Loi 96: A Zero-Sum Game

June 28, 2022 § Leave a comment

The government of Québec has passed Loi 96, an insanely restrictive language law designed to incapacitate Montréal. Montréal has, in recent years, been Anglicized, or at least it seems that way. Anecdotally, I hear more English across the city in the past few years than I ever have, and not just in the traditional areas of downtown, the sud-ouest, or NDG, but also in Rosemont-Petite Patrie, Parc Ex, Villeray. But it’s not just French and English you hear on the streets of Montréal. In all reality, the city has become incredibly diverse in recent years, and now it is common to hear pretty much any language you can imagine on the streets of the metropole. And this is concerning to the rest of the province, clearly. As it is, the relationship between Montréal and Québec is uncertain; roughly half of the province/nation’s 8.5 million people live in the Montréal sprawl. It is a very large, multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual city. The rest of Québec, not so much. It is more than predominately French-speaking and white. Immigrants tend to flock to the big city, or the suburbs of Ottawa, as this is where economic opportunity is greatest.

Montréal, though, has nearly died before. In the wake of the Parti Québécois winning power for the first time in 1976, Anglos and business left Montréal in a terrifying wave. For most of Canada’s history, Montréal had been the predominant city, and while it was already fading by 1970, with Toronto assuming the mantle, the wake of 1976 saw an exodus. Corporations left for Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. So did the people. My own family was part of this exodus. We left for, first, Toronto, in winter 1978 before ultimately making our way west to British Columbia in 1980. The result for Montréal was devastating. A walk down rue Sainte-Catherine or the rue Saint-Denis in the 80s was depressing in that every other store front had an ‘À Louer’ sign on it, and it was no different on other arteries and side streets. Montréal had the highest unemployment rate for an urban centre in Canada for most of the 1980s and 1990s.

Meanwhile, there was a massive amount of instability in the province/nation, provoked by fears of the intentions of the openly separatist PQ government. The first referendum on Québec sovereignty in 1980 ended in a defeat for the aspirations of Premier René Levésque and the PQ. But this ushered in a decade-and-a-half of language laws (most notably Loi 101) and constitutional wrangling between the UK, Canada, its provinces, and its population. Canada’s constitution was patriated from the UK in 1982, but Québec never ratified it. An attempt at a conciliation in 1990, the Meech Lake Accord, was doomed to failure due to an inability of the framers to account for the indigenous. A second attempt in 1992, the Charlottetown Accord, went down to defeat in a national referendum. And then the second referendum on Québec sovereignty was held in 1995, which resulted in a much narrower defeat for Premier Jacques Parizeau and the PQ. In the aftermath of the defeat, Parizeau declared that the sovereigntists lost due to ‘money and the ethnic vote,’ making clear that he felt Anglos and Allophones (as those who are neither Anglo or French are called in Québec) did not belong.

In the aftermath of that second referendum, some certainty returned to Québec, as the PQ refused to consider another referendum under successive premiers Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry, and Pauline Marois. As a result, Montréal came back to life, and at one point in the early 21st century was the fastest growing city in Canada. The economy has come roaring back, the ‘À Louer’ signs disappeared and Montréal was once again a vibrant multicultural city.

But, at the same time, the sovereigntist movement, which had begun on the left in the 1960s, began drifting right, and try as Landry and Marois might, they could not, ultimately, stem the tide of the right, and the PQ faded into irrelevance at the same time it was attacked on the left by the ride of Québec Solidaire (which is still a tiny party). Indeed, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec, or CAQ, led by former PQ cabinet member, François Legault, stormed to power in 2018 in a landslide victory, signalling the completion of the right-ward turn of the sovereigntist movement.

In the wake of 1995, sovereigntists made an attempt to rebrand themselves to make their vision of Québec more inclusive, welcome to Anglos and Allophones. Those days are over. Legault and the CAQ are very clear who their constituents are and who they govern for. Loi 96 is an obvious example of this.

Interestingly, the CAQ does not have a lot of support on the Île de Montréal, nor in the larger Montréal sprawl in general. On the island, only the two most eastern ridings, Pointe-aux-Trembles and Bourget, swung CAQ, and only one riding in Laval, Sainte-Rose, and one on the south shore, Taillon followed suite. Indeed, Montréal and its sprawl are the power bases of both the federalist Parti Libérale and Québec Solidaire.

So it is interesting that Legault’s Loi 96 is designed to strangle the English language. I am an Anglo, yes. But I do not tend to side with Anglos in the language politics of Québec. Montréal is a French city. Québec is a French province/nation. I argued myself into a nationalist (though not separatist) position in reading for my comprehensive exams for my Phd, I have been unable to escape that spot). There are roughly 400,000 Anglos in the city of 4.25 million. You can do the math.

But. Loi 96 is different. Its attacks on English-language government services, education, and health care are a very real threat. Its insistence that immigrants will get all of six months to learn French before all services are in that language is also a very real threat. But even more than that, what Loi 96 will do is kill Montréal. Already employers are talking of pulling out. I was back home last week, and even Le Devoir, the nationalist Montréal newspaper, was attacking the government for this law, which it sees as going too far. The CBC reports today that Montréal’s vibrant video-game industry is at risk, this despite the fact that the largest of these employers, Ubisoft, is French. It is only going to get worse, as Legault seeks to destroy the city.

There will be a provincial election this fall. But I don’t see many reasons to be optimistic. The CAQ is running around 40% in the polls, which is up 3% from 2018. The Liberals are below 20%, and now the Conservatives are in the running as well, around 17%. And, of course, due to the genius of the men who created the Canadian Constitution in 1982, we have the notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to override the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Loi 96 violates both, but Legault has enacted the notwithstanding clause.

Of course, what he also seems to be risking is in killing Montréal, he will kill Québec’s economy, which will hurt everyone. Politics. A zero sum game.

Protesting Against What?

April 24, 2022 § 6 Comments

I am back home in Montréal this weekend. I’m staying in the Centre-Sud, near the corner of Ontario and Berri. Yesterday, I was walking back to my AirBnB along Ontario and has just got back to my flat when a most curious protest made its way down Ontario, with police protection, I may add. These were people protesting for ‘freedom,’ against Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates. Their words, screamed through loud speakers made no sense. Their iconography was even more confused.

I must say I deeply resent this crowd co-opting the Canadian flag. They are not patriots. They do not know the history or culture of this country. They do not understand what Canada stands for either at home or abroad. I am equally resentful of their co-optation of the flag of Québec, for the same reasons. These are not patriots, of either Québec or Canada. They’re Americanized.

Mixed in with the Canadian and Québec flags were American flags, the Gadsden flag, the stars and bars (the Confederate battle flag), a few Trump 2024 flags, and, oddly, the Mohawk Warrior flag. What, exactly do any of those American and Confederate flags have to do with a protest for freedom in Montréal, Québec, Canada? Why were the folks with the bullhorns calling for a chant of Trump’s name (it didn’t take)? Two of the protesters, both young men, were holding up a sign demanding their First and Second Amendment rights. WTF?

I was particularly perplexed by the Mohawk Warrior flag, one that has deep meaning in Québec and Canada, dating back at least to the Oka Crisis of 1990. I talked to my friend, Greg Horn, who is the owner and editor of Iori:wase, the newspaper of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. He was equally perplexed, but noted that right wing protesters have been co-opting the Warrior flag for awhile now. I should add that every single person in this convoy of about 80 was white. All of them. This is nothing more than cultural co-optation.

But so, too, is the transfer of American politics onto Québec and Canada. Clearly, these protesters don’t realize that Canada is a sovereign nation. They didn’t mention any Canadian politicians as they passed me, nor did they mention any Canadian political parties. Not even the People’s Party of Canada, the most extreme right wing party in the country. No. They focused on American politics.

Greg and I agreed this can only be wilful blindness to reality.

Belittling Accomplished Women

April 15, 2019 § 2 Comments

Earlier this month, the algorithm developed by Dr. Katie Bouman, who was a Harvard post-doc and is incoming Assistant Professor at California Institute of Technology, helped to verify a supermassive black hole inside a distant galaxy. The photograph of her when this image, the first of a black hole, was processed, went viral.

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Bouman acknowledged that the work was the result of a team effort, making it clear that this wasn’t only her accomplishment, on Facebook.

And then the belittling of Dr. Bouman began.  On-line trolls, who can’t seem to believe a woman could do this, attacked her.  It got so bad that even FoxNews noted this ridiculousness.

But perhaps even worse, the centre and left attempted to celebrate Dr. Bouman’s accomplishment, but did so in a belittling, embarrassing manner.  I saw tweets referring to her as ‘a little girl.’  Others commented on her looks.  But, perhaps the worst was from Occupy Democrats, a Facebook group.  Occupy Democrats were attempting to give Bouman credit, but, oy vey, did it fall short of the mark.

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This is a textbook example of how women are belittled.  First, she is DR. Katie Bouman. Second, she is a young woman, not a ‘young lady.’  I don’t think it’s necessary to get into the issues with the term ‘lady’ here.  She was indeed a grad student three years ago, but she was then a Harvard postdoc and now she is incoming Assistant Professor at Cal Tech.  She also did not single-handedly pull this off, something she was very quick to acknowledge, as noted above.  Finally, ‘Good job, Katie!’  Come on, man!  Good job, Dr. Bouman.

Thankfully, someone has addressed this, fixing up Occupy Democrats’ meme.

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But, you see, this is nothing new.  I have been teaching at the college and university level now for over two decades.  I am married to an academic.  I cannot tell you how often I have seen this kind of thing, the belittling of women.

Students oftentime cannot process that their female professors have PhDs, and thus either call them Ms., or, perhaps worse, by their first names (as in ‘Good Job, Katie!’).  Course evaluations include comments on the bodies of female professors.  But this gets magnified by male colleagues who just watch this happen and stay silent.  Studies show that female professors get lower evaluations from students than male colleagues.  Male colleagues also belittle their female colleagues, especially successful ones, most notably with patronizing language.  I’ve overhead colleagues debate which of their female colleagues they would want to see naked (it goes without saying I’ve heard this and worse about female students).

Ultimately, what the misogynist internet trolls and what Occupy Democrats did is infuriating.  And yet, oh so not surprising.  We need a better world.

Aristotle Was Right

April 13, 2019 § 4 Comments

I was reading a sports column (the link is to The Athletic, which is behind a pay wall) about the soap opera that has been the Green Bay Packers’ offseason.  The author, Jay Glazer, was commenting on the drama and relationship breakdown between now former coach Mike McCarthy and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  The subtext was that Rodgers is at fault here, but that’s not what struck me.  What struck me was Glazer then went on to state that McCarthy has ‘absolutely zero politics to him.’

Quite simply, I call bullshit.  It is simply not possible to be a human being and have ‘zero politics’ to them.  Politics, at its most base form, is concerned with power and status.  We all negotiate power in human relations on a daily basis, we are all members of larger groups which are themselves engaged in power relations with other groups.

And McCarthy, as the long-time coach of the Packers, one of the oldest, most storied franchises in North American professional sports, had to engage in politics on a daily basis.  It is impossible that McCarthy had ‘zero politics to him.’  Every single day, he had to negotiate his relationship with Ted Thompson, his general manager; his assistant coaches; his players; the media; Packers’ fans.  And in his drama with Rodgers, McCarthy was the boss, the coach of the team.  But given Rodgers’ stature, it wasn’t cut and dried.

In short, all relationships are power.  All relationships are about status.  To declare that someone has ‘zero politics to him’ is flat out stupid.  Aristotle was right.  Glazer is wrong.

Black and white

February 11, 2019 § Leave a comment

Last week, in writing this piece on white privilege, or white hegemony, I cited David Roediger’s excellent book, The Wages of Whiteness, and in so doing, I linked to the book on Amazon.  I spent some time reading the reviews of the book, especially the 1-star ones.

Most of the 1-star reviews are predictable, complaining about how to point out how whiteness was created in the United States is racist against white people, or claim (clearly without actually reading the book) that the book demonizes white people or the working classes.  It is hard not to call such responses racist at worst, or ignorant at best.

But one stuck out to me, because the author took a slightly different tack.  It is worth quoting the review at length here:

A small but very significant difference in terminology prevented me from getting far with this book. Roediger refers to black persons as “Black” (capitalized) and to white persons as “white” (lowercase) throughout his entire book. This rather meaningful difference in terms is utilized in every single instance that a cursory glance through the text revealed these words appearing either as nouns or adjectives. Thus the white person is consistently devalued in contrast to the black individual, solely by the word used to designate him or her. Since this racial devaluation of the white indiviudal is the premise upon all of what follows is based, why bother to read further? Almost before the introductory sentence, we already have a good sense of the bias inherent in the whole book, a bias which puts the author’s fair reporting of facts or interpretation thereof into serious question. Is it just a stupid joke, or an example of white self-hatred, or both, that Roedinger would write nearly 200 pages making a case about how whites advanced themselves in the workplace by collectively devaluing blacks, while himself using language which consistently devalues whites?

First, I feel sorry for this reviewer for giving up so early into the book, but I suppose had s/he actually read it, it would’ve led to a different review, one much more predictable.  But, ultimately, it is the same kind of review as the more predictable ones.  It is just dressed up in fancier language.  The fact that the reviewer argues that to capitalize black and not capitalize white devalues white people is an interesting one.

I have also had this question in the classroom, from students of various backgrounds, on the occasions I’ve either assigned the book or excerpts therefrom.

I think, ultimately, while I would be inclined to either capitalize nor, more likely, not capitalize, both, I can see a pretty simple argument for capitalizing black but not white.  Black is generally a racial category in the United States.  This is both done from the outside, but also from the inside. I don’t really see how, due to white privilege, an African American in the United States could not notice both this hegemony and their own difference from that hegemonic culture and, due to racism, be confronted with the fact that they might not be fully welcome to enjoy the benefits of a cultural hegemony due to the simple fact of skin colour.

On the other hand, because we live in a hegemonically white culture, most white people don’t think about these kinds of things.  Those that do are either people like me, working from a place of anti-racism, or racists.  But to the vast majority of white people, the colour of their skin doesn’t matter because it’s never mattered, because of their hegemonic place in our culture and society.

Louis CK is Still a Jackass

January 2, 2019 § 4 Comments

Eighteen months ago, Louis CK was one of the most famous comedians in the world, almost universally loved, devastatingly funny, and, apparently, a decent human being.  And then came the scandal, which involved him being an incredible douchecanoe with women, intimidating them and performing sexual acts in front of them.  And so, he disappeared from the public eye after apologizing for his behaviour.  This was the right card to play and the appropriate response for his behaviour.

But now he’s back.  And somehow, getting booked for shows.  Last month at a comedy club on Long Island, CK attacked the survivors of the Parkland massacre.  That in and of itself makes him an asshole, but comedy has long been the purview of assholes.  That’s part of what makes comedians funny.  But this was crossing a line, and he knew it.  He had to.  He’s a smart guy.

But then he went onto whine about his own ‘bad year.’  He complained that the sex scandal cost him $35 million.  And he complained about finding out who his ‘real friends’ were, whining that:

People say that like it’s a good thing. That’s not a good thing. That’s a horrible experience. Who the fuck wants to know who your real friends are? I liked having a bunch of fake friends and not knowing who was who.

And then he went onto attack the ‘younger generation’ for essentially having no sense of humour about such things.

And so there we go.  Yet another white dude caught being a morally reprehensible character who isn’t sorry for his behaviour.  His apology means absolutely sweet fuck all now.  Because he obviously didn’t mean it and he doesn’t care that his behaviour was boorish.  He has become another Justice Brett Kavanaugh, attacking his accuser(s).  And Kavanaugh is just another Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.  This is apparently what you do when you’re a white guy accused of being a dickhead, you mumble something about recognizing your behaviour was uncouth and then attack your accusers.

Fuck that.  We deserve better.

Stupid Season in Montreal

March 26, 2018 § Leave a comment

Last Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They lost 5-3.  The Canadiens are having a miserable year, this loss, their 48th of the year (including regulation and overtime losses), officially eliminated them from playoff contention.  The mood in the city is dour and angry.  Fans are upset at management for mismanaging the Franchise, Carey Price.  He had some mystery ailment he said was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome bothering him earlier in the year.  It wasn’t team doctors who noticed it; it was his wife, Angela.  Big defenceman Shea Weber played through a nasty foot injury before being shut down for the season and having surgery.

Then there’s the mistakes General Manager Marc Bergevin made in the off-season.  He traded away promising defenceman Mikhail Sergachev for moody, sulky, but very talented forward Jonathan Drouin.  And then the team put Drouin at centre, a position he hadn’t played for years.  Why?  Because the Habs haven’t had a #1 centre since the peak of Saku Koivu’s career in the late 90s/early 00s.  Drouin, not surprisingly, has been a bust.  Bergevin also let iconic defenceman Andrei Markov walk after he insulted Markov in contract negotiations.  Bergevin then had the gall to tell us that the defence was better this year than last.  I could go on and on.

Something stinks in the City of Montreal and it is the hockey team.  It is a laughing stock.

And, not surprisingly, the Twitter wars have been epic.  During last Thursday’s game, a prominent Montreal sportswriter made an idiot of himself.  This is also not an uncommon occurrence when it comes to the Habs.  He was in a discussion with a blogger, who noted that we Habs fans forget that the team has had 3-100 point seasons in the past 5.  This sportswriter noted in response that “Germany had three really strong military years in WWII.”

And then all hell broke loose, as it should.  When his interlocutor noted this stupidity, he dug in deeper, noting that “They [meaning Nazi Germany] were winning until they weren’t.  It’s not that deep.”  Another Twitter user called him out, and our intrepid journalist got his shovel out again: “Notice I said military.  Only an idiot would stretch that into anything more.”

Well, maybe I am an idiot.  As the second interlocutor noted, this is Nazi Germany we’re talking about.  Not some random war.  This is a régime that murdered 6 million Jews in cold blood, to say nothing of Roma, LGBT, and disabled victims.  The Holocaust is, to paraphrase Elie Weisel, an event that cannot be understood, but must be remembered.  There have been other genocides, particularly in the last half of the 20th century (after we, the West, declared “Never Again!”).  But, the Holocaust remains beyond the pale in our collective consciousness.

And when this was pointed out to our journalist, that he essentially compared the management of the Montreal Canadiens to the Nazis, he got out his shovel and kept on digging: “No, not every soldier was a Nazi, not every German believed the Nazi ideology. But that’s beside the point, because we all know what I was saying, and it had nothing to do with Nazis.”

To put it bluntly, this is epic stupidity.  According to the United States Holocaust Museum,

The German military participated in many aspects of the Holocaust: in supporting Hitler, in the use of forced labor, and in the mass murder of Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.

The military’s complicity extended not only to the generals and upper leadership but also to the rank and file. In addition, the war and genocidal policy were inextricably linked. The German army (or Heer) was the most complicit as a result of being on the ground in Germany’s eastern campaigns, but all branches participated.

And sure, maybe the journalist didn’t mean to bring up the Nazis.  But words have meanings, and someone who works with words on a daily basis should know better.  The Wehrmacht was by-and-large Nazified.  Period.  And his comparison of the Habs 3-100 point seasons with the Wehrmacht includes the Nazis, whether he meant it or not.  And he should know better.  I did hit the unfollow button, by the way.

A History of Globalization

October 31, 2017 § Leave a comment

I read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others last week.  For some reason, Sontag has always loomed on the fringes of my cultural radar, but I had never read anything by her, other than a few essays or excerpts over the years.  In some ways, I found her glib and in others, profound.  But I also found her presentist.

At the start of the second chapter, she quotes Gustave Moynier, who in 1899, wrote that “We know what happens every day throughout the whole world,” as he goes onto discuss the news of war and calamity and chaos in the newspapers of the day.  Sontag takes issue with this: “[I]t was obviously an exaggeration, in 1899, to say that one knew what happened ‘every day throughout the whole world.'”

We like to think globalization is a new phenomenon, that it was invented in the past 30 years or so and sped up with the advent of the internet and, especially social media, as we began to wear clothes made in China, rather than the US or Canada or Europe.  Balderdash.  Globalization has been underway since approximately forever.  Europeans in the Ancient World had a fascination with the Far East, and trade goods slowly made their way across the Eurasian landmass from China to Italy and Greece.  Similarly, the Chinese knew vaguely of the faraway Europeans.  In the Americas, archaeological evidence shows that trade goods made their way from what is now Canada to South America, and vice versa.  Homer describes a United Nations amassing to fight for the Persian Empire against the Greeks.

Trade has always existed, it has always shrunk the world.  Even the manner in which we think of globalization today, based on the trade of goods and ideas, became common place by the 18th century through the great European empires (meanwhile, in Asia, this process had long been underway, given the cultural connections between China and all the smaller nations around it from Japan to Vietnam).

For Sontag, though, her issue is with photographs.  Throughout Regarding the Pain of Others, she keeps returning to photographs.  She is, of course, one of the foremost thinkers when it comes to photographs, her landmark On Photography (1977) is still highly regarded.  In many ways, Sontag seems to believe in the credo ‘pics or it didn’t happen.’

Thus, we return to Moynier and his claim to know what was going on in the four corners of the world in 1899.  Sontag, besides taking issue with the lack of photographs, also calls on the fact that ‘the world’ Moynier spoke of, or we see in the news today, is a curated world.  No kidding.  But that doesn’t make Moynier’s claim any less valid than the New York Times’ claim to ‘print all the news that’s fit to print.’  That is also a carefully curated news source.

In Moynier’s era, Europeans and North Americans, at least the literate class, did know what was happening throughout the world.  The columns of newspapers were full of international, national, and local news, just like today.  And certainly, this news was curated.  And certainly, the news tended to be from the great European empires.  And that news about war tended to be about war between the great European empires and the colonized peoples, or occasionally between those great European empires.  But that doesn’t make Moynier’s claim any less valid.  He did know what was going on around the world.  He just didn’t know all that was going on.  Nor do I today in 2017, despite the multitude of news sources available for me.  The totality of goings on world wide is unknowable.

And Sontag’s issue with Moynier is both a strawman and hair-splitting.

Erasing the Indigenous

October 10, 2017 § 7 Comments

In 2015, then-new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified appointing women to half of his cabinet posts with ‘It’s 2015.’  And we all applauded.  He was elected largely because he wasn’t the incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.  But he also won based on election promises of gender equality, LGBTQ equality, as well as a ‘new deal’ for the indigenous population.

But here we are two years on, and the plight of the indigenous population of Canada remains the same as it ever was.  Trudeau has not exactly lived up to his campaign pledges to re-set the relationship between First Nations and the Canadian state.  This is not all Trudeau’s fault in the sense that he reflects a deeply racist Canadian society.  I have written about this numerous times (here, here, here, and here, for example).

Last week in my Twitter feed, I was gobsmacked to come across this:

This couldn’t be real, could it?  It had to be another bit of Twitter and untruths.  But, no, it’s real:

Even Global News picked it the story today.  So, let’s think about the history presented in this Grade 3 workbook.  According to it, the indigenous population of Canada agreed to simply pick up stakes and move to allow nice European colonists to settle the land.  Nevermind the centuries of occupation, and all of those things.  Nope, the very nice Indians agreed to move.

I wish I could say I was shocked by this.  I’m not.  This is pretty much part and parcel of how Euro-Canadian culture thinks about the indigenous population, if it thinks about the indigenous population at all.  Or, when Euro-Canadians think about the indigenous population, it’s in entirely negative ways; I don’t think I need to get into the stereotypes here.

I tried to do some research on this workbook and the company that published it, Popular Book Company.  My web sleuthing turned up next to nothing.  If I Google the book itself, all I get are links to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Indigo.ca (Indigo is Canada’s largest bookseller).  Finally, I discovered that this series is popular amongst homeschoolers in Canada, and, as of 2015, over 2 million copies were in circulation.  My attempts to find anything out about Popular Book Company came to nothing; all I could find out is that it’s a subsidiary of a Singapore-based company, PopularWorld.

I suppose the actual damage done by this outright stupidity is limited.  Nonetheless, it exists.  But how this stupidity occurred is another thing.  From what I learned on the interwebs, this edition of the Grade 3 curriculum was published in 2015, the previous edition in 2007.  I can’t tell if this stupidity was in the 2007 version, but it is certainly in the 2015 edition.

I have experience working in textbook publication. I have written copy for textbooks, I have edited textbook copy.  And I have reviewed textbooks before publication.  And this is for textbooks at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary education.  To get to publication, textbooks go through rounds of edits and expert review.  My guess is this didn’t happen here.  I have also worked with provincial boards in Canada to revise curriculum, including textbooks.  Deep thought and careful consideration goes into this process.  And I have friends who work with homeschoolers, at least in Québec, to ensure that the textbooks and curriculum homeschoolers use and follow is appropriate.  And they take their job seriously.

So how did this happen?  Who wrote this stupidity?  Who allowed it to go to publication?  And why did it take two years for anything to happen?  Initially, Popular said it would revise future editions of the workbook.  Eventually, however, it agreed to recall already extant versions and make sure that this is edited when the book is re-printed.

Great.  But how did this happen in the first place?

The Death of Language

October 4, 2017 § 1 Comment

We live in an era where the President of the United States labels anything he doesn’t like as #FAKENEWS.  Last year, we watched Brexit succeed (at least in a referendum) where the Leave side was guilty of inventing several truths that were actually lies.  And one of the President’s surrogates has coined the term ‘alternative facts’ to describe lies.  I wrote about this last year in the wake of the Presidential Election.

The damage to public discourse and the use of language through politicians who lie nearly every time they open their mouth is obvious.  But there is another source of danger when it comes to the actual meaning of words and their usage: sports journalism.

As my friend John likes to note, nothing should ever get in the way of ESPN’s ‘hot take’ on any and all, most notably language and truth.  But it’s not just ESPN.  Take, for example, Canada’s TSN (for those who don’t know, The Sports Network is the largest sports network in Canada, with a monopoly on broadcasting the Canadian Football League; it also holds regional marketing rights to NHL games, as well as Major League Baseball, and various other sports.  It is also 20% owned by ESPN).  A headline earlier this week on TSN.ca states,  that “Pens, Lightning Battle It Out in First 7-Eleven Power Rankings of 2017-18.”

Um, no. The Penguins and Lightning are not battling it out to top the power rankings.  Why?  Because these are entirely subjective rankings created by TSN.  The Lightning and Penguins did not play a game, a play off series or anything for this honour.  TSN’s staff just ranked them as the two best teams in the game.

And so you may not think this a big deal, TSN’s headline writers are just looking for attention to encourage people to click on the story.  Sure they are.  But in so doing, they are messing with the meaning of words.  They are cheapening the meaning of the verb ‘to battle.’

This kind of thing is pretty common in sports journalism, whether through laziness or incompetence, I can’t tell.  But you will notice that around trade deadlines or amateur drafts or free agency periods, sports journalists will tell you about the ‘names’ being thrown around.  Sure, they are names being bandied about (mostly by these very same journalists, who get to make up the news and then report on it).  But names don’t get signed, trades, or claimed in drafts.  Players do.

Maybe you think I’m just a crank for being worried about language.  Good for you.  You’re wrong.

Of course language is mutable, of course meanings of words change over time, and the way we speak changes.  Ever heard someone speak 18th century English?  Or how about the word ‘awful’?  Initially, the word meant ‘full of awe,’ or something that was truly awesome (to use a word that has developed to fill the void caused by awful’s evolution), as in the ‘awful power of nature.’  Today, we would say the ‘awesome power of nature.’  And awful means something that sucks.  But these are changes that have occurred over centuries, and occurred due to colonization, and the like (want to have some fun? Compare the meaning of English words in the UK and the US).

The mis-use of words like ‘battle’ to describe an artificial power ranking that actually has nothing to do with the teams allegedly in this battle is something else entirely.   So is discussing the ‘names’ that were traded.  It’s a mixture of exaggeration and laziness.  And, ultimately, this kind, I don’t know, laziness or idiocy like this renders language meaningless.

 

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