Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A bunch of current topics, large and small

A whole heap of articles, reports and letters on different subjects in today's Globe has inspired me to write a few lines on a variety of current topics, large and small:
  • The story of the Dalhousie University dentistry students and their sexist Facebook postings has been ongoing for almost a month now, and still seems to have plenty of legs. The more I think about it, the closer I seem to get to my nemesis Margaret Wente's position on it, a rare phenomenon that I find extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing. Yes, clearly such behaviour by students (or by anyone, really) is unacceptable and a strong message needs to be sent. The individuals have already been "suspended from clinical activities", a status which, if continued, will not allow them to graduate, but I can't help but think that a full expulsion seems excessive. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes - even if, in previous generations, they were not blazoned across the Internet for all the world to see - and there is no reason why the students cannot put such a youthful indiscretion behind them and go on to become normal and productive members of society (and maybe even good dentists). So, by all means call them out, and call out everyone exhibiting such childishness and thoughtlessness, but don't hobble them for the rest of their lives.
  • Pro-IS hackers have hacked into the US Central Command Twitter feed and YouTube account. My first response to this news was: "The US military's Central Command has a Twitter account? How weird is that? Does the CIA have one too? MI6? What on earth do they tweet about?" Just another case of "Twitter exists. Twitter is popular. We need to have a Twitter account because everybody else does."
  • In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, a huge anti-immigration rally took place in Dresden, Germany, and support for the popular hate-group PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, under it's German acronym) has sky-rocketed. Arguably, a good part of this increased right-wing activity can be directly attributed, not just to the killings by the Muslim fundamentalists, but to the French cartoons that triggered them in the first place. Free expression is a double-edged sword, and must be wielded responsibly, not frivolously.
  • The story behind yet another lost plane revolves around the contents of the plane's "black box". A letter in today's paper echoes what I have often thought: "Why, in this age of satellites and worldwide internet, must we still be reliant on such an antediluvian technology as a physical black box of recordings, which typically sinks to the bottom of the ocean along with the rest of the plane?" At the very least, can it not be arranged to make it float?
  • As Hamilton, Ontario becomes the latest municipality to ban tobogganing in order to avoid lawsuits from the trigger-happy parents of injured children, the question arises as to what is wrong with just putting up a sign saying "Toboggan at your own risk". Maybe I am missing something, but wouldn't that allow those who want to toboggan to do so, while avoiding the possibility of unscrupulous lawyers and parents blaming the municipality for any injuries to their little ones?
  • The Liberal government of Ontario appears to be finally getting serious about the introduction of a carbon tax, following in the successful footsteps of British Columbia, Quebec and California, among others. Prime Minister Harper clearly has no intentions of addressing Canada's burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions, so it is up to the provinces to take the lead, and so kudos to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Environment Minister Glen Murray for having the cojones to so much as broach this divisive (although largely misunderstood) issue. I truly believe that if they were to do a better job of explaining that a carbon tax is tax- and revenue-neutral (when combined with a reduction in direct income taxes like BC has done) and not an additional tax-grab as most people seem to believe, and that a carbon tax does not necessarily lead to economic damnation (see the BC example again), then people will accept it, and even learn to love it. Certainly, as a tool in carbon reduction, there is little doubt now that it works (yes, BC).
It's interesting, reading back over some of these items, to see just how reactionary and bourgeois some of my opinions are these days. Gone is the idealism of youth, replaced by a pragmatism and cynicism bordering on bitterness. I prefer to think of it, however, as a new-found caution, and an unwillingness to settle for knee-jerk reactions and tub-thumping. If I ever lapse into conservatism, though, then you can upbraid me. And I'll thank you for it!

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