Monday, July 27, 2020

On a Radical Vision of Future Earth

I grabbed this book, by meteorologist Eric Holthaus, as soon as it went on sale, excited to check out the new vision of how we can all better live together. There's lots of information for the uninitiated, and then it becomes sort of a fictional narrative. There are no characters or plot to speak of, instead it's a description of what needs to happen but written entirely in the past tense, as if it already happened. He seems to think this is how we'll better imagine what it all looks like when we solve this crisis. And it all really doesn't work (as a book and as a concept to save us), which I find a bit heartbreaking to tell you the truth. But good job trying something original, I guess.

It's being billed by the publisher as "the first hopeful book about climate change," which ignores so many many hopeful books out there: most recently Michael Mann's Madhouse Effect and George Monbiot's Out of the Wreckageand, going way back, Chris Turner's The Geography of Hope, which was a fantastic read about people actually getting shit done. I checked the publisher's page because the book has a self-published feel to it from the get go: cliché phrases and incorrect comma use, and a weird organization - part 1 is about a third of the book without any chapters, and part 2 has just three chapters, all followed by a very lengthy epilogue. But, nope. It's Harper-Collins. Curious.

Hedges - the Last Word on Cancel Culture

Having a mass of people able to "cancel" someone in power can seem like a fantastic form of fluid democracy when it shuts down something harmful in a harmless manner, like people reserving space at a Trump rally they have no intention of attending. But it can be dangerous that a mass of people can shut down something merely controversial, like a YouTuber losing their followers after associating with someone with problematic opinions. But most often, it's completely ineffective "boutique activism" because it targets the wrong people.

Chris Hedges, writing for Scheerpost now, explains that cancel culture "is not a threat to the ruling class." In fact, the ruling class is using it to their own advantage. That's their superpower:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Some Paintings

I got on a painting kick this week. I haven't picked up a brush in years, but, seeing as I have nowhere else to go, I gave it a whirl.

It started with my obsession over a photograph of Charf Lloyd taken by Kirk Tsonos. This is my rendering of it all:

Thursday, July 16, 2020

On Learning History

I made a little history quiz, just for fun, for people to see how much they know about Canada's history of horrific treatment of Indigenous Peoples as well as our history of slavery and internment camps. I mixed in facts about America at many points just to give people context. Because of our media, we know American history so much better than our own. I had the preamble of the American Constitution memorized in about grade 2 because of those fun Schoolhouse Rocks people. I added even more exciting details in the answers to my quiz, but my kids say it's too boring to finish all twenty questions. It's just way too many words!

History has to be a fun little jingles or famous people have to reenact a drunk guy explaining a story. But that's so much more work that just listing events and explaining an event that people have to read. It feels like reading is just for the elderly who don't understand TikToks. GenZ is all about the future and only old people care about the past, which is why usually one or two students each year come up with some sweeping solutions to global problems like getting rid of money will somehow create world peace. The past shows us all the problems we might have with that idea, but it's more fun to just jump into the idea blind to all that older generation negativity.

Monday, July 13, 2020

On McQuaig's Sport and Prey

Linda McQuaig's newest book, The Sport and Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich are Stealing Canada's Public Wealth, is a fast read full of local history and written as history should be written, as colourful stories about fascinating people! But, in order to try to remember any of it, I've whittled it down to the bare bones here. She comes down hard on Trudeau, both of them, and for good reason, but takes a generally non-partisan role in exploring the good and bad players in our history.

Her concern throughout: "We've failed to appreciate our heritage as a nation that has embraced public enterprise to great effect" (6). Then she traces our gradual acceptance, at a huge cost to our country, of the neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization, and union busting through the history of specific industries affecting Canada today: the banking system, tar sands, railways, 407, hydro, and medicines.

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:

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.