Thursday, July 9, 2020

On Laws and Common Sense

I'm thankful that my city council decided to make masks mandatory starting July 13th, even though I know a few, like the Regional Chair herself, were hoping that people could be persuaded to do the right thing without the law getting involved. Three weeks ago, our region launched a #FaceMaskFriday initiative to normalize wearing a mask at all, and I've been very concerned that we're so late to the party, and moving so slowly on this, despite, at one point, having a similar spread rate to Toronto.

And then I just now had this exchange in a small local store, which was letting only two people in at a time, which is great, but then opening the door for customers individually and projecting, enthusiastically, "Welcome to our store!!" unmasked and less than 2' away in the tiny entrance to the store. I was glad that I had on a mask and sunglasses, at least.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Another Rant About Overpopulation Arguments

I don't actually care that much about overpopulation, not nearly as much as I care about re-regulating industry with climate a top priority and changing economic policy to decrease inequities, but there's such a frustrating argument I've seen a few times on social media and ranted about it before, but now I've seen a YouTuber with a philosophy background, Oliver Thorn, make the same argument, so I'm compelled to have yet another look at it, just to make sure I'm not missing something. It's this:

"Overpopulation is a myth." And the supporting points? "It's just a fact." The unspoken premise in the video at the link above, which is most frustrating, is this: The suggestion that overpopulation is a problem can lead to a horrifying solution; therefore, there is no problem.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Found Letters from 1944: Frank and Ray and Johny

My daughter just found an old tin in the back of a cupboard. I have no idea where I got it, but it has two photos and two letters:

Frank and Ray? or Johny?

Both letters are addressed to Mr. F.  Krizoski / Kresky / Krizusiki, Kitchener, Ontario, with a King George VI, 4 cent stamp:

July 12, 1944 - From: Mr. Peter R. Albert, Box 107, Blind River, Ontario

Well hello Frank,
     I trust you thought I had forgotten you by now. But know I was just waiting to see what was what. Well, Frank, old boy, are things ever hot now. They're really hard on  me. but that's all right. We don't mind them being hard on us as long as they get us.
     Well, Frank, I haven't got much to say except that I got your card and was very glad to hear from you. Oh, yes, you were telling me that you were having a real good time. I sure hope that it keeps up. As for myself, it wouldn't have been much better for I really enjoy the time I was here so far.
     Well, Frank, here is saying so long and goodbye 'til I hear from you. Expecting an answer soon.

Dec. 6, 1944 - From Mr. J. Sterjuk, Box 1147, Port Colborne, Ontario

Dear Frank,
     I am just writing you a few lines letting you know that I am well and back at home. I thought I'd write to you a few lines to see if you're discharged from the army yet or not. I hope you got your discharge; you certainly waited for it a long time. If you got it, write to me if it isn't much trouble for you.
     I am working in the Nickel Plant right now, and my wages are fine. I am working always on days,  so if you drop down here some time, I'll be home and will be glad to see you again. Did you see Durbecker yet? He should be out by now. Well the time certainly is flying by fast, and Christmas will be here soon, and I hope you enjoy yourself this time at home. Well there isn't very much more to write in my first letter, so I'll close now and hope you'll write soon to me. So good luck 'til then.
     Your old friend, Johny
     P.S. Please write soon.

If you know any of the families, let me know!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

An Eye for an Eye in Cancel Culture

Some finish that with "... leaves the whole world blind," but that somewhat belies the meaning of the phrase. The idea is that we should never take a drop more than equitable retribution.

It's was written in the Code of Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago: "If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out" (196), and popularized in Exodus and Leviticus, about a thousands years later: In one part, after explaining how to act on the Sabbath, there's a little story where God tells Moses about a mixed race guy (half Egyptian and half Israelite) who, while arguing with a pure Israelite, cursed God in the middle of a heated argument. They asked God what to do about it, and He told them, "Any Israelite or any foreigner living in Israel who curses the Lord shall be stoned to death by the whole community" (24:16). Yikes! Elsewhere, God admits that he's jealous and vengeful, and he clearly doesn't deal with insults well. Then he goes on to announce this famous bit:
“If any of you injure another person, whatever you have done shall be done to you. If you break a bone, one of your bones shall be broken; if you put out an eye, one of your eyes shall be put out; if you knock out a tooth, one of your teeth shall be knocked out. Whatever injury you cause another person shall be done to you in return. Whoever kills an animal shall replace it, but whoever kills a human being shall be put to death (24:19-21)
So, after clarifying that you should definitely call out harm against you, and only do to others what they do to you in kind, but no more than what they do to you, the crowd takes the guy outside, who had just said some swears, and stone him to death. Now, at the time, "cursing" isn't just saying "F.U." It was seen as actually putting a curse on someone, as if our words are the precursor of an action to follow. So if you say "F.U." to someone, then they will end up F'd, and it will be because of the harm your words provoked.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger and El Jones on #CancelCanadaDay

Migrants Rights Network hosted an online teach-in for "so called Canada Day" with two revolutionaries: Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a Dënesųłiné (ts'ékui) member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, from Treaty 8 land, and El Jones, a spoken word poet, educator, journalist, co-founder of the Black Power Hour radio show, living in African Nova Scotia.

The idea of #CancelCanadaDay is forming roots now in a way I haven't seen before. I feel like many of us are beginning to turn a corner on what it means to live on stolen land. This video might help with that turn. (And it was really well moderated, with excellent sound, which is starting to matter a lot more to me in these days of online everything!) This is a general summary of the main points of discussion, an abridged transcript of their words:

Remember Climate Change?

We have a strong survival instinct that has us focus on immediate dangers at the expense of potential long term dangers. So we've been immersed in trying to solve Covid19 issues and BLM issues to stop people from dying right in front of us, and I've been rambling on about masks and policing. But, looming in the background still on the same disastrous trajectory, climate change needs our immediate attention.

Australian climate scientist, Will Steffen, says that it could take 30 years to get to net zero emissions, and we'll trigger feedback loops well before then. Nine of the 15 global trigger elements have already been activated. In this thorough Voice of Action article, Steffen explains,
“Given the momentum in both the Earth and human systems, and the growing difference between the ‘reaction time’ needed to steer humanity towards a more sustainable future, and the ‘intervention time’ left to avert a range of catastrophes in both the physical climate system (e.g., melting of Arctic sea ice) and the biosphere (e.g., loss of the Great Barrier Reef), we are already deep into the trajectory towards collapse. That is, the intervention time we have left has, in many cases, shrunk to levels that are shorter than the time it would take to transition to a more sustainable system."
There is "now scientific support for declaring a state of planetary emergency."

Monday, June 29, 2020

In Retrospect: School in the Time of Covid

This video about online learning, "numb" by Liv McNeil, is making the rounds:

This has been a difficult time, and the video is cathartic for some.

But first a bit about the video structure as a short film:

Some things were fantastic, like the sound of kids laughing as she's looking at pictures of her friends and the close-up of her emails and assignments. She used the camera to tell the story beautifully! We don't need any dialogue to feel the conflict. She's isolated from her friends and overwhelmed with work. Many viewer say it made them cry which shows that the video hit all the right points to get us to really empathize with the character. And, as time was passing on the bed, particularly the writing and screaming scenes, there was some amazing editing and stop-action acting. That takes dedicated persistence to match up those frames! Well done!

But... Next steps:
She sets up the problem beautifully, but then she just got stuck there. How does it end? The character needs to act on the problem and try to resolve it (even if she fails) rather than just succumb to it. Because the character resigns themselves to this, passively, instead of rising to the challenge, there's no arc or character development as they learn to overcome obstacles.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

On Policing: On Finding the Line

A mask, six feet, and being outdoors: pick any two at a time, amirite? Plus wash your hands before and after eating or touching your face. Pretty easy.

So, ironically, sort of, as I wrote about the importance avoiding policing one another in our daily lives, I got called out for commenting on people who don't wear masks. I've been posting about masks and social distancing pretty much daily, trying to persuade people to change this one simple part of their day in order for everyone to be able to manage to live easier and safer. But after the call out, I paused a bit to consider my own judgmental attitude towards people avoiding masks, especially any close talkers inside a building, compared to being judgmental of other actions, like writing "Black Lives Matter" in chalk in front of your own house, or commenting on an unleashed dog, or selling bottled water on the sidewalk. God forbid I'm a Karen!!

I hate the direction call out culture has gone. It's useful when it calls out harmful words and actions that could be perpetuated - hate crimes material in particular - in order to change behaviours. But I think maybe we should stop digging up things people did decades ago. Full disclosure, I dressed up as someone from another race at least three times for Hallowe'en as a child. At the time, I was completely oblivious to the harm in perpetuating a stereotype about an identifiable groups of people, and so were my parents and others in my very white neighbourhood. I've significantly changed my views since then, and there's not much I can do about the me from the '70s.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

On Policing: Time for Change

In 1982, Milton Friedman advised,
"Keep options open until circumstances make change necessary. There is enormous inertia--a tyranny of the status quo--in private and especially governmental arrangements. Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable" (xiii-xiv).
And then he helped usher in the neoliberal free market policies that have decimate health care, destroyed unions, privatized public services, deregulated banks and businesses, and provoked inequality like we haven't seen since 1929.

I know, master's tools and all, but I do think this part of his analysis is accurate. There IS a tyranny of the status quo! And when people are in a state of upheaval, they'll grab on to whatever message helps to stabilize them. This crisis is an opportunity for change, and we have to be awake to what that entails. We can be railroaded, or we can be ready.

The tech giants are already on it. We had been opposed to a few people-replacing technologies before the pandemic, but, as Naomi Klein explains, now we're embracing them:
"The future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent--and highly profitable--no-touch future. . . . There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology. . . .  It's a future that claims to be run on 'artificial intelligence' but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. . . . We had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication. . . . Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic. . . . We face real and hard choices between investing in humans and investing in technology. Because the brutal truth is that, as it stands, we are very unlikely to do both." 
This is going to obliterate privacy, wipe out good jobs and mass produce bad ones. Education, just for one example, could face a dystopia that accelerates remote learning under the guise of providing the best teachers, maybe just one government approved set of teachers for all to watch remotely, and set up marking mills for faceless people with advanced degrees to grade assignment all day without ever meeting their "clients." Of course that will never happen, right? But being isolated in our homes also removes opportunities for solidarity.

Good thing we're taking to the streets.

Monday, June 22, 2020

On Policing: Maintaining Institutions

Victoria's Secret
I'm just kicking around the idea of defunding the police and trying to picture how it all works and how we get from here to there to explore if it's necessarily the best route to obliterate the police force or just to de-militarize it. Police take up a huge part of municipal budgets, and seeing cops in riot gear or with armoured trucks (worth a third of a million each) when people are struggling to access mental health facilities or find basic shelter or even get enough food is baffling in its excess. But, when cops had little more than billy clubs and rope, the threatening aura didn't disappear.  There were reports of cops being racist and cruel and barbaric before all the equipment; the armour just makes them faster. So, while much of that money could definitely be better used elsewhere, changing the budget doesn't touch the heart of the issue.

One key problem with any powerful institution that needs to be dismantled is the subtle peer pressure to turn a blind eye in order to maintain the illusion of perfection in the institution. The machine convinces us to save it at the expense of the individuals it was made to serve.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

On Policing: Checking Up or Checking In

Two things happened recently that have me thinking about the nature of policing of one another beyond blue uniforms. It's that policing attitude I'm questioning.

#1. At an online meeting with an admin of my high school, we were told our marks are due Monday morning, a few days ahead of our typical schedule, and then it was suggested that we'll have to figure out how to continue delivering content to the end of the week even after the kids know their marks are in. In an earlier meeting, a colleague expressed concerns about students who finish their 3 hours of work in one day and have no work for the rest of the week. We have this weird idea that school is about keeping students busy so that they'll stay out of trouble. One reason for truancy laws is still to "Get kids off the street and get rid of daytime crime." In the classroom, we're cautioned not to let kids leave early or else we're liable for anything that happens to them until the final bell rings. The one thing that I absolutely love about distance learning is no longer having to track attendance and lates, and no longer being remotely (ha!) responsible for whether or not they're dressed appropriately or eating or playing a game on their phone during class. I just offer an opportunity for learning, and it's entirely up to them to seize the day! If the kids finish early, or if school finishes early, I shouldn't be expected to entertain them. They should be free to discover and develop their own forms of entertainment! There is a potential for creativity to flourish in the absence of make-work activities. I gave them their final marks last Thursday, even! Let the wild rumpus begin!!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

On Trans Shitposting and Cancel Culture: Applying ContraPoints to J.K. Rowling

I was going to just ignore all this, but it came up in a discussion on my social media feed, so here's the thing:

Free speech is absolutely vital in a democracy, especially the freedom to question and criticize elites: people who craft the laws or, maybe more importantly, who provoke the dominant belief system through their pronounced effect on the zeitgeist. You know, like J.K. Rowling.

There is some concern that Rowling has been unfairly dismissed by the dreaded cancel culture since her most recent explanation of her position on the transgender population is very articulate, as if being articulate makes for a solid argument. This illuminates a serious problem in our society: many people don't know how to recognize and counter a bad argument. We're running on the notion that, if it feels like it makes sense, then it must. Nope.

Last January, YouTuber Natalie Wynn was also denigrated online. In a feature length video, she explains cancel culture as, "online shaming, vilifying or ostracizing prominent members of a community". It's a vigilante strategy to topple people in power who can't be held to account in any other way, which can morph into an absolute reign of terror against the person instead of their argument. It's "character assassination disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict." The collective has terrifying powers that they don't realize as individuals. And we all know what comes with great power.

It doesn't further society when the goal is no longer to reach a better understanding between people, but to destroy people. Instead, we need to take the most charitable understanding of Rowling's claims and scrutinize them for weak reasoning:

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Opening Schools in September

The province is asking for our advice - the public's - in how to open schools in September. As much as I value democracy, getting advice on a public health issue from random people with the time and energy to respond makes me very nervous. Consulting the public might be a means to do something not advised by expert - like business as usual. Banking on the extra stress parents are feeling trying to help their kids through school, they might get just over 50% "advising" re-opening of schools, and then the government can throw it back at us when the death rate starts rising - of our children!!

But, since they asked...

We shouldn't be opening the schools at all until we've got the number of cases WAY down - until it's actually safe to be out in public in groups. We need to follow New Zealand's lead on this, not Sweden's, and definitely not the United States. Right now, we're still not testing as much as Ford promised, and we're not tracking. Canada's still in the "needs action" section of this set of charts, and the bulk of the cases here are in Ontario and Quebec. We should be waiting at least until our daily death rate (which is significantly more accurate than the daily case rate when testing isn't carefully randomized) is in the single digits for three straight weeks or hits some other marker that's been established by experts in the field!!

Absolutely it's frustrating to teach and learn without being in the same room. I hate it!! But I can manage. And we can all get a little better at it a second time around. Students will definitely be at a disadvantage, educationally, but we can re-teach them any weakly acquired knowledge; we can't bring them back from the dead. Even if they get behind a couple years' worth of education, they can still catch up. Even though the virus often isn't fatal for children, having it can lead to lifelong health conditions.

BUT, if opening schools is going to happen before it's completely safe, then here's what I'd like to see happen in the secondary schools:

1. Here's an easy one: bring back grade 13, or at least remove that ridiculous cap on the number of credits allowed. If we want an educated populace, then let's let them learn.
2. Block classes instead of using a rotation system. Instead of four classes a day for 20 weeks, either have us teach one class at a time for 5 weeks, OR have one class each day (Monday is first period, Tuesday is second, etc.). It will eliminate travelling in the hallways and help to ban locker use so students can be expected to go straight from the door to their one class each day.
3. Alternate weeks in case of contraction and to reduce numbers. Have half the students come for one week at a time and then stay home for a week (5 on, 9 off), so there's about 15 in a class instead of 30. There's still no way we'll get 15 kids six feet apart - not in my classroom.
4. Make school just 3 hours a day instead of 5, so we can eliminate lunch and prevent kids from eating at school. I love our lunch program, and students should be able to grab food at school, but then they have to leave to be able to take off their masks in order to eat it. Students will get their lessons at school, then be expected to spend 2-3 hours each day working from home. Students on their "home week" will be expected to spend 5-6 hours each day working from home. The one limitation I found difficult to manage after that three week break was the 3 hours/week/class instead of 6.25. I'd rather managing on a case by case basis, allowing some kids to do the full curriculum and others to do what they can.
5. Institute a full-on mask protocol for every person in the building, no exceptions. We got used to wearing seatbelts, and we can get used to this too. It would be handy if teachers were given face shields so students could better hear us, though.
6. Triple the number of custodians in each school. They were already struggling with too few, and now we need the place sanitized each night.
7. We need hand washing stations outside the building to be used before entering - especially for portables. Washing with soap and running water is significantly more effective than using hand sanitizer. And block the doors open at the beginning and end of the day, so there aren't 1300 people in a row unavoidably touching that door handle! Maybe school will start to feel like one of the music festivals we're all missing this summer!!
8. Personal towels or have paper towels instead of blow driers in the bathroom!!  Blow driers spray the room with any germs left on the hands. I might just bring my own towel each day!

If we do just #2 and #3 together, then we'll reduce the number of students in each class from 120 to 15. That could stop a ton of spreading!

Send your own email, attached as a PDF or Word document, to including your name and any affiliated organization, with "Ontario's Plan to Reopen Schools" in the subject line. Maybe if enough of us tell them to ask the experts instead of the public, they'll actually listen!

ETA: Lecce announced, on June 19, that school boards will have to choose between three options:
1. Students return to the classroom
2. Students will learn remotely
3. Students will do a mix on an alternating schedule
But he expects a cautious start with no more than 15 students at a time in any room, and any parent concerned about the virus, can opt to keep their kids home even if the board says we're returning to class full time. SO, teachers will likely be doing a bit of a mix of things, if we are back in September. Fun!!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

On Gun Control

I've been observing many gun control arguments online and in the classroom (also online) recently. I've written about this before, once after Sandy Hook and then after a Stoneman Douglas shooting surviver put the onus on school staff to keep kids safe. This one's closer to home, so I finally got around to sorting out my views on a whole assortment of gun-supporters' typical claims (presented largely in my own words and entirely without indications of where they're from in case people don't want their views known here). I'll follow my own classroom rules for arguing: take the most charitable read of a person's point, indicate points of agreement, and only then indicate points of disagreement. It got ridiculously long, so here's the general trajectory of my position with links to each section, and there are bolded bits throughout for faster skimming:

     A Very Brief History of Gun Control in Canada
     It's Undemocratic!
     The Regulations are Nonsense
     Semi-Automatics Aren't Necessary
     Semi-Automatic Weapons are Unnecessary and Upsetting
     Semi-Automatics Can Get in the Wrong Hands
     The Buyback is One More Way to Decrease Gun Deaths
     Violence is a Bad Thing
     Random Assertions and Refutations

But first, full disclosure: I admit that I don't know all the ins and out of the types of guns being discussed, but I hope dear readers can keep to the larger issues being debated here. My one dig at gun supporters is that some, definitely not all, but it often seems that it's a significant number of them, love to dive into the minutiae of models and parts and origins until my eyes glaze over. And when that happens (but of course it doesn't always happen), when that happens, it always reminds me of Roger Ebert's dismissal of certain (but not all) Star Wars fans:
"A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It's all about them. They have mastered the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. . . . Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. . . . If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Reich's The System

Robert Reich, an economist and professor of economics at Princeton who served under Ford, Carter, and Clinton administrations, had a great discussion with Michael Sandel, political philosophy professor at Harvard, about Reich's new book: The System: Who Rigged It and How to Fix ItI can only find the 60 minute video on facebook, but here's my summary of the ideas below. It also all fits together perfectly with Robert Fisk's new film, This is Not a Movie, which documents the history of journalists backing away from the truth in order to make a much easier living selling government-supported falsehoods.

This was all outlined and clarified by Klein's Shock Doctrine, ten years ago, but it's important it's revisited again and again. Here's what they said:

The important distinction in politics now is NOT between right and left, but between democracy and oligarchy (power held by a few - specifically those with money). Three developments have contributed to the shift to an oligarchy: the move from stakeholders to shareholders, the decline of labour unions, and the deregulation and expansion of finance.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Teaching Online - a Month in Review

A recent poll of Canadian students aged 10-17 found that,
"When it comes to online classes, most say they’re keeping up (75%) but are largely unmotivated (60%) and disliking the arrangement (57%). It stands to reason then, that one of the biggest worries for Canada’s young people includes missing out on school. Three-in-ten (29%) children identify this as their most major concern, a number that rises among teenagers 16 and 17 years of age."
I think you'd get similar answers if you quizzed teachers, too, keeping up but largely unmotivated and definitely disliking the arrangement! Prepping for online courses makes me think of that old movie with Martha Plimpton, 200 Cigarettesabout a 20-something hosting a New Years Eve party and getting drunker and drunker as she waits, alone, for people to start showing up. Then she passes out before the party of the decade happens around her. Even Elvis Costello parties in her living room!! Teaching online is like planning for an amazing party. You've got all the food and all the decorations done, and everything's perfect, but it's 9:00 and nobody's here. And you fret because you've gone to SO MUCH WORK to make everything just right, and nobody's here and you're just sitting alone staring at a document or a message board or a forum waiting for a sign that someone's logging in. Those three dots or a flickering tiny icon in the upper right corner.... Something.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

We're Getting Re-opened in the Morning!

I'm picturing Alfred Doolittle singing that title.

Here's a rundown of my facebook page, where information mainly comes in images, saved here for the memories of what it was like the day before Ontario re-opened for business. Remember, just because you CAN go shopping again, doesn't mean you SHOULD!

According to some experts, people are relaxing way too soon!
"It seems many people are breathing some relief, and I’m not sure why. . . . If you don't solve the biology, the economy won't recover. . . . Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time [a single infected cough is about the same as an hour near someone infected just breathing or 5 minutes of them talking - and avoid public bathrooms] . . . The majority of community-acquired transmissions occur from people without any symptoms. You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin. . . . The biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies [weddings and funerals], and workplaces. . . . Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble. [He also specifically mentions restaurants, birthday parties, indoor sports, stores, and public transportation, but somehow misses long term care homes.] You need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment."

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Chris Hedges on Revolution, Media, Prison, Corruption, and Hope

Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for the New York Times - until they didn't like his anti-American coverage of the Iraq invasion - and an ordained minister, recently walked away (or was fired) from Truthdig in solidarity with Bob Scheer, and now he's in the middle of writing a book, but he spent an hour and a half talking about everything on The Jimmy Dore Show. I've transcribed some key points below under headings, with links and images. It's a little abridged and in a slightly altered order for clarity and brevity, and I also bolded pivotal statements for faster skimming, and added a table of contents!

     On a Revolution Against the Corrupt System
     On Journalism and the Role of the Media
     On Prison Education
     On Voting: Not Biden OR Bernie
     On Hope

On a Revolution Against the Corrupt System:

Hedges: We need to overthrow this system, not placate it. Revolution is almost always a doomed enterprise one that succeeds only when its leaders issue the practical and are endowed with what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls sublime madness. Sanders lacks this quality and for this reason Sanders is morally and temperamentally unfit to lead this fight. (Also see Kate Manne on Sanders.)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Planet of the Humans Review

So I just noticed I'm getting a lot of traffic for a post I wrote 8 months ago that advertised the release. Back then I wrote about some concerns with the film based just on the trailer and the backstory.

I actually watched the film on Tuesday, Earth Day's eve. It's free for the next month. It's a weird production overall. The music is a mix of 70s rock and iMovie background choices. There's some Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, and Black Sabbath in there at odd random times. I mean, if you're going to make a movie, why not shove all your favourite songs into it? There are interviews with many random protesters and people in forests who aren't named, but not anybody that can answer the right questions that they should be asking. A lot of interviews with protesters. Curious.

The first 45 minutes were a frustrating exploration of the energy that goes into producing solar panels and wind turbines. Yup, it takes energy and resources to make them. That seemed to be a shock to the producers. The frustrating part is that they discuss all the materials that go into making renewables completely divorced from any lifecycle comparisons between, for instance, solar, winds, nuclear, gas, and oil. They spend half the film shocking us with the reality that materials used to make renewable energy sources take energy. Is it the case that the energy used to create solar is equal to the energy produced over the lifetime?? They don't say, but they lead us down that path and then fade away to behold the next tragedy. Also, solar panels don't last forever. They have a lifespan of only a couple decades and then they have to be built again. Just like nuclear power plants. I'm not sure if that was news to the producers, but nothing lasts forever. Everything wears out in time. Do they think that we think renewables are like mythical perpetual motion machines?

The question that would have changed everything is, does the lifecycle of solar take more energy than it makes? AND does the production of solar panels create more GHGs than drilling for oil?? But the choices are never laid out like that. There's a very disingenuous feel to the first half of the film.

They also suggested that it takes a field of solar to run a toaster, and that if it rains, then it all falls apart because nobody's heard of batteries. Yes, batteries also take energy and resources to be produced. No energy source is entirely devoid of resource extraction, and they all take a toll on the planet, so we have to make some very wise and careful decisions about how create and store energy in future. And biofuel was always a disaster.

But then, in the second half, they get to their real concern: population. In the past 200 years, there's been a 10-fold increase in population AND a 10-fold increase in consumption each. It's taking a toll.

It's funny that this was the number one concern for a long time in many environmentalists' minds, but then it because absolutely offensive to suggest we restrain ourselves from having so many kids. I wrote about that a couple months ago. And I understand that in the more developed areas, each kid produces way more GHGs than in less developed areas, absolutely, but no matter how you slice it, it becomes a numbers game. The more people on the planet, the more resources we're going to use.

And, no matter what, we have to change the way we live. I get where they're going with it all. It's a problem whenever environmentalists suggest that renewables will save us. They won't be able to do it alone. They've got that part right.

And then it ends by calling out any environmentalist who's in bed with a corporation, and there are a lot of them (ETA see McKibben's article proving he was slandered in the link at the bottom)! Yup, even hippies can get corrupted. That's a problem, for sure. BUT that doesn't mean solar and wind and tidal energy can't help dramatically reduce our need for fossil fuels. We definitely have to change our lifestyles, stop eating meat (not even mentioned), stop travelling everywhere by car or plane, stop using electricity for anything unnecessary, and super-insulate our buildings. AND we can use renewable energy to also reduce fossil fuel use. It's still very much a viable part of the solution. Don't let them convince you otherwise!

ETA: Also check out this scathing review and this thorough fact checking. And then this overview of reviews from Bill McKibben, with this great line: "Releasing this on the eve of Earth Day's 50th anniversary is like Bernie Sanders endorsing Donald Trump while chugging hydroxychloroquine." Neil Young calls it "a very damaging film to the human struggle for a better way of living." And here's some more specific fact checking on solar, wind and fossil fuels.)

And George Monbiot finally added his two cents, clarifying all the errors. Nobody has suggested why Moore is supporting this crap so vehemently, though. Could he be in bed with the Kochs??

Saturday, April 4, 2020

I'm Fine, Really

"You'd say I'm putting you on, but it's no joke, it's doing me harm You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane you know. I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind."                - The Beatles
First of all: The numbers don't matter!! Seriously, don't even look at them! They're like a weather forecast: It's only sometimes accurate and shouldn't be used to plan anything important. Say you're planning an outdoor wedding, and the forecast says totally sunny, then you'd still put up some kind of tarp just in case, right?! Whether the projections are horrific or hopeful shouldn't have any effect on our behaviour right now anyway; we STILL have to stay home as much as possible and stay well washed. We're all hoping the numbers go down to know when the curve has flattened, but once that happens, which could be a long way off, we still have to behave the same. So don't look. Of course, I'm mainly reprimanding myself here.

My concern is that when the numbers look bad, people will fall into despair and stop caring about taking precautions, and when they look good, people will decide they can relax their precautions because it's almost over!! Either way would be a shitshow.

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."