Society

The most heartbreaking radio interview

Barbara Winters trying to save Corporal Nathan Cirillo .

Barbara Winters trying to save Corporal Nathan Cirillo .

When I’m driving alone, I’m tuned in to CBC Radio One. Yesterday night, I was on my way to the gym and it was Carol Off, from As it happens talking to Barbara Winters, the woman who tried to save Corporal Nathan Cirillo, at the Canadian War Memorial. For the first time in my life, I had to pull to the right because tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t drive.

Before I let you listen to the interview, I think this lady for what she did, fully deserves to be named to the Order of Canada.

Here is the interview with Barbara Winters.

Sochi is a déjà vu all over again

Count Henri de Baillet-Latour at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics

Count Henri de Baillet-Latour at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics (Source: Wikipedia)

Count Henri Baillet-Latour, chairman of the International Olympic Committee…

attacked energetically groups in the United States that have opposed American participation in the Berlin games. He asserted that the agitation against participation was exclusively a political campaign, citing as evidence the fact that none of the national Olympic committees now opposed having the games in Berlin.

He declared that the non-participation movement was being well financed and was “based on lies,” representing nothing more than a trump card in the hand of certain interested groups that have nothing to do with sport.

This excerpt is taken from a from a 1935 New York Times article (behind a freaking paywall).

Does it sound familiar?

Here is what the current IOC chairman, Thomas Bach, has to say:

We are grateful to those who respect the fact that sport can only contribute to development and peace if it is not used as a stage for political dissent, or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests. To other political leaders we say: ‘please understand what our responsibilities are, and what your responsibilities are. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes’.

Source www.7msport.com

A few thoughts about the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants text by Marc Prensky

Marc Prensky wrote this text in 2001, in which he coins two important terms for the study of technology, the digital natives and the digital immigrants. While it’s not clearly defined who are exactly the digital natives, I can deduct from the text, that it’s a generation born in the eighties, also known under the name of Generation Y:

What should we call these “new” students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital
Immigrants.

I find it interesting that Marc Prensky talks mostly about the difficulties adapting to these new realities in education. It’s perfectly understandable, at the time this text was written, the digital natives were in school and teachers, the digital immigrants, had to face new challenges. Even after a decade, these challenges are still haunting education, as you could see in one of my previous posts, but in the same time there are more and more teachers that are either digital natives themselves, or well adapted digital immigrants and they find ways to grab the attention of their students.

While I understand the need of sociologists to put up limits and define generations according to their date of birth, in this case we do have to take in account the socio-economic background of a person. Digital divide, resulted from factors such as income and geographic location should play a role in labeling someone as a digital native or an immigrant.

While I was born in the seventies, I don’t really fall into the digital native category, but even if I would been born in the eighties, I would still lie if I would call myself a digital native. In Eastern Europe technology was less developed and less accessible as in the developed countries and this sort of situations can be found even today in many corners of the world.

Anther description of a digital native presented in this paper that bothers me can be found in this passage:

As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today‟s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.

There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having your secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker” accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL). I‟m sure you can think of one or two examples of your own without much effort. My own favorite example is the “Did you get my email?” phone call. Those of us who are Digital Immigrants can, and should, laugh at ourselves and our “accent.”

While the author acknowledges that some digital immigrants are well adapted, he gives me the impression that the digital natives would be digitally more literate than their older peers. Digital literacy does not depend only on the date of birth of a person, or on their childhood being surrounded by gadgets, but rather a mindset, a digital thirst that can drive a person to learn new things and adapt to new ways.

One of my friends grew up in a war zone, in a remote village, his home did not had electricity until he was 15. Today, he lives in Montreal and he’s a computer science engineer, the typical geek that loves gadgets and knows how integrate them in his life. Calling him a well integrated digital immigrant would underrate his skills and way of life. He’s for me the perfect example of a person that skipped the whole digital nurture of a native.

It’s important to make this nuance, because the oposite can happen too, a kid who grows up in a digitally loaded environment, not to perform well as a digital native as he would lack the thirst for digital literacy.

12 years after this article, I think we’re in a better position to understand this phenomenon and there are more and more signs of the direction the working field is taking. The more we learn about this, the less of guess work becomes drafting an educational curriculum.

Transporting goods with metro

We got to point were old way of urban development is not sustainable and it’s clear that cities will have to find new ways to grov and to accomodate more and more people. Loud and impatient voices ask for radical changes to be done overnight, let’s get rid of all the cars and build bike-paths all over the place.

The metro is a fast and convenient way to get people fast from point A to point B, and it does not hinder the traffic, the cityscape, you don’t hear it, you don’t see it, but it’s there and it’s hard to beat. The problem with underground metros is the price of building the network, it’s very expensive to build a km of metro line and because of this, cities usually go for cheaper solutions.

I wonder if the place of the metro would be reconsidered, if it would be perceived as more than just another way to transport people, and in paralel, to be used for transporting goods? The bill of developing new metro lines would be split between the passengers and the freight companies. There would be fewer trucks on the road and the metro line could be used at its maximum capacity.

This solution might be too crazy to be realistic, but the main idea behind it I think should be considered. The idea come to me from the French word for “public transportation”, which is “transport en commun”, that could be translated as “joint transportation”. As people can share the same vehicle, why couldn’t they share it with goods too?

Balance

Balance is about Canada, about Quebec, about multiculturalism, about the difficulty to keep the right balance in order to advance and avoid falling in chauvinism, racism or xenophobia.

From my personal experience, as a new comer to Canada, I was surprised by the openness of people here, how easily they accept that I come from somewhere else.  How easy it is to feel home in Canada, in Quebec, in Montreal.

The only thing I’m still struggling with and the only thing that shatters my illusion of a harmonious society is the relationship between certain Francophones and Anglophones.

It’s an extremely touchy subject, that makes interaction with locals difficult. I got Francophone friends, I got Anglophone friends and they are all open minded people with a lot of respect for other cultures (I’m avoiding bigots), but there are times, especially when elections are near, when poison is in the air. Poison spread by political parties without a serious platform and cheap journalism that tries to sell a few extra papers by steering up the spirits.

I’m looking forward to the time, when the Red will recognize the importance of Blue in creating a unique richness and when Blue will stop focusing on a pessimistic interpretation of its past and start focusing on its future.

France to crackdown on visitors of terror website

Now that the ordeal in Toulouse has ended in the death of the al-Qaeda-inspired gunmen, Nicolas Sarkozy came out as a decisive leader, who doesn’t hesitate to take action. I’m expecting that his popularity will go up and he might even win the upcoming elections.

But not all is smooth for him, there will still remain some difficult questions to answer, as in this Haretz article.

The attacker happens to be a Muslim, and this could raise the popularity of Marie LePen too, the candidate of the far right, so Sarkozy had to show that he would go even further to stop terrorists, by imposing the same sentence on repeated visitors of websites that promote terror as on the visitors of child pornography websites, meaning sentences of up to two years in prison and €30,000.

What makes me wonder about the wisdom of his intention, apart from consolidating his image among  his electoral base, is that monitoring visits to websites that promote terror won’t be an easy task.

In the case of child pornography, it’s easier to set up rules, images of models under the age of 18, will be flagged, hence visiting such a website is punishable, but what about terror websites? It’s quite unclear, when does a website will become flagged? What does it mean repeated visitor? How many time a person has to go on such a website to be considered a repeated offender?

Will the law enforcement keep just as a close eye on Neo-Nazi websites and forums as they will on Islamist sites? After all, Anders Behring Breivik was not an Islamist, still he’s the author of the worst terror attack in Scandinavia.

My other question is how will jailing visitors of Islamist websites will be prove to be effective on the long run?

The Toulouse killer was a small time crook that became radicalized while doing time. Sending people to jail, who already seem to be attracted by extremist ideologies, will mean that they get a bursary to the best universities of crime and terror. If they won’t come out from jail more radical than ever, for sure they will have plenty of opportunity to recruit others for their cause.

The warmest St-Patrick parade

I find St-Patrick’s day to be the coolest holiday of the year. What can bring more joy than the celebration of the arrival of spring, soaked in beer and accompanied by bagpipe music?

I still remember our first St-Patrick’s Day parade, it was just a few weeks after our arrival to Montreal.

As new immigrants, we thought on a Sunday, we should go to a Romanian church, maybe we’ll get introduced to the Romanian community and we could make some connections that would help us in our integration.

At the time, we lived in DDO, in the West Island, to get to downtown, where the Romanians were renting a church, we had to take two busses than take the metro, change lines, etc. It was a long trip and it took a lot of determination to go there on a Sunday, especially for us, not your typical church goer type.

From the time we got on the first buss, we noticed there we a few people wearing strange stuff, funny hats and a girls face was painted in green. We thought, they’re going to some party and we tried not to show we’re new comers, so we would just look elsewhere. On the second buss there were even more pople, with even stranger hats and the metro was unusually packed, all with people dressed in green. We realized that this must be something bigger than a weird party and we became so curios to see where everyone is going dressed like this, that we dropped the plan to go to church and we just followed the crowd.

As we got out on St-Catherine street, at Peel metro station, the sidewalks were occupied by a huge crowd and in the middle of the street there was the St-Patrick’s Day parade.

Everyone shouting “Happy St-Patrick!”, bunch of drunk people, kids, cops, bagpipes, clowns (it was later that I learned they’re the Shriners), etc. The parade went on and on and on, and we forgot completely about our plan to go to church. We were happy because we were part of something special, something Canadian and we felt more integrated into our new home, than we would ever feel by going to any Romanian church.

The parade left on me a lasting impression, I even made a painting that you can see here and I try to never miss it. Every year we would go with my wife and celebrate the coming of Spring. Today was no different, especially that we had 20 degrees Celsius, we went again to have a beer and shout “Happy St-Patrick” to strangers.

Immigrants, the proudest Canadians

OK, so today is Flag Day in Canada!  CBC, together with other partners, commissioned a survey to see what Canadians think are the characteristics of a good citizen. The result shows that immigrants are just as good citizens as those born here (sic.). They also tend to be more proud to be Canadians, 88% of immigrants vs. 81% of those born here, which is not a huge difference, but it’s still a difference.

Although the poll is not specifying it, let me guess, the lion share of those that are not proud Canadians, are from Quebec and this percentage can only get worst with the Harper Government.

Yesterday, the English language media got overly excited, because Justin Trudeau declared Sunday on Radio-Canada that he can understand the desire of Quebec to separate from Steven Harper’s Canada.

Trudeau’s opinion resonates well with how I feel about Canada. It was yesterday that we celebrated with my wife February 14th, which besides  being Valentine’s day, it is also the anniversary of us becoming Canadian citizens. I still remember how proud we were to take the oath of citizenship, how proud we were to cast our first vote and how proud we were to see our picture in a Canadian passport.

I think it would be a huge mistake by Canada’s Government (a.k.a. Harper’s Conservatives) to take these feelings granted. They should keep in mind, that not every immigrant that comes to Canada is desperate to come here. Moving to a new country, is a big thing and people shop around before taking a decision. Before deciding to come Canada, we had the choice to apply to other countries too, but we chose Canada, because of its reputation and its values, that we felt it would make us proud to be part of.

Unfortunately, day after day, when I look at the news coming from Ottawa, I feel that the reputation of Canada and its values that we cherish, are slowly eroded and replaced with a far right ideology imposed onto all of us, by a 40% minority (percentage that won’t reach 18% if we take in account the entire population of Canada).

I still have hope. I hope that next time, people will take more seriously their duty, to go out and vote and won’t let Canada sink into this swamp of backwardness.

Modern civilization shaking and melting in Japan

The Great Wave off Kanagawa - Ukiyo-e by Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave off Kanagawa - Ukiyo-e by Katsushika Hokusai

The extent of the damages, caused by the earthquake and tsunami, are slowly being revealed. As I’m writing these lines, the outcome of the Fukushima nuclear power plant failure is uncertain and there are less and less optimistic voices.

The reaction of the outside world to all these events is quite different compared to other recent events of this magnitude. Let’s just think back to the tsunami of December 2004, or the more recent earthquakes of Haiti and Chile.

The Canadian Red Cross has collected far less money for the Japanese disaster relief than during the Haiti quake. People are hesitant to donate, after all Japan is a rich country, a G7 member and it’s probably the best prepared nation to face earthquakes and tsunamis.

There is another factor too that can have a big impact on the donations the Red Cross or other NGOs are receiving, the media with is TV and photo cameras are covering differently this event. While in Haiti the news were filled with images of people in tents, even weeks after the quake every night the evening news was almost entirely all about the victims of the earthquake, the people.

In Japan, just few of the images are showing people, mostly focusing on the spectacular shots of the tsunami and the explosions at Fukushima. We won’t see women crying, kids screaming and men rioting, instead we are shown soldiers and rescue workers in uniforms working tirelessly to find survivors, clean up the mess or being busy to sacrifice their own health to cool down melting nuclear reactors. We’ll also see man in suits discussing in Vienna how to handle the PR coup the nuclear industry just got, or finance ministers trying to get back the market to green.

When I hear in the news that soldiers at Fukushima had to stop working because the levels of radiation is too high, I wonder where the technological miracle of Japan and the Western World in general is? To what good is to have robots able to play a violin or play soccer if during a nuclear crisis, human beings have to be sacrificed? Where are all the wonder robots, the transformers and remote controlled gadgets? Why can’t we leave music, painting and sports for to humans to do it? These are all activities that need soul, while going close to a melting reactor should be rather left to robots.

Why engineers have to work on building drones to kill people, instead of building tools to save lives? Imagine a drone that could be used for aerial firefighting, it could work non stop for days and could go to places you wouldn’t send anyone. I’m sure there are brilliant engineering minds that could come up with many other solutions to build a better World, why are they employed to do the wrong gadgets?

In Japan our entire civilization shook and now it’s melting, so don’t hesitate to do the right thing by helping.

TEDxSerendipity

When was the last time you learned a new word?

For me it was Saturday at the TEDxConcordia, where several of the presenters were using the word serendipity. I was initially puzzled, I didn’t knew the meaning, but the dictionary app on my iPod saved my face. It means good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries… Learning a new word is serendipity.

Serendipity doesn’t have an equivalent in Hungarian, Romanian or French, the three languages I’m most efficient with. Apparently it’s in the top ten hardest words to translate, and many languages, because of its use in Sociology, have imported it.

Serendipity is exactly what TED is all about, discovering new and unexpected things, that will open your eye to new ideas and enrich your spirit. It’s a state of the mind, where you let yourself be taken to unknown territories, to meet new people, to talk about new ideas and learn new things.

I think TEDxConcordia succeeded in putting together all the necessary ingredients to achieve this. Just as most the presentations were amazing, and I would loose the sense of time while listening to them, the breaks were great opportunities to meet brilliant people. I really enjoyed this open atmosphere, where it was OK to talk to strangers or join discussions and I met people from various backgrounds, that all had one thing in common, they would all be thirsty for serendipity.

I wonder, do we really need events like TED to experience serendipity, to learn new things, to meet new people? When was the last time you experienced serendipity?

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