Saturday, November 30, 2013

On John Stuart Mill, Free Speech, and Climate Change

I got caught up in a few arguments about climate change recently that just reinforced to me, that there’s still such a strong bashlash against the entire idea that we’re unlikely to move forward quickly enough to be effective.

Paper is trees!
My school board is fundraising for the Philippines, and I’m totally on board with it. But I commented publicly on the irony of sending each kid home with a piece of paper on the issue. That’s over 60,000 full pieces of paper or about 8 trees for something that will be crumpled at the bottom of a knapsack or tossed before it even makes it home.  We’re cutting down trees to make paper to ask people to help those affected by conditions exacerbated by the cutting down of trees. And there are other ways to get the word out like our websites and automatic phone callers. If we really want to use paper, the notices could at least be sent on half pages or on re-use-it paper (‘goos’ paper in some places).

Pretty straightforward and reasonable, right??

Not so fast. A colleague ridiculed me for quibbling about paper when people are struggling to cope with a “NATURAL” disaster. I responded with a quote from the IPCC linking extreme weather to climate change and a suggestion that we're negligent if we don't take responsibility for our small daily actions having an accumulative and disastrous effect elsewhere.  But I'm pretty sure it's all for nought.  Sigh.

But, as is often the case, a much more interesting conversation happened with my students.

Friday, November 29, 2013

On Celebrating History

I've got a funny story.

A while ago - like months - a colleague asked if I'd do some website or advertising work of some sort for a sesquicentennial event in 2017 crossing Canada and involving high-school history teachers.  I'd have to find a way to get high-schools everywhere involved.  I said, "Sure!"

Then yesterday, as I was drinking my morning tea and scanning facebook as I'm wont to do while I wake up, I heard about this innane project proposing to make sculptures of all 22 of the Prime Ministers of Canada and litter them about our park.  I jumped on it and said to my facebook peeps, "Harper's statue will be toppled too often to fix."

Lenin fell for different reasons.
I got five likes in no time.  In my tiny, tiny world, that's a big win.  Five!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On Stoic Environmentalism

I'm doing the Stoic Week thing this week.  It's just a matter of contemplating specific quotations each day.  Even though I studied them years ago, and teach about them even, and maybe should have figured this all out long ago, I'm still stuck on the first reading.  I'm a slow thinker.

Here's the reading from yesterday - a little bit from the Encheiridion of Epictetus:
Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception [the way we define things], intention [the voluntary impulse to act], desire [to get something], aversion [the desire to avoid something], and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, position [or office] in society, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing.
First of all, how is desire under our control?  I wonder if desire is the best translation here because I can't control what I desire to have or avoid at all. I can only control whether or not I act on that desire.  And with a bit of practice, maybe I might be able to stop some of my desires, or desensitize myself from aversions.  But desire is pretty automatic; we desire or are repelled in an instant.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Little Hope is Effective...

A lot of hope is dangerous. - President Snow

This may be a little hokey, but I think Catching Fire is an important film to see right now.

And it's awesome!

I read the books ages ago, but even though I know how they each end, it didn't stop me from being on the edge of my seat.  And I was surprised by how inspirational I found the film to be.

Grist relates how the books chronicle what happens after climate change destroys the world and makes for scarce resources for the survivors to fight over.  We have a really interesting crisis to overcome for our time.  It's not us against the state - not just us against the state - but against our own conveniences.  Not enough of us have the foresight to vote out politicians who are supporting the pipelines.  That's one problem.  But a bigger one is that too many of us are sliding into complacency.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On Alain de Botton on Art Galleries

de Botton
Alain de Botton wrote one of my favourite under-praised books, Status Anxiety.  I also quite like using his Consolations of Philosophy in my class as an additional resource because it simplifies and grounds some theories for the kids.  And I show his TEDTalk on atheism 2.0 every semester when I talk about secular rites in anthropology.

However, he also wrote several books I found difficult to finish - not because they're complex, but because they're unfocused and trite.  They just don't seem to say anything.  I'm a bit wary to write that right out loud because he flipped out after a bad book review, telling the reviewer, "I will hate you until the day I die."  Yikes!  I think I'm relatively safe under my cloak of obscurity though.

Suffice it to say that he's hit and miss.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On Designer Vaginas and Media Influence

Labiaplasty is on the rise.  Who knew?

There's an article in the Guardian in which Daisy Buchanan argues that we can't blame porn for this rush towards plastic surgery to pretty-up our lady bits because it's everywhere; in mainstream music videos we can see about as much as porn shows.

I'm not sure what bands Buchanan follows, but I haven't see much in the way of actual labias in my regular, mainstream video-watching, nor in any of the movies I watch - and I watch a lot of movies.  Even Miley Cyrus doesn't actually show her junk.  So, if men are complaining enough for women to save up cash and courage to go through with this, then clearly porn is to blame for this significant cultural shift.  But I do agree with Buchanan that we're seeing a whole lot more skin these days, and I wonder if labias are next.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Moving Beyond the Rational

Unlike everything else in the news, this isn't about Rob Ford.

I'm going to merge some Fraser Institute news with recent discussions in class, an old Munk Debate on religion, and some ideas from David Hume.   Here we go!

Kate McInturff writes at the CCPA that the Fraser Institute,
"would like to remove compassion from the policy debate about poverty in Canada....because....compassion is causing us to confuse those who have lower income with those who do not have enough income to sustain life."
The interesting bit to me is just these few words:  "compassion is causing us to confuse...."

Munk Debates: Are Men Obsolete?

While I was waiting for the newest Munk Debate to show up on the site, I watched an old one: an excellent debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on, of course, religion.  There's little I enjoy more than watching really intelligent thinkers go at each other with carefully and thoughtfully chosen words.  The debate was run with opening statements, a series of 3-minute rebuttals, then closing statements.   They understood and followed the rules, and they remained focused on the topic without a single barb directly at anything said outside of that arena.

So it was interesting to watch four women on next.  Now, I don't know if it's because they're women, or because there were four instead of two of them, or because they're from very mixed backgrounds where on-your-feet oral debating isn't key to their livelihood like it might be, say, in parliament, for instance, but, for the most part, they didn't debate so much as they had a little conversation.  Most of what they said was previously scripted rather than a direct reaction to anything that was said in front of them.

It was still fun to watch.