Thursday, April 17, 2014

April 17: No foreign news...doh-dee-doh

In the midst of the worst, international crisis   we have seen in 50 years - maybe ever - the Tand T has not a single word of foreign news in it. This is a big-talking city. But the Tand T barely qualifies as a Hicksville paper.

To make it worse, there are stories out there of Harper having given a secret order to the Canadian armed forces to prepare for service in Syria. (I don't believe that one. First, the Canadian military has no equipment up to such service. Second, it would mean significant casualties; and Harper doesn't want that with an election coming up. Third, Harper's style is to talk big - as he did in Israel and Ukraine - for sake of domestic ethnic votes. But he's most unlikely to do anything if he can possibly avoid it.)

Still, such stories should be reported - if with suitable warnings. The reality is that military staffs are always planning for all sorts of wars that nobody has any intention of fighting. It's their job to test for weakness in their structure, to develop secure methods of transportation and supply, to find the best way to use new weapons.... So they do it, and every few years, some reporter picks up a leak about one of their planning conferences, and reports we're planning a war.

But this time there's a true story (Ukraine) to balance the false one. Canada is sending (some) force to bolster NATO in its confrontation with Russia. It's sending six fighter aircraft.

Now, that's not a huge contribution. In fact, the word 'token' comes to mind. Nor is it necessary. Contrary to stories appearing in North America of Russia moving massive armies to the border with Ukraine, no such thing is happening. What is happening?

The US is trying to cover its inept behaviour of the last several years in Ukraine by painting Putin as evil and threatening. (Russians bad. Americans good. Ukranians good.) So it's making threats and gestures   (like sanctions that won't have much effect) to make it look as if it's doing something.

Harper came under pressure to do something, to show the world that NATO is strong and united. So
Harper, the big talker when he visited Ukraine, did the minimum. Six jets, barely enough for a half decent air show.

So does that mean the Ukraine situation isn't really dangerous? Alas. No such luck.

What the last couple of weeks have shown is that Ukraine can only in politeness be called a nation at all. Politically, its people are divided from hardline-naziis to every imaginable variation of the farthest right to, all of those with a severe infection of hatred of Jews, and all the rest of the poor Joes and Janes preoccupied with the poverty that faces them under their new government.

Then, of  course, a great many are Russians and want to be a part of Russia. In fact, large numbers of Ukrainian soldiers have already defected to Russia.  And you have other ethnic groups, some of which want their own countries.

As nations go, Ukraine isn't a nation. It's a basket case. And that means it's highly unstable. What  we, euphemistically, call "incidents" are happening every day - and every one of them has the capacity to trigger a disaster.

 Six jets is pretty much the minimum Harper could send, and still satisfy Obama's need to be perceived as a Christian warrior. But even six could prove too many.

The answer, as Putin has suggested, is not face-saving threats.  The answer is a conference to redesign Ukraine borders to create a nation that is stable; and to get NATO to agree not to continue the game of trying to push its troops up to the Russian border. The US would never allow Russia to station troops on the American borders with Canada or Mexico. I don't know.Maybe Russians are all genetically evil and plotting to kill us all in our sleep. But still, if the US won't allow Russian troops on its borders, why should Putin be expected to allow NATO on Russian borders?

Some day, I'm sure, the TandT will tell us all about it. Maybe.

Not much in Section A unless you really, really like pictures of floods ( some of which are just splashy sections of road.) There is a story on page 1 on shale gas. SWN, our favourite driller, announces plans for the future which seem to indicate it won't do much this summer. One would think that would urge a reporter to ask "Why not?" But TandT reporters seem to think it impolite to ask questions.

There's also a report on A6 that "Shale gas event to be held in Riverview". It's on A6, I expect, because it's not as important ad a press release from SWN that says nothing.

Curiously, it's not about an event in Riverview. It's about meetings the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance is holding across the province, giving dates, times and places. (Journalism 101: a headline is supposed to indicate what the story is about.)
NewsToday has more pictures for people who can't get enough of flood pictures. The headline story, and it's a very large one, is yet another story about the death of former minister of finance, Jim Flaherty.
This has been going on for a week. I have never seen such coverage of the death of a former cabinet minister. And we have had some ministers, including in finance, who were very effective, indeed.

The editorial is on yet another subject of which the editorial writer is completely ignorant. This time, it's education - and his voice of the gods says that curriculum reform have been going on for 30 years; and that's too much.

I have news for you, Flash; curriculum reform has been going on for thousands of years. It's supposed to  as we understand more about how people learn, and as we change our ideas on what they should learn.

And he infers that this is what is causing declining scores in literacy and numeracy.

Another bit of news, Flash, Chinese students tend to do very well on exams. I taught enough of them to know that. And I taught enough of them in China to know why. They are raised in a code of conduct that demands high respect for family - and that high respect includes a responsibility to do well in school.

I once spent two days searching for a student who had run away because he felt he had dishonoured his family with his grades. We feared he had committed suicide. I also had to deal with a student who was taking medication so he could study all night. I had to lie a little bit, and threaten to have him hospitalized if he did not get eight hours sleep a night. (He is now a multi-billionaire. See? It's worth studying Canadian history.)

Then the editor says we should start with rote learning. Boy, you have great insights,Flash. Schools have been beginning with rote learning for millenia. If anything, they do far too much rote learning - all the way through university.

Rote learning, by the way, means memorizing without necessarily understanding. That's how children learn the alphabet. That's how they know Thirty days hath September, April, June and Octember...

But most rote learning is useless because it is forgotten very quickly unless you regularly use it. I know how long Octember is because I use that information. However, I learned Algebra the same way - and recently I learned I can't even do grade nine level.  I have a university course (doctoral level) which was taught by rote. Today, I remember nothing about it.

Learning scores depend on a lot things - family values, income and social levels, society values. Some of those are very, very hard to overcome.  That means that major reasons for lower scores in NB may have nothing  to do with the schools. They are more likely to have to do with family values, high levels of poverty, a tradition of lack of concern with learning (which is very noticeable in NB), with parents who don't read, don't discuss, have no interest whatever except in how many seats an events centre should have, and who tolerate as useless and incompetent and manipulative an organization as the Irving press.

Yes, the New Brunswick schools have problems with their scores. But the problem is not the schools. The problem is a society that doesn't give much of a damn about anything that calls for thinking, that is often afraid to think, and that allows billionaires who are largely ignorant of education to interfere with the schools.
Norbert Cunningham continues his ill-informed diatribe against the CBC. At one point, he says its news is biased. Norbert, you work for the Irving press. I have seen more honest reporting from the New China News Agency. You have a dishonest, propagandizing and incompetent newspaper. How could you dare to criticize anybody?

And you are ignorant enough to hold up the model for honest news organization in the whole world - the British Broadcasting Corporation. Norbert - you're a journalist and a former editor. And you don't know that the BBC is being investigated right now for severe bias? You don't know this has been going on for some years? You don't know that the BBC has a terrible reputation for pushing the government line?

Well, of course you don't know. Pushing your boss' line is something you've done all your life. It must seem normal by now.

Alec Bruce has a column on the CBC that I can agree with. He is certainly critical  (and, I think justifiably so) of its recent performance as an entertainment medium. (Like him, I have fond memories of Max Ferguson and Allan McFee, and don't care for what has replaced them).   But he also recognizes the superb quality of its journalism and commentary. The journalism far,far outclasses anything I have seen on commercial radio and TV in Canada. And it far, far, far, far outclasses the dreadful stuff that comes out of the US.

But the CBC was never intended to be a broadcaster like the others. There were, after all, lots and lots of others in the game. So why form a national, publicly-owned broadcast system?

So that it would be Canadian. So that we would learn to frame our ideas and values from a Canadian perspective, not from the perspective of another nation. It was so Canadians could know and understand each other better, so we could understand our own country better - and not simply accept the values and biases of another nation.

It was to provide opportunities for Canadian performers, for Canadian plays and documentaries. And that formula was not a formula devised by a wild-eyed radical from Toronto. It was a formula devised by a prime minister, a Canadian, from New Brunswick, William Bedford Bennett' who probably spent many a day on the sands at Hopewell. He realized that without a government broadcaster, we  would soon be smothered by the much larger broadcasters of the US.

It's quite true that radio and TV are both going through trying times. And that is an area to be explored.
But Norbert misses the boat, one in many, when he sees the answer simply in killing CBC.

For a start,  a major mistake was to make the CBC partly commercial. That forces damaging change on a system designed designed to meet Canadian needs. You can concentrate on meeting needs. Or you can concentrate on selling ads. You can't do both. And when you try to do both, you get the jumble that is CBC TV. That's how we ended up with hockey commentary that was both simple-minded, and designed to be comedy for the differently enabled.

But, whatever you do, don't touch the news side of the CBC. (Yes, sometimes it backs away for fear of government retaliation, and sometimes that annoys the hell out of me.)

But at its worst, CBC journalism outclasses the pack.

Rod Allen is, well, if you think Don Cherry is clever, you'll just love Rod Allen.

Excellent column by Jody Dallaire on the right to abortion. Her problem is she needs to convince people who think they are righteous when they are just self-righteous. For several centuries now, western Christians have been enthusiastic killers of innocent people, including children. For the last several decades, they have led the world. It's hard to convert such people who can see wrong only when it's done by others.

1 comment:

  1. I like that comment-'people who think they are righteous when they are only self righteous'. I'll have to remember that. With the movie 'Noah' out now, its been interesting to see christian reaction to their fact that God 'murdered' every living thing on the planet except for two of each kind. Thats a LOT of murder, and its hard to believe that every one of those things was 'innocent'.

    However, while I can understand your allegiance to the educational system, I think you go to far in claiming 'the problem is not the schools'. You mention a lot of societal factors, and forget that the educational system is a part of society. That same indifference to learning goes into hiring, planning, and teacher evaluation (or lack thereof). When I went to school it was simply horrendous. Even at the university level, I took greek philosophy which was taught by a quite famous professor (in his field) who taught 'by rote'. As you say, I now remember almost none of it, although I remember many of Plato's dialogues because of the excellent way a different professor taught it.

    Anyway, Plato's 'theory of the forms' would be divided into 5 sentences. Aristotle's theory of whatever (the good professor unfortunately never taught that) would be five sentences, and so on. We'd have seven of these, and the final exam would consist of his selecting five of them, and we'd have to replicate the sentences word for word. If you missed an article, you'd lose one quarter of a single mark, and so on. Hand ins were to select some other section, dumb it down to five sentences, and hand it in hand written, and presentation would count. I can't remember how many times one girl's hand ins were shown off to the class..."look at the use of high lighter, look how pretty the hand writing is". Seriously.

    So that I don't sound like a complete toady, I raised hell at the end of the course because of the lousy mark my lousy handwriting got, and a mixed blessing was to discover that he no longer taught that way. Pretty bad when its left to 20 year old students to do that.

    Public school was basically 'babysitter 101', and although no doubt there are lots of changes, I did a search of my old school and noticed just how many teachers now, were the 'jocks' back when I went to school. So it appears there is life after sports and if hockey doesn't pan out, you can always teach. And under such a climate, I don't share the same positive feelings toward the educational system you do.

    Although I certainly agree-learning by rote after elementary school is just ridiculous and such ideas shouldn't even be allowed in this day and age.

    However, as for the asian scenario, its bigger social factors at play in new brunswick as at least every young male knows that the best way to satisfy their parents fear for their future is to pack up and head to Fort MacMurray as soon as possible, and its pretty hard for teachers not to realize that that is where the vast majority of their students are headed.