Thursday, September 14, 2017

When will we ever learn?

Most of us have gone through life thinking little about nuclear war. The chances of it have been minimal because everyone understands that launching just one nuke could bring global catastrophe, perhaps even end human civilization.

What increases the chances is reckless talk by people who should know better. That’s what is happening now. The odds of nuclear catastrophe increase weekly because some people can’t control their mouths.

We have the young North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un talking about delivering “a merciless sledgehammer blow to the U.S. imperialists.” Then from the U.S., aggressive statements threatening war that will deliver fire and fury.

Even the diplomats, from whom we expect calm and thoughtful negotiation, seem infected by the war bug.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, says North Korea is “begging for war.” Instead of trying to cool the heated war talk, she inflames it.

We have kicked the can down the road long enough,” she said of the North Korea nuclear threat. “There is no more road left.”

Well Nikki, there’s always more road, more room for talk about preventing the planet from being blown up.

North Korea is like a spoiled child who feels the entire world is against it. There are reasons it feels that way and maybe if someone tried talking to those folks about why they feel that way, some understanding and real negotiations could begin.

We seem incapable of learning, and accepting, the lessons of so many past conflicts. Surely the most important is that war is futile and unwinnable by any side.

Afghanistan is an example. It has been a battleground for centuries yet no country, no empire, has ever been a winner there.

The 1960s novel Caravans by James Michener had a protagonist telling a diplomat that one day both the U.S. and Russia would invade Afghanistan and both would regret it.

It was an uncanny prediction by a brilliant novelist. Russia invaded and is still regretting its Afghan adventure. The U.S. did too and regrets it, and yet it is still there. It is sending even more troops in despite the fact it will never win the country from the Taliban, or other forms of Muslim extremists.

The U.S. has 7,000 troops in the country as part of a NATO coalition against terrorists. It also has another 1,500 special forces troops fighting the Taliban.

The U.S. learned little from its Vietnam nightmare in which 60,000 of its soldiers died and tens of thousands of others were maimed. Meanwhile, sons of the allied South Vietnamese military leaders were sent abroad to be out of harms way instead of fighting for the cause.

The U.S. could never win in Vietnam because it did not have the full support of the people.

Ditto the 1950s Korean War. Actual combat ended, no side won and a war of words continues.

Canada did the right thing when it withdrew from the fighting in Afghanistan. Our active combat role there ended in 2011 and the last of our soldiers and policing force left in 2014.

We were part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force sent in because of the 9/11 attacks on America. The NATO-led forces remain there, minus Canada, to help the Afghan government learn to look after itself and build a self-sufficient, stable society.

Good luck with that. Afghanistan is a hopeless pit that swallows any country that tries to remake it. It should be left to the Afghan people to figure it all out.

NATO are in there supposedly to defeat the terrorists. The billions being spent on that would be better spent containing the terrorists and keeping them away from the rest of us.

NATO countries all can help Afghanistan by providing it with money and tools. They should not be sending their sons and daughters there to risk their lives in combat, policing or advisory roles.

More than 60 years after the world’s most powerful anti-war song was written, its haunting question remains unanswered:

“Where have all the soldiers gone?
“Gone to graveyards every one.
“When will they ever learn?
“When will they ever learn?”


Thursday, September 7, 2017

To code or not to code

School days, school days, good old fashioned  . . .

Reading and  writing and ‘rithmetic . . . . and

Coding apparently is the hottest trend in education. Or, more accurately, coding is what Silicon Valley’s digital masterminds are trying to make the hottest trend.

“Coding should be a requirement in every public school,” Apple CEO Tim Cooke told a gathering of top-drawer techies at the U.S. White House recently.

Coding is a set of instructions telling a computer what you want it to do. Computers run on  binary code – combinations of 1s and 0s. To put all the 1s and 0s in the right order for a computer to understand, you have to learn programming languages such as Python, Ruby, Java, C++ and others.

High-tech advocates of coding have been raising tens of millions of dollars to persuade governments to make coding mandatory in school curriculum. Their argument is that millions of future jobs will require advanced computer knowledge and skills.

British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia already have made learning coding a mandatory part of their curriculums. Ontario and Saskatchewan have included it as an option.

Some people question whether the high tech industry simply is trying to sway governments to serve its own interests.

We live in the digital age so it is important that tomorrow’s workers have a high level of computer literacy. However, there is much hype behind the high-tech industry’s campaign to have coding learning become mandatory in all schools.

Some advocates say learning coding has become as important as learning to read and write. Coding teaches people how to think, they argue.

Perhaps, but let’s not get carried away. Most of us have learned how to think without knowing how to code, and we got that learning through reading, writing and talking to each other.

We should be careful not to let the computer age lessen the importance of basic reading and writing skills. It already has in many ways.

Our communication skills have declined in the computer age. We have less time to read, speak too often with abbreviations (LOL,TMI, OMG, IMFO, FYI)  and tech talk phrases, and have less face-to-face communication.

Social media, which have created important communications channels, allows us to take in and spread more information. Regretfully, too much social networking information lacks depth, is missing context, or is not factual.

Declining communications skills are seen every day in our political and other community leaders. Many lack the skills needed to speak or write clearly and precisely what they want to tell their followers. The result often is confusion and conflict.

Obviously it is important for people today to have a basic knowledge of computers because so many of our daily activities are connected to computers. That does not mean that we all need to learn computer coding, or that computer coding is a must for all elementary school kids.

Most of us drive automobiles but learning how to drive was not part of our elementary schooling. What we were taught in school were math, physics, biology, English grammar and other subjects that would help us to understand and learn the individual skills needed for driving a vehicle.

Those and other school study subjects remain important in developing understanding and skills for work in the computer age. For most kids, a general knowledge and understanding of computerization is all they need and all that the schools should be teaching.

Learning coding should not be a high priority for all school kids and we should not be diverting education money away from traditional subjects to provide it.

Options can be provided in higher grades for kids who show a serious bent towards computer careers.

The high-tech world entices us with wizard talk about how it can make our world better. It has in many ways, but we need to be skeptical and ask pointed questions. The drive to have all children learn coding is a case in point.

So when corporate sloganeers spin ideas with buzzwords such as ‘Thinking Outside the Box,’ we need to pause, look them in the eye and say “Ditch the box. Just think.”


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Surrounded by dummies

So much to do, but so many stupid people in the way. You can’t get important stuff done when surrounded by incompetents.

Precious time wasted trying to get them focussed. More time lost looking for replacements when you fire them, or when they quit because they can’t take the heat.

Take the case of Crazy Donnie, the American president. He has brilliant plans to make America great again. Yet his own Republican legislators are too thick and slow to move his genius ideas through Congress.

Scaredy-cats like Senator John McCain who gets brain cancer then decides to vote against repealing that disastrous Obamacare health coverage law. What can you expect from someone who gets shot down and becomes a prisoner of war in Vietnam. As President Donnie has said, he likes people who don’t get taken prisoner.

Then there’s that other Republican senator from Arizona – Jeff Flake. Totally toxic. Really weak on crime and Mexican invaders. Maybe ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio will run against him now that his Presidential Pardon means he won’t have to go to prison for race-related crimes.

And Mitch McConnell, the good ole boy who has been around Washington forever. He is the  Senate majority leader but couldn’t herd a cow on a leash let alone enough senators to put the president’s important ideas into law.

As President Donnie tweeted: “He failed! That should NEVER have happened!”

Then there’s Paul Ryan, the House majority leader, who wouldn’t understand a debt ceiling if it fell on his head.

The White House staff has been no better. Most of the important in-house advisors have had to be fired, or have run off. The West Wing has gone through two national security advisors, two communications directors, a press secretary, one chief of staff and a chief strategist.

That’s not to mention the acting attorney-general and the FBI director, both fired.
How can a president get anything done with that kind of staff? He can’t do it all himself. There’s not enough time, especially when he has to be at a golf course at least a couple of times a week.

Building a wall to seal off Mexico still hasn’t happened. The entire U.S. government might have to be shut down to get that done.

Meanwhile, America’s billionaires are becoming impatient waiting for tax reform to fatten their wallets. Afghanistan won’t go away. NAFTA might have to be terminated because of the Canadian communists. Who wants to negotiate with people whose prime minister has a tattoo?

It’s all a mess. You wonder if it’s worth the effort. Perhaps President Donnie should just chuck it all and go back to counting money at Trump Tower in New York. The Tower is a lot more comfortable than the White House, which the president told some golf buddies is a real dump.

If he did decide to go back to the Tower he would be leaving a winner. He already is the best president ever, according to his Tweets and speeches.

A buddy of his, writing recently in the Chicago Times, says that Trump has created an average 30,000 new jobs for blacks each month since becoming president. Also that the number of blacks with a job has risen by 600,000 since last year and black wages and incomes are up under Trump.

Truly remarkable.

The crooked media, however, refuses to report any of this outstanding progress. Like Donnie says, journalists are sickos determined to divide the country by distributing fake news. They refuse to recognize his brilliance, instead painting him as vacuous and having an insatiably hungry ego.

So who could blame him for packing up and going back to Trump Tower? There he gets the respect he deserves and he is surrounded by people willing to kneel and kiss his ring.
I’m betting he’ll throw his hands in the air and walk out. So are the bookies.

PaddyPower, an Irish gambling site, places the odds of Trump resigning at an all-time high of 6/4. That’s betting there is a 60 per cent chance of him resigning.

When he does, Americans will be left fending for themselves. Left with only the memories of his greatest statements, like:

 “Nobody builds walls better than me. Believe me.”


Read From Shaman’s Rock:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Glamping We Will Go

My first thought was that it was a ludicrous notion.

Then I said to myself: “Get cool. Explore a new trend.”

And that’s how I got to go glamping.

Glamping is a growing new trend. The word, a combination of glamorous and camping, did not exist officially before 2006.

Traditional camping to most of us is pitching a tent or building a lean-to in the woods, preferably by a lake. You light a campfire, heat a can of pork and beans over it, wash your dishes in the lake and roll out a sleeping bag for the night.

Glamping is the same idea, except someone does the work for you. The glamour comes with meals that go beyond pork and beans, and luxury tents, sleeping cots and pillows instead of your rolled up blue jeans.

You pay for the luxury of course. And that is why I thought glamping was a silly idea. Why pay for an outdoor experience that you can create yourself at little or no cost?

My glamping trip gave me some insights. First, there are people who have never experienced outdoor camping. Glamping gives them the enjoyable experience without the travails that come with being inexperienced.

There also is the issue of time. Some folks want to experience Algonquin Park, but have limited time. It takes huge amounts of time to get and organize a canoe and accessories, tent, cooking and sleeping gear and food. On a glamping trip you simply arrive carrying your toothbrush.

The world-wide trend toward glamping has been attributed partially to the financial recession of the past decade. Vacation budgets have shrunk.

Also, terrorism has caused many vacationers to avoid urban vacations. Plus, growing concerns about climate change have created more interest in the outdoors and the desire to understand it better.

There are no reliable statistics on the growth of glamping. However, Google Trends reports searches for the term glamping have increased from almost nothing to millions.

The trend began in the United Kingdom where it remains extremely popular. North America and Australia are the two areas where glamping is really catching on.

Styles of glamping vary widely, from the basic Algonquin Park canoe and tent experience to stays in tree houses, tipis, gypsy wagons and log cabins offering luxury service and gourmet dining. One glamping site in Enniscrone, Ireland offers accommodation in a retired Boeing 767 or converted railway cars.

My glamping was with Algonquin Adventure Tours. The two-day trip began at Canoe Lake with a six-hour paddle around the lake. We visited some ruins of the former town of Mowat, watched painted turtles soaking up sun and paddled Whiskey Jack Bay in hopes of seeing a feeding moose.

In late afternoon we went to the campsite at Mew Lake Provincial Park where spacious tents had rug on the ground and comfortable cots. Our guide cooked a dinner of spaghetti with beef stew and cabbage salad served in a dining tent with plastic plates and utensils. The next morning he did blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and coffee.

After breakfast there was a three-hour bike ride along the old rail bed and it included a bit of nature study.

The cost was $300 per person. Included in that is the park entry and campsite fees.

The best part of the trip was the glampers themselves. They were intelligent and interesting folks who took to the experience with a positive attitude. One family from Portugal – mom, dad and eight-year-old boy – had never been in a canoe before.

There was an evening campfire of course at which we shared some of our thoughts and experiences.

All said, my glamping experience was good. It was not outrageously expensive for anyone who didn’t have time to field a traditional camping trip, or anyone with no camping experience.

The experience could have been tweaked to add more glamour with upgraded meals and better thought out canoe and bike outings with more context and history of the area.  Little things that would send the glampers away saying “Wow that was great” instead of “Yeah, that was OK.”

Toasted marshmallows and S’mores were a campfire hit. Nice, but my preferred campfire treat is an Irish whiskey and a Cuban cigar.