Monday, November 9, 2015

My Log 491 Nov 9 2015: Figures for anglophone and francophone education recall for one family the trauma of trying to adjust almost 50 years ago

A fascinating article in La Presse this morning by Richard Y. Bourhis of the department of psychology at UQAM, outlines the current, that is to say the actual, state of balance between the francophone, anglophone and allophone communities in the province of Quebec, using figures provided by the provincial Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport. The figures compare numbers of students between 1972 and 2012, and the author recalls that the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) was brought in in 1977, the aim being to consolidate once and for all the state of the French language in this, its North American redoubt.
I recall Premier Rene Levesque at the time saying he felt somewhat humiliated to have to bring in such measures as to deny to anglophone children whose parents had not been educated in Quebec, entry into anglophone schools, and to have to pressure children whose native tongue was neither English nor French to study in French.
There were those at the time who argued that these measures were no longer necessary, because the French language had already been rescued from its decline by the immense changes brought about in Quebec life by the Lesage government, elected in 1960, and the minority communities, including the anglophones, so it was argued, were already accepting the need to learn French in increasing numbers. Be that as it may, the political need for the Bill was still there, as powerful groups were propagating the need to diminish the still-powerful role of English in the province. And there seems now to be almost total acceptance of Bill 101 and its consequences.
I was living in Montreal from 1968 to 1975, having just returned from an eight-year assignment as the London correspondent of The Montreal Star, equipped with a family of three small boys all born in England, to whom was later added a girl born in Montreal.
On arrival we put the children into the nearest Protestant public school (the formal description of schools for the anglophones) whose students were made up of 53 per cent Greek, 17 per cent Moroccan Jews, 14 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent anglophone. They were doing things in that school, such as teaching children who didn’t know a word of English their new language, that would have freaked out most schools in Britain had they been confronted with the same needs. In those days I was very critical of schools and the schooling they provided, and after a year, dissatisfied, we took our two younger children out and decided to drop the children into the French, Catholic system, even though we were neither French nor Catholic.
We thought we were responding to an urgent political need in the community, but when we approached the nearest elementary school, they refused to take our children. This was an aspect of a rather deplorable xenophobia common among a certain strata of the francophone Quebeckers of the time (they also would not take the Moroccan Jewish kids, even though they were already French-speaking).  For a year my wife, a teacher, taught the two younger children at home, and a year later as pressures to open up their intensely religious system, staffed by nuns and brothers, mounted, the Catholic school authorities agreed to admit all three boys, who were, basically put at the back of the room, ignored by the nuns, and forced to fend for themselves. There were only six anglophone children in the school.
They did learn French, but from the other children in the playground. That their system was opening up was indicated by their establishing a year later a special class for immigrant children, where their special needs were looked to --- although to tell the truth, my children were, for the most part, treated by the teachers as if they were stupid, which has not prevented them from becoming, successively, after many difficult years, a musician, a criminal lawyer, and a screenwriter.
Prof. Bourhis writes that the number of anglophone students in Quebec declined by 41 per cent from 256,000 in 1972 to 105,000 in 2012, a reflection of the departure from Quebec of 300,000 anglophone citizens following the passing of Bill 101. An additional factor, of course, was that the anglophone system was no longer permitted to shore up its numbers with francophone, allophone and immigrant students, as they had been accustomed to do. Of course, over these same years, the number of francophone students also declined by 36 per cent, even in spite of the addition of allophone and immigrant children who before went to the English-language schools. In 1972 85 per cent of the allophone students went to the English schools, whereas by 2012 that number had fallen to just under 14 per cent.
Prof Bourhis’s conclusions may surprise many: he says that because of the enthusiasm of anglophone parents for immersion French classes, and even for (like us) enrolling their children in the French schools, today anglophones are the most bilingual section of Quebec students, noting that in 2015 the scores obtained in French in provincial examinations by students from anglophone schools were 9.4 per cent higher than those obtained by students from the francophone schools, a fact that, he remarks “demonstrates that the anglophone schools and educational commissions also contribute to the development of the French fact in Quebec.”
Notably, he adds, community interest seems to be higher among anglophones than francophones, since  in 2015 17.26 of eligible anglophone voters voted in elections to the anglophone school boards, compared with only 4.85 per cent of francophones who voted in their similar contests.
Even in that tiny section to which my family attached ourselves in 1969, Prof. Bourhis noted that in 2012 some 21,835 anglophones were enrolled in francophone schools. So maybe we could argue that we were slightly ahead of the game. But unfortunately our move had rather negative consequences for our children, since they were thrown into an environment in which they knew not a word of French, and were not given much help from the religion-oriented teachers in learning it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Log 490 Nov 6 2015: Poppy Jackson, sitting naked as a jay bird on a roof, occupying “deterittorialized space.” An explanation of sorts of a piece of performance art

English: Photograph of Toynbee Hall circa 1902...
Photograph of Toynbee Hall circa 1902,which has nothing to do with this article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Performance of an artist in Tokyo.
Performance of an artist in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Amarillo 7
More performance art, somewhere or other (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Living statues, performance art "...
Living statues, performance art called "Fried eggs". Europe Day celebration in Ukraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A week or so ago a naked woman sat for four hours in the cold weather of London, England, on the roof of a building. She apparently did not arouse much interest from people who spotted her, which must have been disappointing for her, because she was later revealed to have been a performance artist at work.
Her name was Poppy Jackson, she was sitting on the roof of a business called Toynbee Studios. I immediately, speaking from my deep ignorance, confused this studio with Toynbee Hall, one of the well-known centres in East London of charitable works, which --- again, out of my deep ignorance --- I had always thought had some connection to Arnold J. Toynbee, whose huge book A Study of History was one of those that, as a 19–year-old struggling with my immense lack of knowledge, I tried vainly to read and to adopt as my entry into the modern world.
As it happens, Toynbee Hall was founded in 1884, and named after an earlier Arnold Toynbee, also an historian, who died just the year after the Hall was founded. This is somewhat irrelevant to Poppy Jackson’s noble vigil on the roof of Toynbee Studios, an entirely separate place that  is described as a place sympathetic to the work of artists established by something called Artsadmin, an organization I had never heard of either, but which turns out to be a publicly-funded place that is pretty central to what is happening in the City of London, culture-wise, if I may use the phrase.
Anyway this circumlocution aside, Poppy Jackson’s vigil on the roof gave rise to a classic example of what I always call “intellectual crap”, one of those explanations, almost completely incomprehensible to the ordinary bloke, that crop up from time to time, and deserve to be exposed and brutally put down.  I have for the moment appointed myself as the exposer.
“This piece,” (of Performance Art), explains Toynbee Hall in a release about Poppy’s work in sitting on the roof, “investigates questions relating to temporality, the body in site, representation and gender through consideration of the use of the body in performance as an activist practice.”
Hang on there fellas, was that “the use of the body as an activist practice,” you just wrote?  I see…. The use of the body as an activist practice…. You better continue, old man,  I am not quite with you so far.
"The work interrogates the boundaries,” the press release continues in elucidation, “access points and interaction between 'interior' and 'exterior' categories.”
Got that, fellas?  The access point and interaction, not to mention the boundaries, “between interior and exterior categories” that are under interrogation.  So this is Poppy, sitting up there naked and freezing, under interrogation just by being there, as to her interior and exterior categories.
The explanation continues (I am hoping with some easier clues as to its meaning): “Physical action
dually presents the female body within a process of claiming space, whilst attempting to exist itself as deterritorialised space."
Wow! I finally got it. It’s the old duality that has risen its troublesome head, bothered on this occasion by the female body sitting up there claiming the space, naked as a jay bird, while at the very same time trying its best to occupy a “deterritorialised space.”
You see what I mean about your intellectuals?  That’s just, so-o-o profound. These guys sound like they should be wine writers, a field rich in intellectual meaninglessness where a body can flop about to its heart’s content in deterritorialized space. Right?
I hope so. But meantime, good luck to Poppy. Your career is off to a great start, kid. If I hear of any deterritorialised space that you might inhabit next time, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Log 489 Nov 1 2015: A journalist does in three weeks what Sir John Chilcot has taken six years not to do --- apportions responsibility for the Iraq war

BlairIraqWarDemo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: At the UN, Colin Powell holds a model...
At the UN, Colin Powell holds a model vial of anthrax, while arguing that Iraq is likely to possess WMDs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: President George W. Bush applauds for...
English: President George W. Bush applauds former Prime Minister Tony Blair after presenting him in 2009, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during ceremonies in the East Room of the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hans Blix (pictured above) spoke of his relati...
Hans Blix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A remarkable piece of journalism has just been achieved by a BBC reporter Peter Oborne, who, wondering why Sir John Chilcot has taken six years to prepare his still-unreleased report on the circumstances in which Britain entered the Iraq war, began to think that he could himself produce the report within three weeks from already-published sources. And he has now done so.
Oborne’s audio report sets out to ask the major questions confronting Chilcot, such as did British Prime Minister Tony Blair lie to Parliament about the mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction which he gave as the reason for the war; was the war legal; did the war in effect increase rather than decease the threat of terrorism around the world; did Blair know that the United States was entering the war to effect regime change in Iraq; and had Blair colluded with Bush in advance  --- almost a year in advance --- to create and execute the war?
On all of these questions except the last one, for which Oborne says there is no hard and fast, unquestionable evidence, Oborne’s report answers an unequivocal yes. Of course, these are not Oborne’s own conclusions but those of the highly placed officials who were involved in all the machinations leading to the war.
These include --- and we hear their own voices on Oborne’s report ---  Dr Hans Blix, Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), 2000 – 2003; Sir Christopher Meyer, British Ambassador to the United States, 1997 – 2003; Sir Stephen Wall,  European Adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and head of the Cabinet Office's European Secretariat, 2000 – 2004; Carne Ross,  First Secretary, United Kingdom Mission to New York, 1998 – 2002; and Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, former director-general of MI5, the British Secret Service, who had already been reported to have told the Chilcot Inquiry, when asked to what extent the Iraq conflict exacerbated the threat from international terrorism, had replied tersely: "Substantially."
Oborne calls into evidence, for example, the 17 lawyers in the Foreign Office, to answer his question as to whether the war was legal --- as United States and British leaders have always claimed. In fact, war is legal in only two circumstances, first, if it is threat to the country, and second, if it has been approved by the United Nations Security Council. Neither of these conditions applied to the war against Iraq,  which did not prevent the British and US leaders from claiming that the UN approval given in 1990 to the first Iraq war following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, could be extended all these years later, to cover an additional invasion of Iraq, a conclusion that the lawyers in question evidently considered ludicrous.
Of course it was obvious at the time that the Swedish factotum who was in charge of the inspection of Iraq in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Dr. Hans Blix, was not satisfied that sufficient weight was given to the reports of his inspectors --- who carried out 700 inspections in 500 different sites --- to the effect that they had not been able to find such weapons, evidence which was blatantly ignored and lied about by the governments concerned.
The diplomats involved state frankly their view that certain factors --- a speech by Jacques Chirac was one of them --- were misrepresented in the run-up to the war --- although one of these diplomats rather charmingly says, when asked if Blair had lied on a particular issue, “I am a diplomat and do not use that kind of language,  but it was a misrepresentation, yes.”
As to the advanced conspiracy between Blair and Bush to bring on the war, Oborne has to conclude such theories were all based on a meeting in Crawford, Texas, Bush’s ranch, in April 2002 at which only Blair and Bush were present. The only evidence Oborne can produce is that the next day Blair made a speech in which he began for the first time to refer to regime change as an objective. Not enough hard evidence, Oborne concludes, to make a decision one way or the other.
But did he take into account the recent release of e-mails received by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, which included one from her predecessor Colin Powell to George Bush about this April 2002 meeting, which establish beyond doubt that the war was discussed at this meeting almost a year before the war was launched? Powell tells Bush that Iraq will be among the subjects Blair will want to discuss with him on his visit, and he adds:
“Blair continues to stand by you and the U.S. as we move forward on the war on terrorism and on Iraq,” writes Powell to Bush.  “He will present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause.”
A second memo drafted by the U.S. embassy in London, suggests how vigorously Blair was propagating the war:
“PM Tony Blair has made publicly clear his commitment to a more proactive Iraq policy. Reflecting the polled sentiments of voters, however, a sizable number of his Labour Party MP’s remains at present opposed to military action against Iraq. A majority indicate they would change their minds if they had proof of Iraqi involvement in September 11 or another terrorist atrocity. Some would favour shifting from a policy of  containment of Iraq if they had recent (and publicly usable) proof that Iraq has WMD/missiles or that Iraq’s WMD status has changed for the worse.”

Someday someone will probably do a study of how threats of terrorism have been ratcheted up every time any politician in power wants to push through some anti-terrorist, or anti-civil liberties measure. Certainly after this Crawford summit, a huge campaign was launched complete with threats of terrorist action while British government officials continued to accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction that the UN inspectors had already failed to find.
It is to be hoped this BBC report will jog along the publication at long last of the Chilcot inquiry, so that the crimes of the leaders can be placed squarely at their door.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Log 488 Oct 29 2015: This Changes Everything, says Ms. Klein, and “this” means “climate change”

English: Naomi Klein on Thursday, Day 21, of O...
English: Naomi Klein on Thursday, Day 21, of Occupy Wall Street. Klein led an open forum at the event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...
With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Historian Howard Zinn speaking in 2009
Historian Howard Zinn speaking in 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Naomi Klein on Thursday, Day 21, of O...
Naomi Klein  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Having not read Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything, when I went yesterday to see the film by the same name made by Klein and her husband Avi Lewis, I really had no idea what the “this” is that she says changes everything. I had rather got the impression from reviews of her book that  Capitalism is the “this” in question, and that she is blaming Capitalism for the man-made events that have created the warming of the Earth in recent decades, which, if continued, seem to be leading the world to destruction.   If true, I think, this would have been a somewhat questionable assumption, since  the same policies have been, and are, followed by non-capitalist countries, with, in some cases, even worse results.  but a moment comes in the film when she makes it clear that it is “climate change” and not Capitalism that she says changes everything.
The film is interesting, excellent even, in that it sets up the dilemma about this overwhelmingly important and yet difficult-to-grasp subject in terms that can be understood by everyone. Naomi Klein has always shown a genius for looking at events from an angle that is quite off-the-beaten track, as it were, and she has used her extraordinary analytical powers so successfully that she has become established throughout the world as a major intellectual, accepted as an equal by no matter how elevated a level of academics, and one who has, moreover, made no secret of where her political sympathies lie, that is, with the struggling peoples of this benighted world.
There were two screenings of the film yesterday in Montreal, the second of which was followed by a community meeting of activists. But I went to the first one, so as not to have my judgment of the film qua film influenced by the enthusiasms of others. It was an unusual experience, for it was the first time in my entire life that I have had a whole cinema to myself. No one else was there. I fought the impulse to take a message from that about public attitudes to the issue.
The film opens with the Alberta tar sands, said by Klein, who narrates the film, to be the biggest industrial project on Earth. (Before she said that, she opened the narration by saying that she had always been bored by the many films about climate change. This immediately established a difference between us: I have seen hardly any such films, and didn’t even know so many had been made. And it really must be damnable to live a life crowded with such films.)
The thought kept occurring to me as I was led through Klein’s appalling catalogue of the stupidities of the industrial machine, that with a bit of a tweak in emphasis, this could have been a comic film, instead of one overlaid by the tragedy she sees before us.  A film of sardonic humour, it is true, about the inanities of which people are capable, the complete and utter stupidity of arguments made in favour of our destroying the land, water and air that lies at the base of all our lives, demonstrating the straight-faced idiocy with which people in positions of decision-making power can express their utter failure to grasp what is at stake. As these verities kept coming out of the mouths of engineers, small-town mayors, workers, businessmen and others, I kept breaking into hoots of laughter, trying to tell myself sternly that although it was all very enjoyable, it really is no joke.
Which I guess, brings me on to Klein’s solution, namely, the uprising of the peoples of this world against the indignities being perpetrated on them and their lands, just people, protesting, leaderless mobs, really, angry, confronting the batons, rifles and teargas of their masters. She takes us around the world from Canada to Greece, from Greece to India, from India back to the United States, and so on and on, revealing one horror after another, one official lie after another, one inanity after another in defence of what they are doing.  She even includes an incredible quote from Barack Obama, the golden-tongued orator, a man of considerable understanding and intelligence, exulting in how much digging and shovelling and piping and interference with the processes of nature he has brought into play.
The Occupy movement that spread so irresistably around the world a couple of years ago occupies a central place in what seems  to be this film’s recommended solutions. Unfortunately, the Occupies reached their sudden peak, and then, with the onset of winter, died away.  It all reminds me of the social revolution, as it was called, that overcame the United States in the 1960s, as young people awoke from the torpor of the Eisenhower years, and threw off their respect for the timidity of their elders. The end of that was the election of Richard Nixon, a great triumph for revolution. You can’t help laughing.
All of this street protesting is great, I guess. Remember, more than a million people, maybe as many as three million, were in the streets protesting in advance of the decision to invade Iraq. Even that was not enough: they were simply ignored by an establishment that had made up its mind a year before to do the deed.
Similarly, this kind of protest is not new. As the late Howard Zinn shows in his marvellous Peoples History of the United States, ever since the republic was established there has been an active peoples’ opposition to the controls imposed by the elite to serve their own purposes, right from the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and this opposition has never ceased. Yet it has never succeeded either, because it has never found the way to challenge the political control of the wealth-owners and the politicians, institutions and information systems that are owned by them serve their interests.
It seems that only political action can take away the power controlled by these wealth-owners in every country in the world. Although this seems to me to be an old story --- I have lived longer than Ms. Klein, I guess, and seem to have always been confronted by these terrors --- there does seem to be one newish element in her solutions, namely local action, local political action, community-based action, but even that seems to be ideal only in confronting specific outbreaks of environmental horrors. 
Anyone who doubts the determination of those who own wealth to hang on it it, and to the privilege of control that goes along with it, need only consider the tenacity with which the wealth-owners of Europe have been hanging on to what is theirs. The history of the Syriza uprising in Greece tells a melancholy story of an entrenched EU oligarchy refusing to abide any opposition within their neck of the woods. A story that has now been reinforced by the refusal in recent days of the President of Portugal to allow the dissenting socialist party that has won the biggest share of the seats, to take office.
He’s just saying no: you’re not allowed in, no matter what the voters say.
Of course, if there really was a world-wide political movement there might be some grounds for hope. It reminds me of what Arundhati Roy said in one of her surveys of world politics: The only thing about globalization that is worth supporting is the globalization of dissent.
I guess that is the dream of Ms Klein, too. A great coming together of all the forces of dissent around the world, to drive the hobgoblins who are, because of their greed and stupidity, preventing us from doing what we know has to be done to save the world from burning up.
Well, I guess, it is a hope of sorts. But it does seem a kind of long shot.