to be part of something bigger than ourselves if we're going to tackle something this huge. The speakers outside the mall had the power cut by Primus Property Management, even though, as far as I know, they had booked the area just like any other group. But a megaphone was passed to them, and they continued. Then we marched down the middle of the street instead of sticking to the sidewalks. That felt more like a real march. There was a panel of speakers waiting for us at a nearby church. The event ended with an Extinction Rebellion disruption at the mall. Kudos to the organizers for such an incredibly smooth event!! But about that panel...


Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Greatest Propaganda Machine in History

Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G. and Borat, among others) won an award from the Anti-Defamation League. Here's his 25 minute acceptance speech. It's in writing, abridged a bit, below the video if you'd rather skim than watch. (Emphasis is mine.)



"Today, around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringe, are going mainstream. It's as if the age of reason, the era of evidential argument is ending and now knowledge is increasing delegitimized, and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging . . .  What do these dangerous trends have in common? . . . All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history. . . . 

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and others reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplifying the type of content that keeps users engaged: stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. . . . It's why fake news outperforms real news because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it's no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history, the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. . . . On the internet, everything can appeal equally legitimate. . . The rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Noble Prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of basic facts upon which democracy depends.

When, thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it is easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections, and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against the Rohingya. It's actually quite shocking how easy it is to turn conspiracy thinking into violence. [In character, he was able to convince a man to push a button he believed would kill three innocent people.] Voltaire was right when he said, 'Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.' Social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.

In their defense, these social media companies have taken some steps to defuse hate and conspiracies on their platforms. These steps have been mainly superficial. I'm talking about this today because I believe that our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice, and in the next 12 months the role of social media could be determined. British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of the great displacement, that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for a president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a Hispanic invasion. And, after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a hoax, the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris Accord. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy and, to some degree, our planet, this can't possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.

I believe it's time for a fundamental re-think of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies, and lies. Last month, however, Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, delivered a major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. While some of these arguments are simply bullshit, let's count the ways:

First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as 'choices around free expression.' That is ludicrous! This is not about limiting anyone's free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-semites, and child abusers, but I think we can all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.

Second, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on what's posted on social media would be 'to pull back on free expression.' This is utter nonsense. The First Amendment says that, and I quote, 'Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech'; however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We're not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms. If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and say he wants to kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant, a private business, be required to serve him an elegant eight course meal? Of course not! The restaurant owner has every legal right, and indeed I would argue, a moral obligation, to kick that Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.

Third, Mark Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of the most repressive societies.  Incredible! This from one of the six people who decide what information so much of the world sees: Zuckerberg at Facebook, Sundar Pichai at Google, at its parent company Alphabet Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Brin's ex-sister-in-law Susan Wojcicki at YouTube, and Jack Dorsey at Twitter. The silicon six. All billionaires, all Americans who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism. Six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government, and acting like they're above the reach of law. It's like we're living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut. Now here's an idea: instead of letting the silicon six decide the fate of the world, let our elected representatives voted for by the people of every democracy in the world have at least some say.

Fourth, Zuckerberg speaks of welcoming a diversity of ideas, and last year he gave us an example.  He said that he found posts denying the Holocaust deeply offensive, but he didn't think Facebook should take them down because, 'I think there are things that different people get wrong.' At this very moment there are still Holocaust deniers on Facebook, and Google still takes you to the most repulsive Holocaust denial sites with a simple click. One of the heads of Google in fact told me that these sites just show both sides of the issue. This is madness! To quote Edward R Murrow, 'One cannot accept that there are on every story two equal and logical sides to an argument.' We have unfortunately millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust. It is an historical fact, and denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.

Still Zuckerberg says that people should decide what is credible, not tech companies. But at a time when two-thirds of Millennials say that they haven't even heard of Auschwitz, how are they supposed to know what's credible? How are they supposed to know that the lie is a lie? There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist. And if these Internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL and the NAACP, insist on facts, and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.

When discussing the difficulty of removing content Zuckerberg asked 'Where do you draw the line?'  Yes, drawing the line can be difficult, but here's what he's really saying: removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive. These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world They could fix these problems if they wanted to. Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacist hate speech, but they reportedly haven't because it would eject some very prominent politicians from their platform. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing! The truth is these companies won't fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear, and outrage. So it's time to finally call these companies what they really are: the largest publishers in history. So here's an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines, and TV news do everyday. We have standards and practices in television and the movies.  There are certain things we cannot say or do. In England, I was told that Ali G. could not curse when he appeared before 9 p.m. Here in the US, the Motion Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see. I've had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards. Now if there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide basic standards and practices too. Take the issue of political ads on which Facebook has been resolute.  Fortunately Twitter finally banned them, and Google today I read is making changes too. But if you pay them, Facebook will run any political ad you want even if it's a lie,  and they'll even help you micro target those lies to their users for maximum effect.  Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the Jewish problem. Here's a good standard and practice: Facebook start fact-checking political ads before you run them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and, when the ads of false, give back the money and don't publish them.

Here's another good practice: slow down. Every single post does not need to be published immediately. Oscar Wilde once said, 'We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessity.' but let me ask you, 'Is having every thought or video posted instantly online, even if it's racist or criminal, murderous, really a necessity?' Of course not! The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand live streamed his atrocity on Facebook where it then spread across the internet and was viewed likely millions of times. It was a snuff film brought to you by social media. Why can't we have more of a delay so that this trauma inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it's posted in the first place?!

Finally Zuckerberg said that social media companies should live up to their responsibilities, but he's totally silent about what should happen when they don't. By now it's pretty clear they cannot be  trusted to regulate themselves. As with the Industrial Revolution, it's time for regulation and legislation to curb the greed of these high-tech robber barons. In every other industry a company can be held liable when their product is defective.  When engines explode or seat belts malfunction, car companies recalled tens of thousands of vehicles at a cost of billions of dollars. It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, your product is defective. You are obliged to fix it no matter how much it costs and no matter how many moderators you need to employ. In every other industry you can be sued for the harm you caused. Publishers can be sued for libel. People can be sued for defamation. I've been sued many times. I'm being sued right now by someone whose name I won't mention because he might sue me again. But social media companies are largely protected from liability for the content their users post no matter how indecent it is by section 230 of - get ready for it - the Communications Decency Act. It's absurd! Fortunately internet companies can now be held responsible for pedophiles who use their site to target children. So I say let's also hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion.

And maybe fines are not enough. Maybe it's time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies, 'You already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections; you already facilitated one genocide in the anima. Do it again and you go to jail. In the end it all comes down to what kind of world we want. In his speech, Zuckerberg said that one of his main goals is to uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible. It sounds good. Yet our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, they're also the means to another end: as you say here in the US, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But today these rights are threatened by hate conspiracies and lies. So allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society: the ultimate aim of society should be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love, or how they pray. If we make that our aim, if we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus, then maybe, just maybe, we can stop the greatest propaganda machine in history. We can  save democracy. We can still have a place for free speech and free expression and, most importantly, my jokes will still work.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Gen Z for Zero, Net Zero

Mia Rabson reports,
"A baby born in Canada today will never know a time in which his or her health isn’t at risk from a warming planet . . . Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives. . . . in a country like Canada, air pollution, heat-related illnesses and exposure to toxic smoke from forest fires are bigger threats to a child’s long-term health. A warmer world means more widespread transmission of diseases, as well as the political strife that comes with mass migration as some parts of the world become uninhabitable. . . . pushing the world to do more to slow global warming is critical. . . . if we intervene now to keep warming down and find ways to adapt, the savings to the health system and economic productivity down the road will in many places more than pay for the costs of those interventions."
The Lancet article she sources doesn't pull any punches,
"A child born today will experience a world that is more than four degrees warmer than the pre-industrial average, . . . Downward trends in global yield potential for all major crops tracked since 1960 threaten food production and food security, with infants often the worst affected by the potentially permanent effects of undernutrition. . . . Trends in climate suitability for disease transmission are particularly concerning, with 9 of the 10 most suitable years for the transmission of dengue fever on record occurring since 2000. . . . . air pollution—principally driven by fossil fuels, and exacerbated by climate change—damages the heart, lungs, and every other vital organ. . . . Globally, 77% of countries experienced an increase in daily population exposure to wildfires from 2001 to 2015. . . . . A business as usual trajectory will result in a fundamentally altered world. . . . 
The Paris Agreement has set a target of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1·5°C.” In a world that matches this ambition, a child born today would see the phase-out of all coal in the UK and Canada by their sixth and 11th birthday; they would see France ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by their 21st birthday; and they would be 31 years old by the time the world reaches net-zero in 2050."
If we can make this happen, we all know that it will be good beyond merely allowing us to continue to survive on this planet:
"The changes seen in this alternate pathway could result in cleaner air, safer cities, and more nutritious food, coupled with renewed investment in health systems and vital infrastructure. . . . In several cases, the economic savings from a healthier and more productive workforce, with fewer health-care expenses, will cover the initial investment costs of these interventions."
We're implemented some changes, but greenhouse gasses continue to rise. This is the same story we've been hearing for years, and the main reason I question anyone's choice to bring more children into this mess, but at least it's being reported by mainstream media. Maybe that's something.

On Developing a Consistent Self

In a New York Times article, "What do teens learn online today?", Elizabeth Weil suggests that kids are on the right track when they stream every inch of their anguish and joys in countless video tutorials aimed at, perhaps a necessary clarification, other teens. Weil says,
"It’s nice if our fellow humans are predictable, and you have some idea of what you’ll be dealing with when a person shows up. There are whole branches of psychology dedicated to trying to help us keep ourselves together. . . . And yet, at the same time, we know it’s a ruse. We are, all of us, deeply, inalienably contradictory and chaotic. Arguably it is the dominant postapocalyptic vision of our digital times, the internet’s McLuhan moment, brought to us by teenagers who, as such, spend their days feeling like 10 different people at once and believe they can, and should, express them all. We all contain multitudes. The kids seem to know that’s all right."
I commented on the article with this memory,
Back in first year uni, in the 80s, my prof told us, "It doesn't matter what your philosophy of life is, so long as it's consistent and self-cohesive," and immediately, in my head, I countered with Whitman's 'multitudes' line. That's youth talking. It's the untamed stream of consciousness all things at all times why do we have to learn punctuation anyway line of reasoning. And it has it's place, for sure. The error is in thinking it makes us more authentic to show all sides of ourselves in real time. Unorganized thought merely flattens the ideas presented until nothing is more important than anything else, but then nothing is really communicated beyond all the feels, and "I am here!! Look at me!" We contain multitudes, but at some point we also develop a more integrated self, not just to be conveniently predictable for others, but to better understand how to live and how to connect and how to be. Prioritizing our ideas into an organized whole in a thoughtful attempt at elucidating who we are and what matters is not to be shrugged off because it's what the "olds" do. It's the later stage work of finding that authentic self.
(After haggling in my head over a few words, I hit 'submit' and then noticed that one glaringly inaccurate *it's*. Punctuation indeed! Whatevs.)

Weil seems to be newly introduced to this adolescent culture of everything at once, which might mean she has forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. It might seem different online, but that's just a matter of packaging. That flattening of ideas and values so everything is as important as everything else is a useful way to avoid decision and responsibility - those nasty things that come with age. (Well, one can only hope they come.) She calls it a "feature of the online world" while alluding to a 19th century poet. Curious.

I believe it's vital to remember who should be leading whom. What kids do often looks new and cool from a distance, and they can be jarringly sophisticated in the talent of expressing distain for anything that predates them, but there are consequences to the refusal to do the work of thinking and deciding. Developing a consistent self and philosophy of life within the complexity of being isn't a ruse set to tame us, but a method of focusing. If we forget that in a quest to avoid an "Ok boomer" dig, then we are negligent, and we deserve the culture we've helped to create.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Paul Gorski on Education and Inequity

For the first time in 28 years of teaching, I approve of the new guru being brought to the masses from on high. Immediately, from just the first few seconds of the  video we were compelled to watch for some force-fed professional development, I knew this guy was different. The sound was poor quality, and it was clearly homemade using a laptop camera and mic; there was nothing slick or polished about it in the least. That is high praise coming from me.

Paul Gorski is Associate Professor at New Century College. Beyond being an author of several books and magazine articles, he is the primary author of many articles published in journals (albeit low ranking or unranked - at least they're his own studies). And he, like me, rails against many of the ideas teachers have been told to embrace over the years, like the whole the Grit Movement. I think growth mindset fits the same "deficit" criticisms as is outlined further here, and in this tweet:


Elsewhere he adds in Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Competence. They all run into the same problem: Telling people they just need a different mindset or more grit to do better in school denies, in the most condescending way, the reality that people who are marginalized are often models of resilience and grit. They've overcome more obstacles before breakfast than the rest of us have to manage all day. He explains further in this paper,
"A majority of [Ruby Payne's] claims about the mindsets of people experiencing poverty have been debunked: her core book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, exposed for containing innumerable factual errors meant to paint the cultures of people experiencing poverty as the determining factor in educational outcome disparities. People experiencing poverty, as it turns out, are just as diverse as any other group defined around a single identity. Unfortunately, reality is of little mitigating consequence against ideology. Payne, like other deficit ideologues, speaks to the existing misperceptions and biases of her primarily classroom-teacher audience. People in poverty are broken. Here’s how to fix them. This is the power of deficit ideology and why it poses the most danger in sociopolitical contexts in which people are socialised to believe equal opportunity exists. . . . The natural inclination of the educator who ascribes to deficit ideology is to believe that parents experiencing poverty do not show up because they do not care. . . . What they too often fail to see are the barriers that make opportunities for family involvement less accessible to families experiencing poverty."
His discussion around the problems with the grit ideology make it clear how well the "spoon" metaphor, used by people with disabilities and then adopted by people with depression and other mental illnesses, works with poverty as well. It's another way to look at the concepts of ego depletion or the hierarchy of needs. People without adequate resources use up most of their energy trying to get those basic needs met and then they have less energy for school. We all have students who are hungry at school, and often we have students who are caring for younger siblings or who seem to be perpetually in the middle of changing where they're living or who they're living with. They're exhausted.


We've gotten much better at working with students suffering from mental health issues. We've come to recognize that delaying timelines for assignments isn't the answer when things are difficult because it just piles up the work until it's overwhelming, but that some students need to be allowed to take fewer courses at a time. We need the greater system at large (at the board and provincial levels) to stop putting any pressure on or in any way glorifying the idea of finishing high school in four years. As I said a couple years back, "If we stop suggesting that there's something wrong with taking five years to finish, then students might stop getting discouraged if they need another year." It's about time that this type of thinking and accommodating is applied to people whose education is affected by low socio-economic status.

Gorski is American, however, and we don't have quite the same level of poverty issues as they do next door, in part because of how our schools are funded to ensure similar resources at each school and how our healthcare is funded so everyone has access to a doctor. When he speaks of inequity in detail, he lists things like schools with inoperative or filthy bathrooms, lower teacher salaries, unfilled teacher vacancies, and less access to preventive healthcare. So, our problems aren't like their's (until you get north of Thunder Bay). But we certainly have kids experiencing food insecurity and a lack of the types of technological resources in the home that have become an expectation of the school system.

One teacher conversation centred around how often students are given chromebooks which are lost or destroyed within a year, particularly in the Fast Forward stream, which is often the stream with the highest percentage of parents in the lowest SES. Some argued that not having a laptop clearly isn't a direct effect of poverty, since they were each given one. I argued that perhaps it's an indirect effect of missing the skill of caring for property, a skill that's developed through ownership of expensive objects. However, it also IS affected directly by poverty. When my youngest was in grade nine last year, she tried to put her chromebook in her knapsack while walking down a flight of stairs. She stumbled, and, flailing for balance, inadvertently smashed her chromebook against the handrail. I paid $50 for a replacement screen the next day, and the incident had a negligible effect on her schooling. For some people, that $50 is already allocated for groceries. They have to wait for extra money to come from somewhere to get that chromebook fixed.


Sphere of Influence - What does it look like??

According to Gorski, structural ideology - as opposed to deficit or grit ideology - recognizes that groups are more similar than different and that some people still have greater barriers that are no fault of their own that come from having too many challenges to cope with outside of school. My first reaction to the video is to want to call my MPP because this isn't a problem I can solve. But Gorski insists that there is much educators can do within their sphere of influence. From the article linked above,
"What makes this reality difficult to manage in a teacher education context is that all of these outside-of-school inequities appear to most current and future educators far outside their spheres of influence. In fact, neither teachers nor schools are equipped with the knowledge, resources, or time to resolve these conditions – especially not in the immediate term. This is, in part, what makes deficit and grit ideology so alluring: they allow educators to define problems in ways that call for straightforward and practical solutions. Teach families the value of education. Cultivate resilience in students. With a structural ideology educators see big structural conditions they cannot rectify so easily or practically. The hope of structural ideology is that, even if schools and educators cannot fully rectify those conditions, equity policy and practice should be responsive to those conditions and not punish economically marginalised students for their implications."
I also think we ascribe blame as a way of distancing ourselves from these issues. I'll never be poor because I won't be stupid enough to do x, y, or z. That gives us the illusion of safety from these experiences. Once we open ourselves up to the possibility that chance plays a part in other people's difficulties, then we are more vulnerable to the frightening awareness that these things could happen to us or our loved ones. But, only then can we become more understanding of this type of problem in our classroom and more actively engaging in changing the underlying structures rather than fixing the children.

We were prompted to consider Parent-Teacher night in which we typically only see the people we don't really need to see - those striving to maintain marks over 95. We're told to call home if students are not attending or getting work done, and many dread making those calls because sometimes parents yell at us for not doing a better job to engage their kid, and other times they cry because they don't know what went wrong. They're at a loss of what to do, too. Adolescence is a tough age.

At our table, in little time, we brainstormed how we could make changes in our parent-teacher events, like with flexible locations and timing and with interpreters on site, in order to attract a more diverse population of parents. But I think that scheduling is not the only reason that parents of weaker students typically don't make it:


It's sometimes the case that parents avoid schools because they were a place to be put down. My oldest loved school in kindergarten, ran all the way there each day, but they struggled in grade 1. Yup, struggled in grade 1. At parent-teacher night, the teacher told me that my beautiful child was an absolute disaster. An undiagnosed learning disability made for some challenges addressed only after they were identified, and only because I had the knowledge and resources to make that happen. Now they're winning awards in their final year of grad school. I was able to brush off the teacher's comments as rude because I know the system, and I saw her as an anomaly. But to a parent who wasn't ever comfortable in a school, a terse comment like that could make them avoid all teacher contact forevermore, and that could have an effect on their attitude towards their children's schooling.

Gorski suggests that families in low SES homes want kids to do as well in school as high SES parents do, but that they're not always able to be home at night due to shift work, or able to leave little ones to attend meetings. It is a real issue that some parents don't have the energy to help their kids, or the resources, or the educational background to know how to help despite their desire for their children to succeed. When my kids were in French immersion classes, I felt helpless to work with them at night. Imagine parents with literacy and numeracy difficulties; parental success in school clearly affect the kind of help they can provide for their children. It might make the difference between telling them repeatedly to do homework and actually drilling them with flashcards for a content test that's coming up. The gap widens as the well-educated learn skills of learning at home that aren't clearly shared with the families with a less-educated background.

BUT I also imagine that it's the case that there are some parents who really don't care about school. It may be rare, but it shouldn't be ignored: There can be a crabs-in-a-bucket mentality of some parents who don't want their children to do better in school than they did. "I dropped out and did just fine." It's not just a movie trope, and it doesn't hurt to acknowledge that some of our students are working against an anti-education family culture. 

Later on with other colleagues, we were quick to home in on the need to address the hunger issue in our classrooms. Kids are tired and listless because they aren't eating. I think I may have accidentally joined a committee to help expand our breakfast and lunch programs despite a lack of funding and volunteers.


Equity Literacy:

Gorski has a series of questions he asks himself to help him stay within a structural ideology: Are we using inclusive language, like referring to people as being 'pushed out' of school instead of 'dropouts' or discussing 'generational injustice' instead of 'generational poverty'. Does this policy focus on fixing inequitable conditions rather than changing mindsets?

As a promoter of stoicism and CBT for better well-being in general, there is a notable benefit of changing our attitudes towards things, and resilience is a thing that can be somewhat improved, so we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. I've compiled an overview of studies on resilience, that I teach from, and in which it's made very clear that to have resilience, we need a sense of control over our own lives, but that, similar to Gorski's message,
"Poverty has a significantly negative effect on one's sense of control over the environment. . . . It's a lack of resources that produces a lack of resilience, not the other way around. . . . The biggest predictor of resilience has nothing to do with relationships or attitudes, but everything to do with access to services." 


Teen years can be tough to get through for everybody. I dropped out of high school because my boyfriend was more interesting than calculus - and I loved calculus! I wasn't pushed out; people did everything they could to keep me there. But I needed a few more years to grow up and recognize how limited my options would be without an education. Sometimes these things can be addressed by encouraging kids to take their time at school in a way that gives them time to mature. What's the rush?


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Kyle Powys Whyte on Wilderness

I saw Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte present at the University of Waterloo on Thursday night on climate change, traditional knowledge, and environmental justice. It was similar to what he said in this video, but longer and with a Q&A at the end. It was eye-opening in the worst way - in a necessary way. Now that I know, either I have to change or else accept my ongoing complicity. (Or find a new form of rationalization to knock it all out of the park, so to speak.)

I'll preface with an admission of my absolute love of wilderness areas just north of me. I have deeply loved every moment spent in Algonquin Park, Killarney, Temagami, and the islands of Georgian Bay. The landscapes are breathtaking and the early morning animal sightings are well worth the swarms of mosquitos and black flies. I can breathe there and think and feel in a way that is lost to me in my city focused on growing high rises.

Whyte had us consider this very philosophical question (paraphrased): To what extent can people have an experience of intrinsic value - a love of something as a good in itself, something that has no other purpose but to be enjoyed for itself - on land that has been genocidally constructed? Is it possible to have a sense of spiritual enjoyment as a byproduct of a place that has been gained through bloodshed and, well, basic terrorism? And, I would add, if it is possible, then what does that say about us?? Perhaps the more-to-the-point question, the essential question, is,

Is it possible for a good person to profoundly enjoy ill-gotten gains? 

My first thought is, from a slightly defensive stance, can a person be good but also forgetful? Or are we, the settlers, just living in that double-consciousness, that Freudian splitting, of rage for what our ancestors did to the original inhabitants of this land mixed with a convenient obliviousness as we hand over park fees and check the weather before getting on the water. Or are we living a full-on lie of mere clicktivism, rationalized with all the many reasons we couldn't possibly physically join the line at any of the fights for land rights going on in our country right now - fights that could potentially save the land and our climate from further environmental destruction? But that's not the answer either. We'd just be in the way there, too.



At the end, an audience member asked, after all the talk of park land, can we, the settlers, ever have any authentic spiritual experiences anywhere on this continent? So, can we??

Much of the land we use for "parks" are still contested. Whyte says we enjoy them only by rationalizing that they're ours to enjoy with three main arguments he dismantles as follows as far as I heard them, but these responses are likely mixed with my thoughts at the time:
1. Not all parks were taken through colonialism, BUT many are still contested today. How many people using the parks are certain of that area's history?
2. Parks are more inclusive now, so anyone can freely visit them, BUT there's a difference between visiting a park and living in the land.
3. Colonial discussions are unproductive. Parks are useful to the environment, providing sanctuary for trees that absorb our carbon emissions, BUT is that sufficient reasoning to override the genocidal takeover of the area?

A fourth rationalization that came to mind is, it's okay so long as we acknowledge the land. If we say a little territorial thing every morning, it gives us a free pass to get on with things. This is one of my concerns with land acknowledgements. It can be a bit like a thief confessing in church, being absolved of his sins, then immediately going out to spend the money he stole.

Another way he framed the discussion is, "To what extent can we enjoy something without consent?" Can we value something without caring about the consent to enjoy it? Can anything spiritual or profound occur when we're unclear about the consent status. To take his analogy further, mixed in with my own words:

We are, in fact, using the land instead of connecting with the land 
any time the question of consent is awry or in any way ignored. 

A fifth rationalization he didn't mention is deep in the colonialist mindset: might makes right. The land is all legit spoils of war. We're stronger, so we get more stuff. It's our land so long as we run things here. That's still a thing even if we don't want to believe it. It affects everything.

He spoke to this idea, in a way, in a heartbreaking story of the creation of the Tongariro National Park in New Zealand. There are mountains that are sacred to the Indigenous there. When colonialists came, the Indigenous realized that the only way to keep this most precious area safe, was to give it as a gift to the colonialists, who then took a big chunk of land around it as well. The Indigenous put up a sign asking that people not go up and down the mountains because of their sacred nature, but people largely ignore it. And that's the thing right there: the Indigenous don't want to tell other people how to live. Policing people is not their way. They hope that people will be respectful of a clear and meaningful request. Their sacred areas are overtaken because we, the settlers, are not living respectfully of anything.

Whyte allows that land acknowledgements is a good first step, one part of a practice of learning the degree of consent in that space. But another part is to learn the degree of self-determination status people have in an area. He says that the next question we must ask ourselves is,
"Can all people choose their own future here, on this land, or are they limited by ongoing colonialist practices?" 
I can't imagine how to resolve this one. He didn't speak further to it at length, but how do we reconcile taking over land, putting up borders and fences to stop natural seasonal migrations, shuttling people off to the worst areas, stealing and abusing their children to put an end to their way of life, then trying to force integration into our way of life but without anywhere near the same quality of education or health care or housing. When I think of it in this light, I think the settlers all need to leave, except we have nowhere to go, and it's too late anyway. The damage is done. As a teacher, my focus is in quality of education, but the economy of scale makes it difficult to plunk down a fully functioning high-school to serve the many very remote villages north of Thunder Bay. This is the complex journey we've provoked. The question I have, then, is, "What future do they hope to choose - and how much of that choice is already messed up by colonialist action to the extent that they can't even imagine thinking the future they might have chosen at one time?" It's a conundrum.

Furthermore, Whyte explained that our wilderness isn't remotely "wild" as we understand it. It has been carefully managed by Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years. But instead of erecting fences and logging acres of forest, taking the spoils of the resource-rich areas for short-term gains, they've walked and observed the same areas that were walked and observed by parents and grandparents with a thorough understanding of the intricacies and interdependence of the entire ecosystem. Forest management might look like moving a rock. We don't notice it because we don't understand long-term - like, forever long-term - management of land. They see all the ways to live and eat in the forest. We do landscape architecture.

We see parks as a place to vacation rather than part of our home. That's a mindset, again, of using rather than connecting with. I should clarify that that's how I understand his message. He didn't use those terms. I automatically started adding Taoist ideas to his words because of the similarities I can't not see between them.

He said a lot more than just this, but this is the part I needed to hear. It was appropriately and fruitfully upsetting.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Cycling Rant

If cycling is part of your life, it looks like the NDP comes way ahead in terms of addressing cycling concerns. Extinction Rebellion is clear about the need for car-free streets as part of action to decrease the threats of climate change. And even my city claims to be moving away from our car-centric planning (paywalled in the local rag, but available in full on Reddit). But we still have problems.

About a month ago, a cyclist in my city was hit by a car, and then charged with cycling across a crosswalk, and I have so many questions! The big two:

What's the difference between being in the crosswalk and being 6" to the left of the crosswalk?, and

What do we do with the many areas of town where a crosswalk is in the middle of a bike path with a slanted curb at each end, provoking unwitting riders to bike straight across them? That should be considered entrapment!! Should we instead veer into the road and then back up the path on the other side of the intersection? I've pondered that question before as I got off my bike to try to cross a busy street, with a walk signal, and left-turning cars repeatedly cutting me off, with a flippin' COP waiting at the red watching me gingerly step off the curb and jump back on over and over again. It might be good to remind the police that failure to yield right-of-way to a pedestrian is illegal. It has a set fine of three demerit points and $180.

I've been writing publicly about this relatively straightforward issue being made so muddled and complicated since the 80s, when fitting my shellacked hairdo into a helmet added to my biking concerns. Finding a place for us all is clearly still a life and death problem. But, here's the thing: as long as we scrutinize cycling behaviour in a collision instead of car and truck driving issues, then we will continue to see fatalities from these mindless, careless accidents.


On Biking in the Wrong Place:

I still bike on the sidewalk from time to time. But I don't feel so alone since finding like-minded criminals on social media, like Melissa, Robin, and Katalin:









I said roughly the same thing in 2013:
I'm making an informed choice between getting a ticket for breaking the law and dying. What licensed cyclist wouldn't make that same choice?
In that same piece, I also wrote this - the crux of the matter:
In some cities that are more pedestrian/cyclist-friendly, if there's an accident between a car and a cyclist or pedestrian, the car driver is automatically charged. That might not be fair to them, but it has the hugely beneficial effect of altering motorist behaviour such that they stop on a dime around other people. If the law, and enforcement of the law, even slightly appears to be in the car-driver's favour, then motorists relax a little. It's just a subtle thing, but it's enough. Of course they don't want to hit someone, but if they do, they likely won't get in trouble for it. That perception changes driving habits - seriously. So they drive insanely close to cyclists. And then some cyclists die. . . . 
Until motorists become wary of getting a hefty ticket for driving too close to a cyclist, cyclists will continue to be in danger on the streets, and they will continue to use the sidewalks in order to prevent their own demise. We don't have to license cyclists or debate new legislation, we just need police to enforce the rules that are already on the books, and the media to report on this bit of information every time a collision occurs because it's pivotal to the story. Then, after motorists get over having to actually follow the rules in place, maybe we can all get along. 
The spring previous, I wrote,
Imagine every car stopping in its tracks and waiting for you as you approach an intersection because they're afraid of a ticket. It would make for a very different city: people might walk more often and would certainly feel safer when they're walking with little ones. Erecting signage to remind drivers that they can be charged for driving in front of people waiting at a crosswalk or intersection, and then actually charging a few of them to set an example, is a simple solution to prevent further tragedies.
We live in a car-first culture. The biggest and fastest vehicle wins. But imagine if, instead, we put the most vulnerable people first, like this:



In some cities, people complain if a car inches up into the crosswalk that they're trying to bike through!! Imagine!!


On a Misperception of the Oblivious Victim:

We get a sense, mainly from mainstream local media, that the pedestrians and cyclists hit are all acting mindlessly rather than doing everything they can just to survive their journey. Most pedestrians and cyclists hit by cars are not young texty texters flaunting the rules, but, in fact, the elderly.


On average, six people are hurt or killed by a car or truck in Toronto every single day. An interview with Mark Pupo clarifies some issues around Vision Zero. He mainly blames vehicle speed:
"There are only seven countries with rising pedestrian deaths in the world, and we are one of them. . . . A lot of those deaths are because there are those very fast roads in inner city suburbs. . . . They look like highways, and the temptation is to drive very fast. . . . People have a greater chance of surviving being hit by a car if it's driving 30 km/h or less. . . . There's also basic stuff like how the sidewalk meets the intersection. Rounded corners actually contribute to deaths since cars take the corners faster. . . . Suburban counsellors tend to vote against redesign proposals that could curb speeds. . . . Instead of saving lives, they decided speed was the priority. . . . We need a universal safe speed for cities. . . . We could raise the price of gas. For every ten cent rise in the price of gas, there's a decrease in pedestrian fatalities. . . . Create zones in the city where people can't drive. . . . It's really pretty simple." 

On a Paradigmatic Perceptional Change

No matter how we look at it, cars are death machines. SUVs have caused a 46% increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths, and even high-tech vehicles are bad at avoiding killing people. We have to make it safer for them to travel near other human beings and animals.

One company, Toole Design, thinks we're approaching the problem from the wrong angle:
"Since 1925, the transportation industry has been using a concept called the Three E’s—engineering, education, and enforcement—to guide decisions. Last week, Toole Design released a manifesto called “The New E’s of Transportation,” arguing that, instead, ethics, equity, and empathy should be the driving factors for all transportation decision making. . . . When police see crashes as enforcement issues, when engineers see crashes as engineering issues, when planners see them as human behavior issues, they miss the bigger picture.” . . . “Ethics, empathy, and equity are values-driven and they prompt you to really ask why you’re doing something,” Clarke tells Curbed. “We hope [the New E’s] will allow us to bring into the conversation questions that have only been answered in terms of models, formulas, and design standards that present fait accompli when there are values-based decisions we should be making.” . . . Our city cannot thrive when expanses of unwelcoming asphalt divide our communities instead of connecting them, and when roads threaten lives instead of breathing life into our diverse neighborhoods."
We need to focus less on who did what, and more on helping the most vulnerable in our cities, that would be elderly, children, and challenged citizens, get to where they want to go, safely and without any stress. Focus on making every street easy to travel by people moving slowly in order to prevent the deaths of so many. Basically, we need to create neighbourhoods, not thru-ways.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Liberals the Best Bet for Climate Change

A climate scientists, Katharine Hayhoe, and economist, Andrew Leach, seem to suggest that the Liberals are our best bet for tackling climate change if you averages the grades they gave for ambition and feasibility. I know! I was surprised too. Here are their final grades:

Conservatives: grade D for ambition, F for feasibility (don't even)
NDP: grade A for ambition, D for feasibility (no details on how they'll cut carbon so quickly)
Greens: grade A+ for ambition, C- for feasibility (not a realistic path to achieve goals)
Liberals: grade B for ambition, A for feasibility (their path won't quite hit their goals though)

They write,
"It’s hard to convince people that you’re serious about cutting carbon when you’re funding new ways to transport it (even if those new ways will pay for our green innovation). But the tax and the pipeline discussions often mask the significant progress that’s been made in other areas. The Liberals are aiming to phase out coal power by 2030, more than 30 years earlier than would have otherwise been the case. They’ve also implemented a clean fuel standard that pushes our fuel producers and importers to reduce emissions all the way from the oil field to our gas tanks. During the campaign, the Liberals have committed to a deeper target—net-zero emissions nationally by 2050—and pledged a $2-billion tree planting program. No matter how you slice it, the Liberals have implemented this country’s first serious, national climate change plan, and they’re looking to build on it. . . . The Liberals have the experience to know how big a challenge it is. They’ve acted in line with their promises in the last election and brought in significant new policies. . . . For us, practical policy beats ambition without a viable plan."

Apparently that pipeline that Trudeau bought wasn't actually part of the Liberal's plan, but was a leftover deal from Harper, and any party that was elected would have been stuck with it. It appears I haven't been paying attention at all.

When questioned about the assessment, Hayhoe tweeted that she's the person who wrote this piece three years ago: "What surprises lurk within the climate system?" It's about how crucial it is that we act quickly. She knows the risks and the urgency.

This election will be anyone's guess.

Also check out this doc about the disenfranchising of youth, indigenous, and impoverished people in Canada in the last election.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

On Online Predators

From Keller & Dance's article, 'The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse. What Went Wrong?"

Some of the less brutal bits:
"An investigation by The New York Times found an insatiable criminal underworld that had exploited the flawed and insufficient efforts to contain it. As with hate speech and terrorist propaganda, many tech companies failed to adequately police sexual abuse imagery on their platforms, or failed to cooperate sufficiently with the authorities when they found it. . . . National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, described a system at “a breaking point,” with reports of abusive images “exceeding the capabilities of independent clearinghouses and law enforcement to take action.” It suggested that future advancements in machine learning might be the only way to catch up with the criminals. . . . 
Adults, now years removed from their abuse, still living in fear of being recognized from photos and videos on the internet. And parents of the abused, struggling to cope with the guilt of not having prevented it and their powerlessness over stopping its online spread. . . . The groups use encrypted technologies and the dark web, the vast underbelly of the internet, to teach pedophiles how to carry out the crimes and how to record and share images of the abuse worldwide. . . . Testimony in his criminal case revealed that it would have taken the authorities “trillions of years” to crack the 41-character password he had used to encrypt the site. He eventually turned it over to investigators, and was sentenced to life in prison in 2016. . . . “capturing the abuse on video was part of the excitement,” according to court records. . . . 
The surge in criminal activity on the dark web accounted for only a fraction of the 18.4 million reports of abuse last year. That number originates almost entirely with tech companies based in the United States. . . . . Facebook and Google, stepped up surveillance of their platforms . . . “The companies knew the house was full of roaches, and they were scared to turn the lights on,” he said. “And then when they did turn the lights on, it was worse than they thought.” . . . In interviews, law enforcement officials pointed to Tumblr, a blogging and social networking site with 470 million users, as one of the most problematic companies. . . . The internet is well known as a haven for hate speech, terrorism-related content and criminal activity, all of which have raised alarms and spurred public debate and action. But the problem of child sexual abuse imagery faces a particular hurdle: It gets scant attention because few people want to confront the enormity and horror of the content, or they wrongly dismiss it as primarily teenagers sending inappropriate selfies."

Numbers doubled in a year. So where are all the pedophiles coming from?? I'm in the middle of a book discussing the concerns of John Adams and the founding fathers with women taking over the household - "despotism of the petticoat" - and it makes me think of this quote, "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression." To what extent, I wonder, is this a reaction by men - and it's almost entirely men - losing absolute power in the home and unfettered access to women who were, until very recently, afraid of speaking out?? This seems to be where people turn who just want to dominate something. We have to find means of better helping men get through this change in social norms so they don't seek power in the most horrific avenues. And we need these agencies to get much more funding!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Like a Good Horror Film?

Most terrifying thing I've seen:



We're headed for 10 degrees in the next 20-30 years, and we will hit human extinction at 4 degrees?? Do I even bother to go to work today??

We've missed the window that could allow a gentle reversal. The only solution, he says, is to give the planet back to the planet. We need to re-wild nature and live a completely localized life - no international trade, no mass production. We have to stop doing stuff. Immediately. Maybe reconnect with your ancient beliefs that helped people cope with a lack of control over the massive tragedies befalling them, in their incomprehension. We won't be able to get our heads around what's about to happen. The wealthy still think they're above it all and not part of nature; they're not worried because they've been blinded by opulence.

"What comes after growth is maturity."

Maybe if this all sinks in, we'll all stay home to hug our children and other loved ones, maybe play in a park or go for a walk, and that will actually help us eke out a few more years.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Friday, August 30, 2019

Why We Won't Sufficate

...even if the entire rainforest burns down:

Hank Green explains it here in just four minutes:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mann's Madhouse Effect

Michael Mann recently tweeted this:


It's dumb luck that I chanced to do just that!  (Thoughts on Wallace-Wells here.)

This book a comprehensive exploration of the issues mixed with clear examples and Tom Toles's cartoons. It could easily be used as a climate change primer in a high school or middle school, and it comes with an index and lots of useful endnotes too!

Mann clarifies the problem of which, by now, we're all painful aware:
"This is the madhouse of the climate debate. We have followed Alice through the looking glass. White roses here are painted red, and words suddenly mean something different from what they used to mean. The very language of science itself, of 'skepticism' and 'evidence,' is used in a way opposite of how science really employs it.  Not everyone wants the facts to be known. We have run squarely into what Upton Sinclair famously warned us about: 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it'" (xi).
He starts with a primer in science, which is unfortunately a necessary place to start. People think that if there's any margin of error or any room for questioning that it means we can throw out the whole idea, but that's not how it works. Scientists are always questioning previous findings; that's their job.
"Good-faith skepticism--that is, skepticism that attempts to hold science to the highest possible standard through independent scrutiny and questioning of every minute detail--is not only a good thing in science but, in fact, essential" (1). 
In the scientific process, they question findings to make sure that,
"the manuscript represents a positive contribution to the existing scientific literature. . . . The fact of the matter, however, is that there is a weakness in the scientific system that can be exploited. The weakness is in the public understanding of science, which turns out to be crucial for translating science into public policy. Deliberate confusion can be sown under a false pretext of 'skepticism.' And the scientific process is continually under assault by bad-faith doubt mongers" (2-3). 
The climate change issue is similar to the tobacco issue in which, "'Doubt is our product' read one internal tobacco industry memo" (9).  Policy makers "act as though unless there is 100 percent unanimity among scientists, nothing can be known" (9).  If we were wrong about the harm tobacco causes or about the potential threat climate change brings, we would know by now.

Nay-sayers act like they're poking holes in the arguments, but they're just misunderstanding, or intentionally misrepresenting, the science:
"The cherry-picking of the starting year in the sequence betrays the lack of sincerity of those advancing this argument" (10).  "Instead, we got a decades-long stream of increasingly far-fetched hypotheticals intentionally designed to obscure a rather straightforward set of facts. . . .  Where there is doubt . . . go with the preponderance of evidence. It's not all that hard" (12). 
Then he explains the basic of how climate change works, all the chemistry and physics, starting with Joseph Fourier and Svante Arrhenius. Here's the upshot of it all:
"Before the Industrial Revolution, there were about 280 parts CO2 per million parts of atmosphere (ppm). We have now passed the 400 ppm mark. . . . At the current rate that we are burning fossil fuels, we will have doubled CO2 concentrations (that is, approached around 550 ppm) by midcentury" (16). 
We all know that will bring more extreme heat, shifting wind patterns, rain that comes too fast to be absorbed into the ground, flooding droughts, rising seas, and then much more migration, food insecurity and starvation, species loss, and conflicts over resources (i.e. war). "Foreign wars we are fighting to keep oil flowing from dangerous regions of the world such as the Middle East. Think of these wars as a $100 billion subsidy to the fossil fuel industry" (46).

That are many tipping points, and we've hit one already with the melting of the Antarctic. AND we passed the 415 ppm mark last May. If we reach 450 ppm,
"it would almost certainly create dangerous, potentially irreversible changes in our climate. . . . Another decade of business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions could commit us to that 2 degree Celsius 'dangerous warming' threshold. . . . We might have already crossed at least one key tipping point: most, if not all, of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet now appears on course to disintegrate no matter what we do. . . . We are the blindfolded man who is told he is nearing the edge of a cliff. Is he three steps away? Four? Ten? Regardless of the distance, his only safe course of action is to stop lurching forward" (28-29). "It is the rate of warming, not the warmth itself, that poses a threat" (43). 
Species can't adapt fast enough: "We are now asking plants and animals to migrate at unprecedented rates and with brand-new obstacles such as cities and highways standing in their path" (44).

He explains the problems with fossil fuel extraction: coal, tar sands, and fracking, but gets into issues with nuclear as well. Land use has to be better managed. We all KNOW this already, but it really needs to be said again and again.
"When economists consider this cost of inaction and weigh it against the cost of taking action--that is, combating climate change by reducing global carbon emissions--they conclude that taking action is a no-brainer. The cost of climate change damages are already greater than the cost of reducing emissions" (48). 
But the machine to stop action has the financial resources to continue. Citizens for a Sound Economy, a front group now called FreedomWorks was founded by the Koch brothers to block governmental regulations (71).

Much like Nathaniel Rich, Mann gets into the details of the players who stopped the ball rolling, but with far less detail. It didn't used to be like this:
"Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all supported regulatory solutions to emerging global environmental problems despite considerable pushback from industrial special interests. . . . environmental protection wasn't always the partisan political issue that it has become" (72). 
But now people like Steven J. Milloy, lobbyist and lawyer, "rails against what he calls the 'junk science' on DDT, ozone depletion, and all matters of 'environmental extremism' . . . got his start in tobacco . . . accepted payments from Philip Morris, ExxonMobil, and Syngenta for his advocacy efforts" (80-81).  Yup. News magnate Rupert Murdoch is part of the problem, as is the "Saudi royal family, the world's leading oil barons and the same folks who used the manufactured Climategate scandal to sabotage the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009" (107).

What can we do? Mann puts all his chips on renewables.
"At present, the most viable solution is for states to decommission coal plants and introduce a larger share of renewables--solar, wind, and geothermal--into their energy portfolios to make up the difference. Additional strategies include reducing energy consumption and, finally, entering into regional carbon-trading consortiums" (134). 
I really really hope that the Planet of the Humans film just released, all about how renewables don't significantly decrease GHGs and that environmental movements are all corrupt, is full of holes and quickly debunked before it gains a following.

Mann is clear about what needs to be done:
"Support renewable energy and a price on carbon, and vote for representatives who will do the same. . . . Solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. . .. . Join an organization with a good track record on climate. . . . Help facilitate the next stage of evolution in the battle for environmental sustainability" (147-149). "It is increasingly clear that some influential people simply will not be part of the solution. We can and must move forward without them" (170).
Suggesting that it's not real, or not human caused, or that it's all too late all impede direct and sustained action, and we need to act right now to save our lives.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Nathaniel Rich's Losing Earth

This is a quick read outlining the history of the efforts to do something to slow down fossil fuel use. Everything we know now about climate change, pretty much, we knew with great certainty forty years ago, in 1979. "The climate scientist James Hansen has called a 2-degree warming 'a prescription for long-term disaster. Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. A 3-degree warming, on the other hand, is a prescription for short-term disaster" (4). 5 degrees will bring the fall of human civilization. "The Red Cross estimates that already more refugees flee environmental crises than violent conflict" (4). We had a great chance to fix it all between 1979 and 1989, but we didn't take it.

WHY NOT?

"The common explanation today concerns the depredations of the fossil fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain which comic-book bravado" (6). But the fossil fuel industry was actually on board for a time. There are a whole lot of names and dates to keep straight below (I bolded the important ones), and the book, curiously, has NO index or footnotes! Rich wrote it as a compelling story, but I digest it better chronologically:

On Maintaining Firm Categories: Do Labels Matter?

This link about people on the spectrum came to my FB feed as "Sponsored Content," so I'm wary at the get go, but they present this argument to be addressed: "Autism is a neurological difference in processing, and simply having a collection of traits or quirks without this difference in processing does not make someone autistic." They argue that "there does need to be some clarity, to get away from the ‘We’re all a little bit autistic aren’t we…’ phrase."

My position: But, why?

And, right before that came one of ContraPoint's latest video in which Natalie's characters argue about who counts as trans with a gender dysphoria anti-trender argument countered by a more fluid gender performativity stance.

I'm going to mesh the issues together here because of some similar arguments. I lean towards 'why does it matter?'. Whether someone's got dysphoria or is trending, it takes minimal energy to use whatever pronouns they asked to be used (while, of course, forgiving the forgetful who mean well). What's the harm in letting people try on the other gender or non-gender to see if it fits better? What's the benefit of doing brain scans on people to get some illusion of certainty about how people feel instead of just trusting how they say they feel? Similarly, who is harmed when people acknowledge their struggles with adhering to behavioural norms by latching on to a recognizable diagnosis? With ASD or ADHD or any other checkbox of symptoms that we've rolling into together under a label, why is it important to delineate who is in and who must stay out via an often expensive and sometimes questionable process? When one of my kids was diagnosed (incorrectly, I believe), the very reputable psychometrist badgered me to find that one thing they're obsessed with when one didn't immediately come to mind. Curious.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Plague of Climate Change

I just finished Camus's compelling read, The Plague. It's a parable provoked by the Nazi Occupation, but also about general occupation, oppression, and isolation. It's about resistance to incomprehensible evil and what it looks like to be a good person. But, it's striking how well what much of he says fits with climate change, so I'm going to summarize it here by exchanging the words "the plague" with "climate change," "scientist" for "doctor," and "temperature" for "death-rate." I'm also changing "man" to "person" just to equity it up a bit. Consider "pestilence" as "troubles," but I'll leave that as is. Let's see how this goes and if there are lessons to be learned!

The gist: The story follows a doctor, Bernard Rieux, who's an atheist and our narrator. His wife was sent away to recover from an illness before the plague hit. He misses her (a bit), but spends 20 hours a day helping the town. We meet all his varied associates and patients as a walled-off town copes with the sudden spreading of disease that seems as if it will never end. This is an extremely abridged version of a book 272 pages long (Stuart Gilbert translation). Some important characters, all remarkably benevolent seen from Camus's perspective, include a criminal who benefits from the chaos caused by the troubles, a priest trying to guide the masses, and a lover who's desperate to find a way to travel to see his girlfriend despite the new laws forbidding it. There's also a writer unable to find any words and a dear friend that are integral to the story but less vital to this bastardization of it:

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hannah Arendt's On Violence

Unfortunately, this is really timely.

Arendt wrote this short book in 1970, but there's nothing in it that needs to be updated today. Absolutely nothing significant has changed; it's just more. She was responding to the violence of WWII, Vietnam, the student riots in Paris, and, most specifically, the People's Park protests in Berkeley, where she was teaching at the time as students attempted "transforming an empty university-owned lot into a 'People's Park'." Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar wrote about how the event unleashed an unnecessarily strong police backlash:
"A rock was thrown from a roof-top and, without warning, police fired into a group on the roof of an adjacent building. Two persons were struck in the face by the police fire, another was blinded, probably permanently, and a fourth, twenty-five-year-old James Rector, later died. Before the day was over, at least thirty others were wounded by police gunfire, and many more by clubs. . . . Tear gas enfolded the main part of the campus and drifted into many of its buildings, as well as into the surrounding city. Nearby streets were littered with broken glass and rubble. At least six buckshot slugs entered the main library and three 38 calibre bullets lodged in the wall of a reference room in the same building. Before the day ended, more than ninety people had been injured by police guns and clubs."
That was on May 15, 1969, known as "Bloody Thursday." The Kent State shootings in Ohio were almost exactly one year later. Arendt tries to make sense of it all through a look at the changing view of violence in society.