Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Review: Teaching Under the Banner of Covid

 Dr. Jennifer Kwan put out a call on Twitter for messages we wished to have sent ourselves a year ago. Then she added, 

And Ryan Imgrund, provider of daily stats and graphs, added,

Many wise people were prescient but unheard. And it's still happening. We have lots of excellent information to steer us in the right direction, but the powers that be keep ignoring it for their own benefit. I hope Ford is just an idiot and not actually genocidal, but the evidence so far could go either way. Apparently, in some places, vaccines are expiring before they could be administered. Nice. 

So here's what I screamed into the void this year: 

Hedges on American Psychosis

 Chris Hedges just put out a short video about American Psychosis, in which he explains,

We have blissfully checked out. Most people have no concept of how fragile their environment is. . . .  There's an emotional incapacity to understand collapse, even when it's facing you. I have covered, as a foreign correspondent, totalitarian cultures, so I know how totalitarian systems work. I know the dark emotions they evoke.  I know the mechanisms they use to shut down dissent. And, when I came back, it was utterly apparent that the country ha gone collectively insane in a very frightening way. . . . 

The critique will be that you're such a pessimist, that you're such a cynic, that you're not an optimist. Optimism becomes a kind of disease. It's what created the financial meltdown where you have this kind of cheerful optimism in the face of utter catastrophe, and you plow forward based on an optimism that is no longer rooted in reality. If hope becomes something you express through illusion, then it's not hope; it's fantasy

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

On Cuties, Euphoria, and Promising Young Woman

My social media feed is full of political scandals that I have no ability to affect, so I've immersed myself in movies and shows. Bechdel test for the win for this trio!

Film both reflects and affects society, like all forms of art but even more than most as it's a visual, auditory, and narrative medium. We sometimes see ourselves in the movies more clearly than in novels or paintings or songs. It's this reflection in the film Cuties, I suspect, that got thousands of people riled up enough to cancel their Netflix subscriptions and garner it an embarrassing 3.1/10 on IMDb. But beyond Netflix's many second rate sequels and unwatchable remakes, I'd argue that Cuties is one of the better films on the current marquee. 

Cuties is about an 11-year-old girl, Amy, who's new to town and trying to fit in with the cool kids. She's successful because she takes their competitive dance moves to the next level with sexy additions that she's seen online. Those dance scenes are what's driving the outrage, but it's the most realistic part of the film (which steps into the surreal from time to time). Kids are made to imitate what they see, and this is what's out there for real. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Ten Climate Change Items That Need Wider Reporting

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. A vaccine is here, hooray! But now let's actually take a good hard look at climate change mitigation.

This is from a thread of threads on Twitter by climate activist Ben See (9 min video from a year ago). We can't prevent a catastrophe because it's already started the tipping points. But we can slow some systems down IFF we can create a new global system that is focused on immediately getting GHGs down to zero. We're going to get some massive crop failures really soon otherwise. It's important to tell everyone, including children, the truth about the world. "One of the best ways to feel okay about this difficult moment in history is to actually take action and talk about it!"

See outlined a 10-point plan in need of reporting below. This is quoted entirely from his recent maze of posts, which is clearly cited throughout. In a nutshell, "Once the ice is gone, the Arctic Ocean will absorb more heat from the atmosphere, which will only make our climate predicament worse." . . .  Tropical Rainforests look increasingly unlikely to avoid collapse in the coming decades. . . . Food systems account for 37% of greenhouse-gas emissions. We must rethink destructive agriculture immediately. . . . Climate scientists expect 2.5- 3.5°C or even more by the 2090s (which would wipe out most species and likely put an end to organised human society. Over half of all species on the planet (which humans of course rely on for survival) will be wiped out by the 2060s without emergency action. . . . Tropics, subtropics and elsewhere will soon be hotter than the hottest heat waves of the past century, with many regions no longer able to support agriculture. . . . The world’s seed-bearing plants have been disappearing at a rate up to 500 times higher than would be expected as a result of natural forces alone. . . .  Deadly climate change heat waves will hit billions of people by the 2030s or 2040s (some literally unsurvivable without air conditioning) obliterating entire ecosystems and wiping out species. . . . This has been described as a death sentence for African countries. . . . Sea level rise is already causing havoc for some and will rapidly get worse.  

"Whatever else is happening in the world, is just chess pieces on a board compared to the effect of climate change."

Friday, December 25, 2020

Unforeseen Custody Issues: Who Could Have Predicted THIS?

I'm generally a worrier. If my kids don't text back after a few minutes, all sorts of images bombard my brain. Sometimes they don't text back for hours, and it always ends up being because they were sleeping or - back in the good old days - at a movie theatre with their phone actually off! So there's the voice that says, "They're dead in a ditch," but that's always being countered by the voice that says, "Don't be silly. This happens all the time, and it's always nothing!"  

But now Covid has ramped up that negative self-talk to 11.

I was finally able to relax a bit knowing that high schools are online only for three full weeks after the break. Just one week in the building, and then I expect to be teaching distance learning for the rest of the year! But then Christmas brought its own obstacles.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Hannah Arendt in Lego

 @EthicsInBricks posted this lovely tribute to Hannah Arendt on Twitter last October, in honour of her date of birth, October 14, 1906, and I want to save it in the month of her death 45 years ago, so here's the thread all nicely cited and EIB's quotations in bold:



Sunday, December 13, 2020

How Is Hybrid Teaching Going?? It's Complicated.

We've recently been told that next semester, starting in February, will operate the same way as this semester did: running quadmester terms with in-school students attached to each school in a hybrid model with a rotation of half at home and half in the classroom, and online students being taught through the board office, completely unattached to any school. After calling each parent to update them on midterm student progress, a new task that took me about four hours to complete, it has become clear that the general public still doesn't understand what any of this means or the implications of it all. So let's break it down:

Hybrid System:

We teach students in the room as well as students at home, at the same time. I started with two laptops, one to teach from and one as a monitor to be able to read the chat happening as a backchannel during the lessons and discussions. Some would raise their hands in front of me, and others would raise their hand in on the meet, so I had to watch everything at once. I also wore a mic to be heard above my mask, and had the meet attached to speakers so kids in the room could hear people at home, but then I had to remember to turn off my volume whenever someone in the room spoke on the meet or it would reverb like crazy. I needed another half a brain to manage all the buttons. So, just last week, I started teaching only through the meet, without a mic or speakers or second laptop. Now I sit at my desk and just focus on the entire class over the meet regardless who is in the room. It honestly feels a bit ignorant to barely make eye contact with people in front of me, but I just can't do it the other way - it's too much for my brain to manage and be on my toes to answer questions about the curriculum. When I see how poorly others manage tech during meetings, I feel like I made the right call on that one!


Quadmester Schedule:

A quadmester schedule means two courses over 9 weeks with two full weeks of one class,  5 hours/day (basically one day = a former week of lessons), followed by two weeks of the other class, then the first class for 12 school days and then the second for 12 school days, which ensures we meet the provincial target of (22 days x 5 hours/day) 110 instructional hours/course. Got it? At the end of every day, I'm blown away by how exhausted I am. If I sit on the couch for a second, I'm out like a light.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Mental Illness in Covid Times

For me to stop teaching in a physical classroom, because I don't feel safe in there, I need a note from my doctor indicating that I have a mental illness that prevents me from working and then take a sick leave. It can't just be a note that says I can't work in the building, that I have a situational anxiety that prevents me from working in an unsafe space; it has to be a note that says that my illness is so debilitating that I can't work at all. It was made clear to me that that's how anxiety works: Either you don't have it and you can work, or you do have it and you can't. Period.

Except that's not how anxiety works at all.  

Anxiety can get triggered by specific aspects of a situation. Someone might be unable to write a test in a room full of people but be completely fine to write it in a room alone with the teacher. Some people can't present in front of 30 people they don't know, but can really excel in front of a choice of three friends to bring along as their audience at lunch time. Teachers have been accommodating students with anxiety like this for years. Just IMAGINE if we told students with anxiety that if they really have it, then they have to take a leave from school, that it's impossible for them to do any work in any other way. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another

I had a very sick kid here on the night before the last day of the last quadmester. My little one felt shaky and dizzy and came downstairs to get the pulse oximeter because they felt so faint. They promptly barfed in the kitchen sink. Of course it was full of dishes. After they slumped to the floor, I gave them a bowl to clutch and slid them away from the cupboards. Then I donned PPE and cleaned the sink and dishes and everything with bleach. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

On Critical Race Theory

Conservative British MP, Kemi Badenoch, insisted that Critical Race Theory is somehow illegal, so I'm just going to save this rebuttal here: 

This is a Twitter thread from Kojo Koram - @KojoKoram - professor of law Birkbeck: 

"A thread on the new bogeyman of “critical race theory”: Kemi Badenoch. Watching dim-witted Tory junior ministers try to get their heads around the works of Derrick Bell, Patricia Williams and some of the most-decorated legal scholars of the last 50 years would be funny if this wasn’t so serious. Clearly, Google has told them that critical race theory is just people shouting about “white privilege” etc so here is an idiot’s guide to CRT to help: CRT emerged out of Harvard law in the 80’s in an attempt to explain the contradictions between the legal equality achieved through the civil rights struggle and the ongoing visible difference in the impact of the law across racial groups. This is the heart of CRT. Pretty simple isn’t it. There are certainly critiques that can be made of the tradition (I see it as having become too detached from political economy, for one) but to pretend it is a dangerous, illegitimate sphere of academic inquiry is just pathetic. 
CRT started with the material reality. Look at your cities. Look at your prisons. If law is blind, why does property law, criminal law etc seem to punish some groups more than others? You don’t care about this, fine, good for you. But you also want to stop others from caring? The same people who would defend the right of Charles Murray to talk about how Black people have lower IQ’s on the grounds of free speech are now cheering a government banning teachers trying to explain the difference between legal equality and material inequality. In the UK, Black people are stopped + searched nearly 10x white people. 40% of young people in custody are BME. If your explanation for this is anything other than ‘Blacks are just naturally/culturally more criminal’… then congratulations, you have just started doing CRT!"

Michael Sandel's Tyranny of Merit

I haven't yet read his newest book, but Michael Sandel is everywhere these days promoting his new book. An excerpt from a Guardian interview:

Sandel charts the rise of what he sees as a corrosive leftwing individualism: “The solution to problems of globalisation and inequality – and we heard this on both sides of the Atlantic – was that those who work hard and play by the rules should be able to rise as far as their effort and talents will take them. This is what I call in the book the ‘rhetoric of rising’. It became an article of faith, a seemingly uncontroversial trope. We will make a truly level playing field, it was said by the centre-left, so that everyone has an equal chance. And if we do, and so far as we do, then those who rise by dint of effort, talent, hard work will deserve their place, will have earned it.” The recommended way to “rise” has been to get a higher education. . . . 
Sandel has two fundamental objections to this approach. First, and most obvious, the fabled “level playing field” remains a chimera. Although he says more and more of his own Harvard students are now convinced that their success is a result of their own effort, two-thirds of them come from the top fifth of the income scale. . . . "Americans born to poor parents tend to stay poor as adults.” . . . [Secondy,] even a perfect meritocracy would be a bad thing. “The book tries to show that there is a dark side, a demoralising side to that,” he says. “The implication is that those who do not rise will have no one to blame but themselves.” Centre-left elites abandoned old class loyalties and took on a new role as moralising life-coaches, dedicated to helping working-class individuals shape up to a world in which they were on their own. “On globalisation,” says Sandel, “these parties said the choice was no longer between left and right, but between ‘open’ and ‘closed’. Open meant free flow of capital, goods and people across borders.” Not only was this state of affairs seen as irreversible, it was also presented as laudable. “To object in any way to that was to be closed-minded, prejudiced and hostile to cosmopolitan identities.” . . . 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Imagine If Teachers Made the Decisions that Impact Teachers

So now the government has overruled regulation 274. I wrote about it ages ago, again firmly planted on the government side!! I'm really very, very pro-union, honestly, but some things just don't make sense to me. At the time, I was watching several LTO teachers in my building who knew the kids well, had developed strong relationships with students and staff, and had shown their excellence in spades, and they were passed over in favour of an unknown that happened to be in that top five in seniority. The LTOs passed over weren't brand new, as is often characterized, but had been supplying for years. It's not always that case that the longest serving are the most qualified or the best choice. And I haven't seen the regulation do anything to dampen nepotism. However, some people have seen the complete opposite effect. BUT that's not my focus here.

Some people think this entire issue is a distraction and are wary that the unions will go to town on it instead of focusing where we need them, on reducing class sizes by fighting to add more teachers or by allowing teachers to work from home. To what extent is all the reg. 274 talk a red herring to get us sidetracked? Lecce suggested that it will make hiring easier, but who's getting hired? Classes are being collapsed in this mess!

And then someone suggested to me that the entire reason we all have to teach online from inside the building isn't because of the board at all, but because of the union: it creates more supply teaching jobs. If teachers are allowed to teach from home, then they'll call in sick far less often, and there will be fewer opportunities for other teachers. I have NO idea if this is fact or fiction. It's pure conjecture at this point. But it does make sense that the union might support that (and therefore not fight it). And, while I completely understand that need for more job opportunities for OTs, having them show up to watch students log in while the teacher teaches from home, using up all their sick days, isn't necessarily giving them the best usable experience. A far better solution would be to split elementary school classes in half and have them "supply" using the teacher's lessons with the other half of the class and let the online teachers teach from home. But that's crazy talk, I know.  

However, my real focus is this: Wouldn't it be absolutely AMAZING if teachers had a say in all these decisions??

Maybe we could!

For the sake of my mental health, instead of marking this afternoon, I watched a talk from the Hannah Arendt Center: Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom. It was well worth it! I think it will show up here eventually (with suggested readings here). 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Does Teaching Effectively Under this System Legitimize Ford's Plan?

What Doug Ford's team is doing right now reminds me of Bojack Horseman, from the end of the first season on, when absolutely everybody just starts saying "Hollywoo" after the 'D' in the big sign goes missing. It becomes the accepted reality. So many are openly just accepting that kids and staff in schools will get sick, but it's not enough of them that we should actually act on the concern. According to their press conference on Friday, kids don't transmit the virus, and they only bring it in to the schools from elsewhere - they don't get it from the school. That was said shortly after the BBC's "Science in Action" reported on a study that concluded, "children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults" and another that pointed to rapid testing as a means to dramatically reduce transmission rates. But we'll just keep acting like it's not happening. 

Williams & Lecce from an early September bit of propaganda h/t @parentaction4ed

Anyway... 

For obvious reason, I'm hyper-focused on schools and the ridiculously ineffective plans being implemented. But, funny story, after a couple of boards suddenly shifted to a hybrid model of teaching (teaching both in class and at home at once) due to the number of parents pulling their kids from physical classes, I ended up on the other side of the argument. My attempts to commiserate and then offer support to affected teachers on Twitter failed dramatically, and I have incurred the wrath of several for, essentially, sleeping with the enemy.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Putting Your Own Mask on First

Teachers are a hardy bunch. We have self-trained ourselves to remain polite and calm in the face of abuse. On my first day of teaching, ever, I wrote Miss Snyder on the board, and a faceless voice from the back of the room said, "Oh good, she's not married. No sloppy seconds." I immediately erased the Miss and shifted to Ms, and went on with the lesson, refusing to give the comment further attention. At 9 months pregnant, I cleared a room of kids after a fight broke out in a pottery classroom and got the two boys in line. Just one boy, really, as the other was bleeding on the floor. Both had a good foot of height on me, but I had the grizzly bear attitude of a mom to be. And I was pretty sure they wouldn't dare hit me.  

But this is ridiculous.

Admin keeps reminding us to take time for self-care and sending us links to mental health professional sites. They want teachers taking care of themselves so we can better care for our students. And I think these messages are all coming more and more because they must know we're all starting to lose it. In person and online, teachers are talking openly about randomly bursting into tears at the smallest thing because WE'RE ABOUT TO BREAK! But we keep forging ahead, making it work, because it's in our DNA to do that with a smile and a gentle voice, compassionate to everyone but ourselves. At no other time have so many teachers felt like they're not measuring up to expectations, felt like they're failing at their job. As much as we're trying to do the best for the kids, the kids are going to notice the stress and exhaustion taking its toll. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Fogginess of These Times

I had laser surgery over a decade ago and love not wearing glasses, but I've started wearing my sunglasses regularly, even on my walk to work just as the sun's coming up. It makes no sense to have a barrier to our nose and mouth but leave the most defenceless intake for viruses completely uncovered. Those of us seeing things unaided need tinted lenses to manage these times.

But, despite trying all the tricks touted online, they fog up. So I meander my way towards my workplace with a fraction of my usual vision. I've just been accepting the fog as I gingerly pass the hospital on the way, sometimes holding my breath like we did as kids when we drove past cemeteries, unbuckled in the back of the station wagon, in a curious ritual that would somehow keep us from joining them. The car headlights passing me in the early mornings all have sparkling rainbows around them, and I love the irony in the possibility that I'll trip off the curb and be hit while trying to keep myself safe from a virus. But so far I've made it all the way under the good fortune of Mr. Magoo.

We're at two official cases in our school, but we're not allowed to know who they are. The infected tell Public Health who they may have been in contact with, and those people are called to either get a test (which is all but impossible right now) or to sit at home for 14 days. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Oh--What's a Teacher to Do?

Starting next Friday, secondary students in my board will be forced to be in a room with about 15 other students they might not know, many of whom will take off their masks for a 45 minute mid-morning snack deemed necessary to get them through to lunchtime dismissal. They're not exactly forced, since they can choose, instead, to be exclusively distance learning, but that comes with a risk of losing their electives and possibly a more difficult time with complex instructions. So that's not much of a choice. And once they choose to be with a teacher in a classroom, then they're not permitted to leave that room while others unmask. 

It's like telling kids they can either get a ride to Toronto for a concert or watch it on TV, but if they take that ride, then they have to take off their seatbelts while they're on the 401. The car's not going to pull over to let you out if you change your mind! So, what's it going to be? Sure, it's a choice, but many kids will make the riskier choice, such as kids are. And, sure, they might all be totally fine. But they might not be. And then it will be our fault. It's ultimately Ford's and Public Health for approving this plan, but the board has to take some responsibility too since neighbouring boards don't have a secondary nutrition break. And teachers, on the front lines, also bare responsibility. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Risk Assessment for September

I have two weeks left before going back to school in person. I've been writing on social media and sending emails and signing petitions because this plan in Ontario doesn't feel remotely safe. I've even jumped queue and wrote to the upper echelon of my school board in an attempt to be heard. This is strictly against the rules of the bureaucratic system, but lives are on the line.  

I was all prepared to go back, but then I saw the secondary school schedule. 

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, Abigail 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 EDU.consultation@ontario.ca including your name and any affiliated organization, with "Ontario's Plan to Reopen Schools" in the subject line. Maybe if enough of us tell them to ask the experts instead of the public, they'll actually listen!

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

Sunday, May 17, 2020

On Gun Control

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

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

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

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Reich's The System

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


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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Teaching Online - a Month in Review

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

Sunday, May 10, 2020

We're Getting Re-opened in the Morning!

I'm picturing Alfred Doolittle singing that title.

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


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

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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

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

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


On a Revolution Against the Corrupt System:

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

Planet of the Humans Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 4, 2020

I'm Fine, Really

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Truths We Now Hold as More Clearly Self Evident

We're learning so much from this virus, about the world and about ourselves. Here's a list of things I hope we take away from it all. These are things we already know, but now we know with a little more certainty and more clearly.

* Life is unpredictable. Our calendars and to-do-lists make it seem like we have some predictability in life, but it's still largely a crap shoot. It always has been.

* Some politicians and governments are willing to let you die to save their stock portfolio. This isn't new, but now it's very clear, hopefully to everybody. We need this knowledge to sink in if we hope to change anything. Capitalism, particularly neo-liberal capitalism, sucks.

* We need Universal Basic Income right now. People can't be saved with one time cheques or discounts or food bank donations. We need everyone to have their basic needs met, for sure, all the time.

* Air B&B was a disaster waiting to happen. Now that everyone is cancelling their bookings, the people renting places to cash out on them are left holding an un-payable bill. It was always a scam that caused more harm than good.

* Living off of renting property to people too poor to own their own property is, in itself, a problem. Yup, Marx was right.

* Retail workers aren't paid nearly enough for dealing with the shit they have to put up with.

* Alcoholism is a huge issue that we largely ignore. The fact that liquor stores are considered an essential service in Ontario, and forced to remain open during this, speaks volumes to the concerns about people going without during the isolation.

* We all need to acknowledge the effect we have on each other more. aka Maybe people shouldn't let their dogs bark all flippin' day in their back yards!! It is possible to train dogs to stop barking.

* Imprisoning any non-violent offenders is barbaric and, in times like this, potentially lethal.

* Music, art, film, dance, books, and games keep us going. They are vital to our lives and should be acknowledged as such.

* You really can eat the same food a few days in a row. We've been trained to have a wide variety of food options at every meal, but food waste is unconscionable.

* We don't need to travel or go to all those meetings. We're figuring out what's really necessary, and, in the process, possibly saving lives in the final analysis: “the lives saved due to the pollution reductions are roughly 20x the number of lives that have been directly lost to the virus.”

* Hubris can be fatal. People who think they're tough for not being afraid to go to public places, and for refusing to let a little virus slow them down are learning some difficult lessons - hopefully learning them. Paul Rand comes to mind, for going to the gym after testing positive for the virus. W.T.F. It's not strong or courageous or cool to be flippant about taking life-saving precautions, especially if it's just your own life you're worried about. It's just plain ignorant.

* It is humbling to be reminded of the short time we have here and the lack of control we have over our lives and over the world. We like to think we're at the top of the food chain, but we're just one little part of it all.

* Everything's relative. My youngest gets out of room quarantine today - grounded for 2-weeks for going to Mexico - and it's exciting that she gets to be in ALL of the house now! And I'm happy that I no longer have to wait on her and scrub everything she touches in our shared bathroom. It could always be so much worse than we have it now.


Saturday, March 21, 2020

On Expectation

How we see our lives and how we expect things to go for us is life or death right now, sanity or madness. This has been an emotionally exhausting week! Not knowing is difficult, and there's so much up in the air right now.

It reminds me of when I was first pregnant and past my due date. Every little spasm in my belly set off alarms. Now it's not my belly any more, but higher. A little tickle in the throat, a cough from the dust, a twinge in the chest all have me super hyper-focused on my body: Is it here?? Is it time??

We have to take precautions, absolutely. We're happy introverts in my home, comfortably hunkering down, but then necessary grocery shopping is like running across the trenches to deliver a message. Get in and out as fast as possible! Check down each aisle before turning a corner! Wash all the produce as soon as we get home from the store! Okay, apparently some of these precautions are ones other people have always taken. But miss wiping a corner of a box of cereal with a Lysol wipe, and it could mean the end of us. The cashier (Praise be!) might inadvertently cough as she bags the groceries, spraying us with invisible bullets. I'm not looking forward to the next trip. Hopefully we can make it two weeks with this load.

But once we're home and scrubbed clean yet again, we have to create an ideal little nest as much as possible, with music and baking and creating things and some good conversations. For those of us with the luxury of a job we can do from home, and the tremendous luxury of reasonably good company in the home, we have to imagine the weeks ahead of us as a respite from the noise of the world. Imagine the games and days on the porch or garden and the bike rides and just time to be lost in thought. Pay attention to the people who are sharing and helping like never before. We give our world the colour of our thoughts. If we start to worry about how long and how hard and how small the house is and every little irritation that's bound to arise, then we will have painted our days with jarring contrasts and muddy tones. 

There are other precautions to take that people aren't discussing, like teaching the kids how to access emergency funds in case I succumb so they don't lose the house. What do you want done with your things? With your body? Garbage day is Tuesday. There have been a few of those conversations too.

During that first extended pregnancy, my midwives told me to enjoy the time. Everything's easier with the baby on the inside, they warned. I scoffed then too! How can I enjoy my time with this event looming over everything I do? Their advice holds as well today as it did way back then: eat well, sleep well, go for lots of long walks, and finish that book you've been meaning to read! It happens when it happens, and we all just hope everyone's healthy on the other side.

Before the baby was due, a few well-meaning friends warned me their deliveries took over 36 hours, so I prepared mentally for the long haul. Two weeks later, when the labour pains were finally real, I watched the clock through the breathing and paced myself. It ended after only 12 hours, which felt like nothing compared to what I was expecting. Tonight I told my kids to expect this to end in July, and maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised in May! We just have to get our heads around it all in the right kind of way to make these next few months manageable. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.


Friday, March 20, 2020

The New Normal

Politico has a very thorough run down of life as we'll soon come to know it from a variety of people. Here are my favourite bits. It's all pretty hopeful:

COMMUNITY:
We know now that touching things, being with other people and breathing the air in an enclosed space can be risky. How quickly that awareness recedes will be different for different people, but it can never vanish completely for anyone who lived through this year. . . . Maybe the de-militarization of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this whole awful mess. . . . Societal shocks can break different ways, making things better or worse. But given our current levels of tension, this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns in our cultural and political discourse. . . . It may—one might hope—return Americans to a new seriousness, or at least move them back toward the idea that government is a matter for serious people. . . . When this ends, we will reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods—for health, especially—and public services. I don’t think we will become less communal. Instead, we will be better able to see how our fates are linked. . . . The hype around online education will be abandoned, as a generation of young people forced into seclusion will reshape the culture around a contrarian appreciation for communal life.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What are the Chances We'll Learn Anything from This?

It's fascinating to watch behaviours now that we're stuck together in limbo. In my little house, we are all perfectly healthy; we're just more together. This should be a piece of cake!

My kids shopped last Friday night, very late, and, since the stores were packed with everyone else who had the same idea, went again on Saturday. Since then I'm noticing how much we all want to just pop into the store for one more thing. We have everything here. On Monday I had to put my foot down with an offer to just get... We have ALL THE FOOD we could possibly need. And toilet paper. My kids came home with two packs, and we haven't even opened one yet. We already had toilet paper! It's just a habit that's provoking us towards the main destination of all of our walks. We have to remember we can walk to the park and to through neighbourhoods with beautiful homes. It's such a strong habit to break, though. And going to the store feels like a little piece of normal, to see familiar faces and nod to our neighbours there. I think we can make it at least until Monday.

When I was a kid, mum and dad did the shopping every Saturday morning and at no other time. I managed that for a while. When the kids were little, we sat at Harmony Lunch once a week and planned out meals, then hit the store on the way home, each of us with a knapsack full of food. It was a nice routine. But once they got older, and realized all the food options available to them, it fell apart. We want what we feel like having RIGHT NOW! We have to break that immediacy habit too. We don't need that much variety in our meals. And I'm also noticing I've apparently become addicted to junk food. Why didn't we buy more treats?!? Apparently because the cart was full of toilet paper. That is some weird psychological phenomenon! Perceived scarcity makes us want what we don't actually need. We have to rise above that. Piece of cake indeed. Mmmm... cake.

I'm hoping we all break many habits. We're seeing that we can manage without as much travel around the city, without getting every little thing we think we need all the time, and the results are breathtaking. Pollution is dramatically down and animals are coming out of hiding, and there are flippin' dolphins (literally - ETA but not really) in the crystal clean water of the canals in Venice!! It reminds me of one line in George Monbiot's Heat: "I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel.” But it doesn't mean, as some suggest, that we're a virus in need of containment.