Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9: Let's start with the good news.

In Saturday's issue of the Moncton Times and Transcript, the comments were very, very good. For the first time in my experience, they were all, real commentaries.

Norbert Cunningham has a very sensible one on how to follow the federal election. He dismisses the TV debates (and I quite agree. I've never learned anything from TV debates. They're just show biz.)  Norbert suggests that the news media step in to search the issues, question the politicians, and demand answers. I agree with that approach, too. But I can't help noticing the Irving press has never done that, and has never reported even-handedly..

Brent Mazerolle has a touching column on the death of a professor of his university days. As it happens, I knew and liked David Beatty - and he deserved every word that Mazerolle wrote. And Mazerolle went beyond that to talk about the impact of people like David on generations of students.

Bill Belliveau did a good job on discussing the role of TV debates. I don't agree with him - but this is a real and thoughtful commentary.

And the guest commentary, for a change, was NOT a piece of propaganda manufactured by stooges who are paid by the wealthy. It was a column by the president of Mount Allison U on university as a place to learn how to think, how to evaluate, how to come to conclusions...  That is its primary role. And some of the courses best suited to accomplishing that  are the ones that many students often regard as unmarketable - like history, literature, sociology.....

Students often look for the marketable programmes - like Business studies. But those are rather more like dog training. They aren't a whole lot about thinking. And we need more people who can think.
(And Doctor Campbell added something I didn't know - that graduates in these 'thinking' fields do just as well as Business grads in the market.)

I think he's bang on about the importance of learning how to think, and bang on about the value of the social sciences and humanities in learning how to think. However, I have never seen much evidence that they do, in practice, teach thinking. The problem is that professors give very little thought to learning how to teach. Most of my courses, even through grad school, were really about memorizing information. Most teachers h ave no idea how to design a course so that learning to think can be the result. Most professors, in my experience, think a course is all about giving the student the most up to date information. But that's useless because memorized information is quickly forgotten after the exam.

In our universities, there is no incentive for professors to learn how to teach. Indeed, it's often looked down on. All their efforts go to making their universities look like the editors at MacLean's think a university should look. And the editors at Maclean's know even less about education than most professors do.

The editorial, as usual, is very local and very trivial. But it's in the editorial that all the great minds of newspaper should come together to take a stand, with reasons, on some major issues. Saturday's was on parking meters.
The news sections, as usual, were largely trivial and uninformative.

Now, there was a headline story on the Friday issue that was a real story. A man who was taking a nap in a trailer was shot and crippled, perhaps for life, by a stray bullet from a nearby, makeshift shooting range.

And the news editor did nothing with it. The follow-up to the story the next day was a story about how a woman who ran to help him recalled the incident.

That has no news value at all. That is pure sensationalism.

News would be assigning to reporter to get a story on the law (or lack of it) regarding such shooting ranges. The readers need information, not thrills. This could be tied to the bigger story of Justin Bourque who was able to get a combat-grade rifle and to practice on a range so he could kill three police officers.

These stories scream for more information. Do we need tighter regulation of shooting ranges? Do we need tighter regulation of gun ownership? As a once shooting enthusiast, I am shocked to go into "sporting goods' stores and see weapons for sale that are not necessary or even desirable for hunting, and that  are deliberately designed to look macho military to tickle the phantasies of the immature who buy them.

We need to be far more aware of the issues involved here. But we don't get it. In the case of the police shootings, we got drama about the heroism of the people of Moncton - and pictures of signs saying "Thank You RCMP". If I were an RCMP officer and saw one of the signs, I would say, "Stuff your signs and memorials. Do something to stop this."

In the Saturday paper, the big story is that Moncton has been approved for a loan of $107 million to build a hockey rink for a man who wants a better one but doesn't want to pay for it. This is in a province in which we are daily warned that we face economic disaster if we don't cut  services like education, and health. This warning comes from the same Irving press that  has has done nothing but clap hands for this huge expenditure on a toy for a rich man. That's disgusting.

While at the shore, I read a book I had been meaning to read for years. It's "Night" by Elie Wiesel.
It's simply written but, oh, it's powerful. Mr. Wiesel, as a fourteen year old boy, was a devoutly orthodox Jew who, with his family and neighbours, was rounded up by Nazi police, stuffed into a box car, and sent to a labour camp where the menu, every day, was one slice of bread, and one cup of soup. Those who weakened so much as to be useless for labour were selected each week for the ovens.

Through the whole period, he saw his father, saw  him being beaten, saw his eyes go blank and, at last, saw him fall behind in a march through deep snow to die under the feet of the thousands who marched behind him., In all of this Wiesel lost his faith, and even his sense of humanity.

I knew a man like him. We were good friends. He had been in one of the death camps as a child of five or six, and survived the war to be taken by other Jews to Palestine. He was there when Jewish terrorists murdered British soldiers and arabs. He had become, and remained, a person who thought only of himself, and with a deep rage and brutality toward anyone who stood in his way. He trusted nobody, loved nobody.

We played an important part in that. Every Jew who got to Palestine and every Jew who didn't - Jews in Canada and the U.S. - knew that we had done nothing to help. And they knew why.

We didn't help because we were as anti-semitic as Hitler was. We knew what was happening, too. Our governments knew it in the 1930s. But the wealthy of Canada and the U.S. supported Hitler because he was the barrier against communism. He was the essential protector of capitalism. He was the hero of capitalism.

When the war ended, then we all learned about the horrors of Hitler's Germany - and we still refused to help. We were profoundly anti-semitic - and that was true at least into the 1970s.

There is nothing odd about a  Netanyahu who demands help from the U.S. but who refuses to cooperate with it in any way. Netanyahu is bloody-minded and a threat to the world. But we made the Netanyahus of this world. They know exactly where we stood through the 1930s and almost to 1950. We generously took land from the Palestinians and gave it to the Jews as Israel not because we wanted to help them. But because this was a way to get rid of them without letting more of them into our, Christian countries. Israel could also be a useful base to control the oil states of the region.

And the Israelis are not innocents. They lost innocence in the death camps. So they know the only reason a Harper supports them is to get the Jewish vote in the Canadian election.

Wars have always been built on personal greed. In the 1700s, that greed had taken shape in capitalists as they became powerful enough to control the politicians who sent the armies off to war. The British and French empires were the creations of capitalists.

It was one of these capitalist wars that led to the first concentration camps.  (No. Hitler did not invent them.) The first such camps were in the Boer War (1899) when the British invaded South Africa to get control of its gold mines for British capitalists.

As people were made refugees, the British built the first concentration camps. They were to hold women and children, the women and children of the Dutch settlers in South Africa. Later they built them to hold Black Africans, too. The conditions, if not as bad as Hitler's death camps, were bad enough to kill 26,000 women and children. The camps for Blacks were smaller, so they produced only 14,000 dead.

World Wars one and two were nothing new. They were both economic wars. Britain and other countries formed an alliance against Germany because they feared the growing economic power of German capitalists - so British and French and, later, American capitalists fought them (from a distance).

And both world wars  became wars against civilians as much as against foreign armies - just as the Boer War had been. That was particularly true with the development of bombers. And the killing of civilians has increased even more since World War Two, notably in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq.....

The communist Soviet Union became a prominent military power -- not because it was communist - because it wasn't communist. It became a prominent power because it was ruled by a leader who had the same lust for power that capitalists did.

Today, the foreign policies of the U.S., Canada, Britain, Russia and China are  controlled by oligarchs -  groups of wealthy individuals  of whom Donald Trump is a small-time member. And it is not at all a coincidence that these wars have become much, much worse for civilian victims.

The oligarchs have, as did Hitler, learned how to win support from their fellow-citizens with propaganda. The emphasis is on hatred and fear. Hitler used these to unite Germans. The western world uses these to get support for killing Muslims. Trump is using such hatred and fear by singling out Mexicans and other latinos. Harper generates hatred and fear of Muslims to justify his conversion of Canada into a police state.

Hitler was not unusual. He was just one more step in the development of our, modern world.

As for the death camps, ask our mining stockholders. We have death camps aplenty in Central America and Africa. We would know that if our news media told us about 5 year olds working in mines in Congo, of people getting $2 a day in Central America while their lands are destroyed, of mass murder in Guatemala, of life expectancy of 61 in Haiti - with all those  years spent in misery, poverty and illness. And Canadian mining companies are prominent in this. We have nothing to learn from Hitler.

An election should be about what a party stands for in the broadest, possible terms. How does it think we should live? How does it feel about the people as a group? Does it see the poor as loafers? And the rich as philanthropists? What does it feel we need in order to live decent lives? Does it have favourites? or does it see us, rich and poor, as equals?. Is it a party of human love? Or is it a party of power seekers.

And do the leaders more closely resemble saviours? or Donald Trump?

The issue is not who will balance the budget or fund a new hockey rink. Issues are for TV debates. Elections are about all of us and what we need.  Forget the speeches. Look for which party comes the closest to compassion and concern for humanity.

Sorry to go on for so long. But Eli Weisel and some history reading took me to what the news media should do but usually don't. Most news is meaningless by itself. We need it with reporting follow-up and with commentary.


  1. Thanks for a great post. Have you ever thought about writing a book on how wars are started and built on personal greed?

  2. Gosh. It takes all my time just to do the research and writing for the blog. The only book I've done any work on is an autobiography for my children.