Saturday, February 21, 2015

Feb.21: Donne-moi un break!

Saturday's headline is about a man who got sentenced for threatening an RCMP officer. This is the big, flash story of the day? Worse, it's also a story that has been in the news for weeks. Man threatens police officer. Man arrested for threatening police office. Man charged with threatening police office. Man to appear in court for threatening police officer....

This sort of thing is a staple of section A of the Irving press. Today, we also have man charged with child porn; former employee of Lion's Club guilty of fraud; two charged with selling illegal tobacco -  so get ready for more of those.

Well, it's cheap and easy. You just have a reporter hang out at the courthouse for an hour or so, and write about anything that happens. Most of it really doesn't matter. But it fills space; it's cheap; and it rarely offends anybody who counts.

And, of course, Larry's Gulch is there in a big story that says a lot about not very much. It might help readers in a case like this to understand why it matters that journalists accepted invitations to Larry's Gulch. It's something called ethics. Nothing fancy, just a short, simple, and clear explanation would to it. If, as is possible, the Irving press doesn't have anybody who knows what journalism ethics are, they could ask a journalism teacher at St. Thomas to write a column about them..

We're also (on A3) continuing an almost daily series on the J.D.Irving, Ltd, Wild Readers of the Week. The Irving press sometimes covers an education issue, but rarely with any insight, very rarely with any repetition, and only if it's a story about cutting budgets. So we are indebted to them for this daily reminder of the saintliness of J.D.Irving , Ltd.

Boy, I bet if J.D.Irving, Ltd. would pay taxes like the rest of us, we could really improve our schools.

The most striking news in Section A, quite unexpectedly, is in the obituary section on A5. Take a look at the ages in the Death Notices. A high proportion of them is made up of people who were relatively young when they died. Is that a pattern?
Norbert complains that there is no framework and no timeline for the development of shale gas. We know, of course, that Norbert wants shale gas - and wants it - yesterday. But Gallant is prepared to wait because the industry is prepared to wait. There's no point in developing shale gas while the price of oil is being purposely kept low by Saudi Arabia.

Significantly, Norbert's idea of planning is pretty much planning how to develop the shale gas industry. But what if we learn that we can't? What if it turns out that the world climate really is changing? that California and Texas really are drying up? that the fishery really is becoming a thing of the past? What if we just cannot use oil any more? Remember when we were kids, and our parents told us there were things we just could not have? Any thoughts on that Norbert?

As I write this, I look up at my painting of the street in Montreal I grew up on. It's a two-storey row of flats - one the first floor, two on the second floor of each. It's a solid row,separated from neighbours only by the thinnest of  walls, so that on a Saturday night we could hear our mafia neighbours rolling empty beer bottles down the hall.

There was little room for parking on the street - and no room for driveways. This was a district built for people who couldn't afford cars. We envied our neighbour on the other side. He was a garbage collector, and he rode to work every day in the garbage truck. But for block after block on all sides it was flats just like ours..

There were no shopping centers. Those are designed for cars. But with such a concentration of people with no cars. it was cheap, convenient and easy to supply mass transit by electric tram cars. It also did away with the need for school buses.

As well, every block had at least one convenience store, and nearby, busier streets had butchers, grocery stores, restaurants, dime stores, fabrics, clothing.... There were probably more such entrepreneurs within walking distance of my home than there are in all of Moncton.

But most of Moncton was designed for cars. It's not possible to supply adequate mass transit for such a city. That's why the buses are so often empty. That means that someday, probably soon, when we find out we can't use fossil fuels any more, we had better be prepared to redesign our cities and, especially, our suburbs. Any thoughts on that, Norbert?

Patricia Graham has a column to keep us up to date on Larry's Gulch. Unfortunately,  her position forces limits on what she can say - so the column doesn't tell us much, and doesn't raise the questions we need to know.

However, she does mention that Brunswick News has journalistic and ethical standards. If so, wouldn't it be useful to let readers know what those standards are?

Bill Belliveau contributes a pep talk on creating jobs with the advice of business leaders. Alas! Creating jobs is not what business leaders do. What they do is to create profits. And an essential part of that is to create as few and as cheap jobs as possible.

On B1, Liberal leader Trudeau at last takes a strong stand against Harper's attack on a Muslim woman  for wanting to wear a veil for her citizenship  ceremony. And , as Trudeau says, there's no doubt that it is disgusting for a prime minister to take such a stand in order get the bigot vote. But then...

...he has a point about making their identities clear. He's just looking at it too narrowly. We should have a right to see for ourselves the identity of every person requesting citizenship. But removing a veil doesn't really help much. A face doesn't tell us much. We should demand that all candidates for citizenship appear with their genitals fully exposed. Make them show they are who they say they are.

Now that oil train smashes and fires are becoming routine, Ottawa is going to force railway companies to buy heavy insurance. (Good idea. Taxpayers had to pick up the two billion dollar tab for Lac Megantic where 47 people were killed.) There's an odd thing, though. Charges for Lac Megantic were laid only against a few, relatively minor, employees of the railway.

We were told at the time that an Irving representative had signed the manifesto declaring the cargo was a relatively stable form of oil. We were also told that statement  was untrue. The oil was a highly unstable and even explosive variety. And that was all that was ever told.

Who signed a false documents that led to the deaths of 47 people? On whose instructions?  Who was responsible for choosing to send such a dangerous  shipment in tanker cars that were known to be badly outdated? Would it be possible for the Irving press give us a break from courtroom  trivia so it  can hunt down the really important story? In fact, don't journalistic ethics require that?

As usual, their really is no world news in the paper. But keep a watch for Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress in just twelve days. (And watch for Harper to clap hands, just like all those North Korean officials who clap hands for Kim Jung Un.)  This could well be the most irresponsible and dangerous speech we shall ever hear.

Republican congressmen, urged on the the Israeli lobby in the US, have set this up to publicly humiliate Obama - and click the lighter in an insanely explosive US (and Canada) for a war with Iran over a nuclear weapons programme that doesn't exit - and that every intelligence agency in the US says doesn't exist.

The purpose of the lying, for Netanyahu, is to destroy Iran. The purpose, for Congress, is to steal Iranian oil for American oil billionaires. The ground work has been laid by our media in the form of building fear and hatred of Muslims.

Don't expect any diplomacy or even intelligence from Netanyahu. He has always been a bit unbalanced, and a savage racist. He also shows signs of wanting a Samson in the temple scene, pushing down the columns to bring down the roof to kill himself , us, and his enemies.

If he gets his war, it will almost certainly drag in the allies of Iran, Russia and China. And even if Russia and China back off, it will create chaos in the Middle East that will make any solution impossible.
     But insanity is running wild in the Republican party, in the money people pen both the Republicans and the Democrats, and the money people who own both the Conservatives and the Liberals It runs wild in our news media and in the streets of Canada and the US. And,  quite possibly, in Netanyahu.

I hope it doesn't happen. But it's quite likely.  Canada, the US, most of Europe have been run by hopelessly irresponsible billionaires for too long. We may be about to pay the price for it.
The Faith page is the usual tweety bird stuff. I note that only two churches advertise their services. I guess the paper's ownership is devout enough to build and name a chapel after itself, but not enough to extend free advertising to churches.
The student columns, as always, are worth a read. I enjoyed them all (while ignoring the blatant discrimination against male writers.) I'll talk about just one column, Jerrica Naugler's, because it's about history.

I'm glad she enjoys it. But you also have to be careful. We really don't learn about the whole past in history. After all, there's so much of it. Nor can we rely too much on what we read. After all, it's written by people - and people are biased, or carried away or, in any case, could not possibly live long enough to study all the history of any country.

And some of them lie. That's true at all levels. It's certainly true in high school. But that's not the fault of the teachers.

I taught history in high school for two years - and I often got into trouble. Parents complained if I taught about the horrors inflicted by Christian churches on native children. Patriots complained when I taught about the use of Canadian troops in the Boer War. Any criticism of any politician was trouble because they were all "great men". I taught about Canada's abuse of Jews before, during, and after World War Two. I taught about the corruption of leading businessmen and politicians in history. Those, too, were no-nos.

It's not the teachers. It's the school boards, the parents, local busybodies... A history text that told the truth would never be authorized by any school system. In fact, publishers won't even look at a proposal like that.
The real purpose of high school history is to make students proud to be Canadian. Nothing else. The history of our intense racism, corruption, brutality, greed doesn't make it into the classroom.

One of my favourite figures in Canadian history was J.S. Woodsworth, a Methodist clergyman who entered politics to improve people's lives. He still is a favourite. But it was a shock, early on, to read some of his work, and to realize he was also a flaming racist. Yeah, that's the trouble with history. It's about people.

I was fourteen when I read Winston Churchill's four-volume "History of the English-speaking Peoples". I was enchanted by it. A year or so later, I began to realize that his understanding of history was shaky, biased - and that he, like Woodworth, was a profound racist (as bad as Hitler was), and with utter contempt for anyone who wasn't rich. In his whole life, I know of no incident in which he said a word or did anything about the dreadful state of poverty that most British lived in.

Much of that kind of bias can also be found in the professional  historians who write history for each other.

Another great problem is that history is commonly taught (even in universities) as something to memorize. That's waste of time because memorized stuff you don't have any need for is mostly forgotten soon after the exam.

But what history can do, and do very well, is to teach us how to use our heads. It can teach us to understand what we read; (many people really don't.) It can teach us to organize what we  have read. It can teach us how to make judgements about what we read. It can teach us how to express our own ideas. And that will be useful all through our lives.

That doesn't mean we'll always be right. We are, alas, still human. But we'll be better humans.

By the way, it's amazing to see the text book stories about Christopher Columbus.
1. Queen Isabella gave him her jewels to finance the voyage. Not true.
2. His crew feared sailing off the edge of the world. Not true. Just about everybody knew the world was round, and had known it for thousands of years. Native peoples knew it. Just watching a boat go over the horizon proved it.
3. Columbus didn't know he had found a new continent. Well, that's not what his diary says. Actually, he realized it within days. As well, the Vikings had been coming to this continent for 500 years before Columbus was born. Everybody knew that. In fact, there was a thriving trade with Europe in things like pet polar bears for aristocrats. There's also a strong possibility that Black Africans reached America (and settled) long before Columbus.
4. Columbus discovered America.  Nonsense. Besides the Vikings and Black Africans, there's also an obvious fact. People were living here when he arrived. Obviously, they knew about it. Well, all of this might sound obvious. But it was not obvious, then or now, to white racists who recognized nothing unless they had done it. To say that Columbus discovered America is a subtle way of stressing white racial superiority.
5. Columbus died poor. Not true. He made a fortune out of killing native Americans and exploiting them to take their gold. He died a very rich man. And a murderer and thief.

Oh, yeah - Canada and the US were not lands of opportunity for immigrants in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. They were hell-holes of exploitation and abuse.

Now,  I'll wait for angry parents to beat on my door.

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