Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dec. 29: Hey! Donne-moi un break...

The story leads the NewsToday section. The American Council on Science and Health tells us that fracking is not a threat to health. Isn't that nice? And the council is a really professional body, too, made up of oh, just oodles of concerned scientists and medical people. And who puts up the cash for its reports and tests and publication?
Well, the council stopped giving information on that some twenty years ago. But the last time they told us, it was those nice people at - oh, you know, Exxon, Kraft, drug companies... - and that's reasonable because an organization like the council costs lots of money to run.
And does it have real scientists and doctors? Sure. We don't know how many because they're kind of shy about telling us that. They claim it's over three hundred., though that's been questioned. And I'm sure they're quite sincere - some of them. But, at tops, they represent less, way less than one percent of all the scientists and medical doctors in North America.

So what you have is really a propaganda front (something like AIMS or the Fraser Insitute) that gets its money from big business. And their propaganda is what the Moncton Tand T presents as news coming from a pretigious research organization.

Gee. Could that have anything to do with the fact it said fracking for shale gas is really good for you?

On that same note, the New Brunswick government, another outfit that operates as a front for large corporations,  has an expensive insert in the paper to tell us the "facts" about fracking. Apparently, there's nothing bad about it at all. In fact, the bitsy, teeny little chemicals that are used in it are often those that are found in our daily food.

After a full year of promises to give us information, the government has taken a chunk of our tax money, and given it to the Irving media to give us expensive propaganda which will benefit the folks at Irving Oil. What a sleazy lot!

Meanwhile, Norbert Cunningham has followed up on yesterday's attack on education specialists with a rant that is even rantier and more ignorant than yesterday's.

He begins by talking about how mediocre our public schools are. In saying that, he shows his ignorance of the available data from quite reputable sources. Canadian public schools, in fact, are world leaders in the teaching of reading, science and math. This data comes from test scores from all over the world conducted by UNESCO (which is even more pretigious than the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies).

As well, Norbert says our schools are not as good as they were fifty years ago. In fact, the same data I mention above shows that Canada is a leader in the proportion of students who score better than their parents and grandparents. All the evidence is that the schools are not mediocre - and that they are getting better, not worse. In fact, in his whole column, Cunningham makes ranting statements without a single piece of evidence. Not one.

Then he says the intrusion of the 'experts'  (by which he means researchers into mentods of teaching)  began some fifty years ago. That is utter bullshit.

Even a superficial glance through google would have shown him that research and publication in that field has been thriving for well over a century just in Canada . Around the world, it's been going on for thousands of years - back to the crusades, back to the Moslem empire, back to the mandarins of China. It goes back even to primitive humans, deciding what their children must learn, and how to teach them.

 In my Education courses of fifty years ago, I was taught by some of Norbert's despised 'experts'; and they, before I was born, were being taught by experts who had been, in their turn, taught by 'experts'. Fifty years! What tripe!

And Norbert's big solution to the problem of 'mediocre' education all over the world? Fire the experts. Yep. That'l fix it all up. Just fire all them there 'experts', hire teachers right off the street with no training at all.

By the end,  his foaming at the mouth makes him a little incoherent. I think he is suggesting that the universities should fire all their professors of education. Gee, Norbert. If t hey're as dumb as you  say they are, the only place they'd be able to get jobs is working for the Irving news media.

In that whole, ranting column, there is not a single piece of evidence, of analysis, or even of common sense. So what's the game, Norbert? Has the big boss told you that his war against the public schools is on again? Has he figured out a new way to make money out of our children?

 I suppose I must have read worse columns than this.  But I'm damned if I can think of one.

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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dec. 23: The silly season, lack of ethics, the usual...

There is really no news in today's Moncton Times and Transcript. There is just triviality, horoscope, comics... In other words, it's business as usual at the TandT. That makes Norbert's column particularly annoying. He gets off on a rant about how newspaper news media just report silly news in this, the silly season. It really doesn't occur to him that this is what the TandT does every day of the year.

In naming news media who run silly news stories at the Christmas season, the points out CBC. Now, in the years I've read his columns, he often criticizes the CBC.  I notice, though, he never criticizes private radio or television. Private radio newscasting and new analysis is abysmal across the country. Private TV is a bit better, but not much. But Norbert attacks only the CBC. It's really not CBC Norbert is all in a snit about. It's the evil of the people of Canada owning anything when his boss could be owning it and making big money out of it.

Then there's the question of journalistic ethics. Take a look at the editorial, "A good day's work".

Two thirds of it is the usual brainless praise for the New Brunswick government over the past term. that's okay. We're used to brainless. But the last two paragraphs are something worse than brainless.
They are a shameless and dishonest defence of the shale gas industry in New Brunswick.

Let's deal with the ethics part first. The owner of the TandT is a major player in shale gas exploration. An editorial writer, one with any integrity at all, tells us when he or she might be biased about the topic of the editorial. An ethical journalist that his boss is a major player, and admits it from the start so we have fair warning. That way, we know that this is a column kissing ass.

Then there's the question of honesty. "Somehow New Brunswickers need to evn better informed about energy issues." Damn right they do. And the major reason they aren't informed is that the government has either hidden information or broken promises or given false information. And so has the newspaper this half-wit, unethical and dishonest editorial appears in. In over ten years, both parties have told us almost nothing. Both parties are still babbling about tough, new regulations. Not only do we still not have the regulations - but we haven't hired inspectors even if we do get the regulations.

And show me where private radio - a substantial part owned by guess who - has taken up the slack. I've worked for private radio. I know how bad its news rooms are. and how carefully they censor the news.

Then bias and dishonesty takes a nasty turn.  "One considerable segment of the protesters are older New Brunswickers who return to the province hoping for a peaceful retirement..." Where did that pseudo-statistic come from? The protesters that I have met are of all ages and are both rural and urban. Why toss in this older New Brunswickers stuff?

Because the editorial writer wants to make a threat. "These are the same people who will rely more than any other slice of the population on a well-funded health care system..." And the writer implies without shale gas development they won't get health care.

If shale gas continues to do the damage to earth, water, and the atmosphere it has already done in some US states, it's the young people who will need the health care - and we won't have nearly as many older people to worry about.

The federal department of the environment has already leaked a document about the permanent damage to the land, plants, the water table and to people downstream from the Alberta oilsands. (The TandT didn't report that, either.)

Look. I'm sorry. Mr. Irving will have to make do with whatever money he may have saved in his RRSP. We can keep using fossil fuel - for a little while. But there comes a point when the damage is irreversible, when you can't do it any more - not even with all the money the shale gas industry has to buy politicians and hack journalists. You can't do it because the the planet will be dead. We may already have passed that irreversible point.

To illustrate for the TandT just how serious that would be, there would be nobody to buy ads in the paper.

The industry has hidden information from us. It has bombarded us with propaganda. It has lied. And it has done so with the hearty cooperation of irresponsible politicians and newspapers. like - you know who.

Even by the standards of the Irving new media, this is a disgusting, lying, insinuating, manipulative and unethical editorial.

Ah, well, this is the season when we are jolly, and when even the hungry get fed. I shall post only sporadically  for the coming week because it's a holiday time, because I'm moving, and because my computer needs repairs.

A reminder, though. Again, I have to do it here because the Times and Transcript won't publicize it in its metro section. On Tuesday, January 3, at 7 pm, the current events group will meet in the Moncton Library. I shall open with a very short bit about the Home Defence Authorization bill that has been passed by congress, how it likely to be used, and how it will affect Canada. This is probably the news story of the century. But it has  yet to appear in the TandT.

Then we'll go on to discussion of any topics you wish to raise.

Meanwhile, enjoy the holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dec.22: the news media - entertainment, propaganda, trivia, very little news.

Again, most of today's TandT is trivial. Again, important news is barely touched on. There's still  no analyis (and barely a mention) of the bill allowing the US army to imprison people without charge or trial - or any mention of how this is certain to affect Canada.

They do mention new border crossing and airport rules. But there isn't much to say yet. However, what will be announced will probably be the gentle beginning. The border agreement between Obama and Harper is going to have a profound effect on the nature of Canada. But don't worry. It'll happen so slowly, you won't even notice. And, Lord know, the TandT will not spoil it by telling you.

That's what the new health accord is about, too. Medicare is an offence to the Harper ideology.The new accord is another thin end of the wedge.

Oh, there's no mention of a leaked report by Environment Canada that poisoning of  the rivers by oilsands production is causing serious damage to plant and animal life downstream. (Us people count as animals.)

Norbert Cunningham's colum on the editorial page is particularly annoying, today. It's begins as a generally decent column on charities. But it flushes the toiled towards the end..."If charitable services didn't exist, we'd either be living in a much less pleasant, more brutal society or our governments would be raising their taxes well above the present levels and creating a full-bown nanny state."

Norbert you're full of it - "it", in this case, meaning buzzwords, ignorance, and bias - as well as a stomach-wrenching display of kissing up to the boss.

1. Do you seriously think that distributing cans of beans at Christmas makes any serious dent in poverty?
In the US, some 150 million people are living in poverty. Uncounted numbers are homeless. Children go to school hungry. Are you seriously suggesting that volunteer groups can compensate for that?
I grew up very poor - just as many New Brunswickers have and still do. In that whole childhood, I can remember only one gift of charity, a gift of crayons from Santat Claus at a lodge party.
In northern Canada, we have a reservation with appalling conditions of hunger, sanitation, of life in worse than an animal state. Have you sent them a can of beans, Norbert?
The poor are poor because the rich have gathered in such a high proportion of the money in circulation. Don't you read the national income figures, Norrbert?
What a column of ignorant (or lying), self-righteous blather!
2. Norbert, you know as well as we all do that  New Brunswick would have had a smaller government years ago - if Mr. Irving wanted it to have a smaller government. But he doesn't want that. He wants what you call a nanny state. But he doesn't want the state to nanny the poor. He wants it to nanny him.
Tell you what, Norb, why don't you collect and publish the figures on how much government charity we give to corporations in this province? How much of our forests we hand over? What sorts of subsidies we give to corporations? What we pay for their energy supply? What we have to pick up for the taxes they don't pay?
Norbert, the corporations of the province are what cause poverty - along with flacks like you and Mr. Allward, and with the propaganda and triviality of the newspaper you work for..
3. Norbert, can you name a single society in all of human history in which charity has made even a dent in poverty?
4. Yes, government help would mean higher taxes - from those people who have money to afford higher taxes. Are you under the impression that the money paid in taxes comes from somewhere different than money we pay for charity? Do you seriously suggest that amateur volunteers whose work is necessarily on loosely coordinated and whose administrative and economic skills are limited can make the most economic use of that money?
5."If we opt for less of a government role, the bigger role we can expect charities to play." Where did that gem come from? If there were any truth to that, the people of Haiti today would be living the good life. Again, can you name a single society in human history in which lack of government social services has led to the need being filled by volunteers?

Norbert, this column is not only vicious and ignorant. It is a kiss-up to the boss. You, if I recall correctly, were the one who recently wrote about how how the CBC is biased. You, of all people. You, who work for the most biased and  trivial newspaper I have ever seen.

Mind you, some blame has to go to the people of New Brunswick. They've put up with this sort of crap for years. If they are robbed by corporations (who now want to add even more to the environmental damage they do) it is because the people of New Brunswick are too passive to dump your propaganda, and too gullible when they decide which Irving Party they should vote for.

We might, too, consider the role of the churches in all this. New Brunswick is the province in which many churches rise with the wrath of the virtuous and self-righteous to denounce gays and lesbians - but smile on and even bless those who inflict poverty, suffering, and environmental poison on them and their spiritually shallow followers.

Well, maybe Norbert's right. Maybe we should cut down government. Tell you what, let's close off all grants, subsidies, etc. for Irving and his corporate friends. Then, all of a sudden, volunteers will spring up to pass around the hat.

Let's try it, Norbert. And, if it works, then we'll try it on the poor.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dec. 21: another dog lost in Moncton...

For the second day in a row, front page news in The Moncton Times and Transcript is the flash that another dog is missing in Moncton. Well, maybe not a flash; it happened almost a month ago. But it's still front page news. In fact, it's probably the most important  story in the whole paper. But I can't write a whole blog on a paper so dreadful that it's big story of the day is about a missing dog.

So let's talk about what it doesn't have in it.

1. I still does not have the story of Obama being about to sign a bill that would give the army to power to arrest and imprison American citizens simply on suspicion - and with nobody even saying what the suspicion is about. There is no charge, not trial, no lawyer. And the army will have the right to arrest citizens of other countries in their own countries. (Canada springs to mind.)  The excuse is, as usual, the war on terror. (And the FBI has already announced it considers demonstrators of any sort to be terrorists.)  Any American - or Canadian - will soon be subject to arrest simply because somebody up there doesn't like him or hears a rumour that he might possibly be acquainted with somebody who might know somebody who might be a terrorist.

This is the biggest news story in over two centuries. The American revolution and its constitution of 1776 have been scrapped. And the panic is not about terrorists; it's about the rebellion of ordinary Americans.

Oh, I know, I know. I'm one of those anti-American liberals, possibly even leftist, probably a friend of gays, the type who goes over the top about anything the US does. And you are, perhaps, a sober type of person, practical, conservative.....

Okay. Google American Thinker December 20. 

American Thinker is a right wing journal of commentary - a FAR right wing journal of commentary. Read what its commentators have to say about the bill. Read what four U.S. generals have to say about it.

We are watching the collapse of American democracy. A country which permits imprisonment without even showing that there has been a crime and without any legal process no longer has the most fundamental of civil rights. Without those rights, it cannot be called a democracy.

What we are watching is even more. It's the collapse of the last of the great European empires.

But don't take my word for it. Don't take the word of the American Civil Liberties Union (probably a rabble of liberals and gays). Check out American Thinker. Read its commentators. Real Americans. Conservative. Asexual.

The other area in which the The Moncton TandT has been silent is on shale gas. It's the most hotly discussed issue in the province - except in the TandT and, of course, in the rest of New Brunswick's English language papers. Odd that it missed the local papers because there's been lots of information about problems with shale gas all over the world. There's been so much to keep up on, it was only yesterday I came across a map showing what areas of NB are covered by shale gas leases. the leased areas are  huge. And you'll never guess who the biggest, single lease holder is. Hint - it's a New Brunswick based oil company.

That's odd. I mean, if a missing dog is first page news, and if p.3 has a big story about city hall getting 12 more parking spaces...  Well, you'ld kinda think the paper would have room for local story like that. I mean, it should be beating the drum for a local boy who's done so well. I mean, geegollywhiz, he owns a big oil company and all kinds of things. You'ld think that the newspaper he owns would be all proud of a local boy who worked his way up.

On a more serious note, an ethical paper would publish such news no matter who the owner might be. Or, minimally, an ethical newspaper would announce that it can offer no news at all on the subject because it is compromised by the nature of its ownership.  Failing even that, an ethical journalist would find honest work somewhere else.

Nor has there been much in the paper about the drop in promised spending for medicare. Yes, I know there's a recession, and we cannot spend what we don't have.

The problem with that is we do have. Defence Minister Mackay, alone can spend more money in two and a half days than some families can earn in a year. We have plenty of money to buy absurdly overpriced fighter planes, to assist oil companies (dirty, heavily polluting companies) to export their oil. We spent millions trying the get the world to buy our asbestos, a product widely banned as a carcinogen. We're going to spend tens of millions celebrating the War of 1812, the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen, and a visit from Prince Charles.

The money for all those things is available. We're not having a recession because money is melting or something. We're having a recession because the very rich have been taking most of our money for the last thirty years.

Now is the time to pay for the recession the rich have caused. But the very rich aren't going to be asked to pay for it. Harper - like the dismal Mr. Alward - will insist they must keep all their money - and be given even more. So the rest of us will have to pay. One way we'll pay is by the gradual srangulation of medicare.

If  you want to learn more about that, don't waste your money on The Moncton Times and Transcript. go to   info@Canadiandoctorsformedicare.ca   and www.canadiandoctorsformedicare.ca


You would never know it from the pages of the TandT (or most other North American news media), but we are living through the most revolutionary times in over 500 years. This is not a time for us to read dishonest trivia like the TandT, and just stand around with our faces hanging out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dec. 20:

I caught a bit of "Cross-Country Checkup" on, I think, Saturday night. The big phone in topic was "what was the biggest news event of the year?". Was it the marriage of Kate and what's-his-name?  Perhaps the new, pad computers? Or Lindsay Lohan posing nude for Playboy?

And that comes form the most intellectual of our news media. The front page of today's Time&Transcript has a big story about a family that lost a puppy. Well - we read the papers, and we listen to the radio. I guess we get what we want.

The TandT has still not given coverage to the story that Obama is about to sign a bill that would give the American military the right to put  American citizens living in America into indefinite imprisonment in military prisons without charge or trial - without even showing that a crime had been committed in the first place.

This wipes out the civil rights that are essential to democracy, the right to knowing the charge, to having access to a lawyer, and to a fair trial. In effect, this cancels the American constitution. (It also cancels the international bill of rights which  the US signed many years ago - but who cares?)

There doesn't even have to be a crime. Somebody imortant doesn't like you? You go to a military prison - where torture can be used. Case closed.

This is the American Revolution in reverse. It's the end of free speech. It's the end of democracy.This is not an exaggeration. This is reality. Look at it.

Of course, it was exciting to see Kate and what's-his-name in their wedding photos.

Will it affect us? You bet. Remember the agreement Harper and Obama signed to borrow each other's troops in case of civil disorder? If there is serious civil disorder in the US -and there will be serious discorder, there will be times when it will be advantageous for Obama to send in Canadian troops.

Indeed, given the recent agreements on shared policing with the US, it is quite possible that Harper will pull out the War Measures Act - which gives similar power to a Canadian government.

Oh, the new, US bill also gives power to the American military to detain (kidnap) anycitizen of any country - and to do it in that peron's country. Shared policing will make that even easier in Canada.

Okay. Let's say the royal wedding is the story of the year. The crushing of civil rights in the US is the story of the last couple of centuries. But you won't find it at the supermarket checkout counter. And you won't find it in the Times and Transcript.

Lots of good stuff about lost puppies, though.

Harper is reducing promised health care payments to the provinces. That makes the news - as it should. But it is presented in a subtly biased way. To be honest, we should be given such a story in the context of the whole budget. But we aren't.

The story simply quotes the government line  that we have to make cuts in difficult economic times. No doubt. So are we cutting out disastrous expenditures on a fighter plane of doubtful value? Are we cutting down on handouts to corporations? Are thinking of perhaps raising taxes on the very rich?

The reader needs to know that. Otherwise, the story becomes "we are making cuts to health, but it is the only thing to do in hard times." Just common sense. Very common.

Actually, Canada is not suffereing hard times. All that Canadian money we've printed is still there. The trouble is not that we're runiing out of money. They problem is we've allowed most of that money to end up in the hands of a very few. We are a welfare state, a nanny state - for the rich and for corporations. But you would never guess that from the tone of reporting.

Interesting column by Gwynne Dyer. He argues that we should not confuse religion with morality. Using Britain as his example, he argues that most people are moral, though only a small and dwindling minority are religions  (especially in Christian circles). Dwyer is too kind.

Here, in New Brunswick, only a minority attend religious services with  any regularity. I have never seen so many churches for lease or for sale as I have in Moncton. But most people are still pretty moral.

However, I see nothing moral in the behaviours of our provincial or federal governments. (And I bet all those MLAs make it a point to go to church and shake hands at election time.)

There's no shortage of self-rightiousness in New Brunswick churches; but not much sign of faith. I regret that because I think faith can strengthen morality. But those who go to church seem to be more interested in looking respectable and pointing their fingers are 'evil' people than in practicing their faith.

This came to mind as I read a letter to the editor complaining about a student columnist who wrote that she was a pagan.

Come on. Most Canadians aren't even pagan, let alone Christian in any real sense. And 'Merry Christmas' has long ago come to mean spend money, and get lots of nice presents. As for the Happy Chanukah stuff, that's really an offshoot of the North American, commercial Christmas.

Chanukah is, of course, an important religious celebration. But it became North Americanized as Jewish immigrants blended into our society. Thus the 'Happy' Chanukah wishes. I remember, as a kid, visting Jewish friends who had a tree with blue and white lights in the house, and with presents around it. They called it a Chanuka Bush. (and even they felt it was both a bit silly and funny.)

I wish it were otherwise. But I see little Christianity in Canada - and nothing in most of our political and business leaders that could be called morality or faith of any kind.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dec. 19: Bad editing, bad news services in the Times and Transcript

These blogs have often mentioned the unreliable sources and the sloppy editing of the NewsToday section. Today provides a classic example of it.

For this section, the TandT relies essentially on two sources - Reuters and Postmedia, and both are unreliable. Now, let's take a look at the lead story of this section. "Last U.S. troop leave Iraq, ending war.

It comes, of course from Reuters.

For openers, that's not really a flash. The war ended last week. There was a ceremony marking the end of it. The NewsToday editor must have known that because it appeared in News Today last week - in fact, the story appeared at least  twice. To run the same story three times is pretty sloppy editing.

Then there's the bias of Reuters.

The story that tells us that  the war cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis. Now, methods of counting war dead vary widely. The most conservative count I have seen can be found on Google. It's called Iraq Body Count. It counted only those seen to be killed by correspondents. It did not count thse who died of wounds weeks (or even days) later. It did not count those who were killed unseen by reporters. It did not count those who died of exposure or starvation in the war. It  did not count those who died because the war left them with almost no hospital space. It did not count those who died in the displacement of five million refugees. To the best of my knowledge, Iraq Body Count is the most conservative count that there is.

Its count is somewhere over a hundred thousand. (Yes, that is tens of thousands. But we usually say tens of thousands to suggest it was under a hundred thousand.) The US government admits to 120,000 to 130,000. Other counts, from quite unbiased and reputable sources go higher, much higher.

The Lancet, the very prestigious British medical journal, published studies putting the death toll at close to one and a half million.;

But Reurter says it's tens of thousands.

US oil companies are now "helping Iraqis to develop their oil fields." In fact, US oil companies have taken over Iraqi oil fields as spoils of war - and on very favourable terms. They are not required to leave any of their profit in Iraq - and the price of Iraqi oil is effectively controlled by the oil companies. Oil companies are "helping" Iraq develop in the same way that a bank robber "helps" a bank to clear some storage space for new money.

Then we are told the country is being torn apart now by religious strife. Oh? Iraq has been there a long time. How come religious strife didn't destroy the country a century ago and more?

Could it be that the strife comes from Iraq being smashed into poverty - with electricity still not working more than a few hours a day, with schools and hospitals and houses and roads and sewers blasted into rubble?  With high unemployment, with lack of food?

The US claims to have spent billions on rebuilding Iraq. So how come even the electricity system doesn't  work most of the time?  Where did all the money go?

It went the same place as the American earthquake relief  for Haiti went - into the pockets of contractors who were friends of the American government. That's why 2,000,000 Haitians are still living in tents with no water and no sewage. That's why Iraq is still a mass of rubble. Indeed, US senators were recently insisting that Iraq should repay the US for the trillion dollars it spent destroying the country.

None of this appears in the Reuters story. Nope. The big problem facing Iraq, according to Reuters is that them their Islams is all tore apart by religious strife.

US taxpayers spent a trillion dollars and killed enormous numbers of people and destroyed a nation to --get weapons of mass destruction that never existed. It was a lie, an  excuse to get control of the oil for American ( and some British) private companies.

It was all a lie; and Reuters knows it was all a lie. Even the NewsToday editor at the TandT must have figured it all out. But that's still the story Reuters has been telling and that the TandT has been publishing. 

 So now, the official version is it was all caused by them there iggerant religious fanatics. Besides, Saddam was a bad man. So it was worth killing - let's be conservative - tens of thousands of innocent people to get him

Oh - by the way - if Saddam was such a bad man, why was the west supplying him with weapons - especially to support his invasion of Iran that killed another million?

And if Saddam was so bad for killing innocent people, what were Bush and Tony Blair?

Never trust Reuters. Be careful of trusting any foreign correspondents. But be especially careful of official Chinese news sources, official Russian news sources - and of Reuters.

And of Post media - but that's another blog.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dec.17:

The Moncton Times and Transcript still does not see it fit to mention the new American bill passed by Congress and due to be signed into law by Obama. The implications of it are so profound that it is not too much to say it makes the US officially into a battleground, and effectively destroys the concept of civil rights and liberties.

The change is so profound that, even in reading it, it will be almost impossible for its implications to sink in. Briefly, the US is now, in law, a battleground in which the US military can take prisoners - as on any battlefield, detain them in military prisons indefinitely - all with no charge, no trial, no rights. All the reason needed is that the prisoner is suspected of being cooperative with or even just sympathetic to terrorism. And, since there is no definition of terrorism in the law, terrorism is whatever the military says it is. The moment that Obama signs that bill - and  he says he will sign it - American rights and freedoms are dead meat.

Wouldn't it even occur to a news editor to wonder why such a bill was passed? After all, the idea that we have to destroy freedom to save it is surely a little absurd. As well, it is hard to believe that the level of terrorist activity in the US has been so high as to require such extreme action. So what 's it all about?

Try this.

The poor in the US now are almost half of the US population. That's according to figures from the US census. Homelessness is at record levels. And thirteen percent of the homeless are military veterans; that's a pretty high percentage for such a small part of the population. Unemployment is at depression levels.

Congress, meanwhile, is cutting unemployment programmes and food stamps so it can spend more on weapons, and keep taxes low for the rich. (It's rationale for doing so is that if you give people help, they will lose the incentive to go out and look for jobs - in a society that has no jobs.)

The US is in a social meltdown, now on the edge of severe and widespread anger, desperation and disorder. It's been coming for some years.

Bush saw it coming when he ordered a combat brigade (about 5000) to be permanently based in the US. Obama saw it coming when he signed an agreement with Harper just months ago allowing Canada and the US to draw on each other's military in case of civil disorder. Now, Obama will sign this latest bill because he knows the rebellion of the poor and the starving and the homeless is near.

Terrorism is the excuse for the bill. But it's not the reason. The reason is to protect the privileges of the rich against the desperation of the poor. But not to worry.

Relax. Pick up your Moncton Times&Transcript, and let your mind drift off to the world of its Section A headline, "Will this Christmas be white or wet"?

Or, if you insist on living on the wild side,there's a superb op ed column by David Suzuki.

As well, the columns by students in Whatever are worth a read. I find there's a pleasure in reading good writing by people who are actually thinking about their experiences as they pass through the most intense years of their lives, thinking about the future, finding profound meaning in things we rarely think about at all - like smiling, having a positive attitude.

Another virtue of this student column section is that it give students a break from learning in school. It gives them a chance to learn from their own observations; and a chance to learn from performing a job.

I  particularly noted Alex Corbett who talks about that constant teen-age dread - failure. And he argues that failure is good because we learn from it.

(Well, yes, some people do. I never have. If I had learned from all my failures, I'd be an Einstein by now.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dec. 16: Extra. extra. read all about it...

In most newspapers, the front page carries the biggest news of the day. This, after all, is the big draw for potential buyers - a screaming headline that announces a matter of great importance and interest. Now, I would have thought the news of two more incidents of shale gas fracking beiing carried out (illegally) without local permission would qualify as pretty big news to a province that is sharply divided over the issue of shale gas.

But, no. Today's front page did have one attention-grabbing story - the acquittal of the Tingleys. That's really not big enough to make newspaper buyers reach for their wallets; but it's the biggest item on p. 1.

The others are 'a merry Christmas really is possible', firefighters plan for river emergencies, the children at a daycare centre are giving toys to poor kids for Christmas..... Wow! Where's my wallet?

And the story on shale gas companies breaking the law? Well, it had to appear. After all, it was a public statement by resource minister Northrup. But it's way back on p. C3, perhaps so as to prevent people from getting over excited.

No need to worry, though. The minister says that the breaking of the law was unintentional - a decision he must have come to in about five minutes. Maybe he's right, though. Corporation executives who put hundreds of millions of dollars in projects - and who did it without knowing the the law is - must be an extraordinarily bone-headed lot. Not the sort of people one wants running wild through the neighbourhood.

Reuters provides us with another story on the official end of the Iraq war. It's pretty much the same as their story of yesterday, and just as uninformative. If you read other papers, like The Guardian for Dec. 15,the picture is more disturbing.

For example, the President and the Premier of Iraq declined to attend the farewell ceremony. To make their absence less obvious and less embarassing, soldiers were placed in the seats that had been reserved for the Iraq government.

Papers all over the world, includinig Canada, are calling the whole Iraq war one of the great blunders of history. At a cost of a trillion dollars which, according to yesterday's Wall Street Journal, will become 4 trillion by the time the last veteran dies), and at the cost of well over a million lives and the destruction of the infrastrucure of Iraq, the US leaves behind it only hatred and suffering and poverty and instability in an already dangerously unstable part of the world.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the US census now reports that 48% of all American are now classed as poor, and predictions are the number will rise sharply as Congress cuts unemployment and food stamp programmes  so it can free up money to buy more weapons and to keep taxes low for the rich. The argument is that cutting aid will encourage people to look for work. What work? Taking in each other's washing?

The big news all over the world - but not even mentioned in the TandT - is that Obama will sign a bill which makes the US itself officially a battle zone in the "war against terror". Under the bill, the US army is given the right to kidnap American citizens even on American soil (as well as any nation's citizens anywhere in the world), and to detain them indefinitely in military prisons (which, I have heard, use torture quite freely) with no charge, no lawyer, no trial, no evidence.

The definition in the bill is that it applies to anybody who might be suspected of any form of connection or sympathy with any terrorist group. There is no definition of what a terrorist group is. In effect, this means the army can kidnap anybody it wants to. You think Israel is not trying hard enough to read a peace deal with Palestine? You're a terrorist sympathizer. You're opposed to drilling for shale gas? A project vital to the defence of the US? You're a terrorist sympathizer.

This cancels not only the American constitution, but centuries of the development of human rights.

This act places the US under martial law - just like a conquered country taken over by a foreign army. It is a revolution which reverses the American Revolution of George Washington. It makes the US a police state in the tradition of Stalin's USSR. This is no overstatement. This is what has happened.

What does this have to do with you?
1. It gives the US army authority to kidnap you. Don't worry about the reason. They don't need one.
2. Remember the immigration and border agreement recently signed by Obama and Harper? This makes it easier for US police to pick you up for indefinite imprisonment with no right to trial. It also means Harper will be under pressure to pass a similar law empowering out own armed forces.

The is the story of the century. And just about every newspaper in the world is treating it as such. But not Brunswickmedia. They haven't mentioned it. Their big story is "A merry Christmas really is possible."

Sorry to spend so much time on what isn't in The Moncton Times and Transcript. The problem is that there's nothing it it. That's the purpose of the Irving press.  Keep 'em dumb. Keep 'em trivial.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dec.14: thinking out loud: no. 2

So  how and why do people organize societies in the first place?

Well, we know that primitive hunters formed societies in order to cooperate for more effective hunting. There a direct line from their development of team strategies and tactics to hunt and their use of weapons to do their work that goes through the armies of Alexander the Great and all the way to modern armies. Working together to kill people, after all, is pretty much the same as working together to hunt game.

Then came agriculture. That, too, created societies to, for example, build water ditches for irrigation, to share labour at peak work times and, very important, for mutual defence against the hunter-warriors who swept down to raid them at harvest time.

Unlike the hunters, who had to follow game, the farmers had to stay put - where the crops were. They also had to form compact villages for mutual defence against the hunters.

But usually they couldn't match the killing skills of the  hunters, so farm villages would hire some of the hunters to protect them. This was the theme of a Japanese film called 'Seven Samurai'.  It was copied as a Hollywood western starring Yul Brynner in which seven gunmen were hired to protect a Mexican village.

Both films rather romanticized the hired killers. In real life, as villages grew and as they linked up to each other for trade, the hired warriors/hunters would use their brute force to become kings and aristocrats.

But to sustain that organized societies, there had to be rules. The example of that development that most of us are familiar with is the story of Moses.

(No. I'm not going to get religious on you. I  have no idea whether the story of Moses is true. I don't care. Even if there were no Moses, stories like it are found in other religions. If it's not a true story, it's at least a good example of what seems to have happened in many parts of the world.)

In The Bible, Moses finds himself  with a large number of people following him into the wilderness for who could know how many years of nomadic life. They were really nothing more than a mob. To survive, they needed rules and authority. In the story of Moses, those two necessities are combined.

Moses comes down from the mountain with the rules. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Most of them are eminently sensible rules. I think we can agree tht any society that accepted killing or stealing as acceptable behaviour wouldn't last long. But how was Moses going to get people to accept those rules?

Well, maybe Moses did talk to God. Or maybe he pulled a fast one. But his opening line laid down the authority, "I am the Lord they God".

That combination of rule and authority was practical. Indeed, it was essential for just about every society in the world. It was usually expressed in religion - Hinduism, Islam, Confucionism, Judaism, Christianty, Islam.We made those practical rules into what we call morality.

We should not allow that religious tone to obscure their essential value. They are practical rules. They work. However silly the various religions got in inventing trivial and sometimes bone-headed little rules all their own, the fundamental morality of any major religion is much the same. That's not because God says so. It's because that fundamental morality preached by Moses works. It holds a society together.

We have since tried all sorts of authority, from dictatorship to democracy. But the purpose and durability of a society is still determined by its morality. That doesn't mean that people have to be religious. But they do have to respect morality. Otherwise, the game doesn't work.

Do we have a moral society? Is it moral to believe that competition is a rule of morality?  The rule of our society is often that to amass a fortune  by exploiting others is good, to think only of yourself and your wants is desirable. Does that strike you as a sound piece of morality? Does it strike you as a practical way to hold a society together?

The latest US census shows that 48% of americans are living in poverty, and the their number is growing. How long do you think a society like that can survive? Meanwhile, the very rich are able to ensure that their money is safe from the taxman. As the society continues to move in that direction, we are seeing rising levels of violence by the authorities. Indeed, congress is now voting to allow the army to arrest American citizens on American soil, to detain them indefinitely with no charge, no lawyer, no nothing. How long can a society with that moral standard survive?

We need to forget isms for the time. We need to start with our sense of morals, our sense of what is practical in ensuring a lasting society. Let's nail that down first. Then we can talk about authority.

Then, once those are straight in our minds, let's look at what we really have, and what we have to change.

The starting point is morality - not because morality is good but because it's practical. It works. Immorality doesn't work.

Dec. 15: The bottom of p. A5 tells you all you need to know.....

....about the quality of The Moncton Times and Transcript. For the fifth issue in a row, it's a "news story" plugging the autobiography of a former exec of the Irvings and their imitation newspapers. In case you missed it for the last four issues, it appends the usual column telling you how much the book costs, and exactly where you can get one. In return, you might want to send a  note to the editor of the Moncton TandT, telling him where he can shove it.

For the fifth time, it's written by the same reporter, often using the same sentences used four times earlier. I don't know how many times I've read that the autobiographer had "an iron hand", that he was kind-hearted, that he was a child of the depression, that he went from being paper boy to publish for the Irving papers in St. John. The repetitions suggest that the reporter has a limited vocabulary - and is still unfamiliar with the correcting meanings of gruff and guff. (He uses only gruff, even when he means guff.)

Gruff is an adjective. It refers to a tone of voice or manner. To say someone has a gruff voice, therefore, is quite correct. However, it  is not correct to say that someone took no  gruff - though the reporter says so at least three times in this compelling series.

Guff (note the missing r, is a noun. Loosely, it can refer to bluster or talking back or talking in circles. One cannot give or take gruff. There is no such object as a gruff.  What you give or take is guff.

The reporter can find the word guff and its history in Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

Why spend so much time on a blatantly silly news story? Because nothing could show more clearly the contempt that the Irving papers have for the intelligence of their readers - and their use of the papers to spread whatever propaganda - and even lies - they want New Brunswickers to believe.

They largely ignore real news, and fill their pages with propganda, trivia, irrelevance. These are newspapers based on the assumption that we are stupid and ignorant - and it is the job of the newspaper to keep us that way. The leaves Mr. Irving free to suck the province dry - with the help of his Liberal and Conservative flunkies.

The result is a population in this province that is remarkably passive, remarkably accepting of abuse, has a series of governments whose only policies are buzzwords, and who freely give us and our futures away to corporations.

Brunswickmedia is contemptible by any standards I  have ever seen in the newspaper world. But, obviously, it works.

There's not much in the rest of the paper. If you're not interested in news, then this is the newspaper for you.

Reuters offers its usual half-story about the US pullout from Iraq. Actually, though Obama calls it a pullout, American forces are really just moving next door - to Kuwait. As well, American bases in Iraq remain, and will be maintained by thousands of "private contractors".

The full story of what's happening in Iraq and Syria and Iran is kind of important to New Brunswickers. That whole region could blow up at any time and, if it does, it is a sure thing that Harper will commit us to the war. It might be a good idea for us to learn what this is really all about, and whether we really need or want to send people there to die.

That would be so much better than just sending them, then putting medals and condolences personally signed by the prime minister in the mail for their family survivors.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

late night thinking out loud... no. 1

Around the world, partisans of every side are saying the solution to all our problems is democracy - or it's capitalism - or it's social democracy - or it's some other ism.

Captialists point to the enormous creation of wealth under their system. Well, fifty years ago, Russians would think with pride of their rise to power - from a backward country whose huge armies just a couple of generations earlier had been pushed to the modern USSR which ranked with the US as a superpower. It was easy to forget the gross brutalities of Stalin that  made such advances possible. Nor would many foresee the crash that was to come.

Capitalists, as they point with pride to the growth of wealth under their system, forget the the enormous poverty and suffering in places like Africa and Central America that made their accumulation of wealth possible. They also ignore the reality of the crisis we're living through. That, too, is overlooked. Capitalism has been used to create wealth out of destruction. And it's even now turning its destructive powers on itself.

Democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism will sometimes work and sometimes not work. None of them is based on any fundamental and eternal truth of on any infallible formula. All of them are created by people and run by people. And people, alas, are not perfect mechanisms.

Communism, as practiced by Stalin and by Mao, bore slight resemblance to the ideals of Marx. The United States, even as it was founded on the prncipal that all people are created equal, elected as first president the man who was the biggest slaveowner in the country. And, though a country that constantly praises democracy, has oven overthrown democratically elected governments and installed dictators all over the world   (Haiti, Guatemala - all over Central America, Iran,Chile...)

The problem is not in any particular system of government or of economics. The problem, surely, is in the people who exercise power (or who fail to exercise power) within those systems.

So why do we have those systems in the first place?

 Can we agree that we look for systems because we want to live in a society - and not in isolation?

So maybe - remember this is thinking out loud - and hoping to hear responses - maybe before we start demanding the ism of month as the solution to our problem, maybe we should look at ourselves.

Why do we want a society? What kind of a society are we thinking of? And, if we want a society, how do we propose to hold it together?

These, surely, are the first questions we have to answer. We can't solve problems until we define what they are. Why? What kind? How will we hold it together?

There are questions that were asked and answered all over the world thousands of years ago. And all over the world, the answers took the form we call morality.

But you can't build morality into a political or economic system. Systems aren't people. It's the people who run the systems who have to be moral. Within a democracy, that means we have to be moral. And we aren't. That's the cause of our problems.

(No. I'm not going to suggest we should all jump up and clap hands for Jesus. Morality can be found in churches. But churches (like political and economic systems) are run by people - they can scre up just as badly as capitalism and socialism do.)

No - let's think a bit about what morality means..

And remember, I'm thinking out loud. So you do it , too.

Dec. 14: Ah, come on....

...for the fourth issue in a row, The Moncton Times and Transcript has a front page story about a book by a former Brunswick News staffer. Again, it's pure gush by the same reporter, Marty Klinkenberg. Again, it tells you that it costs just $29.95 (plus tax), making it the ideal Christmas gift (perhaps for someone you don't like but have to buy something for.)  And it tells you where you can get it. If you live in Moncton, you can get it - guess where?  The office of The Moncton Times and Tribune. Yes. And on Monday, it will appear in bookstores all over the province.  I mean, just all over.

The questionable story in section A is a story that a poll (again, by Corporate Research Associates) shows New Brunswickers split, 45% for and 45% against - and 10% undecided on the question of shale gas.  83% worry about it despite even strict regulations. 64% feel it will yield long-term benefits. 

How are those last two figures possible? Do they mean half of those who worry that it might destroy the environment feel that the long term benefit is worth destroying the environment? I'd love to know the questions that produced such confused answers. But, again, CRA doesn't tell us exactly what the questions were.

Oh, yes.  The 45% who favoured shale gas, favoured it "in principle". What on earth does that mean? Either we approve of something or we don't. Exactly what does approving in principle mean? People use the term commonly - but the meaning is never clear.  Try this one, for example,

"Do you approvae of  abortion in principal?"

"Yes. But I believe God will send you to  hell if you have one."  Is that a yes or a no?

Again, Corporate Research Institute does not supply us with the questions. And, again, the CEO pontificates on the meaning of the survey, and concludes it will take strict regulations before the public will accept the idea of producing shale gas.

This combination of unstated questions, seemingly vague ones (as in "in principle") combined with CRA's record of service essentially for private business, and with the CEO's habit of preaching at the end all make CRA polls on public affairs highly suspect.

It does, though, give us a hint of what the Allward government plans to do.The survey, in fact, may have  been designed to be the opening shot in Allward's next move.  He will puff and blow about passing strict regulations (something both Liberals and Conservatives have been puffing and blowing for a decade with no results), and about strict enforcement - which hasn't happened at all.

He will use the poll as evidence he is listening to the people.

In regard to enforcement, check out the lead story in NewsToday "Environment rules not enforced: watchdog". This story is in reference to the federal government. In fact, lax enforcement is notable, it seems, wherever the fossil fuels industries operate. And, in that context, New Brunswick has a particularly stinking record.

In any case, it doesn't matter how strict the rules are or how well they are enforced. Accidents will still happen. And, once they happen, it's too late for enforcement. As well, the present technology in shale gas development is still so new that we don't have anything close to an idea of what regulations are needed - or whether any regulations at all will ensure safety.

Allward's hope will be that New Brunswickers can be fooled yet again - and he can latch onto that sixty percent who are naive enough to believe that government regulations will solve the problem. They don't seem to have solved the problem anywhere else in the world. But New Brunswick will be different.

Right.

There is an important story in the NewsToday section that the Pentagon has severe doubts about the F-35 fighter plane. Why is that important? Because the Harper government has committed itself to that extremely expensive plane as the major weapon of our armed forces. Its price is still rising out of control; and the experts in the Pentagon seriously doubt the future of the F-35.

Harper and Mackay can look patriotic and all that to pump up the defence budget, and stock up on the latest  goodies. . But first we should made sensible choices about what our armed forces should equipped to do - and then make some sensible choices about what to buy for them. So far, they've been willing to spend. But they don't seem to have been willing (or able?) to think.

There's a story that puts the dead in Syrian fighting at 5,000. Isn't that interesting? We have a count of the dead in Syria while the fighing is going on. But we don't yet have a count of the dead in Libya even though we stopped the killing there weeks ago. Funny how Reuters can find some numbers, but not others.

Oh, and there's no mention that Libya has been slipping into a civil war. It seems some factions don't want the same kind of democracy that others to - and some don't want it at all.  So much for our "humantarian" bombing to bring stability and democracy to Libya.

On the editorial page, Norbert Cunningham agrees that climate change is a serious problem. Predictably, though, he feels it's a problem best left to private industry to solve. The part he seems to have missed is that private industry has demonstrated pretty bluntly that it has no interest in solving the problem. And that's true whetther the private interests are based in the US or Canada or China or India.

The op ed page, as is too usual, is a waste of time. People need some substantial commentary to make meaning out of the news. The Times and Transcript has little news to start with - and far too little comment of any substance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dec. 13: Incroyable...

For the third issue in a row, The Moncton Times and Transcript has the same story on the front page. It's not really a news story at all.  It's really a gushing ad for a book by a former New Brunswick media exec. All three were written by the same reporter; and all three repeat much of the same gush as the others.

Marty Kinkenberg is the writer of all three stories - and he's now either dreadfully embarassed by the paper he works for or, like so many other Brunswicknews staffers, he must have no shame at all.

The only breathlessly new information this time is that the author of this wonderful book is that he was a poor child who grew up to be a philanthropist. You know what a philanthropist is.  That's somebody who rips the poor off all year - or helps someone else to rip them off - but makes sure every poor child gets a bag of candy at Christmas. Jesus would be impressed.

There isn't much on national or international news. As I guessed, in an earlier blog, there is no mention of the extraordinarily anti-freedom bill that is now going through the US congress and, of course, no mention of the possible effect on Canada.

That's because they needed room for a fast-breaking story about how climbing stairs is healthier than riding an elevator. There's also a flash that the red-tailed hawk may become Canada's national bird.

Nationally - Canada is withdrawing from th Kyoto accord. Of course. If Harper were to stay, there'd be billions he'd have to pay for not even tryiing to live up to the standards set in the accord.

And, in a move that's bound to win votes from the sort of yahoos who don't think we have enough people in jail in this country, Ottawa has forbidden Moslem women to wear veils at citizenship ceremonies. The reason given is that their answers to the oath of citizenship can't be heard clearly enough. Nobody has ever heard of microphones?

Actually, I'm more concerned we could have women sneaking in to Canada disguised as men - or men sneaking in as women. What this country really needs is citizenship ceremonies in the nude. We could sell tickets.

We're close to war and utter chaos in the middle east, with Canada almost certain to join the dance. Pakistan has just kicked the US off one of its airbases in Pakistan, and has cut off all supplies for the Afghanistan war that pass through Pakistan. The result is that the cost of shipping in war supplies has now risen by 400%. No news on shale gas, of course. There is, however, yet another op ed column to go along with all the stories we've read pimping for an expensively world-class hockey rink for Moncton.

There is a very sensible column by Alec Bruce on Dieppe City Council's heartless, and bone-headed handling of water supply to a subdivision. It's a good example of why it's not enough to get news. We also need intelligent analysis of it to stimulate our own evaluations and responses. The TandT is dreadfully weak on both news and analysis.

It's also weak on grammar. Norbert writes."A lazy person could easily waste their talent..." Gee, Norbert, 'person' is singular. 'Their' is plural.

We're in much deeper trouble that one could guess from reading the TandT. I suspect the trouble, commonly identified as liberalism or conservatism or capitalism or socialism or communism, runs far deeper than that.

I don't want to do it in a regular blog, partly because it's thinking out loud, partly because it has to do with morality. (No. I'm not going to talk about clapping hands for Jesus, or Muhammed, or Buddha.)
It does have to do with all religions - or all the major ones I know of - with the practcal side of all of them - with our neglect of that practical side - and with the general collapse of morality, even in religious cricles, all over the world. Maybe I'll do it on a late evening.

Meanwhile, gotta rush out to buy that great story about the man who was born poor but got rich - and who was good to the little childrren - one day every year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dec. 12 addendum

Sometimes (usually) there is more news in Rolling Stone than there is in the Times and Transcript.
Today, for example, Rolling Stone had a story that I'm quite sure the TandT will not have tomorrow - or ever.

A bill which will be called the  National Defence Authorization Act if it passes (and it probably will pass) is now working its way through the US Congress. It will officially authorize the indefinite imprisonment of anyone, including both foreigners and Americans, on "suspicion" of any link to al Queda or any (undefined) "associated forces" - or anyone who in anyway is suspected of being a threat to the US. That's a definition so broad it could mean anyone who critizes the government at all.

It requires no charge to be laid, no trial, no lawyers allowed, no limit to the length of detention. Those charged will be immediately handed over to the army for imprisonment and any 'appropriate' treatment .

That's contrary of course, to the American constitition - and contrary to every prinicple of democracy and individual freedom. But it will probably pass; and Obama, who has already had people imprisoned or assassinated without charge or trial, will probably sign it.

Not our problem? Think again. Under the recent agreement between Harper and Obama, American police and other agents can operate in Canada. The nature of the agreement will require a close similarity between Canadian and American law in the area of homeland security. Expect a no-fly list for Canada. Expect highly intrusive airport searches. Expect American agents to have the right to arrest Canadians - "on suspicion".

The TandT probably won't mention any of this. But it's kind of important - to you. Watch what  you say in the new Canada. Watch who you vote for.

Will Harper agree to all this? You betcha. He wants to be really, really good friends with the US government because that would be good for Canadian coporations and their access to the American market. And Harper, like Alward, listens - to corporations.

Dec. 12: The TandT as a school for pimps

Just when you think you've seen them all...

Today's front page of today's TandT has the same story it did on Saturday. And it was written by the same reporter. It was obvious the first time this was a piece of gush  to push the sales of a book written by an ex-Brunswickmedia exec. The second version is  pretty much the same gush, with just a few  changes in the wording.

There's a cutesie note that this was a man who wasn't afraid to stand up to Irving but - surprise - they almost always agreed.

Oh, another surprise. The book is published by Brunsick Press which is owned by Brunswick News which is owned by the Telegraph-Journal which is owned by - the good fairy. I hope that the editors at Brunswick Press are better than the editors at the TandT - and know the difference bettween gruff and guff.

I have never seen anything in a newspaper so blatantly unethical and, at the same time, so comical.

And people pay for this tawdry juvenilia.

The front page also has a story about a woman from Alberta who says her well was poisoned as a result of fracking for shale oil. Nice of them to notice. Actually, if you just google, you will find nothing strange or unusual about the poisoning of wells or waterways or lands or living things by fracking for shale gas. You will find some 713,000 entries - and that doesn't begin to touch the possible long-term consequences on the land, the water, and us.

Quite recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency has issued serious warnings about shale gas methods. I don't believe the TandT has mentioned that. But Time magazine did - and it's even bigger than The Moncton Times and Transcript.

Why the rush for shale gas,  and for  'dirty' oil as in Alberta? Why do oil companies now want to drill in ecologically frail areas such as the Arctic?

1. They are very worried about current sources of oil. With the enormous rise of fossil fuel use, especially in Asia and Latin America, present sources almost certainly will not be adequate. As well, it may be militarily challenging to maintain access to them.     This makes the oil industry enthusiastic about North American sources, whatever damage they may do.

2. Oil companies want to maintain their high profits.

3. Why are Canadian and American governments anxious to serve the wishes of oil companies? Check the figures on political funding for the Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

4.Finally, neither the oil companies nor the governments give a damn what the consequences are for us.

So what's the game here? The NB government and Brunswickmedia will play the game of pretending to study the issue, then will come up with new and "tough" regulations which will have "tough" enforcement. That is - we'll go back to square one. (There is no way the gas companies will accept regulations or penalties or enforcement. And if they did, it wouldn't matter because all the same consequences would still be there). Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives will do a thing for you. And they both have the record to prove it.

The only major international news story is 'Historic climate deal reached'. Bullshit. No climate deal was reached. What they have agreed is to work towards another big meeting to try to reach an agreement in three or four years. In other words, more than a dozen years after politicians realized we were destroying the earth, they decided to take another three or four to think about it some more. And then another five to put those laws in place. Nothing of any practical effect will be done until 2020 - and probably not even then.

No deal was reached. That's the only historic part of it. Even as we're watching the ice caps disappear, species disappear at an alarming rate, climate variations have massively disrupted agriculture, we're going to think some more. To do something. In 2020. Maybe.

I hope the ice caps and the melting tundra and the farmland can wait.  But I doubt it. It may already be too late.

Why did Canada appear to be opposing any agreement?
1. Large, Canadian corporations don't want an agreement because they have invested heavily in fossil fuel. Like Alward, Harper knows who he answers to.
2. It's the same in the US. So, in taking a prominent lead in stalling things, Harper was kissing up to Obama. Good Canadian Harper took the heat for Obama. Obama will be nice to Canadian corporations.

Solid column by Alec Bruce.Good one by Norbert - though I shudder to see he has adopted the hideous use of quote as a noun.

The best part of the op ed page is the lost and found section.

Make it a point to read a very touching story on p. A2; it's about the Canadian veterans of the fall of Hong Kong in 1941. We sent almost two thousand troops to protect Hong Kong in case of a Japanese invasion. Very few were combat-ready. Their officers were inexperienced. All were inadquately equipped or trained at all in the short range weapons they would need.  The had no air cover. They would face an overwhelming force of Japanese with years of battle experience in China.

Half were killed in battle or died in captivity where they were worked, beaten and starved to death.  Few of the survivors would ever again be physical healthy; and all would live with the horror of memory.

I knew some of them, and went over the scenes of fighting with them while I was in Hong Kong. I saw a long flight of steps up a hillside that was covered by michine guns. The Canadians repeatedly  charged it. One veteran wept as he remembered the blood flowing down those steps.

One of the most poignant photos I have ever seen is of the soldiers marching down to the docks in Vancouver to leave for Hong Kong. A child of five or so has broken away from his mother to hold out his hand to his soldier-father. The father bends and reaches back to him.

It must be somewhere on google. I'll take a look for it.

Why did we send ill-trained and ill-equpped soldiers to Hong Kong in 1941? A place that was indefensible? It's a little too long to tell here. But the story does no credit to our political leadership of the time.

For an excellent book on the battle of Hong Kong, try to find Captive Christmas, 1941. It's widely available in Hong Kong, but rare over here.

The story reminds us to remember those soldiers and their sacrifice. I would just add a little to that. Remember those soldiers BEFORE we send soldiers off in future. We have squandered lives in Afghanistan for no gain whatever.  Nor was Canadian freedom under any threat. We have killed civilians in Libya. There's a lot more of that coming soon.

Let's think BEFORE we send them.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dec. 10: o-o-o-ooh. Big, blank space in today's news.

Remember that treaty Harper just signed with the US? The one to integrate our border security? Good. Now check Google news. It has a story about that agreement from Postmedia. (And Postmedia is the most pro-Harper, right wing  paper in the country.)

A leaked cable from the US government says this is a step in the gradual economic integration of Canada with the US. Doesn't sound like much? Well, it is.

Economic integration, which would include a common currency and common access to resources would make necessary closely linked national budgets. For a start, goodbye medicare. Hello, food stamps. Welcome, overpriced defence contractors.

It would mean that Canada would, for all practical purposes become ten American states.

The US has wanted to add Canada since it invaded in 1812; (indeed, since it invaded in 1775). In this next year, we will be celebrating our victory of 1812 - even as we accept our defeat in 2012.

Through the nineteenth century, the US openly spoke of expanding all the way to the Arctic. That's why it never recognized the Canadian claim to the north. They called their policy Manifest Destiny. It has now resurfaced as Dominionism - an obvious command from God to domination. (Check any speech by any Republican leadership contender.)

Harper has  taken a giant step in signing away Canada. There's been almost no discussion either with the public or with the House of Commons. Take a look at the condition of the US - the millions who are starving without any significant government aid, the soaring poverty, the civil unrest, the savage cuts in social programmes to save on taxes for the rich, the destruction of public education.....  Take a good look. You're looking at Canada - very soon.

This is the way that Canada ends. "Not with a bang, but a whimper."

And Harper still has four years to go.

The TandT had no room for that story. But it had big spaces for a gushing story on A1 and A4 about the memoirs of a publisher (who has, not accidentally, connections with Brunswick Media). He began life so poor - get this - so poor that the only way, as a child, that he could get onto a golf course was by being a caddy.

I pause to brush away a tear. How we must all feel guilty about our own youths when we all had full membership in any golf course of our choice! It brings backs memories of me at age eleven, when I paid a fourteen year old caddy seventy-five cents for carrying my heavy bag of expensive clubs around eighteen holes, then toddled off to the club bar for a scotch.

There's also a story that salaries of ALL public employees, including the head of NB Power should be public. Agreed. So should the salaries of all senior executives in private business. That would give us a balanced view of the salaries of all those who live on our tax dollars.     

Reuters has its usual, half story about the growing chill in US/Russian relations. The major cause of it is a US plan to build a "missile shield" on the Russian border. But the story barely mentions the missile shield and gives not hint of what the missile shield is all about.

Older readers may remember the days we were told it was good for major powers to have nuclear weapons because the danger of mutual destruction would ensure that nobody would ever use a nuclear weapon. That was always a questionable theory (not to say a hare-brained one). Now, consider this-

The anti-missile shield is designed to block any Russian nuclear missiles that might be fired. Okay. But if both sides having nuclear missiles was supposed to prevent a nuclear war - now, think about this.  A missile shield would mean that, in effect, Russia would no longer be capable of using nuclear weapons. That would mean the US would be so far ahead in weaponry that it could launch them without fear of retaliation.  Goodbye, fear of mutual destruction.

The US would never use such weapons? Actually, it is the only country in the world that ever has. Twice.

There is no mention of Pakistan, though it is on the edge of war with the US, and is openly discussing a war over water supply with India - both India and Pakistan are nuclear.

The editorial is about how Moncton will rise again, and come to the rescue of a multi- millionaire who needs a  hockey rink. Ah, the city with a heart. (What the hell. It's Christmas.)

Michael Murphy, a candidate for the Liberal leadership and a former Shawn Graham cabinet minister, contributes a very sensible column on the shale gas policy he would follow. I wish I could believe him.

The student columns are, again, solid. Jana Giles make an important point about the necessity to be organized. I feel particularly strongly about that because I had to learn the hard way, losing ten years of my life in the process. One of the single, most important things students can learn is getting organized. Nothing affects their futures so profoundly as learning to make a habit out of being organized. It's important to teach it in school. It's even more important to teach it at home.

Alex Corbett has a thoughtful and quite original take on the connections between drama and football. ( and gets a plug in for a play he's appearing in. My daughter saw it with her class, and loved it.)

Christina Korotkov has a thought-provoking piece on reading. I well know the problem she describes. Wordy writers really turn me off. But she goes past that to see a value to them.

Jessica Melanson has an amusing and well-told story. And - she's writing in her second language.

Our schools are turning out some pretty good writers.

Oh, I could wish our students writers would have a chat with our sports writers. The word 'classic' means something of such high quality that it sets the standard for all to follow. Then sports reporters got hold of it.

It began with major golf tournaments.Okay. The Master's is a classic. It's a bit of a corruption of the word. But it's a big game. Okay.

But now, every second string elementary school basketball game for the grade four classes in a two-school town is a 'classic'. Enough.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dec. 9: A "good news" headline presented as "bad news"; and other such..

Ottawa is not going to contribute to the cost of a Moncton downtown hockey rink and convention centre. (The cost would be anywhere from 100 million to twice that and more, depending on who you ask.)

That's good news for Canadian taxpayers, better news for New Brunswick taxpayers who would have been even more on the hook to contribute, and superb news for Moncton rate-payers who would have been on the hook for city taxes as well as federal and provincial ones for generations to come. And all this at a time when the whole world's economic future is very much in doubt. (The city claims to have a 30 year city economic plan. That sounds impressive -    but is surely uncertain because the rest of the world doesn't have a plan for even the coming week.)

We have seen no evidence of any great demand from the citizens of Moncton for such a centre though, no doubt, Corporate Research Associates could provide us with a poll showing that 57% of Monctonians support it.  Nor have we ever seen evidence of exactly how much of the money produced by such a venture would stay in Moncton - or exactly who would get it.

This is a  important story. But the tone of it suggests that it's bad news with the only good news part being that the valiant Moncton City  Council will fight on.

P.A3 has what will seems to be a scandalous story to many readers - the salaries of top civil servants (and severance pay) in New Brunswick. True enough, for those earning minimum wage or even a comfortabe bit more, civil service pay150,000 to 200,000 plus severage deals of a hundred thousand or so will look pretty high.

In fact, they are far below the salaries for jobs at similar levels in private business. A dozen years ago, a board of private businessmen offered me a job. The assigned a lawyer to me to explain all the goodies I could ask for and expect to get.  The salary could be 280,000 - maybe more. Severance pay would be half a million. Expensive club memberships would be part of the deal. I would have an interest-free loan to pay my mortgage. A car would be provided, with maintenance and gas part of the package.

That was a dozen years ago. And the offer, though from businessmen, was not in the business sector. In that sector, salaries and benefits run much higher.

One often hears that those who fail to do the job in private business get fired. Nah. That part is just for the peasantry in private business. When you do a bad job - and are at the senior levels - you get a severance package that can - and frequently does - run into the millions.

The fact is that when it comes to pay levels, the public sector is far more efficient than the public one.

A good news story would have made comparisons with the private sector to put the public sector into perspective. This one didn't.  The public reaction to this story will likely be indignation, and muttering about how you don't get away with that sort of thing in private business.

The story, by failing to provide comparative figures, gives a false impression. And 'false impression' is a nice way of saying 'lying'.

(To which some people will answer, "At least the private sector spending doesn't come out of our pockets."  Oh? Where do you think it comes from?)

The story that  "Canada wants a new climate deal by 2015" gives the impression that Canada is taking the lead in preparing for action to cut carbon emissions. In fact, the reverse is true. Canada, at the Durban conference, took the lead in killing any hope for action.

It did so because corporations in Canada and the US are afraid that any serious action on climate change would hurt their short term profits - thus their campaign of denial that climate change is  happening at all. Canada's stand has made us contemptible to most of the world. But it is very pleasing to Harper's dearest friends, the corporate bosses of Canada and the US.

Similarly, the story on Harper's border deal with the US dwells largely on Harper's enthusiasm. It says little about the concerns over it (and doesn't explain even the few it mentions. This agreement marks a fundamental change in the nature of Canadian life. We have heard very little about it. And it has happened without  any agreement from or discussion in the House of Commons. (Tell me more about how our soldiers fought for democracy and freedom.)

The second editorial "A call to action" is just dumb. Just about every expert in the world agrees that Harper's "getting tough on crime" omnibus bill is both expensive and ineffective. The editor picks one case, a very emotional one, in which the assigned penalty would have been longer with tougher legislation. Then he uses that one, very isolated case, to suggest that the experts on crime all over the world are wrong.

There is not a word about Pakistan, Iran, or Syria - though we could soon be at war with all of them, and though such a war could also draw in China and Russia. Way to keep your eye on the ball, Mr. News Editor.

The only fresh air in the whole paper is in two columns, by Alec Bruce and David Suzuki,  on climate change,

There's an excellent letter to the editor by Jean-Claude Basque of the NB Common Front for Social Justice.

There's a pretty silly one from a reader who didn't like a student columnist's recent views on religion. Apparently, the letter-writer is under the impression we live in a Christian society. Yeah. That's why we made the baby Jesus into Santa Claus, and shifted the theme of Christmas from giving to shopping. That profound faith of Moncton is why the city is peppered with churches that have "For Sale" signs on them.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dec. 8: Vaudeville in New Brunswick....

Yesterday, Natural Resources minister Bruce Northrop announced that Windsor Energy would not be prosecuted for violation of gas exploration regulations. There's no doubt it did violate them. Windsor Energy admitted long ago that it violated them - to save money. It seems, though, that our "tough" regulations have no penalties attached to them. Let's think of what that means.
1. Explorations has been going on for ten to a dozen years. In that time, we have had no protection whatever against the dangers of such explorations - despite the fact that we have frequently been told we have no reason to worry because we have such tight regulations.
2. Shale gas is not a side issue. In fact, it is being pimped as the key to New Brunswick's future. This is a major issue  And the man most  responsible for it, the minister of resources it did not know that the regulations could not be enforced?
If that is true, Mr. Northrup should be ordered by the premier to fall on his sword. If that is true, it's an astonshing display of incompetence on the part of the minister, and it's incompetence that that has endangered the health and safety of all New Brunswickers.
3. This has been going on for years. The legislature through all those years has been dripping with lawyers. As well, there are lawyers employed by government who specialize in the wording of laws. Is it possible that all those experts, over so many years, and whether Liberal or Conservatives, noticed that we had passed such important regulations, but had "forgotten" to include penalties?
I cannot believe that all those people were so stupid for so long. They must have known well what was going on.
4 Brunswick Media has a legislative reporter. Usually, legislatve reporters have some training and considerable experience. Usually, they read bills that are before the house. Did the legislative reporter not bother to read even such an important piece of legislation? Or did editors simply decide not to print his story?
5. How come this gap in the legislation was never noticed earlier? Is it possible that it wasn't noticed because the government has never bothered to carry out inspections or to enforce the regulations before?
6. How could it possibly take the RCMP, with all its expertise, a month to notice that the regulation was enenforceable?
7. Obviously, Windsor Energy knew it had nothing to fear. That's why it broke the regulation in the first place. I would think it almost certain that Windsor Energy pointed that out to the premier and to Mr. Northrup the day it happened.

This looks like comic opera. But there's nothing comic about it. We're being played for suckers by the energy industry and by both mainline parties. The whole future of the environment and of health in this province has been placed in jeopardy by the same people who lied to us almost daily about how tough the regulations were, how the inspection was tough, and how both would get tougher.

We've been lied to by the whole political structure of this province for years - and on a crucial issue in both economic and health terms.

And what will Mr. Northrup do about it? Well, he's going to pass even tougher regulations and, in cotrast to his past performance, he's going to enforce them. That's not good enough. And based on the record it's not believable.

Mr. Northrup: if you were a man of any integrity and honour, you would apologize and resign. Indeed, I would say the same for all members of the legislature including (especially including) the premier.

In newspaper terms, this is not just the story of the year. This could well be the story of the cenutry. This is the worst debasement of democracy and political inegrity this province has ever seen. So where are the commentaries on it in The TandT?

There aren't any.

If you look really hard though, you can find the story itself - hidden on p. A12. It's a very short one.

The editorial is a piece indicating the editorial writer has a (deliberate?) ignorance of statistics and of polling. It not only accepts the very misleading poll that shows the Allward government in high popularity, it draws conclusions about it that cannot possibly be drawn from the data in the poll.

Generally, it's a kiss-up to the dreary Mr. Allward, and it's accompanied by a kiss-up cartoon from de Adder.

Excellent op ed column by Jody Dallaire, using samples of legislation to show how some politicians work, and the real reasons they pass the laws that they do.

There's also a thoughtful column by Rod Allen. In it, he mentions seeing a woman reading a paperback, "A**holes Finish First". He concludes "I hope it isn't true. I hope that isn't a 'bible' for our times.

I'm afraid it's worse than that. The Bible for our times - it has been for some 40 years - is "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. It's a book in praise of greed, self-interest, and indifference to others. Read it to understand the political and corporate circles of New Brunswick.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nov. 7: addendum for Nov. 7

There will be no charges against SWN (shale gas company) for illegally carrying out shale gas exploration in Sussex. Apparently, it's not illegal to break the law if you're a gas company. Next time you get stopped for speeding, tell the police officer it's okay; you're a gas company.

So now our fearless minister of natural resources has two choices. He can ask for an apology or, as he did earlier, get tough and ask for a sincere apology.

I doubt whether he'll get either.

I also doubt that we'll see the legislation tightened at any time in the near future.