“In Case You’re Wondering”

 

The newspaper promises

to put readers’ interest first

while making an impact

on people’s lives.

 

I turn to the Science section.

 

Here’s a study, four years old,

about phytoplankton;

said to release half the world’s oxygen

into the atmosphere.

 

The process requires iron;

the researcher speculates

where that might come from.

 

At the bottom of the page,

mystery solved:

feces of whales

10 million times richer in iron

than the ocean water.

 

I take a deep breath.

 

(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, examines current events in the Blacklock’s tradition each and every Sunday)

Review: The Spider & The Automobile

Membership in hate groups has long been linked to economic failure; few millionaires joined the Aryan Nations. More contentious is a theory that all human beings are prone to irrational impulses that pit Catholic versus Protestant, English versus French, white versus Black. “We are hardwired to be ethnocentric,” writes Kenneth Stern, director of New York’s Bard Centre for the Study of Hate.

Stern argues we are programmed through millennia to instincts that long ago meant survival but today make no sense whatsoever. Consider the story of the spider and the sedan. He quotes social psychologist James Waller: “Automobiles kill far more people today than do spiders or snakes. But people are far more averse to spiders and snakes than they are to automobiles. Why? Because for most of our ancestral history, spiders and snakes were a serious threat to our survival and reproduction, whereas automobiles did not exist.”

The Conflict Over The Conflict is a calm, controversial analysis of “the tendency of people who defined themselves as part of a group to depersonalize others”. Stern pulls no punches. His work is thoughtful and provocative.

Take language, for instance. Stern recounts a University of New Hampshire guide to appropriate nouns and adjectives. Don’t say “poor” but “persons who lack advantages that others have”, says UNH. Don’t say “rich” but “persons of material wealth”. Don’t say “foreigners” but “international people”.

This is beyond pointless, writes Stern: “You don’t want people calling each other offensive names, but you have to wonder whether an official scorecard or how to self-monitor speech also sends students a destructive message: If there are preferred words, are there preferred thought, preferred ideas, preferred opinions? Are we now too sensitive?”

This is a serious field of research. They call it evolutionary psychology. “Our brains were not developed in an age of jet travel, Skype and Twitter,” Stern explains. “They were formed over millennia, starting when people lived in small groups and survived by hunting and gathering. Sometimes our primitive ancestors confronted strangers, others. Frequently these ‘others’ were dangerous. They competed for resources.”

Thus, the bitter disagreement over street protests, removal of statues, kneeling in public, race-tinged team mascots or bias in media. “When we care about something deeply, especially an issue connected to how we define ourselves, our families, our morality, our values, our group, our children’s future, it’s difficult to acknowledge we might be dead wrong,” he writes.

Stern is a gifted communicator and his argument is rational. The Conflict Over The Conflict frames the analysis within Middle East conflict, but remains useful in deciphering why street protestors make removal of a certain statue a flashpoint in Indigenous relations, or why a certain TV newscast gets on your nerves. People “are not thinking on a blank slate defined by disconnected and philosophical logic,” Stern explains. “They are bringing themselves as human beings for whom identity, and the symbols of identity, are of oversized importance.”

By Holly Doan

The Conflict over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate, by Kenneth S. Stern; University of Toronto Press; 296 pages; ISBN 9781-4875-07367; $19.47

Frequent Flyer Billed $50,283

A federal prison manager billed more than $50,000 in travel expenses in the past year, according to records. Costs by Deputy Commissioner France Gratton included thousands to stay in a furnished suite on “temporary assignment” in Saskatoon even after cabinet ordered Canadians to stay home: “Enough is enough.”

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Stop Cop-Bashing: Senator

Black Lives Matter demonstrators are wrongly stereotyping police who are “the finest people you will ever meet”, Senator Bev Busson (B.C.) said yesterday. The former RCMP Commissioner lamented what she called a “wave of hatred” against law enforcement: “I cannot stay silent any longer.”

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Judge Strikes Fed Drug Law

A federal judge has struck a drug consumers’ protection regulation that was to take effect January 1. Seventeen pharmaceutical companies successfully challenged a cabinet order intended to lower costs of medication through the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board: “The Board does not regulate profits.”

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Burn Oil ‘For Years To Come’

Canada will rely on oil and gas for “years to come”, says the Department of Employment. Staff in a report said the oil industry remains “fundamental” even as cabinet subsidizes electric cars and taxes carbon: “You could try to stop using fossil fuel but that’s impossible.”

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Grants OK’d Months Later

The Department of Health yesterday said pandemic funding for children’s counseling will “begin to flow shortly” three months after it was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. No reason was given for the delay: “Kids tell us something they would not have told anyone else.”

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Bit Of Navy History Scrapped

A piece of Canadian naval history is being scrapped. HMCS Cormorant forty years ago was the first ship in the fleet with a co-ed crew, and is now designated a pollution risk after rotting at its moorings in Bridgewater, N.S.: “It’s still there.”

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Epic Tax Claim Goes To Trial

A Canadian Pacific Railway claim that it’s exempt from income tax is prompting the Federal Court to review reports on 140 years’ worth of tax records. A judge noted expert testimony will have to do since there are no surviving witnesses to an 1880 contract: “There are no fact witnesses to events that occurred nearly a century and a half ago.”

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Agencies ‘Deplore’ Article

Federal grant agencies promise to “improve equity, diversity and inclusion” after a Canada Research Chair complained affirmative action discriminates against men. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council called the views of a Brock University professor deplorable: “Preferential treatment of one group leads to disadvantages for another.”

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Never Heard Of $1.5B Plan

Cabinet’s signature ecological program remains little known though it was launched four years ago with a promised $1.5 billion in funding. “Relatively few Canadians have heard of the Oceans Protection Plan,” researchers wrote in a report for the Department of Transport.

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Pandemic Costs Post $66M

Canada Post lost $66 million in the first quarter of the year despite record spring shipments of parcels. The Crown corporation earlier blamed “fierce” competition from Amazon Canada: “The financial impact of Covid-19 is unknown.”

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Railway Loses $373,000 Daily

First Nations blockades and pandemic travel bans have cost VIA Rail more than a third of a million dollars a day, says management. The Crown railway predicted it could be headed for a record deficit this year: “It’s almost been impossible to get a handle on what is happening.”

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Zero Evidence Of Interference

A federal agency yesterday confirmed there was no foreign meddling in the 2019 campaign despite cabinet fears that Russian agents and fake news operatives would disrupt the vote. The finding came as a cabinet minister again claimed “trolls and bots” make the internet unsafe: “Can you elaborate on specific examples?”

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