Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On Masculinity

Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger: A History of the Present, wrote an interesting article in The Guardian last Saturday on the rise of a new idea of masculinity as linked in part to industry:
The moral prestige of Gandhi’s murderer is only one sign among many of what seems to be a global crisis of masculinity. Luridly retro ideas of what it means to be a strong man have gone mainstream even in so-called advanced nations. In January Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian self-help writer who laments that “the west has lost faith in masculinity” and denounces the “murderous equity doctrine” espoused by women, was hailed in the New York Times as “the most influential public intellectual in the western world right now”. . . . 
As manly virtues arose, attacks on women, and feminists in particular, in the west became nearly as fierce as the wars waged abroad to rescue Muslim damsels in distress. In Manliness (2006) Harvey Mansfield, a political philosopher at Harvard, denounced working women for undermining the protective role of men. The historian Niall Ferguson, a self-declared neo-imperialist, bemoaned that “girls no longer play with dolls” and that feminists have forced Europe into demographic decline. More revealingly, the few women publicly critical of the bellicosity, such as Katha Pollitt, Susan Sontag and Arundhati Roy, were “mounted on poles for public whipping” and flogged, Barbara Kingsolver wrote, with “words like bitch and airhead and moron and silly”. At the same time, Vanity Fair’s photo essay on the Bush administration at war commended the president for his masculine sangfroid and hailed his deputy, Dick Cheney, as “The Rock”. . . . It is also true that historically privileged men tend to be profoundly disturbed by perceived competition from women, gay people and diverse ethnic and religious groups. In Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle (1990) Elaine Showalter described the great terror induced among many men by the very modest gains of feminists in the late 19th century: “fears of regression and degeneration, the longing for strict border controls around the definition of gender, as well as race, class and nationality”. . . . These majestically male makers of the modern west are being forced to think twice about a lot today. Gay men and women are freer than before to love whom they love, and to marry them. Women expect greater self-fulfilment in the workplace, at home and in bed. Trump may have the biggest nuclear button, but China leads in artificial intelligence as well as old-style mass manufacturing. And technology and automation threaten to render obsolete the men who push and pull things – most damagingly in the west. . . . 
It is as though the fantasy of male strength measures itself most gratifyingly against the fantasy of female weakness. Equating women with impotence and seized by panic about becoming cucks, these rancorously angry men are symptoms of an endemic and seemingly unresolvable crisis of masculinity. . . . Pop psychologists periodically insist that men are from Mars and women from Venus, lamenting the loss of what Peterson calls “traditional” divisions of labour, without acknowledging that capitalist, industrial and expansionist societies required a fresh division of labour, or that the straight white men who supervised them deemed women unfit, due to their physical or intellectual inferiority, to undertake territorial aggrandisement, nation-building, industrial production, international trade, and scientific innovation. . . . Upper-class parents in America and Britain had begun to send their sons to boarding schools in the hope that their bodies and moral characters would be suitably toughened up in the absence of corrupting feminine influences. Competitive sports, which were first organised in the second half of the 19th century, became a much-favoured means of pre-empting sissiness – and of mass-producing virile imperialists. It was widely believed that putative empire-builders would be too exhausted by their exertions on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow to masturbate. . . . 
The first victims of the quest for a mythical male potency are arguably men themselves, whether in school playgrounds, offices, prisons or battlefields. This everyday experience of fear and trauma binds them to women in more ways than most men, trapped by myths of resolute manhood, tend to acknowledge. Certainly, men would waste this latest crisis of masculinity if they deny or underplay the experience of vulnerability they share with women on a planet that is itself endangered."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

On the Necessity for a Public Takedown

When, a couple months back, I read Katie Way's depiction of a date between "Grace" and Aziz Ansari, at first I felt badly for him to be outed as such a crappy date. How embarrassing. Then in the New York TimesBari Weiss responded that Ansari was being asked to be a mindreader. My rejection of that idea led me to a more nuanced understanding of the issue. I commented there,

But then, as is so often the case, a discussion with students in my class clarified the issue even further.

This is an important issue to be raised. It's still seems, based on this conversation with a room full of teenagers, a common problem on dates. Guys will ignore body language and use subtle leaning, pushing, guiding, and grinding as a way to progress an event that isn't explicitly desired by the pushed and leaned upon party. By using movement rather than words, it feels easier to act as if they merely misconstrued the situation. By taking it out of the realm of verbal communication, they can better claim a problem with interpretation instead of straight up consent.

On UW's Mental Health Recommendations

After another suicide on the campus of the University of Waterloo, the university compiled 36 recommendations to try to alleviate the mental health crisis and held (and taped) a forum as well. It really says something about our lives that one of the recommendations is about the process of communicating suicides to students. At my school board, when I was a union rep, we had long conversations on this same topic. Suicide is now common enough to elicit developing a standard operating procedure for WHEN it happens.

We are clearly in the midst of a profound mental health crisis everywhere, not just in the universities. But because we're still on shaky ground trying to determine the cause of the problem, it's so hard to find the best solution. I had a good discussion with my class about Johann Hari's Lost Connections, and they were quite defensive at the suggestion that anxiety and depression are anything but biological conditions. People with these conditions are "actually sick," they insisted. Of course they are. But we can be sick without the cause of the illness being an inborn chemical imbalance. Clearly we can get lung cancer from living in a city where we swim though polluted air on our daily commute. So, like particulates physically affect our lungs, loneliness, trauma, ongoing stress, a lack of control over our environment, losing hope for the future, and perfectionism physically affect our brains. The effects can be seen in an MRI. It's no less real and no less an externally imposed condition in our brains than pollution is in our bodies.

Monday, February 19, 2018

On Hari's Lost Connections

"There's violence to knowing the world isn't what you thought. . . . Sometimes the world doesn't make a lot of sense, but how we get through it is, we stick together, okay?" - Gloria Burgle, Fargo

I watched Joe Rogan's interview with (interrogation of) Johann Hari about his new book, Lost Connections. Rogan wasn't quite buying what Hari is selling, which is unfortunate because his premise is intriguing. He told a few stories through the podcast, but his book, while still a casual read, is heavily footnoted, and his view thoroughly supported with the most up-to-date peer-reviewed research. He even encourages us to "Kick the evidence. See if it breaks. The stakes are too high for us to get this wrong" (14). It's just this: Anxiety and depression are not primarily caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and drugs only work a little bit for very few people.

He needs all the footnotes because his claims are extraordinary, and the worst thing would be if this were seen as a mere conspiracy theory against Big Pharma. This is just a brief summary without all the data and examples. He interviewed many contemporary researchers and compiled the evidence necessary to convince the masses of our wrong turn on this one. And it's not about the cellphones!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Swimming Lessons

"As for our bodies, there comes a time when no one wants to come near them." ~ Mr. Perlman speaking one of the saddest line from the lovely film Call Me by Your Name.

I took my youngest daughter to the gym with me one Saturday. She wanted to use the treadmill, but there were actual other human beings in the room, so she just used the bike. She's not confident with the treadmill yet and doesn't want to look stupid. I told her, "Don't be silly; nobody in the room will even notice how you look on it!" But, apparently, I just don't understand.

Well, she's young, right? She'll get over that feeling of being observed and judged.


The very next day, I headed to my first swimming lesson in about forty years. I mean my lesson, not one for my kids.

On Free Meds and Mental Health Care

Perfect timing.

My son just finished telling me about his trip to our family doctor in which he tried but failed to get a form filled out that will enable our benefits to cover his ridiculously expensive drugs, when I came across this post on my Twitter feed from the perspicacious Jenny Lawson:

I don't usually rant on social media. I save it for this blog where there's more room to clarify the issues in carefully worded posts. But I was just jazzed enough to fire off this whiney retweet:

Sunday, January 28, 2018

On Conflict

We're raised to understand conflict from the perspective of good guys and bad guys. But it's rarely so clear. The battle for land and resources can be utterly nonsensical, particularly where there is plenty to go around. I watched the documentary Jane last night, in which Goodall described the horrors of the Chimp Wars of the mid-70s when a peaceful group of chimpanzees divided into two factions, seemingly randomly, and then one completely slaughtered the other over a period of about four years. They didn't stop until every single one was dead, even though some of the chimps were killing former childhood friends. Primates kill other primates. And we're primates. But we have something no other primates have: complex language. At what point will we use it instead of violence?

Turkey launched an assault on Rojava last Saturday, sparked by a US announcement that the US wants to create a border force 30,000 strong to patrol the area, which will include the Kurdish military. So far, at least 23 civilians are dead, and 5,000 displaced. It's a tragedy that must be stopped, absolutely. In the words of Sean Crowe, it's wrong on so many levels and must be condemned:

In one sense it seems simply a territorial war not entirely dissimilar to conflicts between animals everywhere who don't want that group in this place. But it's also very complicated. (Or complicated to me.) I'm just trying to figure it all out here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Monbiot's Out of the Wreckage

The book cover says the book "provides the hope and clarity required to change the world." Well, he certainly tries. He's got a plan of action that's possible, but I didn't get the requisite hope necessary to be spurred to action. It's a bit of an overview of many ideas from different places, many of which are already in action somewhere in the world, and it left me with a solid  book list to peruse, but it also left me with a sinking feeling that this will never work. We're never going to get our shit together enough to do any of this. But I've been wrong before.

The first part is a mix of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries, Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, Robert Reich's Inequality for All, and Noam Chomsky's talks on solidarity. Then he gets into specifics about our ideas around our communities, environment, economics, and democracy.

On School Holidays

If we can't move or shorten the "winter break" because, let's face it. we're running on a Christian calendar with lengthy holidays around Christmas and Easter and no time off for any other religion (well, we recognize Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but would we if they were at a different time?), if we can recognize we're not quite secular yet, then could we start the school year in August and end it in May with a June-July summer? June is getting hotter (h/t climate change), and August is often rainy anyway, right? I know it's tricky to change things like this, but it's silly to continue on with a system that isn't optimal for the people being served. In many states, they've already shifted to an August start.

In the high schools, after two weeks of eating and sleeping excessively, we come back for just two weeks of learning, quickly followed by review and final exams. For grade 12s hoping to get in to college or university, this is the most important semester of their lives, and they often come back sluggish and in need of a refresher that we don't have time to offer. If we start in August, then the break will fall at the half-way mark between the two semesters. Kids can have a real break without assignments hanging over their heads--that most don't actually get done over Christmas despite their best intentions. This year I had many students completely forget about a major assignment that was due after the break - and I had changed the due date from before to after on their insistence that they'd do a much better job with more time. And then January is a nice, fresh start for everyone. It will take some adjusting as summer camps shift their schedules, but it's clearly do-able.

Then March break and Thanksgiving are both centred nicely in the middle of the semesters. But, while we're at it, can we attach the March break to Easter (or just ditch that Easter Monday invention) and shorten it, then add a few of those days to Thanksgiving to have more even semesters? October is a beautiful time for a holiday, and the number of holidays breaking up our second semester makes it difficult to have any continuity.

I know it's not all about me, but these are largely school holiday that are placed in the worst arrangement in respect of school success. Frankly, I'm all for year-round schooling, but that's likely going too far for some.

ETA - This is timely: WRDSB is considering year-round schooling. But the trustees make the mistake of suggesting that our current model is for outdated agrarian purposes. Historian Kenneth Gold says otherwise:
“What school on the agrarian calendar actually looked like was a short winter term and a short summer term....And if you think about farming needs, that’s actually what makes sense....Kids in rural, agricultural areas were most needed in the spring, when most crops had to be planted, and in the fall, when crops were harvested and sold. Historically, many attended school in the summer when there was comparatively less need for them on the farm....the current school year was really a conscious creation...A long break would give teachers needed time to train and give kids a break. And while summer was the logical time to take off, the cycles of farming had nothing to do with it."
ETA - BUT, as much as I support year-round schooling, I'm not in favour of their proposed calendar, which makes no sense in terms of balanced semesters:

The first semester looks fine, but why add in a week in February and then leave three months, April, May, and June, without any breaks. If they have a leftover week of holidays, give the kids a long weekend - or even one Wednesday "catch-up" day each quarter. Then make the spring break fall right in the middle of the semester, rather than have 8 weeks in one quarter and 13 weeks in the next. Who does that benefit??

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Long Wait - A Bandaid for the Emergency Room Crisis

This is just an off-the-cuff comment, but enduring a long wait in a crowded, infection-ridden emergency room just once should be enough to spur people into action - or at least into innovation. At the time of my first extended wait, I asked a nurse if I could just take a number or somehow find out where I am in line and/or have a means to hold my place so I could leave to get food and come back again later.

She said, "No, you just have to wait with everyone else."

Fair enough, but what if we could wait at home??

When we first sign-in at the hospital now, it's all on a computer. It seems feasible, to me, to develop a means of signing-in from home. I mean, we can check the general wait-times online already:

But because that time can vary depending on what type of illness or injury shows up after we get there, it doesn't tell us much. And the longer we wait to make our way to the hospital, the longer we could end up waiting there because there are no guarantees that the wait time will diminish.

The computer log-in provides the first line of triage, and that wouldn't change. But patients could provide more information to the triage nurses online instead of having a waiting period followed by a brief interview and then another waiting period. Most people can take their own temperature at least, provide a sense of their pain or distress on a scale of 1-10, and fill in a questionnaire about symptom onset, duration, and severity, enough to get a sense of if their condition is emergent, urgent, less urgent or non-urgent. I realize triage is a complicated process, so a trained nurse could ask further questions as needed or even ask for photos to be sent if necessary, and the system could be made to flag any typical symptoms that might indicate a fatal condition. The system could estimate wait time based on each patient's own specific need for treatment, and sick people could stay home until just 15 minutes  before their name is likely to be called. Anyone anxious about the system not working effectively, can wait the five hours on a hard chair potentially surrounded by people with contagious conditions and a TV blaring nearby. People would need to sign in with a valid health card number to prevent any shenanigans. Abusers of the system would have to face consequences similar to those faced by 911 prank callers.

Of course there's nothing that can match a professional seeing a patient in person to judge if they're just uncomfortable or scared and in need of reassurance rather than actually needing emergency care, and they'll have to err on the side of assessing people as more urgent, but, until we're able to actually fix the system, maybe something like this might at least make it more bearable. Any time I've called Telehealth, they've just sent me to emerge anyway. Maybe putting it in the hospitals as a first-line  assessment service could make the waiting easier. I wouldn't be as annoyed about waiting for hours if I could do it in my living room.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Oxygen Depletion in the Oceans

This can't be good:

"The oxygen content of the open ocean and coastal waters has been declining for at least the past half-century, largely because of human activities that have increased global temperatures and nutrients discharged to coastal waters. These changes have accelerated consumption of oxygen by microbial respiration, reduced solubility of oxygen in water, and reduced the rate of oxygen resupply from the atmosphere to the ocean interior, with a wide range of biological and ecological consequences."

From Science Magazine 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

War is a Terrible Back-Up Plan

Noam Chomsky is certain that the only two things we should be worried about right now are climate change and nuclear war. Adam Ellick and Jonah Kessel's article in the NYTimes from last month, "From North Korea with Dread," is terrifying. Some think it's not something to fear because of course the U.S. will win against them, but, living less than 500 km from Washington DC as the crow flies, we would definitely be affected by just one lone strike on American soil. The claim that North Korea wouldn't be dumb enough to strike at all against a country so much more powerful is somewhat eradicated by the video at the link.

The citizens interviewed, albeit largely prompted by the interpreter and some unnamed guy in the background, seem to view themselves as ants in a colony, willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the group. One young woman explains that "we all die eventually." Some of the people interviewed looked terrified and refused to speak, and it's hard to say if they were more afraid of the American reporters or of being caught speaking freely or of the prospect of impending doom. So who's to say what they really think. They repeated many times that the entire country has signed up for military duty, willing to fight on the front lines, but it's not clear to me how much that matters now that we have nuclear warhead and drones. And citizen support of war isn't necessary under a dictatorship except in an attempt to appear benevolent. But they want to be sure we know they're all in.

The video is frustrating in its lack of clarity, which might have been improved with a reporter familiar with the language at least enough to ask questions without prompts required. But maybe that's against the rules anyway.

Jeffrey Lewis, in Foreign Policy, backs up some of these concerns,
"We're like hack screenwriters who have written ourselves into a corner. We don't know how to write the happy ending, so we're looking for a deus ex machina to appear and solve it for us. At the moment, that's China. But that's not a very plausible ending, not even for a fairy tale. And so the war talk goes on."

North Korea did many terrible things to the U.S. before it had nuclear weapons, so it's not inconceivable it won't act now if we can't get Trump to settle down. Yikes.

ETA this interview with a South Korean general discussing what war would be like with North Korea:
“I try to explain to the Americans — if we have to go into North Korea, it is not going to be like going into Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s not going to be like toppling [ex-Iraqi President Saddam] Hussein. This would be more like trying to get rid of Allah....I have had the opportunity to speak to North Korean soldiers who have defected to South Korea — and you cannot imagine how indoctrinated they are. These are people who have defected, and yet there is still an innate belief in their system which is close to ridiculous....North Korean pilots would likely use their planes in kamikaze-style attacks, since the aircraft are too old to reliably fly well over long periods of time. That matters since the North Korean air force has around 1,000 planes. Plus, North Koreans receive 100 hours of training on how shoot a weapon a year starting at the age of 14, underscoring how militarized the society is.”
So, there's that.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On Fostering Illusions and the Qualitative Leap

What do you do when well-meaning people dear to you advise you to ignore your doctors? (And what if the doctors are wrong?)

I generally rally against non-scientifically verifiable medical claims. I'm pretty open minded and willing to try anything, but I also scrutinize any available research before I write off some new thing as the next solution to everything, like coconut oil or vitamin D. A year ago I wrote about people trying to peddle naturopathic cures to me after I was first diagnosed, but more recently I've been challenged by some scientifically-minded friends and family over some of the changes I've actually adopted in my life after all that cancer stuff.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

On Shame, Honour, and Vulnerability

I was forwarded this 47 minute podcast with Brené Brown on 1A, and some of the ideas she has are remarkably similar to Timothy Snyder's views in On Tyranny (e.g. connect with others in real life, speak truth to bullshit), so I bought her newest book, Braving the Wilderness. I was sorrily disappointed. She has done a bit of useful research, but it's written in such a self-helpy way that makes it all seem so dubious: anecdotes from childhood, some forced acronyms, lots of repetition of ideas, a slightly bigger font than most books, the sort of thing that feels questionable but likeable. She's very popular. She's a TED Talker, which can also boost popularity but detract from credibility in equal measure (see herehere, and here). Luckily, I found her original research (but just that one journal article), which is a much better starting point.

I'm interested in her findings but also concerned with some ideas left out of her analysis. Granted I haven't read all her books, but I think I get the gist of her ideas.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

I finally got to this pocket-sized book, which is full of the kind of lessons that were passed down from my folks and that I've been saying for decades and of some others that I'm hearing over and over in the past year. The behaviours are nothing new, and it is good to be reminded, but it's the background that's missing from my summary: Snyder's (no relation) clear link between pre-holocaust behaviour and now, what helped and what hindered. From a thorough understanding of history, Snyder gleaned twenty tips to help us avoid global catastrophe or at least preserve some semblance of freedom for ourselves in the coming years:
"The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why" (11).
I merged them all down to five to better remember them all:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some Implications of Boycotting Art

And another thing...  Here are two more issues I have with implication surrounding how we're treating the sexual harassment and assault cases further to my concerns previously discussed and further provoked by an article "Now What Do We Do with Their Work?".


If Alexander Fleming were found out to be horrific man, we wouldn't stop using penicillin. And if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were nightmares, we'd still buy computers. That goes without saying. It's only in the arts that people valiantly claim to refuse to ever partake in any creation. When it comes to film and television production, that boycott or sudden shut down can punish far more people than just the accused. It harms the entire cast and crew. But more to the point, boycotting art suggests it's a convenience we can take or leave. People will make more and different art. It's a dime a dozen.

Except it's not.

Art provokes and enlightens and sparks further ideas. I have Picassos on my wall, Heidegger in my bookshelf, and Hitchcock online. These were not good men, but these were men capable of creating things that affect me, images and ideas that nobody else could possibly create quite the same way. Artists are one in a million, and destroying their work or denying their ability to create, just denies society access to one more chance to be woken up from our zoned out existence. Art is individual. We're each affected by particular and specific ideas, which are often rare, revealing themselves far too infrequently to toss aside in hopes that they will be taken up later by someone with better behaviour. 


I wish people would express this same intense moral indignation when it comes to child workers, slavery, sweatshops, and environmental destruction. Imagine if this many people every day refused to ever again buy clothes, chocolate, coffee, or any product that wasn't produced with clear assurance of fair labour practices along the manufacturing and distribution line. Children are stolen from their parents and beaten as they work in cacao plantations, but that hasn't put a dent in the chocolate industry. A massive boycott could actually turn these types of business practices around. But we just don't care as much about those children.

The prospect of sudden job loss means the talented and celebrated cannot so easily get away with abusive behaviours, absolutely. When Weinstein got fired from his own company, that sent a clear message: People don't want to be subjected to sexual abuse and harassment on the job. Who would be so brazen or stupid to try something now, knowing companies will go so far as to pull you from your contract and actually re-film all your scenes with a less lecherous actor! 

But watching older films give the artists no financial benefit. I recently showed the film Inequality for All in my class and noticed it was produced by Weinstein. Whether I show it or not has zero impact on Weinstein's profits. It does, however, maintain his legacy.

It's curious that we didn't have the same reaction when Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC. We didn't care about his job; we wanted him prosecuted in a court of law. Nobody mentioned destroying all their Moxy Fruvous CDs or cassette tapes; we wanted the creep in jail. I think it's partly because he was never big enough to become legendary. The band and the little Canadian show won't outlive him in history. We don't want future generations to ever like these guys again. We don't want them on their deathbeds happy that they will be fondly remembered. But I think we're putting our energy in the wrong direction.

The giant celebrity status of some of these perverts has distracted us from what happens next. The assault and indecent exposure accusation have to go to trial. And we have to make sure the court system will actually prosecute or else we have to be prepared to raise hell. But for other less physical cases, there has to be a mediation process like any other infraction in a workplace. The consequences have to be enough to remind the masses that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated. If mediation is ineffective, then termination is the next step - of the position, not the person.

The goal is to stop this kind of behaviour. The goal is not to deprive specific perpetrators of a livelihood or legacy in perpetuity, to obliterate them from existence. They need a means to be able to atone for wrongdoings. Once someone does their time, once they fulfill their sentence obligations, they have a right to come back into society and get a job. Let them create independently or, if accepted into a production, let them come along sheepishly and with great humility and a constant all-encompassing awareness of their every comment and gesture. Or else.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

So NOW What? On Power, Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Celebrity

A little over year ago, when I first heard about Louis CK's abuse of power, I was going to write a post suggesting he might actually be the guy able to fess up, apologize sincerely, and lead the way for other men to admit to their abusive behaviours. I'm a big fan, and he sometimes has just the right tone that he might be able to manage something of that calibre. But I didn't finish anything because how I feel is just all too complicated. At the time I only got this far,
He's right out there about difficult issues, dark issues, presented in a light way. He seems to care enough about ethics to go deep into some harsh topics. He already has bits about pleasing women and sexual boundaries in his act. Just imagine if he came clean and actually talked about it, honestly, and with humour, as only he can. Imagine how quickly he could change everything if he apologized. Live. Imagine if he were brave enough to do the right thing and turned himself in and, after the typical slap on the wrist, or maybe even a brief stint in jail, he actually added that experience to his next special as a cautionary tale about his abuse of power. 
Imagine if he openly acknowledged the childishness of suggesting, because they just laughed when he asked if he could pull his dick out, that it was in any way a consensual act. Imagine if he explored his own power and revealed that he did it because he could, because he's in a place where he's become untouchable, so he is living without restraints on any behaviour. So he can do exactly what he like; and this is what he likes. And how dangerous that place is to be because lots of people like to do some weird stuff that couldn't happen without a power imbalance.
And then I watched in disbelief, for over a year, as he seemed completely unencumbered by the weight of his transgressions. He could have carved a path through it all, one that others could follow, but he maintained his course of denial. It didn't go away; instead it just festered around him. Now, even though Weinstein is so much worse by all accounts, his actions and his company's reactions and the many women who have come forward have been game-changers. The camel's back has finally broken.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On Aronofsky and Climate Change

An article that mixes philosophy, film, and climate change - three of my favourite topics of discussion! Nolan Gear writes about Aronofky's film mother!

"What could it mean for this story to be one of abundant refuge rather than home invasion? How must we reinvent hospitality now that rates of homelessness, landlessness, will only continue to rise exponentially in the wake of climate devastation? [...] Tsing insists that “staying alive — for every species — requires livable collaborations. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination.” This contamination is both transformation and loss: according to Tsing, we must risk our integrity and self-possession if we wish to live.[...]This mutual undoing is where hospitality begins: not despite or instead of but through disorientation and loss. What’s certain is that we need films that cook up collaborative contaminations — not xenophobic paranoia."
What do we need to see in our culture, in our films and music and art and media, that will actually help us eke out a few more decades of life? Mother! is a warning cry that comes way too late in the game and would have been completely ignored if it had come any earlier. What does it look like to develop a narrative, a social imaginary, that allows for collaborative contaminations?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

On Anxiety

I just finished John Green's Turtles All the Way Down, which I read because he claimed it was his way of trying to put words around what it's like to live with profound anxiety, and then I saw this article asking "Why are more American teens than ever suffering from severe anxiety?". I was raised with most my sibs affected by some kind of mental illness or disorder, and now my children are in the same boat. Somehow, I've made it this far relatively unscathed by the ravages of anxiety, so I'm ever eager to really get my head around what it feels like from the inside.

Green's book is just what I was hoping for. There's nothing to read below the surface here, which might deny it any book awards, but it does an excellent job of giving us a clear and straightforward  first-hand glimpse of the inner thoughts that drive anxious behaviours. Like David Sedaris's Naked, a collection of hilarious personal essays about OCD, it can help the reader really get why anyone would do or think those things and then begin to empathize with that curious drive that all but obliterates their free will.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On Betsy DeVos in Ontario

Betsy DeVos is coming to talk to the Minister of Education, apparently to learn about our schools. Let's hope the meeting just goes in that direction.

When she was first appointed by Trump, OSSTF warned,
DeVos has been a strong advocate for the creation of more charter schools in her home state of Michigan, as well as expansion of school choice and the voucher system in education. She has also been a strong advocate for right-to-work legislation and has contributed millions of dollars to the Republican Party in Michigan. The expansion of charter schools in Michigan has led to about half of all students in the city of Detroit attending one of these schools. While most charter schools in the United States are “not-for-profit,” Michigan’s charter school law allows for-profit charters to be established. What has resulted in Detroit is intense competition for students between public and charter schools. Thanks to DeVos’s efforts to promote choice and charter schools, a multitude of new schools were established in Detroit, even though overall enrollment was in decline. As a result, schools have engaged in “bidding wars” to draw kids, and the money that they bring with them, into their buildings These campaigns have included the offer of incentives to students, such as iPads, gift cards and bicycles.
Yesterday, Harvey Bischof, President of OSSTF said,
Ms. DeVos is a vocal proponent of programs that divert government funding away from public education and into private hands, to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. [...It's] alarming, and frankly an affront to our members, that Ontario would allow someone who openly promotes a corporate assault on public education to visit schools in our province. The Ministry of Education should reconsider this visit and send a strong, clear message to Ms. DeVos and other proponents of privatization that public education in Ontario is not for sale.
I fear that we're already headed for privatization, and she's just here to show us all the way down the rabbit's hole. All the celebration over e-learning and the virtual high school is the first step in ditching real live teachers for automation and outsourcing. There's a huge downside to tech that we ignore at our peril when we get too excited about the next new thing.

We need educated professionals in classrooms, face-to-face with a limited number of kids, to most effectively impart an education. Only an in-person educator can connect with students and guide them through critical thinking problems with a real time back and forth of ideas. Only when we're there can we gauge the faces of students for confusion or enlightenment. Yup, there's some boredom mixed in there too sometimes, and it's important to see it and be able to switch gears enough to keep them on track.

And education must be fully public and accessible by everyone everywhere. We've seen the mess Charter schools can make. Ontario all too quickly follows on in the path of each new American plan just as the U.S. starts to realize their plan isn't working. Remember whole language?? I really hope we're strong enough and smart enough to listen politely to DeVos and then do our own research before making another inane decision. This one could devastate our education system, not just for one generation of kids, but for many who follow.