Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dec.28: Back to the Future....

One of the problems in understanding the news is to figure out what to believe in various sources.

For example, today I came across a story which quoted a medical study estimating that 14,000 American infants died as a result of the recent nuclear plant accident in Japan.  According to the study, radioactive fallout hit the US west coast severely enough to kill 14,000 infants.  (There is no mention of BC).  The report was written by reputable medical scientists, and published in a respectable health journal. Is it true?

I have no idea.

What bothers me is that I read the story in a newsletter published online for the oil industry. (You can find it at http://vit.lyl/vKeIFv   (I hope got that right.)

Fossil fuels and nuclear fuels are in competition. Is the oil journal overinterpreting a story? Is reporting on the environmental damage caused by nuclear fuel as a way of combatting fears of the environmental damage cause by fossil fuels? Is it reporting this INSTEAD of reporting the hazards of fossil fuels?  I don't know. But this is a problem with every news source.

Take, for example, today's story on Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird who says Canada is going to build up its military, and take a tougher stance on world affairs. He's proud of the achievements  Canada made in Afghanistan and Libya. And he's showing impatience with the UN, and has decided not to try for a seat on the UN Security Council. He says the Conservative government has rebuilt our military, in contrast to the Liberals who allowed it to decline.

Sounds impressive, but....
1. What great achievements in Afghanistan? After a decade, is Iran now a democracy? Is it a better place to live? Most authorities on that war say we lost it, and lost it a long time ago. There is no democracy. There is no significant rebuilding. The people of Afghanistan are not better off. So what was our great achievement?
2. We carried out a humanitarion mission in Libya? Since when is bombing cities humanitarian work?
How many innocent civilians did we kill? If the number was small, was does NATO refuse to release the number? (As recent article by The New York Times claimed a civilian death toll of 80 due to bombing. That report was absurd - and The NYT reporter later admitted it was a survey of only a very small area; and that the real number must be many times that.) In fact, other sources report thousands of civilians killed - and some even tens of thousands.
So our military achievement consists largely of killing large numbers of people (to save them) and leaving the rest in the  unhealthy and miserable desolation of what is left of their cities.
And for what? For the country that is now sliding into a civil war between rebels and rebels?
3. We are rebuilding our military? Good. But why?To defend Canada? Nobody has attacked us.
We are rebuilding out military to act with NATO to fight American wars. We are back,  in 2012, to where we were in 1912.
A centurty and more ago, a weakening Britain used the Empire to help fight its wars. That's why Canadians died in South Africa in the Boer War. That's why after World War One, Canada made the world know that it would no longer fight other people's wars. Every Novemember 11, we remember (or are supposed to remember), the Canadians who died to win that freedom for Canada.
Harper (with Baird) has taken us back to the future, committed to fighting the wars of another overstretched empire. In 2012, we will celebrate our heritage by national events featuring the War of 1812, complete with coast to coast pictures of the Queen. Celebrating out heritage is Harper's cute way of making sure we don't notice him destroying it.
4. Oh, and it's not the Conservatives that began taking us in this unpleasant direction. It was the Liberals. They're the ones who sent troops to Afghanistan, and then committed them to a combat role.
5. Of course, we're not running for a seat on the Security Council. We're not running because our national reputation is so far down the tube, there is no chance we would be elected. But it doesn't matter.  Following the US, Canada has abandoned the UN. The great experiment is over. Our new UN is NATO. And NATO is our British Empire, and Obama is our king.

Norbert Cuthbertson has a ranting column on a subject of which he knows nothing. One could laugh at it, were it not for the damage he causes. There are people who listen to the rant. And what they hear, they adopt as their own opinion even though, like Norbert, they know nothing about it.

Norbert's attack is on the schools. He has no training in education. He has no teaching experience, so far as I know. But he pronounces that education authorities all over the world are wrong. Only he knows the truth.

It's these here eddication PhDs, and them there innovators. They's made them schools worser, not better. And he's agoin' to write another column tellin' us more rants on how he knows better.

Norbert, have you ever heard of UNESCO? It's one of them there groups that studies stuff and makes reports. One thing it studies is eddication. And you know who's right up in the top ten every year? Out of all the countries in this world? In performance in Reading.  That there math'maticals? and science?
Why, it's Canada.

If eddication, ya gotta figure, was gettin' worse, then people over 50 would know more from their schoolin' than people of 20 or so. But, in fact, in every country in the world, the younger ones know more from schoolin' than the old one. And Canada is one of the leaders in that respect. So that must mean education is getting better, not worse.

Oh, did I say EVERY country is getting better? Silly me. One country, just one in this whole, wide world is getting worse.  The United States is the only country in which young people know less than older ones.

Of course, those are the published figures from 1910. Word is the US system has become much worse since then, dropping from 17th in the world to a hundred and something... You know why?

Because they stopped payin' attention to them there   experts. Instead, they read newspapers full of ranters like Norbert who don't know what they're talking about - but who do know what the boss likes.  What the boss likes are those phoney school rankings compiled by Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (who also don't know what they're talking about.)

Media ranters in the US softened Americans up for the widespread privatization of large chunks of public education. The very rich like privatization because they can then get their hands on your taxes. It's been a disaster for American public education as it gets flushed down the toilet in world rankings. But, hey, the boss likes it. So who cares what happens to the kids?

Discrediting the public schools has been a constant theme in The Moncton Times and Transcript. There's a reason for that. And it has nothing to do with keeping Canada in the top ten in the world. It has more to do with things like shale gas that make the rich even richer by sucking every possible bit of blood out of this province.


  1. Link was wrong but I figured it out -

  2. Graeme,

    You make an interesting point when you write:

    "Norbert Cuthbertson has a ranting column on a subject of which he knows nothing. One could laugh at it, were it not for the damage he causes. There are people who listen to the rant. And what they hear, they adopt as their own opinion even though, like Norbert, they know nothing about it."

    Of course, the same can be said about you and this alleged blog.


  3. The way to verify a story is to go and read the original study. It's hard work, but you get a pretty good sense of what to believe after doing it a while.

    The claim of 14,000 dead infants is, on the face of it, not credible, since that's more infants than actually have died since Fukishima.

    Reading the actual article tells me: "Projecting these figures for the entire United States yields 13,983 total deaths and 822 infant deaths in excess of the expected." So they've misread the article.

    Also, it's not clear it can be blamed on Fukishima; it might be coincidence. There is not good data on radiation levels: "the small number of samples prohibits any credible analysis of temporal trends and spatial comparisons."

    Here's the study:"

  4. Quite so.
    The problem is that we often believe a source beause it seems to be a respectable one. The New York Times is respectable. But it has many times published questionable news. Or hidden important news.

    As well, I know nothing about medical science or nuclear science. And, you point out, there are statements here that seem questionable just on the basis of common sense.

    It's a big mistake to think of sources as if they were authorities. They are really just opionions. And sometimes they are propaganda.

    We have to use common sense (And all of us have to remember that we are not machines. We are biased, too.)

  5. to Lem:
    Of course, the same argument could apply to me. Or to you. Or to anybody. we are all only humans. Even you, I think.

    However, this is not a "so=called" blog. You may not agree with it. You may not like it. But it's still a blog. check a dictionary.

    When you say it is a 'so-called' blog you are implying a judgement - and doing it without evidence of argument of any sort. That is what is called a rant.