2020-05-01

Happy International Workers Day #MayDay


Billy Bragg

We've been experiencing what we refer to as 'Andy Warhol Weather' here today: fifteen minutes of rain, fifteen minutes of sun, fifteen minutes of hail etc etc. As a result, I couldn't take my guitar amp out onto the rubble mound this week for the #ClapForNHS #ClapForCarers #ClapForKeyWorkers so I set up in the old garage in case the rain came again.

As it's technically already May 1st - International Workers Day - in some parts of the world, I thought I'd play the riff from There is Power in a Union this week as a salute to all those who are working to keep us healthy, safe, fed and connected. Give them their PPE!

Remember to observe spatial distancing and social solidarity

Filmed 30th April 2020 by Juliet Wills up her ladder




2020-04-26

COVID-19 and Education in Ontario – An Imaginative Approach

Let me start by saying that I understand that hindsight is a big advantage and some may ask why didn't I think of this sooner and my response is that thinking about education in Ontario is not my full time job but it is for Ontario's Ministry of Education.

While it may be seem late now It seems to me that at some point the Education Ministry should have realized that too much time has passed to do justice to the curriculum for this year and the best solution might be to just start over next fall and use the rest of the school year creatively for students.

The result would be Ontario students requiring thirteen tears to complete their elementary and secondary education instead of twelve. This is something that millions of Ontario students, including myself did before 2003 and we turned out just fine.

Instead of trying to finish the curriculum using what can only be described as rushed into service experimental online methods, why not do something more creative with the online teaching and what little in classroom teaching time may be left in this school year.

Why not let teachers go “off-curriculum” or perhaps more accurately described as parallel to curriculum, by putting a local focus on their teaching. Teach local history, and in particular the history of the indigenous peoples in their area. Teach about the history of their communities and local industries and businesses, community groups, etc. Focus science and geography on the local ecosystem and the scientific principles behind local industries. Go a bit farther afield and teach some of the history of the local immigrant communities, particularly refugees. The opportunities for creative teachers are endless.

Each community and neighbourhood should have it's own focus which is why letting individual teachers go “off-curriculum” is the best way to achieve this.

Use this as an opportunity for these students to finish elementary and secondary school with a greater education than otherwise, rather than a lessor one.

2020-03-31

The Pensioner and the Pandemic and ...

The Government Wants to Lock Me in My Room

Well this blog post is taking somewhat of a change of direction from that planned, which was to focus on the benefits of being a retired pensioner at this time, since the Ontario government is telling me that I will suddenly be at risk for COVOD-19 on my birthday in a few days and should (or must, depending on the source) self-isolate for 14 days after which I will be fine again (or maybe not, depending on the source).

This puts me in a strange position as someone who has been critical of those who do not listen to the experts and health authorities on the verge of engaging in civil disobedience by ignoring them. I am put in a position where they want me to change my healthy lifestyle and lock myself in a room for two weeks (or longer) presumably because of a statistical relationship between age and a presumed greater degree of risk COVID-19.

From the Ontario government website.

Self-isolating means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people to help prevent the spread of disease to others in your home and your community.
All persons over 70 years of age and individuals who are immunocompromised are advised to self-isolate for a period of 14 days. This means that you should only leave your home or see other people for essential reasons. Where possible, you should seek services over the phone or internet or ask for help from friends, family or neighbours with essential errands. (The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Ontario.ca)

From the results page for the COVID-19 self-assessment with all questions answered in the negative except for age over 70. (Coronavirus (COVID-19) self-assessment)


Self-assessment result

You must self-isolate at home and monitor your health because you are part of an at-risk group.

You are in an at-risk group because you said one of the following applies to you:

    • are over 70 years of age

You must self-isolate, which means:

  • only leave your home or see other people for critical reasons (like a medical emergency)
  • seek services over the phone or online or ask for help from friends, family or neighbours
  • do not go into a hospital or clinic to get a COVID-19 test unless you are asked to by a health care provider

The first thing one notices if one reads carefully is that the first references uses “advised” and “for a period of 14 days” and the second reference uses “must” and has no reference to a time period.

And the latest, as reported by CTV News refers to “strongly recommending”.

TORONTO -- Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health (Dr. David Williams ) is now recommending that all people over the age of 70 self-isolate given the elevated risk of "severe outcomes" should they contract COVID-19.

"Given the greater risk of severe outcomes to Ontarians who are elderly, I am also strongly recommending that individuals over 70 years of age self-isolate," Williams wrote. "This means only leaving home or seeing other people for essential reasons. Where possible, you should seek services over the phone or internet or ask for help from friends, family or neighbours with essential errands."

Meanwhile people over 70 comprise only 14% of COVID-19 cases in Canada as reported in this Ottawa Citizen article: "New data: Middle-aged Canadians most likely to catch COVID-19, so far". The percentage of Canadians over 65 was 14% in 2010 and growing (Statistics Canada) making it clear that the percentage of COVID-19 cases among those over 70 today is clearly below that of the general population. We are at less risk statistically not more risk.

But that really is not the point. There clearly is a subset of older Canadians with health concerns that require them to be more cautious and take more precautions, as there are within all age groups, in particular those that are immunocompromised and those that smoke or vape, due to the respiratory nature of the disease.

A blanket policy based on age discrimination does not seem to be the way to deal with health concerns that are specific to individuals and is not going to sit well with my comrades in this generation.

Fortunately there has been no indication that the province will use legal instruments to enforce this which is probably a good thing because we are a generation that grew up with civil disobedience.

COVID-19 and Poverty/Inequality

At the same time another important factor of this pandemic is one that has almost entirely been ignored by the establishment press, or mainstream media as it is sometimes called, and that is economic status.

When it comes to underlying health factors that make individuals more susceptible to the virus and less able to combat it economic status is a big determinant. It determines the quality of nutrition, as well as housing conditions (overcrowding, etc.) and other lifestyle factors, as well as the quality of health care one has access to. This is not just on an individual basis but also on a societal one with poorer countries in a much more difficult position to fight off the pandemic. Yet we see very little written about that in the media.

As we see with the rapid response to COVID-19, compared with the feeble response to climate change, governments are much better at reacting to acute crisis than to chronic problems. We see this as governments quickly jump in to deal with symptoms of climate change like flooding or hurricanes while their response to the real problem is feeble.

COVID-19 has brought with it not just a health crisis but an economic one, one that has affected the group governments claim to care most about, the middle class. Governments are scrambling to deal with the loss of jobs and income while also trying to deal with a major health crisis.

But what if they had taken inequality seriously. What if we had a guaranteed basic income (such as that proposed by Conservative Hugh Segal) in place. The government would not have had to scramble and stumble into implementing make shift programs. The solution for those displaced from employment and income would already have been in place

Postscript: The Great Outdoors is Closed

And apparently now the outdoors is closed in Ontario.

In a news release on Monday night, Ford announced a new emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The order closes all outdoor recreational amenities, such as sports fields and playgrounds, effective immediately.

He said the extension of the declared emergency and the new emergency order are based on the advice of Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.

According to the news release, the new order closes all communal or shared, public or private, outdoor recreational amenities in Ontario. These include playgrounds, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, off-leash dog parks, beaches, skateboard and BMX parks, picnic areas, outdoor community gardens, park shelters, outdoor exercise equipment, condo parks and gardens, and other outdoor recreational amenities.

Green spaces in parks, trails, ravines and conservation areas that aren't closed are to remain open for people to walk through, but people must maintain a distance of at least two metres apart. Ontario's provincial parks and conservation reserves remain closed. (Ontario extends state of emergency by 2 weeks as number of COVID-19 cases now 1,706 | CBC News)

Healthy lifestyles are what will create a population most resilient to health challenges such as COVID-19. Being out in nature and exercising contribute greatly to this. At a time when we are encouraging, indeed requiring, physical distancing (previously referred to as social distancing) it seems counterproductive to close those areas that provide the space for people to practice physical distancing without locking themselves up in their homes in fear.

Final Words

None of this is to say that we should not take this seriously and listen to the health experts when they tell us to practice physical distancing to reduce the spread of the disease.

Background





2020-02-28

On Immigration

Canada welcomed the highest number of new immigrants in more than a century last year, opening its doors to 341,180 people from 175 different countries.

That annual total, which exceeded Ottawa’s target of 330,000, was topped only twice before — in 1913, when 401,000 new immigrants arrived in the country, and 1912, when 376,000 settled here. The vast majority back then came from Europe as a result of this country’s campaign for newcomers to settle in Western Canada. (Source: Canada welcomed the most new immigrants in a century last year | The Star)

Immigration has traditionally been a matter of consensus within Canada with everyone agreeing the country needs immigrants and has a responsibility to refugees. Political differences have been minor and over implementation rather than broad policy.

Change has come with strategists in the current Conservative Party thinking that the road to power is emulating Trump and cultivating a hard core right wing base. Unfortunately for the Conservatives this path will never lead the party back to the glory days of the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Canada's immigration policy has never been aimed at benefiting immigrants but at what Canada needs. The major immigration program, the skilled worker program, uses a point system to attract immigrants with the skills and qualities Canada needs to advance it's economy and build it's society.

Another program, the family reunification program, is not aimed at benefiting new immigrants but at people already living in Canada who want to be reunited with family members, often aging parents.

Perhaps the most controversial program, has been the entrepreneurship program, aimed at people who want to invest in Canada and potentially create jobs here. It has been criticized as a program that allows people to buy their way into Canada, offending some people's concept of fairness.

I do have concerns about one aspect of Canada's immigration policy, the temporary foreign workers program. This is not really an immigration program as it provides no path to permanent residency. If we need to bring people here to do jobs that there are not Canadians available, or willing to do, we should admit them as regular immigrants with a path to permanent residency and citizenship.

Obviously there are some circumstances where the employment truly is temporary such as performing artists on a Canadian tour or workers for foreign corporations on temporary assignments or contracts.

Refugees are a different situation where the policy is aimed at benefiting refugees while fulfilling our international obligations.

The right wing likes to use foreign horror stories, mostly exaggerated or simply made up, to criticize our immigration policy.

The fact is Canada is not Europe, or the United States, where “hordes” of refugees are streaming across the border fleeing war, persecution and turmoil. Refugees admitted to Canada come from foreign refugee camps where they are extensively vetted, including undergoing security checks, before being admitted to Canada.

And while the main purpose of the refugee program is not aimed at benefiting Canada, refugees have a long history of making extensive and important contributions to Canadian society.

There is a small group of refugees who do seek admission from within Canada – asylum seekers. In the past these have most famously been “defectors” from Communist countries, often athletes or performers, who defected while competing or performing in Canada.

More recently these have been refugees from the United States who are fearful of how they will be treated in America under the Trump regime. However these refugees are not sneaking across the border and fleeing into hiding in Canada as “illegal” immigrants but rather are presenting themselves to Canadian officials as soon as they enter Canada. They are seeking asylum in Canada rather than the United States because they believe they will be treated more fairly and humanely in Canada than the United States. They are only allowed to stay in Canada if they meet the strict requirements for asylum seekers.

So no matter how much fear mongering the right wing wishes to spout our immigration and refugee policy is firmly following a proud Canadian tradition.

For a more detailed look at Canada's immigration and refugee policies and programs see:

2020-02-13

On Being a “Boomer”


Generations

When I was growing up in the 1950s and onward there was not all this talk about generations that seems to have become a fascination of the last twenty years. Although I became aware of the baby boom and even the term baby boomers (now apparently just boomers), I instinctively assumed the baby boomers were the people that had the babies. It was only recently that I realized that it referred to the children and I was one of them.

Indeed the original ideas for this blog had nothing to do with boomers but was simply to recount how lucky I was to be born at this time and live through all these changes, particularly the technological ones. But since labelling us folks born during this time as boomers seems to be the in thing I thought I might as well go with the flow, thus the title of this post.

This meant at least some cursory research into generations which Wikipedia explains this way. But the first thing I learned is that these generations are simply time periods people talk about in their own ways. There are no officially defined generational periods, no consensus on what the names of these periods are and not even a consensus on how long a generation is, even within individual generational schemes. So it's a good thing I am not talking about generations but just my time on this planet.

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950s and 1960s, at least in northern Ontario, was a great time to grow up. It was a time when all elementary school kids could walk or bike to school because we had eight room neighbourhood schools. Yes, we didn't have proper gymnasiums or any sort of shop rooms, or even libraries, but we managed without that until high school. There were no computer rooms because there were no computers, It was a time when on weekends we could wander away wherever to play in the rocks and bush by the railroad tracks and creek and the slag dump. We could bike all over town and once I even biked all the way to our camp (cottage for you non-northerners).

Progressing into the high school period, school spirit was a big thing. Anyone from Sudbury remember the school lunch bag contests ? Music was the other big thing. School dances always featured live bands. When the bands took their breaks and records where put on everybody stopped dancing. The groups were often other high school kids. Anyone remember The Sound Expressway. Local Battle of the Bands contests were a regular affair usually emceed by one of the local DJs who were more than minor celebrities in their time. Radio was our main source of music, and calling in requests and dedications were what you did while doing your homework and listening to your favourite DJ on the radio. Remember G. Michael Cranston.

Unions and the Middle Class

One of the most important facts about this time was the role of the labour movement and the fact that the 1950s was a time when we still built things in North America. Unions enlarged the middle class from being just the professional and merchant class to include working people enabling me to have a middle class upbringing and life as the son of a hard rock miner.

Public Health Care

It was in 1947 that Medicare, as our public health care system is known, was first introduced in Saskatchewan, and it was adopted by the federal government and all provinces during the 1950s and 1960s.

Social Change

The period from 1950 until present day was a pretty good time to be a heterosexual white male Canadian of European descent. If you did not fit that category (or even if you did) it was a period of great opportunity to fight for social progress. This included the 1960s and 1970s, decades defined by battles for social change, particularly on university campuses. Laurentian University at the time was known as the Berkeley of the North, It included the civil rights movement, women's liberation movement, LGBTQ rights movement, and the adoption of multiculturalism in Canada.

From the 1950s to current day we saw a huge change in the role of women in the workforce and economy (and the role of men in the home and family) and we saw the LGBTQ community advance from being whispered about in the shadows to fully accepted members of society.

This is not to say that discrimination, bigotry, racism, misogynism, etc no longer exists but we have matured as a society to where inclusion and diversity are accepted Canadian values. We have come a long way.

The Peace Movement and The War Against The War

No discussion of the time of the baby boom generation would be complete without mentioning the struggle against the Vietnam War, the War Against The War waged during the 1960s, inspired by a long history of the Peace movement, and more particularly the late 1950s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Canada played it's part as "Vietnam War resisters were welcomed as heroes in Canada" (Montreal Gazette).

It was perhaps the generation's most defining moment.

Technology

Indeed I could talk much more about social change during this period but these advances were not the original motivation for this post. Rather it was to talk about how we were so fortunate to live through this period of technological advances. Other periods of history have seen technological advances such as the printing press, industrialization, still and moving picture photography, the telegraph and radio, but never so much so fast as this era from television to the Internet, where we have in many cases surpassed science fiction.

Television

I was three years old in Sudbury when television was first available to the city. Although it was a few or several years before TV ownership became widespread enough that we had one I was old enough to remember first getting television. I guess one could call it our generation's “screen time” although we were not nearly as enamoured with it as people seem to be with “screens” these days. It was something that amused us when we were finished our homework and it was too dark to go out and play or early weekend mornings before we went to meet our friends.

But that was just the beginning. Those of us born in the 1950s would see television go through many evolutionary stages from the development of cable television with cable only channels to streaming services over the Internet. Cable and satellite television came to be dominant over broadcast TV and may soon be supplanted by Internet streaming. We may even see the complete end of traditional broadcast television in my lifetime.

And of course. the the quality of the picture has improved with the quality of the screens used to watch it. First with the introduction of colour and then flat screens replacing CRT tubes along with higher resolution images for much better picture quality.

As to content, that has evolved in two directions, while production values have improved and the amount of high quality content has increased, the multi-channel universe has created space for an increasing amount of crap (can you say reality TV) on our screens.

Computers and Personal Computers

While the history of computers can be traced back to Charles Babbage in the 1800s, the first commercial computer UNIVAC was put into service in 1951. The early commercial computers were first designed and produced to perform specific tasks for specific customers. General purpose computers came later. The programming language COBOL was develop in 1953 and Fortran in 1954. The IBM System/360 was first produced in 1964. These mainframe computers revolutionized business and industry. The revolutionizing of our personal lives would come later.

We got our first personal computer in 1981, an Osborne 1, the world's first portable computer. It was a powerful computer with a 4.0 mHz processer and 64K RAM and two 92K 5.25 inch disk drives. $2,500 Canadian with another $800 for an Epson 9 pin dot matrix printer. A huge 10 Mb hard drive was available for $10,000. But this was a powerful machine for it's time. It was usable out of the box with bundled software, including WordStar and SuperCalc, plus MBASIC and CBASIC, and the CP/M operating system, a suite of software worth the price of the computer by themselves. We also managed to acquire a cope of dBASE II.

Previous personal computers were aimed at computer hobbyists and nerds who wanted to learn about computers and programming. The Osborne 1 was one of a new group of computers designed as productivity tools. This was only the start of the personal computer revolution which soon saw ordinary people with computers more powerful than the ones that put a man on the moon sitting on their desks.

Indeed, Wordstar made writing so much easier and SuperCalc allowed for financial wizardry on the Osborne 1. But Dbase II was the most interesting and fun with it's own programming language. My first big Dbase II project was creating an Index to The Portable Companion, the magazine for users of Osborne portable computers. My most ambitious project was creating a prototype key word indexing system for Hansard, the House of Commons Debates, and a computerized voting record database, at least 10 years before the House of Commons developed their own much more powerful Publication Search system.

Our next personal computer was an IBM XT clone, that ran MS-DOS, and following that new machines about every three years till we purchased our current machine on April 12 2013, with Windows 7, now running Windows 10.

Indeed it was quite a surprise when I checked back to see when I purchased this current machine. This is a clear sign that personal computing has matured and the average user does not need any more computing power. Of course gaming is a different matter. Putting a man on the moon did not require fancy 4k video imaging and fast graphics. It just required number crunching. Which is why it required much less computing power than making a game about it. That is also why today it is home computers that need more power and capability than business machines – number crunching requires much less power than high definition video.

But yet we may be soon coming full circle to the pre-home computing days when computing involved dumb terminals connected to main frames. The tech industry seems to want to go that way with all your applications and even personal data storage in the amorphous “cloud“ (a network server somewhere), somewhere in the great unknown.

Computer Networks from BBSs to the Internet

But home computers were not just for nerds sitting at home looking at a screen and writing programs. The first home computers soon led to computing networks that were the forerunner of the internet, computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) that allowed users to to share their knowledge via discussion forums and also share software via download capability. I used at least one BBS to share my index of The Portable Companion. Surprisingly, they still exist .

However they were replaced to a certain degree by larger proprietary online service providers like CompuServe, AOL and Prodigy. These systems provided information services, online forums, messaging services, downloadable files and programs, etc.. They were the forerunner to the Internet but they were proprietary corporate systems. They were very much like Facebook except it was very clear how you paid for access, with a monetary subscription fee. They died off, essentially by transforming themselves into Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as users embraced the open Internet, preferring that to getting all their online information from one commercial source (until Facebook).

Then came the The Internet but it was not accessible to the general public until Free-nets provided that access.

The word mark Free-Net was a registered trademark of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), founded in 1989 by Tom Grundner at Case Western Reserve University. NPTN was a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing and developing, free, public access, digital information and communication services for the general public.[4] It closed operations in 1996, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.[5] However, prior use of the term created some conflicts.[6] NPTN distributed the software package FreePort, developed at Case Western Reserve, that was used and licensed by many of the free-net sites.

Any person with a personal computer, or through access from public terminal in libraries, could register for accounts on a free-net, and was assigned an email address. Other services often included Usenet newsgroups, chat rooms, IRC, telnet, and archives of community information, delivered either with text-based Gopher software or later the World-Wide Web. (Source: Free-net - Wikipedia )

In Ottawa it was the National Capital FreeNet (NCF) that provided the public with not only access to the Internet of the time but also access to e-mail, which started a communications revolution of it's own. The free-nets also provided a way for community organizations to reach the public, not only in their home communities but internationally as the free-nets were all inter-connected via the Internet. At this time the Internet was completely non-corporate and there was a huge debate, the conclusion of which was clearly predictable though not so obvious at the time, about whether corporations should have access to the Internet. It would certainly be different if that had gone the other way.

At the start of the free-nets the World Wide Web had not been developed so the FreePort menu system provided the accessibility that would later be provided by the web.

As an early member of the NCF, user ab190, I was also one of it's first “information providers” operating an information service for the Bridlewood Residents Hydro Line Committee on FreePort which later became the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields Information Service on the World Wide Web. It was one of and possibly the first NCF information services to move from Freeport to the Web. One of my proudest moments was when the World Health Organization (WHO) linked to the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields Information Service.

I took it offline when I stopped updating it but the Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) Information Service is available on a mirror site provided by The Swedish Association for the Electro HyperSensitive - www.feb.se (FEB Sweden), in it's final state.

When the Internet became easily available via high speed broadband through DSL or Cable Internet the need for the free-nets disappeared, though many, like the National Capital Freenet became non-commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) aimed at making the Internet available to as many people as possible.

Communications Replaces Computing

With the Internet computers became as much a communications tool as a data, word and image processing tool and newer technologies to come would lead to a dominance of communications over computing in our electronic devices. Telephones (nobody calls them that anymore) would be marketed for their photographic capabilities and voice conversations would be their least important use.

And it all started with Agent 86 and his shoe phone. Once the purview of science fiction now it seems every ten year old has a compact portable videophone that is rarely used for making phone calls. Desktop computers are the rare purview of computer gamers and purists like me who prefer a larger screen and a desk to sit at to do my computing which still includes not just communication but a lot of writing and some photo processing. For most people laptop or notebook computers have replaced the standard desktop and some folks just rely on the new fangled tablets, for their entertainment, information and communications needs.

The smartphone has replaced the personal computer as the electronic device of choice and it may only be a matter of time until the smartwatch (which may even include a minor timekeeping function) will replace that.

Smart homes

Smart homes are the latest tech trend. Well actually not so new as the first article cited below points out: 'In 1975, the first general purpose home automation network technology, X10, was developed. It is a communication protocol for electronic devices.“

I certainly recall many years ago homes being built pre-wired with Ethernet (and sometimes also Coaxial) cable for home networking. The individual components like programmable home thermostats and video monitoring systems accessible from the Internet and of course remote controlled lighting systems just to mention a few have been available for quite awhile.

What is new is the use of voice commands yelled at tabletop orbs as the hub of smart home controls. In reality I doubt any serious smart home will be controlled that way. It will much more likely be via a dedicated control panel that is probably also accessible on a computer or tablet, perhaps even smartphone or watch via the Internet.

Smart home resources





Conclusion

This period since the birth of the baby boomers has certainly been one of technological change, though not all of it progress. While much of the world still lives in abject poverty another portion lives in relative wealth, some absurdly so. I have not mentioned all of the technological “wonders” the age has bestowed upon us, some of them just plain silly like electric plug in air fresheners and refrigerators that talk to your milk cartons so they can order new milk when you run out. My “favourite” misuse of technology are automobiles now being marketed, not for having the best engines or transmissions, but the best “infotainment system”.

Being a baby boomer is about living through change.

Postscript

I started talking about the gains made by the working class through the union movement during the baby boom years (1946-1964), gains we can actually thank the previous generations, including the so-called Silent Generation, for. They may have been silent but they were very active having been responsible for much of labour and civil rights movements and having built a more equal society.

That society has over the years become increasingly unequal, not only between the developed and third world but also within the so called developed world, with the latest generations, the so-called Millennials and Generation Z, becoming perhaps the first in recorded history to be worse off economically than the previous generations (except for a select few who control the economic system, what one might call the means of production). Their challenge is perhaps the greatest, to build a truly just and sustainable society, one that I discuss here: THE FIFTH COLUMN: Towards a Green Social Democratic Economy.

2020-01-02

New Year Prediction – The New Veganism

Perhaps not this year, but I can see it coming as clear as the lighting in a laboratory clean room.

It started with vegetarianism, a dietary preference to avoid eating meat. And it morphed into veganism, a morality cult claiming any food products related to animals in any way are evil.

The latest result of this is laboratory created factory produced meat. Meat is evil but we must have non-meat that looks, feels and tastes like real meat.

We can see where this will lead, Why is just meat evil. Plants are living things too. If we can create fake meat, we can create fake vegetables, fruit, beans, etc. Living things were not intended to be eaten by other living things. That is why we have artificial food.

So the next big thing will be the new veganism, the successor to veganism. We shall not eat living things. The only thing left to predict is the name – Laboratoryism, Artificialism, Fakeism, take you choice.

2019-12-31

Happy New Year – We Are All Going to Die

Yes, we are all going to die and that's it, the end.

Except for the Christians, of course, they get to go to an afterlife of either heaven or hell. There seem to be two schools of thought on who goes where. One seems to believe good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. The other, more scripture based, says it does not matter whether you are good or bad, Jesus died for your sins so if you believe you go to heaven no matter how evil you are, and non-believers, no matter how good they are go to hell.

And then their are those that believe in reincarnation, that you come back in another life form, perhaps in another place, after death. The particulars of reincarnation, depending on belief, seem to be as varied as there are possibilities.

And then we have the Vikings. After death they go to live with the gods in Valhalla. But only if they die trying to kill other people. I do not know what happens to peaceful Vikings after they die.

These are, of course, all religious fables. I believe the technical term is “poppycock”.

As is the religion of individualism being so fervently promoted these days. This is represented by the promotion of the theory that “if everyone acts in their own self interest the best interests of society will be served”. This is just a way of trying to justify greed and promotes the idea that “he who has the most stuff when he dies wins”. Poppycock.

The fact is that our individual lives are just a tiny speck in the space time continuum, so tiny as to be meaningless by themselves. The only way our lives can have any real meaning is as part of a society that existed before we were born that will exist after we die. The only possible hope for any form of immortality, even just symbolically, is through what we do with our lives that leaves our society better after we die than before we were born.

The only New Year's Resolution anyone can make that means anything is “to make a difference”.

2019-12-03

The War Against Holiday Diversity

They call it the War on Christmas, but in reality it is just an opportunity for a few people to get apoplectic, or is it apocalyptic, about the fact that some people acknowledge that many holidays are celebrated at this time of year.


Proponents of the theory like to claim that we need to get back to the origins of the Christmas holiday, to the “reason for the season”. But of course, the actual reason tor the season is the winter solstice and the pagan rituals celebrating it.

This is of course because the Christians did not know the actual date of Christ's birth so they simply piggybacked on the pagan celebrations in the same way their Easter piggybacks on the pagan Ēostre celebrations.

If the Christians want to get upset with anyone taking over their holiday it should be the capitalists. The Christians only have one high holy day during the season, Christmas. However, the capitalists have several, seemingly celebrated, at least in North America, by many more people (or should we call them consumers as the capitalists consider them) than Christmas. They have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day, not to Mention Black Friday Week and Boxing Week. And then there are the December 25th celebrations of the Patron Saint of Consumers, Santa Claus.

We live in a multicultural society. We should consider it a “blessing" that so many of us celebrate different holidays during this time of year and can share them with each other. There is no reason for one group to claim ownership of the season or to be offended by holiday greetings that are inclusive.

Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays everyone.

2019-11-18

Towards a Green Social Democratic Economy

Background/Context

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.[1][2][3][4] Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets.[5][6] In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investments are determined by every owner of wealth, property or production ability in financial and capital markets, whereas prices and the distribution of goods and services are mainly determined by competition in goods and services markets.[7][8]

Social democracy is a political, social and economic philosophy that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and a capitalist mixed economy. The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy, measures for income redistribution, regulation of the economy in the general interest and social welfare provisions.[1][2][3] In this way, social democracy aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes.[4]

The Green New Deal is an ambitious plan for how we can eliminate poverty and create millions of jobs while tackling the biggest threat of our time: climate change. It involves massive public investment in clean energy, transit and climate adaptation work. But the vision is bigger than that: it’s about transforming our entire economy to be safer and more fair, and give everyone a better life. First proposed in the U.S., the Green New Deal is now spreading around the world. In 2015, we joined with dozens of movement leaders to draft the The Leap Manifesto, a 15-point plan for how Canada can decarbonize its economy based on principles of justice. We’re excited about the Green New Deal because it’s even more ambitious than the Manifesto, and it’s being backed by both grassroots movements and politicians.

The Failure of Capitalism

If you are part of the 1%, or perhaps even the top 10%, of wealthy people that call themselves capitalists you are probably wondering what the nonsense of the heading above is. Capitalism is working just fine for you.

But if you are not one of the owners of the means of production, but are the means of production, part of the masses that actually produce the wealth and services that our society depends on you see it completely differently. Indeed even the capitalists themselves are recognizing the market system as it currently works does not serve society and are rethinking the idea that corporations only duty is to shareholders profits and are suggesting corporations also have a responsibility to workers, customers and society. Or at least they want the public to think they have such concerns as a means of placating the masses to prevent the complete abolition of capitalism.

Capitalism unfortunately is based on a lot of assumptions and mythology which simply is not true. Shall we look at some of them.
If everyone acts in their own self interest the interests of the society will be served is one of the basic tents of capitalism. Unfortunately it is just a poorly presented justification for greed.

The market will ensure fair prices and wages and an effective distribution of resources to where they are most needed. Clearly not working.

What's good for General Motors is good for America, or more generically, what is good for the mega corporations is good for the country and the society. Has the laughter died down yet.

Competition will ensure the survival of the best ideas and most efficient implementation of them and the failure of the poorest. UNLESS you are too big to fail, then state socialism will bail the capitalists out with the workers money.

No one is too rich and there is no need for income or wealth redistribution because the earth has infinite energy and resources and infinite capacity for development and the environmental impacts that go along with that and there are no limits to growth. Everybody can become a billionaire if they just make the effort. The poor are just lazy. No comment necessary.

Need I go on.

Fortunately social democracy does not require, nor seek, the elimination of private ownership. It only seeks to build a fair society where everyone can contribute with a fair distribution of wealth.

Inequality

We have all read the statistics on wealth and income inequality. It seems unnecessary to repeat them here. But here are a few citations anyway.

The world’s richest 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 45 percent of the world’s wealth. (Global Inequality - Inequality.org)

Last year 26 people owned the same as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. (5 shocking facts about extreme global inequality and how to even it up | Oxfam International)

Billionaires in Canada have increased their wealth by $20 billion over the last year, says a new Oxfam report on global inequality. In the same time, the 4.5 per cent of the country's wealth held by the poorest half of Canadians remained static. (Obscene gap between rich and poor, says Oxfam | National Observer)

Since 1990, the richest group of Canadians has increased its share of total national income, while the poorest and middle-income groups has lost share. (Income inequality - Canada and world results)

Income inequality in America is the highest it’s been since Census Bureau started tracking it, data shows (The Washington Post)

I wrote this about excessive wealth in an earlier blog post, THE FIFTH COLUMN: On Inequality, Democracy and Taxing the Rich – A Modest Proposal.

So what is excessive income and wealth. There are many ways to measure that, many statistical, but I propose a simpler definition – the amount of wealth and income where increases have no discernible effect on ones way of life or standard of living, where the increase is simply not noticeable in one's day to day life. Let's be generous to the wealthy in determining such levels. I propose an annual income of $1 million dollars and total assets of $100 million as the level that triggers “excessive income and wealth”. Above that no one notices without reading their financial statements.

The thing about excessive wealth is that it makes minuscule difference to the recipients but could make all the world of difference to the poor and underprivileged and to society as a whole if used for the common good. I will not even attempt to list what all that excessive wealth could do if devoted to the common good of society .

But there is another side to excessive income and wealth – it is highly undemocratic. The rich do not cling to their excessive wealth because it makes a difference to their daily lives. They cling to it because it gives them economic and political power. It is not just a matter of economic inequality, is a matter of political inequality.

Democracy is based on equality, one person one vote. Economic power is political power. Excessive wealth skews political power so that the wealthy have more of it. Excessive wealth is inherently undemocratic.

The argument that the rich are simply smarter or work harder simply does not hold water (to use an expression). The extremely wealthy are in that position because of privilege or in a few exceptional cases just plain dumb luck. But there is no moral justification for such extreme levels of wealth and inequality, particularity when you take into account the amount of economic and political power that provides which negates any sense of democracy we think may exist in our societies.

Climate Change

This inequality is taking place in a time of environmental crisis. No need to go on and on about the scientific consensus here. Just a few citations for the record.




Some people suggest the solution to climate change lies in the hands of a few big corporations. Others think it only involves moving away from fossil fuels. But in reality avoiding future environmental disaster requires a major remaking of our economy from one based on the concept of unlimited consumption, waste and growth to one based on sustainable living and sustainable development (remember that). We need to refocus our society away from the concept of increasing our standard of living, where standard of living is defined by how much stuff (energy and resources) we consume to one based on increasing our quality of life, where quality of life is defined by how satisfied we are with our life experiences, in effect by how “happy” we are.

Tackling Climate Change and Inequality: An Opportunity to Build a New Society

Too big crises at once. How do we prioritize our response. Fortunately we do not. This is indeed an opportunity to use our responses to both these crises to build a better society.

So let us first look at the so-called “elephant in the room”, the idea that actually doing something significant about inequality is an extreme radical idea that involves stealing the wealth of the mega rich.

Let us assume that we are in an economy where the richest people earn up to a million dollars annually, making more than 10-20 times the income of average workers and that the richest people could acquire wealth of up to $100 million dollars, 100 times what the average worker can save up in a lifetime. Then let us assume someone suggests that is not enough incentive for people to work hard and invest and we should change the system so the wealthy can earn unlimited incomes and acquire unlimited wealth gaining them the economic and political power that that brings with it. Those people would be called extreme radicals with crazy ideas. Rationally that kind of uncontrolled excessive inequality is the crazy radical idea that would undermine society, not establishing reasonable limits to inequality.

Tackling inequality will provide the political opportunity and funds to change our society to deal with climate change. We need to change the economic and political power distribution to do this and there will be economic disruptions and major economic change, which will be for the better in the long term.

How Do We Tackle Inequality

Let us look first at how we tackle the problem of excessive wealth (as defined earlier) and inequality.

Preferably we deal with this outside the tax system and only use the tax system to correct egregious behaviours that continue.

We must start with protections for ordinary working people. We need to start with a minimum guaranteed income for everyone, and not a poverty/subsistence level income but a decent middle class income that allows people to have a satisfactory quality of life.


When it comes to excess income we should set a societal standard that the gap between the lowest income and the highest income should not exceed twenty times within the society and ten times within any one organization. That leaves lots of room to reward hard work, education or risk taking.

On excessive wealth we hope corporations and organization revise their profit structure so it does not lead to excessive wealth, by reducing exorbitant executive salaries and increasing wages for the people that make the goods and provide the services that create the profits, spending more on making products and services better quality and reducing prices. The days when maximizing profits was the only corporate goal need to end.

There will, of course, be situations of such excessive wealth where drastic measures will need to be taken. They should include, where appropriate, simply transferring corporate ownership to workers co-operatives where the profits can be shared more evenly. They may also include the society, through government, taking ownership of enterprises and devoting the profits earned to the common good. In some cases corporate operations and practices will need to be realigned to better serve the needs of the society as a whole.

Where excessive income and wealth remains we will need to use the tax system to tax away any income over $1 million annually and any wealth in the form of assets over $100 million.

At levels below those that are extremely excessive we need to reform the income tax system reversing decades of tax reductions for high income earners and making it more progressive. We start with eliminating income tax on the minimum guaranteed annual income. Tax rates above that should increase progressively with new higher tax brackets at the upper end.

Corporate tax rates need to be brought back to historical levels before the massive cuts began.

What Type of Economy Do We Need

As we respond to the climate change crisis we must realize that the answer is not simply avoiding a catastrophe at this time by reducing our fossil fuel use and carbon footprint but avoiding future environmental disasters with an economy based, not on consumerism with it's inherent excessive consumption and waste, but on sustainability.

The 4 R's:

One guideline to this is the traditional 4 Rs .

1. Refuse: To refuse waste is often seen as a "radical" choice. As a consumer, the impact of refusing waste is a clear statement to the producer. This choice is a powerful one in that you refuse to take on the responsibility of waste and only wish to receive the wanted or needed product.2. Reduce: As you gain a better understanding of what waste is and the impacts it has on our natural, economic and social environments, reducing becomes a choice of consciousness. Reducing waste allows you to participate at any level.3. Reuse: Using conventional waste to divert it from the waste stream offers a broad spectrum of savings. From plastic containers to shipping containers, the reuse of a product introduces a second life cycle.4. Recycle: Though recycling is the last "R" in this though process, it has become the most commonly used element. Recycling is absolutely important in eliminating waste and will always be part of the ongoing process. Separating out recyclables from other waste is a responsibility that often lies with the end consumer. The problems that arise with recycling are usually the lack of knowledge and accessibility.

I would like to emphasize here that these are listed in priority order with the most important principle being saying no to environmentally unsustainable products and practices.

And “Reduce” has to be meaningful as we move from an economy based on consuming to one based on living.

For example, at a time when families are smaller why are houses bigger. A family of two adults and two children does not need a three or four thousand square foot house. A family with two parents and two teenagers does not need four automobiles. What happened to the family car. Appliances should be built to last twenty or more years. Even computers, tablets, smartphones, etc,. are at a state of maturity now that they do not need to be replaced every two years. When it comes to smaller items it is often the excessive packaging that is the biggest environmental problem. Why do we allow that when it harms the planet and adds unnecessary costs to both the producer and consumer. We simply cannot continue such a wasteful and unsustainable lifestyle. Clothing can be worn until it is actually worn out. These are just simple examples of how we can change our habits with little real impact on our quality of life.

Localism

I would add an additional, and perhaps most important, principle here – localism. A search of the Internet will find many different definitions of localism and environmental localism and political localism. Most of them relate to a certain degree to what I see as localism in this context.

One of the biggest users of energy and resources and contributors to climate change is transportation, and in particular the transportation of goods over long distances.

People make a great deal of noise over personal air travel. However there is a lot of good that comes with people visiting other countries, experiencing other cultures and getting to know other people. There is a also a lot of good to come from international conferences where people get together to try to solve the world's problems that can only be done face to face.

Certainly a lot of business travel, where people are simply travelling to airports and then to meeting rooms and only meeting like-minded people and only discussing internal corporate matters could probably be replaced with electronic communications.

But the big transportation waste of energy and resources (and carbon footprint) has to be the needless global transportation of goods that could easily be produced locally by local workers. There was a time when every town had a sawmill, a textile mill and a factory or two producing consumer goods and providing good paying union jobs.

Now most of our consumer goods are made in the same massive factories in China and most of our clothing comes from the third world. Capitalism is supposed to promote efficiency but when you add the amount of resources and labour to the cost of transportation to market, importing most of our goods from offshore is not efficient. The only measure by which this is profitable is the extremely low value we attach to workers in developing countries and on flags of convenience shipping lines. When you look at what wages used to paid for goods consumed in North America compared to wages are now paid for most goods consumed in North America it is pennies, or less, on the dollar.

But the environmental costs, particularly in terms of carbon footprint, are excessively greater than producing goods close to where they will be used.

Much the same can be said about food. There is a lot of energy and resources expended because we think we should be able to get anything we want from anywhere anytime. That was not even the case 50 years ago when many products were just considered seasonal. We don't need to just eat what we grow in our own backyards but we can adopt a more balanced approach to importing food. And we can certainly encourage more local growing of Canadian produced foods to reduce transportation costs and the related environmental impacts.

We need more than individual tokenism here but an economy built on these principles.

Community Infrastructure Building and A Green New Deal

Capitalism and the so-called free market may do a good job of maximizing short term profits but it needs tempering to serve longer term corporate needs and is a complete failure at serving social needs, often diverting funds to frivolous but profitable expenditures.

Regulations (including labour, environmental, and health and safety standards) can restrain some of the worst aspects of capitalism but only taxation can provide the funds necessary to fulfill our society's needs. This is why, as pointed out earlier in this post, we need a strong progressive tax system especially at the highest levels of income and for corporations.

As well as funding a social safety net in the form of a guaranteed annual income and universal health care and public education, not to mention police and fires services, defence and foreign policy, and on and on, taxation funds necessary public infrastructure.


This is where the proposed Green New Deal comes in. By building sustainable public infrastructure the public sector can set an example for the private sector on how to do development that is not harmful to the environment.

The most obvious example is transportation which has a huge carbon footprint. Locally improved public transit and cycling infrastructure can reduce the use of individual motor vehicles considerably, even eliminating it's need for short trips. Development of electric transport vehicles, particularly rail, can make a huge reduction in the economic and environmental cost of delivering goods, especially when coupled with production facilities (factories) closer to the final consumers.

The improvement of water, sewage and waste disposal facilities has an obvious environmental benefit.

As well, moving to a more people focused society, as discussed in the next section of this post, will see the need for more educational, arts and community facilities.

And we must not neglect to include publicly funded housing projects to address the chronic need for affordable housing. Public housing projects will provide an opportunity to develop and implement more sustainable building techniques and build housing that has much lower ongoing environmental impacts.


We now know the best way to provide affordable housing is through co-operative or mixed income housing that does not ghettoize low income earners, Hopefully a guaranteed income at a decent middle class income level will make this less of an issue.

All of this will, of course, provide an employment benefit, increasing the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) standard of living measurement and more importantly increasing the quality of life of the population.

What Type of Society Do We Want

This is the big question. Do we want a society based on people not stuff, living not consuming. But first this.

The Robots Are Taking Over and Taking Our Jobs

Since the first stages of industrialization to the assembly line and beyond to modern robotics there have been two scenarios for this trend. One dystopian. One utopian.

The current capitalist economy tends to be leading us to the dystopian model. As automation leads workers to be more productive, producing more per hour of labour, wages per hour are going down. Workers are earning less for producing more. This is because, unlike early predictions, increased productivity has not led to reduced working hours but to increased unemployment. At some point very few people will be producing a large number goods for a very small number of people and the whole system will collapse.

A New Society For A New Economy

“Whoever has the most stuff when he dies wins” is a reflection of our current capitalist society based on competition where the goal is to prove yourself better than other people by acquiring more stuff, which may include fame and status.

There is a another, more utopian model. The expression "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” reflects a society where everyone contributes according to their ability and has their basic needs met, a social democratic society.

Such a society will produce our basic needs in the most efficient way possible, taking advantage of automation and robotics to free people from the drudgery of producing excessive stuff. We will produce less stuff because our lives will not be based on the status conferred by owning things.

People will still work, but hours of drudgery will be limited and everyone will be guaranteed a decent middle class income. Education will be at the forefront of society with most people serving as both teachers and students. Education, the arts and culture (including writing, music, theatre, movie, TV and video production, etc.) and recreation will provide meaningful employment. There is a huge opportunity for localism here with hopefully a better balance of funding and earnings for local productions compared to international corporate financed productions and so-called superstars earnings.

Connections with the natural world will be emphasized with resource extraction of the wilderness being replaced by sustainable recreation and forms of eco-education and eco-tourism. Sustainable energy sources will replace those based on resource extraction.

A society based on living a more meaningful life will reduce alienation (Side Note: Karl Marx’s Conception of Alienation) and build a sense of community and reduce crime and conflict. While the first stages of new society will allow for some inequality, people realizing they do not want to measure themselves by how much more they own than everyone else will lead to the gradual end of inequality. The lack of desire for the consumption of excessive stuff will put less stress on the planet's resources and environment and avoid future environmental disasters.

And finally Karl Marx and Jesus Christ will rest easily in their graves.


Postscript:

For those asking what about our democratic institutions. That is a completely different blog post. See: THE FIFTH COLUMN: On Democracy