Friday, October 16, 2015

Oct. 16: Sh! Don't think.

This is very late – because my electric power has been off all day. So it will probably be short. Luckily, there is very little to say about the Irving press except that it continues to do what I thought was impossible – get worse.

I wanted to talk as well about Hitler and Mussolini as pioneers of the new world, and their link to the really important issue of the Canadian federal election – the issue nobody is talking about. But I guess I'll save that for tomorrow.
In today's news, the hospital in Afghanistan staffed by Doctors without Borders that was bombed some days ago by the U.S. air force, killing staff and patients, was not an accident. It was directed by American special ops which knew it was a hospital. This was quite deliberate. And it's a war crime. It might also be called terrorism. You'll find it in section B4. It wasn't the lead story for the section because the Irving press needed that spot for the really big, world story – about the Oland trial.

For for fuller details, google Afghanistan hospital bombing 2015. You will find several entries referring to this from The Guardian, The Globe and other news media. But don't worry. I'm sure Obama will apologize and, perhaps, even speak sharply to – somebody lower on the totem pole.

B1 actually has another important story. St. John has Canada's highest child poverty rate. But that's okay. The important thing is that the Irvings are still making a lot of money out of St. John. That balanced view could be the subject of the sermon this Sunday at the Irving Chapel. With special music.

And that's it for Canada&World News.
Section A news has nothing of substance except a front page story that whooping cough is back.

Norbert's column is about how the New Brunswick government guaranteed the Atcon company for a very large loan. Now the company is broke. Norbert is sure (on the basis of no evidence at all) that nothing illegal happened. However, he's tough enough to suggest governments should be more transparent about these things.

A couple of thoughts…
1, Maybe nothing illegal happened and, perhaps, happened because the government was taken in (or quietly paid) to make this deal. (not illegal because it's almost impossible to prove.)

2. Norbert, the role of news media is to get past the surface and to expose what is wrong or illegal. But you have never done that, and your news chain has never done that. On the contrary, it daily goes out of its way to keep us all ignorant of what is going on in Moncton and in New Brunswick. You should know that, Norbert. You built a career on it.

There are two, good columns.

Justin Ryan talks about the good and the bad sides of a city having a “Chinatown”. I know, from experience, what he means. When I was thirteen, my father was a Scoutmaster of a troop in Chinatown. I often helped him at the meetings, and in the two weeks at scout camp. The boys, almost all Chinese, became good friends of mine who were no different to me than my other friends. The housing was pretty vile. But, oh, I was fascinated by Montreal's Chinatown. I was fascinated by the food, the stores, the festivals…

But I learned at scout camp that many others did not feel the same way. The Chinese boys were isolated, tormented. Luckily, most of the Chinese boys were Golden Gloves boxers. And I well remember the evening after supper when one of the boys took out one of his tormentors in about 20 seconds.

Later, I would learn that Chinatown existed because the Chinese, who had been there since the 1880s or so, were not allowed to live anywhere else. And most were self-employed as launderers or restaurant keepers because nobody would hire them. That was an attitude that persisted in Montreal at least to the 1970s.

Good column by Ryan.

Alec Bruce has a thought-provoking one about our economic anxieties. But I will take exception to his fifth paragraph…

“Then there are the kids, who, frankly, are not all right. Will they ever learn to read and write in an education system that fails them year after year?”

Yes, I know that New Brunswick has a high rate of illiteracy. But it's not the schools that have failed them. It's us.

Part of the failing is something we have little control over. Television and computers have been extremely destructive. So has radio ever since so many private stations have switched to nothing but music, usually piped from the head office in Toronto. The DJs, if they're still called that, talk in absurdly exaggerated excitement as they introduce songs with titles like “Awm gawna gitcha, babah”. And, to protect profits, Private radio stations have few, if any, reporters. They simply take their news out of the local newspapers. To says privately-owned radio stations make no intellectual demands is kind. They're actually destructive of any thinking at all.

It wasn't always like that.

Into the 1950s, radio featured discussion, comedy, plays like The Hornet and The Shadow…. It wasn't heavy stuff, but it made listeners use their brains. They had to create in their own minds the images of action, pay close attention to discussion, imagine the appearance of those people whose voices they heard. Radio demanded personal involvement.

I did talk radio for 25 years for CBC and then for Montreal's largest private station, CJAD. We had more audience than the whole population of New Brunswick. I did history, politics (the latter always with people who disagreed with me. We were there to slug it out.) Strangers who heard my voice when I was walking down the street would come to me and start talking to me like an old friend. Of course. In their minds, I had been in their homes. They had been involved and they remembered what I had said.

That kind of radio is almost gone, except for CBC. I've heard only one private station in New Brunswick that had a decent talk show. The others are passive and brainless.

TV made it worse. Quite apart from the deadly quality of most of the shows and those annoying advertising slots, it's a very passive medium. Unlike radio, it requires no imagination, no involvement, no thinking. You just sit and look. You watch colours change, and shapes move. That's why most TV shows change camera angles every twenty seconds or so. We get no intellectual exercise from TV, and we learn very little from watching it.

It also replaces reading. And the printed word, not just from what it says but from how it involves us, is a powerful learning experience.

The final killer has been the computer. There is no significant learning value in any computer game I have seen – nothing to demand involvement and imagination, nothing to exercise the mind. But almost any gathering of teenagers (and younger) now involves them sitting silently in a circle, each playing his or her own game on a tablet or phone. There's not even the intellectual stimulation of conversing.

The teaching of reading in New Brunswick schools is the same as it is in any province, the same as in
The Netherlands, as in China, as in the U.S.. as in Britain, as in Tunisia. But the world we teach in has changed. There is no easy answer to that. Certainly, I don't know one.

One place all this shows up is in the popular music of today. Go back to the pops of the 50s and 60s. Check out Pete Seeger, The Beatles, other entertainers of the time. Pete Seeger used folk music to talk about social issues. He wrote “Where have all the flowers gone?”, a song about the Vietnam war. Buffy Ste. Marie did much the same. The Beatles often took up social issues. Many others did the same.

You don't hear much of that in today's pop music. It's mostly drums, guitarists periodically jumping up while lights on their jackets flash on and off and coloured spotlights change the colours of the performers even more quickly than TV changes camera angles. Oh, and photos of the group looking surly and tough.

We are ceasing to be thinking people. But, still, New Brunswick is a special problem. And that's not because of its school system. It's because of New Brunswickers. This is, along with the other Maritime provinces, the least thinking region in Canada. In fact, thinking is almost a dirty word.

What I say next is not a criticism of rural life or of villages. But we are dominated by a rural/village mentality. People living in small communities don't like to disagree with each other. That's common sense. They have to live every day with the same, small group of people. Any disagreement can make enemies, can isolate one. You have to fit in to survive.

This attitude also comes into the cities where, I suspect, it is reinforced by the economic dominance of a few families. There's a fear of annoying those families. And that's a justified fear. We know, for example, that our secret police spy on 'trouble makers' like environmentalists or critics of any sort. And we know they report not only to the government but to business leaders. In a province that has high unemployment, there is a danger in thinking, and a great danger in thinking out loud.

This is a problem that schools cannot solve. Yes, children learn at school. But not just at school. A child's learning is profoundly affected by social background and family background. That's why children born into poverty often do poorly in school. It's not because the poor are born dumb. And it's certainly because the rich are born smart (though Norbert thinks that is the case).

A very high proportion of people in this province do not think and, because they distrust or fear thinking, they do not read. The children have no model to follow, no expectations to meet.

When I was a kid, most of my friends were illiterate. And their parent were functionally illiterate. I had a father who was an intensive reader. From the time I was six, he would go to the used bookstore to get a book for me. By age seven or so, I had memorized Kipling's Gunga Din. If we had visitors, even as late as nine o'clock, he would get me out of bed to recite….

You may talk of gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere
Or you're sent to pennyfights and Aldershot it.
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
And you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im what's got it…..


Though I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e 'as gone
Where it's always double drill an' no canteen,
'e'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drinks to poor, damned souls.
And I'll get a swig in 'ell from Gunga Din.

Reading is important. Reading is the key to thinking intelligently. We need reading, and we need the freedom to say and to debate aloud what we are thinking. New Brunswick has too little of the reading. And almost nothing of the freedom.

It's not the fault of our schools. It's our fault. Our governments have made not the slightest attempt to deal with the problems of rural and village isolation. Nor, I must say, do our privately-owned news services do anything except to exploit ignorance and fear.

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