Thursday, February 28, 2013

Feb. 28:

In a comment you can find at the foot of yesterday's post, a reader asked why our schools don't seem to teach critical thinking. It's worth checking that comment to get his full question. And it's a question I can answer from experience.

When I taught grade seven, a student asked me what Darwin and evolution were all about. So I answered, giving no opinion as to which one I thought was right, just giving the theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin and then the conflicting view expressed by some Christians.

The next day, the school principal was visited by two, furious parents. They agreed that I had not pushed either side in my presentation. But they didn't want their children even to know there were two sides. They demanded I should teach only their side of the story.

Now, if there is one thing school principals and departments of education hate, it's a fuss. I was called in to the principal's office and given a clear list of topics to stay away from in my teaching. In the end, just those two parents got an effective veto on what I was allowed to say.

Remember a couple of years ago when a  New Brunswick school principal discontinued the playing of O Canada at the start of the school day? There was an immediate howl of outrage. I don't know whether the outraged were only a few or many. I don't know whether the outraged themselves were in the habit of standing every morning before breakfast while O Canada was played. But it was a fuss. And that's all that counted.

The minister of education immediately intervened on the side of the outraged. (I wonder if  the ministry offices begin every day with the staff standing to listen to O Canada on a scratchy PA system?)

In public education, no fuss is the first rule. And that, quite seriously, is why you don't hear much about students learning to think critically.

University are little, if at all better. They all kid themselves that they teach critical thinking. But even it they tried to they couldn't because almost none of the profs have training in the teaching of critical thinking - or of anything else.

As well, people who have power in our society - through money or politics - are not keen on producing a generation of critical thinkers. No. Schools, in their view, are not for producing critics. They are for producing useful and submissive employees and citizens, not thinkers.

And the TandT is deliberately designed keep people unthinking and plodding for the rest of their lives. That's why it's full of trivia. That's why it leaves out any information you need in order to think.

From the cradle to the grave, thinking is a bad thing.
That takes us naturally to yesterday's (and today's) front page story about how private business is getting involved in literacy - and probably in other subjects - in our schools. Again, the story gives us no useful information. And the reporter writes it as pure propaganda - with no questions.

Mr. Irving, it seems, is a man of wonderful community spirit who wants to help children to learn. Yes. (see my note above on what business leaders think of critical thinking.)

This time, the story doesn't even mention that our money, two and half million dollars of it, has been handed over to a group headed by Jamie Irving. There are some obvious questions here.

What, exactly, is the two and a half million for? Hell, it's our money. Aren't we allowed to know who's getting it? and why?

What qualifications, exactly, do young Jamie and his business friends have to operate such a learning programme?

We have trained teachers in our schools, and skilled researchers on the teaching of literacy in our education faculties. Shouldn't they be the ones to institute such a programme? And isn't it likely the bill for them would be a lot lower?

Then there is news in the article that even further intrusions into the schools are in the works for this Spring - with business leaders playing a big role.

We are watching something we have seen over and over again. A group out of control in its lust for more power and more money. They are going to break into our schools; and they don't give a damn about the damage it causes - just as they don't give a damn what damage they do to the province with resource "development". All that counts is now, now and power and money.

And our children and our children's children are going to pay one hell of a price. The big push to privatize education in New Brunswick is on. Get ready for schools that are going to be a lot less effective, and a lot more expensive. And get ready for a school system that just dumps the poorer kids on the rubbish heap. It's a vicious and incompetent system that has already ruined millions of lives in the US.

Expect no help from Alward. I don't know whether he's stupid or simply a puppet or a hypocrite. Whatever the case, don't expect help from Alward.

Don't expect any help from your school district commissions or from Home and School or Parent associations. They were utterly stunned and useless the last time such a takeover was attempted - about two  years ago.

No. Best just to take a moment to respond to an Irving offer that appeared in the TandT some months ago.  Visit the Irving Chapel. And sit. And reflect.
The main headline is Mr. Flemming again. It is a story that Mr. Flemming was a little confused in yesterday's story when he said the issue of ambulance fees is no big deal. It seems now it is. He got confused because a scrum (interview session) in which the tough questions got him all nervous and tangled up.

There was a tough scrum in New Brunswick? Come off it, Flemming. I've seen real scrums by reporters who know what they're doing. And most of the reporters I've seen in this province are wimps compared to real ones.

Vitalite has a story that tells us a lot about its methods. It says New Brunswick has too many nurses because it is over the national average. Oh, is that how needs are determined?

Well, we shall have to cut the salaries of all the Irvings to bring them down to the national average, won't we? We'll also need to import several hundred polar bears to get us up to the national average.

Look. Needs are not determined by national averages Needs are determined by, you know, what is needed. That's the trouble with bringing business methods into non-business situations. Business people are simplistic. They like a simple formula, lots of statistics. And business programmes encourage that sort of simplemindedness. And Sigma Six lives by it.

Our need for nurses in New Brunswick is determined by how much work we have for which nurses are essential. The national average has nothing to do with it.

But you watch - the government of New Brunswick is being revolutionized. With no exaggeration, this is a real revolution, aimed at shunting government and our wishes aside.  We're about to see our lives being run by statistics-happy twits whose only objective is to make billionaires even richer. And it's our lives and our children's lives they're playing with.

And that's section A.

Section C2 has a lead story about how the European Union would like to force Canada to dump its banking controls. I'll be writing about this in Sunday's blog because the big move is on to get rid of virtually all government controls on business. And, so far, Harper as acted in favour of the big move - not in favour of us.

There's a lot of power lust,and greed, and irresponsibility going on.
Editorial and op ed pages are pretty much as usual.
Well, actually, the editorial is unusual in showing almost human intelligence.
Norbert is irrelevant.
Alec Bruce's topic is light - but it's interesting.
Rod Allen is his usual, unique self.
And there's a new column by Beth Lyons who will be alternating with Judy Dallaire on what we (wrongly) call women's issues. It looks as though they'll make a good team.

This is late because I was speaking to a history group this morning. That's why a rushed through the editorial and op ed pages. Sorry. (But the history group is a nice group; and I enjoy them.)
A reminder. Tuesday, March 5 at 7 p.m. will see the Current Events group gathering at the Moncton Library. We had a good time last month. I look forward to seeing you this coming Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

feb. 27: Lots of good news on the front page....

...Lots of smarmy smeary, sticky-sweet good news. In fact, it's rather like kissing a girl with a dirty face, too much lipstick and a mouthful of molasses candy. (not that I have ever done such a thing.) This is kiss-up, free advertising without a trace of embarrassment at such kiss-up reporting.

"Literacy volunteers needed" is a story about the tremendous, glowing success of the Elementary Literacy Inc. programme in our schools - a programme that is already a beacon of hope for the world, -even though there are barely any results to report yet. Indeed, for all its columns of yes m'lord blather, there is really no information in the story at all. it's pure propaganda.

This is the programme, you will recall, that was begun by big business people who longed to bring the joys of reading to 'ittle bittie boys and girls. Prominent among these business people is big-hearted Jamie Irving, uber publisher of Brunswick News. But he, evidently, is too modest or too shy to allow his name to appear in the story.

As usual, the reporter, trained in the exacting standards of Brunswick Press just scribbled the story as fast as his little pen could carry him. There appears not to have been a single question asked - though we can easily think of many.
1. With a province full of teachers who are trained to teach reading, and with university researchers in New Brunswick and all over the world   who are studying and teaching how this should be done, why are we relying on volunteers who have little or no training led by businessmen who have little or no training?
2. Why are we letting business people into our schools to run a programme of which they know nothing at all? Would Jamie what's-his-name allow volunteer teachers into his office to run his newspapers. (I mean, Jamie had to work his way up. It took him a full, two  years of devoted effort to become publisher supremo.)
3. Why is this non-story on the front page? I mean, I'm sure it has nothing to do with who Jamie is. I mean, that would be a conflict of interest, and Jamie, with two, whole years of experience working his way up, would never do that. I mean, that would be unethical,
4. Why did the government give Jamie and the boys two and a half million dollars of our tax money for this hare-brained scheme? Since it runs on volunteers, what, exactly, is the two and a half mill for? Aren't we allowed to know?

What it really is all about, of course, is this opens the way for big business to get into our schools, and get its fingers on the taxes we pay for education. They're getting what they want. In the process, they will demoralize and seriously weaken the public education system - just as they have effectively destroyed public education in the US. But they couldn't care less about that. Not so long as they get the money.

Nor is learning to read entirely a matter of teaching. People read because they live in a society that wants to read. And it wants to read because it wants to understand and to think. The preacher who christened me began his working life at the age of six in a coal mine in Wales. He couldn't read, of course. But those men and boys who spent their days deep in the tunnels of the mines were from a society which respected learning and thought and opinion.

So, at every lunch hour and every break, the men and boys would gather to take turns reading to each other, mostly from The Bible. By the time he had reached early manhood, a boy named Gamel was able to enter theological college,to become Reverend Gamel Craik, to spend most of his life as a missionary in Africa, and then his last years at our tiny, mission church in Montreal.

New Brunswick, with its centuries of domination by pseudo barons (not unlike Jamie Irving) are afraid to think. So there is no great thirst for reading. If New Brunswick men and boys were sent down into the mines, they'd use their breaks to play the games that come on mobile phones.

Nor do the barons want them to think. To read well enough to understand instructions? Yes. To read well enough to handle the sports pages and trivia on the op ed? Yes. Thinking, though, is most undesirable.

What we have here is a scam run by big business to get into the education system. It won't work in improving literacy. (But we will get glowing reports of how brilliantly it is doing - just as we got that phony P.1 story about how Christmas shoppers were just jamming shops on Main St.) It also reflects the old, New Brunswick sickness of government and big business working in collusion against us.
Then we have more wonderful news "Vitalite to cut 400 jobs". This is another taste of what Health Minister Flemming's dust-up with the medical people in this province was really all about - cuts to the services we get through medicare.

Part of the reason is that the government's view of solving a recession is that it has to save money. It's sounds reasonable. But it's not true.

1. Cutting costs has never ended a recession. It did not end the depression of the 1930s; it made it worse. It has not solved the crises in Greece and Spain (and soon to hit Italy), it has made them worse. It has not eased the recession in the US. It has made it worse, with levels of human suffering the Tand T doesn't bother to tell us about.

2. We could get the same results by raising taxes on corporations and the very rich. After all, they are making record profits. But Alward is not going to go there.
Funny how big business is so fond of talking about how efficient it is, but eternally has to come to us poor people for loans, and tax breaks, and grants of timber.

Funny how big business used to pay somewhat higher taxes - and made huge profits. Then we cut their taxes. We lost money - and they made even huger profits. Now, they say they can't possibly go back to the old taxes - even thought they were making big money before their taxes were cut.

3. Are the new CEOs  for health services by any chance alumnae, complete with black belts, of Sigma Six - the new gestapo for big business? Their language certainly is sigma six. They aren't cutting jobs. Oh, no. They are making the service better and more efficient. That's pure, sigma six babble.

In the lead of A1, "Ambulance fees stay: Health Minister", Mr. Fleming implies that his leader, Mr. Alward is either a fool or a liar. Alward had  made removal of ambulance fees a platform promise. But Flemming says it's no big deal. Well, if it's no big deal, then Mr. Alward was too stupid to realize that - or his promise was lie.

For that matter, Mr. Flemming must be lying. After all, if it's no big deal, why not remove it?
Mr. Flemming is a PR man's nightmare.

Read the rest of section A only if you are very bored and lonely, and if your cat has enough litter, anyway.

Nothing in NewsToday, either. You'd never guess from it that much of Europe is on the brink of financial collapse and even civil war. You wouldn't know that the rage against the US  for killing and looting civilians in Afghanistan is so great that the President of Afghanistan has ordered them out of a crucial province. Nor would you guess at the scale and viciousness of the wars that are raging over control of Africa.  (And, yes, they will affect us.)
The editorial is the usual kiss-kiss job. This time it's on shale gas. Tomorrow, perhaps, we'll be back to the civic centre.

Good cartoon by de Adder. But since the Irving Press has never bothered to explain the issues, few readers will get the point of the cartoon. It's about the film "Argo", and the old Hollywood game of producing movies that are largely American propaganda - and lies.

Norbert's column is amusing, well-written, interesting - and it's all about one topic. It really doesn't have much connection with our lives. Not yet. But it's a good read.

Alec Bruce produces an amusing column that's also a dreadfully serious one. the increasing rate of obesity in the western world. I first became aware of it on a visit to Boston where I was struck by the high proportion of people who could not possibly sit behind the wheel of a car. (I am now reminded of that incident whenever I pass a mirror.)

The US is tops in the field. But Canada is right up there. And it costs us one hell of a lot in health care and early death. Much of it comes from our reliance on processed and fast foods.

I admire Mr. Bruce's ability to retain his youthful grace (if he is, indeed, telling the truth about how svelte his figure is). But I can't agree with his advice we should walk everywhere. Walking is a perverse self-punishment.

Eric Lewis' op ed offers the useful information that it sometimes snows; and it's hard to drive in snow. Boy, nothing escapes that lad's keen mind.

Brian Cormier says something or other about the hazards and oddities of shopping for food. Boy! And people say there's nothing really important to read about any more.
Save the best for the last.

P. D1 has a major story on how Britney Spears has coloured her hair , and another that Ben Affleck has shaved his beard. (Okay. It's not great. But it outclasses the op ed page.

Good cartoon my de Adder. But, since the Irving press has never bothered to discuss the controversy of

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Feb. 26: New Brunswick's infectious rot....

Very briefly, today's Times and Transcript has very little news, a kiss-up editorial, a hick-town column by Norbert, and and an utterly brainless and irrelevant column by Alan Cochrane. The edition is saved only by superb columns from Alec Bruce and Gwynne Dyer.

Oh, as well, there are excellent letters by Denise Melanson of Indian Island and by Barry Ogden of St. John. Ogden's letter is particularly an important one in the light of certain propaganda which is the only news in this edition.

But before we can talk about any of this, we have to understand the disease which has afflicted this province for at least two centuries. It's a disease of moral and ethical rot which has been carried by the economic masters of this province over all those years, has spread to government,  news media, certainly elements in the universities, is now reaching into the public school system and has blighted the lives of millions over the years.

From the days of timber-cutting rights to the days of oil, this province has been dominated by the greed, the selfishness, the indifference to others of those who got control of the timber-cutting rights and the oil. The rot has always reached deep into the politics of the province, the news media, and deep into the lives of the hundreds of thousands who are afraid to discuss public affairs openly and honestly for fear of losing their jobs.

The rot has created generations of poor who need not have been poor. Contrary to myth, this is not a poor province. Some people have become very wealthy indeed out of it, people whose tax favours alone would pay for all the food banks and hospital needs, and healthier housing, and more in this province.

How far has the moral rot gone?

Just last night, I was reading an old story (2005) about how Irving Oil bullied St. John (with its high rate of poverty) into giving it municipal tax savings that could amount to a hundred million over a period of 25 years. People will suffer for that. People will live in unhealthy housing. People will go hungry. Yes, a loss of a hundred million dollars will be noticed.  (But, duh, we might get some jobs out of it, duh...)

The papers asked Professor Donald Savoie of U de Moncton what he thought of all this. (Our unethical newspapers always consult Professor Savoie on such matters, perhaps because his answers are always so predictable.)

"This how business is conducted these days," said the professor.

I suppose if he were asked about the illegal detention and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, he would answer, "This is how business is conducted these days."

And there must have been a German professor in the 1940s who, watching the Jews being used as slaves, then taken off to the death camps, said, "This is how things are done these days." And a professor in Virginia in 1840, asked what he thought of the millions of slaves who died just in transport to Virginia, and who were then whipped to work and early deaths if they survived the trip, would say, "This is how business is conducted these days."

And, yes it is. Very insightful, professor. And in doing so, it transmits a disease of moral and ethical rot to everything it touches.

Part of the lead up to all this was a propaganda campaign, a very subtle one, mostly in the newspapers. I don't think the journalists did it deliberately because I have seen to evidence to suggest they have the brains to understand it.

Notice how business leaders like to speak of our society as having a private sector and a public sector?
In fact, it doesn't. Not if it's a democracy. In a democracy, there are no sectors. We are all equal. We all have the same rights. The idea that we have rights only according to the sector we are in is the old aristocracy and peasant one - the one our ancestors rebelled against to create democracy.

What is the private sector? Well, it's those in private business (in which all are not equal. Indeed, some are one hell of a lot more equal than others.)

What is the public sector? That is generally used to mean the government - the civil service...

So what are we? Chopped liver?


Worse, to speak of sector and a public sector is to imply they both have rights. Most important, the private sector has a right to be involved in government. It has a right to share in government projects - like education. And, of course, to make a profit out of it.

That concept is now so accepted that Mr. Irving was foolish enough, just a couple of years ago, to openly announce that he was a member of the government. In fact, he did it. He got away with it. Could I do it? Could you do it?

Of course not. It's unconstitutional. But Mr. Irving can do it. He's Mr. Irving. He's above the law And he's certainly above being equal to us peasants. And that sort of thing is how the moral and ethical rot begins.Mr. Irving has a right to be involved in government without bothering to get elected. We don't live in a province of equal people. We live in province in which you have rights not as individuals, but according to the sector we belong to.

That is the classical definition of fascism. That is how far the moral and ethical rot has taken us.

And that takes us to the only big stories in the paper. One is the story of how the Irving have induced Premier Alward to remodel the government so that the civil service follows a faddish business model that the Irvings are much enamoured of.

It's a fundamental change in how government will work because it is modeled on the business need to cut costs and increase profits. Sound good? Well, so far, there's little evidence it works even for business. And, more important, government is not a business. It does not and cannot run on a cut cost/raise profits basis. It's not that mechanical. It has to respond to human needs. And it has to operate on programmes that cover years, not just the three months at a time that is business practice.

Mr. Alward has agreed to a fundamental change in our form of government. It's a change with profound implications for democracy. And Jamie Irving's papers have told us virtually nothing about it. This is a rot which has eaten its way into Mr. Alward's brain (no easy target).
In addition, our government, without public discussion or even information, has handed over two and a half million dollars of our money to Mr. Jamie Irving and some business pals and political stooges to take over an area of teaching in our schools. They will take over the teaching of children with literacy problems. (The news reached us today - well after the deal became a fait accompli.)

What qualifications do Mr. Irving and his business buddies have to take on sucha responsibility? None whatever. But Jamie Irving has his nose into what the Irvings have lusted after for a long time - the public education system. This is the beginning of "the private sector", using its fascist status to begin the process of privatizing our schools so that our tax money is not simply wasted on our children, but will also go into Irving pockets.

Could nobody else help with literacy? Of course others could. Universities around the world have people who have done nothing but develop methods to deal precisely with that problem. But their names aren't Irving. And they aren't in the private sector.

But won't scholars  in our university faculties of education protest? After all, privatization of the public schools has been a disaster wherever it's been tried. And it costs more because it has to produce profits.

But, no, you won't hear a word of criticism, not from any university in the maritimes. If anything, you might catch a word of praise from a sell-out. Or from a professor in another field. One thinks, for example, of a professor who's so wise that he knows more than our chief medical officer does about health - even though he's in a different field.

But any professor who criticized this daylight robbery of our children would be in for an unpleasant meeting with the university president.

This is just the beginning of the moral and ethical rot of this province reaching down to our children. And one more step in the impoverishment of New Brunswickers to provide even more wealth and power to those nice people who have their own, lovely chapel where we are urged to sit, and reflect.

This school break-in is one of the major projects that Atlantic Institute of Market Studies was set up to accomplish. Their earlier attempt didn't work. But they'll be giving each other high fives today. Norbert was a big admirer of their earlier attempt. He'll slobber all over this one.

They've done it. Thanks to Mr. Jamie Irving, they've done it. And Jamie has proven himself a worthy Il Duce of the family. The moral rot has gone far enough so we're a real, fascist state.

Well, as Jesus said, "Bring the little children to me. I can make a buck out of them." Reflect on that next time you're sitting in the Irving Chapel.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Feb. 25: slim pickings

In the whole of section A, there are, perhaps, two news stores worth reading. Amazingly, one of them is the lead story on p. 1. "N.B. needs new approach to child care: advocate".

That puts it mildly. Along with most of Canada, New Brunswick has the worst and most expensive system of child care in the western world. And it's not as if child care were some sort of subsidy for parents too lazy to look after their own children.

Women are essential to our work force. They always have been. At no point in history have most women been able to lie around the house eating chocolates. In the nineteenth century, women were essential as cheap labour as laundresses, farm hands, factory workers, and very cheap teachers for the new, public schools. The 1920s, and the need for cheap office, workers opened up a whole new world of employment which could be filled only by women.

As well, of course, they had the unpaid labour of housekeeping.

Our society, more than ever in history, cannot function without women in the workplace - and commonly at low salaries. So what's going to happen to the children? With the exception of Quebec, nobody has an adequate and affordable system in place.
On the same page is a curious story, "Young readers get a boost". It's a story of great advances made by researchers at University of New Brunswick in assessing the ability of students, advances now being used across Canada to assess reading skills, and to train teachers in more advanced methods of teaching them.

Good news? You bet.

So why the hell has the NB government given two and a half million dollars to English Literacy Inc., an organization whose leaders know nothing about education, to stick their noses into our schools and operate a literacy programme?

And this is an organization which uses volunteers to teach. So who's getting the two and a half million?

The story mention English Literacy Inc. - but just in one sentence. And at that, it doesn't mention that the head honcho of it is Jamie Irving, publisher of Irving Press. In other words, this looks very much like the Irving's big move in on they have been interested in before - muscling in on the education of our children so that the Irvings can begin privatizing the system (at greater expense). And that kind of privatization has already proved itself a disaster for chldren in the US.

But who cares about our children? The important thing is to create a sort of susidized daycare system for Irvings. Mind you, the family is not without ability. Why, young Jamie, after only two years at the St. John Telegraph, by pure hard work and inherent ability, was promoted to the rank of publisher for the whole Brunswick Media. Gee! There's no telling how far he could go.

The family has also established chairs of journalism at St. Thomas and U. de Moncton - so God help the the journalism prof who dares to criticize them.

And that's it for the news, unless you'r really, really interested in a whole page on potholes.

The big story in NewsToday, the section that takes a deep look at the whole world, is "Ottawa will soon require warning labels on tanning beds".

The Your Investments page has a big story warning Premier Alward is taking a risk in holding a referendum on an HST tax. But I'm afraid the big stories misses the point.

The idea of democracy is that we elect a government based on its principles and its expertise. It then decides on whether an HST is necessary. It then tried to convince people that this is the right way to go. And if it doesn't, we vote them out next time.

We do not choose a government that has to ask us what to do. We have what is called responsible government. That means it makes decisions, and is then responsible to the voters for what it did. We do not elect governments so that it can ask us what to do. If that were the case, why would we elect these clowns at all? We could just hire one person at minimum wage to hold referenda on every issue that comes along.

And that's it for NewsToday. No mention of severe rioting and disorder in Greece and Spain and, possibly soon, in Italy. The problem is that making the poor pay for the recession with lack of jobs, lower pay, and cuts in services.

No mention of the planned breakup of countries in the middle east in order to make them weak and ineffective, of the assassinations and civil wars all over Africa to make the US the dominant force on that continent so that American business can rob it blind. No mention that we are now in a cold war with China and, possibly, with Russia. No mention that a Third World War is close enough to smell it.

The problem is not just that this causes enormous suffering. The bigger problem, much bigger, is that this solution (often called austerity) simply doesn't work. It never has worked. It never will work. It's important for us to know that because austerity is the policy being followed now in Britain, the US, and Canada.

The theory here is that if you let the rich get rich enough, it will trickle down to us. That is rubbish. It doesn't work. The rich don't ever let anything trickle down, not ever. If they did, Saudi Arabians would be rolling in luxury - instead of half of them living in poverty.

The course the West is following will lead to severe social disorder, a social disorder caused by the greed of the rich - but all of the rest of us will get blamed for it.

There is no mention of the planned breakup of countries in the Middle East in order to make them weak and ineffective, of the assassination and illegal drone attacks and fabricated civil wars all over Africa to make the US the dominant force on that continent so that American business can rob it blind. No mention that we are now in a cold war with China, possibly with Russia. No mention that a Third World War is close enough to smell it.

No mention that  civil war is being deliberately stirred up in Pakistan.

The editorial is just silly. Man steals gas. Court punishes him by seizing he car. Wow! Great excitement. This will solve the gas theft problem.

Get real. Punishment of any sort has only limited success in changing criminals. Taking his car sounds dramatic - but it's really no different than a fine. And no great fine because the car is fourteen years old, and probably worth less than the gas that was stolen. Hell, the criminal is probably ahead of the game. The only lesson in this is it makes sense to buy a really old car, and then steal all the gas you need.

This is a simple-minded editorial, complemented by an even simpler-minded op piece by Craig Babstock that starts off on the same topic. (What sloppy editor let that happen?) Then Babstock drifts off into some fuzzy idea that confiscating the cars of drunk drivers would somehow end that problem.

Allen Abel is even more pointless than usual. I wish I had known in my early days of journalism that I could make a good living by writing mindless bilge like that for newspapers that don't want their readers to know anything.

Norbert wanders so badly, I really couldn't figure out what his point was. By the end, even he is lost. The result is that he doesn't realize that his "The last word", though, like his column, about police, is not really about the same point at all.

Alec Bruce saves the day. His column is on Harper's wasteful spending on things like the War of 1812 "celebrations", the diamond jubilee of the Queen, the Office of Religious Freedom....

He doesn't say why Harper spends money on these things - but I have no doubt he knows why. Harper is pure politics. Every one of those festivals of wasteful spending has a purpose. Every one is aimed to please some minority group that will vote for him. And, as he learned, you can win power without anything like a majority. All you have to do is line up enough of the sort of people who think that Canada's biggest problem is that we don't have enough pictures of the Queen.

Some day, I must talk about the habit of the Irvings of referring to the "public" sector and the "private" sector. This is a way of spreading a sort of propaganda about what kind of society we are.

To speak of us a consisting of a private sector and a public sector sounds harmless, but it's really a profoundly undemocratic way, even a fascist way, of describing a society. That puts it in a class with Mr. Irving's statement of a couple of years ago that he is now "in coalition" with the government. And it has links to Jamie Irving's attempt to start taking over our public school system.

Public sector - private sector - yes, that's a piece of ignorance and double-talk that's worth mentioning.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Feb. 24: Final Act, Scene 1. The NB Revolution

Premier Alward gave two and a half million dollars to Jamie Irving, publisher of the of Bunswick News. Wasn't that sweet of him? Two and a half million dollars of our money.

There's not enough money in the bucket - some thousands of dollars - to provide seriously and even dangerously ill people in the Moncton region with vital medication. But, hey, for Mr. Irving, there's no lock on the bank vault. And what's it all for?

Well, Mr. Irving has a sudden lust to improve elementary literacy is this province. And so he formed Elementary Literacy, Inc. of which he is Chairman of the board, and serves nobly with other businessmen and the usual suspects from the civil service.

Their training in the teaching of elementary literacy? Zip. Zero. Nada. There are thousands of teachers who have training in the field. (Indeed, as a former elementary school teacher, even I have training in this field. But I haven't been offered two and half million dollars by Mr. Alward.) And what  training does Mr. Jamie have?

Well, he has a BA in English which, despite the word English in there, has nothing to do with teaching elementary literacy. And he has a degree in journalism, a degree that, apparently, did not include a course on the ethics of journalism. In short, he, like most of his board, has no credentials whatever in teaching elementary literacy.

In any case, the problem of literacy has less to do with schooling than with television, video games, parents who don't read, and the lack of anything that could be called intellectual life in New Brunswick. And a powerful factor in the lack of literacy is the appalling quality of the newspapers that Jamie Irving publishes.

Whose budget did that two and half million come out of? Education? Was it discussed in the legislature?  Aren't we allowed to know?

And if this is a wonderful idea why wasn't Mr Alward bragging about handing over three and a half mill? And wny wassn't it a major story in the Irving Press?  And, the bigger question, what is this really all about?

In the US, big business has been after a share of the education budget for decades. Very big money is involved. The US spends some 500 billion a year.  So it was we had business-financed "think tanks" pimping for private involvement in education. We saw that same campaign here from Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, complete with bogus scientific studies, and the most vicious editorials I have ever seen in the Brunswick Press, slandering teachers.

It also goes on  in Britain. The technique is for big business to edge its way in with soft sells like "Public/Private/Partnerships" - then schools operated by private business and collecting fees; but also getting lots and lots of tax money for extra profit.

The result in the US has been a disastrous collapse of the quality of education. US education now ranks at the bottom for nations in the developed world. (Canada's public education system usually is in the top ten.) For those parents who opt for the "charter" schools (the public-private ones), the cost of taxes AND fees is crushing, often making the additional cost of university unthinkable. For the purely public schools, their budgets have been cut to the bone. The results are public schools essentially for slum kids, and with classes that can be as big as a hundred.

Of course that has happened. Big business operates for only one thing - profit. It's primary goal is not to serve people or help them in any way. Very nice, of course, if it does so by accident - but serving human and social need is not its purpose. Never confuse Jamie Irving with Florence Nightingale.

The Irvings are sticking their noses into what is none of their business, and none of any sort of business they understand. They, just like us, are perfectly free to express opinions, have a talk with the teacher, form genuinely voluntary service groups (when asked for them.)

They have no bloody right to take our tax money and use it to convert our children into just one more profit asset.

Public education has been perhaps the greatest, single advance in human history. It is public education , not self-serving billionaires, that created the stunning advances in science and prosperity over the past century, advances that far outrank the thousand years before in which education was almost entirely private.

So I shall say here what Mr. Alward lacked the courage, integrity and smarts to say. Mr. Irving, you are arrogant, presumptuous, and bullying. Participate in public life, of course, but do so as a citizen just like the rest of us, not as an aristocrat ruling over that army of intellectual eunuchs we call a government.

Nor is that the whole story. The other story, closely related, concerns something called Sigma Six. This is the sort of faddish and shallow philosophy that sweeps through the business world every couple of generations. It's something like Dale Carnegie's once-popular book "How to Make Friends and Influence People."  Essentially, it's a system designed to minimize costs and maximize profits.

It's been tarted up as a training programme, and made exciting in a pre-adolescent way, by giving its students judo titles, like green belt, yellow belt, black belt, master. (Well, it's better than mistress, hooker, courtesan...or pimp, drug-dealer, hold-up man....)

The learning process can be as short as a week - though the programme requires a grasp of complex ideas, and lots of big words and jargon that nobody understandsn bit even the black belts. It can be longer if it is studied at a university business school. (University business schools can make hookers look shy.)

Does it work? People like the Irvings say it does. People who are more likely to know what they are talking about - scientists, for example - say that the evidence is very, very shaky - and it certainly does not work outside the field of business.

Worse, the adoption of this system, like any other system, really, can put development in a rut, destroying innovation and adaptation to change.

Well, if the Irvings want to adopt this hokum for their own business, that's there business. But when they try to foist it on government and health care, it's our business. (It has to be the Irvings foisting it on these areas. Alward wouldn't change his diaper without the approval of the Irvings.)

The switch to Sigma Six is what lies behind the conflict between health services and favourite hand puppet for the Irvings, Health Minister Flemming. In the same way, I note Black Belts and Yellow Belts blossoming in our civil service.

Look - Even if it works for business (which is doubtful), this pseudo-scientific, jargon-filled scheme with its childish aura of various coloured belts cannot possibly work for government, health or education.

The purpose of Sigma Six is to cut costs and maximize profits. The purpose of health care is to serve patients. They purpose of education is to develop minds. The purpose of government is to serve our whole society as we wish it to be served.

The Irvings can use Sigma Six to cover themselves in coloured belts, if they wish, and to regularize their digestive processes. They have no right to force it on us; their newspapers have no right to not to tell us what is going on. They have no  right to force it on OUR government. Worse, if fully applied to government it would destroy democracy. After all, if our lives are going to governed by black belts talking jargon, how can we possibly have a democracy?

What Mr. Alward has done is to radically advance the takeover of health, education and of government itself by the most arrogant and irresponsible elements of our society. What we are watching is the late stages of a revolution made possible by the wimpiness of a premier, and by the arrogance and ignorance of a class interested only in itself.

There is a profound rot of ethics and morality in this province. It we ever elect another Liberal or Conservative government, it's game over.

Meanwhile, those tough, no-nonsense reporters at the Moncton Times and Transcript seem to  have missed all this. Will they cover it in the coming week? Nah.

The editorial will be about the need for a civic centre. The Rod Allen will write more adolescent humour to show how smart he is. Brent Mazerolle will write something really long - and say nothing.

The only section written with any sense of seriousness will be Sports and Miss Manners and Kate's pregnancy . But that's only because sports and Miss Manners and Kate's pregnancy have no effect on Sigma Six and the gullibility of the Irvings.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Feb. 23: Big, big changes are planned...

While idly fiddling my way through Google, looking up local events, I came across the name of a woman, a senior civil servant in New Brunswick, who holds a Black Belt in Sigma Six. Wow I thought. This is not a woman to cross. She could take a guy out on a quick knee to the grown, then spin and hurt you very badly with a backward thrust of her heel.

So I checked Sigma Six.

It's not like that at all. As I went through all this, and compared it to events in the news, I suddenly realized that New Brunswick is going through a severe change which will inflict on us a moral rot coming from big business, government, and private news media.

The change is so severe that if the next provincial election were to return either a Liberal or a Conservative government, I would advise everybody to get out of this province as soon as possible.

You will, of course, also find the rot in any province (or state). The difference is that in no other province will you see the collaboration between big business, government and the private news media, and the arrogance that we live with in New Brunswick.

But this is a topic to be saved for Sunday.
There is, however, a closely related story on p. A1. And I don't think it's a coincidence.

"NBseeks ways to improve literacy" It's an oddly written story.Instead of telling us about action being taken, most of the story is sad accounts of people who cannot read, or whose literacy is below par for most jobs. I kept looking for hints measures the government was taking to improve matters, but couldn't find any. So what was the point of this story?

Then, it casually mentioned something called Elementary Literacy Inc. which is, we are told, leading the charge with a grant of two and a half million from the government. And it has the approval of David Alward - and I'll just bet it does.

Curiously the article says nothing about the leading force in Elementary Literacy Inc., and generally tell us nothing about it. And it should. Because the Chairman of Elementary Literacy Inc. is - Jamie Irving, publisher of the Irving press and noted reader.

In other words, Irving now has what he has wanted a for years - a finger in the education pie. Yes, this looks another   variant on the old Public/Private/Partnership scam, and a first step to increasing privatization of our schools to make the Irvings richer - and us poorer. And, once again, Mr Irving has used his arrogance and his power to intrude on a political matter in a way that all us others in this "democracy" are not permitted to do.

So I think, on the same priniciple, I shall go to the offices of the TandT as founding Chairman of NB Ethics in Jouranlism, Inc., and demand two and a half million dollars to bring the Irving Press up to standard. I know far more than Mr. Irving does about journalistic ethics - and this is an area in which NB is far, far behind even the not very demanding standards of North America.      

This "news" story is just the first part of a soft sell. The long term plan is to have us turn our children and our tax money over to Mr. Irving.
Shawn Graham has resigned his seat in the legislature. What a crushing loss! I'm sure there will be special services in the churches. However, resigning is also a useful way to kill any further investigation on why we all got ripped off for some 75 million dollars.
The Faith Page has the usual mindless patter for a sermonette, the usual trivializing of faith and all it means.

I note, too, that the advertising for Jesus section has no Catholic churches,and lots of Protestant ones are missing, too. Then it dawned on me. Of course.  Even God has to pay for advertising in the Irving Press. And this gives us a chance to learn a new term, children. Go to Google and write 'definition whited sepulchre'.And then push search.

There is one story in NewsToday that might be good news. Maybe. A New Brunswicker, Bernard Valcourt has been appointed the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development ( two portfolios that clash more than a little.)
Valcourt served in the cabinet of Mulroney. That would normally not be a good sign - but Mulroney, for all  his sleaze, was perhaps the only prime minister in Canadian history who really cared about our First Nations. Maybe some rubbed off on Valcourt.
The editorial, quite correctly, deplores that fact that a large number of patients in this region of New Brunswick may soon be unable to get injections they must have to  avoid serious mental and phsyical damage. It seems that the only doctor who gives the injections lives in Ontario, making it a little expensive to bring him down here. Worse, there is no sign of any plan to replace him and his essential service.

However, the editorial writer manages to place the blame on the whole, health system. In fact, it seems the blame may rest on the new managemenat system being forced on the the medical profession by Health Minister Fleming with, as so often happens in New Brunswick life, the encouragement of people named Irving. This is one of the things I'll talk about on Sunday. (But if serious talks upset you on the Lord's Day, then go to church, instead.)

Bill Beliveau plays the old game that only shale gas can save us. Higher taxes, he says, won't help us.
And that's it. Those are the only two possible solutions to NB's   economic problems. Well, if you're presented with only two options, it makes both of them attractive - however silly both might be. It's like being asked which of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters you want to date when those two are the only available women.
Norbert has an interesting idea as he notes how a device like a smartphone can do jobs you would have needed four or five gadgets to do just a few years ago. That, he says, means less demand on the environment and an end to consumerism - so environmentalists should be jumping for joy.
Or maybe not.

Norbert - google - reductio ad absurdum.

There is no environmental saving. We don't use fewer gadgets today. However versatile they may seem, we use more of the them, not fewer. We also have to dispose of them at frequent intervals,and then buy new ones.

To say we're dematerializing the world is absurd. We are using more resources, not fewer.

A piece of advice, Norbert. Talk about things you understand or, if you are going into something you don't understand, then don't write a column acting as if you have the whole and final truth. Suggest the possibilities that some people (not you) have mentioned. Put them forward as something for people to think about - not as the final and true revelation.

Brent Mazerolle has a cute little story that could have been told nicely in one paragraph. Alas! He took it to twenty. It never  had much of a point, anyway. But at one paragraph it would at least have been cute.
Tomorrow, we look at literacy and at health services reform, both  of which have all the marks  of New Brunswick leadership's chonic sickness - total absence of any ethics or morality. And a decided shortage of intelligence.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Feb. 22:bits good, bits of bad.....

Before beginning today's blog, I really must add a few words to yesterday's. This concerns the editorial on the new high school. It was an editorial that combined ignorance and smug confidence to a degree I have rarely seen. And there's a bit toward the end that is really infuriating. This is the section in which the editor defends the decision not to put an auditorium in the school. The reason?

Well, says the editorialist, most parents aren't big fans of plays, anyway.

Look, whichever twit wrote that editorial. it is not the purpose of schools to produce children who are duplicates of us. The purpose of schools is to broaden our children's minds beyond the levels we had a chance to reach.

So far as I can tell from priorities set by Moncton City Council and the provincial government and the TandT, the intellectual and artistic life of the adult population of Moncton consists of only three interests.
1. Watching rock stars sing through their noses while wearing lights that flash on and off.
2. Watching hockey.
3. Producing revenue for government liquor stores.

Maybe we don't give much of a damn about plays. But we owe it to our children to make sure they get the opportunity to understand and enjoy a breadth of cultural and intellectual experience so they can understand more  than we can, enjoy more than we can, and think more than we do. (I can see why that point blew past the TandT editorial board.)

And I can't help noticing that the educational experts who designed a major high school without an auditorium made sure there were two sports fields.

Section A for February 22 is its usual mixed self, some important news, lots of trivia (a hockey player made page one by winning $5000 in a coffee shop promotion). There is nothing at all on major issues a newspaper is supposed to keep us informed on - shale gas, urban planning, rationale for placement of schools, full disclosure on land sales......
Section C, NewsToday, is the usual smorgasbord of scraps of news both national and international which don't offer any sense of what is really going on in the world. Notably, I have yet to see a news report on the extent of suffering in the US as the recession goes on. Nor have a seen anything on the extensive militarization of American police forces, or the tremendous rise of domestic espionage in pursuit of "terrorist" environmentalists and "unAmerican protestors who are against the overwhelming power of big business in that country (and in this one).

There is, however, the usual page of smiling people (mostly businessmen getting cheap publicity) holding up giant cheques for various charities.

And so to the editorial page. Today, the editorial is at least amusing. It seems that the writer is very concerned that New Brunswick will be hit harder than other regions as the federal government tries to save money by laying off civil servants.

Is this really the same Times and Transcript whose attitude to the civil service is usually summed up in the cro-magnon grunt, "Civil servants useless? Too many of them. Big business good. Government too big.Fire people. Give money to big business."

Harper is there kind of of guy, straight out of the darkest corner of the cave. So here he  is doing what the Norbert's have insisted on for years. But, suddenly, efficiency has nothing to do with it. Suddenly, it doesn't matter if civil servants are lazy, incompetent and overpaid. The important thing is we must get our fair share of them. After all, there are important things our incompetent and lazy and overpaid civil servants have to do for us.

Hey, guys - think you can get your act together?

Gwynne Dyer writes an excellent and thoughtful column. I don't agree with him. I think the western empire is in a serious decline; and I think American foreign policy (no matter who is in power) guarantees that the decline will be a very serious one, indeed.  Much of what Dyer says is probably quite true. But there's far too much he doesn't say.

However, Gwynne Dyer is no fool. Even when one doesn't agree with him, it's well worth paying attention to what he says.
For contrast, we have Norbert Cunningham's series on planning the future of New Brunswick. This is one is the last of the series (which, if nothing else, proves there is a God.)

His first point is that we should support and cooperate with our politicians. Well, I'm afraid Norbert doesn't understand the basic concept of democracy.

There have been governments in which people have been required to support and cooperate with their politicians. Hitler's Germany springs to mind. - Stalin's Soviet Union. - Mao's China.

However, the general idea of a democracy is that politicians are supposed to support and cooperate with us. They aren't supposed to lie to us by promising to release impartial information on shale gas - then do the reverse. They aren't supposed to appoint a senior health officer to report on how gas development could affect our health - and then ignore her advice, appoint an academic hack to say the opposite, and then put him in charge of the whole operation.

Most politicians are honest, says Norbert. Okay. This government has lied and cheated and misrepresented on almost every issue it has handled. In such a case, an honest politician would resign from the party and sit as an independent. Any politician who sticks with his party through all that dishonesty is, by definition, himself dishonest. So, Norbert, give us a list of all the NB politicians who have resigned on matters of principle over the years.

We can usually trust our politicians to fairly consider our opinions? Get real Norbert. The government has consistently lied and cheated on shale gas - and it has done so with the open help of our lying and cheating journalists. (In fairness, I don't think you're lying or cheating. No sir. Not you. You're not a liar or a cheat. You're just a bigoted crank with a habit of pronouncing on matters he knows nothing about. Who else could be ignorant enough and prejudiced enough to say that people on EI are lazy, or that anybody who opposes your crank notions and your rudeness and your slurs is just being cynical? )

Then there's his helpful advice for the schools, a subject on which he is particularly an ignorant crank, On bullying, he makes a charge against the schools based on just three incidents. Three out of ---how many? But for Norbert, that's enough to slander a whole system.

Then more slander as he quotes some horse's ass of a professor who once said the tells students to forget all they ever learned in high school because it's wrong.

Norbert, if you knew anything about universities you would know that they are stuffed to bursting with inflated egos, and colossal ignorance about they very meaning of education.  And Norbert says they're right. Really? How can he decide some prof is right when he doesn't know anything about education at any level?

That's another subject I've love to debate with you in public Norbert. My experience of university is that, at the Bachelor's level,students don't have to forget anything. Not really. It's no badly taught that it gets forgotten without help.

Occasionally, you will  have a teacher teaching a subject in which he/she has little/no experience, just as Norbert claims. Sure. it happens. It happens in any business I have ever heard of. History is full of generals and emperors who fell into that category. There's a similar, but worse, problem with newspaper columnists.

Norbert ends with a quotation that lights up his ignorance of the subject like a rocket flare. The quotation is that in school grading, the passing grade is B (to indicate competence). But the schools pass children with lesser grades. Meanwhile, in real life the passing grade is competence. (BTW, if B is the passing grade, who can schools be passing students with lower grades? Don't you think when you read, Norbert.

Norbert, not only do you lack a clue in understanding education, the man you quote knows even less than you do and, anyway, if your could read and think at the same time, you would realize his statement makes no sense.

In the first place B is not simply a passing grade. In the second place, it does not indicate competence. In the third place, there is no common standard for what grades mean. That is especially true of universities, where the quality of grading should be a national scandal.

In the US, university grades are such a farce that only dodos get B. When I taught, I used C to indicate competence. I knew other profs who freely gave As for work of the same quality. The most reliable marking I have seen has been in the public schools. The least has been in the universities.

The passing grade in the real world is competence? Exactly what does that mean, Norbert? Was Lord Baden-Powell a competent military officer? In fact, he was one of the worst in the history of the British army, and army that suffered no shortage of incompetent generals over the years. Ditto with General Pershing who commanded the American army in WW1.

Is the Times and Transcript, with its shameless lack of ethics, competent?  Is Mr. Alward competent?
Would you care to send us a list of the academic record of Mr. Irving? Complete with grades?

Norbert, the man you quote doesn't know what he's talking about. Nor, Bert, do you. That could be forgiven if only you weren't so free with slurs and slander.
For relief, I turn to Malloy on op ed. Like most of the staff writers on op ed, he usually seems to put issues in the context of his own life. But, unlike the staff writers, he has some insight to provoke thought about the issues.

Today, he talks about paedophilia. He begins it as a humorous story about explaining sex to his son. But it gradually takes a serious turn as he raises issues about how to protect our children from it.

Most of the staff writers would either play it for laughs all the way, or would write sentence after sentence saying the same thing - paedophilia is bad - which is something we already know.

Malloy goes that extra, important step. He tried to get meaning and response out of the incident. I can see an excellent stimulus to further thought and discussion in this column. And that's what an op ed column should do_______________________________________________________________________

The headline on David Suzuki's column is a little misleading. He talks not so much about farmland as he does about the relationship between city and country. Moncton is a prime example of the urban crisis that Suzuki writes of. Moncton City Council, if it has any urban plan at all, should take this column very seriously, indeed. So should we all. In terms of its present layout and of the profit-oriented plans that are floating around, Moncton is doomed to be a disaster area - and in a very short time. The last things we should be encouraging are developments like Royal Oaks and an "events" centre.

Make it a point read this one.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Feb. 21: The news YOU need to know...

.."Snowy weather challenges N.B. road-clearing crews."
..."Baby born at Dieppe home."
...."Impact of federal job cuts debated." ( meaning - We don't know anything because nobody knows what's going on.)

Will federal job cuts help us out of recession? Of course not. Federal jobs did not cause the recession. That was caused by corrupt banks and greedy business leaders. So cutting federal jobs will only make it worse. But it will provide Harper with fatuous speeches about how he has saved money by making more people poor.

That pretty well sums up section A - except for lots and lots of pictures of cars for sale.

NewsToday has the problem of almost all world and national news. It is meaningless without some general understanding of where it fits into the general picture. Hugo Chavez is still sick, and not appearing in public. That has been a big story for days, now. But a big story about what? We need the context. That context, in most papers, appears on the editorial and op ed pages.

But not the Moncton Times and Transcript.

So lets try to get the context just for Chavez and Venezuela.

The US has long seen Central and South America as a happy hunting ground for American business  by supplying cheap labour and cheap resources, and charging low to zero taxes for American business - and often including encouragements like refusing to put environmental controls in place, and providing free police to beat up, torture or assassinate anybody who complains.

To do this, the US has for a century installed dictators and corrupt "democracies", creating a very small rich group in each of the countries to help keep things in order. In return, the various dictators ensure that there is no spending on education or health care, and no loose talk about minimum wages. (That would hurt profits.) That's why Haiti makes big profits for investors - but for most of its people is just the poorest country in the hemisphere.

But that is coming undone. Over fifty years ago, Fidel Castro successfully challenged this by overthrowing a particularly brutal dictator named Batista.  (Of course, the relatively small number of wealthy Cubans who had been in cahoots with the dictator fled to Florida where they could pose as freedom-lovers.)

The US made several attempts to murder Castro. But he got away with it - the first Latin American leader to do so. And, for all the blather in the North American press, he made rapid social progress in feeding and housing and education and providing health care for a population that had never had such things before. Today, it far outclasses the US in those categories.

hadopted the same methods and, again, with good results. Now two Latin American leaders have stopped American (and Canadian) business from pillaging their countries, and have improved social conditions.

The American government is not happy. And the illness of Chavez could be an opening for, perhaps, a civil war with imported 'patriots' to overthow Chavez (with suitable weaponry from the US). Then we could all go back to happier days when Americans owned Cuban factory farms and Venezuelan oilfields.

That's the context for almost every news story from Latin America. But you'd never guess it from reading the Moncton TandT.
Then there's the editorial. It begins with illogical slush about what a sensational price we're getting for constructon of the new high school. Well - with a tab eleven million dollars UNDER the government's estimate. one should surely wonder about the smarts of the goverment estimate. Or perhaps about the honesty of it.

The editorial writer pronounces that in his opinion, the government estimate was reasonable. Oh? He has expertise and access to full information on the estimates for multimillion dollar projects?

Then he writes that our leaders have been wise to drop the requirement for an auditorium and for fixed seating it. It's not worthwhile. Oh? The editorial writer is also an expert on school auditoriums and seating?  Anyway,he writes, it really doesn't matter because not all MCHS parents are drama fans.

So, hey. let's carry that spirit all the way. Not all MCHS parents are fans of science labs  - so let's cut them out and save even more money. Nor do all them like reading - another possible big saving by cutting the library. I mean, all we really need is rock music and beer.  God forbid we should produce students with a broad knowledge of culture and the ability to think.

This editorial is so puerile, ignorant and yahooish that is sets a new low even for the TandT.
Norbert can be such a hypocrite, it makes me feel ill to read him. This time his column is about patting Shawn Graham on he head, and dumping all over civil servants in the case of some people lying and/or withholding information on the Shawn Graham case by high civil servants.

First, this accusation comes from a man who has spent his life working for the most lying and information withholding newspaper I have ever seen. And he has played a leading role in that. You hypocrite, Norbert.

Secondly, even the highest civil servants are employees. They obey orders from the boss. The boss is the cabinet minister or, ultimately, the premier. If they refused to hand over documents, they almost certainly refused on orders from the politicians. Norbert has a bad habit of forgiving politicians, then jumping all over civil servants.

Indeed, given the length of the investigation, it is surely possible that both Alward and Graham were involved in the hush-up.

As to Graham's error being no big deal, you have a weird standard of ethics, Norbert. I don't know whether he got any kickback - and neither does Norbert. But to dismiss Graham's behaviour in a case that cost us 73 million is absurd. A premier should know the rules, particularly when he sits down with a committee to give away millions of dollars.

Why was it so important for him to sit on that committee? To say that he knew of his father's involvement in the past but didn't bother to check on the present situation is to say that Shawn Graham was a particularly numbskulled premier. To dismiss the whole thing without even looking at the questions it raises is even more irresponsible. It may well be that his father gained nothing. And making that thhe main issue might well be a red herring. As it is, the whole handling of it smells - and the TandT coverup and dismissal of it just makes it smell worse.

Norbert ends with a typical "The last word" - a slur and a sneer for public servants. I will respect you, Norbert, when you have a slur and a sneer for the billionaires you have spent your life kissing up to.


Alec Bruce's column is a pretty gloomy one, but bang on. I'll take it just a step further. The western economies, after pillaging the rest of the world for some 400 years, are now themselves being gutted by their own economic leaders - with the help of sell-out news media like the Irving Press.
Which brings us to Rod Allen's column......
Excellent column by Jody Dallaire. The reality is that in Harper, we have an ideologically narrow and morally vacant prime minister. He plays heavily to the rich, and has nothing but contempt for the rest of us. It is virtually a religious principle for him that we should not have a government childcare programme. He has contempt for those who cannot afford private child care while they go to work for minimum wage.  He has contempt for charities, for the environment, for First Nations.

His love for big business is unmatched by any caring for the rest of us - except for a few small groups who can be gulled into continuing to vote for him - Christian fundamentalists, Zionists  (who mistake his speeches for actions), and those yahoos who think putting more people in jail longer will solve crime.  If the latter had any brains at all, they would note that the US has more people in prison for longer than any other country in the world. And yet, so I hear, there is crime in the US.

Sorry to be late today. On Thursday morning, I have a history class for seniors, some of whom are almost as old as I am - though not as pretty, of course.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Feb. 20: For those in a hurry......'s issue of the Moncton Times and Transcript is a bargain. This one can be read over a small bowl of cereal and a cookie at under five minutes. Really quick readers could do it while brushing their teeth. Exceptions may be those who really, really care about front page stories that a graffiti probe has led to arrests, and that a guitarist whose guitar was stolen got it back. There's even a picture and, sure enough, there's a man holding a guitar. For those panting for more, the story is continued for half of p. A9.

The only front page story that merits attention is that a tender has been awarded for construction of a new high school at Royal Oaks. The winning estimate was 27 million, the lowest in a field that ranged up to 47 million.

Now, an enquiring reporter would ask how such a range is even possible - and perhaps whether the contract is written in terms that could allow for the price to rise under certain circumstances. Or whether dramatic changes were made in the specifications. Or whether there was some sort of game being played here.

But never fear. No questions were asked.
NewsToday? Well, apparently the most important thing that happened in the world is that Harper announced he was opening an Office of Religious Freedom which will make a tremendous difference to religious freedom for billions of people all over the world. And will do it on an operating budget of half a million dollars. (Well, we need to save money for the Senate.) Half a million. That won't even pay for travel costs and chefs for committee meetings.

Four more people killed in a shooting spree in California. The answer is obvious. Arm everybody, including school children.

In other big news, Hugo Chavez is sick and may have to step down as leader of Venezuela. That will come as a shock to anybody who's been vacationing on Mars for the last month. A missile killed some people in Syria. Who would have guessed? No-one will learn anything from this slim patchwork of story bits.
The editorial expresses shock that so many workers are getting lavish raises these days, as high as two to four percent. It suggests that business should show leadership in taking a tough stand against pay raises.
(Well - you know - pay raises of unionized workers, not the pay raises of executives and board members. I mean, they need 50% a year of more to be motivated. It might be worth checking pay raises of university presidents, though.)

A second editorial valiantly defends former premier Shawn Graham against demands he owes an apology for sitting on a committee when it was judging a matter in which he had a personal interest, and which cost us some $75 million.

I agree. Anybody who would be dumb enough to elect Shawn Williams in the first place doesn't deserve an apology. I think, though, that New Brunswick deserves something in this case that has a considerable smell about it, even in the most generous interpretation. Perhaps Mr. Williams could be induced to say, "Oops!"

Norbert contributes the sort of column he can do well. It doesn't call for him to make judgements  (and that's a blessed relief). It doesn't give him room to rant. True, it's irrelevant. But it's interesting; and it's decently written.  Good one, Norbert.

Alec Bruce is surprisingly light. But he remains easily the best writer in the paper.

Eric Lewis' column is on a worthy subject; but it says almost nothing. Worse, the headline suggests it is about the spread of the 'pink shirt' rallies to schools across Canada. But it  says not a word about that beyond Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Perhaps a more useful topic might be about the character and personality types of bullies. That might help us to understand the problem a whole lot better.

Brian Cormier spoils what could been a  very attractive blank space in the paper with another nothing column.

Lorne contributes a letter in which he says shale gas is perfectly safe. (He speaks as the impartial Chair of a shale gas organization.) He is kind, though. He does not mention his obvious opinion that hundreds of thousands of scientists and medical people all over the world are completely wrong in their criticisms of it. And that's nice. I mean, obviously, they just aren't as impartial and scientifically knowledgeable as Mr. Lorne Amos, Sr.

Then there are a couple of items that didn't make it into the paper today.

The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development has released a survey showing that of 34 developed nations, the US is last in male life expectancy. It also ranks low in chances of a newborn baby surviving. It also has the lowest proportion of doctors in the population. In short, of all the developed nations, the US has the most expensive and the least effective health system. Cuba, a very poor nation, ranks substantially higher than the US. Three cheers for private medicine, private insurance and private drug companies.

In Spain and Greece, there are serious riots that could amount to revolutions as the rich make the poor pay for the economic chaos the rich have caused. One of the causes of this rioting is the attempt to cut and even end medicare, something which means death for the poor, hardship for the middle class, but just another business perq of free insurance for the rich.

We're seeing hints of the same thinking in Western Europe and in Canada.

By all indicators, medicare is the cheapest and most effective system of health care the world has ever seen. But the very rich see it as just one more thing they can make even more money out of. And if that means suffering and early death for the rest of us, tough luck.

Perhaps, though, we xhould consult with Mr. Lorne Amos, Sr. for his impartial and learned judgement.

Oh, I presume Mr. Lorne Amos, Sr.  wrote that letter to the editor all by himself. Not a good idea. He should, like most busy execs, hire a "communications' consultant to write such letters for him. Communications consultants know how to write such letters without sounding arrogant and bullying. (I believe Brian Cormier lists himself as a communications specialist.)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Feb. 19: Well, it could have been a big story....

The lead headline is that lots of babies were born in Moncton Hospital on Valentine's Day. Now, what does this mean? How does it change our lives? Well, it could mean that 13 couples got together nine months ago, went through all the statistics and medical figures, and figured out exactly the right time

Or, since it happened at the anglo hospital, it could mean that English-speaking Monctonians have launched a revenge of the cradle, a drive to maintain dominance in the province by having more babies than the Acadians. And if so, this could turn into a mammoth struggle fought out hand to hand as it were on the beds of the province - with the possibility of a movie.

If it isn't one of those, I damned if I see why this is a front page headline.

The only other item of interest in the section, and the one that should have been the headline was a report that ex-premier Shawn Graham improperly handed over loans which left tax-payers on the hook for 75 million dollars. The loans went to a company his father was associated with. Obviously, he should have excused himself from the committee that made that decision.

He said he didn't know his father was still involved with the company. Hint - pick up phone, say, "hey, dad..." It must be highly unlikely this was a simple mistake. As well, if his father was with that company for many years, Shawn Graham might well have other friends in it.

We're in the hole for 75 mil. The punishment? A whacking $3,500 - less than the cost of the enquiry. Oh, and he's been asked to say he's sorry. I could get worse for failing to pay my ticket for overnight parking.
I do, however, congratulate the TandT for carrying a story I thought it would ignore. First Nations children, from the late nineteenth century to 1990 were forcibly sent to residential schools. There, the death rate was so  high from disease, insanitary conditions, inadequate diet, fires, that well over 3000 children died. (Actually, the final figure is likely to be much higher.) The death rate was so high that schools were commonly supplied with graveyards when they were built.

The article does not mention the wide-scale sexual and physical abuse of the children which is part of the report this story is based on.

Gee. I wonder why First Nations people don't trust us.

The rest of NewsToday is a waste of time.

Warning - read the editorial. I'm quite sure this is the opening shot of the war to take over our public schools. It's look gentle and innocent. These take-over attempts usually look that way. Big business wants to get our children. There's money in them. And I strongly suspect this editorial owes something to Jamie Irving, eminent authority on education, Chairman of New Brunswick Literacy Commission - and publisher of the Irving press.

As these things always do, the editorial sounds innocent. It suggests annual surveys of student opinion to assess the quality of teachers and programmes. (After all, that's the way it's done in business - sort of.)

Trouble is that the editor  (and whoever at head office told him to write this bilge) doesn't know what he's talking about.

In my early days of teaching, I was one of the minority of teachers who thought student evaluation of courses and teachers was a great idea. In my time, I was the subject of hundreds of such evaluations. And of those hundreds, only one was (deservedly) bad. Indeed, my course evaluations were almost always among the best. And it wasn't because of easy grades. In fact, my grading was generally considered pretty tough.

There are at least of couple of these evaluations, with student comments, on google. So you can check them out. (one is listed under rate  your prof.)

And, as I learned over the years, they don't matter a poop. They don't lead to any changes. They have virtually no impact on teaching quality or on curriculum.

Students have no idea of how to evaluate teachers or curricula. Sitting in a classroom  does not make one an authority on education. If it did, we'd all be experts. Most students (and almost all university teachers) have almost no idea of what education means.

I had an operation for appendicitis. I'm still alive. And that's nice. But I would have no idea how to evaluate that operation or that doctor.

It was always nice to get a good evaluation. But it had no effect on how I taught. That was always based on my own evaluation of what students needed to learn and how they could best learn it. Students were in no position to offer help on that.

Bad evaluations had no effect whatever on teachers who received them. They just confirmed their opinion that the students were immature little rotters. Those teachers who did well
were dismissed as just being popular for telling jokes in class and giving easy marks.

For educational purposes, the idea is useless. But for a big corporation looking for a gradual take-over, this opens the door - with business generously offering to conduct the surveys at no charge. We'll call it a partnership. Yeah, that's it. A  Public-Private-Partnership.... Keep your eye on your children and your hand on your wallet as you watch Jamie Irving of the Literacy Commission (funded by who?) slither across the editorial column.
Norbert is ranting again. I just get so excited when his moustache wiggles with rage that I get pimply all over. This time, it's the cowardly 'anti-social' media. That means people like me, the Moncton Free Press, and the many bloggers organized and unorganized across the province.

The word ' cowardly' really strikes home, of course, coming as it does from a man who's never been afraid to stand right up to people like the Irvings and say, "I think I see a teeny big of dust on your jacket, Mr. Irving. May I pick it up?"

He says the "anti-social" media promotes a mindless herd mentality - unlike Norbert and the TandT which provides us with stimulating information and piercing insight.

Oh, yesm those awful 'anti-social' media often say that politicians are dishonest. (Not true, says Norbert.)

Norbert, this is an ignorant and illogical rant. However, I think it would be an excellent one to debate in public. I would be happy to take part in that debate. And it would give you a wonderful chance to show what a fool I am.

How about it, kid?

The loser gets to pick the lint off Mr. Irving's clothes.
Alec Bruce has an interesting column about transit and Toronto. But it has meaning for Moncton, too.
Within a decade, Moncton transit will be a serious problem because of the city sprawl, the price of gas, and the very weak position of mass transit. Toronto's Mr. Ford is not the only mayor with his head stuck in the sand, leaving exposed "...another part of (his) body on which the sky tends to fall."

I apologize for the coarsely sexual language in the above paragraph. I was  quoting Mr. Bruce.__________________________________________________________________

Alan Cochrane's column is neither well written nor of any possibly interest or importance whatever. That seems to be a requirement to get a job at the TandT.

Louise Gilbert raises an interesting point about making immigrants, especially older ones, welcome to Moncton. Moncton seems a little weak on this, somethng that must make it difficult for immigrants in which they are a small minority in a city already small.

And a city in which the daily newspaper does not seem to recognize their existence, not even on its Faith page.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Feb. 18: hurry, hurry, hurry, getcher piplines....

This weekend saw demonstrations across the US, the largest one of 35,000 to 50,000 in Washington, DC. They were protesting against the Keystone Pipeline, the one that is proposed to carry the world's dirtiest oil (from Alberta) to Texas. Protests like that are the reasons why Alberta is looking for people, like us, who are willing to transport the world's dirtiest oil (hoping nothing will ever go  wrong) to create the world dirtiest atmosphere as we refine it.

(The reserve route, also to an Irving refinery, is one to Portland, Maine.)

The World Bank has recently issued severe warnings that climate change is coming - and fast. The bank warns it will kill millions, possibly billions. We have, maybe, 10 years to somewhat weaken the impact.

Now, refining and burning the world dirtiest oil was probably not the World Bank's idea of weakening the impact. But, luckily, we have Mr. Alward and Mr. Irving and Mr. Irving's newspaper who are much, much smarter than the World Bank.

Today's issue of the Moncton Irving Mouthpiece has two and a half pages of Alward spouting brainless propaganda about the pipeline. His interviewer was, of course, Brent Mazerolle.

Mr. Alward, close your eyes and think real hard.
1. Even if the pipeline were perfectly safe (and nothing is perfectly safe), but even if it were, the world cannot CAN NOT go on burning oil or shale gas without destruction. It is not possible. Can you get that through your head? It doesn't matter if it will provide a few jobs. It simply cannot be done without terrible consequences for all of us - and soon.  (I know. That doesn't sink in, does it?)

2. Shale gas and oil will not provide us with a safe supply of fuel. Most of the world is just coming on line. (Well, in the first place, there is no safe supply. All resources run out.) But, more important -
our leaders in the west have decided we must control the whole world supply. That's what the turmoil in Africa and the middle east is all about. That's why the US is taking aim on Iran. That's why the US has been hostile to oil-rich Venezuela under Chavez.

Mind you, one could never guess any of that from reading the NewsToday section of this miserable paper. By the way, this section has less than three pages of (irrelevant) news, and over five pages of ads and obituaries.

The editorial and op ed pages are the little engines that couldn't. Not quite.

The editorial is the usual boosterism. Alas, it completely ignores essential issues Moncton has to face just in the next two decades. An events centre will not solve the problem of a world fuel crisis. A pipeline will not meet the challenge of severe climate change.

Norbert almost redeems himself in his column. His understanding of Keynesian economics and job creation is, to say the kindest, primitive. Job creation, he says is bad. Okay. So why doesn't he attack the Irving papers for their defence of the pipeline as job creation? Be consistent, Norman.

He also says we have to stop giving corporate welfare. I agree. But do you have any particular corporations in mind, Norbert? Were you thinking of Ir....? You know.

And he praises our super low taxes for corporations and the wealthy. How is that different from welfare for the rich and powerful? His views on healthcare are sloppy, vague and shallow. He focuses on a recent technique that could ease the pressure on some facilities. Okay. But this hardly solves all the problems of a system that he suggests (without any evidence) is wasteful.

Craig Babstock writes a column about child pornography. Almost all of his column is spent in saying there's lot of it and it's not nice. We know that, Craig.

The only useful part is at the end when he offers some advice on how to deal with it. Unfortunately, that part is just one sentence. What would have been useful is a whole column on how to help our children deal with the threat of child pornography.

Allen Abel is his usual, irrelevant self.

Alec Bruce aims for a kind of grim humour this time. It seems light. But it left me with an uncomfortable feeling there was something terribly true behind it.

But what I really want to talk about today is not the crud that fills the pages of the TandT. It's an article I received from a friend. What follow is not my idea, but an idea I think worth considering. I'm just summarizing it.

The article appeared in Business Week. (Not a radical left publication). It is dated June 20, 2009. It is by Shoshana Zuboff, a retired and very distinguished professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. - not your typical rabble rouser.

She opens, "A long list of business executives have reaped sumptuous rewards even though they fractured the world's economy, destroyed trillions of dollars in value, and disfigured millions of lives."

She relates this to the "...terrifying human breakdown at the heart of this crisis."

Our business leaders are not evil  monsters. They are, as so many of the Nazi leaders were, terribly banal people. An example of this banality is Adolf Eichmann, the leading figure in the murder of millions of Jews in the holocaust.

As was shown at his trial, he had no sense of doing wrong. He had a powerful sense of self-advancement, but after that, no sense at all of the reality and the horror of what he was doing, no sense of moral judgement.

This attitude is common in today's dominant business model which produces behaviour that is throughtless and remote from reality. made worse by a complete lack of moral judgement, that feels no  responsibility for the consequences of its actions. There is no sense of empathy for the victims of business decisions.

Without morals or ethics, business leaders fail to meet minimum standards of civilized behaviour. They represent what Hannah Arendt called, "the banality of evil". These are the zombies of our time.

The article adds that there is a dreadful lack of moral leadership for these people - especially the moral leadership that should come from government. (I have long since given up on the churches.)

What business leaders have done, according to the author, are economic crimes against humanity.

I would only add that it's worse than that.  The business model is so remote from reality that the future does not extend beyond the next three months. That's why the judgements of our business leaders have been so bad in politics, in foreign affairs, in war, in social services, even in economic development.

As a result, we live in a world that is, much of it, a living hell. Africa and the middle east are suffering death, starvation, poverty, shattered nations, slavery, almost all inflicted by "our side", and almost all encouraged by our business leadership.

And at the heart of it are newsmedia like the Irving press, run by the Adolph Eichmanns of our time, and with their own camp commandants (editors), their own executioners (reporters and columnists) stoking the furnaces.

There is, indeed, a crisis. On the surface, it seems to be an economic crisis. But at root, it's a moral one.

The banality of evil - corporate bosses like those of the oil companies, politicians  like Harper and Alward, most journalists....

That's what we have to fight. That's where we have to restore a sense of ethics, of responsibility, of moral judgement.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Feb. 17: Bring the little children......

Together, Canadian and American governments spend well over 500 billion dollars on education. That's a lot of money. What a pity to waste it all on children!

That realization several years ago led to a big campaign to bring private business into education to, you know, share the wealth. It was sparked by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies with a soft sell. AIMS would, at no cost to the taxpayer, design and administer exams to test the quality of individual schools and individual teachers. You know, run the classroom like a real factory so that all the children pop out at the end to be identical.

This was supported by the Moncton Times and Transcript with a series of vicious and ignorant editorials on our schools and teachers. (I have always suspected Norbert Cunningham of having written those editorials. The style - ignorant and vicious ranting - is one that he is prone to.)

Did I mention that  Atlantic Institute of Market Studies has a more than passing connection to the Irvings and other corporate leaders in this region?

It all began in the 50s with the invention of the "think tanks", propaganda agencies to help big business muscle in on whatever it could. But they never called it 'muscling in". They called in public/private partnership. "Yeah," said the burglar to the householder, "Yeah. That's it. We're partners."

And there are the public education systems, sitting with over $500 billion in schools, and all of if being wasted on teachers and students when it could be going into the pockets of the very rich.

In New Brunswick, AIMS never did get control of education budgets. But it has stuck us with its unscientific, incompetent and interfering evaluations of schools.

American big money was more successful. It has now converted thousands of public schools into fee-paying schools with private ownership. (And they also get the education tax money, too, of course.  One effect is to keep out the half of the population that cannot afford to pay the fees. So much for equality of opportunity.)

It also means that the schools of the poor and the lower middle class get their budgets cut, guaranteeing that those children will have no chance at all.

Are the fee paying schools better? Well, it doesn't matter. In education, snobbery counts for everything. A school that rich kids go to is, by definition, a good school. (Even education authorities have a tendency to think that way.)

The result is that any parents in the US who want to have their child get even a chance at university education  MUST send their children to a fee-paying 'public' school.

Does it work? Well, it certainly works in producing profits for the private operators of fee paying public schools. However, the annual, UN reports on education tell a different story.

The US, never a really strong performer in education ratings, has now dropped somewhere below one-hundredth place, surely the lowest in the developed world.  (Canada normally ranks in the top ten.)

Education is not a business. Business methods are not effective in education. In fact, they are destructive.

The heads of corporations, whatever their talents might be in making money, are incompetent, interfering asses when they push their way into a field like education. And what they are incompetently interfering with are the lives of our children.

When those vicious and ignorant editorials on education in the Moncton Times and Transcript faded, I thought we had escaped that.

Then I noticed a web site for something called New Brunswick Literacy Commission. It is devoted to helping our children become more literate. How sweet. Then I noticed that the chairman of the board is that great devotee of literature and the arts, Jamie Irving of Brunswick News. Looking at the other board members, you will find them to be the usual political hacks and the business people who want to be "partners" in education. And so we seem to be into the new phase of soft sell.

I also found another new web site, The Learning Partners. I don't know much about the group. But I noted that at a recent convention, it's keynote speaker was that model of good citizenship, integrity, and educational insight, Mr. Brian Mulroney. Any organizaton that would pick a speaker who will do down in history as a sleazy bribe-taker, and will take Harper with him as the man who refused to prosecute this criminal case - any organizaton that would do that is at least suspect.
It looks very much like we're once again in the soft sell stage of a new assault on our schools and our children. Once again, the key word is "partnership". Such a nice word. So friendly. So cooperative. So seductive. So lying. So vicious.

Business has NO business interfering in public education. How would Mr. Irving react if we appeared at his office to announced we wanted to be in partnership with Irving Enterprises? How would he react if unions demanded a right to a partnership in education?

Irving and friends have no right to any such partnership. He and his friends are quite fond of talking about the public and private sectors as though public sector means just the government. I suggest they look up the word democracy in the dictionary.

The public sector is you and me and all the people we see every day. We are the public sector. We are. It's not just the government. The government is supposed to represent us - not something abstract called the public sector - us.

Corporate bosses have no business interfering in what is our business - our children. Corporations are not only incompetent to do so. They're acting directly against democracy. The fundamental principle of democracy is that we are all equal, and all have equal rights. Nobody gets extra rights just because he's in the private sector. People who say that are proclaiming themselves as fascists because that "partnership" blend of of government and business is precisely what Mussolini promoted in Italy.

You want a voice in government and the schools, Jamie Irving? You have it. One voice on voting day, same as the rest of us in a democracy.

We're not interested in your crypto-fascist posturing. On Nov. 11, we remember those who died to save our freedom. What they fought against to defend our freedom were those ideas you are now promoting under soft-sell words like "partnership".

Thanks. But if we wanted the sort of society you propose, we would have fought on the other side.