Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Dying Cause

As a reasonably rational individual, I no longer look upon the ongoing cascade of gun massacres in the United States with either horror or sadness; the only real emotion I have left for that country is profound disgust. How else can it be viewed when it puts some mythically-infused Second Amendment rights above the safety and lives of its children?

Despite its hubristic clamour about being "the greatest country on earth," in my mind the U.S. is but an abjectly failed nation.

Even the latest tragedy, which saw 17 children and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, has left the NRA unbowed.
The head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, leveled a searing indictment on Thursday against liberal Democrats, the news media and political opportunists he said were joined together in a socialist plot to “eradicate all individual freedoms.”

Wayne LaPierre can rail all he wants about elites who don't care about American schools. What is important, however, is that finally, real pushback is being exercised. There is, of course, the valiant and passionate efforts of American students who are all too often the victims of NRA-induced gun madness. But add to that the fact that many national business are starting to take something of a stand, which I would call a good but modest start, against the NRA.

It began with a Twitter announcement by First National Bank of Omaha:
Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA. As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card.
That was followed by
car rental company Enterprise (which also owns Alamo and National) announc[ing] they would no longer be offering discounts to NRA members.
The pressure and the momentum are building:

Subsequently, more companies have severed their ties with the merchants of death:
Both Allied Van Lines and North American Van Lines, moving companies operated by the same parent company, offered unspecified discounts for NRA members. On Friday, the parent company announced those benefits would be ending.
That has been followed by Insurer Chubb Ltd, Avis and Hertz car rentals and Symantec. As well, both Delta and United Airlines are ending their discounts to the annual gun-toters' convention. The Best Western hotel chain has done the same. I'm sure more will follow.

However, given the deeply-ingrained nature of American gun madness, it would be simplistic to think that success in bringing about even a modicum of sanity to gun laws is assured. Consider the NRA's reaction to this corporate hand-washing:
In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the group accused companies of “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”

“Let it be absolutely clear. The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”
Fanaticism has always been a force difficult to tame, let alone defeat. It will take more than passionate students and corporations that have recently grown a conscience. It will take the collective goodwill and rationality that I'm sure still resides in parts of the Unted States.

The question remains to be answered, however, is whether even all of these forces combined will be enough to defeat the powers of darkness epitomized by the National Rifle Association.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Crowdsourcing, Anyone?

Like millions of people around the world, I have been deeply impressed and moved by the passionate conviction with which young people, spearheaded by the survivors of the horrific shootings in Parkland, Florida, are organizing and demonstrating to bring some sanity to the gun laws of the United States. Their biggest obstacle, of course, are the politicians bought and paid for by the NRA.

Today's Star has a flurry of letters about the national obsession that has resulted in far too many unnecessary deaths. To my mind, the best suggestion for remediation comes from Scott Heaslip, of Stouffville, who writes:
I have a suggestion for the young people concerned that their elected officials refuse to support effective gun control measures. They should crowd source a fund to hire a team of lawyers and private investigators to look into the backgrounds and business activities of those elected officials who are more interested in the continued support of the National Rifle Association than protecting the lives of their fellow citizens. These officials may then develop the backbone to do the right thing.
That is the kind of campaign many, many people, I'm certain, would be happy to get behind.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Conspiracy, Anyone?

Probably because I am in possession of a reasonably well-functioning brain and had the benefit of a good education, conspiracy theories have never held any particular allure for me. You know the kind I mean, the ones about faked moon landings, undersea ufo bases, and the machinations of the Illuminati who are plotting to achieve a new world order, thereby subverting all that is good and holy.

Yet such enjoy great currency, thanks largely, I suspect, to the Internet.

Now, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting tragedy, the conspiracy machine has a new target: a survivor of the shooting who is turning out to be a passionate and eloquent spokesman for gun control, David Hogg. The Toronto Star reports the following:
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, are among those targeted by conspiracy theories about the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people.

Similar hoaxes were spread online following other mass shootings, including the 2012 assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

In Florida, an aide to a state representative on Tuesday emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter a screenshot of them being interviewed on CNN and said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis [sic] when they happen.”
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie called the remarks “outrageous and disrespectful.”
Runcie called such attacks “part of what’s wrong with the narrative in this country. If someone just has a different type of opinion, it seems that we want to somehow demonize them or colour them as being somehow illegitimate instead of listening. We’ll never get beyond that if, as soon as you show up, you’re demonized.”

You can learn more about this from this NBC report:

The other day, I posted about Russian infiltration of American social media, their goal being to sow division and discord. Seems to me that Americans need little outside help in that regard.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Time To Be Atwitter?

I couldn't help but think of this story concerning trolls spreading fake news about Black Panther-related violence when I saw this:

Do I detect a pattern developing?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is Black Panther A Band Aid?

For the past several days, much media attention has been devoted to the film Black Panther, hailed by many as a break-through cinematic achievement featuring an all-Black cast and depicting a fictitious futuristic African nation, Wakanda, which never experienced the scourge of colonialism. That, plus a cast of powerful Black women who form the backbone of the nation. All of this has propelled the movie into stratospheric earnings and a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

All of the above is certainly noteworthy and impressive, and far be it for me to disparage such an accomplishment. I enjoy a solid diverting film as much as the next person, but I cannot help but wonder whether that very diversionary quality is something all should be concerned about. To follow my logic, I ask that you watch two brief news clips, one from an American and one from a Canadian source:

It is nice that high-profile people like Serena Williams and Octavia Spencer are providing the means for young Black people to see the film, and, as made clear in the second clip, little Julian now has a black superhero to look up to and inspire him. Indeed, in Canada a group in Calgary is fundraising to reserve an entire theatre of 350 seats, to take children, tweens and teens to the movie, which has been called historic, on Feb. 24.

The message, to me, is clear: Black people are hungry for role models, those who can inspire them in their own lives. As the one young fellow in the first clip says, "It's our time to shine."

All of which strikes me as both deeply sad and disturbing. Think about it for a moment: a fictional cinematic superhero is the basis upon which people are building their hopes for a more fulfilling life. While not wholly baseless (the employment and empowerment of black actors and a multitude of ancillary businesses), the truth is they are finding self-worth and meaning in something that doesn't exist, a cinematic chimera.

And, I would argue, that particular media hype and slant is making it easier to ignore the underlying issues that make Black lives so difficult, both in Canada and the United States.

Think, for example, of the systemic racism that makes it harder for Black people to find good, sustaining jobs than their white counterparts. Think, as well, of the culture of poverty and the ghettoization that have kept too many from mainstream society for far too long. Think of police checks, carding, etc. etc., all institutional barriers to equality and success.

And yet, the dark subtext of the media coverage of Black Panther seems to be that if young Black people can be inspired by a movie, by God, they will have the capability of picking themselves up by their bootstraps and making something of their lives. In other words, they are ultimately the authors of their own misfortunes.

Victim blaming, anyone?

The media response to movies like Black Panther, it seems to me, simply encourages old stereotypes about Black people and does nothing to address the need for systemic change, equality of opportunity and other measures that would make both the United States and Canada truly countries of opportunity for all.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Political Prostitution

As the spectacle of political prostitution plays out in the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race (Carbon tax? Absolutely not!) (New efficiencies - not new taxes!) Star letter writer Norah Downey of Midland appears to have taken the full measures of the candidates:
PC party sitting down to eat itself alive, Cohn, Feb. 16

After hearing the Progressive Conservative leadership candidates present their arguments indicating why he or she is best to lead their party into the next election — nicely summed up in Martin Regg Cohn’s column — I have a suggestion for the party.

Along with voting to choose a leader on March 10, party members should vote to change the official name of the party. “Progressive” needs to be dropped. It really is just the “Conservative” party, or perhaps the “Stuck in the Past Conservative” party — because things were so much better in the past when Mike Harris trimmed the fat by slashing welfare payments and freezing minimum wage.

It’s 2018, with challenges such as climate change, precarious employment, people unable to find affordable housing and daycare, a growing dependency on food banks and our youth often misinformed about sex learned from the internet and social media.

We need leaders who are prepared to tackle these problems for the betterment of our society. I fear none of these four dinosaurs are up to the challenge.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Ugly American

I'll let the oleaginous Republican Senator Ted Cruz stand in for the rest of his ilk: