Saturday, September 29, 2018

Genuflecting At The Digital Altar (Or, Is Nothing Sacred?)

They say that age is but a number, and there are many days I believe that. Often, I awake feeling relatively youthful, and the daily walks I undertake are conducted with vigor and strength of purpose. Other days, I feel rather keenly the aches and pains (still relatively minor at this point, thankfully) that age imposes, and my walks take on the character of prescribed medicine, nothing more.

But that is just the physical aspect of age. The other, more important one, in my view, is the thinking and attitudes we bring to each day of our lives. In that regard, I like to think that I am more youth than aging man.

I try, for example, to stay conversant with and engaged in important issues, although admittedly at more of a remove than when I was younger. As well, rather than regret my generation's waning influence on life, I welcome it. When it became feasible, I retired, partly because the job and all of its attendant politics had become a heavy burden; the other reason was the moral obligation I felt toward the young people coming up in teaching. Full-time jobs were and still are hard to find, and to continue occupying a spot a younger person could do with more energy and creativity struck me as wrong. Unlike some of my generation, I harbour no delusions about indispensability.

However, there are other times when I feel old, because there are some things I doubt I shall ever embrace, my beliefs confronting and contradicting the perceived wisdom of our time. A prime example is my feeling about smartphones in the classroom, about which I recently wrote. To me, the putative educational benefits are far outweighed by their costs in terms of attention and focus. Being wirelessly connected to the outer world sacrifices or at the very least severely compromises our attention to the world of our immediate environment and, even more importantly, to our inner world. Digital distraction hardly facilitates reflectiveness.

Sadly, educational institutions are not the only ones that have prostituted themselves in the rush to demonstrate relevance in the digital age. That mania is now spreading to organized religion. The Campbell River Baptist Church has decided to genuflect at the altar of the digital god:
Pastor Jeff Germo ... is among the first pastors in the world to use a Swedish developed communications technology, Mentimeter, to make online, real-time spiritual connections with his flock while preaching. Mentimeter, used widely in corporate board rooms and academic lecture settings, is an interactive survey tool that posts instant answers and results to the mobile devices of those connected to the event.
On the surface, some might say this is a divinely inspired idea:
Germo started his sermon by asking parishioners to take out their smartphones and tablets, click on a Mentimeter link and punch in a code.

Moments later an email arrived asking parishioners if they had ever failed terribly.

Just two per cent replied: “No, I’m a winner.”

Germo expressed amazement that any member of the congregation said they had never experienced failure.

“If you are more than a year old, you probably would have failed at something,” said Germo as a man at the back of the auditorium of about 250 people raised his hand to acknowledge he chose the no failure answer.
A large display showing the survey results allowed the good reverend to drive home his point:
... most people are experiencing some difficult things and have a hard time getting over failure,” Germo said. “So, you are not alone.”
So what am I on about here? Is this a reactionary rant, or an opinion borne of age and experience?

Some years ago at a staff meeting, we were each given a handheld device that would achieve the same kind of survey input available to the Campbell River congregation. We were told such technology would revolutionize the classroom experience, making it far more interactive and relevant. After a few 'rounds', I think most of us felt more like game-show participants than educators undertaking some professional development. The medium indeed was the message. Needless to say, the idea gained no traction and was never implemented.

So far, the Campbell River church attempt at digital relevance seems to be an isolated incident. I sincerely hope it stays that way. In this connected age, people very much need refuge from distractions and sensory overload in order to rediscover their centres. Churches have traditionally offered such refuge, but like so many social media adherents today, will they now be tempted to increase their number of 'followers', not by anything deep or meaningful, but by embracing the latest trends? This particular one, if followed to its logical conclusion, will achieve no such thing.

How long will it be before part of Sunday services involves checking your email, your Twitter account and, last but not least, the ever-present Facebook? Once the genie is summoned, it cannot be put back in the bottle.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

An Unreliable Narrator

In fiction there exists what is known as the unreliable narrator, which can be defined in this way:
It is a character who tells the reader a story that cannot be taken at face value. This may be because the point of view character is insane, lying, deluded or for any number of other reasons.
It is a useful convention for a number of reasons, including the misdirection it allows the author to engage in. An example of such a narrator would be Anna Fox, the protagonist of the recent bestseller The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn.

It seems to me that politics, by its nature, encourages the unreliable narrator. All leaders and their surrogates tell their version of truth, a truth diluted, even perverted by their electoral and policy goals. For example, the Conservatives regularly rail against what they see as Liberal fiscal profligacy, while the Liberals are always keen to portray Andrew Scheer et al. as crypto-racists. As for the the federal NDP, well, I'm not sure what story they are trying to tell these days.

Here in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford (and believe me, I abhor using that particular word combination) is proving to be an unreliable narrator extraordinaire as he strives to convince Ontarians that the former Liberal government was nothing more than an extended exercise in flagrant, unrepentant criminality.
Perhaps emboldened by weekend chants of “Lock her up!” the premier convened his caucus first thing Monday, and summoned the media to make a melodramatic announcement:

Doug Ford told Ontarians to “follow the money.” He boasted of a forensic “line-by-line audit” that would prove incriminating. And he claimed the numbers tell a damning story of Liberal “corruption” and enrichment.

Invoking his majority muscle, Ford announced a special “select” committee to “compel” evidence in a legislative witch hunt, lest Liberals “walk away from this.”
The foundation for this exercise in damagoguery is the claim by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli that he has discovered a coverup that puts the provincial deficit at $15 bullion, $8 billion more than was disclosed.

The only problem with this claim is that it is orchestrated nonsense, because
the outside report he ordered up, and relied upon for those claims, said no such thing. For all the overheated allegations that the last government “cooked the books,” the undisputed truth is that its pre-election budget was an open book, fully vetted by the province’s auditor general (even if she disagreed with the bottom line Liberal analysis).
Unreliable narrators rely on people getting swept up in the story, so much so that they do not think about what they already know or should know.
As for that supposedly damning forensic audit, it was no such thing. Peter Bethlenfalvy, the minister who ordered it up, sheepishly admitted to reporters later that it was produced by private sector “consultants” at EY Canada — not qualified auditors in the firm’s audit department. It was “not a forensic audit, not a line by line review,” he acknowledged.
And, in a classic technique employed by the unreliable narrator, Doug Ford is glossing over something the report did reveal:
...the quickie study noted that spending increases within the Ontario public service were virtually zero during the Liberal years. What has risen, significantly, is spending on health care and education — precisely what Ford promised not to cut on the campaign trail.
The Star's Martin Regg Cohn says that these exercises in deception and demagoguery serve only to debase our democratic discourse. That may well be true, but unfortunately, amongst the electorate, there are far too many happy to engage in that kind of destructive conversation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Conveniently Ignoring History

While I am sure there are some interests within Canada who will applaud Justin Trudeau's latest effort at placating Donald Trump, I am not one of them. As history well demonstrates, policies of appeasement never work.

Trudeau's latest attempt at taming the insensate Toddler-in-Chief is to be found in his craven signing on to the United States' renewal of its demonstrably and profoundly-failed war on drugs, a war from which a Stanford University study drew the following conclusions:
By making drugs illegal, this country has:

1) Put half a million people in prison : $10 Billion a year

2) Spent billions annually for expanded law enforcement

3) Fomented violence and death (in gang turf wars, overdoses from uncontrolled drug potency & shared needles/AIDS)

4) Eroded civil rights (property can be confiscated from you BEFORE you are found guilty; search and wiretap authority has expanded.)

5) Enriched criminal organizations.
It is apparent that such facts don't seem to matter to our government if we examine what Trudeau has leapt to endorse:
The statement reiterates the primacy of international “narcotics control” efforts, with an emphasis on criminalization and the role of law enforcement. It does not contain the word “human rights”; advocates for harm reduction and against mass incarceration have been trying to inject a rights-focused approach into international drug policy.
That our naif-like prime minister chooses to embrace such a retrograde approach has resulted in some very appropriate jeering:
Canada was rebuked on Monday by a group of world leaders and experts on drug policy for endorsing a Trump-led declaration renewing the “war on drugs” and for passing up a critical moment to provide global leadership on drug regulation.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said she believed that both Canada and Mexico − which also signed the declaration even though president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has repeatedly said that the “war on drugs” has failed and he will pursue new policy − likely have signed on reluctantly, held hostage by the North American free-trade agreement talks in Washington, over which a critical deadline looms.
Fortunately, some countries held on to a modicum in integrity.
... 63 did not [sign]; the dissenters include major U.S. allies such as Germany, Norway and Spain.
The expedient nature of Canada's endorsement was not lost on Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of Britain, who sees the decision as a
diplomatic, not a policy-based decision:
“I guess there was a judgment to be made, which from my days in government I can understand, why they did it – if you’re fighting lots of battles at once, you probably decide which battles to choose,” he said.
I am sure many others would argue that antagonizing Trump yields no benefit. But then, perhaps they choose to ignore history.

Does the name Neville Chamberlin ring a bell?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Pleasing Words Mean Nothing

Unless they are in the thrall of rabid partisanship, nice hair, sunny smiles or pleasing but empty rhetoric, most people, I suspect, would agree that the Trudeau government has been a massive disappointment. And while the list of its failure to live up to its promise is long, for me its greatest failure has been on climate change. Its purchase of an aging pipeline at public expense is a clear disavowal of climate-change integrity, as is its anemic carbon tax policy, one that likely has had the unfortunate result of convincing many that paying a little more for the fossil fuels they use will make a major dent in the peril that is quickly overtaking the world.

David Suzuki, for one, has called for Environment Minister Catherine Mckenna to resign.

Michael Harrris writes that, while Mckenna clearly will not resign, Suzuki's words have impact:
What the country’s leading environmentalist has done by calling out McKenna is call out the Trudeau government on its signal failure — the environment. And that could significantly alter the coalition that delivered a majority government to the Liberals in 2015.
The hopes raised by the government and then dashed are consequential:
In Trudeau’s case, the aspirational notion to move Canada toward a green economy has been eclipsed by policies worthy of a ‘fossil award.’ The only thing more dubious than the Trudeau government’s initial support of the Kinder Morgan pipeline was the unpardonable sin of buying it.

Publicly acquiring a leaky, decrepit pipeline for $4.5 billion and facing construction costs approaching $10 billion — all to carry the dirtiest fossil commodity of them all, bitumen, is hardly consistent with the greening of Canada or saving the planet.

But it is perfectly consistent with what Trudeau told an audience of oilmen in Houston who gave him a standing ovation.

“No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there,” he said.
Susuki is not the only one calling out the Trudeau government for its arrant hypocrisy:
In a recent study by U.S. advocacy group Oil Change International, the authors concluded: “There is no scenario in which tar sands production increases and the world achieves the Paris goals… If he [Trudeau] approves a pipeline, he will be the one to make the goals impossible to reach.”
Other actions by this government are equally damning:
Canada continues to spend the most per capita of any G7 country subsidizing oil and gas development — $3 billion in Canada and $10 billion through Export Development Canada in foreign countries.

Last February, Catherine McKenna approved permits for British Petroleum to drill as many as seven exploratory wells off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia. The water is up to twice as deep as the ocean where BP had its Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010. Eight years on and people around the Gulf are still suffering the consequences.

Then just months later, McKenna approved the first actual deepwater well for BP 300 km off of Nova Scotia.
As well, the much-vaunted carbon tax is looking increasingly anemic, as Trudeau eases the burden of the worst polluters:
The carbon tax on the worst of them will now be triggered at higher levels of emissions.

The threshold at which the tax would kick in was moved from 70 per cent of an industry’s emissions all the way to 90 per cent in certain cases.

The explanation for abandoning his environmental post? Trudeau was worried that certain industries would lose their competitiveness.
Harris hopes that condemnations from people like Suzuki will lead people to realize that the Liberal Party is not the environment's friend, but rather what it always has been, the party of the economy. He ends his piece with this acerbic observation:
When it comes to the environment, the only growth industry in Ottawa these days is spin doctoring.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

On The Carbon Tax

Now that Ontario, under the thuggish leadership of Doug Ford, is in the process of withdrawing Ontario from its cap-and-trade alliance with Quebec and California, baring a failure of political will, next year will see Justin Trudeau imposing a carbon tax here and in other recalcitrant provinces. Despite the fact that Andrew Scheer is salivating at the prospect of making it a key issue in next year's federal election, John Ivison suggests it may not go according to the Conservative leader's plan:
The National Post obtained an advance copy of a paper to be released by Canadians for Clean Prosperity, a non-partisan group led by Mark Cameron, ex-policy director to Stephen Harper, that promotes putting a price on pollution and cutting taxes.

The Liberals’ Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act requires Ottawa to return tax revenue to the province where it was raised in cases where it has imposed a “backstop” carbon tax in the absence of a recognized provincial climate plan. Trudeau has indicated that, rather than sending a rebate to the governments of those provinces, he may choose to send the money directly to its households.
This plan will go a long way toward undermining the populist-right's claim that fighting the tax will mean less money in people's pocket. In fact, it seems the tax itself will be a net benefit to Canadians' bottom line, according to research done by Research by environmental economist Dave Sawyer of EnviroEconomics.
Sawyer’s research indicates that the carbon tax will cost consumers more when it comes to gasoline and home heating — at $20 a tonne,roughly 4.5¢ more per litre of gas.

...for example, in 2019 an Ontario household earning $60,000-$80,000 a year would pay an average of $165 more in increased direct carbon costs for energy, while in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where there is more coal-fired electricity, that figure would rise to $249 and $259 respectively.

However, the study estimates the rebate per household would be $350 in Ontario in 2019, rising to $836 in 2022; $868 in Alberta in 2019, rising to $1,890; and $1075 in Saskatchewan, rising to $2,394. If this scenario plays out, in five years the net benefit per household at that income bracket would be $328 in Ontario, $1,231 in Alberta and $1,711 in Saskatchewan.
And there is a solid reason for these numbers:
Carbon taxes will be collected not only from households but also from business and industrial emitters, and Sawyer’s modelling assumes that while the federal government would return some industrial revenues to large emitters, most would be rebated directly to households.
The trued-and-true fiscal scaremongering tactics of the right-wing, it would appear, will have limited efficacy with the voters. Who doesn't like receiving cheques in the mail?

While I am of the view that our current climate peril means carbon taxes will be as effective as using a dust-pan to clean up after an elephant, it will at least quite possibly raise some awareness about the situation we are in, however late in the game that may be.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Manipulation 101

It is to state the obvious that politicians and their party apparatchiks are practiced manipulators. They target their demographic, employ experts to craft messages to that demographic and, sadly, seem to expend a disproportionate amount of time on the art of politicking at the expense of true democratic representation. Managing optics, not formulating principled policy, has become the raison d'être for far too many.

Combine this with an increasingly credulous and partisan populace, and you have a recipe for a decidedly unhealthy democracy. It is one in which increasing numbers of voters are forsaking critical thinking and the kind of challenge and critical analysis offered by traditional media for the much easier task of cheering on their favourite 'team' while embracing the animus directed at their opponents, skillfully cultivated by hired talent who see politics as a game to be strategized, with nary a thought for the public good. There are only Winners and Losers in this world of black and white, and the biggest loser is, of course, democracy's health and vitality.

Start at the seven-minute mark of the following news report, and you will see that the base art of manipulation is alive and well in Canada.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Who's Her Daddy?

Notwithstanding efforts at misdirection by Ontario's Progressive Conservative government, it's clear that she (Caroline Mulroney) is Daddy's (Doug the Thug) girl:

H/t Theo Moudakis

Monday, September 17, 2018

Just Who Is Protecting Who?

If you have never seen it, I highly recommend the Netflix documentary series Dirty Money. Of particular interest is the one detailing the massive fraud perpetrated by Volkswagen, in which the auto giant employed a diesel 'defeat device' allowing their cars to bypass environmental controls and thereby emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while claiming environmental rectitude. It was nothing less than a crime against humanity.

And they have paid a heavy price for their criminal fraud, except in Canada:
In the three years since the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal was uncovered, governments in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere have fined the company billions of dollars and sent some of its top executives to jail for breaking environmental laws — but not in Canada.

“There has been nothing done,” said David Boyd, the United Nations’ newly appointed human rights and environment watchdog.
Given Canada's less-than-aggressive pursuit of offshore tax evaders who were exposed in the Panama Papers, this does not surprise me, but I am nonetheless appalled by my government's timidity in going after major criminals.
While the company said in a statement it settled a $2.1-billion class action lawsuit in 2017 with customers who purchased one of roughly 125,000 affected diesel vehicles sold in Canada — as it did elsewhere in the world — Volkswagen hasn’t faced any charges under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act so far.

There is concern among some observers that the federal government may not act, continuing what Boyd said is a longtime trend of leniency.

“Three years have gone by and Canada has a track record of not enforcing environmental laws,” he said.
To put government timidity into perspective, consider the following:
In 2004, Petro-Canada was fined $290,000 for the spill that saw 1,000 barrels of oil flow into the Atlantic Ocean from the Terra Nova offshore production vessel. By comparison, Brazil’s petroleum regulator fined Chevron $17.3 million (U.S.) for a 3,600-barrel oil spill in 2011, and the company also agreed to pay $150 million to settle civil lawsuits related to the case, according to Reuters.
Or how about this?
Boyd said Canada levied $2.47 million (Canadian) in fines for environmental infractions under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act between 1988 and 2010 — less than the $3.65 million the Toronto Public Library collected in overdue book fines in 2012.

In contrast, the U.S. — where Boyd said enforcement of environmental laws has been “much more aggressive” — the Environment Protection Agency levied $204 million (U.S.) in civil fines and won court cases securing another $44 million in criminal fines from environmental lawbreakers in 2012 alone.
While Canada continues to investigate Volkswagen, the company has paid very substantial penalties in other jurisdictions.
Volkswagen paid the equivalent of $1.5 billion (Canadian) in fines in Germany and $12 billion in the U.S., according to an analysis by Environmental Defence, which is launching a public campaign this month to pressure Ottawa to take action against the company.

In the U.S. case, Volkswagen also agreed not to contradict anything outlined in the plea agreement or statement of facts in other jurisdictions.
This sorry dilatory approach to criminal enforcement should offend every Canadian, given that it conveys a wholly inappropriate message of weakness to the corporate criminals of the world, one best summed up by David Boyd:
“It’s just indicative of how absolutely scandalous Canada’s failure to enforce environmental laws has been over the past 25 years”.
Clearly, this is not the kind of business Canada should be open for.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ontario's Ongoing Shame

Ontarians are responsible for the election of this buffoon. Ontarians will have to wear this shame for the next four years.

H/t The Toronto Star

Friday, September 14, 2018

Democracy's Fragility

To be sure, the elevation of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario to government redounds to everyone's shame. Led by a buffoonish thug, Doug Ford, it is a party that seems intent on debasing not only its proud history, but also all citizens of the province, whether they voted for him or not. And therein lies an object lesson: the fragility of democracy.

It is the theme of Rick Salutin's column this week, one I recommend everyone read. He observes how profound Ford's ignorance about democracy is in light of his reckless invocation of the notwithstanding clause of our Charter to get his way with the size of Toronto city council:
He doesn’t get and never will, that democracy isn’t just about votes. It includes rule of law, free press, minority and human rights — which can’t always wait four years. They take flight pretty quickly.
And those rights are being violated, if the sad spectacle of protesting seniors being handcuffed in the legislature this week is any indication:
It’s been a grim reminder not just of the Charter’s fragility but of an entire edifice we grew up assuming was entrenched. It can blow away in a stiff breeze: democracy, civility, tolerance, and Ontario’s special target: law. Why are these venerable institutions going back centuries, so vulnerable? Because none of us, the living, go back that far. Each person is a new start on Earth.
It would seem that what we don't experience personally influences our perspectives:
It doesn’t take much to “forget” something you never lived through personally. True, history can lie on us like a weight, or blessing. Custom and tradition seem formidable. But only personal experience has a living grip — like the inequality and insecurity of the last 40 years, and especially the last 10.

The young for instance, have no experience of more hopeful times. For them, what’s so great about institutions that gave rise to this situation? No matter how far back democratic institutions stretch, in theory or history, none of us were there, we only heard about them after our arrival.
But there is a path to a more visceral appreciation of our democratic institutions:
Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, says he once had an epiphany: every time we trust a traffic light, pay a bill, or “buildings don’t all fall down and you can eat unpoisoned food that someone grew” testifies to “an ocean of goodwill and good behaviour from almost everyone, living or dead.” We are, he says, bathed in a love that shows itself above all in “constraints” because they compensate for human flaws.
Never have those flaws been more obvious in Ontario than in the present situation, and it is time we once more recognize, right-wing cant notwithstanding, that as individuals, we are singularly vulnerable to the vicissitudes life has to offer; it is only through the collective that real hope is to be found:
Institutions like law and democracy rise (and rise again if they fall) through that sense of connectedness and need to trust each other, since there’s really no alternative. We’re nothing as individuals alone, though individuals can be damn impressive. It’s the human sense of solidarity, ultimately, that will (or may) save us and make us whole.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

When Disaster Bears Down

I doubt I am alone in assuming that people who ignore mandatory evacuation orders when disaster is impending do so out of either willfulness or hubris. As the following report makes clear, however, there are other factors that prevent people from fleeing; indeed, they are same ones that afflicted those during Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey - poverty and illness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Nearer My God To Thee

While Donald Trump was yesterday holding forth on Hurricane Florence in a manner that might make even a fourth-grader cringe (“They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever. It's tremendously big and tremendously wet. Tremendous amounts of water," Trump said in the Oval Office), the grandfather of crazed evangelicals everywhere was offering reassurances to his flock.

In a remarkable act of hubris, old pastor Pat Robertson suggested that he will save all good white Virginian Christians and the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia from impending doom:
“I don’t want that thing to come in,” Robertson said. “I don’t want it to hurt Regent, I don’t wait it to hurt CBN, I don’t want it to tear up the beautiful campus, I don’t want it to tear these trees down, I don’t want to see any damage, I don’t want a bunch of glass flowing, and I don’t want [damage] all over this area that is counting on us to pray for them.”

Robertson then commanded Florence, in the name of Jesus, to change its path away from land and to spin off into the Atlantic ocean.

We declare in the name of the Lord that you shall go no farther, you shall do no damage in this area,” he said. “We declare a shield of protection all over Tidewater and we declare a shield of protection over those innocent people in the path of this hurricane. In Jesus’ holy name, be out to sea!”
Unless you are gifted with a cast-iron constitution, I don't suggest you watch the full 3:25 minutes of the good pastor's exhortation:

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Kaepernick Effect

I recently wrote a post entitled, The Vindication of Colin Kaepernick, in which I opined on the decision by Nike to use the former NFLer for a new advertising campaign. I subsequently received a request by an American website entitled Writer Beat to use the piece. The commentary it received from readers there says a great deal about how polarizing a figure the former football player is. You can read that commentary here.

It is to state the obvious that some Americans are far more interested in observing the outward forms of patriotism than they are in practising true love of country and the principles it purports to represent. Otherwise, the widespread intolerance expressed toward someone engaging in a protest against discrimination and police mistreatment of Black people by genuflecting during the anthem can only be reduced to the most obvious conclusion: Kaepernick is simply an excuse for racist rants.

The good news, however, is that despite the outrage and the burning of Nike shoes, Nike is seeing a definite increase in sales of their products:
After an initial dip immediately after the news broke, Nike’s NKE, +1.10% online sales actually grew 31% from the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through Tuesday, as compared with a 17% gain recorded for the same period of 2017, according to San Francisco–based Edison Trends.
Those in a particular consumer bracket seem to explain this boost in sales:
People in that bracket are generally successful in their careers and personal lives, are typically single with robust social lives, and like to spend money on entertainment and travel, as well as online streaming services.

“Racial equality is a top concern for this audience, along with causes like clean-water access and gun control,” [4C Chief Marketing Officer] Goldman said.

Sentiment toward Kaepernick actually improved by 40% this week, he said.

“You can be darn sure that Nike has done its research and knows what will move its product and who this campaign will resonate with,” said Goldman. “They are the ones [Nike has] decided will be its future customers, so, if others are getting upset, [Nike has] planned for that, and it doesn’t care.”
In other words younger, more educated and socially engaged people are the target for this campaign, although it is hard to see how anyone could resist the allure of this recently-released commercial:

It would be naive to think that Nike is motivated by altruism in taking the bold step it has, and there will always be those who fight vigorously against progress. Nonetheless, if some inspiration and reduced barriers are the result, isn't it all to the good?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Truth In Parody

Last year, the Parody Project produced a stinging rebuke of Donald Trump and his acolytes through a song entitled Confounds the Science. If you haven't yet seen it, please click on the link. The following is a sequel to that effort, a sobering meditation on the mad heedlessness of our ways:

Saturday, September 8, 2018

France Has The Right Idea

I am a member of an increasingly endangered and probably peculiarly-regarded minority. I do not have a smartphone. While I am an avid user of the Internet via my laptop and generic tablet, the thought of constant connectivity has never appealed to me. I value the kind of focussed solitude that promotes true connectivity with the world around me far too much.

I therefore applaud the bold step that France has taken: it has banned phones from all state middle schools.
“I thought I would be freaked out, but it has been fine,” said one 13-year-old girl, who got an iPhone when she was 11. “I left my phone in my bag all day and I was surprised to find it didn’t bother me. Normally I’d be on Snapchat and Instagram. But my friends are here at school so it’s pretty easy to just talk instead.”
To prepare for the ban, Claude Debussy middle school in Paris started with Monday bans on phones. And one of the results I suspect they hoped for, increased social interaction, emerged early in the ban, according to principal Eric Lathière.
“About four or five weeks into our phone-free Monday experiment, we saw children bringing packs of cards into school to play in break time...We hadn’t seen cards at school for years. Children brought books in to read and pupils stood around chatting far more than they had before.”
The logic for the ban is compelling:
The French education minister has called the ban a detox law for the 21st century, saying teenagers should have the right to disconnect. Children’s phones were already banned in classrooms – except for teaching purposes – but under the new law they are banned everywhere inside the gates, including playgrounds and canteens. The French senate expanded this to allow high schools to ban phones if they choose, but few, if any, are expected to do so. Many suggest 18-year-old pupils with the right to vote can make their own decision on phones.
I doubt that the political will for such a ban exists in Canada. For example, going completely in the opposite direction is the Toronto District School Board which last week restored access to Netflix, Instagram and Snapchat. The blocking of access to those services had nothing to do with educational principles but was prompted by the high amount of bandwidth such services require.

The board's egregious vacuum of leadership is perhaps best reflected in this statement by board spokesperson Ryan Bird:
“We leave the decision up to individual schools and individual teachers to put in place guidelines that work best for them.”
It is heartening to know that at least in France, that kind of buck-passing has yielded to educational integrity that puts the real needs of students first.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Verbal Tap Dance

Talk, as they say, is cheap. Watch the following clip to see Environment Minister Catherine McKenna further debase its value by her non-answer regarding the now-stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the threat West Coast oil tanker traffic poses:

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Vindication Of Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick is someone I admire. As previously noted in this blog, the former NFL player, whose decision to protest police brutality against blacks by taking a knee during the American national anthem, has paid dearly for his integrity. But vindication has finally arrived, vindication sure to end Donald Trump into new paroxysms of outrage:
Last week, an arbitrator ruled that Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL can go forward. This week, Nike unveiled a new ad campaign starring the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who rose to prominence in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against black Americans.
Given that Nike is the official uniform supplier for the NFL, this move is not without risk, but one the company believes is worth taking. And the backlash has already started. Take a look at the Twitter hashtag #JustBurnIt or #BoycottNike for some examples:


Ripping my Nike Air Max to own the libs #BoycottNike

Bloomberg News reports:
Nike shares slipped as much as 3.9 percent to $79 as of 9:31 a.m. Tuesday in New York -- the biggest intraday slide in five months.
They had climbed 31 percent this year through Friday’s close.
The fallout was no surprise but Nike may be betting that the upside of a Kaepernick endorsement is worth angering conservative Americans and supporters of President Donald Trump.
To its credit, this is not the first time Nike has waded into controversial waters:
Just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration last year, the company launched a high-profile “Equality” campaign featuring LeBron James and Serena Williams. The campaign’s ambassadors included Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Muslim American fencer who wears a hijab when competing, and transgender triathlete Chris Mosier.
Now, all of this, of course, is about market share, but it is nonetheless refreshing to see a company taking a calculated risk while so many in Trump's America seem so keen on hewing to a very conservative, even reactionary, line.

And of course, for students of human nature, the reactions to this campaign constitute a fascinating Rorschach test, yet another conduit into the tortured and fractured American psyche.

Not to mention another dog whistle for the increasingly beleaguered Trump to blow.

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Pattern We Cannot Ignore

As I write this on the morning of Labour Day, it is already 38 degrees Celsius with the humidex in Southern Ontario, another day of oppressive heat and humidity in a long line of them this summer. Scientific consensus points to the ever-increasing effects of climate change as the chief agent responsible for a summer that has seen extreme temperatures worldwide. The key, if there still is one, to mitigating this unfolding disaster, is to wean ourselves as quickly as possible, off of fossil fuels.

And yet ....

.... our government chooses to ignore reality by buying a stranded asset, the Trans Mountain pipeline, whose expansion has been stopped for the time being by a Federal Court of Appeal ruling. The Trudeau Liberals seem stalwart in their intention to soldier on with this project, but perhaps they need to listen to voices outside their own echo chamber for a more realistic assessment of the situation:
Pipeline ruling shockwaves felt across Canada, Aug. 31

Last week, the Federal Court of Appeal told the government what they should have already known about the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — the National Energy Board vetting process was horribly flawed, and there was inadequate consultation with the Indigenous people who are affected by it.

The proposed pipeline expansion is simply unfathomable. Even without citizen protests, the financial community knows that investment in the oilsands has no future. Bankers are pulling out and current investors are looking simply to recover their existing investments.

Canada has wasted billions in subsidies to oil companies instead of building the infrastructure for a renewable energy industry. Even when the oil industry was viable, Alberta failed to recover the revenues it was entitled to with too low taxes and too low royalties.

Meanwhile, Norway has made its citizens millionaires by nationalizing its oil industry and undertaking development in an environmentally sustainable way. Canada has given its resources away for a song and now has little to show for it. Compounding the mistake by continuing to prop up a failing industry is a crime against future generations.

Canada and its citizens will have to make wrenching adaptations just to survive when the true cost of climate change hits us. I fear for my children and grandchildren.

Our resources should be directed to building renewable energy and transitioning the workers who will be affected. Those currently employed by the fossil fuel industry should not bear the brunt of the transition. They should be supported by all other Canadians through our tax dollars as they are retrained and find new jobs.

I implore the government to end the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project now, for the sake of our future generations.

Patricia E. McGrail, Brampton