Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rigging the Jury Online

My eye was caught today by one of those curiosity news items that seem to speak to matters beyond their limited immediate interest - swarming Amazon book reviews.

We live in an age when the proverbial Common Man can comment online on anything that takes his fancy. Virtually every review or newsy website and most of those that sell you something let you 'Comment' on their content. Sometimes these are monitored before posting but, as the Amazon piece illustrates, there are all too often ways of 'gaming' that process to slip by it. The process of policing is often erratic, presumably largely because it involves a lot of on-the-fly decision making on the part of the owners of a well-read site. 

I occasionally submit comment on my morning paper's online articles. It helps 'keep my hand in' as a blogger plus allows me to vent or educate about things I care a lot about. Writing Letters to the Editor rarely proves worth the time spent but an online comment will get published most of the time. When it doesn't, it can be hard to fathom why. While news outlets publish some form of comment policy, recently I had a couple of submitted comments disallowed as 'abusive' when they contained content very similar to some previous posts in this blog.

That said, I do feel something is quite off-kilter about the torrent of selective comment that an open web seems compelled to accept. Local restaurant rating websites are one example of this. They let you and I rant but provide no considered comment of their own. Yet shouldn't one assume that the publishers of these sites have some special knowledge that readers would like to benefit from? To be a ratings app maker does not seem to require much subject expertise; just the ability to produce the right software. When the inexpert reader is the only arbiter how much real new knowledge can other readers expect to gain?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting into Sight and in Mind.

Two years ago this appeared in a UK newspaper:-

"Until the deaths of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, probably almost no-one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops are deployed in the region.

And as always, Canada will bury its dead, just as the rest of the world, as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does. It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored.

Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price Canada pays for sharing the North American continent with the United States, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts.

For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: It seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Minority Language Angst

This year Quebec is introducing world-leading improvements to how doctors deal with patients in end-of-life situations. But at the same time they are having their language police bully local authorities with less than 50% English-speaking taxpayers to force them to drop all English communication. That's Quebec for you - the Good, Bad and Ugly province. Quebec is the country of Je Me Reviens and Maitre Chez Nous. Yet I'm very fond of it. Over 40 odd years of regular travel there I've hardly ever had a bad time.

Its a place where the majority francophones have the most stable society, the highest per capita income and the best quality of life of all French speaking territories globally.  A civil society wherever in it you travel. A fun-loving place, probably the best in our Dominion to have a good time in. With gorgeous scenery, great food and fabulous sporting options. The region where ice hockey was invented. A jurisdiction with its indigenous people nowadays calmer than in just about anywhere else in North America.

How to explain the dichotomy of its suppression of the English minority's right to live in their own language at a time when Quebec's treatment of other minorities is as good as anywhere?  And how does one explain the government there thinking up ever newer ways to prevent both new immigrants and locally-born French from getting an English education? Quebec's official printed English is deteriorating to worse than you will see in Western Europe or Asia. This at a time when English is firmly in place as the global lingua franca.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fascism Today

It is conventional to think that fascism got its comeuppance as a result of being on the losing side in WWII. Yes, some regimes did survive beyond that time as a result of staying neutral. Spain and Portugal are examples. But eventually they all succumbed to the winds of democratic change. A key driver of C20th fascism was the charismatic leader who restores national greatness. Once he is gone, things tend to calm down. Thus, while dictatorships live on, truly fascist ones don't. The leadership of modern dictatorships can change, say as in the example of China, but they have other ideologies.

But do they? A defining feature of both modern Russia and China is their sense of thwarted national importance. In Russia at this moment this is manifested in the Duma's campaign to purge Russian life of foreign influences. Putin's recent banning of American adoption of Russian orphans is just the best known of a series of mooted or in-the-works measures to roll back the internationalization of the Russian people that has proceeded apace since the end of the Soviet empire. Some of the more sinister suggestions being considered are strictly curtailing marriage between Russian officials and foreigners from outside the former Soviet Union, categorizing foreign ties such as owning property or having a child abroad as a threat to the state, and amending their constitution to include a national ideology.

In China historical grievance combined with a strong sense of cultural superiority is a powerful unifier among the dominant Han majority. Some ways in which this manifests are  sabre-rattling  about Japanese territory, and on-and-off bullying of minority territories or geographical neighbours once part of a former Chinese empire. This includes Taiwan, Vietnam and Tibet, where Tibetan identity is being marginalized by Han immigration and the gerrymandering of religious leadership selection. Not long ago I got into a ding-dong about Tibet with my Hong Kong-born respirologist, with him asserting that Tibet has always been Chinese and so China is being unfairly pilloried in foreign media!

The alarming build-up of PRC peacetime military strength and Russian racist posturing cannot help remind us of early Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Much of how Argentina behaves towards the Falklands again today as it did formerly under Leopoldo Galtieri and his Junta follows the same pattern of channelling popular anger into supporting aggressive behaviour. The strong ethno-cultural focus of these regimes' propaganda is a defining feature of fascism.