Sunday, September 06, 2009

We Don't Need No Education...

It doesn’t happen often but… Keith missed the point.


On his Friday Countdown with Keith Olbermann broadcast, during a discussion with Jonathan Alter, Alter seemed bemused, and Keith was even amused, by the Republican attitude toward President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren next Tuesday.


Some on the right wing are advocating keeping kids home from school that day, which led to this segment:



The conversation becomes most compelling at about the 4:00 minute mark, when Jonathan Alter brings up the “Obama effect: teachers report that African American children actually do better when told that the President wants them to do their homework!


Alter asks, “WHY would they want to undermine that, WHY would they want more children growing up, dropping out of school, causing problems for themselves and for society?”


Well OF COURSE the Republicans, or more specifically, the ideological wing responsible for the debacle of the last eight years, don’t want an educated population. They could not have gotten away with half of what they did if a vast majority of Americans were taught to think critically and behave in a socially responsible manner by schools with the proper resources to do so.


What the Republicans want is a nation of sheep, struggling through their daily lives with little energy to spare, and what energy they do have should be devoted to:


Religion.


Religion, which does not teach critical thinking, rather, encourages magical thinking, which in turn makes people more vulnerable to the fear-mongering that the right wing uses to control thought and control votes.


Keith points out that the Republican attitude is self-defeating, since children of Democrats will stay in school, become educated, get better jobs.


This may be, but the result is not self-defeating for the Republicans, who are powered by corporate interests like the ones that led to last year’s financial meltdown and ensuing recession, corporate interests that were largely bailed out or led gently through bankruptcy protection, while ordinary citizens lost their jobs and homes.


Why did so many ordinary citizens allow themselves to depend so heavily on credit and sink so deeply into debt? Because without massive consumer spending the economy would (and almost did) collapse. Frugality and saving have long gone out of style, replaced by rampant consumerism. Without an EDUCATION in personal finance, people are truly at the mercy of their government-dictated culture.


The Republican goal seems to be to have a small educated leadership elite with the larger general population – and the votes contained therein – receptive to whatever message they choose to transmit.


This is not new. History is full of examples of government by ruling classes with their own agendas, part of which is to keep the majority in their place, providing the lifeblood of the regime in the form of cheap or free labour, taxes, and in the era of democracy, votes.


Furthermore, it’s not by accident that the right wing brands Democrats as “elitist”. The message is, success and education are not cool. It’s also part of the strategy of projecting Republican shortcomings onto the other side, thus, Democrats cannot “keep the country safe” whereas all Republicans did was engage in wars that killed more Americans than the attacks of 9-11, fail to protect the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and leave the country with vulnerable infrastructure and education and health care systems that don’t work for far too many.


So when the Republicans undermine the education system it’s neither a casual mistake nor a self-defeating move. It’s intentional and it’s dangerous for not only the US but for Western Society as a whole.



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Are We Amused Yet?

Yes! Yes! Canada is finally getting noticed!

No longer are we just a red (or grey, or brown) splotch on the map north of the 48 states. No longer is our news unreported, unworthy, unloved. And best of all no longer can Americans pretend to be Canadian when they travel abroad in order to be liked better.

What brought this on, you may ask?

Our Governor General ripped the heart out of a dead seal and ate it raw.

No, really.

When I first saw the headline on Twitter yesterday my reaction was, I don’t remember following The Onion.

My next reaction was, no way. Does not compute. Not is possible. Ignore it, maybe it will go away.

But sadly it is NOT A JOKE. Or if it is, somebody please tell me already and put me out of my misery. I haven’t stopped cringing for over 24 hours.

What was she thinking? Supposedly something to do with solidarity for the Inuit way of life, maybe a protest against the European ban on seal products, whatever.

Couldn’t she just issue a statement???

And I say this as someone who leans toward support of the seal hunt as a source of income for a society that desperately needs it. They no longer club those cute white fuzzy babies and by the way what did you have for dinner last night anyway?

But I don’t want to get into that debate here.

I was kind of hoping this story might go away but alas, it seems to have been picked up by mainstream media. I’ve seen articles on MSNBC and the BBC and honestly don’t have the heart (heh, pun not intended, but acknowledged) to go looking for more references.

Even the gossip website Gawker is having some fun with it, calling Michaelle Jean the “Sarah Palin of Canada”.

Come on that’s totally not fair or even accurate. There is a BIG difference between seal and moose. Jean never claimed superhero bionic x-ray vision to the other side of the International Date Line. Governor and Governor-General are not the same thing (see below). And, up until now at least, Michaelle Jean has been way more respected, especially by those who have heard of her.

So while the message is definitely OUT THERE, it may not be the message Michaelle Jean intended to send. This is after all a serious issue with both sides having passionate feelings about it. Making herself into an international laughing-stock adds nothing to the debate but only creates content for news shows and late night comedians.

Considering the feeble amount of news coverage given to Canada by most American networks, THIS may be the story of the year, leaving people with a rather odd view of us.

Why does this matter? Well when our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan (partly because Americans got distracted by Iraq and neglected the earlier war) perhaps that is a more important story.

When our country does not discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens in civil rights laws or even with regard to the right to serve our country in the military, that is a more important story too.

And perhaps someone should tell the Americans the truth about our *gasp* socialized medicine! While far from perfect, it doesn’t warrant the kind of dismissal politicians give it, when Americans, even those WITH insurance, are at the mercy of some guy in a cubicle whose job it is to find a way to deny them coverage.

This may not help our Arctic sovereignty claims either. But on the other hand.. who would want to pick a fight with us up north?

And you have to admit the woman has balls. Probably more balls than all the male Governors-General we’ve had, combined. And she’s not even our first woman GG, but third that I can think of.. let’s go see if I’m right.

Yup, Jeanne Sauve and Adrienne Clarkson were the others. Go me.

The Governor-General of Canada is not an elected official but is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. She is the Queen’s representative here and has a largely ceremonial role.

So far to my knowledge the Queen has not commented on the antics of her Canadian proxy. One can only assume that she is not amused.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moving Forward...

It took me awhile to get around to it, but here it is, the e-mail that got me so worked up in January:
Subject: You SHOULD be concerned

Our National Anthem - at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

Please read and forward to as many Canadians you can think of. Thank you - WE ARE PROUD CANADIANS
Bruce Allen is on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Committee and new Canadians (specifically Hindi's/Indian's) want him fired for his recent comments outlined below:

Pause to fact check:

1. Does Bruce Allen exist? Yes. He’s a Canadian entertainment promoter.

2. Is he on the 2010 Olympic Committee? Yes.

So far not too bad, eh? It continues:
I am sorry, but after hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Hindi - enough is enough.
Nowhere or at no other time in our Nation's history, did they sing it in Italian, Japanese, Polish,
Irish (Celtic), German, Portuguese, Greek, or any other language because of immigration.
It was written in English, adapted into French, and should be sung word for word the way it was written.
The news broadcasts even gave the Hindi version translation - which was not even close to our National Anthem.


(The above, supposedly a quote of Bruce Allen’s "recent comments")

Fact check:

3. Did Bruce Allen make “recent comments”? Yes.

In September 2007 (recent, by email forward standards) he did make some anti-immigrant remarks on a BC radio show.

However.

Bruce Allen’s remarks did not include the above “quote”, nor anything related to the singing of O Canada in any language at any time. His comments have been picked over and dealt with and are old news but if you want to see them, go here and here.

4. The Canadian anthem was written in English?

Actually no, it was written in French and much later adapted into English. The English version has continued to evolve during my lifetime.

Furthermore, there is no law that prevents anyone from singing the Canadian anthem any way they wish. It is allowed, the only proviso being that alternate versions are not “official”. Which sounds pretty fair to me.
And the "not even close" Hindi translation? Nowhere to be found.

The email forward continues:
I am not the least bit sorry if this offends ANYONE, this is MY COUNTRY; My Grand Dad served in the military, other family members also served, as well as my wife & I served a combined total of 56 years between us. We made many sacrifices for our country and do not feel we should feel obligated to allow invited people we've welcomed with open arms to influence & change our society to better resemble the one they chose to leave to come here!!! - IF YOU AGREE ABOUT THIS GREAT COUNTRY, SPEAK UP BEFORE ITS TOO LATE...

(edited out some repetitive stupidity)

...ARE you PART OF THE PROBLEM ??? Think about this: If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone, will we still be the Country of Choice and Still be CANADA if we continue to make the changes forced on us by the people from other countries who have come to live in CANADA because it is the Country of Choice??????
Think about it!
IMMIGRANTS, NOT CANADIAN'S, MUST ADAPT.
It's Time for CANADIANS to speak up.. If you agree ? Pass this along; if you don't agree?
Delete it and reap what you sew (sic) because of your complacency!

I have left the spelling and punctuation errors in. They give the screed a certain “je ne sais quoi”.

Oops. Not English. My bad.

Okay so if Bruce Allen didn’t actually say the above then where did it come from?

This is good:

It’s an adaptation of an American rant concerning American immigrants wanting to sing the American anthem in Spanish! So the patriotic CANADIAN rant is actually a rip off of an American rant!
Those 56 combined years of military service between the ranter and his wife? American. Or imaginary.

What Bruce Allen "said"? Lifted and adapted from an American rant such as this one.

I actually was a bit disappointed in that. Can’t we Canadians, apart from Bruce Allen and a certain small Quebec town, work up some good xenophobic energy on our own?
Not like the Americans, apparently.

What I most object to here, though, is the bullying tone:

ARE you PART OF THE PROBLEM ??? Think about this: If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone, will we still be the Country of Choice and Still be CANADA… blah blah blah.

There is indeed a problem, but it's not immigrants who wish to sing a translated anthem of the country they chose.

The problem is how otherwise reasonable people just click and forward every piece of nonsense that comes into their inbox, thus putting themselves at risk of perpetuating an extreme agenda that, if they thought about it, they might not even agree with!

I'm all for free speech but THE SPEAKER HAS TO HAVE CHECKED HIS FACTS AND STAND BEHIND THE MESSAGE HE IS SENDING!

Sure, some email forwards are fairly harmless (can bananas really do all that?) but some are pure poison, complete with veiled threats about the consequences of not passing along the drivel.

Happily I'm not alone in my outrage. Sites such as snopes and about.com have comprehensive debunking services, although I'm not too thrilled about the way snopes tries to open pop-up ads.
I also found breakthechain.org, another site dedicated to eradicating this scourge.

And finally, another reason to object to this form of clutter: Once you do get it in your head that most of these forwards contain false information, you are likely to discount the rare one that is true, such as this warning about attempts to impersonate the Canada Revenue Agency to gain personal data.

The boy who cried wolf, digital edition.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's All Evil.

I have a new obsession, and it’s not a good thing.

I am obsessed, these days, with the evils of email forwards.

They are coming in even as I write this.

Now, I don’t so much mind the ones with cute animal photos although they are getting a little repetitive. And Maxine is pretty cool her own self.
I don’t even see them all since I refuse to click on any link to a website, a movie file, or anything that doesn’t actually load into the body of the email.
I say that’s on account of viruses but it’s really because I’m lazy.

Too lazy to click?
Yes.
Deal with it.

For awhile I was mostly getting the forwards that told me how much the sender valued me and my friendship which was kind of nice until I got to the part where it urged me to send it along to all my friends (including the ones I didn’t value so much because I was a bad person not to) and even send it back to the sender or else she would realize I didn’t feel the same way about her and though I usually did, both feel the same way AND forward it back, the guilt trip was getting on my nerves, not to mention, affecting my ability to write a sentence which doesn't run on forever.

But now, more and more I’m getting emails with an agenda. Part of the problem is that while the agenda is crystal clear, the source is usually not.
There is nobody behind these messages to argue with, blame, sue, stalk or otherwise punish for spreading their false information, lies, at times hate, and always, attempt to influence.

This really hit home recently when I received a forward from a close friend I’ll call Zelda (not her real name) whose intelligence and worldly sophistication I’d always admired. Zelda is well read, well travelled and far from na├»ve. What she forwarded was a right wing rant about the (perceived) threat of people singing the Canadian National Anthem in a language other than English or French at next year’s Olympic Games in Vancouver. Zelda even included her own comment about how she was going to contact her member of parliament in protest.

While the issue that reportedly sent off the ranter had actually occurred (albeit over a year ago) many of the arguments were based on misinformation and the tone was decidedly discriminatory.
To put it mildly.

To make matters worse, there was a threatening tone, well more than a TONE, it actually SAID that if I did not forward the letter for fear of offending someone, then I was part of the problem.

I replied to Zelda, explaining why I disagreed with the arguments in the email, and she agreed and even thanked me. But I was left with an uneasy feeling, and did a bit more research, the results of which steamed me up even more, and which I’ll cover in an upcoming entry.

The point is, I am becoming more and more concerned about the insidious effect that these emails must be having on our way of thinking. What happens that makes us suspend our critical thinking and just accept and forward these things like robots? What makes us think that just because it appears in the inbox, that it's true, correct, factual, and verified? We are nowhere near that gullible when it comes to what we read in the paper, what we see in advertisements or what our friends and family tell us.

How much are we internalizing the messages we see? This seems to me an updated version of how societies throughout history have been brainwashed only now it’s easier, just a couple of clicks will do it. Send this along to everyone you know or something bad will happen. Bullying, a nice touch.

I don’t care how inconsequential the subject matter. It’s the process that concerns me, and concerns me deeply. While Zelda was very gracious about my correction, others are losing patience with me. They don’t understand why I can’t let this go, why I have to check EVERYTHING out and take great pains to point out the errors to them. Some have stopped sending me stuff and while that might be good for my short term mental health, I’ve decided instead to take my aggravation and blog it.

Starting with the email that I vaguely referenced above, I will be posting the text of these forwards and deconstructing them. If nothing else, it will help lower my blood pressure.