Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sept. 3: I don't usually write a blog on Wednesday .... but...

... there are big things happening in the world, big things (or one) in the Irving press, and a few bits to tidy up.

Let's start with the beloved Times and Transcript - with the editorial page.

The editorial, not surprisingly, harps on the provincial debt. It certainly is bad. But the editors stick to simple-minded propaganda in trying to explain it, and how to deal with it. The reality is that the debt was created by big business in this province - just in the way the world's biggest ever debt has been run up in the U.S. It has been created by people who are greedy beyond measure, who have been robbing us blind for decades, and who are happy now to make us suffer while they run up even bigger profits.

The message is clear. The very rich created the deficit. Now, they expect us to pay for it. The same thing is happening all over the western world. Children may starve, may suffer for life from lack of opportunity - but Mr. Irving will still have plenty of money for pictures of himself to hang up in our various Halls of Fame for philanthropy and self-worship.

And the poor will still be welcome to go to the Irving Chapel to ask God to forgive them for being irresponsible, and to have special music and a free cup of coffee in the barn.

The very rich are the lords and ladies of our world. Born better than us, they run the province - then blame us when things go wrong.

And not one of the political parties  has addressed this reality.

Then there's Alec Bruce. His column is what drove me to write a blog today. It's called Who fails democracy: systems or citizens?" And it is far the best column I h ave seen in an Irving paper, and one of the best I have seen in any paper.

The main point is that capitalism and democratic government have to operate in a balance. Margaret Thatcher and a second-rate actor named Ronald Reagan destroyed that balance. The result? Even as hundreds of millions get poorer, the very rich get richer. And the economy as a whole gets destroyed. That's a lesson we learned in the great depression, but which we promptly forgot when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan - and more than a few news media - sold us out.

I have no confidence that either Conservatives or Liberals will even understand any of this. Both leaders are obvious lightweights with the lightest part between the neck and the hairline. Both kiss up to the Irving press line that entrepreneurs are special people with special gifts to run a society, that government is too big, that civil servants don't know what they're doing, and so on.

In fact, government is too small (and the elected part of it commonly too corrupt) to govern a society. The result that the big "entrepreneurs" of this world run free, predatory animals that leave a trail of killing and destruction and poverty wherever they go.

Wake up, New Brunswick. Time is short. Forget these political debates that don't deal with anything that matters (indeed, Gallant can be so vague that he usually says nothing at all.) Nor, I regret to say, can I point with pride to any of the other parties on this issue.

Anyone who thinks we are going to solve our problems by firing civil servants, cutting pensions, creating more entrepreneurs, etc. should be living in a cage with the other canaries. Virtually all of the western world is in the same crisis. Developing a better school reading programme in New Brunswick won't change that.

The issue is who runs this "democracy"? The question is are we equal? or are most of us peasants under an aristocracy of wealth?

Most of the western world is heading for a very big crash, both economic and social. It's a crash being caused by the greed, amorality and incompetence of our aristocracy. It's happened before. That's a characteristic of an aristocracy.

But do yourself a favour and read Alec Bruce's column. He explains it all very well, indeed.
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Something is going on in Ukraine. But it's hard to be sure what it is. It looks as though there may be a stop to the fighting as Russia and Kiev move to an agreement on terms for a permanent solution. Why are they agreeing?

Well, there was never any sign Russia wanted a war in the first place. Kiev did want a war. But it has not gone well as the Kiev government has proven to have limited popularity even among its own army. That's why it was pushing Obama for intervention.

At the beginning, Obama might have agreed to intervene. In fact, it is possible this whole war was set up as an excuse for US intervention. But now, Obama has a very full plate in the Middle East. (not to mention the full plates we never hear about in South America, Africa, Pakistan - and he's not out of Afghanistan, yet.
I expect he told that to Kiev - thus Kiev's sudden willingness to negotiate with Russia.

This is all speculation and, in any case, very vulnerable to unexpected changes.
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Then there was just a small point. I think it was yesterday that Norbert wrote a column on how the world is becoming a more peaceful place. It seems he read a book. It was by a Stephen Pinker who created a sensation by arguing that the world has, over the centuries, become a less violent place. Norbert quotes it to show we are likely to have a more peaceful world in the future.

Norbert, I'm glad you read a book. But since you have no expertise at all in the field, it's dangerous to accept it as gospel. That's why good newspapers have book review sections written by experts in the field.

I have only glanced at Pinker's book. I was not impressed enough to glance any further. And I know people in the field who were not impressed. And I have read reviews that were not impressed.

Look - in the academic world, reputation as a thinker and as the centre of intellectual attention is  important. (It's everything.)  So the academic world is full of people who look for quick fame with controversial books that attract wide attention. (Yes. It's a pretty silly world.) Pinker's book seems to me to fit that category.

In the first place, I do not see how he could gather statistics on violence. They aren't all reported today -and they certainly haven't been in world history. I have no idea how many people have been killed since World War 2. Nobody does. There isn't even agreement on the Vietnam war, or Iraq - not to mention killer raids by special forces - or Mao or Chiang-Kai Shek or Stalin. Some estimates would run well over 200 million deaths (But there isn't even a standard definition of what a war death is.)

So Pinker only counts those wars fought between major powers. And, yes, no such war has occurred since 1945. It's all been major powers attacking lesser ones. So we can ignore the fact that millions have been killed. They don't really count because they live in lesser countries. We've become sweet and lovable.

But even if we  did have peace for all that time, what would it tell us about the future? Nothing. We've had peace between major powers because they all have nuclear weapons. And there has been no defence against nuclear weapons. Now, it seems the US does have a defence against them. So a nuclear war is possible. And, gee, I think that might count as violence.

You might keep the same thought in mind for your worship of the book on how our economy is going over a cliff. It is, of course. But it does not follow that is happening because the poor are overprivileged or because we have too many civil servants.

By the way, you're always complaining about poor literacy in NB. So why doesn't your paper have a book review section to encourage reading? And why does you paper encourage low literacy by publishing so much pointless and brainless trash?

12 comments:

  1. I have to say it again, you ARE allowed to print entire blocks of quotes from Irving papers for critical analysis. You are essentially helping Irving sell papers by telling people to go read an article. I have no desire to do that, so I have no idea about this important column you speak of, and never will. Again, it almost seems as if you are assuming that your readers HAVE the Irving paper in front of them, and are consulting you on what parts of it they should read-which would be a really weird thing to do.

    But on that, Thatcher and Reagan are not canadians. If you include Mulroney, then you can look at our 'democracy' and notice that there have really been no changes in how our democracy functions. Actually, unlike Trudeau Mulroney actually held a referendum on his constitutional changes.

    In the US I agree somewhat because its well known that Carter and the democrats were at least open to citizen input, although Kennedy certainly wasn't, so that has more to do with the times-the seventies was when citizens actually TRIED to have an impact, something they rarely do anymore.

    Thats similar to Canada, where people really are not politically active. That is what I thought about Bruce's title about 'systems or citizens'. A large populist movement in Canada has LOTS of opportunity, but no such populist movement exists. If you look at south america there have been several of these, often up against brutal regimes, which have been relatively successful.

    In Canada, political opposition is almost non existent-those of us who DO criticize, usually do so alone on blogs, and are not even remotely organized, meaning politically we really don't exist.

    Thats why I think you should be commenting more on the election. There ARE at least several differences between liberals and conservatives which are worthy of attention. The liberals at least are talking about changing archaic abortion rules. They are talking about initiating spending on infrastructure rather than sticking with austerity.

    But in either case, as this is during an election, perhaps more coverage of the Greens is worthwhile. There is a reason why they hover only around 5% in support, part of which is that nobody takes them seriously. They are at least a little closer to your thinking, and just a note, during an election is when more people are looking at this stuff online for information, so talking about the election, even if its to criticize, is a good way to increase readership.

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    1. My first aim is not to attack the TandT. Not the title of the blog - which mentions good and bad. What I want to do is to encourage people to make judgments about the news, to be aware of when they are being lied to or being manipulated.

      For the election, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives should be taken seriously. I support the right to abortion. But I don't think that is one of the great crises facing New Brunswick.

      I really wonder what direction I should go in with the blog. It began as a blog about a Moncton newspaper. But two-thirds of the readership is not only outside Moncton, but outside Canada.

      The biggest clump is US. But there are also sizable readerships in Russia, Ukraine, The Netherlands and Turkey. I have no idea why.

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    2. Oh, Mulroney was not a great democrat. He was a liar and a thief and a sell-out to big business. The test of our democracy was how we handled it when it became clear he was corrupt and dishonest, and guilty of serious crimes.
      And we didn't handle it. He still lives in his mansion in Westmount.
      His whole life, from childhood on, was spent in serving the rich. (I knew some of his family and social circle. They're a loathsome bunch. Some day, I'll tell the story about how they covered up a murder - to protect the reputation and social standing of the killer.

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  2. And finally, I find it 'interesting' when you say "this side wants war", yet when one side "wants peace" then that's 'speculative':) I doubt very much Kiev 'wants war' any more than russia. They may see no alternative, EVERY side wants their own result, but usually the result isn't war, its just the only way to get there.

    Violence is certainly decreasing since 1945. Up to now virtually anything can and was done to people who were not considered people-women, serfs, slaves, etc. If you think maritial relations where one person had all the power were equitable, well, I'm not sure I'd side with that.

    Violence isn't just 'warfare' or even just 'death'. I'm not defending the book (or the paper, which as you note does its utmost to encourage stupidity-to the point where it used to have more grammatical and spelling errors as virtually any paper ever produced), and the book sounds like one of those like Kaku's, whose very premise is something that people talk about at cocktail parties but have no real informative value.

    Like you say, its impossible to calculate. But if you look at the world, say, RIGHT NOW, and put red marks on the spots where people are outrightly killing each other, you have to admit that its a heck of a lot different than during the world wars or the periods of european expansion. Plus, the worlds population is now huge in relative terms, which means proportionally, those dying a violent death are in a tiny minority compared to when the worlds population was quite a bit smaller.

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  3. Kiev wants war because it needs war. It was the creation of that illegal government in Kiev that created the wild disorder in that country. Now, it realizes I cannot win a military victory against the rebels. That's why it needs a war with NATO support.

    Your note offers no more evidence than the book does on the decline of violence. If there is a difference between now and the wars of European expansion, it is that those other wars were relatively small. The US of 1900 was pretty savage in its attack on the Phillippines about 1900. But it kills far, far more today than it did them. Today, war is far more widespread than it was in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

    Violence, of course, is not just war. But if there is any historical source for figures on that, I have never seen it. And I'm quite sure none exists.

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  4. Like I said, its all conjecture, but just look at the places where wars are going on. Most of the 1800's had all of europe at war with each other constantly, both at home and in their colonies, which were all over the world. The first part of last century had two world wars.

    Right now, while there is certainly violence in the US, there is no war. There is no war in Canada. There is no war in Mexico or any part of south america. There is violence, but compare it to their histories in the seventies when dictators were running amuck.

    In fact, right now there are NO wars between countries going on. There is violence within countries, but take a look at the eighties when Iran and Iraq were at each others throats. Israel is violent, but in the seventies there were FAR more palestinians being killed, and there were open wars with Egypt and Jordan, which are no longer occurring.

    Europe, no wars. In Africa there is probably the most violence, but there was plenty of violence during the slave trade, which didn't kill people, but was pretty bloody violent.

    So yeah, obviously we have no hard data, but just comparing the number of 'wars' today to virtually any time in history sets up right now as relatively decent. Women in most of the world, not all, but most, have far more rights than any time in history. That's not to say there is no violence, or that 'everything is fine' or any such thing.

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    1. the European powers were not at war with each other in much of the 19th century. That's why WW1 came as such a shocking change.

      There were lots of colonial wars, but with relatively low casualties. World War 1 was the beginning of the big wars. And that was a big change, even by comparison with the Napoleonic wars.
      Today is nothing but wars - but few bother to declare war any more - so we get little to no coverage of them. The war on drugs, for example, is largely a device to get American agents into place to de-stabilize democratic governments in South America.
      And the dictators are still there. Haiti was invaded and its elected leader exiled. That was an invasion. But nobody called it that, and we called our troops in it "peacemakers". then they held a very phony election to put in an American puppet.
      Then there were the three hundred thousand or so Guatemalans slaughtered under CIA direction. But that was never even reported.

      Nobody even knows the real count for Vietnam, and there is huge argument over the count for Iraq.

      The Korean war was real with very high casualties. We subsidize wars in Africa fought by mercenaries. But they are little reported.

      Pinker avoids that by only counting wars between major powers. But Nuclear stalemate has, until recently, made that impractical. But we have still killed millions with great powers, notably the US and Britain almost constantly at war, hammering the small ones.

      He also ignores the deaths attributed to Stalin and Mao. And they were substantial.

      So now - the nuclear deterrent may no longer be effective. Military budgets, especially in the US are at record levels. Traditional governments and societies all over the world have been de-stabilized. The European empires have crashed - and the US has a combination of strength and of terrible weakness in its decline - that these seem to me to be very dangerous times.

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  5. As for the T and T stuff, I sort of have to disagree because it seems pretty clear that you aren't exactly ENDORSING the Irving paper, and it would be kind of weird if you did. A lot of your comments are international in scope, and as I said before, I'm pretty sure most Irving readers are MORE jaundiced in their view of Irvings articles, particularly the editorials and that would be why you get far more readers internationally.

    However, its worth pointing out that by now there are more ex patriate New Brunswickers than there probably are ones who live in the province. There are precious few blogs within new brunswick, so that makes sense, thats why I wish you have more quotes, because I suspect some columnist may have interesting things to say, but there is no way in hell I am giving Irving more money. Its worth pointing out as well that Irving papers are virtually the ONLY provincial newspapers which are not available freely for national libraries. If you go to a library in Winnipeg, you can read newspapers from Nova Scotia and PEI, but no papers from NB, even in university libraries. That company is so creepy that NOBODY should be buying their papers, and you pretty much weekly prove WHY. So thanks for that anyway.

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  6. Like I said, I never read his book, I"m talking about NOW-right at this moment. More people died from the sanctions than from the actual invasion of Iraq (although that was 'violent' as well), even by the numbers of many human rights groups.

    Stalin, Mao, Korea, even Vietnam are now 40 and more years ago. Its true there could be a big one in the wings, but you can't count data that hasn't occurred yet.

    As for the 1800's, they started off with the Napoleonic wars, maybe you remember them? Just go to wikipedia and look at the wars of the 1800's, while lots were in the colonies, lots were on the mainland as well. Most of the countries as they exist now didn't even exist then, so you had constant wars in Italy, Romania. Heck, there is an academic category called the 1848 wave of revolutions.

    Well into the 1800's it was considered common knowledge that a husband could beat his wife 'with a switch no bigger than his thumb', which lead to whole other reasons for keeping the horsewhip in the house.

    People even forget that Ferdinand was hardly the first monarch who was assassinated. And again, this is the period when the US was seriously wiping out the native population and this was when Britain was essentially conquering the world, I saw a map online and it said that there are only 22 countries in the world that britain has never invaded.

    Salon.com has an article on this:

    http://www.salon.com/2013/04/23/the_world_is_actually_safer_than_ever/

    In fact, usually a GOOD sign that it is more peaceful now is that when I did a search virtually the ONLY people talking about how much more violent things are today are....you guessed it.....christians. And they've almost literally ALWAYS said that for the obvious apocolyptic reasons.

    Here's a science vs religion article on this very subject:

    http://www.sciencemeetsreligion.org/theology/violence.php

    Like I said, I can't comment on the specifics of his book, although I do think the premise is valid and from several online reviews I've noticed its got quite a bit of academic support.

    Here is a good review from psychology today:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201310/violence-has-declined-is-the-world-safer

    So even from that title you can kind of tell whats going on. The weapons of today make REALLY bad violence far more likely today than in the past. Like I've said before, if russia really gets paranoid, they would be crazy to shoot nukes, they've got one of only two vials of small pox and they'd just dump it in the states, its pretty easy to get a vial into a country. That could wipe out millions.

    But readers can check out those links and decide for themselves.

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  7. The Napoleonic wars were certainly bad. But tiny Vietnam suffered at least as many deaths in fighting the US - and far more damage. That most brutal war of the nineteenth century was almost certainly the mass slaughter in the Congo (I can't really call it war) that had probably killed over 10,000,000 people in Congo - with the dirty work done by Belgium and western mining companies. For that matter, it's still going on - with some very respectable Canadians involved through their mining shares.

    However, there are simply no reliable statistics on war deaths, not for any war. That's why estimates of Iraq deaths range so widely.

    It's true that the mass murders of Mao and Chiang and Stalin ended forty years ago. So that means Pinker was getting his data from only thirty years before he wrote his book. That's not much of a time period to base such a broad statement on - especially when he didn't even include most of the wars of the last forty years in his study at all - and there are NO reliable statistics - not for any of them.
    Then you have the problem that another big war would be nuclear with uncountable millions dead.. So then, It really wouldn't matter a hell of lot what trends Pinker saw.

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  8. Very true, the Psychology Today review runs along those lines, however, technology advances really can't be blamed on populations. There are advances in technology in all kinds of fields, so the fact that weapons are more advanced and can do more damage today doesn't really change social factors. So, for example, you could have 99% of the population be absolute pacifists, but if the other 1% are psychotic genocidal serial killers who have the money to buy chemical weapons, nuclear weapons and biological weapons-AND use them, you could see a world in horrible turmoil, but it doesn't change the fact that 99% of the population are pacifists.

    The internet and media have done more to 'pacify' than I think all other things put together. The fact is that MOST people are simply peaceful-under most circumstances. And most are pretty civil, this is why during the Iraq war the US stopped letting media cover the deaths of soldiers-they knew the population wouldn't stand for it.

    Thats the same reason why media avoids showing casualties, but that is becoming harder to do with social media. While Obama is certainly a war criminal, the fact is that 'drone warfare' is very different from mass invasions. People really are becoming much less violent.

    But I really have to disagree about that number in the Congo, this is an interesting website I found about deaths, I'm not sure how reliable it is as I haven't checked out the stats, but it reports 3 million died of disease, torture and warfare in the 1800's. Here's the link:

    http://necrometrics.com/20c5m.htm

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  9. There are not reliable numbers for war deaths. Claims for the Napoleonic wars run from 3 million to double that. Vietnam has an even bigger spread.
    To make it tougher, the definition of "war dead" is, to say the least, flexible. I was stunned to read that some 4 million children in Iraq starved to death, mostly after the war - so they aren't counted as war dead.

    Right now, all over Africa, huge numbers are living in very crude conditions in refugee camps where many die of starvation and sickness. But they usually don't get counted as war dead.
    In Congo, the Belgian authorities never bothered reporting most of the dead. For example, slaves usually had short lives because they were slaves. But they are almost never counted as war dead. In New France, there were African and aboriginal slaves. Neither group was likely to reach the age of 30. Nor is there any count of native peoples killed by violence, deliberate starvation, or living conditions that drove life expectancy down.

    Official counts on the Iraq war vary widely. Many people put them in the tens of thousands. But in real terms, they were in the hundreds of thousands - and even that is probably a gross understatement because the dying from that war has never ended. A more realistic estimate is the one made by The Lancet (I think), some years ago, of one and a half million. And, in reality, it may go far beyond that.

    And - a sign that we aren't changing - the current plan to wipe out ISIS will come at one hell of a price. I don't think we can even guess about how this one will go. It's obvious that it has hugely alarmed Obama - and rightly so.

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