Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Truths We Now Hold as More Clearly Self Evident

We're learning so much from this virus, about the world and about ourselves. Here's a list of things I hope we take away from it all. These are things we already know, but now we know with a little more certainty and more clearly.

* Life is unpredictable. Our calendars and to-do-lists make it seem like we have some predictability in life, but it's still largely a crap shoot. It always has been.

* Some politicians and governments are willing to let you die to save their stock portfolio. This isn't new, but now it's very clear, hopefully to everybody. We need this knowledge to sink in if we hope to change anything. Capitalism, particularly neo-liberal capitalism, sucks.

* We need Universal Basic Income right now. People can't be saved with one time cheques or discounts or food bank donations. We need everyone to have their basic needs met, for sure, all the time.

* Air B&B was a disaster waiting to happen. Now that everyone is cancelling their bookings, the people renting places to cash out on them are left holding an un-payable bill. It was always a scam that caused more harm than good.

* Living off of renting property to people too poor to own their own property is, in itself, a problem. Yup, Marx was right.

* Retail workers aren't paid nearly enough for dealing with the shit they have to put up with.

* Alcoholism is a huge issue that we largely ignore. The fact that liquor stores are considered an essential service in Ontario, and forced to remain open during this, speaks volumes to the concerns about people going without during the isolation.

* We all need to acknowledge the effect we have on each other more. aka Maybe people shouldn't let their dogs bark all flippin' day in their back yards!! It is possible to train dogs to stop barking.

* Imprisoning any non-violent offenders is barbaric and, in times like this, potentially lethal.

* Music, art, film, dance, books, and games keep us going. They are vital to our lives and should be acknowledged as such.

* You really can eat the same food a few days in a row. We've been trained to have a wide variety of food options at every meal, but food waste is unconscionable.

* We don't need to travel or go to all those meetings. We're figuring out what's really necessary, and, in the process, possibly saving lives in the final analysis: “the lives saved due to the pollution reductions are roughly 20x the number of lives that have been directly lost to the virus.”

* Hubris can be fatal. People who think they're tough for not being afraid to go to public places, and for refusing to let a little virus slow them down are learning some difficult lessons - hopefully learning them. Paul Rand comes to mind, for going to the gym after testing positive for the virus. W.T.F. It's not strong or courageous or cool to be flippant about taking life-saving precautions, especially if it's just your own life you're worried about. It's just plain ignorant.

* It is humbling to be reminded of the short time we have here and the lack of control we have over our lives and over the world. We like to think we're at the top of the food chain, but we're just one little part of it all.

* Everything's relative. My youngest gets out of room quarantine today - grounded for 2-weeks for going to Mexico - and it's exciting that she gets to be in ALL of the house now! And I'm happy that I no longer have to wait on her and scrub everything she touches in our shared bathroom. It could always be so much worse than we have it now.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On Expectation

How we see our lives and how we expect things to go for us is life or death right now, sanity or madness. This has been an emotionally exhausting week! Not knowing is difficult, and there's so much up in the air right now.

It reminds me of when I was first pregnant and past my due date. Every little spasm in my belly set off alarms. Now it's not my belly any more, but higher. A little tickle in the throat, a cough from the dust, a twinge in the chest all have me super hyper-focused on my body: Is it here?? Is it time??

We have to take precautions, absolutely. We're happy introverts in my home, comfortably hunkering down, but then necessary grocery shopping is like running across the trenches to deliver a message. Get in and out as fast as possible! Check down each aisle before turning a corner! Wash all the produce as soon as we get home from the store! Okay, apparently some of these precautions are ones other people have always taken. But miss wiping a corner of a box of cereal with a Lysol wipe, and it could mean the end of us. The cashier (Praise be!) might inadvertently cough as she bags the groceries, spraying us with invisible bullets. I'm not looking forward to the next trip. Hopefully we can make it two weeks with this load.

But once we're home and scrubbed clean yet again, we have to create an ideal little nest as much as possible, with music and baking and creating things and some good conversations. For those of us with the luxury of a job we can do from home, and the tremendous luxury of reasonably good company in the home, we have to imagine the weeks ahead of us as a respite from the noise of the world. Imagine the games and days on the porch or garden and the bike rides and just time to be lost in thought. Pay attention to the people who are sharing and helping like never before. We give our world the colour of our thoughts. If we start to worry about how long and how hard and how small the house is and every little irritation that's bound to arise, then we will have painted our days with jarring contrasts and muddy tones. 

There are other precautions to take that people aren't discussing, like teaching the kids how to access emergency funds in case I succumb so they don't lose the house. What do you want done with your things? With your body? Garbage day is Tuesday. There have been a few of those conversations too.

During that first extended pregnancy, my midwives told me to enjoy the time. Everything's easier with the baby on the inside, they warned. I scoffed then too! How can I enjoy my time with this event looming over everything I do? Their advice holds as well today as it did way back then: eat well, sleep well, go for lots of long walks, and finish that book you've been meaning to read! It happens when it happens, and we all just hope everyone's healthy on the other side.

Before the baby was due, a few well-meaning friends warned me their deliveries took over 36 hours, so I prepared mentally for the long haul. Two weeks later, when the labour pains were finally real, I watched the clock through the breathing and paced myself. It ended after only 12 hours, which felt like nothing compared to what I was expecting. Tonight I told my kids to expect this to end in July, and maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised in May! We just have to get our heads around it all in the right kind of way to make these next few months manageable. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The New Normal

Politico has a very thorough run down of life as we'll soon come to know it from a variety of people. Here are my favourite bits. It's all pretty hopeful:

We know now that touching things, being with other people and breathing the air in an enclosed space can be risky. How quickly that awareness recedes will be different for different people, but it can never vanish completely for anyone who lived through this year. . . . Maybe the de-militarization of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this whole awful mess. . . . Societal shocks can break different ways, making things better or worse. But given our current levels of tension, this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns in our cultural and political discourse. . . . It may—one might hope—return Americans to a new seriousness, or at least move them back toward the idea that government is a matter for serious people. . . . When this ends, we will reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods—for health, especially—and public services. I don’t think we will become less communal. Instead, we will be better able to see how our fates are linked. . . . The hype around online education will be abandoned, as a generation of young people forced into seclusion will reshape the culture around a contrarian appreciation for communal life.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What are the Chances We'll Learn Anything from This?

It's fascinating to watch behaviours now that we're stuck together in limbo. In my little house, we are all perfectly healthy; we're just more together. This should be a piece of cake!

My kids shopped last Friday night, very late, and, since the stores were packed with everyone else who had the same idea, went again on Saturday. Since then I'm noticing how much we all want to just pop into the store for one more thing. We have everything here. On Monday I had to put my foot down with an offer to just get... We have ALL THE FOOD we could possibly need. And toilet paper. My kids came home with two packs, and we haven't even opened one yet. We already had toilet paper! It's just a habit that's provoking us towards the main destination of all of our walks. We have to remember we can walk to the park and to through neighbourhoods with beautiful homes. It's such a strong habit to break, though. And going to the store feels like a little piece of normal, to see familiar faces and nod to our neighbours there. I think we can make it at least until Monday.

When I was a kid, mum and dad did the shopping every Saturday morning and at no other time. I managed that for a while. When the kids were little, we sat at Harmony Lunch once a week and planned out meals, then hit the store on the way home, each of us with a knapsack full of food. It was a nice routine. But once they got older, and realized all the food options available to them, it fell apart. We want what we feel like having RIGHT NOW! We have to break that immediacy habit too. We don't need that much variety in our meals. And I'm also noticing I've apparently become addicted to junk food. Why didn't we buy more treats?!? Apparently because the cart was full of toilet paper. That is some weird psychological phenomenon! Perceived scarcity makes us want what we don't actually need. We have to rise above that. Piece of cake indeed. Mmmm... cake.

I'm hoping we all break many habits. We're seeing that we can manage without as much travel around the city, without getting every little thing we think we need all the time, and the results are breathtaking. Pollution is dramatically down and animals are coming out of hiding, and there are flippin' dolphins (literally - ETA but not really) in the crystal clean water of the canals in Venice!! It reminds me of one line in George Monbiot's Heat: "I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel.” But it doesn't mean, as some suggest, that we're a virus in need of containment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Everything is F*cked: a Book Critique

I read this book last summer, but people are suddenly talking about it (and his earlier book) all over the place for some reason - maybe because we're just seeing that things are really messed up. Even my youngest asked to borrow it, so it's time to revisit. I give it mixed reviews.

Here's the problem: It's a bit sloppy with the use of studies and with the philosophy. He names drops a whole host of philosophers, and gets a few general ideas right (and some really wrong), but the details are often watered down or at least somewhat inaccurate, which drives me nuts! He's got a degree in international business, but he means well.

He's also sloppy with terms. He uses many words ambiguously as if they can be used to mean a couple things at once in order to further his arguments, or they're used in a way that they aren't used in the fields of study discussed, or they're conflated with one another. Of particular concern is his use of these words: hope, feelings, emotions, narcissism, values, and faith.

I found this book maddening in places, BUT the ideas, if followed by the masses, will benefit people (because it's mainly Stoicism/CBT)! So, yes, read this book and do the things he suggests even though they're not necessarily backed up by arguments he presents, and just keep in mind that you don't now understand many of the philosophers he discusses. Unless, perhaps, you keep scrolling down.

Monday, March 16, 2020

On Pandemics and the Climate

Everyone staying at home might buy us a bit more time to finalize policies that will actually mitigate climate change, if we actually care to do save even more lives. Juan Cole explains the connection between pandemics and climate change in this Truthdig article:
There is an exact analogy between Trump’s treatment of Covid-19 and his treatment of the climate emergency. In both cases, he and his surrogates attacked the science and took pride in giving the finger to reality. Trump actually promotes coal and petroleum, the dirtiest fossil fuels, as though he is impatient to see the lower floors of his Trump Tower in Manhattan under water. Likewise, he takes pride in holding infectious rallies and shaking hands. . . . People who don’t believe in science might have difficulty accepting this, but the climate emergency is deeply connected to disease and the potential for epidemics, according to the scientists at the World Health Organization. That’s right. The high end threat of one-point-seven million dead Americans is only the beginning if we go on burning coal, petroleum and other hydrocarbons. . . . 
Poor lung health is a serious risk factor for dying of Covid-19, and people who live near coal power plants or along highways or in cities with car- and power-plant-polluted air typically have poor lung health. Breathing air polluted by burning hydrocarbons produces the lung disease of emphysema the same way smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years would. It is worth noting that Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus, is China’s 14th most air-polluted city. . . . The climate emergency is going to set bats, pangolins and many other animals in motion, fleeing as their food dies out in mass extinctions, and their habitats heat up, or dry out, or burn down or are flooded. The resultant mass migration of animals will put them in direct contact with human populations, hugely expanding the chance that pathogens will leap from them to humans. . . . . 
The tragedy is that we already have the solution. It is cheaper to build and run new wind and solar farms than just to try to go on operating a coal plant. . . . We don’t have to put ourselves and the next generations through hell. It is a matter of political will.

Maybe we'll be different on the other side of all this: more worldly, more humble, more conscious of the effects of our actions on one another, more willing to sing in the streets together.


ETA - this TEDTalk just out about the link between the virus and climate that was uploaded five days ago. She explains that this is not the last outbreak we'll see due to the level of contact we are having with wildlife on an unprecedented scale. She also cautions that people can carry Covid-19 without symptoms for up to 24 days - ten days longer than any other predictions. Our best option in future is to dramatically improve health care worldwide. This virus is showing us our interconnectedness. It's not enough for our country to have everything we need; we will only manage if every country has excellent health care and if we have worldwide, science-based protocols to follow everywhere. We're all in this together, folks!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Can Public School Teachers Teach from Home?

Last Thursday, after getting a series of emails from the school board and OSSTF about concerns with many students travelling over the March Break and returning with an incubating virus that could infect each school, we suddenly found out from the CBC that we're shutting down for the two weeks following the break throughout Ontario. I think that's a very good idea, and I haven't seen any opposition to the decision. But now what should teachers do? So far, we've gotten zero instruction or guidance about what we can or cannot do. I want to set up online lessons pro-actively, but because of current labour disputes, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that. Nobody has the answers. So, what should the answer be?

Three ideas have come out of the fray: do nothing now, but work into July; do nothing now, but extend the school day to compensate and have longer classes; and do something now, i.e. teach from home. I prefer the last option. I think I'm in the minority on this, though, because, in Ontario, we're specifically fighting against Ford's mandatory e-learning. Can we work online without promoting Ford's evil plan? Will teaching from home work against everything the union's been doing for us??

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

COVID 19 and Pascal

Kevin Patterson at The Walrus has a great piece on the coronavirus. It's different than the flu, faster, and our high-density living spaces aren't helping contain it:
"Famine and war routinely bring civilizations low, but though he trots closely beside those two, the horseman who carries off the most has always been pestilence. . . . Many familiar pathogens are lethal on a broad scale . . . Seasonal influenza . . . It is monitored carefully and understood well enough that vaccines may be prepared that are usually effective at reducing disease incidence and severity. . . . While the best-case scenario for influenza each year includes many deaths, we also have an idea of what the worst-case scenario is. The downside risk is not infinite. With novel pathogens, this is not true. The worst-case scenario is undefined . . . some of them do prove to be catastrophic—and doctors don’t know, when one emerges, what course it’s going to take. . . .  
The story of this pandemic is, in many ways, a story about speed . . . the rapidity with which it was observed to leap to humans and the rate at which it was seen to disseminate among us has almost no parallel in modern medicine. . . . In the intensive care unit where I work as a critical care physician . . . even a handful of extra patients requiring high-level care can put unsustainable pressure on the system. . . . In retrospect, after 2009 H1N1—as well as after SARS and the other recent near misses, to say nothing of the fifteen-century history of pandemics—the surprising thing is how little was done subsequently to prepare for the next disastrous outbreak. . . .  
 One point that needs more emphasis is that epidemics have diminished in much of the Global North for good reason. . . . A large part of this is due to affluence and, to a qualified and recently diminishing degree, justice. . . . Tuberculosis in most of Canada is almost gone. But, in Nunavut, which has Canada’s highest poverty rate, the incidence was recently comparable to Somalia’s. . . . But the reasons for anxiety are compelling too. A vaccine is at least a year away. . . . We live, worldwide, mostly in cities and now in densities that make us profoundly vulnerable. . . . We must now contemplate how much we need one another. The instinct to recoil would be the worst possible response because doing so would ensure that the most vulnerable among us are consumed. . . . Rarely is the argument for mutual devotion so easily made."
And Tomas Pueyo explained, in a Medium article, with many graphs and math, how absolutely vital it is for cities to shut down at the first signs of confirmed illnesses. It's like cockroaches: Once one illness is confirmed, it's likely there are about 800 others unconfirmed and spreading exponentially. Pueyo worries about politicians afraid to take action, restrained by concerns for the economy,
"But in 2–4 weeks, when the entire world is in lockdown, when the few precious days of social distancing you will have enabled will have saved lives, people won’t criticize you anymore: They will thank you for making the right decision."
Martin Makary, MD, says, in MedPage Today, warns about discounting the threat because we're healthier or more advanced on this side of the pond,
And even though other countries have enacted very strict quarantine practices, including martial law and a shutdown of schools, there is a misleading perception that the U.S. would have less community transmission because of a better health care system and better hygiene. Another barrier has been the exaggerated notion that COVID-19 is only a danger to old people and that young people are entirely resilient. . . . Based on the current trajectory of the pandemic, all U.S. schools are at risk and may need to be closed, public gatherings like NCAA tournament games may need to be postponed, businesses should have their employees work from home whenever possible, and hospitals should staff up. I don’t like it, but that’s what the data are telling us to do. , , , It’s time we dispel the notion that this virus is somehow contained. It is at large.

If we use Pascal's wager to decide what to do, it looks like this: We can shut down a city after just one confirmed case and, if we're wrong and there's no spread, then we have to apologize for costing some businesses money and causing massive headaches for many citizens. But if we're right, and we find out there were 800 cases we didn't know about until partway through that 2-week shut down - the length of the incubation period - then we're heroes for stopping the spread!!  But if we don't shut down a city after just one confirmed case and, if we're right and there's no spread, then no harm no foul. But if we're wrong, and 800 people have all infected colleagues and friends and conference attendees and other fans of the same concerts, then we're screwed!

I don't know about you, but I'd rather risk embarrassment and potentially save many of my citizens, than go with the status quo and risk allowing a spread of a virus that, while it only kills a small percentage of people, also ends up putting many more in the hospital, which sucks up resources from all other medical needs. This thread on the experience of doctors in Italy explains the ramifications of one disease taking all the time and resources from doctors and nurses throughout the hospital. Now experts are saying Italy shut down way too late.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Bit about Cancel Culture and Academic Freedom

I've written before about how I support free speech but don't support giving platforms to "White Nationalists" or neo-Nazis or any other racist group who could use the venue to garner more followers. My concern is with audience members who might be easily led or looking for a place to direct their saved up anger. I believe we must act together to ensure that racist or bigoted values don't get amplified. People aren't barred from speaking and sharing their views otherwise, but I'm fine if they are denied a stage, particularly in a public arena. It's not just that I don't like their views, but that I fear that their views, if accepted by a greater number of people, could normalize harmful actions and threaten the safety and security of my friends and neighbours.

But Peter Singer??  [ETA a recent interview about it at RNZ]

Here's a bit of background on this ethics philosopher. He is, if it's possible, the direct opposite of a neo-Nazi. He's all about decreasing suffering worldwide! He advocates for vegetarianism and goes so far as to suggest that, to live a truly ethical life, we should take any extra money just sitting in our bank accounts and donate it to charity to alleviate global poverty. He's ever concerned with us living the best life we can have in the most ethical way possible. But one of his many arguments around alleviating suffering, from a chapter in a book he wrote back in 1979, Practical Ethicsis about the right of parents to euthanize severely disabled infants. Disability activist groups want this view shut down.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Slowing Climate Change Doesn't Have to be so Confusing!!

Some people insist that we can't put it on individuals to make the changes necessary to affect climate; we have to change industry and vote differently and all that jazz. But it's only with individual efforts to change our behaviours AND to effect industry and petition politicians, as individuals, that anything will change. Here's a rundown of everything that causes the big issues today, why it doesn't really, and why that other thing should be our focus, and why, just maybe, we really have to DO ALL THE THINGS and ALL AT ONCE if we hope to eke out an existence on this beautiful planet!!

What's everything? Here's the solution in a nutshell: As much as you can, given your own personal limited resources, try to plant trees, petition the government, vote in climate-focused politicians who aren't full of shit and who won't invade other countries, reduce car and plane travel, reduce energy usage, reduce meat eating, avoid plastic, reduce unnecessary purchases, don't think you need kids to feel complete, and spend some more time in nature. Think of the money you'll save and the benefits to your body and soul by buying less crap and walking in the park for the afternoon instead of driving to the mall! It doesn't really matter which is the best and brightest method because no one thing can be at the expense of all the others. We have to do them all as much as we can manage!!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Getting My Head Around Privilege and Protest

This is a bit of a round up on this issue, just of opposing positions floating around social media. First let's look at Andrew Scheer's comments:

On "ideologically motivated protestors":
I hate how the existence of  'ideologies' has been spun to be a problem in the world. I get the idea that some people are so embedded in their beliefs that they can't see outside of them, but having a value system common to a group of people isn't a problem in itself. All protesters and politicians are motivated by their way of looking at the world.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

On Resisting Decadence

“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” - Oscar Wilde

Ross Douthat explores our trajectory that has led us to decadence, which he defines as,
"cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. Under decadence, Barzun wrote, 'The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.'"
The Fyre Festival, Theranos, and Uber's financial losses point to this "Age of Decadence." Climate change is strikingly absent from this lengthy article, though. The fact that we have this huge, looming problems, and we're wilfully ignoring it in order to continue living with our many conveniences, is the epitome of decadence! He also misses that there are cultures that haven't bought into this neo-liberal mess, and, here in Canada, our mounted police are trampling them to get them to stop blocking progress in the form of more oil and more growth. The CBC just had a piece on Timothy Ornelas documenting the traditional homelands of the Indigenous in Los Angeles, on land currently occupied by Universal Studios. That's not in here either, but it's still an interesting read, at least in brief:

Monday, February 3, 2020

Let's Talk about Population! (ducking projectiles)

Back in November, 11,000 scientists declared that we need to stabilize or gradually reduce the global population. Since then, I've bumped into a few people, online and in real life, who become absolutely irate at the suggestion that climate change is in any way affected by the growing population on our finite planet. There was an upsurge in vocal opposition to any discussion of population after Jane Goodall recently commented on it at Davos:
"All these [environmental] things we talk about wouldn’t be a problem if there was the size of population that there was 500 years ago.” 
This cartoon gets the gist of the concerns:

On Twitter, Felix Trash Goblin sums up concerns like this,
"Overpopulation is a myth that leads to genocide. If you’re Irish you should know this. The famine was allowed to happen because the Brits thought Ireland was overpopulated. It was seen as a good thing that a million people died, because there were already too many wretched Irish . . . We humans have become so incredibly efficient at producing food. We could feed everyone in the world if we tried. The issue is capitalism. The reason people are starving. The reason people are homeless, choking in toxic city air, unable to drink clean water. IT’S CAPITALISM. It’s so fucking sickening to see this overpopulation bullshit come back up again and again. China had the OCP for years and now they have a wildly unbalanced population. Studies overwhelmingly show that education and economic development cause population to plateau naturally."

Monday, January 27, 2020

But Thinking is So Much Work!

Misinformation and misunderstanding and misreporting are going to be the death of us. From news sources reporting who was in the plane with Kobe Bryant before details were released to the families to an old article about Ebola resurfacing as if it's about Coronovirus, it's now up to Joe Public to read and scrutinize and think. That's a lot to ask in our busy lives of continuous news feeds! And it's clearly not happening. The Ebola article, introduced by a semi-popular Twitterer as if a couple in Canada, who immigrated from China, created the new virus in order to kill us all, elicited a ton of shocking (or, these days, to be expected) racism and anti-immigration sentiment so vile that it makes me more worried about a the creation of containment camps for anyone with Chinese ancestry popping up everywhere than about actually getting sick.

So this final example might seem trivial next to those two. But it's all part and parcel of the same mess.

Journalist Vicky Spratt wrote an article that was very unfortunately titled, "Dangerous Rise of Men Who Won't Date "Woke" Women."  Her concerns in the article are not remotely about her own dating life, a fact unacknowledged by, literally, hundreds of commenters.

What the article does say is that Laurence Fox, specifically, (an actor - I had to google him) is saying some very racist and sexist things. The dangerous part is that he has a huge platform now. Her point:
"There's nothing funny about the things Fox is saying. . . . It's dangerous. He is just one very privileged man and, as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day."
She does mention dating apps and how many men want women to "drop their obsession with 'social justice.'" She explains,
"Men are being "radicalised by anti-feminism. As the saying goes: 'When you're used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.' . . . a hostility towards feminism is feeding directly into far-right movements online. . . . [Fox] is legitimising hatred and division." 
He's part of what Angela Nagle might call the Alt Light. I'm on the side that believes this is a legitimate concern as this line of thinking can lead towards either acceptance of, provocation for, or actual involvement in murder sprees of the likes of El Paso, Poway, and Christchurch, as Spratt argues. She quotes Susan Faludi: 'When the enemy has no face, society will invent one." Nagle suggests that it's a tiny group of people online, but they both agree it has the potential to spread when they get an audience. Spratt explains,
"Make no mistake, the far right is already capitalising on Fox's words, gassing him up and turning him into an icon. He has added to their backlash and given it oxygen. Every time he is invited onto a TV or radio show to talk about it, that oxygen will cause the backlash to burn hotter and faster, irrespective of whether we're watching or not. It's important no to trivialise this anti-woke, anti-women backlash."
I've mentioned this before, but this conversation always reminds me of Chris Hedges's story about an elderly Jewish man humiliated in the market place in the mid 1930s. The fact that some in the crowd laughed and that nobody stopped the humiliation was enough for the viewer, Marek Edelman, the last survivor of the group that led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, to predict that something far worse would happen next.

Graham Dockery doesn't see it this way. He responded in RT, arguing that Spratt is taking a huge leap to suggest these types of racist and sexist comments cause murders: "That's quite the jump. And quite the accusation to make, considering Fox's statements aren't controversial." His proof that racist and sexist comments are uncontroversial is statistics about how few men and women support feminism.

That these aren't uncommon ideas, doesn't prove - in the least - that they aren't portending later destruction to the groups being slammed. In fact, quite the opposite. If these comments are commonplace, now, then how do we see clear of the damage except to rally against this ideology.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On Martin Luther King Jr.

Chomsky praises him, saying he was vilified, but he was crucial to making change. Two years ago, the New York Times published an excellent transcript of his final sermon, annotated by Nikita Stewart to clarify the events that provoked some of his words. It's his "I've been to the mountaintop" speech made four years after the Civil Rights Act passed, and one day before his death. Here's an abridged version (or listen to it in full here). The bold is all mine; his words have been repeated by Chomsky and Hedges and Timothy Snyder. Hopefully we'll listen one day.
It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. . . . 
We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity. . . . And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham . . . Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” . . . And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there. . . . 
All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. . . . 
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. . . . And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. . . . We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. . . . I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. . . . 
[Jesus] talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. . . . The first question that the priest asked—the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. . . . 
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
He stood in line with picketing unions just on the cusp of Milton Friedman's tide coming in to bring the anti-union free market to South America, by force. He was fighting economic disparity just as the marginal tax rate was being lowered to allow the rich to get richer. He was at the starting point of neo-liberalism, fighting the very beginnings, prophetically explaining the results we were about to see, and then he was assassinated.

His approval rating had tanked with the people as he got more radical about poverty and the war in Vietnam. He wasn't content with just civil rights in a few states; he wanted to change American policies. Here's his 1967 speech with the famous line,
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." 
The Vietnam protests kept going, but inequality was sold to the middle class as a matter of weakness, stupidity, and laziness of those beneath them. Just as he predicted, the Pharaoh kept the slaves fighting amongst themselves, ignoring the wealth being accumulated for the top off their backs of those at the bottom.

And, as James Cobb reports, protesters got tired of the glacial pace of change through non-violent means. He describes what happened after his death:
"King's slaying meant the death of “all reasonable hope,” Stokely Carmichael warned, because he was “the only man of our race ... of the older generation who the militants and the revolutionaries and the masses of black people would still listen to” even if they no longer agreed with what he had to say. There would be no more “intellectual discussions.” Black Americans would now retaliate for the murder of one of their leaders by seeking their justice not in the courtrooms but in the streets. 
And so they did, in classically Pyrrhic fashion. Younger, more militant black spokesmen who had spurned King's commitment to nonviolence and peaceful negotiation proceeded to stoke outrage over the slaughter of someone so un-menacing and well-intentioned. A week-long orgy of violence raged across more than 100 cities, leaving at least 37 people dead and many more injured and millions of dollars in property destroyed. This was a bitterly ironic sendoff for someone who had sacrificed his life to the cause of achieving social justice by peaceful means."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Chomsky's Optimism: On Climate Change, Nuclear War, and Activism

Truthdig's Scheer Intelligence series, hosted by Robert Scheer, recently posted a 3 hour podcast in two parts. I've summarized the gist of what Chomsky says below, in about a 15 minute read, with a few of my own thoughts and links added to the mix. You can listen to the whole thing here: Part 1 - "American has built a global dystopia" and Part 2 - "Chomsky makes the case for the lesser of two evils."

This is largely quoted but without asides and repetition of words or ideas to make it more fluid, and with headings for easier scrolling through bite-sized chunks!


Scheer starts by asking Chomsky if we're in the middle of Huxley's Brave New World or Orwell's 1984. Chomsky offers a third option: We, by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. It's an amalgamation of Huxley and Orwell. We have tight surveillance, but we're also controlled through punishment and shame. Cars with screens in them know your shopping habits and will let you know if there's a Chinese restaurant nearby to manipulate your choices. There's also a move to control people at work through a point system. [It's Black Mirror's "Nosedive" episode.] The internet of things isn't just a convenience for you, but for the government and multi-national surveillance of you. There's no wall between Google, Amazon, and the government.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How to Be a Good Citizen

This is a Twitter thread, but I want to save it, so I'm putting it here. It's by Elle Maruska. (Here's her Patreon and Ko-Fi, whatever that is.)

"Here are some things you can do that, while maybe won't change the world will help you become more effective as a progressive and less likely to engage in harmful behavior in the name of social justice

1. Read Read read read read read read. Read books, read newspapers, read Twitter threads. Read carefully, critically, with purpose. Read scholars of color. Read words written by poor writers, disabled writers, queer writers. Look for reading lists regarding your area of interest

2. Find Experts. Follow Them. Listen To Them. For whatever cause you're most passionate about there are plenty of people who have been working to promote that cause and they're the voices you must seek out. These people will be best able to tell you where to send your support what resources are needed, what work has to be done, how you can best help. And the most important thing is to LISTEN. Don't demand an education. Don't argue. Don't insert yourself into a conversation between experts. Listen, and learn.

3. If You Want To Give, Give What Is Asked For Don't give what YOU think people need, give what people KNOW they need. Support is only support if its useful, if it helps. Know what the need is and if you can help fulfill that need then do it

4. Be Ok With Being Uncomfortable. You are going to be wrong. You're going to be wrong about a lot of things. And that's ok. No one comes into the world fully formed and knowledgeable about everything and you're gonna mess up. You're gonna make people mad. It's ok You're also going to learn things that make you question yourself, your place in the world, your beliefs. You'll be confronted with a reality that hurts, that makes you defensive, even angry. You'll want to defend yourself, to declare that you aren't one of the bad ones . Don't. Understand it's ok to feel these things but work them out on your own. Don't force your discomfort on people who are doing work and have been for a long time. Sit with your discomfort. Examine it. Accept that you will be uncomfortable, and that doesn't make you a bad person.

5. Choose A Cause. Don't Put Down Other Causes. We all have things we're passionate about. Maybe it's prison reform, or climate change, or healthcare, or immigration. We can't do everything, we can't support every cause. It's ok to specialize and it's probably necessary BUT Do not come into discussions regarding OTHER causes and try and claim your cause is more important, more deserving of support. Don't derail conversations. Don't put down other people, other experts. Respect the work people do across all causes. It's all connected.

6. Pay People For Their Labor. I mean this should go without saying but I'm gonna say it. The articles/twitter threads you read don't just appear. They're work someone's done, labor someone's performed and then posted to allow free access. If you can, pay people for that work Subscribe to Patreons. Support people's Ko-Fis. Donate to GoFundMes. Leave tips in digital tip jars. Even if it's only a little bit it makes a difference and shows you respect and understand the work being done, the effort and cost of creating free content.

7. The Local Is As Important As The Global.  Big issues like climate change seem way too immense for one person to address and they are. But you can make a difference on the local level in so many different ways. Pay attention to local politics, local issues, local elections What is your local school board doing? What is your town/city doing about affordable housing? Homelessness? Community healthcare? So many decisions are made at the local level. Figure out what you can do to help make the right decisions

8. If You Can Take Part In Public Action Do It. Mass public action is one of the most effective ways of protesting. In fact mass public disruptions are pretty much the only really effective methods of getting the attention of those in power & making them afraid. Of course we can't all march and that's fine. But we can help in other ways. We can donate to organizations that provide legal aid to protesters. We can share information. We can send supplies. There are lots of ways to show support with those who are marching and importantly we can normalize mass public disruption as a legitimate method of protest Remember Occupy Wall Street? So many people--even those on the left--treated it as a joke. We need to change that attitude and SUPPORT those willing & able to disrupt the machinery of power

9. Elevate Marginalized Voices. Remember that for every Greta Thunberg there's an Autumn Peltier or Mari Copeny. When you support activists make sure you're not just supporting white activists, western activists, conventionally attractive/acceptable activists. Assess who you're most often retweeting or sharing and make an effort to promote marginalized activists who may not get the same level of public acceptance as white/cis/abled activists

10. Above All Remember: Systems Are The Enemy. It's easy to focus all our ire on Trump and to pretend one person can be responsible for all the wrong we're fighting but the problems we have go back far longer than 2016. From climate change to violence in the Middle East systemic forces like capitalism & white supremacy are the enemies we must dismantle. Which means we always have to look beyond the current president, the current super-villain and ask how we can change the system, not the person Don't get caught up in attacking one man attack the system that allowed that man to assume power, and will continue to allow cruel brutal racists to claim control

And here are some basic bits of advice 
     -even your favs can mess up & should be held accountable
     -but we're all human & messing up is unavoidable
     -don't believe a single person can save us 
     -take care of yourself 
     -don't be afraid to be a jerk. don't be afraid to be kind

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Age of Oblivion, Part 2

Chomsky has said, over and over, that the two things we should be worried about are climate change and nuclear war. We're doing well at exacerbating both! Our obliviousness to these catalyses of catastrophe will propel us into total oblivion. Defense stock is up, though.

Hedges on Iran:
"The strike may temporarily bolster the political fortunes of the two beleaguered architects of the assassination, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is an act of imperial suicide by the United States. There can be no positive outcome. It opens up the possibility of an Armageddon-type scenario relished by the lunatic fringes of the Christian right. . . . The generals and politicians who launched and prosecuted these wars are not about to take the blame for the quagmires they created. They need a scapegoat. It is Iran. The hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed, including at least 200,000 civilians, and the millions driven from their homes into displacement and refugee camps cannot, they insist, be the result of our failed and misguided policies. The proliferation of radical jihadist groups and militias, many of which we initially trained and armed, along with the continued worldwide terrorist attacks, have to be someone else’s fault. . . . The chaos and instability we unleashed in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, left Iran as the dominant country in the region. Washington empowered its nemesis. It has no idea how to reverse its mistake other than to attack Iran. . . . Trump and Netanyahu, as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are mired in scandal. They believe a new war would divert attention from their foreign and domestic crises. . . . 
We, as citizens, must hold our government accountable for these crimes. If we do not, we will be complicit in the codification of a new world order, one that would have terrifying consequences. It would be a world without treaties, statutes and laws. It would be a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, would be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. Such a new order would undo five decades of international cooperation—largely put in place by the United States—and thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. Diplomacy, broad cooperation, treaties and law, all the mechanisms designed to civilize the global community, would be replaced by savagery."

And a bit from an Bill Perry video, a few years old, for perspective:

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Age of Oblivion: Another End of Decade Rant

Of course  calendars are a construct and don't mean anything, but the end of the year and, even more so, the end of the decade are useful times to take stock.

In pop culture, we have the Ecco Homo moment as a cultural foreboding - the chutzpah to insist on a fix that pretends to be completely oblivious to the destruction of former beauty. We've done that with our whole planet. But more than that is the fame it brought to the amateur restoration worker, driving up tourism dramatically. We are positioned to celebrate destruction of beauty more than creation. This could be bookended with the acknowledgment and then immediate justification of "billionaires in wine caves" having more power than the rest of the populous; that a politician will be attacked for refusing to be bribed is a sign of our times.

The New York Times got a random smattering of people to answer: What Will the World Look Like in 2030?, twelve years after we were told we have twelve years to fix everything. It's a terrifying read. I've smushed some pertinent bits together here:

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.