10.14.2018

how the media (invisibly) props up capitalism and other hidden biases

I recently read these somewhat old, but still relevant, letters to the New York Times Book Review.
Cost of the Crash
To the Editor:

In his review of “Crashed,” by Adam Tooze (Aug. 12), Fareed Zakaria asserts that “the rescue worked better than almost anyone imagined.” He notes there was no “double-dip recession” and growth returned “slowly but surely.” But this misses what was the major criticism of the “rescue.” It merely hit the re-set button — keeping the big banks solvent. Meanwhile, the stimulus did little to put people back to work. It was not the double-dip recession that critics feared but a long sluggish recovery that failed to affect the majority of the people.

For example, it took six years (2009-15) for the unemployment rate to return to the pre-recession number. The share of income received by the top 1 percent had been 23 percent before the recession. After falling to 18 percent in 2010 it jumped back to 22 percent by 2015. Meanwhile, as late as 2015, the bottom 99 percent of the population had only recovered two-thirds of the income they had lost. Zakaria should have added a few words to his assertion that the rescue worked: It worked for the top 1 percent, not for the rest of us.

MICHAEL MEEROPOL
SPRINGFIELD, MASS.

The writer is an emeritus professor of economics at Western New England University.



To the Editor:

Fareed Zakaria’s review of Adam Tooze’s “Crashed” is an approving account of an approving book. But what was “saved” was “the economy,” not humans.

Yes, the government and others acted to prop up banks. But humans lost twice: Houses and savings were savaged, while banks, their executives, and the rich, as usual, won. And in a further irony, they used taxpayer money to save “the economy” and the banks. Yes, some of it was repaid from those financial institutions, using money deposited in them by humans.

And the endless greed spawned by free market capitalism and lax regulations, which created the crash in the first place, gets mentioned simply in passing.

PHILLIP GORDON
CASTRO VALLEY, CALIF.
These letters brought to mind some concepts that I enjoyed thinking about in library school information school. There were many exercises in illuminating hidden biases and assumptions. In academia-speak, this was sometimes called problematizing or contesting, but I like to think of it more plainly as making the invisible visible. This book review reinforced the dominant view of the economy; the letter-writers challenged the underlying assumptions of the review.

When something is everyday ordinary, commonplace, accepted as normal, it becomes invisible. How can we discuss and analyze, and perhaps challenge, its influence? First we have to make it visible.

Gender roles are the perfect example of this. From the colour of a baby's room, to the toys they play with, the stories they see and hear, and a million other data streams, humans are taught gender roles and expectations. Sure, this has loosened up a bit for some segment of society, but in the overall scheme, it is still largely true. Expectations of gender roles are as invisible as the air that baby breathes. We are thoroughly indoctrinated from the moment we are born. If we want to challenge gender roles, we first have to name the many ways those roles are taught and reinforced. We have to make the invisible visible.

This in turn leads me to think of something Allan and I talk about a lot: how anything progressive or leftist is labeled "political" -- and declared inappropriate in many settings -- while pro-government and pro-military displays are thought to be natural and not political. Military displays at sporting events: neutral. Sitting down during the national anthem: political. Honouring "fallen heroes": natural. Honouring anyone who is a vocal opponent of war: political.

Once you are aware of these hidden biases, you see them everywhere. In one iSchool project, I had to choose a classification system, describe it, then use a different method to classify the same things, and show how assumptions and biases were transformed through the use of a different classification system. I analyzed the way clothing is classified by L.L.Bean, and proposed a gender-free alternative.

I think this hidden bias thing should be a regular wmtc feature, for capitalism, and for war. Or maybe it already is?

(Whoo-hoo, I'm blogging again!)

10.12.2018

in which we take a big gamble and are rewarded, or, we are moving to port hardy

I got a job! We are moving to Port Hardy, BC! Port what now?

Yes, we are moving to a tiny, remote town in the "north island" -- the northern end of Vancouver Island -- a town of 5,000 people. Nearby Port McNeill counts 2,600 residents, and the third town in the region, Port Alice, is a village of less than 1,000. And we are thanking whatever it is we atheists thank, because we're actually already paying rent there!

As my friend Detective Monk used to say, here's what happened.

As I've mentioned, finding a place to live that allows dogs on Vancouver Island (and possibly all of British Columbia) is incredibly difficult. When we were on the island in April, we saw a huge number of rental buildings. We were very encouraged, as in the GTA, rentals are increasingly rare; everything is condos. But that was before we knew that the great majority of rentals do not allow dogs. Even buildings that say "pet-friendly" may restrict to cats only, or something like "small dogs negotiable".

I applied for a job at the Port Hardy branch of VIRL, a job I really wanted. I had seen great-looking rental townhouses -- spacious, newly renovated, affordable. They're the only rentals in town that allow dogs, so of course they have no availability. No one ever leaves.

Then suddenly, over the Labour Day weekend: an ad. A house. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms. A fireplace. A deck. A big fenced-in yard. The rent is great and dogs are welcome. And if we don't put money down right now we will lose it.

We put off the agent as long as we could, but it quickly became clear that I was not going to know about the job before we needed to commit to the house. In fact, I was not even going to interview for the job before we needed to commit! But what choice did we have? If I got the job and we had no place to live, what would we do? But if I didn't get the job in Port Hardy, we couldn't move there. It was a potentially expensive gamble.

We did it. We signed a lease, and put down a deposit. About 10 days later, we paid October rent. And two days after that, I had my interview! Ohmygod has this been stressful!

And today, just a few hours ago, I found out I got it. Whew.

The problem with being a risk-taker is that every time a gamble pays off, it reinforces your belief in taking risks -- when in reality those past gambles have absolutely no bearing on the present. But... whew.

Here we go!

10.08.2018

wmtc moves west

We are moving to Vancouver Island! As soon as I find a good library job there -- which may be very soon -- we are giving notice, packing up, and driving across this beautiful country in a little car with a big dog in the back seat.

Why are we moving there? Short answer: because we want to.

The full answer is multifaceted.

I've always wanted to experience life in a small town. The question always was: what would we do for work? Our previous employment was conditional on living in or near a large city. One of the many reasons I chose a library degree for my new career was its portability. Every little town has a library. Maybe I could work in one.

Now I'm settled in Mississauga, which is neither big city nor small town, but a massive sprawling suburb. There are many nice things about living here, but this neither-nor is just not me. Mississauga is also physically ugly. A few years ago we visited our family on the US west coast, in an incredibly beautiful area. When we got home, I saw Mississauga with fresh eyes -- and it was depressing. The strip malls, the concrete high-rises, the massive blocks of townhouses squeezed into every available piece of land. Every few kilometres, everything repeats itself -- the same stores, the same restaurants, the same the same the same. I just found it ugly and depressing.

I have a great job here, and I'm very aware that if I do nothing, I will play out the rest of my library career in Mississauga. And I don't want that. This just doesn't feel like my final destination. I want something else. Something more beautiful, quieter, less commercial.

When we moved to Canada from New York City, most of my family lived in the NY-NJ area. Now most of them, including my 87-year-old mother, live on the west coast of the US. Vancouver Island is a lot closer!

When it comes to family, it's not a perfect move. We do still have family in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. But there is a way to find that small town, and that natural beauty, and still live near family.

My strongest ties in Mississauga are to my union team, an incredible group of women who I love working with, and who I'm proud to call friends. But that is a moment in time. I had already decided not to stand for re-election for local president. I'm ready to have more time in my life. So the thing that I'll miss most would be ending anyway.

In April, we spent 10 days on the island
, visiting towns and libraries to get a feel for the possibilities. The more I saw, the more I liked. Since then, I've been looking at job postings... and this week I announced to my employer, management, and to our members that I'm stepping down. (Expect more frequent posts!)

There is a downside, and it's a tough one: rental laws in BC are not pet-friendly. Unlike in Ontario, landlords in BC are allowed to exclude pets. And they do. A good 90% of the rental ads I see say "no pets". This is very discoouraging, and a bit scary.

Other than that, all systems are go. I've already had one job interview and have another lined up. I don't want to say too much about that until we know more.

9.30.2018

thank you, 2018 red sox!


It is the Year of the Mookie.

108 wins. Eight games up. 11 wins to go.

That is all.

9.24.2018

two weeks in northern ontario: the good, the bad, and the mushrooms

Our Ontario trip was a mixed bag of ups and downs, but mostly ups. Everything is pretty good with some not-so-good mixed in.

Traveling with Diego. We loved it! It was so much fun having us with him all the time, and seeing him so happy and content.

Downside: Traveling with a dog can be a bit limiting. We had planned to leave him alone while we explored Sudbury and Thunder Bay, but when we were actually there, we weren't comfortable with it. We had very limited time in those towns anyway; had we been there for more time, we probably would have done it.

Balance: A huge 5 out of 5 leafs.







The RV. I love traveling by RV. On a road trip, it's great to be so self-contained, to not have to go out for every breakfast and dinner, to have your own kitchenette and washroom, but still be in the woods. Ever since we traveled by RV in Alaska, about a million years ago (1996), I've dreamed of owning one. That's not very practical, but I hope we can rent one again soon.

Downside: Once you're in a campsite, it's not easy to explore a town or city. The ideal would be an motorhome towing a small car, or a big car towing a trailer. That gives you the convenience of the RV and the flexibility of leaving it behind. With only the RV, it can be a bit limiting at times.

Balance: 4 out of 5 maple leafs.







Park facilities. The provincial parks were beautiful. The campsites were good, each with a firepit and picnic table, and some with electric hookups. The washrooms and showers were clean, and there was a washer/dryer available in every park.

Downside: Ontario Parks doesn't take reservations in September (with one exception: Killarney... but we were given wrong information, so we didn't know that). Without reservations, we would get in to a park, often late in the day, then have to drive around looking for a suitable campsite. This was tiring, especially after a whole day of driving. Not being able to reserve campsites was a significant drawback. I assume the absence of reservations is a cost-cutting measure. It's not good.

Park facilities were five-leaf, but the absence of reservations was a real drag.








Road-tripping through Ontario provincial parks. Ontario is insanely huge. The area we drove through is beautiful, but it's a lot of driving, even if you love road trips as much as I do. The parks have a certain sameness to them -- especially if you're not up for extremely challenging hiking or climbing. The Ontario Parks trail rating scale was very different than what we're used to. We were discouraged that a hike labeled "moderate" -- usually our speed -- was too challenging. And once you're on the trail, there's nothing you can do but tough it out.

So if you're not hiking most trails, there's not a lot of difference among the parks. They're all beautiful, but I wish I had realized that they're all pretty much the same. But would I have planned a two-week trip at only one or two parks before actually seeing any of them? Definitely not.

So there was a lot of driving, much of it very scenic, broken up by staying in very similar woodsy places. Touring several Ontario Provincial Parks: 3 of 5 leafs if you love road trips. 2.5 leafs if you don't.


What else did we do?

So besides driving and going on too-challenging hikes we: ate a lot (especially steak, potato chips, and frozen yogurt), drank wine and vodka, listened to a lot of music, had great talks, and read a lot.

Saw the Sudbury Nickel, the Wawa Goose, and Terry Fox. Saw a coyote, many deer, ducks, geese, blue jays, sandhill cranes, rabbits, a bald eagle with something in its talons (!), and many nice dogs. We saw a turtle crossing a highway, but there was no safe way to pull over and help it. I hope you made it, turtle.

We thought we'd see petroglyphs in Lake Superior Provincial Park, but they are inaccessible unless you can climb steep cliffs. Saw crazy elaborate RV campsites where retired folks have created little manors. Saw a lot of friendly people, not one of whom wanted more than a "good morning".

Saw a sky full of stars. Heard much French spoken. Saw dozens of old-fashioned roadside motels, old-fashioned diners, and almost no fast-food restaurants. Had a great breakfast in an ancient coffee shop in The Soo, the only restaurant of the trip.

I wanted to see more of Sudbury and Thunder Bay, but Allan visited bookstores in both places, and loved the one in Sudbury.

And, oh yeah, the mushrooms!

Ever since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma I have been a bit freaked out by wild mushrooms. Mushrooms found in a store or restaurant, no problem. But mushrooms that appear after a rainfall or in damp woodsy places have creeped me out.

Before reading Michael Pollan's excellent book, I didn't know that fungi's networks of (mostly invisible) mycelium can extend vast distances, or that visible mushrooms are but a small fraction of the whole fungus, or that mushrooms aren't plants! I was amazed to learn that fungi are a separate category (kingdom) of living things, neither animal nor plant. (If I learned this in grade school, I had long since forgotten it.) This is only a bit of what I learned about mushrooms from that book, and all of it gave me the creeps.

Now I can report that this trip desensitized my fungiphobia. On our hikes we saw a great variety of wild mushrooms, and we photographed every variety we saw. Now I'm more amazed than freaked out -- although they are still super creepy! I'm going to look up the varieties online; photos to follow.

9.09.2018

we head north

We're going glamping! Allan, Diego, and I are hitting the road.

Driving this:



Going here:

Killarney Provincial Park

Lake Superior Provincial Park

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

Pancake Bay Provincial Park

Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Plus quick visits to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay.

Doing this:

Hike, grill, explore. Watch dogs play on beaches. Read. Keep an eye on the Red Sox. Find used bookstores. Maybe hear some music. Take photographs. Be in woods. Feel nature do its magic.

I love road trips and am in vacation mode the moment we get in the vehicle.

See you in two weeks!