Lawn mowing, part 1: don’t run over the kids hiding in your lawn

Lawn mowing, part 1: don’t run over the kids hiding in your lawn

While doing some seriously complicated scientific research on the most ergonomic entry and exit of the common household hammock, I came upon a startling statistic: more men are injured while mowing lawns each year than those who sit around and drink beer.

In fact, more than 200,000 people are injured in lawn-mowing accidents every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They say 16,000 kids per year get run over by lawn mowers and that 95 percent of lawn mowing accidents at John Hopkins pediatric trauma center involve amputations.

This tells me that only trained professionals should operate lawn mowers. Also, if the kids had actually operated the lawn mowers, as God intended them to do, they wouldn’t have been lying around randomly in the grass where some incompetent older guy, who’d rather be golfing, could run them over.

That’s why those of us who really care about the current state of lawn safety leave our lawn mowers outside during the winter. Lawn Safety Advocates such as myself have figured out that if the mower won’t start, we won’t have to cut the lawn, ergo, we minimize the chance of injury to ourselves and any children that might be hiding in our lawns.

I was pondering this theory recently as I sat up from my hammock just long enough to notice Fran marching towards the garage, obviously in a lawn mowing mood. Just as I was settling back down, wondering if the neighbors would appreciate “our” dedication to the beautification of the street, the news that the mower wouldn’t start hit me like a rain cloud. I even had to remove the custom-designed, carbon-fiber sun-tanning toothpicks from between my toes.

I spent the next hour getting all greasy taking apart a machine I pretended to know something abut, cursing and hoping the lawn would take pity on me and suck itself back down to a respectable length.

Just as I was about to stab it to death with a screwdriver, I looked up to find a small teenaged boy from down the street staring at me, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. When he saw I was working on an engine, his eyes lit up.

“Lost your spark?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon,” I huffed, hoping he wasn’t making a snide comment about my age.

Once he determined that I had indeed lost my spark, he proceeded to tell me about removing the flywheel to polish the points and why I would need a brass punch. He started reducing my mower to about 8,000 separate pieces, announced he had found the problem and fixed it in about 10 minutes.

“But I have to get home for lunch, can you get it back together?” he asked.

“Are you kidding?” I said, kidding.

“Oh, good,” he said, and left.

I panicked. But after two more hours, it was back together again. I just threw all the extra pieces in the garbage.

It started on the second crank.

About that time, Fran came outside surprised to see the lawn mower was working again.

“Have any trouble with it,” she asked.

“Are you kidding?” I laughed, nervously.

And off she went happily mowing the lawn, swerving to miss the kids scattered about, while I returned to my science project over by the hammock.

Moving on to battle climate change, without Trump

Moving on to battle climate change, without Trump

The difference couldn’t be more striking.

In his second inaugural address, former U.S. President Barack Obama said this:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations … We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.”

Announcing that the United States would back out of the Paris climate accord yesterday, current President Donald Trump said this:

As president, I have one obligation and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.”

With those words, the president who vowed to put “America First” has put America last. It seems to be the theme of his administration.

But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise — from Obama’s 2013 inaugural address.

Trump is on his way to making the U.S. presidency irrelevant, but he won’t stop the progress to limit greenhouse gas emissions around the world, or at home. The momentum toward clean energy sources is driven by environmental and economic forces. Industrial entrepreneurs view market domination in clean energy businesses as the next gold rush.

China has moved away from its reliance on coal. India has reduced its carbon footprint by 43 percent by switching to solar power for electrical production, which it has found less expensive than new and existing coal plants.

Multiple states and leading U.S. companies reacted to Trump’s withdrawal with renewed commitments to honor the Paris Agreement. They see climate change as a threat and an economic opportunity.

And yet, the U.S. withdrawal will have political consequences. It gives other nations an excuse to slow down their own commitments and clean energy progress.

But more important than Trump’s grandstanding on the international stage are the backward policies he’s enforcing on the domestic front. He’s systematically rolling back all of Obama’s environmental protections. He taking another run at weakening federal fuel-economy standards and trying to eliminate the federal wind power tax credit, because it endangers the viability of coal and gas power plants.

In April of this year, a monitoring station atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii recorded the highest level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in 3 million to 5 million years. During that prehistoric era, known as the Pliocene Epoch period, global temperatures averaged 5 to 7 degrees higher and sea levels were tens of feet higher.

There’s nothing significant about reaching 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, except that it illustrates the accelerating pace at which we are producing harmful emissions. The carbon level is increasing by 2 parts per million per year, about 100 times faster than it grew toward the end of the Ice Age.

At this rate, we will exceed the United Nations’ goal of halting carbon emissions at 450 parts per million, in about 25 years. No one knows for certain what catastrophic effects on the climate will occur beyond that point, nor do we want to find out.

The importance of the new data serves as a grave reminder to elected officials – including our state legislators – that the survival of future generations depends on the actions we take today. We must not hesitate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace fossil fuels with clean energy technology.

It’s plain to everyone, except the most pigheaded climate change deniers, that carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas are driving the velocity of change.

It’s appalling that controversy still exists over what is now common knowledge within the scientific community. But that’s another reality we must acknowledge and overcome.

The rest of the world is quickly writing off President Trump as an ally and as a world leader. His tiresome and dangerous behaviors have worn thin. They are moving on without America.

Trump, like other short-sighted elected officials, favor job creation regardless of the environmental consequences. But those who cannot see that the new jobs and future economic growth will come from clean energy are doomed

Because it’s not a mutually-exclusive proposition, as Obama said:

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

 

Smartphones in schools: a distraction or an enhancement?

Smartphones in schools: a distraction or an enhancement?

Parents and educators face a new challenge in today’s schools: the pervasiveness of smartphones, tablets and other digital devices. Are they disruptive to student learning or an enhancement? Do they increase student safety or provide a new weapon for bullies?

The debate is heating up because a growing number of children have access to digital devices and take them to school. According to a 2014 study of Canadian students, more than 25 percent of Grade 4 students have their own cell phones. That number increases to almost 90 percent when the students reach high school.

Schools have responded with policies that range from outright bans on digital devices on school property to unrestricted access in classrooms. And parents have taken conflicting stands on all sides of the issue.

The Saanich School District started an ongoing controversy recently when it announced that starting in September cellphones and iPods would not be allowed on district school property. Schools across Canada and the U.S. have introduced similar bans and touched off community debates.

On the flip side, other educators have encouraged the use of digital devices as learning tools, unfettered in some cases, and that has also railed parents. When Huband Park Elementary School in School District 71 allowed unsupervised technology time during rainy days, some parents protested.

Many educators have embraced the potential of digital devices to complement the learning experience, just as they once accepted calculators, computers and other technological advancements.

But one thing is clear: digital devices are here to stay and how educators deal with their presence can either enhance or detract from the learning experience.

The policies in place at Comox Valley schools mirror the variety of responses across North America.

Some schools require that phones stay in lockers and can only be used before and after school and during lunch breaks. Other schools take a directly opposite approach, allowing phones in classrooms but banning them before and after school hours and during lunch breaks.

It’s no wonder some parents are confused and rumors light up social media.

School District 71 requires that all students and staff who take personal digital devices to school must sign a Responsible Use Agreement, and renew it annually. The document is similar to policies at most large businesses that provide computer equipment and access to the Internet. You can read it here.

But the district does not dictate to individual schools or teachers how or when students can use phones and other digital devices.

SD 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist says this question is “Ultimately … left up to the schools/teachers to decide how best to integrate personal devices into their teaching.” He responded via email to a question about district technology policies.

The district has a stringent vetting process for apps and access to web sites, blocking access to specific sites and certain general types of web sites.

“Beyond the Responsible Use Agreement, school building administrators and classroom teachers regulate if and when a device can be used in the school or classroom,” Lindquist said in his email response.

A quick check of the handbooks of several district schools shows that educators are handling the issue quite differently.

High school policies

Students at G.P. Vanier must leave their digital devices turned off and in their lockers during school hours, unless they have teacher permission to do otherwise. Their handbook includes this section:

“I have the right to a learning environment free from distractions such as, iPods, mp3 players, cameras, cell phones, game boys or other personal electronic devices.

“I have the responsibility to keep my personal electronic devices at home or, if I bring them to school, off and secured in my locker during school hours. The only exception to this is when I have teacher permission during the class period.

“Why?

“Electronic devices can be distracting to student learning. Therefore I will ensure that my electronic device is turned off and out of sight during class time unless I have been given permission to use it for educational purposes. I may use them during non-class time (before school, recess, lunch, after school, etc.) unless directed otherwise by a staff member.”

At Mark R. Isfeld and Highland secondary schools, the policy is slightly different. From their handbooks (the wording is exactly the same):

“You are permitted personal phones, but they must be turned off during class time. If you receive calls or messages during class time you could lose the privilege of carrying your phone during the school day. Other electronic devices such as IPods are permitted, but may not be used during class time without permission from the subject teacher. Non-compliance could lead to the requirement that the device remain at home”

Other Comox Valley schools

Cumberland Community School takes a more lenient approach. From their handbook:

“During class time, it is up to the teacher’s discretion if/when personal electronics are being used for educational purposes. We encourage teachers to have students’ access personal electronics to supplement their learning. However, students are not to text, call, message or email for non-educational purposes during class time. When a student is in breach of this they will have their phone sent to the office. For a first offence it will be returned at the end of the school day after meeting with a principal and reviewing the policy. For a second offence it will be returned to a parent when they come to pick it up and the policy will be reviewed with the parent. For a third offense it will be returned to the parent when they come to pick it up and the student will no longer be permitted personal electronics at school.”

And Huband Park Elementary School goes a step further in encouraging the use of digital devices. From their handbook:

“The school recognizes and encourages students to bring their own devices to school.

“Students are allowed to bring cell phones and electronics to school if they are used appropriately and when teachers have directed students to use them. Personal devices brought from home will not have areas blocked. These areas are not to be used by the students on school property, areas such: as Face Book, texting, video camera or camera, games that have shooting, gruesome or graphic images. There will be times when students will be asked to use the camera and video camera for certain projects but this needs to be supervised by the teacher.

“Students wanting to use their devices to communicate with friends and family during the school day must be approved by a staff member. Students will be asked to store personal devices brought from home safely on their person or in their backpacks and coats. The School will not be responsible for lost, stolen or damaged
devices.

“We encourage physical activity and social skills at break times: before school, recess and at lunch time. Therefore, students will be asked to put these devices away at these times.

“Teachers will have the authority to take these devices away from the students if they do not follow these rules. The device will be returned at a later date.”

Some parents and educators argue that phones in schools provide another level of safety for students. In the event of a crisis, such as a shooting or an earthquake, students can contact parents, ambulance services or law enforcement.

There will always be some students who break the rules and, with access to phones during classroom instruction, they can create distractions for other students. But phones can also provide access to learning opportunities that didn’t exist in the pre-digital environment.

Is it better than a student takes a smartphone picture of something a teacher has put on the blackboard, or to go through the process of writing it down?

There are no easy answers to this debate, but there’s no denying that smartphone and tablet technology has changed the dynamic in classrooms.

 

Courtenay-Comox: It’s still a swing riding

Courtenay-Comox: It’s still a swing riding

The newly reconfigured Courtenay-Comox riding dispensed a few surprises for the political experts this year. The biggest one: it’s still a swing riding.

With control of the B.C. Legislature hanging on the outcome of a recount and some 2,000 absentee ballots, the riding unexpectedly became this election’s center of attention. It wasn’t supposed to be so close.

When the B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission split Cumberland from the Comox Valley, and moved this traditionally strong NDP community into a new mid-Island constituency, the change should have favored the Liberals. Add in growing Comox Valley support for the Green Party, which naturally siphons most of its votes from the NDP, and the stage was set for a third consecutive Liberal victory.

The fact that the NDP won the new riding by a slim 189-vote margin for Ronna-Rae Leonard triggers some interesting observations about Courtenay-Comox voters, as well as the mood of the province.

The vote was clearly a rebuke of Christy Clark. When a province’s economy leads the nation, records Canada’s lowest unemployment rates and balances its budget, the incumbent government should expect to retain a majority.

Instead, voters revolted against Clark’s arrogant attitude, her vendetta against teachers and the ravaging of public school funding, her too-cozy relationship with corporations and her terrible decisions for British Columbia’s environment regarding LNG plants, dams that only benefit Albertans and inviting an armada of oil tankers in the Salish Sea.

All of these issues must have resonated with the 16,000-plus Courtenay-Comox voters who cast ballots for the NDP and Green parties.

On the flip side, the strong military support for the Liberal candidate, Jim Benninger, a former commanding officer of CFB Comox, didn’t materialize.

Political pundits predicted that the absentee ballots would comprise mostly military personnel and that they would lean Liberal. Didn’t happen. The absentee ballots actually broke in favor of the NDP.

Was Benninger just not a good candidate, or do individuals in the armed forces share the majority’s growing concerns for the environment and of inappropriate corporate influence and access to Liberal cabinet ministers? The latter seems more likely.

And let’s not forget that this is still a swing riding. Of the 24 elections since 1933 — including this one — the NDP/CCF have won 11, the Liberal/Social Credit/Conservatives have won 13. (Herbert Welch, running for a Liberal-Conservative coalition, won two elections and served from 1945 to 1952.)

The popular vote in this riding has always been close. Except for the 2001 election when Stan Hagen rode the wave of support for a new Liberal/Social Credit coalition, no candidate has won a majority of the vote. Hagen got 56 percent that year.

And despite Hagen’s and Don McRae’s victories for the Liberals in 2005, 2009 and 2013, they received fewer total votes than combined NDP/Green candidates in each election. In the 2013 election, McRae trailed NDP/Green candidates by 1,768 votes.

In this election, the NDP/Green candidates nearly doubled that margin, out-polling the Liberals by 3,339 votes.

But in both the 2013 and 2017 elections, Conservative party candidates also played a role. They won 1,740 votes in the 2013 election, making that a dead heat. And they won 2,201 votes this year, cutting the NDP/Green lead to 1,138.

So, what does that mean?

It means this riding, with or without Cumberland, is almost evenly split.

So shouldn’t people expect the winning candidate to represent the Comox Valley with a mindful recognition of the progressive policies of the NDP and Green parties as well as the conservative ideology of the Liberals? That hasn’t been the case.

Hagen almost exclusively catered to the big money crowd. McRae less so, perhaps, at least not so obviously. And will Leonard turn her back on nearly half of her constituents?

The problem, of course, is the blind allegiance MLAs must devote to their party leadership. Vote how we tell you. There’s no tolerance for independence in the Legislature.

And until party leaders loosen their tight grip on individual MLAs, British Columbians will be best served by minority governments. When party leaders have to compromise and negotiate, rather than rule with an iron hand, they produce better legislation.

 

Art: inspired or appropriated?

Art: inspired or appropriated?

Contrary to the popular cliche, a person never gets too old to learn something new. I’m old, and this week I learned that I may have over many decades inappropriately appropriated African-American culture.

As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I listened to Elvis on my transistor radio and 45 rpm vinyl discs. I picked a jazz album as my first purchase through the Columbia Record Club. And later, I devoured the music coming out of England by The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Beatles.

All of these musicians had one thing in common: They were white people who appropriated musical styles unique to African-Americans.

Blues and jazz originated in the American South among the slaves and descendents of slaves picking cotton and other crops. Blues, and to some extent also jazz, was a mash up of African chants and drumming, church hymns and Appalachian folk music, which itself evolved into what we call ‘country’ music today.

Blues and jazz music inspired me. I understood it and naturally felt the underlying rhythms. This music formed the core of my own musical journey playing in jazz and blues-rock bands for over 40 years.

Did I unknowingly participate in cultural appropriation? Based on the events of the last few weeks, it’s a question I am pondering.

This painting by Amanda PL. At the top of this post is a painting by Norval Morisseau.

First, a Toronto gallery cancelled the upcoming show of a white artist, Amanda PL, who paints in the 1960s Woodlands style, which is unique to the Anishinaabe people. She discovered the style while living and taking Native studies and art education stories in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Aboriginal people protested the show because they say the artist appropriated indigenous culture and art. She says the style simply speaks to her.

But there’s no doubt that the content of many of Amanda’s paintings closely resemble — perhaps, too closely — the work of famed Anishinaabe artist, Norval Morrisseau.

To put it bluntly, the pieces of Amanda’s work that I have seen appear to copy the style and also the content of Anishinaabe artists. There’s little-to-no attempt to apply the style to new content.

And this is what bothers Chippewa artist Jay Soule. He says:

“What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road. Other people will see her work and they’ll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it.”

Second, the editors of two Canadian magazines resigned over separate middle-school level personal columns about cultural appropriation.

Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of The Write, a writing trade magazine, wrote a mind-numbing introduction to an edition dedicated to indigenous writing that encouraged white people to write about “what they don’t know” and “people who aren’t like you.”

He concluded by suggesting a prize for the best example of cultural appropriation in Canadian literature. Other people joined the frat house fun, including the editors of the National Post, CBC and Maclean’s, who all later apologized. The editor of The Walrus resigned after writing a column support Niedzviecki.

Most writers have a measure of regret over something we have written. But Niedzviecki’s piece should win the Dumb Award. You don’t achieve greater understanding of indigenous culture from writers who don’t know anything about it. For that, he should have encouraged the publication of more indigenous authors.

Serious issues often arise from thoughtless actions. And that’s the case here. Whether Amada PL copied Morrisseau’s work or was simply inspired by it, and despite the inane ramblings by editors of two obscure publications, it’s worth having a conversation about cultural appropriation.

Artists in all mediums have always taken inspiration from other artists and cultures. Van Gogh and Gauguin influenced each other. The Beatles early work appropriated the styles of Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins.

So, how far do we want to take the concept of cultural appropriation? Should we boycott a Ramen noodle shop because a white guy is cooking this unique Asian dish? Must all sushi chefs be Japanese?

I’m not sure where the hard lines get drawn in this debate, but when, as a friend put it, “people of an exploited/excluded group complain about those of us who pack around all the privilege that our society conveys,” we had better listen closely.

 

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