Monday, May 7, 2012

May 7: The best investigative journalism...

....in today's Moncton Times and Transcript is a letter to the editor. It's headed 'Paper misconstrues cancer study story'. The letter accuses the TandT, with considerable evidence, of deliberately misrepresenting a study which showed a close relationship between cancer and industry - notably in St. John.

It would certainly not be the first time the Times and Transcript has misrepresented a story. But it does, quite seriously, deserve a handshake for printing this well-argued letter from Bernie Devereux of Riverview.

Alas! This the only piece of investigative reporting in the whole paper. Notably, there is nothing on any of the major, local issues affecting us - nothing on shale gas, nothing on Moncton High, And there certainly are questions to be asked.

Have  you read that yet another phony think-tank, this one largely made up of shale gas executives, has been enouraging the passage of 'strict' laws on shale gas drilling in the US? Why, bless their little hearts, yes, it is. Yes, and it is being passed enthusiastically by politicians of the sort we have here in New Brunswick. The industry has a set of tough and strict regulations.....well...okay...there are loopholes.

For example, the driller must present a public list of the hundreds of toxic chemicals it intends to pump into the ground. Isn't that wonderfrul? We''ll still be poisoned. But at last we'll know exactly what it is that's poisoning us.

Oh, not actually - and there is just a teeny, tiny clause in there that the casual reader might not notice. If a drilling ompany feels that some of those chemicals are a sort of trade secret just known to them, well, then they don't have to tell what they are.

Fair warning for us. Look closely at the New Brunswick regulations (are they still coming?). Watch for the escape hatches in them. But don't expect to find them mentioned in the Times and Transcript.

On Moncton High? Exactly why was the Royal Oaks location chosen? How is it better than other sites? How does the site relate to plans for Moncton's future deveilopment? How come the present building can be economincally and even profitably restored as a private building - but not as a school?

On mass transit, how long will it be until buses running on fossil fuel will be too expensive to be feasible? Some signs are that we aren't looking at twenty years, but more like five. And, if there's a war with Iran, we might be looking at months.

The future of Moncton is not generations away. Much of it is already here. Where is the plan? (I mean, of course, a realistic one.)

There is an editorial that is optimisitic about the future of democracy in Moncton because a handful of students participated in a mock election organized by the City of Moncton's Mayor's Youth Advisory Committtee.

Frankly, if this city has a Youth Advisory committee that thinks the key to saving democracy is getting a small roomful of studentts to be a pretend council, then we should reverse the process, and send the Youth Committtee back to school to learn something.

Secondly, if we want to save democracy, we have to look at the causes of its malaise. For openers, we need honest news media that publish real news. We need politicians who aren't puppets for developers and corporations. So long as he don't have such politicians, the public will continue to be disillisioned and to stay away from the polls.

Democracy in New Brunswick has gone down the tubes because we all know who really runs this place, and we all know we're being lied to, cheated, and kept in ignorance. A few students playing at being mayor and councillors won't change that.

Norbert almost wrote a good column about universities. All that got in his way this time was that he doesn't know anything about them.

The protesters in Quebec were idealistic and a bit naive - as Norbert says. But Norbert responds with a complete lack of ideals, and no information at all. For example, and despite low fees in Quebec, all students in that province (and others) do NOT have equal opportunity for education. Norbert almost gets that point - but it blows right by him. He has read that students with university educated parents are more likely to go to university than others. Children with good grades in high school tend more to go to university. Children of immigrants tend to go to university. (Actually, this depends on where they come from.)

Well, Norbert, children whose parents graduated from university tend to have more money. Students who get good grades in high school tend to come from families with above average incomes.

In other words, children from poor families have a tendency NOT to go to university. In other words, poverty does have an effect. And it is not only an affect on cash available. It is also cultural - a point that Norbert missed in his cultural survey.

If people grow up with such factors that reduce their ability to go to university, then to say we all have equal access to university is absurd. How many McCains, Ganongs and Irvings do not go to university? Now check out the families in Moncton - and how many children of theirs do not go to university?

Are the McCains, Ganongs and Irvings intellectually gifted? (If so, they have modestly kept it hidden.)  Are poor, as your editorial catroonist suggests, born stupid and lazy with an addiction to bingo?

It is damn hard for a child from a poor family to go to university. One of the hard parts is adjusting to a new culture - and one which keeps changing as you move from the bachelor's degree to higher levels.  As well, you have to spend money while you aren't earning any. You usually have to work at the same time as going to school. Sometimes, you have to work full time and go to school at night, a long and hard way to do it.

And you have to go into debt. So  you start your first career job having lost years of pay, and starting deeply in debt at a time when you are getting married and having children. (And the difference in pay usually does not make it up.)

Been there, Norbert. Been there and done that. Saw the movie. Read the book. And did it when fees were very low. And, in the last three years, with scholarships. It was still damned hard both culturally and financially. Now, it's even harder, even in Quebec.

To suggest that everybody has an equal chance shows a complete failure to understand what is happening.

As for university standards, fret not. The universities have never had standards of the only kind that matter, standards of education. The very idea of teaching is a blank page in our universities. Our professors are like contractors who put up a building which promplty collapses, then shrug their shoulders, and say "It's not up to my standards."

For someone who wants to understand the links between culture, education and income, I suggest Walter Benn Michaels, The Trouble with Diversity.

Allen Abel's column had a good topic but, again, he blew it. Craig Babstock again proved the ability of Tand T staff writers to fill a column with nothing.

I agree (reluctnatly) with Alec Bruce's column. It's about drugs, and it's well worth a read. Once, you've read his column and the letter from Bernie Devereux, you've pretty well covered all today's paper has to offer.

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