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Saturday, February 26, 2011

FILM RVIEW: Another Year

Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) are an amiable British couple approaching their golden years in a cosy corner of London. Tom's an archaeological engineer and Gerri works at a local clinic as a psychologist. They've enjoyed a decades-long, loving marriage. They're a couple that's bright, articulate, and self-aware. But nobody in their circle comes up to that standard; in fact, they're surrounded by misery and human train-wrecks.
   Chief wreck in this collection is a woman named Mary, a friend of Gerri's. This individual (played crazily by Leslie Manville) appears about 48 but her body is still young. She puts a lot of stock in that. Recently divorced, she hangs around the pubs in an effort to attract new men. She also haunts her friend Gerri's house and increasingly imposes her depressive episodes on the couple.
   Mike Leigh's new work is titled "Another Year," a title that evokes Eric Rohmer and Ingmar Bergman. The style is pure Leigh grit, a quality of unalloyed raw-material that the director is famous for. This time, he really outdoes himself: the film is so unerringly natural, so aware of pain, that it almost brings the illusion of film to a stand-still.
   A succession of characters parade through Gerri and Tom's life, people like Tom's friend Ken (a hilarious Peter Wight) and Tom's brother Ronnie, the latter done superbly by the sepulchral David Bradley. These connections of Tom's are as desperate as Gerri's friend, the unhappy Mary. In all these working-class portraits Leigh has pulled off a supreme act of critical examination.
   You may want to look for the many hommages in the film. The character Mary probably owes her genesis to Blanche Dubois, the doomed socialite-tease of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece. In Another Year, Mary, like Blanche, envies the living and the young; she teases all men except those she's most suited to. Sadly for her, she won't get the attention that Blanche received. Mary is a particularly rich portrait, almost unendurable, as she lurches from one narcissistic scene to another.
    Other tributes are stylistic. There are patches of dialogue here that evoke Harold Pinter's family-based plays, and even Samuel Beckett's Godot, and snatches of theatricality that seem cribbed from the Beckett-Pinter inheritance. Mostly, though, we have a night of documentary realism that smacks of British kitchen-sink drama.
     Another Year is a craft film that almost screams Auteur, as it experiments with filmic conventions. You'll laugh nervously  -- the humor is steady-- but find little breeze in its cloistered scenes. You'll be stunned by moments, especially those with Mary, where Leigh forces things to a halt, obliging us to stop gazing and grazing, and to start peering in horror at our act of peering at characters. This is experimental shooting in the grand tradition of pioneers such as J-L Godard.
     And boy does it work! In the end, the film is heart-stopping. It may operate on you like a day at a sick auntie's, first, trapped in the invalid's room, then, the bus. Viewed in the space of two hours, it will not soon be forgotten.
Rated by Recti: 4 stars

True North Not Really Strong and Free

On Feb. 25, 2011,  in a widely predicted outcome, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC and yes, that's its full name) abandoned efforts to conform to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It decided to agree with its many recent petitioners, and effectively ban "Fox-News-like" programming  in Canada.
     The CRTC is the body that hands out broadcasting licences. Among its regulatory discretions is the duty to screen for "the dissemination of false news," and to prevent that from happening. In essence, the CRTC is a Truth and Licencing Squad, a bit like Britain's Lord Chamberlain.
     The prohibition on "spreading false news" had been debated in the Ernst Zundel case ten years earlier, the case of an avowed Nazi sympathiser whose propaganda aimed at denying or underplaying the Nazi genocide of the Jews. In that case, the courts, in weighing the merits of the prosecution, had found the existing prohibition on "false news" violated Zundel's rights under the Charter of Freedoms. Soon afterwards, the CRTC was asked to review its own "false news" regulations in that light.
    And the rest is history. Ten years of stalling and milling around ensued, and nothing was reviewed -- perhaps, because the CRTC loves the idea of being able to ban spreaders of what it considers "false news."
    Finally, the authorities pressed the matter and demanded the review take place. There ensued a political campaign emanating from Canada's press and media establishment.Central to the theme of that campaign was that adhering to the Charter would allow a TV network such as Fox News to operate in Canada.
   According to these advocates, Fox "makes up news," flagrant lies that good and liberal people know are falsehoods and propaganda. The college-educated know this but not the unwashed masses. Also, Fox is the only one that does this, and the right-wing is the only source of false news. Since there had been an application to found a TV network in Canada with funds from the Fox ownership, it followed that a False News TV station would be set up.
    On Feb. 25, news came that this campaign had worked. Although it acknowledged that it had had a duty to review its regulation, the regulator announced that it was right and proper that it simply carry on business as before.
Our position is based upon libertarian priciples, and here are its main points:

  • Charter Rights are the basis of our constitution. They frame our laws and regulations, for both citizens and corporations. They are not to be trumped by political fashions or pressure campaigns.
  • The world of broadcasting is a marketplace of ideas. Right-wing, centrist, left-wing, they all have a right to be here, freely expresed and disseminated.
  • The existing Criminal Code bans expression that puts people, or groups of people, at physical risk.
  • The Criminal Code bans expression that libels or slanders persons or corporations. Other parts of the law guarantee the right to sue for damages.
  • In America, which is alleged to groan under the tyranny of Fox, people have the right to found and operate left-wing alternatives to Fox News. In fact, they already have such alternatives. 
  • There is no existing campaign to prohibit the dissemination of "falsely left-leaning news."
  • Canadians already have a left- and centre-left press establishment. There are right-wing outlets, but they are a distinct minority. Therefore, a Fox North, as it's been called, is not going to be a massive monopoly on news.
What do I think? I confess to loathing much of Fox's broadcasting. Glenn Beck is a pompous ass who claims to know much about topics and really just skims the surface. There are other speakers on Fox who similarly disturb reasonable folk -- of all stripes. Such figures rant, sneer, and inflect the news and attempt to inflame public opinion.
    As unsavory as they often are, they are a media genre in a culture that is rapidly mixing genres, with the blessing of the artistic Left. They have a legitimate place in the media landscape of any free country. They are not mouthpieces for totalitarian regimes; they are not involved in attempts upon human life and property. They are private firms. Where they violate Criminal-Code provisions, they are liable to prosecution. Where people hate their world-view, people can simply turn the TV to another channel.
    To stand back from the passion: there is no discerning "true" from "false" without two fundamental freedoms: the freedom to publish; and the freedom to read, research, and listen. Ironically, though, many Canadians opinion-makers are mired in confusion around "truth," educated in the post-modern mindset. That outlook denies that there are objective criteria  for "the truth." Yet it is precisely this group that is banning their own definition of "falsehood"! How does this irony work?
     Simple: this post-mod prejudice openly posits a "will to power," where Your Truth is to be imposed on people, not accredited through honest debate and rigorous research. For that reason alone, this campaign against "false news" is crass and partisan hypocrisy 
     The real need in this country, then, is for a media- and politics-literate population that isn't emotionally handcuffed by the fear of debate, and shackled to prejudices carefully honed in left-wing classrooms. What Canada needs is the appetite for risk and the demand for freedom. It does not need a lobby for pohibiting the right-wing, and a CRTC regulator willing to do precisely that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Awesome, Man: Not!

Overheard on CBC Radio:
This is about an award that Toronto has just given to artists (or just random people) in the city. The award is called the Awesome Award, and its goal is to celebrate projects that make the city, quote, “awesome.”
             Host Matt Galloway (Metro Morning) listened raptly, and prompted his guest to chat about her Awesome Awards. She was a city councilor, I believe, and she and Matt agreed that This was So Great. The award-winner was a group (artists? designers? they did not say) that were creating Dots, that is, giant discs that would be placed upon selected roof-tops. The Dots might then be aerially viewed, via services such as Google Maps.
If you zoomed up (or down), said the lady on the radio, you could print out the Dots and connect them, and create a visual from that. This could help “make the city Awesome!”
(I’ve had trouble verifying specifics [posted Feb. 25]. I’ve found no mention of a Toronto Awesome Award on the Internet, and I can’t pull up the group’s project name. Metro Morning’s own site, in its summary for Feb. 25, makes no mention of these matters, nor of any so-described interview; similarly, I could not locate an audio recording of the show; we’ll just have to deal with it as “overheard in passing.”)
 My commentary today is not about the Awards, their virtues or merits. Public art is always an interesting initiative and should be supported and given wide latitude. This Connect-the-Dot project seems inspired by the work of environmental artists such as Christo. Christo might approve, while Recti demurred, but this remains in abeyance. It's the Googling public who'll vote on this with their fingers.
Then what are we on about? The name, of course, Awesome. It’s ridiculous. It’s empty of content or reference. Some cities are already awesome – Paris, New York?? Awesome cities are also a matter of relativity; in Africa, they’d be those that shot looters on sight. In North America, they’d be those that put the welfare class near the Landfill, or incarcerated people who insisted on partying until dawn.
So it’s meaningless. But also, it reeks of programmed cheer and toothy enthusiasm, and sounds exactly like what you’d hear on Entertainment Tonight, or from the pages of a high-school bulletin. And that narrows it down: this post is about the infantilization of the language.
Deliberately childish, and I submit that the name is deadening. It might have called itself “ViewTO” or “SkyDotted” or something descriptive and that pointed the listener to an inherent value in the act of listening. But no, all we get is Awesome! Parents of teenagers will sigh along with Recti.
Where does this official baby-babble come from? We don’t know: the show did not cover the name itself, nor tell us how it was chosen. All it did was burble about Awesomeness. There is a process, though, in choosing a brand name. You hire a professional, usually a brand expert, and you ask some questions: who are you and  how do you describe yourself? What’s the vocabulary that expresses you? Who are you speaking to? What is your ethos, product, mission, or activity?
Reply: Awesome, ma-a-a-n! This is cause for concern.
To get some comparatives, I scanned the Internet for the comparables, other Awesome Awards. Here are the first few of my many hits:

1.       An award from New Zealand called the Awesome Service Award. Previous winners include a hair stylist, a receptionist, and the owner of a hair salon.

2.       A company named Awesome Awards. Former name: Western Trophy Co. of Riverside California. That company distributes cheap trophies and caters to high schools, amateur sports teams, small firms. Their site says this: “Whether you are looking for trophies to celebrate a team's success... an elegant glass, crystal or acrylic…”

3.       “Oma’s Crafts” website (Oma is German for grandmother). Its headline, out of Nebraska, today reads as follows: 100 Posts and 2 Awesome Awards! The lead-in: “I was given the Stylish Blogger Award from LaLa at Scrappin' with LaLa. I in turn am required to give it to 8 other Stylish blogs …” 

(Oma here uses the word as it was intended: a pleasant exuberance, devoid of meaning or portent.)
The news, then, is that Toronto has an award for sprucing up the city. Amongst whom? Twelve-year olds? Their grannies? Their school principals? We need to worry – it’s a civic brand name, put out in a town of 5 million people, suburbs included. We need to worry about creeping, crawling infantilism.
How did our friend Matt Galloway, companion to all the best mommies, respond? He oohhed and he awwed, and at the end, positively gushed: “This makes you not wanna move to Vancouver!” he swooned.  Oh my dear Matt, have you raised a new enthusiasm for us to worry about...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Incendies

Incendies is the latest work of Denis Villeneuve, the Quebec director who recently attracted attention with his film Polytechnique. Incendies is currently a nominee (posted 22 Feb) for a US Academy Award (best foreign-language film).
   Villeneuve revels in stories that deal in violence with a political tinge.  Polytechnique was set in the Montreal school of that name, where, infamously in 1989, 14 female students were slaughtered by the mentally ill Marc Lepine. In Incendies, we examine the civil wars in Lebanon 1975 – 1990 and their extensions into immigrant families in Montreal.
    Incendies (literally, “fires”) opens with twin children, Jeanne and Simon, attending the reading of their mother’s last will. They are manifestly upset by the ritual—especially the boy, Simon. Their mother, Nawal Marwan, was a Christian Lebanese refugee. She had led a horrible life and passed many of her anxieties onto her children, particularly the boy.
    The will itself is troubling: it mandates a sort of treasure hunt, in which its full provisions cannot be met before the children go off to Lebanon, in search of people and answers. In particular, it asks them to find a previously unknown half-brother, and to deliver sealed letters to him and to other figures from Nawal’s past.
     Simon is disinclined to this elaborate probate, resents his late mother, and refuses to obey. However, his sister engages it, and eventually drags Simon into it. She alone sets off to Lebanon in obedience, but also to find out about her own past.
     Much of the film takes place in the Middle-east, with action in the present, but also flashbacks. We are witness to Nawal as a young student, caught up in love and politics; we see her later as a victim, but also an actor, in the civil war. Many of these sequences are visually compelling, well framed and directed, and altogether dramatic.
     The film is based upon a play of the same title, by Wadji Mouawad. The dialogues bear some tribute to that play, and that’s a defect. In fact, dialogue is not uniformly strong here: sometimes, it is stagey and too remote from the viscera that make cinema work. It must all have resonated on live stages, but it occasionally stalls on the screen. Further, it’s often expository, not organic to the action: it “tells” us plot that we want “shown” instead – a defect we increasingly see in films from countries like France, where new writers are not seasoned in the cinematic arts.
     Plot lurches are huge in Incendies, and that was a real issue for this film-goer. Mouawad seems to have based his play on the myth of Oedipus, complete with unnatural set-ups and couplings, changelings, orphans, identity reversals, and other agnorises and perepeteia common to Sophocles. These reversals, of action and consciousness, are based upon discoveries that characters make about people, but also, about their own lives. In Incendies, they are flagrant, too frequent, too directed “from above,” and too hugely coincidental.
      Such devices worked very well among the ancient Greeks; but that’s because the Greeks understood the context and the convention: first, that there were all-powerful gods, who ruled lives and arranged retribution and outcomes accordingly; second, because Greeks knew they were watching mythic re-enactments of their own history, already transpired; hence, they were waiting for the outcomes to happen, and prepared to see the deity intervene as appropriate.
      Mouawad has wanted to make reference to that, and to frame his Lebanon in Sophoclean terms, but it`s too obvious. Nevertheless, the core of the film survives as a strong entertainment. Despite flaws, Incendies is satisfying and compels. Well paced, acted, and photographed, it is not to be missed, especially if you are a follower of immigrant life in diasporas such as Montreal’s, and also the narratives of the Middle-east.
Rated by Recti: 3 stars 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Of the Making of Kids there Is No End

Word came to me, a few months ago, of a friend of a friend in academe. The referenced individual was a lesbian university professor whose career would soon be interrupted by pregnancy.
Pregnancy? How does a lesbian interrupt her career to get pregnant?  This is a question only the innocent ask; the reply among the informed would be: artificial insemination, or some other arrangement with a human source of semen.  
This is not particularly astonishing in our era, but this case went further than similar ones, others I’d heard of, in testing standards of ethics.
It began fairly routinely. Professor X, as we’ll call her, decided she wanted to become a mom. She decided to end her non-mother status. Knowing the State would pay her one year’s pregnancy leave (and she’d suffer no consequences at work), she made the logical choice, given current technical means: she got herself inseminated. So far, this is fairly linear. But at this point, the story gets muddied.
Professor X had a spouse, a lady we’ll call Professor X-primed (nature chooses not to speak of X and Y among women, so these nicknames seem sensible). About two months after hearing that her spouse, Prof X, would be doing the insemination, Prof X-primed thought about her own status. She was about to become the “dad” in the marriage, so to speak, the non-mother, but without any genetic connection to the baby. She would see her partner pregnant, see her enjoy the fulfilment of birth. This made her an adjunct or spectator, or non-enjoyer, and perhaps that was not good enough.
According to the story, the lady realized that she was grievously deprived: I too want to be a mommy! So, with Prof X’s blessing, she too went out and got herself inseminated, so that, by golly, they could both be pregnant together.

Margaret Somerville is a university ethicist who writes in the mass media and often generates heated response. She has a record of posing difficult, even delicate questions of policy with regard to the way we lead our lives, and with particular emphasis on families.
             Professor Somerville might acknowledge the feelings of the two engineered lesbian moms feelings of being left out of Nature's Total Package and wishing, then, to circumvent nature. But that would not be Somerville’s first concern.
What might concern Somerville would be to know the fate of the progeny of this marriage. Inevitably, in the above story, we have two children engineered into existence, at approximately identical dates, in a marriage of two females, with no male content (except the body fluids). They will be the ultimate designer babies: non-biological twins who are nevertheless non-twins, programmed by a laboratory to help their mommies get through sad times, those patches of envy and bad feelings. Then, they would be sprung into two childhoods – ones that had to contextualize themselves as all childhoods do, within a matrix of other developing humans, where some identities are easily borne, while others totter to be affirmed, and groan to be owned. So what are the kids going to feel about themselves and these two engineered mommies?
                In an interesting article in the Globe and Mail, Somerville tackles another case of surrogacy, that of a 61-year-old grandmother who offered to become the surrogate mother for her daughter’s child. In other words, she was carrying her daughter’s embryo from her son-in-law’s sperm. Somerville first offers that, “[f]or the sake of exploring the issues, let’s assume some surrogacy will continue to be allowed,” but then she poses the question:  “What restrictions are ethically required?”
Somerville has real reservations about the 61-year-old granny-slash-mommy. She writes:
Grandmother Casey is compellingly described as “altruistic” and “giving the ultimate gift” to her daughter and her son-in-law….But let’s change the situation slightly and see if we make the same assessment of ethical acceptability.
   A young infertile man and his wife want to have a baby that is as closely genetically related to them and their family as possible, including because in their culture blood relationship is considered very important.
   The man’s father wants to donate sperm to artificially inseminate his daughter-in-law. The child will be the half-brother of his social father, and the biological child of his social grandfather. Is this ethically acceptable?
   If not, but the surrogate grandmother is seen as ethically acceptable, is it because she was not the biological mother? Would it be acceptable to inseminate a still fertile woman with the sperm of her infertile daughter’s husband? And what about a woman donating ova to her daughter, which results in a child of the daughter’s husband and his mother-in-law?

Who Needs the Surrogate Anyway?
We are, of course, living in an age that loves birth surrogacy and special arrangements that skirt nature’s limits.  Some of those techniques can be argued as ethical – conforming to the ethical standard, that they do no significant harm. For example, arrangements for informed, carefully managed “right to die” laws can enable doctors to perform assisted suicide, and the troubling ethics of that act can be discussed rationally.
             But much of the current view on making babies – and caring for children – is crude and disdainful of nature, or, for that matter, common sense; much of it is based on politics, fashion, and power. Of course, an embryo has no power – neither does a new-born child – so the ambitions of adults – couples, but also people pushing social agendas – often win the day.
             Somerville is a principled opponent of ALL forms of surrogacy, and, for that, she bucks the PC crowd (and at a university, wow!).  On that main matter of surrogacy, I agree with her: we should discourage it, perhaps ban it outright. We are a species that can survive without it – we’re not faced with extinction. We’ve managed to have infertile couples around us for lo! these 5 million years of evolution. Very few infertile couples were driven to madness or destruction or found they were being treated as pariahs. Only kings cared whether the wife hatched what she was supposed to hatch in babies.
                Ordinary people do things like adopt orphans. Others find ways to be around relatives’ children, and to support them, such that they can share the joys of child-rearing without being themselves biological parents. Why just today, on CNN, I heard the man touted as “the world’s greatest chef” broach the subject. He and his wife had decided never to have their own children because they had other, more demanding outlets. But here was his point: we are as creative as we would ever wish to be, without kids.
             Is there any sort of litmus test for these controversies? Is it all a matter of culture and what era we're in, and who gets to decide what? Not really. We have a long tradition of protecting children, ONLY children, and safeguarding their interests exclusively.
             Or, as Somerville says,

I believe that we must start from a basic presumption that the child’s rights to be born into a natural family structure in which the family relationships have not been intentionally confused, must be given priority. If surrogacy, in general, or any particular instance of surrogacy is not in a child’s “best interests” in such regards, it is unethical. The same “child’s- best-interests principle” should apply to all uses of reproductive technologies.

Now, what’s so complicated about that. Somerville does not touch upon lesbian surrogacy, concentrating in the article, on generational, heterosexual confusion that smacks of incest or other familial taboos. However, Somerville might agree to caution in the matter of lesbian parenting, all forms of it. We have reason to worry: for the lack of natural models at home; for the formation of sexual identities; and even for the threat of partner abuse that is so common among lesbians.
             And, in the extreme example above, of Profs X and X-primed, we are so very troubled by its bad odors – of crass indulgence and glib immaturity – that we would wish the State to step in. Time to ban behavior that puts two children manifestly at harm.
added reading: 
  • Dr. Somerville explores what makes a human human, and interrogates "The World's Most Dangerous Idea, that human=animal=robot."
  • Dr. Somerville reviews a new book on marriage and children's rights.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winded by the Windy

 There’s been much debate, and it’s growing, about whether to subsidize certain energy solutions in the new “green” age. Prominent in this debate is the question of wind energy, and whether it’s both safe and practical. Now comes news (Feb 11, 2011) of a freeze in planning for “off-shore” wind turbines for the next period in Ontario.
  Off-shore turbine clusters were to be built on the waters of Lake Ontario at places such as Wolfe Island, near Kingston. This was part of Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty’s “green” energy priority, a focus of his government.
  Emphasis was put on building wind plants in rural districts all over the province. This has led to the formation of wind development firms, but also, of community action groups dedicated to stopping the activity.
  The latter have been categorized by wind enthusiasts as classic NIMBYs, rural gentry who don’t want their bucolic views of nature spoiled. I’m sure that’s part of it—but a small part when the whole picture emerges. Ontario residents are not alone in their growing wariness around wind development; groups have sprung up all over the world, pushing to halt this activity, demanding more research, and going to court to sue for damages. In Denmark, reputedly the world leader in wind development, dozens of opposition groups have mobilized.
  Wind opponents first point to the economics, which cannot be said to add up. Wind power, when sent into the main grid, is 2 to 4 times more expensive than traditional power. Owners of the turbines will get that inflated cost covered – they`ll not lose money – but the difference will be made up by the consumer, who is to pay for ”greenness” on his monthly bill.
  In addition to practicality and cost, there are the questions of health and environmental effect. For the latter, opponents point to the bird kill occasioned by turbines, which are often planted squarely inside migratory bird corridors and around conservation areas. Environmentally, the turbines need grid corridors and substations – often in remote and unspoiled areas – to carry their power to the consumer. Also, wind is an uneven and unpredictable energy: most plants only churn out 20 to 40% capacity; in the case of offshore installations, it never exceeds 30%. When the blades don't turn, they must be backed up by generators, thereby throwing even more carbon into the atmosphere.
  Finally, there`s the question of human health. In that connection, an interesting document came our way the other day. It was a submission prepared  for one of the putative wind developers, in defence of efforts to generate wind in Prince Edward County, and as a response to a lawsuit launched by a resident of that area. In a paper that actually addresses health concerns, a consultant looks at the questions posed and the research to date.
  Are there actual health impacts from wind turbine proximity? If so, have they been studied? Are there conclusions that are meaningful? Yes, admits the consultant, there have been adverse health impacts observed – and studied by researchers – on people living next to turbines. 
   Alright, then, what is to be done, asks the paper. Consider them "annoyances," it answers, feelings that are "subjective," and that people can get used to; psycho-therapy is the solution, it concludes.
   Here is an extract from the paper, prepared by Stantec Consulting Ltd, and  titled Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review for Renewable Energy Approval (REA):
[conclusions are formatted in italics]:

In 2004 Pedersen and Persson Waye published the findings of their cross-sectional study performed in Sweden in 2000. The purpose of the study was to: evaluate the prevalence of annoyance due to wind turbine noise, to assess any dose–response relationships, and to determine if any interrelationships existed between noise annoyance and sound characteristics, as well as the influence of subjective variables such as attitude and noise sensitivity. Pedersen and Persson Waye delivered questionnaires to 627 households in five areas comprising 16 wind turbines. One week later questionnaires were collected: the response rate was 68.4% (n=351). For the participating households, A-weighted (dB(A)) sound pressure levels due to wind turbines were calculated using the sound propagation model for wind power plants adopted by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and verified by field measurements.
  The questionnaire was divided into four sections. Briefly, the first had questions regarding housing and satisfaction with the living environment, including questions about degree of annoyance experienced outdoors and indoors and sensitivity to environmental factors. The second section had questions about wind turbines (noise, shadows, and disturbances), respondents’ level of perception and annoyance, and verbal descriptors of sound and perceptual characteristics. The third section had questions about chronic health (e.g., diabetes, tinnitus, cardiovascular diseases), general well-being (e.g., headache, undue tiredness feeling tensed/stressed, irritable) and normal sleep habits (e.g., quality of sleep, whether or not sleep was disturbed by any noise source). The last section comprised questions on employment and working hours. Of import, the purpose of the study was masked in the questionnaire.
   People assessed in the study fell into six sound categories: those living in areas of sound pressure levels <30.0, 30.0-32.5, 32.5-35.0, 35.0-37.5, 37.5-40.0, and >40.0 dB(A). Percent respondents in each category were similar and ranged from 60% (<30.0 dB(A)) to 78% (>40 dB(A)).
  Results of the study revealed that the proportion of respondents who noticed noise from wind turbines outdoors increased sharply from 39% (n=27) at sound category 30.0–32.5 dB(A) to 85% (n=53) at sound category 35.0–37.5 dB(A). The proportion of those annoyed by wind turbine noise outdoors also increased with higher sound category, at sound categories exceeding 35.0 dB(A). However, 20% of the 40 respondents living in sound category 37.5–40.0 dB(A) and 36% of the 25 respondents living in sound category >40.0 dB(A) were very annoyed by wind turbines. No respondent self-reported as annoyed at sound categories below 32.5 dB(A).
  Among those who noticed wind turbine noise (n=223), 25% (n=47) reported that they were disturbed every day or almost every day. 17% of people were disturbed once or twice a week. Annoyance was most frequently reported when relaxing outdoors and at barbecue nights. 7% of respondents (n=25) were annoyed by noise from wind turbines indoors, and this was related to noise category. 23% (n=80) of respondents stated that they were disturbed in their sleep by noise. At lower sound categories, no respondents were disturbed in their sleep by wind turbine noise. Of the 128 respondents living at sound exposure above 35.0 dB(A), 16% (n=20) stated that they were disturbed in their sleep by wind turbine noise. Of the 351 people assessed, 26% (91) reported chronic health issues (e.g., diabetes, tinnitus, cardiovascular diseases), but these issues were not associated with noise levels.

Added reading: Website of an anti-wind-development coalition

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Poor M.: He's Toast

[UPDATE: The people have won!]

Now that Mubarak has gone on television, pundits are running to weigh the effects. He appears not to have abdicated; this could send the country into chaos.
 One amusing sight was CBC television, reporting that they'd had the president's words mis-translated, and that he had, in fact, stepped down. However the crowd is still there, furious. CNN, at 4:20 pm, EST, was still reporting his refusal to step aside.
  Obviously, this is a feudal monarch; actually, one with less acumen than Louis XVI, who accommodated democrats more readily.
  Then again, Mubarak may have more to hide from his opponents, such as evidence of corruption. Perhaps that's why he needs 6 months before leaving town.

Eternal Egypt, Tomorrow's Hope?

Hard to resist the excitement of Egypt, and what is unfolding in Liberation Square. In a few minutes [3:15 pm], Mubarak will make his fatal announcement.
  So this is the time for comments.
This is the most extraordinary popular movement we've seen in decades -- perhaps in a century. Essentially, it shows up as a non-ideological, un-directed mass revolt, based on new-media consciousness, and the old  yearning for justice and democratic values. It is tottering the most stable dictatorship in the region. We should all applaud and look closely to them in admiration.
   The idea that the Egyptian revolution can be seized by radical Islamicists is far-fetched, if theoretically possible. Iran was swept by the return of a charismatic cleric, Khomeini, whose forces were in place to seize power. This bears little relevance to Egypt, where there is no such leader, and where the Moslem Brotherhood is marginal. Also, they have no support in the military.
   The regional superpower in the Mideast is not the USA, to whom all eyes are turned. It is the state of Israel. What attitude can that country take?
   Israel should parse this movement carefully, but also champion it, salute the new Egypt, not trail behind it. It should abandon connections to the regime. Israelis are advised to take a leap of faith on this one.
  Given how spontaneous this movement is, such a declaration might be noted by those who actually count: the uncounted millions. This is a formative moment looking for allies. All who support Western values in the world should be unanimous: shoulder-to-shoulder with Egyptian renaissance.
   Signed, Recti.

Distracted Notes on a Diversity Morning

I was once playing golf on a course located inside an aboriginal reserve. Our two-some was joined by a third party, a Native man of approximately 21. He was terrific: not a shot from tee went less than 300 yards, and, when Hole 18 appeared, he must have been sub-par. As we elderly tottered across the fairways, he fairly flew.
When, during a pause, he was asked what he did for a living, he answered, “Nothing right now.” After a moment he added, “I’m on Disability for a bad back.” Turned out he was receiving payments from a provincial fund designed for people “severely disabled,” i.e., crippled and confined to tiny apartments. His claim had been validated by a practitioner in the pay of the Band office; the Fund simply looked the other way; cheques were sent to the Band, and I’m Alright Jack.
Well, at least the Fund had found a way to be Diverse. I thought of this as I listened to CBC this morning. I currently live in southern Ontario, so am forced to listen to the CBC, the only station that provides low-key chatter before 9 am that is not overwhelmed by advertisements.
                   On this CBC morning, we listened to the show host, Matt Galloway, a voice as androgynous as you could ever wish for, and a face as Diverse as is mandatory at CBC. Among Matt’s news items were the following:  
  • The newly Diverse face of the Calgary Mayor’s Office  
  • A talk Matt was giving about achieving “plurality” in urban planning  
  • A woman who was doing interviews of girls in Afghanistan  
  • The placement of Visible Minorities on city councils and other bodies
Wait for it: “achieving plurality in city planning.” Plurality! A word to sugar-coat hiring quotas? A planning law that mandated curry shops beside Fish & Chips? What social engineer had invented that phrase, I wondered. Well, but, let’s push on and have a listen.
For the first item, we heard from a lady who was “interviewing” schoolgirls in Afghanistan in order to publish a book of such interviews. She spoke about the aspirations of females in that war-torn country – certainly, a cause which all modern people relate to, applaud, and support. However, her organization was not composed of All Modern People, it was called Women for Women, so was obviously restricted to females. The context of the lady’s work was that only women were interested in the oppressed females of Afghanistan.
More significant was the context of her spot on radio, that day, in Toronto. She was to speak at a conference of Ontario teachers, in order to help them organize class activities that supported her work (and to get them to purchase a collection of her interviews she was going to publish later, one supposes). And what was the “theme” of this conference? Was it, “How to be a better educator?” or “Why boys are dropping out of school?” or “How do we reverse declining literacy?” Well, no. It appears the conference was entirely dedicated to “Social Justice.”
One could ask whether this was the first such thematic conference of Ontario teachers. Hardly! They go back decades. But, if trends continue, it will certainly not be the last. So we have nicely, politically calibrated school teachers. What does that address in educational shortcomings? And isn’t it easier to push politics, or prate about one’s pristine Social Conscience, than to overcome one’s gender prejudices, smugness, and lack of teaching skills?
After the promo by Women for Women, Matt announced he’d be talking about Diversity in the next hour. Well, there was something new and fresh, thought I, but let’s curb the irony for a moment. So I listened, and here is roughly how he phrased it: How to elect boards and councils that look more Diverse. How to get Diverse Faces elected, he said. Note the nuance: Faces, not minds behind the faces. Not “How to elect competent officials,” but how to ensure that whoever holds power has a non-White, non-male face.
I switched the radio off. Checking the show’s web page, I discovered it had recently featured a “Right-to-Play Project Coordinator from southern Ghana.”  Also, a Mental Health Initiative at Bell Canada called Let’s Talk Day (talking about feelings: so gender-specific that it positively wails its womynhood). Also, of course, of course, an aboriginal conference at a local university.
 Sure, there were no ads bothering the mood or cutting into Matt’s agenda, and that might have been a selling point of CBC. However, on balance, it’s a dissuader: the radio is entirely self-constructed. Actually, I think it explains why the CBC is so ripe for closure. What exactly is this “public broadcaster”? Tell you what it is on morning radio: a cave for identity politicians, self-referential diarists, affirmative actioneers, female supremacists, and assorted shills of the Boomer Age. A megaphone for fledged leftists. Like our healthy Native golfer, it needs to be released into nature, on its own means. If we now shut it down, only our national debt would be diminished.
Signed, Recti.