What we have here is Failure to Unite

… or how computer science algorithms changed the world.

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Once upon a time this was our teacher:

 

 

 

 

 

We listened to the stories of Earth and the grand liturgy of the universe for hundreds of thousands of years. And then we, a storytelling species, created mythologies to explain our existence. And slowly our understanding grew and we began to replace mythologies with scientific knowledge.

And then we replaced knowledge with search engine computer algorithms.

Our favourite search engine tells us: “Algorithms are simply instructions for solving a problem or completing a task. Recipes are algorithms, as are math equations. Computer code is algorithmic. The internet runs on algorithms and all online searching is accomplished through them.”

Algorithms in and of themselves are neither good not bad, but in a world tending to more and more search engine tribalism, the outcomes can be disastrous.

Once upon a time, there were rules of engagement, especially among the testosterone fired males of our species. Like in boxing, when two men faced off they engaged the Marquis of Queensbury rules. You didn’t throw sand in a guy’s face and sucker punch him, you didn’t kick your opponent in the testicles, and you certainly didn’t pummel him when he was down. Then came Mixed Martial “Arts” and the rules changed.

In the good old days, when political rivals disagreed, you either pulled a sword or a gun or a vial of poison and did away with that meddlesome priest or opposition leader (some still play by the old rules, eh Vlad?) Today you are more likely to be drowned in a Tsunami of fake news and deep state conspiracy theories and the stupidity of your own, or doctored, inappropriate emails and intimate Facebook photos.

Want to embarrass a rival in the old days? Put it in an Irish ballad, hold a woman’s mending circle, or write a satiric poem or essay. Today? Why you just start a “community” Facebook group or send scurrilous rumours to the New York Post or the Toronto Sun, or almost any corporate for-profit media outlet, and your dirt is digested by millions almost instantly. And those millions then play broken telephone with your illegitimate alternative truths and the dumbing us down spreads … like a virus for which there is no vaccine except the Sixth Extinction.

Locally, Doug Ford no longer needs Ontario Today, his former private propaganda media outlet, because CP24 gives him and his sycophants all the air time they need. The Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t need poison because they get a platform from CBC’s Power and Politics pundits. Well informed, educated, Intelligent, empathetic people used to sit down and discuss issues. Today, “In Search Engines We Trust” as computer algorithms tribalize our thought processes into porridge.

Last night’s Presidential Debate, which was neither presidential nor a debate, and it’s aftermath, was a classic example. One candidate was in full tribal outcry promoting “Red MAGA cap States” over “Blue States” and one candidate quietly trying to make a case for “United States” and an audience jumping from the MUTE button to an AI algorithm from Google to try to find out who won.

The US has pulled out of UN agreements and the World Health Organization. In Canada, the far right Ultra Conservative Party governing Wexit Albertans are talking about leaving the UN and the WHO.

What we have here is failure to unite. Would you rather be poisoned by Putin or tribalized by Trumpists? Always remember that Artificial Intelligence is artificial.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

* image courtesy of NASA

The Real Pandemic is Not COVID-19

The real pandemic is the attack on intelligence. As the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has spread around the globe, it has exposed the sad truth that humans are more susceptible to the myths of conspiratorial gossip than to the data of scientific research.

 We are still caught up in a “Burn The Witch” mentality – if she’s still alive after we submerge her (and her black cat) in the purifying waters of stupidity, she must be witch! Burn the witch! Consider what we know and don’t know about the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or COVID-19.

This virus may or may not have its source in sewage waters laden with the waste of various animal species, or in the wet markets of Wuhan, but science is pretty sure it didn’t start out in a hostile foreign nation’s chemical lab or a pedophilic pizza shop in New York. And science doesn’t always get it right the first time. Remember when the theory of continental drift was mocked by mainstream geographers and geologists?

The same with masks in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak – don’t wear a mask here, wear a mask there, masks don’t work, masks do work. And then the data slowly solidified by May that wearing a mask helped to prevent the spread of virus laden droplets and aerosols significantly. We have known for six months now that masks work, and yet we have “Freedom Rally” conspiracy laden anti-maskers protesting for their right to infect and be infected.

Science is still, as Carl Sagan said, a candle in the dark against a demon-haunted world. We take the best information we have at the time and act on it, patiently wait until our preconceptions are satisfied or banished, arrive at new knowledge and adjust our actions. As noted in past blogs, science is an adversarial discipline. If one comes up with a new theory, it is the responsibility of every other practicing, published, peer reviewed and skunkworks scientist to challenge, test and either prove or disprove that theory.

Though over 97% of those meteorological scientists qualified to comment intelligently on the subject have concluded that natural climate change accelerated by human activities on the planet has reached an emergency level, it is still debated by media pundits and their politically motivated guests.  It is a similar story with the coronavirus pandemic where qualified scientists and doctors are urging communities around the world to follow recommended health guidelines while they urgently try to create safe and approved vaccines, as political psychopaths and media apparachiks attack their messages.

Overshadowing the scientific and medical messages, in great part due to a media that thrives on hyping emergencies, disasters, and political “scandals” for its corporate ratings, is the deadlier pandemic. This infection comes from giving the “alternative truth” group, including paid actors who pretend to be “concerned parents”, the same amount of air time, or more, than legitimate scientists, ethical journalists and trusted educators.

When a world “leader” is identified by the World Health Organization as the leading cause of misinformation about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, you have a bigger problem than a deadly microscopic virus. You have the deliberate dumbing down of human intelligence that pushes herd stupidity to the brink of the Sixth Extinction.

Science knows.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK?

That shouldn’t even be a question. Earlier this month, in response to the rapid spread of a deadly global pandemic, the Region of Peel made a decision based on medical and scientific advice. The wearing of non-medical masks in indoor enclosed spaces and outdoor spaces where social distancing was not possible became mandatory on July 10, 2020.

This emergency by-law was passed by the Councils of Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga for as long as our medical Officers of Health deem necessary. This temporary mandatory masks by-law is much like the permanent seat belt, no hands-held phone texting or talking, no smoking/vaping in shared enclosed spaces by laws. They are intended to protect ourselves and others from injury, illness and possible death. This is not like the “No Shirt, No Shoes No Service” signs that pop up in store windows during the long hot Ontario summers.

If, for example, our Premier happened to walk into the local corner store with no shirt and no shoes, that would be offensive and not aesthetically pleasing to the general public, and very disturbing for young children. But if our Premier walked into that same store maskless during a coronavirus pandemic, he could potentially be infecting the staff and other customers.

Here’s another example. Consider that not following the mandatory mask by-law in the Region of Peel, or anywhere else where the virus is active, is like driving drunk without a seat belt while texting on your hand-held cellphone as you speed through a red light. Someone could die.

Testing for COVID-19 lets you know if you are positive or negative with the virus. The tests are NOT 100% accurate and persons with the virus may be asymptomatic, not showing any outward signs of carrying the disease. Wearing a mask and social distancing is the easiest way to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. We have the by-law so all we need now are educated and respectful citizens to follow it.

However, as expected in any democratic society, while there are no differences in the facts, there are differences of opinion. South of the border, they have coined the term “Donnie and the Boogaloos” for groups of people resistant to medical and scientific health measures. Here in Caledon I have named them “Ronnie and the BooBoos” being any group of people who brag about never buying or ever wearing a mask. We can find them lined up at hardware stores and coffee shops all around the Town.

Unfortunately, given that we have so few by-law officers, there is little enforcement of this by-law and store owners are left with the responsibility of educating their customers. As one community minded business man told me recently, “Skid, we’ve posted the signage at our entrance. These resistors are belligerent. I can’t afford a confrontation with a customer who refuses to comply.” And I can’t put my family at risk by entering a premises where there is not full compliance.

One of our local Councillors told me recently that he had received many more calls complaining about the mandatory mask by-law than the few he got about the traffic calming (excellent work by the way) at the four corners intersection in Bolton. Another Councillor wrote to me: “There are many residents who are in support of this issue but there are others who are not.”

This is not an “issue” and in my humble opinion, based on medical and scientific reports, there are not “fine people on both sides” of this mandatory by-law. To mask or not to mask shouldn’t even be a question our citizens our asking. Comply with the By-Law. Don’t be one of the “BooBoos” – wear a mask!

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RETWEET ON TWITTER #WearAMask #COVIDIOTS

Systemic Racism 101

This is a story about a childhood friend and an adult colleague.

I am a white male, grew up in a predominantly white culture, went to a white Catholic church, and was educated in a white colonial industrial revolution curriculum. I think I know a little about the unconscious baggage of white privilege. And I am learning more every year.

Fortunately, to lighten the unbearable heaviness of all that white baggage, I was raised by two intelligent and respectful parents who believed in and practiced social justice. My Dad’s motto: “Walk a mile in another person’s shoes.” My Mom’s: “People are what they say and do, not how they glitter.”

I had one other advantage: my Dad loved to play the piano and our neighbour across the street was none other than musician Cy McLean. We couldn’t afford a piano, but Cy had one and other instruments and he and Dad would get together and jam. I found out years later that Mr. Mclean was a world renowned jazz musician with his own band, so Dad was in good company. The McLeans had a son a little older than me and Keith and I used to sit in on the musical jam sessions, explore the ravine south of our house on Cameron Avenue in North York, overnight “camp out” in the backyard, and “swim” in our tiny wading pool.

My Dad also coached the North York Firefighters baseball team, and Keith was our pitcher. I was too young for the team, but got to see all the games as their bat boy. Keith and I went to school a few years apart together at Cameron Avenue P.S. but when the middle grades came, he was off to the public junior high school.

A few years later my path took me to the local Catholic school and then high school. Mine was in downtown Toronto at “Del” (De La Salle and St. Michaels were the only two Catholic high schools in Toronto in the early 60s – Catholics paid pack then), and I took the TTC every day from Cameron to St. Clair and back. It was a one mile walk from Yonge Street to my home.

One day on the bus ride home, I spotted Mr. McLean sitting at the back of an almost empty bus. I barely noticed the group of rowdy young men standing around him in the aisle. I went back and sat down next to him and we chatted all the way home. The crowd moved away.

On the long walk back he was strangely quiet, but when we passed his house to say goodbye, he took my shoulder gently, smiled and said, “Thank you, Skid.” It was only years later that I realized what he meant.

Meanwhile, I was blending in quite homogenously to my surroundings at De La Salle Collegiate, while Keith was having the opposite experience. In 1963 at Northview Heights Collegiate in North York he was the only black student in a school that had a population of about 1200. Keith and I only saw each other occasionally after that – rumours were that he was being scouted for professional baseball.

The next news I heard was tragic. In May 1974, just after being hired as a manager by IBM, Keith was killed in a car accident near Hamilton. Cy passed away in 1986.

My other friend was a professional colleague, Mr. Courtney Brown. In1997, I was the Chair of Health and Physical Education at Elia MS in North York and while I was the Chair, my teaching partner, Courtney, was the star. He had been heading for Olympic track gold until his coach tried to get him on the steroids circuit with the threat: “Take the drugs or move your starting blocks back a metre.” Courtney quit track and brought his ethics to the classroom. He was a fine teacher and a great coach.

One day after he and I finished a school practice, Courtney said to me, “Skid, have you ever been randomly stopped by the police on the way home?” I was shocked – “No, why?” was my response. Courtney then began to tell me about being stopped at least twice a week, either walking or driving his car, getting asked for ID and questioned about what he was doing and why he was driving such a nice car, having his girlfriend’s morality questionned. It didn’t matter if he was in a suit or wearing his gym sweats, he got grilled by the police. What did matter was that he was black.

That was when I remembered Mr. McLean’s words. That was when, at 50 years of age I truly understood that “white privilege” and “systemic racism” are alive and well in Canada.

***

For further enrichment, Google: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. A conversation with Emmanuel Acho about race that many white people have never been able to have.

And read: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo,  and

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

 

 

Battle of the Invasives

European Colonial Honeybees vs Asian Giant Hornets

originally written for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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Once upon a time there was a continent …. Yes, a supercontinent called Pangea. About 175 million years ago it split apart. Fast forward 174 million years and a bipedal creature moves out of Africa to invade Asia and Europe. From that point move forward to 15,000 years ago when Siberian mammoth hunters, Japanese sea otter fishermen, and Polynesian refugees arrive on the west coast of North America to become the First Peoples. The First Peoples hunt to extinction many of the native species.

Now move forward to the last 1000 years or so as the first European invasive immigrants meet the now indigenous peoples of North and South America. And history, as they say, repeats itself. These European colonists bring with them many new invasives like the smallpox virus, the dandelion, the robin, and the honeybee. The honeybee hives are popular with the colonists, and so common in settlements that the First Peoples refer to them as “white man’s flies.” The honeybee (Apis mellifera) settles down and becomes so much a part of white colonial agriculture that we begin to think of them as a native species. They are not.

There are over 4000 species of bees in North America, including over 50 species of the humble aerodynamically challenged bumble bee. It is one of our best pollinators of native species. The invasive western honeybee, on the other hand, is not. It is, however, a very successful pollinator of cultivated crops. Which is why corporate agribusiness rang the alarm bells when another invasive species arrived.

In 2011 a massive tsunami devastated Japan, and Pacific Ocean currents began to carry the debris toward the west coast of North America. By 2012 and for years since, that debris and the floating rafts of biota that came with it have been washing up on the shores of Vancouver Island. A few years later, the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is discovered in Nanaimo, B.C.. In early 2020, Washington State, U.S.A. sounded the alarm over the arrival of the “Murder Hornets” crossing the border from British Columbia, Canada.

The Asian Giant Hornet, also known as the Japanese Giant Hornet is native to South East Asia, Japan, and Eastern Russia. They prefer to nest in hollow logs or at the base of large trees which makes Vancouver Island ideal habitat. Besides the rather potent venom from its 6mm (¼ inch) stinger, it loves to decapitate honeybees. Its mandibles are bigger, armour stronger, venom more powerful, and they fly at 40 km/h, so a few Asian Hornet predators can devastate a European honeybee colony very quickly. Sort of like an insect reversal of history.

It reminds us that change is the only constant, and that anytime a species with a predatory advantage invades, the pecking order changes. And while the newly invasive vespid may prove problematic to the previously invasive honeybee population, it is a boon to the script writers of sensational news. The Fox Frenzy and Sun Sensational teams have already dubbed it the “Murder Hornet” much like the “Killer Bees” from Africa via South America and Mexico a few years ago. However, the hornets do not kill “over 50 people a year” as erroneously reported in the NY Times.

There was a highly publicized incident in 2013 in Shaanxi, China when stings by Asian Giant Hornets killed 41 people and injured more than 1,600. But while envenomation from the sting can cause cardiac arrest, anaphylactic shock, and kidney failure, humans are not their preferred prey. Honeybees on the other hand, are not so lucky. These new immigrants and enemies of the state of inertia will no doubt cause a shift in the balance of our “natural” systems.

The one advantage that honeybees have over the earlier example of colonial invasive species domination is that honeybees have become such important pollinators of cultivated crops that they have an economic value. Native Maple syrup is worth $500 million to the Canadian economy. By comparison, honey related jobs and products add $900 million to the American economy, and invasive honeybee pollination is valued at over $20 billion to American agribusiness.

 Follow the money in this battle of the invasives. The Asian Giant Hornets may have better natural equipment, but the European honeybee has some sweet investors. In the meantime, just to be safe, don’t kick open any big old hollow logs or stumps. No “murder hornets” in Ontario yet, but you may be disturbing the nests of our native bumblebees. And our native species need all the help they can get.

The way I see it.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

*images from Shutterstock, Nanaimo News Now, and Pinterest