Monday, June 10, 2013

Children’s media use cuddly animals to reinforce ‘racist’ and ‘socially dominant norms,’ researcher says

Assignment 1: How does Franklin the Turtle reinforce racist stereotypes?
I wish this were a story about a lone lunatic, but it’s not. When Nora Timmerman and  Julia Ostertag have their PhDs, they’ll teach the next generation of teachers and become consultants to school boards, and their fragile grip on reality won’t limit their careers at all. Judging from the craziness school boards get up to, being looney toons is actually an advantage…

From the National Post

Parents who read their kids stories about happy, human-like animals like Franklin the Turtle or Arthur at bedtime are exposing their kids to racism, materialism, homophobia and patriarchal norms, according to a paper presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Most animals portrayed in children’s books, songs and on clothing send a bad message, according to academics Nora Timmerman and  Julia Ostertag: That animals only exist for human use, that humans are better than animals, that animals don’t have their own stories to tell, that it’s fine to “demean” them by cooing over their cuteness. Perhaps worst of all, they say, animals are anthropomorphized to reinforce “socially dominant norms” like nuclear families and gender stereotypes.

Young children’s media reproduces and confirms racist, colonial, consumerist, heteronormative, and patriarchal norms

“[M]uch of young children’s media reproduces and confirms racist, colonial, consumerist, heteronormative, and patriarchal norms,” Timmerman and Ostertag write in their paper ‘Too Many Monkeys Jumping in Their Heads: Animal Lessons within Young Children’s Media,’ presented at Congress Wednesday.

Ms. Timmerman  — a University of British Columbia PhD candidate in educational studies focusing on environmentalism — admits she’s no child psychologist, and admits there are probably extremely thin ranks of those fretting about “subliminal” messages in Goodnight Moon or Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. “I do. But I don’t think most people do,” she said.

Assignment 2: List the dangerous subliminal messages in Good Night Moon.

Her argument is that books and media are often the first exposure children under 4 get to society — and it’s a society in which tigers don’t talk, bears aren’t cuddly and rhinoceroses are creatures they may never see in their lifetimes.

“If they don’t see what it is that they experience reflected within that media, then they don’t come to value that experience as much or think it’s worthwhile,” she said in an interview at Congress this week.

In their paper, she and Ms. Ostertag recommend children age 0-4 should be primarily exposed to the creatures in their daily lives in their “full richness and ambiguity,” not zebras and elephants and tropical fish and toucans (that, apparently, can come later).

And then there’s the anthropomorphism — animals like Franklin and Arthur the aardvark and The Berenstain Bears wearing clothes and talking to each other and living in nuclear families.

“What I’ve noticed in particular about animals is the cultural stereotypes that we have in our society, and in the culture of prejudices we have often are more hidden when they’re inserted into a story about animals or animal form.”

It’s just problematic when it’s the only way children see animals portrayed in the media and “when we don’t realize that an animal also has its own complex embedded ambiguous life and it exists outside of our own use or interpretation,” she said….

More – and worse – public school madness here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Correction: It’s not $2 billion in new taxes – it’s twice that

After releasing their plan to increase taxes in Ontario by $2 billion dollars a year, Metrolinx had to issue some clarifications. Contrary to the impression given by the media release, they don’t want people all over the province to pay for subways in Toronto.

Their plan is to create $2 billion in new taxes raised just in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton to pay for new transit in the GTHA.

The difficulty is that most of that cash – $1.3 billion a year – is supposed to come from a 1% rise in the HST.  But, as Metrolinx notes, the federal government might not agree to allow different HST rates in different parts of the province.

Actually, there’s no “might” about it. The federal government quickly said that if Ontario wants to raise the HST, it has to do so throughout the province.

Foreseeing this, the Metrolinx report suggests that’s no problem.  A 1% rise in HST throughout Ontario will give the government an extra $3 billion – that’s $1.3 billion for Toronto subways, plus a $1.7 billion bonus.

Metrolinx feels confidant the Liberal government can find some way to spend it. Doesn’t the hinterland need better bridges or something?

Their thinking disturbs me: Because Metrolinx wants $1.3 billion from the HST, they propose the government grab $3 billion.

So instead of hitting their target of a total in $2 billion in new taxes (from a rise in the HST, gas taxes, parking taxes and development charges), the government will actually take in an extra $3.7 billion – nearly twice as much.

This is a scheme only the Liberals could love.

To her credit, Premier Wynne is not dancing in the streets. Even she realizes that “Give me more!” is not a great campaign slogan.

On the other hand, it has never occurred to her to try to find even a nickel in her existing budget. Premier Wynne already spends $127.6 billion a year of our money. Is it possible that not every cent is well spent? Surely some programs could get along with a little less. Maybe some programs could be cut altogether.

How about those windmills, for example…?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tilting at windmills, or how to rake in an easy $200 million

Every time Ontario’s environment minister Jim Bradley speaks to the media, he boasts that Ontario now produces 3% of our electricity through wind power and that this has enabled us to close the coal plants (mostly).

This is a half-truth, plus a lie. Ontario does produce 3% of our power from the wind, but that’s been no help in closing coal plants and cutting back on pollution because wind turbines produce electricity we can’t use.

Starting about this time of year, as temperatures soar, everybody turns on their AC and power demand ramps up. Unfortunately, it turns out the wind prefers to blow in the winter – that’s why we have that bone-freezing phenomena known as wind chill.

On hot hazy days, when we need the power, the wind dies. The result? We can’t use 80% of the electricity generated by wind turbines. Instead, Ontario sells it into the North American power grid at the going rate.

Can windmills produce electricity at anything like a competitive rate? Of course not.

So wind power generates almost no usable electricity for Ontario, and we sell it to other people at a loss of $200 million a year. (You can read the whole long sorry analysis here.)

You’d think the Liberals would stop tilting at these windmills. Not only are they useless and expensive, but rural Ontario hates them, and if the Liberals ever want another majority, they need to win back the hinterland.

Unfortunately, Premier Wynn is taking a different tack. To appease rural Ontario, she’s changing the rules so that the municipalities get more say about whether a wind farm gets built in their neighbourhood, coupled with a cash incentive for saying yes.

But why does she want to build more of these things? Why deepen the economic wound? Basically, it’s a sop for Wynne’s core supporters – the Toronto latte leftists who want Ontario to go green and aren’t too fussed about the details, such as whether windmills actually do any good.

But $200 million a year – that’s an expensive vanity project. It’s 10% of the yearly tax increase Wynn wants to slap on Ontarians to pay for transit expansion (more here). How about if we ditch these useless windmills and reduce the tax increase to just $1.8 billion a year?

Who knows, if she pokes about in the budget, maybe Premier Wynne could find a few more projects that waste a couple hundred million. You start adding them up, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.

The good news, by the way, is that we have moth-balled all of Ontario’s coal-powered generating stations (or will have by the end of the year). But coal power has been put out of business through using more gas-fired plants and more nuclear power – which is not something you’ll ever hear the environment minister mention.

But this is still a win because coal plants are a major source of smog, and in Ontario bad air is real danger. In 2008 (most recent figures available), the Ontario Medical Association reports that smog caused 9,800 premature deaths in Ontario.

These victims are mostly older people. Unable to catch a breath, they die from heart failure.

The other typical smog victims are small children. Every summer, Ontario hospitals see tens of thousands of terrified parents showing up in emergency rooms with tortured children who are turning blue from constricted airways.  

You want to make a fortune? Sell inhalers decorated with images of Dora the Explorer or Diego – you’ll knock the competition right out of the market.

But we've cut back on smog from power plants by using hydro, gas and nuclear. The last thing we need is these useless windmills.