Wednesday, July 27, 2016

If You're Not Turned on to Politics...

.... politics will turn on you.  - Nader

Hedges is at his most impassioned in this debate with Robert Reich. It's just the last 35 minutes of the show. But his point was made years ago by Rage Against the Machine, in this video directed by none other than Michael Moore. At less than four minutes, it's the more efficient option (and it will actually embed!):

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On Ghostbusters

It's got an amazing cast, each of whom I absolutely adore. The director directed some of them in Bridesmaids, which is absolutely hilarious. The editors were responsible for 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman, two favourites. But don't slam me as anti-feminist when I say this is a horrible movie, and I wonder if it got 73% on Rotten Tomatoes because reviewers were wary of giving a bad review.

There are a few great scenes, but it all falls apart. Kate McKinnon (whom I think was channelling Quicksilver, but my kids don't see it) does a dance that could have been funny, but it's almost painful to watch her exchange with Kristen Wiig. It's not the acting, but that it's filmed oddly so they feel like they're in different rooms, as if they filmed all their lines one at a time, then meshed them into a scene together. There were many times the film had a strange, filmed-by-high-school-kids type of feel to it, which is what prompted me to actually look up the editors.

This genre of film is right up my alley, except I cringe at ridiculous incompetence disguised as humour (Chris Hemsworth being baffled by glass or how to answer a phone or the difference between his eyes and ears - actually). The homage to the original was heavy-handed. Some of the cameos were worth the two minutes of film, but others were wasted. The remake of the title song was painful, and the much-hyped heavy metal concert scene was positively bland, Ozzy's micro-appearance notwithstanding. Who goes to a concert at four in the afternoon? The action scenes felt plodding. And then it all ended in the middle of a boring sibling argument over a car. No final joke. It just panned out to credits with some non-funny 'bonus' bits that are now to be expected.

Despite passing the Bechdel Test (among others), it didn't feel like a feminist celebration. This is making the rounds on Twitter, and it's far funnier than the movie it describes:

There's an awkward sub-plot that shifts the genders on the stereotype of bosses hiring a ditzy secretary for a little eye candy at the office. Maintaining a sexist trope but switching the genders doesn't make it any less sexist or offensive, or, in this case, any less dumb and annoying. The film doesn't have to solve all the problems with sexism, but it would be nice if it didn't add to them. That sub-plot wasn't part of the original film. Annie Potts was sexy, but she was no bimbo.

I wonder, though, if we're so excited to have a female version of a male film, that we're wary to say anything wrong about it, especially in the face of the kind of criticism it received before it was even released because of the female leads. We need movies like this to prove a point, that they can be good. And they can be, it's just this one isn't. And that's okay. There are an awful lot of movies with amazing male actors that are completely unwatchable. It happens. And the small but vocal faction that is obsessed with denigrating anything female-driven just needs to be eye-rolled into oblivion.

Some women have argued that every feminist should be supporting Hillary, but it's not feminist to vote for just any woman or to blindly support anything a woman does. It's feminist to support the principles that will erode inequality and oppressive stereotypes. Having female leads isn't enough to make a film feminist, or for this feminist to suggest anyone see this film. Ever.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Plus ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose

I was recently reminded of this climate change debate from almost 7 years ago (December 2009). I wrote this on my old blog (which was entirely about the environment and particularly my school's efforts, which have dwindled depressingly), so I copied it here in full for a glimpse back at what has and hasn't change in our debates:


I went to the Munk Debate on climate change tonight, and I even got a few seconds on CTV news (with another video plug) talking about the importance of the issue.

The question for debate, in a nutshell, "Is climate change the most important issue in the world right now?" The players: On the pro side: Elizabeth May and George Monbiot - I finally know how to pronounce his name (Mon-bee-oh - I previously always made him sound French). On the con side: Bjorn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson....

Oh, Elizabeth. She's hilarious, and I love her
passion, but Bjorn got the best of her, and the moderator cut her mic at one point while her arms were still flailing. The worst part of that is it's the stereotypical hysterical woman or, maybe worse, the stereotypical Canadian politician who feels free to lose composure in parliament. Not so good for our side - of the ocean, of the sexes, or of the debate. She had some of the best points, a great variety of facts at her fingertips with sources to back them up, but I'm afraid they'll not be what people most remember.

The debate itself was problematic because Bjorn doesn't seem such a denier. He was the weakest link academically and logically using ad hominems and straw man fallacies, but he was of the people in a t-shirt and jeans, admitting that he doesn't know all the fancy words others were using. That will get him lots of points with the general public. He threw out a few claims without backing them up, and having read lots on the topic, they really were out of left field. But, unfortunately, for anyone who isn't reading books on the environment in every waking moment, the information was presented with enough confidence that it appeared compelling. For the purposes of the debate, he had a strong position against the original question, but beyond that, he failed to provide any useful or intelligent information. Not many environmentalists would disagree that we need solar technology - his primary mantra.

Nigel had some very clear and important concerns with a few errors made by the IPCC. His was a truly pivotal argument because if the environmentalists make any tiny error anywhere, people will throw them out with the trash. People really really don't want to believe it's all true, so they'll jump on the minor problems as a means to dismiss the entire argument. They did it with Gore. And Nigel did this very clearly coming across as intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable - to the world's detriment.

Monbiot was already my hero, now I totally (heart) him. He was clear, intelligent, genuine and impassioned. He was composed, yet able to take down the opposition with very strong points.

Beyond the "theatre" of the evening, here's a synopsis of the main points of the four in groups, in the order they spoke, instead of as a debate - from my biased vantage point and from my rough notes that I made with people chatting constantly behind me - with as many links as I could find (and with my editorializing in italics and parentheses) minus the many digs between the panelists. R indicates a rebuttal point...

Nigel Lawson

* The environment has become a secular religion refusing to tolerate dissent. When 100 scientists were surveyed by Von Storch they found only 8% of scientists think climate change is the most pressing issue.
- (It was an internet survey that was widely discredited as unreliable).

* There has been no further global warming this century (since 2000). Recorded temperatures are not continuing to rise. They are the highest ever, but they are not rising.
- (The best response to this is the ice-cube in a bowl analogy which nobody used. Leave a block of ice in a bowl of water to melt in the sun. Over the short term, the water and air actually get colder as the ice melts, but that doesn't mean the entire system isn't warming and it doesn't mean the ice isn't in danger of completely dissolving!)

* At worst, if we do nothing, living standards in the developed world will increased by 8.5 times instead of 9 times what they are today. That's not a catastrophe. At this time, during the worst depression since the 1930s, what we need most is cheap energy for our growth. Spending money on reducing emissions is not like buying insurance to protect us later; it's more like spending more on fire-proofing your house than the house is worth.

* Leaked e-mails by scientists have shown that even climate change scientists know it's all a sham.

* The only thing the IPCC was certain with regard to the effects on health is that climate change will reduce mortality from cold exposure. (- And increase mortality from heat exposure.)

R - On The Stern Review - They said it would cost 1% of GDP to fix climate change, but they later changed it to 2%. It was disregarded by most economists. (Bjorn's critique of it - the only criticism I could find quickly.) The figures are all assumed. Stern was being asked to justify governmental policy. It wasn't peer reviewed. It's the most extreme report.
- (When it comes to climate change projections, aren't all figures being assumed to some extent? Nobody really knows what's going to happen. It's all an educated guess. But it's not the case that your guess is as good as mine. The more educated, the better the guess.)

R - On peak oil - 29 years ago we were told there's only 40 years left of oil. Now they say there's only 40 years left. They keep finding oil. China isn't going to sign any global agreement. They are searching sub-Sahara Africa for oil. They're not looking for it because they don't intend to use it.

R - On decreasing food production after 3 degrees of warming. This is misleading: food production will increase until we hit the 3 degree mark. Then it will decrease only after that point. (An important clarification, but there's still a net loss in the long run.)

* Our greatest problem is poverty. Foreign aid helps, but economic development is better. I'm in favour of research and development of green technology.

Elizabeth May

* Experts from the IPCC should be here instead of us. And a better question for us is how should we act. Scientists surveyed by the UN claimed the top threat to the world is climate change followed by the water crisis.

* This is the biggest problem. In June 88, in Toronto
at Our Changing Atmosphere - Implications for Global Security, Canada was first internationally. (She quoted the first line of that report, more or less: climate change is 2nd only to nuclear war as a threat.) And Thatcher said in 1990 that "...the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations." I spoke with the king of the Lasutu who have the 3rd highest rate of HIV/AIDS. I asked if it's wrong to spend on climate change instead of poverty or AIDS. The question angered him, and he replied that climate change makes HIV/AIDS worse every day because the people can't grow their own food anymore.

* Humanity has changed the chemistry of our atmosphere - we have over 30% more CO2 than in the last million years. We know this from dating ice with air bubble in it. We know we're doing it, and now we have to reduce fossil fuels and protest forests. We're currently at 387 ppm of CO2. The most it's ever been pre-industrialization is 280 ppm.

* Some are uncertain about climate change because it's hard to observe. Temperature can't be looked at year to year because of time lags. We have to look at temperature changes over decades to see that it really is being affected. Millions of square feet of arctic ice is gone - much faster than projected by the IPCC. In BC we see the pine trees dead because there hasn't been a typical cold snap to kill off the beetles.

R- On "climate-gate" - Scientists had e-mails illegally hacked. All people found is that they're having problems completely agreeing on their research. But many points are being taken out of context to make them look unsure about climate change in general. What they found was a discrepancy between NASA temperature figures, which suggest that 2005 was the warmest year with 2007 and 1998 tied for second, and the Hadley Center which found temperatures decreased after 1998, but they didn't include data from the Arctic.
The scientists aren't questioning climate change, just a minute point of degrees. The only thing climate-gate has in common with Watergate is that what was stolen is immaterial; what's really important is to find out who the burglars are and why they're doing the stealing.

* We know enough that we have to act. We've run out of time for procrastination. We gave $4 trillion to help the auto industry, but we don't want to devote the same amount towards reducing emissions. We're calling for efficient technology like low flow tidal, but it's kept from the market because the payback time is long. We already have the technology to fix the problem, just not the political will. Canadians waste more energy than we use. We need to improve. We have to look at technology, but it starts with a commitment to move away from oil. The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones. We found something better and easier to use.

* We need poverty reduction as part of climate change reduction, more solar and wind as part of our strategy, and protection of the world's forests. The Amazon is asking for help to save its forests because of the illegal logging there. But the biggest issue is the one that's moving in an accelerating fashion. Once we lose the permafrost, nothing we do will help save us. The Arctic ice has an albino effect, reflecting the sun's rays back. The dark ocean will absorb more heat from the sun. We're headed for a dangerous positive feedback loop.

Bjorn Lomborg

* The question forces us into a false dichotomy - either climate change is the worst thing, or we're an enemy of climate change science. It's not our defining crisis - there are 3 billion in poverty and 4 billion without water. At the Copenhagen Consensus we look for where we can do the most good for the world, where we should put our money, and it's in nutrition, agriculture, immunization, and schooling of girls.

* We need to be smarter about climate change. The costs are phenomenal at $40 trillion. (For whom and under what time frame?) Buying the cure is much more costly than the illness.
- (The Pembina Institute estimates that for Canadians, reducing emissions by 40% will result in a decrease in GDP from 2.4% to 2.1%. That's like someone making $80,000/year and having a salary cut to $70,000. We'll notice it in a few less nights out, but we'll still be relatively well-off.)

* We need to invest in green energy technology. Only if solar panels are cheap will we solve global warming. We can't forget all the other problems. Don't promise cuts; promise R&D. We need to listen to scientists and economists. There's a right way to save species like making countries rich, so they'll protect their own forests. We need efficient technology, so people can live better worldwide. The same money that saves one person by decreasing emissions can save 5,000 people if it's spent on agriculture. The money we need to stop poverty would slow down climate change by six hours. We don't need to reduce emissions to help the AIDS crisis; we just need to hand out condoms! (I would like to see the sources for these claims.)

R - The Stern Review is disparaged universally by economists. The other research indicates damage from climate change at -1%, it will benefit us, to 4%; not 5-20% like Stern reports. And you can't just pick one economist to show it's true. Climate change is real, but the proposed solution is rubbish.

R - Even if China doesn't agree to change, they will reduce emissions by 40% anyway through efficiencies because of newer technology. (I find this one hard to believe too.)

George Monbiot

* How lucky do you feel? We must prepare for the worst case. The opposition's claims are more optimistic than all reports I've seen. Eight of the ten warmest years ever have been since 2001.

* The Stern Review (in full) found the cost of preventing climate change will be 1% of GDP; the cost of living with climate change will be 5-20% of GDP.
R - If the government influenced the report, they did it in the wrong direction. They asked how much it would cost to fix climate change and found it would be more than expected. Stern reviewed peer-reviewed literature to develop the report. It was an "uber-review."

* We can adapt for a few decades here with drip irrigation, air conditioning, and new crop varieties. But in the developing world they won't have access to new technologies. In some areas like Kenya droughts used to be every 40-50 years, now they're every 2-3 years. The people are adapting with AK47s. They're killing each other because they're desperate.

* I'm concerned with poverty, disease and hunger. And climate change exasperates all these crises. It increases AIDS because in Malawi, climate change causes drought. This forces the men off the land to find work elsewhere. They meet prostitutes and bring AIDS back to their families. It's not a choice between poverty or climate change. We don't need to take money for climate change from foreign aid. We can take it from coal/oil subsidies or from the money being used for the Iraq invasion. We spend very little on foreign aid already. The $3.2 billion spent in Iraq would bring solar powered electricity to all of Africa. We can help with poverty without power stations and mining fossil fuels which endanger the very lives we're trying to save.

* It's not a choice over costs as if we either spend nothing or everything on the climate. Just to maintain energy supplies from now to 2030, will cost $25.6 trillion. Because oil is in the hands of OPEC, it will cost a transfer of wealth of a further $30 trillion. It's not a choice of carrying on and not spending or spending. Either way we have to spend a lot, and that's if oil doesn't get depleted. A temperature rise of over 3 degrees will result in a net decrease of food. Our population will rise to 9-10 billion within this century. Already millions are going hungry even with a global food surplus. We can't create a false choice between climate change and poverty.

R- More agricultural technology will not mean more food if it stops raining for years. Our ecosystem doesn't respond to market forces the way some economists suggest it will. It's not just about what to do, but what to stop doing. If we keep eating cake, but add in a salad, we won't lose weight because of the salad. If we keep using oil, but add in a little solar, it won't stop the problems we're having. We need to bring people out of poverty with renewables. Instead of $30 trillion to OPEC, let's put it in new technology.

* This is not the time for intellectual games. It's the time for facing our greatest question without which we can't tackle any other question on the table: Do we carry on dumping costs on those not responsible for climate change, or do we pick up our responsibilities and produce a response to commensurate with that crisis?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Solidarity Over Competition

As always, I loosely summarize/transcribe the important bits below.


This is an astonishing moment in history. The human species has been around for about 200,000 years. Up until this point, people have made decisions about their lives, their immediate futures, but we’ve now reached the point that we have to make a decision about whether or not the species is going to survive in anything like its current form of organization of social systems.

We’re facing two fundamental questions: Nuclear war, which we know that if there were one, everything would be destroyed, and climate change. If we don’t make decisive steps right now, there will be irreversible catastrophic consequences. We’ve already inadvertently made the decision for a huge number of species. Anthropogenic climate warming is on the order of an extinction. We are playing the role of the asteroid this time.

In the primaries, nuclear war hasn’t been mentioned, not the issue of a rising crisis nor our miraculous escape for the past 70 years. Climate change is only mentioned in a fit of denial by almost all Republicans. The recently signed Paris agreement isn’t a treaty because the republican congress wouldn’t accept it. So the Paris agreement had to be a voluntary agreement. There are more focused cases to look at. Scientists at ExxonMobile made it clear that use of fossil fuels will have catastrophic effects, but then they just concealed it. The short term desire for immediate profit-making overwhelms concerns for whether your grandchildren will have a chance for a decent existence.

We’re capable of rationality, but it’s not always a driving force in our existence. There are huge efforts made to undermine rationality. Every time you turn on the TV, you’re being bombarded with massive efforts to undermine your rationality. That’s what advertising is. Markets are based on informed consumers making rational choices, but advertising creates uninformed consumers making irrational choices. A huge amount of effort and money goes towards creating illusions of famous sports heroes driving a car in order to turn normal people into consumers. A lot of deceit and distortion are efforts to prevent people from being informed. It’s an effort to make the citizenry uninformed. The US describe Iran as the greatest threat to world peace, so we think we need controls to make sure they don’t do anything. But around the world, the country seen as the greatest threat to world peace is the U.S. But American citizens are largely unaware of this.


It is possible to deal with climate change within the current state capitalist system by carrying out measures like a carbon tax, which would at least internalize costs imposed by the use of carbon and impose a greater burden of people who use fossil fuels. It would be a major step forward.

There’s a conflict in the democratic party between environmental and labour constituencies: labour wants support for gas lines, but environmentalists are against it. This is why the working class is drifting to the republicans, because the environmentalists in the democratic party are opposed to the XL pipeline. But there’s a solution that’s not discussed. This country needs massive construction work on decaying infrastructure that needs enormous amounts of labour, but it’s not even raised. All we can talk about is building pipelines. This is a sign of a social and political system that is so sick that it cannot face obvious issues and deal with them sensibly. There is plenty of demand for labour. We need labour to weatherize homes which works for environmentalists and labour both. Instead of investing in automobiles, we can use that sector to make high-speed rail. We should hand the industry over to the workforce. These issues literally aren’t part of the discussion, but they should be a critical part.


We live in plutocracy right now. A democracy means every functioning institution would be under popular democratic control. Industrial installations should be run by their workforce. Look at John Dewey - he points out that unless this is done, politics will be just the shadow cast on society by big business, which is pretty accurate. It’s usually called libertarian socialism, but it’s basically democracy.

We need solidarity. Go back to David Hume and Adam Smith, and other pre-capitalists. They took it for granted that solidarity, sympathy, mutualism are core driving forces of human nature. Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ has been interpreted diametrically opposite to how he used it. He was thinking in terms of an agricultural economy: if a landowner accumulates all the land and everyone has to be his servant, it won’t matter because the landowner, by virtue of his sympathy to others, will ensure his property is divided equally like by an invisible hand. This shows the driving concept that underlies classical liberalism. This all ended with capitalism: Get what you can for yourself and kick everyone else in the face. And now it’s claimed that that's human nature. It’s highly deceitful. That’s what’s causing us to race over the precipice environmentally. This is a distorting ideology imposed on us that undermines normal human emotions and interactions. It's highly deceitful.

ExxonMobile is pursuing what Adam Smith denounce as the vile maxim of the masters of mankind: All for ourselves and nothing for anyone else.  Sometimes that's made explicit like from the economist James Buchanan who said the ideal situation for any person is to be the owner of everything and have everyone else be his slave. But can you imagine the non-pathological person who could even dream of that idea? From the point of view of the right-wing, that's ideal. It's Ayn Rand, basically.

There's plenty of grounds for hope. Even with almost no public support, half the American population is in favour of the carbon tax. In every county in the US, polls indicate, people are in favour of more regulation of emissions. This is latent attitudes, and the hope is that they can become a powerful force to influence or replace the leadership. It can be done. There are alternatives. It's the way to put a brake on this race to disaster.  We should simply continue to keep in mind the slogan that Antonio Gramsci made famous: We can have pessimistic of the intellect, but we should have optimism of the will, and if there's grounds for it, then we should grasp the opportunities that do exist and make sure they become implemented and operated.

On that note, Chris Hedges suggested we need an "American Spring" in his latest video, and it might start at the rally in Philadelphia on July 25th.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saving Cyclists' Lives

It seems like every year we have cycling deaths in our community. In the past, the local paper reporting has held a subtle anti-cycling stance, but this summer, some tragic accidents have been clearly cyclist error.  People are calling for greater education for cyclists, which is important, and I'll get to it in a minute (scroll down if that's more your interest), but it's only part of the problem. Our city has too many areas that aren't set up well for cycling, particularly around bike paths (ironically), and the rules aren't entirely clear to enough people. There's often heated debate about what cyclists should be doing. As I've said before, statistically, it's no more dangerous to bike than to drive here, but things could certainly be made a whole lot safer.

A FEW EXAMPLES OF QUESTIONABLE BIKE PATH PLANNING (a bit of a rant, so maybe scroll down to the next heading):

"Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly" (Jerry, The Zoo Story.) - Well, in K-W it is because you often have to turn right in order to go left if you actually want to follow the rules.

According to a recent Record article, "Riding into a crosswalk off the sidewalk is one of the most common scenarios for cyclist-vehicle collisions....Cyclists are not supposed to ride on sidewalks or in crosswalks." The region and city have been adding bike paths and are working on more bike lanes, which is really wonderful, but there are areas in town that have bike paths that end at crosswalks or that encourage cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. People won't risk their lives to follow the rules, and people won't go a long way out of their way to get where they're going, so sometimes the rules are broken.

King and Weber: The bike path from Conestoga Mall ends at the crosswalk on Weber. If I want to continue on the other side of Weber, it's significantly safer for me to cross in the crosswalk (from the circled X to the arrow) than for me to join busy Weber Street traffic to go half-way across King, then join King street traffic to make a left-hand turn on to Weber. But I'm not supposed to bike in the crosswalk. If I were a car, I'd be doing a U-turn, but I'm not really sure how to do that on a bike (or in a car) without travelling straight until the next driveway or side street to turn around. That can be far to travel on a bike just to turn in the opposite direction. I could dismount and walk the crosswalk, but it's hard to convince a cyclists to walk beside a perfectly good bicycle.

Victoria Street and Iron Horse Trail: The bike path hits Victoria at a sign that instructs cyclists to cross at the lights a block away rather than travel directly across the street. Cyclists have to choose between biking the wrong way on the street or biking on the sidewalk, and both are illegal (or ignoring the sign and zipping across the street). To stay mounted means riding to the right until it's possible to turn around. Well, they could also walk their bikes on the sidewalk, but that's unlikely to happen, and, practically speaking, there would be less room for pedestrians to get by, not that there are many pedestrians on that sidewalk anyway. I regularly break the law there by biking on the sidewalk.

Waterloo Park Trail and Father David Bauer Drive (Why are our street names so flippin' long?): As you leave the park from the trail, you'll hit a median. I can't imagine why the median doesn't have a break in it for cyclists to cross the street there. But it doesn't. So we ride on the sidewalk to get to the open crossing at Avondale Ave. I'm not going to ride in the opposite direction on the street to get to a break in the median, then turn around to go where I had originally intended. Imagine asking motorists to do that - turn right and then turn around in order to turn left!

Homer Watson bike paths: To get from one path to another, you have to travel a little bit on Homer Watson. It's a busy four-lane road, but it's got a wide, paved shoulder, so it feels very safe. But if you're travelling west, you need to take the shoulder against traffic (which is illegal) or else cross four lanes of traffic twice, which would be illegal and insane, or you could join traffic to the lights then cross (at the crosswalk, which is illegal, or make a scary U-turn) then ride down Homer Watson to the next set of lights, then ride back up to get to the bike path again. That's not going to happen. Taking the shoulder the wrong way for a few meters is typically the safest choice, except...

there's sometimes a freakin' truck parked on the shoulder. The grassy part is a narrow strip at the top of a steep hill, so travelling against traffic on the road actually seems the safest bet, which should never be the case.  A little more bike path connecting the two away from the road would be pretty cool.

Homer Watson and Stirling: The bike path ends at a crosswalk with a walk signal that EVERY SINGLE CAR ignores. On the way there, I waited at the lights to cross Stirling, sitting on my bike at the ready, but cars continued to turn left from Homer Watson to Stirling in front of me until the light changed from a walk signal to a red light. At my next turn, I got off my bike to see if being a pedestrian would help - I got a chance to cross at the "1" of the light countdown, so boarded my bike to cross before the light turned red. I wouldn't have made it across in time on foot. On the return trip, I tried to film the number of cars crossing the crosswalk against a walk signal, but I was trying to cross with my phone in hand, so it was mainly just sky. In this direction, I can understand cars turning left on the walk signal because a pedestrian is almost completely blocked from view by traffic posts. I thought my bike would help visibility, but I ended up crossing at the "0". AND there was a police van waiting at the opposite light, watching the cars turn left as I tried to cross. Nobody was stopped and ticketed even though the MTO's Driver's Handbook clearly states,
"At any intersection where you want to turn left or right, you must yield the right-of-way. If you are turning left, you must wait for approaching traffic to pass or turn and for pedestrians in or approaching your path to cross."
Where's the local paper's report on that?? Until car drivers follow the rules of the road, we're all in danger. MPP Eleanor McMahon's is calling for stiffer penalties for careless drivers since her husband died when he was clipped by a truck while out biking, but what we need is simple enforcement of the laws. I don't think it matters if motorists face a $100 fine or a $1,000 fine if police never stop them. That being said, I also don't get ticketed when I ride through crosswalks or on the sidewalk.

So wait a minute. What's the difference between motorists wanting to get home faster and therefore driving through the crosswalk illegally, and cyclists wanting to cross faster so biking instead of walking through the crosswalk? Potential for harm. When I bike through a crosswalk, I'm out of everyone's way faster and I don't pose a threat to anyone because I'm on the outside edge of the crosswalk. Motorists who ignore the walk signal and turn left in front of pedestrians and cyclists trying to cross, have a greater potential to hit people in the crosswalk.

We have to figure this whole thing out better.


I'll be so arrogant as to say 'the rules are confusing' rather than say 'I'm an idiot' even though the latter may very well be the case. After all, I don't know how to properly make a U-turn on a bike.

First of all, the Region's Cycling Safety booklet says "Fluorescent fanny packs are trendy," which is totally inaccurate.

What's an intersection and what's a crosswalk and what's a crossover? The distinctions aren't always clear. I'm also not sure what's a regional road, a township road, and a city road.

A crossover has the XX markers and lights overhead or the walking signs and a striped crosswalk. It's the only place (except where there's a crossing guard) that drivers must wait until the pedestrian completely crosses the road before continuing. I'd love it if that rule could be extended to all crosswalks.

A crosswalk "is a crossing location usually found at intersections with traffic signals, pedestrian signals or stop signs. A crosswalk can be: the portion of a roadway that connects sidewalks on opposite sides of the roadway into a continuous path; or, the portion of a roadway that is indicated for pedestrian crossing by signs, lines or other markings on the surface of the roadway at any location, including an intersection." According the MTO "it is illegal to ride across a crosswalk," but I assume we can ride beside one, where cars drive.

Ride a meter from the curb according to the Region's booklet, but the Ministry of Transportation says, "You must stay as close to the right edge of the road whenever possible." Another MTO site says, "it is legal to take the whole lane by riding in the centre of it." It makes sense to be a bit from the road so you're not swerving around garbage and storm drains, and it's wise to stay away from parked cars for fear of being doored, but I'm not ballsy enough to take the lane. There's a fine of only $365 for causing death or disability by opening a door into a cyclist.

In our region, riding on the sidewalk, is okay for kids, even though, in the same pamphlet, it says it's "a contributing factor in 86% of all bike collisions." A City of Waterloo bylaw says it's all about wheel size with diameters less than 50 centimetres acceptable on sidewalks regardless the age of the rider. They also say skateboards aren't allowed on sidewalks, but we all pretty much ignore that one. I still use the sidewalk in areas that feel too risky to use the road. I'd rather pay a ticket than die. Nothing will change that rule-breaking behaviour except making the roads safer.

Cars must give cyclists a metre of space according to the MTO: "All drivers of motor vehicles are required to maintain a minimum distance of one metre, where practical, when passing cyclists on highways," but that 'where practical' bit can allow for a lot of exceptions. But further down it says, "A motorist may, if done safely, and in compliance with the rules of the road, cross the centre line of a roadway in order to pass a cyclist. If this cannot be done, he or she must wait behind the cyclist until it is safe to pass." There's a fine of $110 for motorists who violate this even though clipping a cyclist just a bit can kill them.

Ride single file, according to MTO, and keep at least one metre apart form other cyclists. Large groups should break up into smaller groups of 4-6 which stay a km apart. But in Waterloo Region, it's now legal to ride two abreast on regional roads, but not on city or township roads. I have no idea where the dividing lines are there. Good thing I typically ride solo.


As the father of a recent victim said, "Telling them what to do and (them) doing it is two different things." In many cases, accidents aren't so much a matter of missing knowledge but of simple negligence either because the cyclists feel safe enough to allow themselves to zone out, or they choose to ignore the rules for their own perceived safety.

Regardless, there's no harm in schools taking part of a class every spring to re-teach road safety facts. Some people suggest that this will be an arduous undertaking because the training will have to be by volunteers and will take tons of people in order to get to every kid. Here's an alternative suggestion: Get some professionals to take four hours of their time on one PD day every couple years to train all elementary teachers in the region. Give them curriculum to take home or access online that's grade-appropriate in order to help them plan lessons. The Ministry of Education should enforce maybe two or three hours of mandatory road safety in each grade in April or May of every single year and ensure kids are tested and re-tested until they're able to pass the knowledge necessary at each grade.  We can't wait for kids to take driver's training; it has to be part of the regular schooling. Then we'll all know the rules. Here are some key ideas to impart beyond basic rules of the road:

Be seen: Have lights and reflectors everywhere. Wear clothes that contrast with the background. Have kids bring in their helmets so they can decorate them with reflective tape stickers. Fun!

Be aware: When I took driver's training, my instructor would periodically cover the rear-view mirror and ask me what's behind me. That was good training to develop an awareness of what all the cars are doing around me. Cyclists need to learn to develop this kind of awareness of everything around them. That's key to their survival. It's not safe to get lost in your own world when you're on the road. The other way driver's ed changed my driving practice was watching terrifying films of accidents. Kids need to be scared into cycling more carefully. They tend towards illusions of immortality, and they need to be reminded of their potential demise if they don't pay attention for a minute.

Signal intention: Everyone should be able to tell what everyone else on the road plans to do next.

Learn how to turn: How to turn left in traffic safely and legally (many still move from one crosswalk to the next) and how to do a U-turn without using the crosswalks. I need to sit in for this one. OR allow cyclists to use the crosswalks when it would be more dangerous to do otherwise.

Maybe some of that might help.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Climate Change Grief - It's a Bummer

Bill Nye created a 44 minute synopsis of climate change grief with weird interludes from Arnold Schwartzenegger playing the part of a psychiatrists taking Nye through the classic five stages, fudging them a bit as they go. There are some excellent pieces of information and ideas in here though (summarized with some of my own thoughts in a 4 minute read below):

Denial - "Isn't it a problem when science guys attempt to bully other people?" -  some idiot journalist

Denial is a natural reaction to any trauma, but it won't change the truth. Carbon [and methane] emissions are causing the planet to get hotter. Nye goes to Florida where 75% of residents will be submerged by 2100, yet they're in the midst of a construction boom. Dr. Ben Kirtman, Miami scientist, says, "There shouldn't be a debate anymore about climate change...The debate should be about how to design solutions to the problem." Public officials in Florida are not allowed to discuss climate change, so that's a problem.

Anger - "No country that found 170 billion barrels of oil would leave it in the ground." - Trudeau

Then we get angry at the reality of the situation and start chaining ourselves to machinery. If more pipelines are built, it will poison more air, land, and water, and increase the rate of climate change. Canadian companies and politicians know about climate change, yet continue to expand and exploit and devastate the area. What are they thinking?!! Without limits, if the tar stands continue as planned, we will emit more carbon than the USA and China have in their entire histories combined. Canada is a big part of the global climate change problem, and Trudeau thinks we can have our pipeline and decrease emissions too. He's just wrong. The tar sands must be shut down.

Bargaining - "A vain expression of hope that the bad news is reversible." - Changing Minds

Now we're trying to look for ways to cut a deal and negotiate a way out of the crisis without it being too inconvenient for us, but there is no easy way out. Cap and trade calls for emitters to keep emissions below a certain level. In principle, it's great, but there are ways to fudge it. (Story of Stuff has a great primer on it.) It requires strong oversight to work. Some of the biggest winners are landfills when they turn methane into fuel to power thousands of homes. And carbon capture can cut 1 million tons/year, but the tar sands at its current size produces 62 million, and global emissions are at 32 billion tons/year. While big business bargains with emissions, coastal villages are hoping engineers can help with raising homes another four feet and building seawalls.  They see it as being pro-active, but it really just buys time without fixing the underlying problem.

Depression - "I can't imagine there will be a human being on the planet in 2030." - McPherson

When we see the drawbacks of bargaining, we slip into a depression. We knew all this was happening decades ago, and we didn't act on it. I remember my grade six teacher teaching about the effects of a one degree temperature rise back in 1975, and Frank Capra made a documentary about it in the 50s! Yet here we are with evaporating water supplies, historic weather events, the California drought... Millions have already experienced climate change's effects first hand. Scientist and author (see his videos too) Guy McPherson has run the numbers to conclude that we're going to run out of habitat for our species. We'll collapse largely because of the death of many of the organisms that we rely on. McPherson lives with a basement of canned good that reminded me of my grade ten teacher who lived in a bomb shelter. We found our way to the other side of the cold war (so far), but this one will be even more difficult.

Acceptance - "I'm not dead yet; I think I'll go for a walk. I feel happy!" - Monty Python

We need to accept how terribly bad it all is, and work our asses off to change the system!  Science and technology have helped a bit, but we need everyone to change their living habits and pester politicians and CEOs worldwide, to get on board with renewable energy systems. Mark Jacobson has calculated that we can transition away from fossil fuels 80% by 2030 by using wind, solar, and water power (see his no nukes TEDTalk here). Wind is the cheapest form of electricity by far. The problem is that the existing infrastructure companies will fight it, and they have all the money and power. Too many politicians and CEOs have put all their pennies into one dirty basket, and they will kill any idea that loses their life savings. A huge attitude change is necessary.

Hope - "Emissions have plateaued, but we have to drastically reduce emissions further or we'll be remembered as the generation that killed the planet."

I love the paradox in that quotation - that we could be remembered at all after our species is gone. Nye gives us a sense of two 2050 scenarios: if we do nothing compared to doing everything. If we do nothing, we'll see a rise of six degrees, and global warming will be out of control. The Amazon rainforest will turn into a savannah; the western US will be dry and snowless; the Colorado river will dry up; hurricanes will increase by a full category; and the world food and water supplies will be decimated. If we do everything, we might live to see 2050.

Doing everything means petitioning the powers that be, but also distinguishing our needs from our wants, and only driving, flying, turning on the AC, eating meat, and buying plastics, etc. when it's necessary to our livelihood - not because it makes us a bit happier or comfortable or relieves boredom, but because we can't actually survive adequately without it. At the very least, whatever you're doing now that unnecessarily adds to emissions, cut it down dramatically. We need to walk, bike, and take trains more, acclimatize to the changing weather as much as possible without electricity, plant more trees, eat more vegetables and legumes, and all that jazz. We know what we need to do, we just have to wake up enough - we need to get that little shiver of panic running down our spine when we think about about all this - in order to actually save ourselves from ourselves.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Lorne's post on Harrelson's naive solution to world problems (from Ethos, but he said it in Go Further years earlier too), in which he suggests we should just stop buying bad stuff and companies will change, works in tandem with this quote making the rounds:

We do need to change our buying habits and show the corporations that citizens have power, but we're too lazy and stupid to actually do that. We need a shift in our culture to be able to even begin.

And then I read an article by David Hopkins that suggests that the show Friends and the constant belittling of Ross, the only intellectual in the show, was a turning point in the dumbing down of society. I'm not sure if that show started the trend since Cheer's regular dismissal of Diane's intelligence started a decade earlier, but it seems clear that the trend has spread to many similar shows that make fun of anyone with more than a couple brain cells to rub together. Hopkins says,
"We’re at a low point — where social media interaction has replaced genuine debate and political discourse, where politicians are judged by whether we’d want to have a beer with them, where scientific consensus is rejected, where scientific research is underfunded, where journalism is drowning in celebrity gossip."
Then these posts provoked me to re-watch a bit of How I Met Your Mother, and it was striking how often Ted is laughed at for being intelligent. There's a whole episode about it in which his friends make farting noises whenever he adds a cultural reference to the conversation. Now, I happen to find Ted particularly annoying because he's always whining about some girl. That's gets old fast, and it's a wonder the gang doesn't roll their eyes or otherwise cut him off when he goes on a whinge-fest, but they're quick to stop any intellectual discourse. This creates the illusion (or perhaps it creates the reality) that intelligent ideas are to be dismissed for being boring or, as Ted finally decides, "douchey." And then he just stops saying anything intelligent, and his dialogue is reduced to self-obsession and quips.

Hopkins also notes that Ross got annoying, which just further illustrates that some of the best comedic writers either don't know how to make intellectual discourse entertaining or they're being pressured to make the best and brightest into people we can't stand. Is it that if we can be made to accept mediocracy then we'll buy more stuff? Is that the game we're playing?

But who cares, right? Why analyze goofy TV shows when there are serious real events that need attention? I actually think sit-coms are important. I agree with Hopkins that they are quietly teaching us how to behave and what to care about. There's a growing concern over the rise in anti-intellectualism in our culture: it's being blamed for unwavering creationists, mass murders, and the rise of Trump. I believe it will be the death of us. Some think the cult of ignorance is entirely the fault of a weakened school system, but no method of education can flourish in a culture that ridicules intelligence, and our culture is influenced dramatically by TV shows that we get sucked into watching on a regular basis.

But that's not always a bad thing.

I remember the first time I saw condom use mentioned in a casual way in a TV show as if of course we all take a moment to discuss contraception before having sex. I was at the perfect age to be positively influenced by Bruce Willis's charming character asking Maddie Hayes about protection in the heat of a moment that had been building up for years. All the health class videos in the world can't teach how to have that conversation in a suave and sexy manner as well as a sit-com can.

A decade later, when Ellen's character came out on a sit-com, it was a game changer. After that, other shows scrambled to get some same-sex kissing on their show in whatever contrived way they could, and, after an awkward period of tokenism, now we have many characters throughout shows and films who happen to be LBGTQ. Sit-coms normalized something once demonized - well, for most of us.

But it takes a careful touch to manipulate the populous well. Ostrov and Gentile's experiment on the correlation between educational TV and relational aggression in children is telling. Children's television developed morals and removed all traces of the violence of anvils and steamrollers. This would be great except the study found that children missed the overall moral of the plotline of shows like Franklin, Arthur, and Magic School Bus, but they picked up on individual behaviours of the characters:
“The most common relationally aggressive behaviors were children saying, ‘I won’t be your friend anymore unless you do what I say,’ or ‘You can’t come to my birthday party’ as well as socially excluding a peer from play,” Ostrov said. “From our viewing, this type of relational aggression is much more common in young children’s programming than physically aggressive behavior.”
We were hoping to have a new generation of kinder and more knowledgable kids, but we ended up with passive aggressive banter on the playground instead. What we teach isn't always related to what they learn.

Pro-social TV can backfire horribly, like when Fonzie got a pair of glasses and a new "school is cool" mantra. It didn't make school look cool, it made Fonzie look like a nerd who literally jumped a shark for attention.  In classical conditioning lingo, the neutral stimulus (school) is supposed to take on the response generated by an unconditioned stimulus (Fonzie) by association, so, after several pairings of the two, we develop a conditioned response and react to school like we would to Fonzie (love it - maybe even swoon a bit). The problem comes when a neutral stimulus (school) actually provokes a response already (aversion because it's so uncool). Then the neutral stimulus can act as the unconditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus acts as the neutral stimulus creating a conditioned response to Fonzie (hate him the way we hate school).

But while it may be difficult for media to get us to change our behaviours around things we already love or hate, it can be easy to change a behaviour that's just a mindless habit, particularly if a well-loved character reacts negatively to it. But it has to be clearly disliked not just from the story-line, but from all the behaviours and attitudes by the protagonists.

There are many tiny behaviours that could be shifted by this medium, but all too often shows reinforce the status quo. It was disappointing in HIMYM when it was revealed that all the characters smoked. I guess they ran out of story-lines, so they brought in a new problem to be fixed. The story-line presented it as a problem, but the behaviours we saw showed close social engagement facility by cigarettes.Thus when Lily quit smoking, but her husband Marshall didn't, she got grossed out and offended as soon as he walked in the door after a cigarette. That might have influenced people to develop a distaste for smoking except she behaved in a policing manner, which made her the authority catching her husband's misbehaviour. Few people want to align themselves with the authority figure, especially if we're participating in the misbehaviour. We want to have fun with Marshall not tell him off. For a real anti-smoking campaign to work, they'd need a new character that everyone hates to do the bad thing. Then they could all disparage the redshirt uniformly.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin's protagonist was viewed as undeveloped, and part of that came from watching him cycling through the city. He was put on a fast-track to adulthood that included selling his stuff and learning how to drive. Virgins ride bikes, and sexually-active dudes drive cars. Would it have been possible for his character to develop enough charm in the process of his first relationships to convince everyone to start biking to work? He does get his girlfriend to go for a ride, but a car is still presented as a necessary marker of adulthood. Under a careful hand it might have worked, but audiences sniff out manipulations. It has to be done well or not at all.

But it can be done. All it would take is a few well-loved characters to insist on tap water over bottled water, to decide to walk or subway instead of jumping in a car without making it seem a hardship, to have a drink over a variety of platefuls of vegan dishes instead of hamburgers or wings, and to make the smart one the clever, lovable hero again. Barney Miller, Bob Newhart, Andy Travis were the voice of maturity and reason in a cast of goofy characters. We laughed at the inane antics of the ensemble, but the shows' trajectory had us relieved there was some wisdom in the midst.

If it's possible for sit-coms to affect our culture significantly, and if we know where the culture needs to be heading in terms of people embracing science and taking personal responsibility for actions that affect the well-being of the world including our consumerist habits, then shouldn't entertainment make some movement in that direction? I don't think many of us struggle to be moral, to have character and integrity, so I'm sure it's far too much to ask of a production company. There are a few that have characters who do the right thing: Rectify and even Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a heart, but if only Andy Sandberg could insist on fair trade coffee at work! That would be a start.  At least it's a cop show where nobody gets shot.