Saturday, July 17, 2010

an example of bad editing.

Newspaper pages are valuable and limited. So a good editor makes sure any story that appears is worth the space it is given. On Saturday, July 17, p. A7, The Times&Transcript carried a half page story that said close to nothing. It's not the reporter's fault. He could write only the information he had received. It was the editor's fault for assigning a story where there was none.

"Provincial Party Marks Improve" screamed the headline. Then it told anxious readers that The Coalition of New Brunswickers had announced the July grades for New Brunswick's political parties. Good. There's no doubt we need more awareness of how far below any standard New Buunswick's poliitical parties are. (That applies to all of them.)

A useful start might be to tell readers who the coalition is, what qualifications it has to issue a grade sheet, and exactly how it carried out its studies. The story didn't. So I checked in Google. It seems a well intentioned group; and I think I might wish it well.  But I still have no idea of its qualifications, size, or composition.

Then I checked the categories of marking. Public Participation? What does that mean? The number of party members? The frequency of public meetings? Public consultations? Exactly what does Public Participation mean to the coalition. The story never tells us.

Govvernment Ethics? Only one party has been in government this past month. How come they all get marks on government ethics? Does this really mean written statements of Government Ethics? How come the NDP scored highest, going from D to A in just one month? Does the Liberal F mean they have no ethics? Well, possibly. But, spefically, what is meant by government ethics? What were they looking for?

Exactly what does Code of Conduct mean? What characteristics was the coalition looking for? The NDP got a D for Code of Conduct? What? They's bunch of drunken peeping Toms? They're on the take from big business?

Electoral Reform? Same question. Is the coalition looking for any sort of reform? Or does it have a specific one in mind?

And how did the coalition get its data? It seems they just asked the politicians. Phoof!

All this article tells us is that The Coalition of New Brunswickers (and I don't question its good intentions) has to clear up its thinking about exactly what it's doing, and the way it's doing it - and the way it releases information to the news media.

So why did the editor decide to run a non-story and give it half a page? Because no newspaper editor in New Brunswick would dare to print any real investigation of the ethics, conduct or anything else of a serious nature about New Brunswick politics. We certainly don't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Reason Why...

The blog below was written for a church website I belong to. (Wondercafe) The site offers a range of topic categories from politics to religion to social.  I decided to copy it here because it has particular meaning for those who live in New Brunswick.  It's in the religious category. But don't let that scare you. It's also about reality.

A confession and a complaint

Posted on: 07/14/2010 18:52

The confession is that, with the exception of a few times when I led the service, I have not attended church for a full year. Partly it's because I moved, leaving behind what was both a community and a congregation (and it's my former church that I occasionally returned to as a preacher.) I don't yet feel any such sense of community where I now live. But that's not the whole story.

In 1957, a woman named Ayn Rand published an enormously popular book, "Atlas Shrugged". It's theme was that we should not love our neighbour. Loving your neighbour is bad. Rather, we should each of live only for ourselves, do nothing except in our own interest, and have no morality whatever. Some people called it a bible whose gospel was "greed is good". Some people were right. It is a complete denial of the validity of every major religion in the world.

Not surprisingly, the wealthy and greedy, annoyed by intrusions like government regulation of oil drilling, mediicare, employment insurance, democracy, took up the new gospel with zeal. They even formed temples to attract converts. They called the temples think-tanks. We know them as the Cato Institute, the Simon Fraser Institute, the CD Howe, the Atlantic Institute for Marketing in Canada.

They preach a gospel of complete freedom for each person to do whatever he wishes to do for his own satisfaction - and without the slightest regard for anyone else. They often call themselves conservatives or neo-conservatives or libertarians. In fact, they have no connection with real conservatism or with liberty. They are simjply advocates of complete power for themsellves with no responsibility whatever.

They support the rape and theft of whole nations like Congo, Haiti, Guatemala. In fact, they are the rapists and thieves of many such countries. Everything on earth is simply something to make them richer. This is no exaggeration. That's why I am so much opposed to the standardized testing and ranking of public schools that they advocate.

They want our children. Their "scientific " sudies of education are garbage; and they know it. They don't give a damn about education. And the only damn they care about children is that they can make money out of them. If it hurts them, so what? The gospel of Ayn Rand is self interest. Besides, they send their own children to private schools.

The gospel of Ayn Rand , with major help from the think tanks ,and thanks to the cooperation of our news media (most of it either biased or gutless), has become a major force in American life. And you're going to see a lot of it in both Canada and the US as governments look to cut budgets.

The province of New Brunswick is virtually owned by disciples of Ayn Rand. So is much of Ontario, and pretty much all of Alberta. This is not only a dismissal of basic concepts of every major faith. It is also going to increase the levels of physical, moral and spiritual damage in the very near future.

This isn't atheism. Most atheists understand morality. But this is a direct assault on the whole Judaeo/Christian/Moslem tradition. If there were a devil, this would be the devil's gospel. It is also unworkable.

The current recession is a direct result of the work of admirers of Ayn Rand. You can put Alan Greenspan at the top of the list. American banking collapsed , partly because of rampant corruption, but more because Randist bankers didn't want regulation. Then Americans went deep into debt to give them bailouts plus bonusses for their work. Medicare in the US was defeated because Insurance and health company Randists buried Congress and the media under tons of money. We are on the edge of much worse that is to come, much worse in war, in torture, accumulation of super-wealth, in suffering, in decline of democracy for all of us but the very wealthy.

And while all of this has been growing for over fifty years, and while millions have been killed and tortured to satisfy greed, the churches have stood around with their faces hanging out. Some will huff and puff about homosexuals and other religion groups we have slated for killing. But all will happily welcome the thieves and murderers who now want our children.

I think this is a religious issue. And I don't feel like wasting time in a church which welcomes advocates of thieving and murder while the preacher prattles about abstractions. Nor, for much the same reason, do I often visit this religious section.

I really don't give a damn about threads on whether we will get cable television in Heaven.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Asking the Right Questions of the Right People

We think of a good journalist as being someone who reports the facts. But almost anyone can do that. It's simply a matter of, for example, seeing a car hit a fire hydrant on Main St., and reporting a car hit a fire hydrant on Main St.  But there is something else essential to good reporting - knowing which questions to ask, and who to ask. We don't see much of that in Moncton.

When the decision was announced to build an 84 million dollar hockey arena in Moncton, reporters asked the wrong question of the wrong person. The result was a wasted front page on the Moncton T&T that left nobody any the wiser.

The T&T reporter asked the owner of the Moncton hockey team if this was a good idea for Moncton. Why on earth would he ask the owner? Is he an expert on town planning? If so, shouldn't the report have mentioned his credentials?

The team owner replied it would be good for the city and would revive downtown. Of course he did. He's getting the use of a brand new 84 million dollar stadium, all paid for by the rest of us. But it's a safe bet he has no idea what effect it will have on Moncton, ir whether the benefits will justify the huge cost.

Moncton is being rushed into steep debt, and one that means taking money away from other city needs. It's rather like buying  an expensive car that has no record because its the first one of its make to come off the line - and we plunge ourselves into years of debt for it without even kicking the tires.

So here are some hints for anyone who wants to be a reporter, and needs to know how to ask the right questions of the right people.
1. Ask the mayor what benefits the city will gain from an $84 million dollar stadium.
2. Ask the mayor for the reports by experts in urban planning who recommended this stadium. (And check out exactly who these experts are if, indeed, there are any such repoprts at all.)
3. Ask the mayor for the full list of projects the council considered as needs for the city. Ask for the reports of urban planners on their opinions of the list.
4. Ask the mayor for estimates of the full cost of maintaining the arena.
5. Ask the mayor whether Moncton will bear the full cost of maintenance.
6. Ask the maor who it is that owns the land which will have to be purchased for the site.
7. If a councillor opposed it, ask that councillor why.
8. Then ask the owner of the hockey team something he should know something about such as:
    a) the owner belongs to a family and economic class with close ties to Atlantic Institute for Marketing Studies. This is a "think tank" dedicated to the ideas that taxes and government owndership are bad. Why are taxes and public ownership suddently desirable in this case?
    b) If the arena is going to be such a big money earner, why doesn't the hockey team owner pay for it himself, and keep all those big profits?

Warning - if you follow this advice, don't expect the story ever to appear in most New Brunswick news media.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unconventional Wisdom in the T&T

Saturday, July 10, 2010. Moncton Times&Transcript. pageD9 - the op ed page (page opposite the editorial page.)

A columnist begins by noting that he saw very few prostitutes or panhandlers or homeless in downtown Torntol, ditto downtown Montreal. He felt safer in those cities because of that. He also felt safer because of the large numbers of people using the downtown streets. He feels very vulnerable in downtown Moncton.

Then he mentions that Moncton has one of the lowest crime rates in Canada. There must be a logical link between those two statements. Somewhere. Maybe. But it's hard to follow the thinking patterns of a person. who doesn't even see prostitutes and panhandlers in Montreal.

In Montreal, I have, on an overspending evening in a crowded downtown, had to step over the bodies of sleeping homeless to get to an ATM machine. In downtown Toronto, I have walked through downtown streets with a friend who always had his pockets full of change which he handed out constantly as we walked, and without a break in our conversation.

As for hookers, they are all over downtowns. After all, they aren't going to find many customers on woodland trails. The higher priced ones work downtown restaurants and clubs, usually paying a cut to the proprietors who also rent rooms to them. The economy hookers use the alleways of nearby residential districts.

As well,  mobsters are regulars among the downtown crowds in a city. Of course. They're selling drugs through the bartenders, checking the hookers for their cut, and sharing the bar with visiting journalists who can't see any hookers or homeless.

Ask any urban planner, he says. The best and most memorable cities have the best downtowns. Really?  Perhaps we could have the names and writings of some of these urban planners. Obviously, they must have missed much of New York, Detroit, Amsterdam (where whole downtown streets are given over to prostitutes, male and female, standing in floor length windows to display their wares).

Again, we have the T&T view that an $85,000,000 arena to be built (and maintained) with taxpayers' money would revive downtwon. And, again, I would love to see serious studies that show such projects revive a downtown. I have seen no evidence they do any such thing. They do, however, act as a powerful attraction for hookers and panhandlers. Check out Maple Leaf Gardens.

And, inevitably, there is the call for more parking. Right. Malls, precisely because of easy parking, all over the western world have destroyed downtowns. So let's encourage even more cars. Let's make downtown a mall. Very perceptive.

Let's hope there are going to be tourists in the coming years. (We'll just forget about the world's economic state -which is not getting better; and we'll forget about the cost of driving going up quite spectacularly). Very few tourists are going to travel to Moncton to have a beer at a sidewalk bar while looking at a massive arena wall.

You want to see tourists? Go to the American museum, to Broadway and off Broadway in New York, the many museums in Ottawa, the galleries in even the smallest cities of Europe, the theatres. I remember one European city, a small one, which had an alleyway of excellent, simple restaurants. It was well worth the trip; and those restaraunts were opened with a good deal less than 85 million. Of course, Moncton would have to spend a little bit of money to bring in good cooks.

Before we plunge into an 85 million dollar debt to build a white elephant, it might be wise to get some serious advice about what Moncton really needs to draw people to the downtown area. It can't be big stores because the malls are much better than that. It can't be an arena with parking for at least 5,000 cars, an arena which will be closed most of the time. EVen open, the main dining will be hot dogs and fries.

However passionate Monctonians feel about their hockey team, most of the world has never heard of it, and doesn't care. Nor do most people in Moncton. For all the hype in our news media, barely two percent go to a hockey game.

It's time for Moncton to grow up. It's time get a serious handle on what our priorities are. Take a good look at the big kids. They offer something more than hockey, beer and fries.

Friday, July 2, 2010

How Not to Tell the Truth Without Actually Lying

Friday, July 2, 2010. The Moncton Times&Transcript. Page C3. "Parents bridge cultural gap." It's a pleasant story of how immigrants from Congo have settled in Moncton and, in the process, enriched our culture. The occasion was a celebration of the creation of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960. It mentions the enormous mineral riches in Congo. It mentions political coups by the army. It mentions that some three million were killed in a recent civil war. It's all true. 

And it's also one hell of a lie.

If the land is rich, why are the people so poor and uneducated after well over a century of western control and influence?

Why did the army stage coups?

Is the killing of three million unusual in Congo?

Has anybody profited from all this? (hint - include prominent Canadians in your guessing.)

This impression left by this story is that the people of Congo are just ignorant savages who don't know how to run a country. It was written to give that impression. But there's a bigger story.

It was in the 1880s that European leaders agreed to give Congo (which they didn't own) to Belgium. At the time, the attraction was rubber and ivory. The reason given for the handover to Belgium was to bring Christianity and civilization.

The reality has been over a hundred and twenty years of some of the most brutal murdering, torturing, maiming and thieving in human  history. The game at first was British, Belgian and French private business forcing the Congolese to work as slaves - torturing and murdering those who refused or tried to run away. Those who stayed were worked, quite literally, to death. There is no possible count of how many died; but it may easily and by far have exdeeded 10 million.

Joseph Conrad visited Congo at the height of the brutality. The result was his novel, Heart of Darkness. It's the story of how British,Belgians and French businessmen took billions out of that country, leaving only death and starvation behind them.

Belgium could no longer hold Congo after World War Two. So it gave Congo independence - leaving behind  no schools, no hospitals, nothing. Congolese elected their  first prime minister. He wasn't just deposed by the army. He was murdered. Why did the army do it? Well, the British, French and Belgian businessmen were still there, now joined by the US and Canada. Canadian mining companies had already established one of the worst records in the world for pollution and exploitation. (Just check Canada's record in UN reports on the subject.)  Lumumba was said to be thinking of taxing the mining companies to build hospitals and schools. Guess who bought the army off to kill him.

Ever since, there has been turmoil and murder and rape on a scale unmatched anywhere in the world. To the several millions killed in the recent civil war, add more than five million dying just in the last ten years for what the UN lists as "war-related causes".

While the Moncton T&T celebrates fifty years of independence for a country that has never been independent, while western mining companies continue to suck billions out of  Congo, eighty percent of the Congolese have to live on less than 30 cents a day. Taxes are close to zero for the companies. Wages are low and hours long by any standard. There is virtually no medical care or schooling for the Congolese.

And Canadians are right up front with the butchers. The board of a gold mining company boasted one of Canada's finest sons on its board of directors.  Brian Mulroney.

And, when he was leader of the PCs, Joe Clark was an advisor to a Canadian mining company with a particularly evil reputation at the UN.

As in much of our journalism, the Moncton T&T story looked as though it was telling the truth. But by not telling the whole truth, it misled us as to the full horror of the Congo, and whose fault it has been. It wasn't done by ignorant savages. It was and is done by civilized Christians.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Somebody should take up a collection to buy computers for Moncton reporters. Then they could do some easy research,and use a little more sense when reporting on the Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies.

The could, for example, check out Charles Cirtwell, President and CEO of AIMS, a prominent spokesman on educational issues. His training and experience in education? Zero.

His publishing record consists largely (if the word largely can be used at all) of artcles for extreme right wing American publications such as The American Spectator. His own bio claims he has done extensive research on education. ( Busy man. Extensive research on education, government, free enterprise, etc., all while doing his job as CEO). You have to admire him as a worker who can, in  his spare time, demolish most of the ressearch on education that has been published by thousands of educations scholars all over the world in the past century.

He has links with CATO, the very far right wing "think tank" based in Washington.

He is also an expert on health care, and crticizices the Canadian system for wasting money - nicely ignoring the fact that it something like half the cost per person of the US one, and serves ALL the Canadian people. Oh, and he also ignores the difference in  health ratings between Americans and Canadians.

He writes approval of Premier Harris of Ontario, who introduced repayment of $3500 to parents to sent their children to private schools. Gee. I wonder who had to make up for that generosity to private schools?

Unusual, iin my eperience of reports, is that there is no listing of exactly who did the research, and who drew the conclusions from it. I mean, that's pretty important. If a small group of researchers got together in Halifax and disproved the research of highly qualified experts all over the world, they must be whoopie-doo experts. Shouldn't  AIMS really impress us by saying who they are?

Oh, interesting note. AINS is hiring. They are looking for education researchers who are interested in the free enterprise system, in private schools and, well, anybody who agrees that the answers they already have are right.  AIMS is one of the think tanks that starts with answers, then writes propaganda and pseudo-science to prove them.

The AIMS webs site is an interesting read - vague propaganda very skilfully written. But there is no evidence, and no sign of whoever researched this stuff.

Great job, all you Moncton news media. When Jeb Bush ( also a man with no educational  training or experience but with a lot of experience in the care and feeding of billionaires) spoke here, Mr. John Irving, founding Chairman of AIMS was here. But you really should have taken the opportunity to ask Mr. Irving how long he has been concerned about education. And why.

And is it really true that most of the professors of education are so ignorant that they disagree with the findings of AIMS. Well, then, why don't we fire them all? We could replace them with distinguished thinkers named Irving.