Christmas Controversies 4.0

A commentary on this year’s Christmas controversies.

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I do have more to say about China, but since Christmas is rapidly approaching, let’s talk about Christmas. Every year, I’m curious as to what Christmas controversies will erupt. In past years, Starbuck’s Christmas cups spurred controversy and this year seems to be no different. According to The Washington Post, this year’s debate is the same as 2015.  There are claims that Starbucks is not embracing Christmas. The coffee giant said it wanted to “look to the past” for inspiration. It seems there are some people who think the coffee giant’s cups lack Christmas symbolism and thus is an attack on Christmas. Starbucks seems to be ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t.’ I can’t help but think of the idiom, “You can’t please everyone.” The truth is, you will never please everyone, so why bother. Maybe that is the approach Starbucks is taking.

The Guardian has an article, Iceland’s Christmas TV advert rejected for being political, about a controversial ad in United Kingdom. Here is the ad:

A supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, Iceland Foods, pledged removal of palm oil from all its own-brand foods. Habitat loss in countries such as Malaysia – a major global producer of palm oil – has contributed to the orangutan endangerment. The supermarket says, “this is a huge story that needs to be told.”  Iceland Food’s Christmas commercial, about the plight of the critically endangered orangutan, was banned from airing on television.

The ad was pulled from TV because it breached political advertising rules. Ads are prohibited if it is “directed towards a political end.” My question: Was the ad too political because it was affecting sales of palm oil products? The supermarket was merely trying to educate people on the plight of the orangutan. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours (see UN Environment Programme). That is alarming! The world needs to be educated, but if people know this truth they may stop buying palm oil products—therein lies the politics—thus affecting profits. That applies to many products. This isn’t so much a controversy about Christmas as it is about keeping people ignorant. The reality is, for the corporate world, making money is more important than saving the environment or endangered species. There is a so-called Native American saying, “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”  I fear this may become truth.

Black Pete Character

Another interesting controversy is taking place in the Netherlands regarding Black Pete or Black Peter—Zwarte Piet in Dutch—a companion of Saint Nicholas (the Dutch say Sinterklaas). On the feast day of Saint Nicholas, celebrated December 5 in the Netherlands and December 6 in Belgium, this character can be seen.  The character’s depiction typically accompanies Sinterklaas, involves covering the skin in black makeup, wearing black wigs, large earrings and  distributing presents to children. Many people in the Netherlands dress up as Zwarte Piet as well.

Traditions surrounding Zwarte Piet have been controversial since the late 20th century. Opponents to the Black Pete character argue that he stems from Dutch colonial heritage, in which black people were submissive to whites, in other words, enslaved. The Netherlands abolished slavery in 1863.  National Geographic reports,

The character [Black Pete] was popularized in a mid-19th century children’s book written by a man who was very interested in the Dutch royal family members, “one of whom bought a slave in a slave market in Cairo in the mid-19th century,” says Joke Hermes, a professor of media, culture, and citizenship at Inholland University. This slave, Hermes suggests, may have helped inspire the character of Zwarte Piet.

Others reject the stereotypical black features of the figure, such as bright red lips, curly hair and large golden earrings. Some argue that it’s a way the white Dutch people remind black Dutch people that they are tolerated but not yet fully accepted citizens. National Geographic reports that white supremacists raised Nazi salutes at the Sinterklass parade in the Dutch city of Hoorn, and flew neo-Nazi flags at the one in Zaandijk. In Eindhoven, an estimated 250 white extremists chanted racist slogans and threw eggs and beer cans at people peacefully protesting the parade.

Now the question is: Should this tradition continue or should it discontinue as it promotes racism or at least keeps alive a racist past? Many argue that Black Pete is harmless fun. Which is more important, tradition or preserving peace? We are living during a time when racism seems to acceptable and even encouraged by some politicians. If black Dutch people, whose ancestors were slaves, are offended, then the tradition is unacceptable! Any traditional Christmas character that prompts white supremacists to raise Nazi salutes needs to be rejected.

The biggest Christmas controversy of 2018 surrounds the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a popular song written by Frank Loesser in 1944. It is a duet in which a host, usually performed by a male voice, tries to convince a guest, usually performed by a female voice, that she should stay the evening because the weather is cold and the trip home could be problematic. While the lyrics make no mention of any holiday, it is popularly regarded as a Christmas song due to its winter theme. If you’re unfamiliar with the song—I was—here it is.

Why is an old song causing so much controversy to the extent where it is being refused to be played on some radio stations.  CBC News explains that the song is offensive because of the man’s refusal to accept the woman’s “No” for an answer. It says many modern listeners view the song as “coercive and problematic.” For an in-depth analysis of the lyrics, see Vox.

Ironically, recently on my Facebook feed, was a post that forcibly argued that this controversy was ridiculous as people know that the song was written in the 1940s, and must be interpreted in light of the times. I doubt young people know this. In the 1940s it was considered a romantic, innocent song. This individual argued that there are worse things, like violent video games, that we should be concerned with rather than an old Christmas song.

Even though the author made some valid arguments, we must be sensitive to the fact that we now live in a #metoo era. The Me Too (#MeToo) movement is a crusade against sexual harassment and sexual assault. This year has been filled with numerous women coming forward with sexual harassment and assault allegations against celebrities, coaches, and politicians, all people with money and power. The current resident of the U.S. Whitehouse has had several accusations lodged against him. This is an issue not to be taken lightly.

A global rape prevention organization known as, No Means No Worldwide (NMNW), has a mission to end sexual violence against women and children. According to this organization,

Globally, an estimated 35% of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. In Africa, that percentage increases to 45%. According to the UN Population Fund, almost 50% of all sexual assault victims are girls age 15 or younger. In the slums of Nairobi, where our programming started, 1 in 4 girls are raped every year.

This organization teaches a preventative program. In other words, when a woman, child, or man for that matter, says NO, then they mean no. In the song, the female declares her intentions, “I simply must go.” The male’s response, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” She declares her intentions again, “The answer is no.” The guy’s response, “Ooh baby, it’s cold outside.” Later in the song, the guy plays with her emotions (my interpretation) saying, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride,” and “Baby don’t hold out.”  Now I can see why people would take offense to this song. The male character in the song doesn’t respect the female’s answer of no. No doesn’t mean no to him. It means maybe, hopefully, try harder and so on.

An article titled, What Nobody Wants To Admit About Rape Culture, says,

One of the most common occurrences when a woman has been raped is that her entire sexual history is brought up and used against her. The point of this attack is not that rape is okay, it’s that she’s a slut so she must have consented, right? Therefore it’s not rape. When guys are told “When a woman says no, she means try harder,” it doesn’t mean that rape is okay. It means that a woman is still consenting even if she says no. Therefore it’s not rape.

Does this song promote the rape—legally known as sexual assault—culture? Seems to. Should a song that is a traditional Christmas song—even that is open to debate—that may preserve a rape culture  be aired on radio because ‘it’s traditional? No. Should radio take this as an opportunity to teach about the objectionable parts of the song? Yes. Just because a song is a traditional Christmas song doesn’t make it acceptable. W. Edwards Deming, an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, and lecturer, once said, “Two basic rules of life are: 1) Change is inevitable. 2) Everybody resists change.” Sometimes Christmas traditions have to change. Airing of this song may be one of them.

When Lydia Liza heard the song, she was offended. She disliked the song so much, she recorded her own, “consensual” version with fellow musician Josiah Lemanski, in 2016.  In other words, she disliked the traditional version, so she changed it, and that is okay. I’ll end with Lydia’s version.

China Gave Me Much to Think About

Some thoughts on the recent trip to China

Tiananmen Square , Beijing

On November 20th, I returned home from an eleven-day trip to China. It was indeed a busy, yet educational adventure. The trip made me wonder about economic and political systems. Is capitalism better than communism? Canada is considered a mixed economy where there are some government owned corporations as well as privately owned businesses.

I grew up during the Cold War, continuously hearing about the evils of communism. North Americans were indoctrinated to believe communism was immoral and we were to fear it. I heard U.S. presidents such as, Richard Nixon, say, “The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting,” and John F. Kennedy saying, “Communism has never come to power in a country that was not disrupted by war or corruption, or both.”  I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and fearing a nuclear war.

First let’s be clear on the difference between communism and capitalism. The word ‘communism’ has Latin roots, communi, which means ‘common.’ Although it is more complicated, simply put, in communism, everything is owned communally. Ideally, there is no government or class division, and wealth is distributed among people based on their needs; each person contributes to society as best as he or she is able, and takes from that society only what he or she needs. Communism is based on the principle of economic equality. Capitalism, on the other hand, stems from the word, capital, or the “means of production,” which is owned, operated, and supplied to generate profits for private owners or shareholders. Simply put, capitalism is an economic system which individuals own economic resources and industry.  Capitalism is based on the principles of profit and competition.

Climbing Great Wall of China

Based on what I observed, China seemed to have both systems. Many of the places we visited, such as the Jade factory, the pearl factory and embroidery Institute were all government-owned businesses. Free enterprise, or private businesses, were in China as well. We were told that Jack Ma, the co-founder and chairman of Alibaba, (equivalent to Amazon in North America) was the richest man in China.  We visited markets in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai where small businesses were selling all sorts of things.

Something I noticed about the Chinese people is that they have a great love for their country. They speak of Chairman Mao, China’s revolutionary leader, with love and affection. Forbes describes China’s present leader  Xi Jinping as having a dream of a “moderately prosperous society,” instead of a communist utopia. He talks about “national rejuvenation,” and a China with a space program, high-speed rail network and high technology parks. One of our tour guides said Xi Jinping most known sayings—at least in China—is, “If it is good for China, then China will do it.” It seems to work as China is growing rapidly. Forbes says, China is on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world. It reports that in just one generation, 300 million+ people went from rural subsistence farming to urban industrial and technology jobs. The United States has always been considered the world’s economic power house in modern times, but the New York Times says,

Emerging signs of weakness in major economic sectors…are prompting some forecasters to warn that one of the longest periods of economic growth in American history may be approaching the end of its run.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

Another thing I observed while visiting China, was how happy the Chinese people were. In fact, one of my travel partners commented on how happy the Chinese people were, and how unhappy the people back home were because they were always complaining. The Chinese government does takes care of its people. For example, their government provides exercise parks for their retired citizens. We visited one at the Temple of Heaven Park. The Chinese people were happy to show us how the various machines worked. In this Beijing park, we saw musicians and large groups of people singing loudly and looked to be having fun. We also witnessed this at the Summer Palace. In fact, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. Unemployment, we were told, was non-existent. One of our tour guides told us that unless retired, everyone had a job. I saw numerous people with brooms cleaning the streets and removing falling autumn leaves. There was virtually no garbage anywhere.

Rickshaw Ride

China’s political system is drastically different from democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. China has a one-party system; the Communist Party. We asked about what Chinese people thought about the politics of their country. The guide’s response (paraphrased) was Chinese people really don’t care about politics or their government. As long as people are living a good life, have a job and making money, they are happy. He said there is consistency with a one-party system as when there is a change in leadership, the policy of the previous government continues. Then our tour guide said something thought-provoking. He said in the democratic world, little is accomplished as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a new party is elected, they reverse the previous party’s policies, thus little progress is made.

Now this made me think. It’s true. In Canada, when a new party takes power—presently it’s the Liberal Party—they change many of the policies put into place by the previous ruling Conservative Party. In the United States, the Trump administration—Republicans—are reversing and changing many of the policies that the Obama administration—Democrats—put in place. It’s accurate, there is no consistency in policy. No wonder little progress occurs. The U.S. is a very divided country, and Canada has its divisions as well. China, because it is a one-party system, is relatively united.

Now I’m not saying that China doesn’t have problems, it does. According to Global Risk Insights,

“Land disputes, labour strikes and environmental concerns have been frequently cited as the leading causes of protest across China in recent years, as the drive for growth has resulted in the destruction of farmland, the proliferation of polluting factories and waste plants, and poor labour rights.”

Smog was prevalent in Beijing. I’m sure we visited only places the government wanted us to see. We saw none of the negative parts of society. But that is also true of tours taken in democratic countries I’ve visited.

Chinese Market

It was obvious that the Chinese people are likely one of the most watched people in the world. I saw cameras everywhere. But is it any different in the “free world?” According to Crime Feed, an average American citizen can be caught on camera more than 75 times a day. I was unable find stats on Canada, but likely it is no different in my country. When we entered China, we had finger prints electronically taken, and our passports were scanned by every hotel. We, as foreigners, were tracked. We in the “free world” like to think we have freedom, but the reality is our phones are tracked and our Internet activity is monitored. The Huffpost has an article, 9 Ways You’re Being Spied On Every Day, where it talks of all the ways we are being monitored. In reality, we are just as watched as people in China.

You’re probably wondering if I am a communist. No, I don’t believe so although the idea of economic equality and doing what is best for everyone makes sense. Am I pro-capitalism? Not when I hear stories such as General Motors laying off thousands of workers by closing one plant in Canada and four in the U.S. This is a company that earned $35.79 billion in 2018 in revenue, up 6 percent from $33.62 billion during the same quarter in 2017 (see GM).  Or, when I learn that Sears is seeking court approval to pay its executives as much as $25 million in annual bonuses when the company has declared bankruptcy. Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business (see CNN). Furthermore, Sears pensions were cut by 20%, yet billions in payouts to shareholders happened (see Union). Rewarding people whose decisions caused bankruptcy makes no sense. Putting shareholders before workers is unjust.

Terracotta Warriors

American celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, once uttered, “I don’t really view communism as a bad thing.”  I agree with Whoopi. Canadian-born economist, public official, and diplomat, John Kenneth Galbraith, once wrote, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” Exploitation occurs in both economic systems. There are pros and cons to both economic systems and both forms of government. Neal Donald Walsh, in one of his Conversations with God books, wrote, “Your way is not the only way, it is just a way.” That quote sums up my point of view.

DNA: The Mystery Molecule

A commentary on the effects of trauma.

DNA: A double helix molecule

One of many subjects I taught in high school was biology, otherwise known as life science. One of my favourite topics to teach was on DNA which stands for Deoxyribonucleic acid. I always told my students—because that is what science told us—that DNA doesn’t change except when a mutation occurs. A mutation is a change in the DNA’s code. A number of months back, my daughter, who is presently studying in Ireland, talked about a study she read about.  The study was done on Holocaust survivors where the researchers determined that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered were capable of being passed on to the next generation . I was quite fascinated with this idea as I had always believed change cannot occur in DNA unless there was a mutation.  This suggests that a person’s life experience can affect succeeding generations.

How can our life experience change our DNA? I wanted to know, so I did some research. There is a branch of study know as Epigenetics which studies how a person’s experiences can affect how their genes are expressed.  LiveScience says these “epigenetic changes are biological markers on DNA that modify gene expression without altering the underlying sequence. It says researchers have found that environmental factors, such as trauma, stress and even diet, can activate epigenetic changes.” In case you are not sure what is meant by gene expression, it is the process by which genetic instructions—the DNA code—is used to synthesize gene products. These products are usually proteins, which go on to perform essential functions as enzymes, hormones and receptors.

More specifically, environmental factors may alter a person’s genetic expression though chemical tags attached to DNA that turn genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that these tags might somehow be passed on to future generations thereby affecting the way their DNA is expressed. A CBC article talks of a McGill University study where researchers found that rat offspring raised by mothers that were anxious and non nurturing became anxious when they became adults, whereas offspring raised by relaxed, high-nurturing mother rats became relaxed adults when they grew up.

This has huge repercussions.  A CBC article, Researcher proposes study on how residential school trauma may have affected genes, tells of an indigenous researcher who is wondering if the experiences of residential school survivors had lasting effects on their genes.  Another CBC article, How ‘vicarious trauma’ is passed down from parent to child in military families, says there is a new generation of children grappling with effects of parents with PTSD from Afghanistan deployments. It is documented that children of traumatized people are at increased risk for mood and anxiety disorders and the article suggests this might relate to epigenetics. A Scientific American article, Changing Our DNA through Mind Control? reports a study that found meditating cancer patients are able to affect the makeup of their DNA.

National Human Genome Research Institute has an article, Child abuse leaves epigenetic marks, which sites research showing that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) patients who were abused as children have different patterns of DNA methylation, the process of replacing a hydrogen atom with a methyl group,  and gene expression compared to those who were not.

Researchers at Tulane University School of Medicine have found that exposure to violence, suicide or the incarceration of a family member can leave lasting marks on stretches of DNA called telomeres in children. Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA found at the end of chromosomes that act as protective caps. Telomeres shorten a little bit every time a cell replicates until they reach a certain limit whereby cells will no longer replicate.

Science Alert has an article, Depression Can Physically Change Your DNA, Study Suggests, which describes how researchers from the United Kingdom have found evidence that depression doesn’t just change our brains, but also alters our DNA and the way our cells generate energy.

An Huffpost article, Suicide and Trauma May Be Woven in DNA for Native Americans, says researchers found that Native people have high rates of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and health problems such as post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, and diabetes which are all linked with methylation of genes regulating the body’s response to stress.

from http://www.howmanypeopledied.net

I’ve already referred to the study on Holocaust survivors, where a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital did a genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had to hide during the second world war (see Holocaust). The researchers also analyzed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders compared with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. Their conclusions:

This is the first demonstration of an association of preconception parental trauma with epigenetic alterations that is evident in both exposed parent and offspring, providing potential insight into how severe psychophysiological trauma can have intergenerational effects.

Perhaps there is more to this. Science Daily has an article called, DNA Is Dynamic and Has High Energy; Not Stiff or Static as First Envisioned. It says researchers are now saying DNA is not stiff or static. It is dynamic with high energy existing naturally in a slightly underwound state and its status changes in waves generated by normal cell functions such as DNA replication, transcription (the making of ribonucleic acid or RNA), and repair. The article says DNA is accompanied by a cloud of counterions (charged particles that neutralize the genetic material’s very negative charge). In other words, there is an energy field around a DNA molecule.

The article, Quantum Entanglement Holds DNA Together, Say Physicists,  says a group of physicists claim that the weird laws of quantum mechanics may be more important for life than biologists could ever have imagined. They say DNA is held together by quantum entanglement.

These physicists describe a simplified theoretical model of DNA in which each nucleotide—the main building block of DNA—consists of a cloud of electrons around a central positive nucleus. This negative cloud can move relative to the nucleus and so moves back and forth like a harmonic oscillator. When the nucleotides bond to form a base, these clouds must oscillate in opposite directions to ensure the stability of the structure.  In other words, energy is a part of the DNA molecule.

The Metaphysical Institute, maintain that humans have an integrated energy field known as the Aura which has a number of layers that surround us and permeate our bodies and cells. The different layers or fields within our Auras each have different purposes. The institute says all diseases, illnesses, injuries, mental and physical problems are caused in part by disturbances in energy fields. Research has found that disturbances show up in the fields before any disease or other problem appears.

Researchers discovered that DNA naturally fluoresces, is an article by Phys.org. The article says a Northwestern University team recently caught fluorescing, the property of absorbing light of short wavelength and emitting light of longer wavelength, in DNA. In other words, DNA involves the absorption or emission of energy. Some are even suggesting that one of the major functions of human DNA is that it receives and transmits energy. Some spiritual writers say the passing on of environmental influences of DNA involves the molecule’s energy field. This comes to no surprise to me as Albert Einstein once said,

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality that you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy, this is physics.”

No matter how these genetic changes are passed on to future generations doesn’t matter. What matters is that science is showing that trauma affects us humans genetically and so therefore can be passed on to future generations. Now that we are aware of this, it is imperative that we take preventative measures to prevent traumas such as violence, racism, or anything that creates stress. I know that is a tall order, but for the sake of future generations, it is imperative that we do so!

Water is Scarce, You Say!

A commentary on the status of the world’s freshwater supply.

Cape Town’s Reservoir From: http://www.capetownpartnership.co.za

Lately I’ve heard people talk about the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa and I’ve seen the occasional post on Facebook about it. Often, I am skeptical when it comes to posts I see on Facebook. To quote Donald Trump, it could be Fake News. I try to stick to reputable websites when doing my posts. Curious about this water shortage, I did some research. It seems the talk I’ve heard and the posts I’ve seen are true. Cape Town is running out of water.

According to a CBC News article titled, Cape Town water crisis prompts rationing to prevent Day Zero tap shutoff,  a city with 4 million people, Cape Town’s main water source is now at about 27 per cent, but the final 10 per cent is considered unusable because of mud, weeds and debris at the bottom. The city’s managers have instructed residents, starting February 1st, to use only 50 litres of water daily, a decrease from the current 87-litre limit. Day Zero, the day when authorities would force the closure of most taps, is projected to arrive on April 12, but some fear it could come sooner.  The hope is water rationing will prolong Day Zero. The city says it would have to turn off most taps if the average reservoir level falls below 13.5 per cent. If Day Zero arrives, many people would have to go to collection points for a daily ration of 25 litres.

That’s rather disturbing to say the least. Four million people living in a city without water. Reading this got me wondering if water shortages are happening in other locations. It seems there are shortages elsewhere. There have been water shortage scares in the United States, especially in the states of Arizona and California.  Two years ago there was much concern that parts of California would experience a water shortage (see: NYT). Thankfully, heavy winter snows in the Rocky Mountains have rescued Western U.S. cities such as Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa for 2018 (see: Daily Herald).

Does that mean people living in the Western United States can give a sigh of relief? No, it does not. In 2015, the UN Predicted there would be serious water shortages by 2030.  The UN’s World Water Development Report  says, the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030 without significant global policy change. It says countries like India are rapidly depleting their groundwater and rainfall patterns around the world are becoming more unpredictable due to global warming.

According to a National Geographic article entitled, What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars, states that fears are being sounded about the depletion of underground water supplies known as aquifers. More specifically, an aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rock, sediment, or soil that produces water. About 30 percent of the planet’s available freshwater is in the aquifers located under every continent. According to this article, the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia (Europe and Asia), and the Americas are under stress. It is interesting to learn that over two-thirds of the groundwater consumed around the world is for irrigation purposes for agriculture, while the rest supplies drinking water to cities. The article says, Beijing is experiencing sinking because soil collapses into the space created as groundwater is depleted. Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, and other cities are also sinking because of shrinking aquifers. Sections of California’s Central Valley have dropped by 38 centimetres, and in some localized areas, by as much as 8.5 metres.

Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, once said, “Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict.”  He may be right. A Newsweek Article, The World will soon be at war over water, lists seven conflicts over water that have already happened. What’s interesting to me is I had no idea that these conflicts were over water. I was happy to read that some of the hottest conflicts over the water supply have been resolved through negotiation.

American composer, musician and poet, Michael Franti once said,

“If we do not change our negative habits toward climate change, we can count on worldwide disruptions in food production, resulting in mass migration, refugee crises and increased conflict over scarce natural resources like water and farm land. This is a recipe for major security problems.”

Mr. Franti is right. Humanity needs to “wake up” and realize that we must change our practices; our practices towards climate change, our habits towards water usage and even the way agriculture is practiced. The reality is water is a limited resource. As 1937 Nobel Prize recipient Albert Szent-Gyorgyi once said, Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”  Let’s face reality. If our water supply runs out, we are doomed.

In September of 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” (see: UN declaration). Slovenia in July of 2017 officially declared that having access to drinkable water is a human right. This announcement was made following a vote by the Slovenian parliament who voted in favour of the law that prevents the country’s water sources from being commercialized (see: Slovenia). I say “bravo”! A round of applause for Slovenia. Other countries should be following in Solvenia’s footsteps.

Now I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. I would rather be an optimist., which begs the question: Are there solutions to a water crisis besides conflict? Yes. According to the Canada Free Press’ article, Israel holds the solution to world water crisis, Israel has many new innovative products and policies. Some of these are drip irrigation and “fertigation,” a process of injecting fertilizers, soil amendments, and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system. Israel promotes dual-flush toilets, seawater desalination, advanced wastewater treatment and reuse, free-market pricing of water, drought-resistant seeds, cutting-edge metering and leak-detection systems, conservation education and precision agriculture. These are some of the ways we can use water in a more sustainable way. We just need to ‘wake up’ and demand that changes be made.

Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

Bill Nye, the Science Guy (from CBC.ca)

CBC recently published an article, Global March for Science which caught my attention. When I read the headline, I was immediately curious as to why a global protest about science was going on. I had never heard of such a thing before and being as I was science teacher, my curiosity got the best of me.

The article reports that scientists along with their supporters marched in hundreds of cities around the world on Earth Day protesting against proposed U.S. government funding cuts to scientific research and public rejection of established science such as climate change. People in at least 18 locations across Canada are participating in marches to promote and advocate for science.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22.  Assorted events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection worldwide. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now events are held in more than 193 countries.

The purpose of the global march was to spread the message that science matters. Protesters are saying to the politicians who try to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science are a risk to the planet and so they are speaking out against it. While climate change is a major issue, protestors are also concerned about a number of Trump’s executive orders and his proposed budget, which proposes massive cuts to scientific research.

So, my next thought was what is this inexperienced, seemingly uninformed president doing south of our border to rile up the science community?. Anything that Trump does regarding the environment is concerning to me since their environmental policies directly affect my country. Acid precipitation is a good example of that. I proceeded to do some research.

Times article, Donald Trump’s Science Denial Is Becoming National Policy, reports soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the official White House website purged all mentions of climate from the site except one,  the promise to eliminate the “harmful and unnecessary” Climate Action Plan implemented by former President Obama. Soon thereafter, scientists and other employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were told not to speak to the public. When a National Park Service Twitter account sent out impartial facts, the White House had them deleted, plus the EPA was told to take down its climate-change page. Climate change is a huge issue and Trump did tweet on November 6, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Then on October 19, 2015, Trump tweeted: “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” This clearly tells me that this man is ignorant of science.

The Times article also says Trump appointed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccine activist to run a commission on immunization safety. Both Trump and Kennedy have spread far-flung theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject. Experts have warned the refusal to immunize is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids. Trump also appointed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and has supported deregulation. Trump is also known to have called the fact that asbestos causes cancer a “con” and even refused to believe the objective scientific reality of drought in California.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Susan Margaret Collins, a Senator who is generally seen as the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate, said she was not convinced that Pruitt would protect public health. According to USA Today, she quoted as saying;

I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.

National Geographic’s, A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment, reports that Trump’s proposed budget plans deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies, especially EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to increase defence spending by $54 billion. Actions speak louder than words. Even though Trump says, “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families,” the fact that he is proposing a cut of 31% to the EPA tells me how he really feels about protecting the environment. I find this alarming. Americans should be as well.

National Geographic also say that against the advice of the EPA’s chemical safety experts, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a decade-old petition asking that the EPA ban all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2000, the EPA banned its use in households, but the pesticide is still used on farms, which EPA scientists recommended stop. Even though Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s manufacturer, argues that it is safe when properly used, research suggests that chlorpyrifos may be associated with brain damage in children and farm workers, even at low exposures.

That same article claims President Trump signed a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule.” That rule, put in place by President Obama, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. It seems that mining companies are now free to throw whatever waste they desire in American waterways. These wastes eventually end up in the ocean and affect the ocean’s health. Once again, alarming.

So, is the world’s science community and all its supporters over reacting? Based upon my research, NO! I’ve only mentioned some of the policy changes made by the Trump administration. These policy changes are ALARMING to say the least. I am concerned about the planet. Trump’s choices affect the planet as the U.S.A. is the second largest contributor (15%) of greenhouse gases in the world, second only to China at 22.7% (see Gas Emissions, 2010). Canada only emits 1.7%. I personally would like an inhabitable planet for my children and grandchildren to reside on. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2006, says it best. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What [hu]mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”.

Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

What happened to the Golden Rule?

the-golden-rule.gifGrowing up I was always reminded of the Golden Rule, both at school and by my parents. Being raised in a Christian community this rule was always emphasized. It wasn’t always stated as “treat others the way you wish to be treated” but often in other ways such as, “show respect to your elders” and “always respect your teachers.” I have always believed that if all people could bring themselves to live by this ethic, humankind would be in a much better place.

The Ethic of Reciprocity, or what is better known as the Golden Rule, simply states that we are to treat other people the same way we would wish to be treated. It can be worded in various forms. Wikipedia describes this rule in three forms:

  1. Positive or directive form: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
  2. Negative or prohibitive form: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
  3. Empathic or responsive form: What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.

No matter how the rule is stated, it boils down to the word respect. Merriam Webster dictionary defines respect as “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc” or 
as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” So when a person shows respect for another then they treat that person the way they would wish to be treated.

What always astounded me about the Golden Rule is that all organized religions have this ethic.

  • In Christianity it is found in Matthew 7:12 (NRSV) of the Christian bible where it is written, ‘in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
  • In the Buddhist tradition it is found in a collection of verses known as the Udanavarga. In chapter 5, verse 18 of the Udanavarga it says, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
  • In Hinduism, it is found in their sacred scriptures Mahabharata 5:1517 where it is written, this is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
  • Judaism has it in two places, the Talmud and Book of Tobit. The first book of the Talmud is about Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. In Shabbat 31a. It states, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” In the Jewish scriptures, specifically the book of Tobit, it says, “And what you hate, do not do to any one.” (4:15)
  • In Islam, it can be found in a compilation of forty hadiths by Imam al-Nawawi, an influential Sunni hadith scholar. A hadith is one of various reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, it says, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

The Golden Rule is such a simple thing and makes a lot of sense. It begs the question, why is it so important to live by the Golden Rule. The answer to that question has to do with the idiom, “What goes around comes around” or stated another way, “as you sow, so shall you reap”. These are simply reminding us that when people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them. This is what the expression, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” refers to as well. An individual must accept the unpleasant results of something they have done. Really all of these expressions could be understood as karma, the law of cause and effect. Karma is a Sanskrit term that literally means “action” or “doing”. In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to action driven by intention, which leads to future consequences. Good intent contributes to good karma and happiness in the future, while bad intent contribute to bad karma and suffering in the future.

The Huffington Post article on Karma puts it this way:

“Everything we say and do determines what’s going to happen to us in the future. Whether we act honestly, dishonestly, help or hurt others, it all gets recorded and manifests as a karmic reaction either in this life or a future life…There is no exact formula that is provided for how and when karmic reactions will appear in our lives, but one can be sure they will appear in some form or other. One may be able to get away with a crime they committed, or avoid paying taxes, but according to karma, no one gets away with anything for long.”

What I find even more thought provoking is that science supports this idea of “cause and effect”.  Science, specifically Quantum Physics, is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. There is a theory known as quantum entanglement. According to Space.com, the theory states when changing one particle it changes the other even if they are on opposite sides of the galaxy, 100,000 light-years apart. In other words, they behave like one object even though they are physically apart. Einstein called this idea “spooky action at a distance”.

Quantum Entanglement: What It Is And Why It’s Relevant says,

“Quantum entanglement means that every action, thought, feeling and emotion is connected and can affect the whole in one manner or another. We are all made up of atoms, photons and electrons. We are all in a constant state of vibration. Our emotions, feelings, hearts and minds have the ability to affect what frequency our molecular structure vibrates at. Quantum entanglement is observed at a physical level, meaning what we do to one particle at one location, happens for another particle at the a different location.”

So even science reinforces the idea that every single thing that a person does, thinks, etc. has an affect. Now I know from experience that when I said something hurtful to a student or to a family member there was an effect. The impact was typically in the form of parental wrath or an angry family member.

9-11We’ve all felt the impact of the actions of an individual or group of people. There are many examples of this in history, such as the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. The affect of this event has made many people fearful and afraid to travel. We still feel the effects of the 9/11 attack in New York City as flight travel is much more cumbersome with all the extra security. Terrorism initiated by ISIL or ISIS caused much of world community to participate in a bombing campaign, bombing areas where the terrorists were located. What goes around comes around.

It’s fair to say that one person can impact the world. We just need to look at the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior to see this. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

So remember every action you take, every word you say to someone, or even every action you don’t take has an impact on your community, on your planet or maybe even the universe. It seems to me that in this time of Islamophobia, fear of terrorists, and anti-immigration, the Golden Rule is very much needed. Perhaps people (no names mentioned) who spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric ought to remember, “What goes around comes around”.