Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ann Coulter shies away from University audience.

Ann Coulter, who deserves no further attention nor notoriety for her extreme right wing views, has backed out of a speaking engagement at the University of Ottawa. She had received a letter from the Vice-President of the University, apparently to advise her that we have stronger laws regarding the dissemination of hate messages, discriminatory speech against minorities, etc. and she puckered and ran away.

I think this was an error though. We ought not to doubt the ability of intellects of University students and their professors - the intended audience of her talk, to decide for themselves what ideas are valid.
Censorship in any form is abhorent. If bureaucrats are entitled to muzzle anyone, then they may well muzzle just anyone who doesn't meet their approval. That is one very slippery slope. And it doesn't always come in the form of a ban.

Undoubtedly, the university lecture hall is the one arena best equipped in this country to hear new ideas, new arguments. No harm will come to educated and enlightened people merely listening to radical ideas in that arena. Indeed it is the one arena where radical ideas are most welcome lest a society stagnate. Nothing is decided there, unlike say, parliament. Weak-minded folks, susceptible perhaps to unpleasant ideas, are unlikely to be in attendance.

Better to have an open airing of ideas where they may be scrutinized by the country's best minds, than to drive them underground where they may fester. Crazies, sociopaths and their ilk undoubtedly exist and will have their ideas, let's have them out in the open where they may be identified.

Then we can get help for them, or at least immunize ourselves against their poison.
Out in the open, in the sunshine of the enlightened minds we need not fear Ann Coulter, if indeed, she is even worthy of fear.

"Ann Coulter is to political thinking what Peanuts is to high literature."
- John Cruikshank, Publisher of the Toronto Star, March 25th, 2010.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

vox populi

If anything should have taught us that we need a more universal understanding of our financial world it is the recent crisis from which we are now supposedly recovering. I'm referring to that which was precipitated by the sub-prime loan scandal.

Whether the current financial catastrophe in Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain is a ripple effect of the same thing is hard to know. It is possible that GOldman-Sachs induced the problems in the Greek economy by selling credit default swaps, effectively hiding $400 Billion of Greek debt and enabling them to qualify for entry into the EU.

If the world economic crisis is an unforseen accident resulting from governments getting overextended by wars, speculation or mis-guided economic policies or a latent effect of some big players exploiting weaknesses in the system, it is clear that we need a better understanding of how it works.

Alternatively, if the global meltdown is a consequence of manipulation by some elite mega-concerns as in the type of conspiracy typified by cliques like the Bilderberg society, we need a better understanding of how it works.

And, broadly speaking, this is my theme today, we need a better understanding of how our world works financially. We may not all be involved in the mechanisms that make it function, or malfunction, but we are all affected by it.

Evidence of our inattention is abundant. It operates at a local level as well as internationally. For example, my vote in a federal election can determine who gets on a committee to enact legislation governing the tarsands which affects how energy needs are met and how the carbon cycle affects the climate, which affects where wars are fought and what parts of the world are habitable for any number of reasons.

The world is run more or less democratically, that is to say, that at any level some body of people are going to vote on an action that affects many people. Corporate boards vote on whether to develop the Niger delta for oil & gas. Nations vote on whether to allow human rights violations in North Korea, China, or Darfur. I am not looking at how effective they are in making their resolutions happen at this juncture.

Informed consent is the least we hope for in these cases, as opposed to coerced voting, or blindly hoping that we guessed right when we cast our ballot. But what is informed consent?

Informed consent of measures like the emergency funding of employment benefits for 30 days that Senator Jim Bunning held up in the Senate this week is not possible at the level of the general electorate of 250 million people. It is logistically impossible for one thing. In addition, many could not grasp the concepts involved. That is, in part, why we have representational forms of government. But it is possible for an electorate to be more capable than they are presently.

When you examine what capabilities the common citizen must have to be able to inform herself about an issue it starts with being literate. If newspapers are the chosen media for informing the voters what the government is doing then the voters must be able to read.

In Rome, as pre-technological society, the Senate's edicts were given to the people by a speaker in the town square, a town-crier, if you will. Then it was passed by word of mouth among the plebians and the elite alike. Until 1440 when the printing press was invented this was the method. Soon there were pamphlets and newspapers. Word of mouth was still relied upon until public education was widespread. Today newspapers are being supplanted by TV and the internet. Now we have soundbytes not the Gettysburg address.

Today, even as various newspapers and television networks are owned by individuals with special interests - newspapers are unduly influenced by the advertisers who make them rich or merely keep them afloat, there are magazines like The Economist and the Alberta Report which can serve as sources for the details of issues that affect us. Not all issues can be reduced to simple terms like whether we allow elective abortions or not. Some issues are complex or can be made complex by the lawmakers who seek to promote their own agendas as when they concede support for a bill saving hundreds of thousands from suffering and death by attaching an amendment giving them what they want. For example, a bill to relieve the Katrina victims might have an amendment about water use in Colorado as a condition of voting support by Senators with big business supporters out west.

For centuries, for millennia, governments have controlled not only the flow of information to the people but also the means by which the people could assimilate and understand that information.

In 529 AD the Emperor Justinian shut down the Academy of Plato and like-schools everywhere. He thus rid himself, and subsequent rulers, of people who could understand the workings of the world and the agendas of tyrants, by denying them access to training that would enable them to do so. He thus kept the intelligentia from discussing the issues, and by the trickle-down effect - word-of-mouth, he denied the masses too. It worked for a thousand years. It is being done today.

Today we need not only the literacy to understand and interpret the rhetoric that spews from the mouths of the politicians but also the numeracy to understand and criticize the economic policies as well. As Justinian thought, it is difficult to control the masses if they know as much or more than you do. So how do you control the knowledge and the mental abilities of the masses? How do you limit the voters literacy and their numeracy?

Since the BNA Act education has been controlled in Canada by the Provincial government (PG). It determines what schools will be chartered, how school boards are to be elected and funded, what curricula will be taught. Often this is seen as a positive thing. New curricula are initiated by the PG, and speeches are made about positive expected outcomes. Seldom do the results match expectations.

The ways in which the PG can influence the education system are sufficient to achieve trhe PG's aims. They ultimately control funding by the distribution of tax dollars. By taxing and regulation they control media. By dissemination of information they control the content of the news media. This is not only about content but about the order in which it is disseminated. Ordering events can influence the minds of the voters and the impressions they form about the PG and by extension the supporters of the PG. Arguably, corporate interests hold powerful sway over the PG.

Recently, the math curriculum has seen proposed changes. These changes will be enacted in a years time. Three paths to passing secondary mathematics are being offered to students. Each will result in them receiving a piece of paper. Theoretically it will be possible for everyone to get a piece of paper denoting some kind of math success when they end their Grade Twelve year. This will give everyone something to be happy about. The student will have something to show his parents and his prospective employer. The teachers will have something to point to as indication that they too have succeeded in educating the students. The school's administrators will be able to point to positive results - at least the kids got something out of their time here. And most importantly, the PG will be able to show the voters that they got something for their rax dollars. At least no one wil be able to discuss the one third of students who failed to graduate with mathematics of any kind at grade twelve that currently pass through the secondary schools with nothing to show for it. At least that embarrassment will go away.

But did anything really change? Will those students be better able to understand the math required by their prospective employers? Will they be better able to see how their employers and their PG manipulates their lives by influencing them into jobs that they really don't want, but which, by default, are the only ones they can get? Will they be able to understand enough economics to see what is wrong with a system that has changed since their grandfathers were able to support their families without grandma having to take a job? And will they be able to understand enough economics to avoid being preyed on by banks and corporations that exploit them daily by keeping them ignorant about the ravages of such simple concepts as compound interest?

Current and past events prove the postulate - to govern effectively, a passive, ignorant, electorate is required.

If the people are too well informed, too knowledgeable, they will not allow to government to pursue its corrupt corporate-influenced agenda.

To govern effectively the mass of people must be kept poor and ignorant.

In short..
If poor, the people will be more motivated to seek their next meal than to meddle with the agendas of their self-appointed superiors.

If ignorant, they will be easily influenced by smoke and mirrors, the tools of the well-oiled propaganda machine that is rolled out by corporate funded parties when elections are called.