Our reading group chose this most interesting and challenging topic for discussion this month. Interesting because of its prominence and relevance in our world today, and challenging because of its abstract and obscure theory and its specialized vocabulary and epistemology.
This book by Allan Batteau (2010), which came up in background research for our next book club meeting, might more appropriately be titled ‘The Culture of Technology’. The author is a cultural anthropologist at Wayne State University, graduate of the renowned Case Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago, with a background in aviation engineering. Coming from a classical humanities background, I found it a readable and informative look into the place that Technology (with a capital T) occupies in contemporary Western society, how it has shaped our culture in both the broad and narrow senses, and the risks it presents.
These days, the evening TV news and the morning paper bring us daily doses of events and forecasts we could never have imagined a mere three months ago. 13,000 deaths in the USA alone (April 8)? 18,000 in Italy!!?? Major industrialized countries locked down, their industries at a standstill and their citizens confined to their homes? Trillions of dollars being shovelled out to keep economies from collapse?
Nearer to home, almost every school, university and restaurant and bar in the country closed until further notice? Hospitals running out of face masks and rubber gloves? Up to 15,000 deaths projected just for Ontario? Almost 3,000,000 Employment Insurance claims in the last three weeks? Is there ever going to be any light at the end of the tunnel, anything in the news to lift our spirits?
Well, every so often a glimmer of something to lift our spirits. This morning’s Ottawa Citizen contained an article praising the public service! Yes, a Postmedia publication saying something positive about the people who keep the government’s operations going in these critical times! John Ivison lauding the EI and CRA employees who cleared 2.24 million claims by April 6 -- 500,000 in 24 hours alone after re-jigging the 46-year old COBOL-based computer system, saying that “they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure their fellow citizens can afford food and shelter.” Nice, too, to hear them referred to as public servants, not as ‘bureaucrats’.
And they certainly do deserve our praise in these challenging times. So do the tens of thousands of other public servants working from home on overloaded systems to keep our mammoth and complex government operations going, while tending to out-of-school children clamouring for attention (and now, for access to the computer and the internet for their on-line classes). Hopefully we will hear some recognition for them as well from the national newspapers and the CBC/CTV ‘opinionators’, the radio talkshow hosts and the twitterworld of social media.
We might want to bear in mind that it’s not just during this Covid-19 crisis that we get this kind of dedication from our public servants. It’s easy to bad-mouth ‘faceless bureaucrats’ for the amount of time it usually takes in less troubled times to process apparently simple applications and services -- time usually required to conform to the numerous and detailed regulations and procedures put in place to ensure the integrity, transparency, fairness and accountability that taxpayers, politicians, the media and the Auditor-General expect.
Yes, things often take more time than we would like. Yes, every so often we run up against someone with an unpleasant disposition who drags his or her feet, or puts us through unnecessary hoops -- or maybe is just having a bad day. But most of the time, by a wide margin, we are getting from our public servants the best service that the system can provide and, not infrequently, “above and beyond the call of duty”. We should remember that when these Covid-19 days are over.
I spent a couple of weeks in Bolivia last month, after an absence of almost 15 years (with the exception of a short visit six years ago). It was a delight to return to one of the most beautiful and fascinating countries in Latin America, rich in history, culture and social diversity. I could not but be impressed by the changes that had taken place. I spent as much time as I could talking to old friends, shopkeepers and students in La Paz and Cochabamba about what was going on in the country, as well as looking through magazines and newspapers. Much of the background information and factual detail in this article has been gleaned from these conversations with ordinary citizens as well as from the excellent website of the newspaper Pagina Siete.
Temiskaming Treasures (or, “you were wrong, Thomas Wolfe...”)
....you can go back home again. And that is what I did a couple of weeks ago.
New Liskeard is a pleasant town of about 4,000 in Northern Ontario at the head of Lake Temiskaming that I left in 1952 when I was 14 and had only revisited briefly twice - the last time almost 40 years ago. Not that I had anything against returning, it’s just that studies, life overseas, jobs, family and all that made the 500 km drive from Ottawa something to be constantly set aside for another year (or decade).
Si marcher Compostelle pendant deux semaines en juillet 2017 a permis un bilan personnel réconfortant, parcourir en 2018 le Rwanda en famille le fut encore plus. C'était un très vieux projet pour les 12 ans de Maïka, notre petite-fille. Notre fils Éric n'y était pas retourné depuis 1983, 35 ans. Voyage extraordinairement réussi. Je vais essayer d'être factuel et réaliste. J'ai été un peu ébloui par les constats. J'ai donc essayé de confirmer par des informations les plus objectives disponibles mes coups de cœur. Je vous laisse donc apprécier.
While much of my education about pop culture in the 21st c. is provided by my 12-year old grandson during our early morning walks with his dog, Canadian history is not one of our hotter topics . Recently, however, a passing question about the settlement of New France led me to dig around and discover several little known events in our national story.
The children are long since graduated and the grandchild hasn=t started nursery yet, but I still look forward to the start of the school year. It means that the Algonquin Restaurant International will be open for business again and I can treat the wife and myself to one of Ottawa's best-kept (and best-tasting) gastronomical secrets.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
Jonathan Haidt. Pantheon Books, NY, 2012, 420 pp.
In this highly readable and stimulating book Jonathan Haidt sets out and justifies his Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) and how it applies to the current socio-cultural and political environment in the USA. MFT postulates that humans in all societies are governed by six instinctive responses in their relations to their ‘moral environment’ and that these six responses are essential to a healthy balance both in the collective social order and in the individual’s engagement in society.
Just at a time when the theatres and video stores seem to be treating us to one long stream of inane teen-sex comedies, morbid slasher films, ghost-and-demon dramas and unbearably (and interminably) cute cartoons dressed up as feature films, along comes one that really makes one enjoy watching movies again. Now, if only they can do something about the reek of greasy french fries and oily popcorn that the customers stuff themselves with, the theatres themselves might become equally enjoyable.
My wife, Teresa, and I arrived in sunny 30°C Montevideo on February 18, the weekend that the parliamentarians of the newly elected government of President Tabare Vazquez were sworn in. It was the first avowedly leftist government in South America to have won a clear electoral and parliamentary majority. Twenty-five years ago, many of its members were languishing in political prisons. It is hard to seize the scope of such a historical political change in a week and even harder to cover it in a few paragraphs, but for the benefit of those who had to stay behind in sub-zero Ottawa in February I shall try to set out the context and summarize my impressions.
Towards the middle of January we had finished off the last of the Christmas turkey leftovers, we were into our fourth straight week of daytime highs below -10C and we had moved well beyond our saturation point for breathless CBC reports and righteous Citizen headlines about the sponsorship scandal. Isn't it summertime in South America, I asked my wife, Isn't it about time we visited the family in Bolivia and, while we are down there, looked in on some of our old friends in Uruguay?
My wife and I spent the first two weeks of February in Bolivia, visiting family and friends and taking in the Carnival celebrations that, while less known than those in Rio de Janeiro -- are among the most exuberant expressions of popular culture in Latin America. Our visit also gave us an opportunity to observe at first hand the political effervescence that had led the country to the brink of near-anarchy -- the meltdown of effective national government...
It came to me as one of life's little epiphanies.One of those revelations that, like a lit window at the end of a dark street, both illuminates and comforts. We were standing, George H and I, warming ourselves on a chilly June day by a street vendor's brazier on the corner of Arenales and Plaza Washington, a couple of years before the Canadian Embassy in Lima relocated in 1975 to Miraflores.
Part of the price for a fully retired life is being pretty well out of the loop. It was in a line-up at the supermarket on Holy Saturday that I learned of the death of Dwight Fulford, some four years ago. He wasn’t a close friend - more of a good acquaintance, really, as we ran into each a couple of times a year at the Bytowne Theatre or some neighbourhood function in Alta Vista. Nonetheless, the news left me feeling that I had lost something: a chance, perhaps, to say goodbye and to remind him of why I held him in such high esteem.
You know how it always starts. You bend down absentmindedly to flick away a loose chip of paint on the dining room baseboard, then you scratch off a bit more, and next thing you know, you’re repainting the whole room and remodelling the kitchen.
One of the things about living overseas is that you are able to see your country through slightly different lenses when you return – sometimes more depth of field, sometimes more peripheral vision, and some times with less (or perhaps just different) distortion. In our case, when we returned from India after a couple of years away, I was struck by how much the demography of Ottawa had changed.