Monday, February 22, 2016

When I was twelve or thirteen in Montreal, I would often pick up my .22 rifle on a Saturday, and walk an hour or so to where the city ended, then head into the bush (now a suburb) to do some target practise. Just before the bush, I would pass a great, stone fortress that always gave me a shiver. It was Bordeaux jail.
At one time, people gathered there for its entertainment, the hanging of prisoners. By my day, the public hangings had been ended in favour of more select gatherings. But until Canada abolished executions, Bordeaux jail was the biggest hanging place in Canada. The total of executions in Canada from 1867 to 1962 was something over 700.

Canada also executed its own soldiers in World War One though, unlike Britain and France it did not execute them in large numbers. The total was about 25, almost all of them for desertion. Well, of course, some deserted. They weren't really criminals. But they were in the trenches of a war of unheard of horror. Okay, call them cowards. They were kids under constant bombardment by artillery, machine gun fire, snipers. They lived in trenches filled with mud and crawling with rats. It's easy for us to sneer at them as cowards. But how many of us  could stand that month after month? And, in any case, is fear a good reason to kill people?

There are countries that still execute, of course. We hear, with righteous horror, of how ISIS cuts off the heads of people. (So does our good friend, Saudi Arabia. Of course, our friend Saudi Arabia does not kill them for trifling religous reasons. No. It kills them because, for example, women are meant to be inferior to men, and so should not drive cars...Cut off her head.)  Anyway,  beheading sounds terrible. But it was used in France until something over forty years ago because it was a quick (and merciful) death. Actually, killing by hanging or electrocution or injections can be worse than beheading.
But Americans rise in disgust at such killing when done by ISIS. And that's curious because the U.S. is the only western country that still has the death penalty. The executions were public entertainment until 1936. You can still see those and later ones on Youtube.

The governor who was the champ for executions was a devout Christian and swaggering grinner named George Bush jr. In six years as governor of Texas, he hanged 154. He consistently refused to use his power to stop the executions.
Alas! Champions fade. His successor as governor hanged a new record - 251.

The U.S., always eager to point the finger at others, never looks at itself. And it gets worse.

Polls show that to this day over 60% of Americans approve of the death penalty. And it gets worse.

The death penalty is also approved by over 60% of Canadians.

That's why a story that didn't make the Irving press caught my eye recently. Pope Francis called for an end to the death penalty. It caught my eye also because I suddenly realized I had never before heard a Christian clergyman call for an end to the death penalty. I suppose it must have happened. But, oh, it must be rare.

We have no need to look overseas for evil.
The front page of today's Irving press is useful only for what it doesn't say. The headline is that the provincial government will cut the number of its teachers. In the story, it gives figures for the decline of student enrolment to justify cutting the teachers.

Does all that sound reasonable, and good reporting?

It isn't.

The decline in the number of students tells us nothing. The key questions, which the report never asked, are 1. What is the number of students per teacher? 2. What is the number of students per teacher that New Brunswick needs.

As always, the Irving press treats all issues as economic ones - just as if it were like running a business. But this province is not populated only by businesses. We have people, too, real human beings with real children with needs that this story doesn't bother looking at.

If you want a really dumb statement on all this by the Conservative education critic, Gary Crossman, it's on A2.  He says there should be a correlation between declining enrolment and the number of teachers. Oh? So if we have 50 students per class and it drops to 40, we should fire teachers?

Gary, kid, an education system is not like a Dairy Queen chain. First, you have to decide what it is you want to achieve with these children. Then you look at how many teachers you will require.

Then he babbles that this is a good time to work on quality. Why is firing teachers a good time to work on quality? What do you mean by 'quality'?

He goes on, (this guy should be on a leash). "You want your best teachers with the best fit at the best grade level?" Well, yeah. That's not a flash. Nobody would say, "You want your worst teachers with the worst fit at the worst grade level."

But, though I've taught all my life and at every grade level , I can't even figure what the hell his words mean.  Close your eyes, Gary, and think really, really hard. You are strongly implying that the system is low on quality (whatever you mean by that). Wasn't it your party that was in power just a short time ago? So you're telling us the Conservatives screwed up the education system?

New Brunswick has challenging education problems. And you're not going to solve them by firing teachers and stuffing 25 kids in a class. Among those problems are the parents, the large rural population, the social atmosphere. The children are illiterate because this is a society that doesn't give a damn about literacy. (That's why we have the worst funded library system in Canada.) They don't learn to think because New Brunswick is hostile to thinking. That goes back to the old days of the lumber barons when thinking things the boss did want  you to be thinking could get you fired with no hope of another job. That fear is still alive.

It also shows up in that people accept a newspaper chain that's designed to spread ignorance and prevent thinking. (The same is true of private radio in this province.)

All this is reinforced by the high degree of ruralism. Living in the country or village, it's important to be accepted by others. That means it's dangerous to think differently from others, to have different interests. And the children growing up there grow up in that state of mind. You're not going to cure that by firing teachers.

This province needs as many teachers it can get. It also has to encourage to them enrich their teaching with graduate training   (and, in fairness, it does do some of that.)

Above all, it needs to find more ways to encourage thought for children and students. Oh, and it desperately needs politicians who know that education is about people. You cannot start by picking some number of  children out of the air, divide them by ten and take the square root as the number of teachers you need. You have to start with the people and their needs.

Save the babble about correlations and undefined quality and best fit best grade level. Save that for a speech at a Chamber of Commerce dinner.  They'll love it.
But education is not a business. And children are not numbers.
The editorial touches on a related point.   It mentions that  a high proportion of the refugees coming here are children. Think about that. These are children who speak neither English nor French. They've had little or no chance for schooling.  And we're going to fire teachers?

I went to school with kids like that. (And also Syrian.) They did well. One boy, terribly crippled by polio, became a noted lawyer. The Syrians did well because they lived close together. They were a community within ours, so they lived in a world that was not entirely alien. Their social centre was the nearby Syrian church, and their anchor was Father Zarbatany.

In the same way, I grew up with Italians who lived in a neighbouring district with the Casa d'Italia  their social centre. They lived in my world, and they also lived in their world. The system worked well for them and for all of us.

That's why I'm disturbed to see hints that the government wants to scatter them all over the province so they will integrate. That's the worst possible thing to do. They need the security of a transition period  so they can live in their world while becoming accustomed to ours

We should not be in a great, big rush to make them just like the rest of us Canadians. In fact, we shouldn't want them to become just like us. This province needs more people who are different from us. Yes, we will change them. But, given a chance, they will change us a bit and, in my experience, for the better.
After all, before you pat yourself on the back about how you are a pure Canadian -----there is no such thing by any definition I can think of. My origins are Scots and Irish and French and Spanish and west Asian barbarian. I have no idea which culture I should have. In any case, all cultures constantly change. The children of today are quite different from those I taught only twenty years go. And (I hope) I have a different culture from your average west Asian barbarian.

Norbert has a decent column. But he just cannot stop himself from boiling himself into a rant. In dealing, quite intelligently, with bigots who call native leaders corrupt, he rips into corrupt, provincial politicians who wildly overpay themselves.

Gee, Norbert. If you know that, how come you've never written a column about it? Was Alward corrupt? Gallant? Name names. Give us numbers.
While you're at it, how about a piece on corrupt and corrupting big businessmen   who give themselves and their executives dreadfully inflated salaries which  have risen by hundreds of percentage points just in the last decade? Names. We want names. And we need to know who is corrupting our politicians. Any ideas, Norbert?

There's nothing worth reading in Canada and World, not in all four of its miserable pages. Again, of course, Yemen doesn't exist.

The section's front page headline is, again, about Dennis Oland. There must be a plan behind all this. But I can't guess what it might be.
 Yesterday, I commented on US General Eisenhower's mass murder of German prisoners after the end of World War Two. The count seems to have been worse than I realized. At the bottom of the page cited here is the issue of Saturday Night magazine in which the story first appeared.

This was sent to me by a reader who also sent the following accounts.

We have to remember that most wars produce crimes on both sides. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both war crimes since the deliberate targets in both cases were civilians.

I find that military historians don't like to discuss this sort of thing. My daughter once asked me about a memorial to a Canadian soldier in World War One.  The story she heard was that he was captured by the Germans, tied on a cross, then held up above the trenches in the poor light of early dawn. The Canadian trenches opened fire, and cut him to pieces.

I had heard of this story before, but didn't know much about it. So, on a chance meeting with one of Canada's leading military historians, I asked him about it.   I was astonished when he face went red with fury, and he dressed me down for asking such a question. So I did my own checking.

The Germans captured a Canadian, and held him up to be killed by his own comrades - as revenge against those Canadians who had murdered prisoners in their care. The historian ignored all the evidence because some of it made Canadians look bad.

As  I later learned (from a Canadian general), something similar happened in World War Two when the Canadians, advancing in France, capturerd a large number of Germans, then murdered them and threw the bodies in a river. The general knew because he had seen the surrendered Germans being marched along the other side of the river and, soon after, saw their bodies drifting down.

We are all, I'm afraid, human. We all have the capacity to murder. Wars are not between good guys and bad guys. They're all just between people.

And don't trust military historians. Any one I have ever met turned out to be a person who lusted for the favour and applause of The Canadian Legion. They partularly love to be invited to regimental mess dinners, and to be accepted by the officers there as kindred souls. I suspect they feel guilty about never having served in a war.
There's an excellent series of films on the Canadian roles in World War Two. But it sometimes showed our own rough spots, so The Legion and War Amps launched a tremendous campain to smear it. The Conservative party joined in because it was made by National Film Board which is owned by us, all of us. And Conservatives (like Norbert) don't believe we should own anything.
To see the films, google Canada at War NFB. (There's a fee to see them by computer.)
There's a brilliant column in Haaretz called 'funny Jews'. I'm  having trouble getting it - so you're on your own for the search. It begins with a statement I know to be true from experience. Jews have a tremendous sense of humour. It's a very distinctive kind of humour - very self-deprecating. Then the author takes me to something I had not realized.

1. Jewish humourists (like Woody Allen) dominate theatrical humour is the U.S., being  80% of the professional humourists.

2. Israelis are not funny at all. (I didn't know that.)

3. Jews who have historically lived in what is now Israel (they're called hassidic) don't have that sense of humour. It's the Europeans Jews, the Ashkenazes, who have it. Actually, the two groups don't even look alike.

Then the writer explains all this. The Ashkenaze lived as a despised minority in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. They used a self-deprecating humour as a defence against those who despised them.

The Hassids never developed that humour because arabs did not despise them. They lived quite comfortably with their neighbours (Until we created Israel, and kicked most of the arabs out of their homes.)

The Jews of Israel never developed such a sense of humour because most of them today, whether Ashkenaze or Hassidic, were never a minority or victims.
That deserves some thinking.

As a hint of the type, try this one. A Jew raises his hands to heaven and says, "you made us your chosen people. Why did you have to pick on us?" And you have to say it in a wail.

It's also explained at the website below
Unnoticed by the Irving press, much of Europe is disintegrating. The article mentions four countries; but there could well be others such as Britain. The refugee crisis is part of the cause. It doesn't mention the greater cause - the rate at which American wars and foreign policy have been de-stabilizing societies all over the world - on our side as well as all the other sides. And, as we should have noticed, within the U.S. itself.

Nor can we expect the American election to solve any problem. Only one of the political candidates, Bernie Sanders, has even noticed the profound social problems that are destroying the U.S. And he's not going to win.
The others are embarassing even to watch. They seem oblivious to all the danger signs - the racial hatreds, the astonishing murder rates, the biggest prison population in the world, the drift of almost all the money into the pockets of the rich, the spread of poverty, the irrelevance of the election system, the dreadful state of American education, the stunning corruption of government and the arms industry.. Instead of having policies on this, they call each other names or dream up whacky priorities like building a wall along the Mexican border..

At the best this will have a harmful fallout in Canada. In fact, as I look at the terrible state of our democratic system, the power we  have given to the rich and greedy, our getting involved in U.S. wars of pure greed and slaughter, the fallout is already happening.
It may be happening in another area, too. In a story that, typically, the Irving press didn't carry, another Canadian company has been selling weapons to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that our official policy is not to supply weapons to countries with bad human rights records. And Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

The Liberal government has the power to stop that. But it won't. Whatever the Irving press may tell us, we can be sure that the rest of the world knows exactly whose game we are playing in the middle east

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