Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Russell Brand's Politics

I want to look at a few things Russell Brand has to say - in print and on video (quotations below are from both).  As Elizabeth Renzetti said in yesterday's Globe & Mail, he's resonating with people.  But, as she also suggests, he's not going far enough clearly enough for others to follow.  It reminds me of the Canadian film The Trotsky in which a young rebel tries to encourage a student protest.  (*spoiler alert*)  In the end, they all decide that he hasn't really thought it through all the way, but who cares?  It's clear we so desperately need a revolution.  We might not know exactly how our world should look, but we know it's not like this.

We need guys like this.  
Renzetti refers to Brand's rant as a generational conflict, but she seems to forget that Brand is almost 40, and he's lived a long life.  Sure Paxman is older, but many people implicit in the system Brand condemns are not.  He's not a rebellious youth; Brand is practically middle aged!  And it's dangerous to frame the argument as about age because that alienates the older supporters and dismisses some important ideas as part and parcel of a childish naivete spewed by the adolescents of the day.

Brand's not a rebel without a cause.  He is saying something important, more than just a stance on voting, and people are starting to listen:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Regulating Smoking for Youth

Letter to the Editor in the Record today.  It's hard for me to stick to 200 words!

Make it illegal for teenagers to smoke
RE: Ontario bans youth from tanning beds — Oct. 10

I was ecstatic to see that a bill banning youth from tanning beds passed unanimously in the Ontario legislature. Malignant melanoma causes more than 1,000 deaths per year in Canada.

But it's baffling that 20 times as many people die each year from lung cancer, and smoking is still a legal hobby for youth and children to pursue. It's illegal to give or sell a cigarette to anyone under 19, but they can smoke 'em if they got 'em. And, somehow, they always manage to get them.

Tanning beds can be habit-forming for some, but smoking is physically addictive. If tobacco producers can get them when they're young, they can own them for life. If we can pass legislation to prevent youth from starting until their brains are mature enough to make good decisions, then we can make a huge dent in the leading cause of preventable deaths.

We've tried stopping the flow through various regulations at stores, and it's proved minimally effective. If we really care about our youth, we will make it illegal for anyone under 19 to smoke. Teenagers smoking in public should be fined the way they would if they were caught drinking in public.

And then we'd really be saving their skins.

 Marie Snyder Waterloo

If you agree, take a minute to tell your MPP (Catherine Fife's link is here)!

ETA - My 17-year-old son took offence at the suggestion that teenagers have immature brains, but I'm using this study as my backing.  There it is.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Strong Women

the infamous album
I want to start with the admission that the first CD I ever got was Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.  It's attached to some fond personal memories.  I was wakened in bed by my partner with the CD in hand as an "anytime present," then went downstairs to find an actual CD player all set up!  And I'm still overly fond of the album because of the association.

I loved that she was political yet beautiful, and that she used the SNL forum to make a political statement.  Her aim, well above the fluff of pop music, made her admirable.  I wished I had been brave enough to shave my head.


It Doesn't Matter

It doesn't matter why they're dressed as a tiger, have they got my leg?

About educational reform. This relates to the video above because we've spent years talking about why we need to make these changes, why these new ideas make up the best way ever (with truly weak evidence), and we're only just getting into the thicket now.  But there's more...

As we were sitting in our staff meeting on Friday, we watched a video about what kind of jobs will be available twenty years from now. Most top jobs today didn't exist twenty years ago, so we really have to prepare kids for jobs that....  That what?  That we don't know about??  That we can't even imagine?? The video focused on technology, and, I wonder if it's a wise assumption that the next twenty years will bring even more tech jobs to the fore. We might be in for a sharp corner ahead.

Because as I was sitting there, I was thinking, and I actually said so at my table, that it doesn't matter what kind of jobs they'll have in 20 years time because our future could very well hit a serious turn in about 30 years from now. I'm a riot at a party! But here we are, we're still stuck worrying about the nitty gritty of day-to-day life, while the entire system is collapsing around us.

About those 30 years: it's been reported in the Globe & Mail, and CBC, but you can read the whole study in the Journal of Nature (always go to the primary source, kids!), and what it actually says is,
Using 1860 to 2005 as the historical period, this index has a global mean of 2069 (±18 years s.d.) for near-surface air temperature under an emissions stabilization scenario and 2047 (±14 years s.d.) under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.
So if we ignore it all, business as usual, we have somewhere between 20 and 61 years before the climate will change permanently to the effect that the coldest year in 2047 will be warmer than the warmest years pre-2005. AND, they're talking global means, and I'll put my money on this part of the world to be one of the last to die off. That means, best case scenario, my youngest could make it to 70 without struggling. That's a relief.  Really. I'm not entirely sure it's a good thing to go last as a region, though. If and when things get too hot to for animal life to survive, it'll be up to us to make a whole lot of tough decisions and/or prevent mass invasions and genocides. Too bad for the tropics, eh? We mainly talk about people - like the world will be fine, it's just people that will die off - but that huge diversity of animal life will be gone too, and most of the plants.  And the ocean's already a mess. The report suggests coral reefs could be gone in 20 years.

When 9/11 happened, the entire day stopped at school, and everybody talked about the events and potential implications. I dropped my lessons for the afternoon, and we just talked.  It took over a few days, really. But when the papers and radio announced the IPCC findings, and some dudes extrapolated and distilled the concrete reality from that report, there's nary a mention in my building or neighbourhood.  It isn't in the curriculum objectives for my courses.

About to be brave in a flood.
It's too big to be real to us, but it has to be.  We have to be very very brave and face this reality, at least enough to get off our butts and raise some hell to ensure our livelihood scrapes by comfortably a few more decades at least!  If we stay in denial, we'll enjoy the next decade or so, but then it'll all be inevitable. If we can be realistic, and then break through the miasma of despair, we might actually be able to slow the process down. But to change things we'll have to give up flights, cars, eating meat, shopping, getting rich by exploiting resources, free markets, fossil fuels....  Lots of different bad things will happen, but they'll be less fatal if we can all work together.

If I were Minister of Ed, I'd make sure every student knows how to grow their own vegetables and how to preserve them: canning, pickling, making jams, horticulture, seed-collection and storage (Monsanto be damned!). Those are the important jobs of the future. We'd have kids looking at ways to make home-made water filters, and how to get water from other sources. And as for learning skills, responsibility and organization are great, but the key to the future?  Adaptability.  It's actually always been key, really. Yet it's not part of our learning skills chart anywhere.

How well can we change our lives to accommodate a dramatic change in our climate?  I'm all for being pro-active, but I can't grow vegetables. I'm hoping just to attach myself to someone with food skills!

And another learning skill we need to add to the list is unwavering compassion. Collaboration comes close, but it doesn't quite capture the flavour of what's needed.  This could all go very wrong.  We desperately need to keep our heads and help one another through it all.

And we need more theatre-of-the-absurd while we're at it. We need more weird-ass plays about our lives to remind us how mad it all really is.

Just a thought.

Piglet having fun without burning GHGs!
As for the jobs of the future, I'll put my money on philosophers. There will be scam artists galore and religious zealots -  they come out of the woodwork in times of trouble - but the real thinkers might be given a closer listen as we struggle with death. I mean, we all knew we were going to die anyway, but we often comfort ourselves with a leave behind - something that will outlast our corporal form - like a painting, or a book, or a bunch of blog posts, or some kids. That's because we've really just been pretending to be okay with death. Now we're facing a total obliteration of ourselves.  No more leave behinds to keep us going.  Even Picasso and Plato will be completely gone. Nothing.

So seize the day, my possums. Just please try doing it without using any fossil fuels.

And, wow, it's a gorgeous day out there! Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving!

Margaret Trudeau on Mental Health

There's a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in.  - Leonard Cohen  

From CBC Books
I had the fortune of seeing Margaret Trudeau speak on mental health a few days ago.  She told her life story in exactly an hour with great intensity and humour.  She peppered her speech on mental illness with snippets of the stuff I remembered as a child - the hippie skirts then later dancing at Studio 54.  I'm of the age to have wanted to emulated her audacity.  She was the Prime Minister's wife, yet she didn't let that box her into being a stereotype - at all.

She wrote a book a couple years ago, Changing My Mind, which made her plight with mental illness public.  

She talked about the many things that might have triggered her bi-polar condition.  She always had a greater range of emotions, but it was kept in check by her mom who made her life regular: eating, sleeping, and playing all regularly.  But things happened to her that made things worse: a concussion as a child, no regularity at university, pot smoking, loneliness as the PM's wife, post-partum depression, and then profound grief when her son died.  She was "mad with grief."  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

If You Build It, They Will Come - Really!

Photo Cred: Harrogate Cycling Group
In today's Record, Jeff Outhit comes very close to suggesting that if we bike in K-W, we should expect to get hit by a car.  It's not safe out there:  "...riding a bicycle to work is dangerous and counter to common sense."

Counter to common sense.  Later on he uses the term, "unwise."

I'm with him sort of... K-W feels like it's not a cycling-friendly city.  But to suggest that people who cycle in the city lack common sense is to shame the cyclists and add to the prevailing sentiment that cyclists shouldn't be on the road where weary drivers are likely to smash into them and crush them all to bits.

But if we look at it another way - by the number of collisions involving cyclists and those just involving cars - cyclists in Waterloo Region make up only 1% of total collisions, and, in Canada, less than 1% of fatalities.  That number is on par with the number of cyclists commuting to work compared to vehicles, so really, statistically, it's no more dangerous to bike than to get behind the wheel.  It's actually most dangerous to be a passenger in a car (especially on Fridays between 4 and 5 pm).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Celebrating Talent

Convalescing from a wicked cold that's beating the crap out of me, I watched a trio of movies about amazing musicians: Joe Strummer, Ginger Baker, and Sixto Rodriguez.  In the films, other musical geniuses were highlighted along the way.  What a delight!  But as Ginger, Jack and Eric talked about people with the gift of perfect time, my first reflexive response was, "How many kids are told they can be a great musician if they just put their mind to it?".

In class this week, yet another student insisted that intelligence has minimal genetic basis compared to effort.  Anybody can do anything if they try hard enough.  I suggested there are people her age still struggling with the alphabet and lamented the ivory tower effect of streamed academic courses.  I don't think it was very convincing.  I'm battling a life-time of programming.  In high-school, I struggled with grade 13 physics.  Both my parents were math and physics profs at U of W, yet with their unwavering help, and the help of my teacher, I still couldn't get my head around that whole inclined plane issue.*  It's just not how my brain works.

And that's okay.