2010-05-29

Baker Lake Uranium

. I caused a bit of a storm a year ago with some tough comments on generating electricity in Nunavut. I should have spoken to the people involved first and made sure they understood what I intended before lambasting their ideas in public. My mistake, but theirs too. None of us distinguished sufficiently between electricity and the methods we use to generate it. During that debate, my every mention of hydro generation as a way of extracting energy from gravity was interpreted as advocating a particular community's least preferred reservoir location. Every mention of wind generation was interpreted as wanting to impose massive noisy turbines in someone's back yard. Every question of nuclear generation was interpreted as advocating uranium mining near Baker Lake. Unfortunately, the best intentions don't matter a damn. No matter what we say, the true meaning of our communication is the response we get. Judging from the resulting furor, I expressed it very poorly then. Let's try again. Energy is energy. Period. Just pure oomph. With four important considerations ... (a) there are several different sources that contain energy; (b) there are good and bad ways of extracting energy from a source; (c) there are good and bad ways of transporting the extracted energy closer to where it is needed; and (d) there are different jobs we want to do with that energy once it gets there. It pays to keep these four catagories straight in our thinking. For example, we might easily agree that Sun light is an ideal source, but question whether chopping down trees, to plant corn, to be converted into ethanol, to be transported in trucks, ships or pipelines, to be burned by internal combustion engines, to generate electricity, to power our appliances, is the ideal way of capturing the sunlight (corn), transporting it (ethanol), to generate electricity (diesel generators), to run our applicances (stoves and toasters). The same logic applies to Gravity. What are the wider consequences of piling up water, exposing it to increased evaporation, removing it from adjacent aquifers, dropping it from great heights onto the blades of a turbine (extraction), pushing it over thousands of kilometers of towers and poles as high tension electricity (transportation), and then transforming it for lower voltage use in our appliances? How about a Nuclear example. Whence the uranium and how do we mine it (source), reactors to convert it to electricity (transportation), how is it stored until needed for our appliances (stoves and toasters). We need to think this thing through... properly. We almost never do. The elements are all tangled up and tied to each other. It's hard work dammit! Our only hope of sorting this all out is to learn to discuss each of these components clearly, separately, deeply and, as often as possible away from the threats and whinning of lobbyists for vested political and commercial interests. Lobbyists occasionally bring useful technical and governance expertise to the table, but they wrap it in so much bullshit. It's just another kind of mining we have to learn, how to extract the warp and weft of wisdom's cloth from their tightly spun and twisted 'yarn'? (pun intended) All of this to say that the hydro project once contemplated for Iqaluit had some serious aquifer management and transportation problems. A tidal source might avoid both extraction and transporation difficulties, but what about ice and salt corrosion. Even much maligned nuclear alternatives should be considered. If mined uranium is an undesireable source, if current extraction technology risks filty toxic impacts on Baker Lake's aquifers, if newer technologies to downgrade and recycle weapons waste aren't ready yet, these factors should be examined honestly. Our final goal should be kept firmly in view, however, no matter how energetic the discussion gets. We want to transform Nunavut society forever into all of that Pinasuaqtavut and Tamapta describe as social and economic outcomes and contribute to them by heating our homes and powering our vehicles on clean, 7 - 10 cents per kilowatt electricity, rather than perpetuating the Petrified Oleum Pandemic. Think that's foolish utopianism? Have you the guts to pretend it isn't, temporarily? Care enough to join me in looking foolish for 36 months while we independently pursue unbiased answers to these questions rather than being herded by mantra-spouting lobbyists with a vested interest in the status quo? .

2010-05-27

All Potholes are Global

. A recent letter to the editor of the Nunatsiaq News got me thinking. "Worst Iqaluit Roads in 53 years", the headline raged. I suspect it was based on the state of the one hundred meters of the Apex Road directly in front of the author's house. Are all politics that local? With apologies to Tip O'Neill, I'm going to suggest it's t'other way 'round. Potholes can be global ... when placed in their proper context. Iqaluit roads have never been so well maintained. In my thirty-five years here this is the first winter that snow removal on the Apex road has begun before people went to work. It is the first time in those same thirty-five years that snow removal on the Apex Road continued after people got home safely. Somebody at City Hall re-discovered shift scheduling and applied it to the core mandate of any municipal government: deliver the water, remove the sewage and garbage, and clear the snow so the ambulance and fire trucks can get through! Not stopping there, they paved streets throughought the city last summer, nothing less than a godsend. The number of vehicles in Iqaluit has increased so dramatically over the last few years that residents were experiencing acute respiratory problems from the perpetual cloud of dust that enveloped the city from dawn 'til dusk, six months a year, especially in Apex. City officials warned ahead of time that not all neighbourhoods could be done in a single year. They even showed good sense in their selection of areas to be done later. Heeding the common sense observation that "huge trucks, fully loaded, cause a lot of the problems," City staff decided to wait until major work on the infamous sinking Arena was finished, before paving that particular stretch. Yep, you guessed it. The letter writer lives right next door to the arena. The work has since been completed. Care to guess where the paving starts this summer? The lesson to be learned from all this, of course, is that too local a context can be very misleading. Dreadful as some 2010 potholes have been in specific locations, they do not constitute the worse regime of road maintenance in Iqaluit for 53 years. Where, you might ask, is the global aspect in all this? Truth is there are very few 'local' issues these days. Even potholes occur in a wide ecological context. Impatient for global warming to reach Iqaluit, perhaps the author travelled to warmer climes this winter? He ignores this having been the heaviest snow accumulation in at least 53 years, by a huge margin. Despite this unprecedented threat, spring runoff caused only a fraction of the typical damage of recent years precisely because drainage ditches and culverts were so much better planned this time, before the extensive paving program began. As for the ridges of frozen sand and ice that accumulated at some intersections, they were presumably left for a week or two to melt naturally because any attempt to remove them using brute force and heavy equipment would indeed have damaged the brand new pavement underneath. All of which leads to the global 'local' question. Why do we so rarely bother to simply ask for an explanation? Me included! Many years ago, when I was the ignoramus shooting my mouth off cursing the state of the roads in Frobisher Bay, I decided to stop Town foreman Art Barrieau as he drove by in the truck he practically lived in. "Sir Arthur, what's up with the roads?" I asked. "Damn grader broke a blade on ice-locked rock," he replied. "The boys are welding it in the garage right now to get us through until a new one gets here." I only needed to ask. So simple. Which raises the one issue Mr. Pearson got right this time. (He's been right before by the way. He was openly laughed at for putting down the first thin layer of pavement as Mayor of Frobisher Bay years ago. The stuff lasted for decades.) Where he hits home this time is in suggesting that, with Saali Sagiattuk gone, our new and younger City staff would do well to ask more experienced folks where common snowmobile trails need to cross Iqaluit streets when returning from a long hunting trip. The evident disregard snow crews have shown for those longstanding access points when approaching Town from Imiqtarviminiq, or near the airport, or coming in through the pack ice, is disrespectful in the extreme towards the very people Iqaluit and Nunavut are all about. Next time on the global local beat, we'll revisit Baker Lake aquifers and uranium mining. .

2010-05-23

Cyber War

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I first noticed Richard A. Clarke when he claimed to have warned Condoleezza Rice and George Bush Jr. about the threat of 9/11. He was The Shrub's principal advisor on national security at the time and was ignored.

Clarke has just written a new book about the next threat to global security.

The first half of that book, Cyber War, won't surprise computer professionals much. It might even seem rather ho-hum. They already know this stuff. It will and should upset a lot of lay people, however, including Presidents and Prime Ministers.

The second half is mandatory reading for professionals and ordinary citizens alike.

I was drawn to this book by Fareed Zakaria's May 9th interview with Clarke in which he, a professional on the side of security and intelligence, far from smooching with Dick Cheney, surprisingly accused the executive branch of government of using 9/11 as an excuse to breach the US Constitution and unnecessarily trample on civil rights.

I am one of those who think Michael Ignatieff's little book, "The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror", is the seminal guide to thinking about this topic. (I refer here to the distinguished and principled former historian, Michael Ignatieff, not Mickey Iggy the gutless and Pablum-spouting current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.)

I was hoping Clarke would situate his arguments squarely in that context.

Not quite.

Before walking Ignatieff's philosophical and constitutional tightrope to meet this newest threat, Clarke urgently wants to first convince us the threat actually exists. Not only does he succeed in this, he goes on to suggest that intelligent reaction to the threat is being undermined by the same gridlock that hijacked the American discussion of health insurance.

We need to protect critical infrastructure such as power, water and transportation facilities, which might require regulating some elements of business, especially Internet business. Anathema to conservatives.

Other requirements, if abused, might violate our understanding of privacy. Anathema to liberals.

Meanwhile, the threat speaks for itself. All current governmental efforts at so-called cyber security, including the US Patriot Act and Homeland Security are designed first to protect government and defense establishments. They do little to save the rest of us.

Our financial, electrical, agricultural and transportation systems are owned by private sector conglomerates whose conservative governments and lobbies eschew regulation just as vehemently as liberal lobbies rant about any use of profiling.

I won't spoil the read by giving too much away. Let's just say that the days of treating cyber crime like break-and-enter are long gone. Security incidents no longer drill out the locks, shatter the windows, or break down the doors. Most of all, they don't remove anything from the premises. In fact, they leave no sign of having entered at all.

They just walk away with the knowledge of how to remotely overload and burn the bearings on our power generators, confuse civilian radar and air traffic control, shut down water distribution, and paralyze the control systems on our ships, trains, and airplanes.

While we were all blissfully surfing eBay, Facebook and YouTube, the stalwarts of western civilization such as Ontario Hydro, WalMart, ScotiaBank and Air Canada began monitoring and interconnecting their (our) generators, refrigerators, stock markets and control towers using the unprotected Internet.

China, Cuba and Afghanistan have not.

(To be continued, when I've finished reading the second half ...)
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2010-05-20

Pakistan - Pointedly Missing the Point

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Here we go. That silly cartoon nonsense again. This time its from a Pakistani court feeling insulted on Prophet Muhammad's behalf.

From literalist clerics I might understand, but Judges? I hope their understanding of the Law is better than their grasp of theology because, with this latest heresy, they have avoided the most significant issue facing Islam this century. The logical fallacy at very root of symbolic thought itself.

If Muslims the world over would confront this issue honestly, with actual thought rather than droning dogma, they would leap into the 21st Century in a single bound.

A much deeper question precedes any debate over freedom of expression.

Ayan Hirsi Ali, the international press, Irshad Manji, countless American pundits, Jewish academics, the Roman Catholic Church, and now Pakistan's Lahore High Court have all been fooled into thinking the issue is Blasphemy. Free speech concerns the Auditory firewall against misconceptions of primordial substance.

This gigantic fuss over cartoons is not about sounds, it's about images and, therefore, we should be centering the discussion on Idolatry.

Among all of Abraham’s children, limitations or admonition against using sound to represent deities is not addressed until the second Commandment. The First Commandment deals with an a priori and much more fundamental fallacy, the inherent trap in symbolic thought itself, and it uses the visual representation system to make the point first.

Contemporary fundamentalists, Muslim, Christian and every type in between including secular atheists, stand in breach of that First Commandment. They think it forbids, or suggests it is inappropriate to draw or cast images, whether of Muhammad or Jesus. The fact is, when correctly stated, it only points out that you can't represent It-All in a single image anyway and advises against deifying any image after it has come into being. Symbolic images are only fleeting analogies for aspects of that which is represented. They are not con-substantial with the whole of existence.

The outrageous idolatry at the root of Islamists threatening to assassinate Dutch cartoonists, or a Pakistani court trying to block Facebook from an entire country, isn’t in their believing cartoons can insult the Prophet, it is in allowing that any image could depict the divine in the first place!

Those Pakistani judges are as guilty of the sin of idolatry as were the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai / Jabal Musa. Moses smashed the tablets in frustration at this truly original sin. Jesus mocked and derided the pretentions of Pharisaic posturing rooted in this same confusion of symbol with what it represents.

It is time for Twenty-First Century Muslims to do their homework.

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2010-05-16

Crib Chronicles

Bon Stewart’s latest post on CribChronicles should be mandatory reading for all new bloggers.

The fifty odd comments that follow it are like a crash Drivers Ed course for newbie bloggers, a reasonable alternative to the period of lurking before blurting required to absorb blogging tradition and protocol. I took the pill. If it dissuades my motor mouth from launching a five-hundred-and-fiftieth edition of the Hair-Channel for Men, we could even dub it blog-control!

I gave up classical guitar when I heard Andres Segovia. Then I gave up writing mystical essays when I discovered that Rainer Maria Rilke had bequeathed a little prose to the Western Canon too, not just poetry. Now Bon Stewart's blog makes me feel like trashing mine... almost.

She’s that good.

I guess I’m older-than-that-now, as the song says, so I’ve decided to persist awhile with two motives in mind:

First is the cold fury I feel at reporters and pundits who try to fool us with opinion disguised as questions, declarative sentences disguised as interrogatives. Philosophers call them Logical Fallacies, but to the rest of us they are just plain lies. Carefully embedded outrageous lies. They drive me nuts!

Remember when Lou Dobbs was on CNN every night? He violated the subtlety constraints of ‘embeddedness’, became the laughing stock of US journalism and had to be canned. He was too obvious and Fox News isn't far behind. More troubling is that the rest of our mass media are nearly as dishonest; they only disguise it better.

A rising tone on the final syllable does not a question make!

Nunaview and Influential Liars are two blogs intended to neutralize some of that poison. One is dedicated to Nunavut affairs, the other to broader national and world affairs.

2010-05-13

Damned Bureaucrats!

I have just noticed a fresh instance of Nunavut's frontier journalism. It caters to my adrenaline rush addiction with some classic ambulance chasing, spiked with a little anti-government diatribe.

I sheepishly suspend my better judgment and enjoy the thrill until, eventually, I can't help wondering how thoroughly the reporters have delved into the matter.

None of us really expects a Toronto or Edmonton meter maid to show much discretion when issuing a downtown parking ticket, for example. We all understand it's just another source of revenue to help with road maintenance.

However, we do expect supervisors to provide some discretion, perhaps even an avenue of appeal. If I leave my car for a hundred and fifty seconds while rushing to help an accident victim until paramedics arrive, I might reasonably expect the bureaucracy to review that context.

Judging from the Nunatsiaq News report on this latest Nunavut incident, it appears the once and former Fire Marshal, rather than merely ordering the deficiencies at the Territorial Correctional Center to be remedied, opted for an immediate closure order?

I'm just musing here, but with my vicarious adrenaline rush over, my reaction as a resident tends towards wondering whether the reporters, or the Fire Marshal, thought of the safety impact on the community of so sudden a closure, compared to the short term risks to the inmates.

What about the safety of the public, or the logistics and financial impact of air lifting that many people to another jurisdiction for six months to a year? How about the impact on unilingual Inuktitut speaking families and relatives?

The Auditor General's latest report points to a common underlying element in most difficulties in Nunavut. A chronic and crippling lack of people and resources in government programs.

So I am left to wonder how thoughtful it would be to blame the situation on a few exhausted public servants trying desperately to hold Nunavut's under-resourced services together. I wonder what really sent the former Fire Marshal running to the police crying professional interference? Did someone in the nebulous bureaucracy ask the same questions that have occurred to me as a mere resident and lay person in this matter?

On its face, most of us understand the Fire Marshall's logic, of course, but he's a professional, not a mere inspector-reporter. Shouldn't he test his assumptions in a slightly broader context in case he's overlooking something?

How about charging Doctors Without Borders and all the parents in cholera-plagued Haiti with criminally neglecting their sick children?

Ah yes, I feel so much better now. That should wake those infernal bureaucrats!

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2010-05-10

Racism in Nunavut Schools

Generations of Nunavut students are tripping over fractions.

The practice of promoting them based on age rather than subject-specific competence is crippling them. Grade 4 through Grade 7 curriculum especially is stunting their mental and intellectual growth as surely as would a lack of protein.

They miss decimals, ignore percentage, and choke on ratio, proportion and probability. They never recover. Not academically and not from the psychological scars of being made to feel they just aren't smart enough.

Some drift for another grade or two before being shunted away from the academic stream, but they abandon forever the kind of secondary and post-secondary thinking required for modern life and modern jobs.

The consequence of this failure in Nunavut schools disproportionately affects Inuit, of course, and is therefore institutionally racist. Here's an analogy from the world of chemistry. In 1972, University of Waterloo professor Murray Moo Young accused the entire western world of a blatantly discriminatory food aid policy toward Africa and Asia. At the time, the bulk of such aid from countries like Canada was grain. Since grain does not provide complete protein, dumping our excess wheat was actually harming mental development in generations of hungry third world children, just when their growing brains needed complete protein. Professor Moo Young developed a way of growing protein, microbial protein, on any cellulose base, even pee-drenched discarded Pampers. The result was a complete protein that could be formed into any shape, textured and flavoured to emulate anything from meat to cookies. It was brilliant. It could have worked locally on any continent. It would have decimated both food and transportation costs. Why haven't we heard more of this potentially Nobel Prize winning work? Because distinct silos in the chemical and food industries couldn't get together to combine the two ideas. It threatened their existing revenue streams.

So how is protein deprivation a suitable analogy to Nunavut’s policy of glossing over functional innumeracy? Simply that we've known the solution for nearly thirty years and yet we continue to opt for the status quo. For the first eighty years of the industrial era, we largely excluded women from the maths and sciences. "They will only get married and wouldn't need that sort of thing." We then compounded the idiocy by hiring, almost exclusively, those same women to teach our children throughout the early and middle years of school! We've cheated our children (and their teachers) for so long the problem has become structural and self-perpetuating. On her very first day of Grade 4, my daughter reported her teacher began the first math class by saying, "I don't really like this stuff either and I'm not very good at it, but, well, we have to do it anyway." The centuries old established pedagogical instruments for introducing abstract thinking are all numeric. Yet literacy campaigns seldom test for abstract thinking before presenting abstract literature. In Nunavut, the solution could be so simple. Rather than expecting 'home-room' teachers to teach all subjects during the middle years, we need only introduce the concept of a roving math wizard visiting each class specifically for math instruction. Just pick the best darn 'splainer', the best darn story teller, the richest and most prolific metaphor and analogy generating brain in the entire school and dedicate them to math class.

The vicious cycle of entrenched academic under achievement could be broken in a single generation.

If you have any doubt about this, take a look at some of the Navaho school boards in New Mexico where exceptional teachers have led this kind of transition to numeracy in aboriginal contexts for years. To paraphrase James Carville, "It's the fractions stupid!"

And, if that means continuing to offer well designed Grade 4 math classes to children who are purportedly in Grade 5 or 6, so be it!

2010-05-07

Tiger Moving to Havana?

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Imagine a sand box.

Make it a good sized one. About three meters on each side, with walls about 30 cms (one foot) deep. Fill the box with clean, dry sand.

Now, gather a dozen soup bowls, fill them with small pebbles or gravel, and sink them upright into the sand so that the lip of each bowl is about a centimeter below the surface. Get a large watering can and carefully fill each of the bowls with water. Lastly, cover each one with sand to hide it below the surface.

Begin calling the bowls 'aquifers' because you are about to earn a quick PhD in fresh water management policy.

Here's the deal.

Your kids want to germinate some seeds in the areas of the sand box where there are no bowls. You tell them they are allowed to push a single straw through the sand into each bowl and suck out as much water as they want to use on their seeds, but you will only allow one cup of relacement water from the kitchen tap to be added to each bowl, per week, and they must start calling that new water 'precipitation'.

Your final exam consists of a single question.

How much water can the kids suck out of each bowl per week during July and August if the plants are to keep growing in the blazing sun until Labour Day?

Pretty obvious, eh?

No more than a cup, the replacement quota, and likely less because each bowl will lose some water soaking to the surface sand above it. That is probably where we should have put the seeds in the first place.

The lesson to be learned is that you can never remove more water from any one bowl than can be replenished from the weekly re-supply. Break this rule and the entire sand box will run dry in a matter of days.

That is what has been done to the Kalahari desert and to much of the South Western USA.

Now Cuba has decided to ask foreign developers to build golf courses?

Raul, good grief!

Fifty years of heroic sacrifice and defiance by a long suffering people now betrayed on the eve of global ecological catastrophe ... and deprived of vindication.

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2010-05-05

Al Jazeera English - on ExpressVU!

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Al Jazeera English has been added to Bell ExpressVu today.

Superb journalism.

Harkens back 20 - 30 years, to when even the mass media were still fiercely committed to the principles of real journalism.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) should be mandatory viewing for every student and every buck reporter out trying to earn their stripes.

If we could now just convince Bell to also add TeleSUR, the pan-latin-american equivalent.

Just as AJE have culled the finest reporters from national broadcasters all over the world, including BBC, CBC, Australia, and Asia ,etc., TeleSUR has done the same with reporters from all over Central and South America.

What a breath of fresh air compared to CBC, CNN and yes, even BBC!

If you are interested in giving AJE a whirl, call ExpressVu in the normal way at 1-888-759-3474, and if the agent who answers seems oblivious to the new channel, just ask to be escalated to Level-2 regarding Channel 516.

The service is so new (today - late yesterday) the agents have to use a manual (hard copy) registration form and pass it through to programming manually. They call it an 'Add On' and it costs just $3.00 per month.

The whole registration process is refered to internally by ExpressVu staff as an 'Offline Request' because it hasn't been entered in their automated ordering system yet.

In addition to the basic news service each hour, I strongly recommend figuring out when 'Witness' and their other documentary series are scheduled. You will be astonished. It's like finally having a 'Fifth Estate' or 'W-5' type program from the rest of the world instead of only from our often monotonous North American and Euro- Centric point of view.

If we can add TeleSUR, we will only be a half-continent short of a truly global broadcasting service: sub-Saharan Africa.

Would appreciate comment from any of you who share this prespective.
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2010-05-02

Trash talk ... Kikes, Chinks and Pakis

Overheard in the Human Resources section of a Government department recently, a staffing consultant referred to a fellow employee as prejudiced in their hiring decisions. When bandied about carelessly and long enough, we lose trust in such clich├ęs. They require too long a pause in the flow of conversation to ensure they are being used accurately, sincerely, in context, and not just as rhetorical diversions.

We have lost so many useful words and powerful expressions through such careless use. Could 'prejudice' and 'anti-semitism' be about to join them? Are we tiring of having to parse them so meticuloulsly everytime we hear them?

Certainly the Holocaust remains despicable stuff. Yet the reason other diasporic peoples sometimes resent Euro-America's institutionalized and reflex references to anti-semitism is precisely that, outside its Euro-centric context, it can seem ... well, euro-centric.

Having migrated away from where they were the majority, each diaspora must adjust to new circumstances as a minority. Initially excluded by the majority from leadership roles in politics or the military, what is a bright young 'Kike' in Europe, 'Paki' in Africa, or 'Chink' in Polynesia to do except excel in those domains left open to them: academia, the arts and business.

The original stereotype within European anti-semitism centered on banking, credit and trade, but Jews in the European diaspora also reveled and excelled in the most exquisite refinements of national literature, music and science in each of their host countries. When those national arts rose to transnational significance to become part of the global legacy, the human canon, Jews, like most diasporic peoples seemed disproportionately represented among those elites and, eventually, were disproportionately resented as well.

Have we so easily forgotten the Indo-Pakistani diaspora in Idi Amin's Uganda. Care to examine the social undertones among Philippinos towards even third and fourth generation Chinese? How about the attitude of local academics toward the rise to prominence of Japanese scholars at the University of Hawaii in the 1980s? And what was the ratio of so-called 'Asian' admissions to Harvard last Fall compared to their proportion in the overall US population?

I have a friend who is fond of saying, "Beware jargon! It usually indicates a repository of power." That reminder seems especially appropriate when discussing prejudice of all kinds, whether as part of the rage over new Arizona immigration policies, or resistance to Nunavut's Inuit Employment objectives.

While true clich├ęs merely wilt to benign insignificance, the most insidious are co-opted as jargon into the service of organized deception. Whether we call it a 'lobby' or a vested interest, they deliberately marry semantic subterfuge to political correctness in order to contaminate public discourse and cut off debate.

The irony?

Such silence and censure, over the long haul, end up hindering the desired outcomes of those very lobbies that provoked them.

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