Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nov. 29: Sunday odds and ends.

There was an item I forgot yesterday -  in the story on how the New Brunswick government is going to cut costs, I didn't mention one of its targets - funding to universities. the government is thinking of a funding formula based on the performance of the universities. Neat idea - except - nobody has the faintest idea how to judge university performance.

Does it mean performance in published research? Often it does mean that. But any such system means a decline in teaching - an area in universities that already resembles a swamp.

Does it mean ratio of students who complete degrees?  No problem. All they have to do is to lower standards by giving higher grades. It's already rampant in the U.S., and has been for many years. (Grades have also been on the rise in Canada for years.)

Does it mean rating teaching ability? Universities commonly have very little teaching ability to rate. And, in any case, nobody knows how to rate it. All of this is why the MacLean's university ratings (and the world university ratings) are a crock.

Typically of this province, our government looks at business models. But university is not a business. Besides, there are countries much poorer than Canada that offer free university education. Cuba is an example. So shouldn't we take a look at how they do it?

The prime minister of Britain wants to bomb ISIS. And that's a cop-out. We can't destroy such a movement by bombing. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has killed millions by bombing Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan at a cost of trillions. It has destroyed whole nations.

And in every case, it has failed.

It has concentrated on bombing 'terrorists' for almost fifteen years. And for all the killing and destruction, it has gained nothing. In practical terms, every war has been a loss. And the terrorists are not fewer. They are more. Worse, the U.S. has made itself a world of enemies.

At the end of the cold war, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall,  America did not have an enemy of any substance in the world. Now, it faces a powerful Russia, an economic and military giant of China, and a hostile Muslim world. Violence has proven a bad idea, and bombing largely a waste of time. So why does Britain want to bomb ISIS?

1. It's cheap because it means fewer casualties.
2. It kisses up to the U.S. That's important because, without U.S. support, British business has no future whatever in the Middle East, a region it once ruled.

I like al Jazeera. It was founded to be an honest news source rather than a propaganda one. That makes it one of the very few in the world. It sometimes slips a little bit. But it's still far superior to anything in North America. And, oh,
it has so much more of everything than the Irving press has. (though, in fairness, the Irving press beats it in news that counts -  like what celebrities we have never heard of who are having birthdays today.)

I recommend you read all of today's al Jazeera. It has so much we don't get in both news and opinion.

It's worth looking at the whole issue - especially news, opinion, and investigations. It has news of South Africa where police killed 34 miners. They were very low paid (as most miners in this world always have been, and as our news media almost never report despite the prominence of Canadians in the world mining industry.)

It has the story of vast megacities on the Africa coast, cities made up mostly of horrible slums, and now suffering terrible floods due to climate change. And this one has plenty of videos so we can see what the world's real problems are.

Its opinion columns are always real opinions, not just propaganda or trivial stories. And it has a Canada and U.S. section which gives some idea of how the rest of the world sees us.

Similarly, it's worth reading Haartez every day. Alas, I shall  now have to pay for mine. But at $2.00 a week,  that's a lot cheaper than the Irving press. And a lot better. And you can probably get it for quite a while without paying.

Its focus is more narrowly on Israel. But it also has considerable world news  (much more than the Irving press), and excellent opinion columns.

For a very impartial and intelligent analysis of the Russia-Turkey tension, take a look at this column in The Guardian.

The Guardian also has a topic rarely mentioned by the Irving press - the number of people killed by U.S. police so far this year. It now stands at 1,034. It also has a photo of each person.

The number of such killings in Canada for the same period is 20.  Something is seriously wrong in the U.S.  But Canadians should not sit back. Historically, Canadians have had, perhaps, one such killing per year. The rise, very recently, is dramatic. When such killings rise, it is usually a sign of social disorder.  And the response, itself, is a part and perhaps even a cause of the social disorder.

The figures for police killings appear on the opening page of Information Clearing House. But they are immediately erased, so quickly that one often doesn't even see them. Gee! I guess that must be terrorists.

The following sites are about trade deals like Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, CETA, NAFTA. Typically, these are really about making the very rich richer. In many cases, they destroy the power of any nation to regulate such things as environment and health care and even public education. Anything that gets in the way of making a profit becomes illegal. Environmental protection, for example, can simply be revoked. Or, if graciously permitted to stay, capitalists can require the government to pay billions in compensation to them for 'lost profits'.

It is the final and complete end to democracy with all power handed over to international oligarchs. Gee, I wonder why we've never seen a story in the Irving press about this.

This is why I have no great optimism about the climate change talks now taking place. Most of the national leaders there are really answerable to their own oligarchs. That's why little of any significance has happened since the first of these talks in 1992, almost a quarter of a century ago.

That's why, yesterday, an oil executive was quoted at length and with favour in The National Post in saying that climate change was not a social issue. No. Like NAFTA and all those other deals, it's not about people. It is, he said, an economic issue.

That may be why this province's most esteemed philanthropist has never, to my knowledge,  donated money to any group working on climate change. That's why Brian Gallant will, someday, say that a pipeline is perfectly safe. And he'll say fracking is perfectly safe. That's why Irving Ltd. is optimistic enough to spend huge sums on improving its refinery.

Greed's twin children are stupidity and destruction.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Middle East remains very, very dangerous for all of us. What's at stake for the U.S. is regional and, perhaps, world dominance. (Though chances of the latter are fading fast.) What's at stake for Russia is its status as a world power. And it's likely that China has a bigger stake in this than we realize.

Will Canada be able just to look on? Not likely. A Russian attack on Turkey, for example, would draw NATO into the fight because Turkey is a member of NATO - and so are we here in Canada.

Is it likely that "terrorism" will be defeated? No. It hasn't been defeated in some fifteen years of massive killing. In fact, it has grown with every attack it has suffered. We are going to have to reach a deal with ISIS.

Yes, I know ISIS is cruel. I know it beheads people. It tortures them. It burns them to death. It kills innocent people.

So do we. So don't get all indignant on me.

This is a war that began in 1914 with European intrusions to get oil. The violence and looting involved in that began the destruction of existing social and political systems - which led to their replacement by religious fears and hatreds. The final blow, also about oil, was the American destruction of Iraq. More killing will simply spread the area of violence, perhaps to include even New Brunswick.

We have to deal.

They aren't nice people. But neither are we.

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