Friday, December 9, 2016

In Pursuit Of Answers

Yesterday's post featured the thoughts of my sister-in-law, Ruth, on how to restore humility and a sense of proportion. This morning, she alerted me to the following, a fitting complement to that post.

If you liked the above, this one is even better:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Restoring Humility And Proportion

One of my main nightly rituals is to watch one hour of television news. The first half-hour is devoted to both a local and a regional station, while during the second half-hour I generally watch NBC Nightly News, sometimes switching back and forth between it and Global National. Such a practice usually provides me with an overview of local, national, and international events, while recognizing the limitations that such coverage provides both in depth and selection of stories.

Sometimes during this ritual, I find myself growing philosophical as I bear witness to events that often have a common subtext: the fragility and brevity of life. From the extermination of men, women and children in Syria to the loss of innocent lives in natural disasters and human-caused mayhem, the fact that our lives could end at any time through no fault of our own is never lost on me.

That got me wondering about our species' loss of humility and sense of proportion. We spend so much time getting and spending, to borrow from the poetry of William Wordsworth, that we have lost touch with both ourselves and the world around us. Should you doubt this, just look at the state of the world from an environmental, economic or sociological perspective. If you lack the time, check out one of The Mound's latest posts.

What haunts me is our collective refusal to live with a little dignity, a little restraint and a little gratitude for the very fact of our lives, precious and precarious as they ultimately are. This led me, on a bit of a whim, to post the following on my Facebook account:
A question: How do we, as a species, recover a measure of humility and a realistic sense of proportion?
The most thoughtful response came from my sister-in-law, Ruth, whose meditation follows:
The only place I can begin is with myself. And I think that's where everyone needs to begin. We can be fully present by putting down the "devices" and, for me, getting out into nature where we reconnect with that sense of grandeur and awe. It might be something different for someone else...but whatever gets them into that place where they can slow down and be humbled and grateful. We can meditate to turn off the inner chatter that can make us so unhappy which in turn can help us turn off the messages that buying more stuff will make us happy.

I'm studying to be a spiritual director to help others get to that place where they are in touch with the inner voice of God and their soul. I know it doesn't seem like much...but if even 10% of the population did those few addition to reducing, reusing and recycling, buying organic, supporting local...I think we could begin to regain that sense of our place in the world.

Keep the faith..never give up. But that's in my humble opinion anyway...
Should anyone else like to address this question, I welcome your comments, as always.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Update On An Update

Yesterday, I posted about a man an one of Edmonton's LRT stations showing his Islamophobic/racist colours, as reported by CBC. I am happy to report that an arrest has been made:

Edmonton police have a suspect in custody in connection with a possible hate crime aimed at two hijab-wearing women.

Police thanked the public for helping the Hate Crimes Unit with the investigation.

Further details will be released when they become available, police said in a news release.

Meanwhile the Islamic community is speaking out about the incident.

"It's very unfortunate to say the least," said Arangzeb Qureshi, with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council. "This is Islamophobia at its worst."

Qureshi credits technology with holding people who may be committing a hate crime to account.

"It's an advantage for people who are unfortunately going through this type of discrimination."
When these kinds of incidents occur, we have an obligation to intervene. To turn away from such hate crimes is to be complicit in them. End of discussion.

Toward A New Clarity Of Language

With conventional media fighting an ever-growing juggernaut of fake news, news that is either outright lie or gross distortion, two national journals have joined a growing chorus in refusing to use the euphemism alt-right: The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.

After much discussion and input, Kathy English, The Star's Public Editor, reports the following:
... several senior Star editors met to discuss this issue. In order to seek some measure of consistency, we decided to consult further with our main wire services – The Canadian Press and the U.S. based Associated Press.

This week, both services issued “style notes” on how to refer to the self-labeled alt-right....

The main points to guide Star journalists in writing and editing:

Avoid using alt-right generically.
“We should strive to be accurate and precise, and at least for now, the term ‘alt-right.’ is neither. Terms like ‘white nationalist’ or ‘white supremacist’ are known, accurate and much clearer to readers.”

If you use the term alt-right, define it.
“Phrasing like ‘the ‘alt-right,’ a white nationalist movement’ is appropriate.”

... the Associated Press provided a clear definition of the alt-right, telling us that it’s a name embraced by “some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.”

And, it adds, “the movement criticizes ‘multiculturalism’ and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.”

With all that’s at stake here, journalists must not rely on euphemistic words that gloss over racism and hate. As the AP rightly tells us, be specific and call it straight: “We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.”

Language matters. It is our job as journalists to provide readers with accurate, clear and precise words that tell it like it is, not veil reality. We should not serve as unquestioning heralds for those who espouse ideology abhorrent to universal values of equality.

To be clear: the so-called alt-right stands for white supremacy. By any definition, that is racism.
In an abbreviated form, The Globe's Sylvia Stead says essentially the same thing.

While I regularly consult a number of alternative news sites, all of which enjoy sterling reputations, it would be foolish to suggest that the days of mainstream media are over. Now, more than ever, journalists toiling in conventional media may be our last highly visible bulwark against a rising tide of darkness, division, and devolution.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

UPDATED: Trump's America

From Facebook: Three Racists attack innocent Black man while yelling "Get out of my country!" Is this what they mean when they say make America great?

UPDATE: That this happens in Canada makes me feel deeply ashamed for my country:

Police are looking for a man in connection with a possible hate crime at a south Edmonton LRT station.

The man approached two young women wearing hijabs at the University of Alberta station at 8:20 p.m. on Nov. 8, police say.

The man, believed to be in his 60s, pulled a rope from his pocket, tied a noose and said: "This is for you."

The man then proceeded to sing O Canada in front of the women, one of whom shot video of the performance.

Police are asking anyone who recognizes the man to call 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone. They can also call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at

Let us all hope this miscreant is brought to swift justice.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Damage Control From A Disingenuous Dick

Apologies for my rather coarse title, but it seemed the only appropriate way to describe that Dorian-Gray-in-reverse-politician, Chris Alexander, who provided a conductorial complement to a rabid crowd in Edmonton offended by the very concept of taxation in general, and carbon taxes in particular.

At a rally in Edmonton hosted by perennial crank Ezra Levant and his self-described Rebel Media Group, as the erstwhile Immigration Minister played to the prejudices of the crowd, this happened:

You will note the zeal with which Alexander embraced the "Lock her up!" chants, seeming to enter a blissful zone accessible only to the extreme right-wing. However, perhaps realizing such a state of nirvana might not play well in all sectors of the Conservative Party he hopes to lead, and desperate to control the damage to 'his brand' that might have occurred, he issued this disclaimer, saying
he felt "uncomfortable" during a rally at the Alberta Legislature this weekend as the crowd chanted "lock her up" in response to his comments about Premier Rachel Notley's leadership.
In a video posted on Twitter by Rebel Media reporter Sheila Gunn Reid, Alexander is nodding and smiling in front of the crowd of about 1,000 as they chant "lock her up" in response to his comments about Notley's leadership.

At no point in the video does Alexander attempt to calm the crowd or denounce their chanting.
"I could clearly hear what they were saying and I was uncomfortable," Alexander told CBC News on Sunday.

"It was not something I initiated, it was not something I said at any point and it's not something I agree with. I was smiling because I was trying to think of a way to change the chant."
Yesterday, I wrote about a software plug-in, a b.s. dectector, to help ferret out fake news. I think it is safe to say no such software is needed to evaluate Chris Alexander's above disavowal.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

An Easy-To-Use Weapon Against Fake News

People of a certain 'vintage' will well remember the above commercial, in which a family appears to take great delight in fooling dad about the spread he is using. All in all, a humorous and harmless deception, one with no lasting consequences. Today, however, we face challenges to truth that the people of that commercial's era could never have imagined, challenges that are not the least bit amusing: the proliferation of fake news, aided and abetted by the ubiquitous Internet.

What defences do we have against such manipulations? Actually, there are many, only one of which I shall address in today's post.

We live in a very rushed world, one in which people often do not take the time to properly assess the information they access. Now, thanks to an exciting software innovation, that task has been made easier. Daniel Sieradski has created a browser plug-in that, with an extensive data base, flashes a warning at the top of one's screen alerting users to the questionable provenance of any given site. Interviewed on CBC's As It Happens, he explained why he created it:
It was in response to Mark Zuckerberg's statement that Facebook couldn't really handle the problem of fake news without a massive effort requiring the development of an algorithm and all these other things. I was able to work out a solution in just about an hour that showed that that was nonsense and that this issue could be easily addressed, if they really wanted to invest their energy in it.
Its principle seems elegantly simple:
Basically, it scans a given web page for the presence of links and then checks the links against a database that has been compiled of fake news sites, satire sites, conspiracy theory sites and so on and then it inserts a warning label adjacent to the link letting the user know that it is not exactly a reliable source of information.
The beauty of this approach is that it censors nothing; it simply issues a warning of unreliable content, and it is then up to the readers as to what they do with that information.

I strongly recommend that readers give it a try. Compatible with the majority of web browsers, I installed it on Chrome, and then tested it by consulting a list of fake news sites. It worked flawlessly on the ones I went to.

If you are interested, here is the link to the software. A further explanation as to its operating basis is supplied there as well:
The list of domains powering the B.S. Detector was somewhat indiscriminately compiled from various sources around the web. We are actively reviewing this dataset, categorizing entries, and removing misidentified domains. We thus cannot guarantee complete accuracy of our data at the moment. You can view the complete list here.

Domain classifications include:

Fake News: Sources that fabricate stories out of whole cloth with the intent of pranking the public.
Satire: Sources that provide humorous commentary on current events in the form of fake news.
Extreme Bias: Sources that traffic in political propaganda and gross distortions of fact.
Conspiracy Theory: Sources that are well-known promoters of kooky conspiracy theories.
Rumor Mill: Sources that traffic in rumors, innuendo, and unverified claims.
State News: Sources in repressive states operating under government sanction.
Junk Science: Sources that promote scientifically dubious claims.
Hate Group: Sources that actively promote racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination.
Incorporating the plug-in is one defence against the increasingly strong assaults on truth and accuracy being mounted by those who seek to impose their distorted and indefensible views on the world. In a future post, I shall discuss the hard work that is also required if this battle is ever to be won.