All posts by Kim Petersen

The Communist Party of China: Putting the People First

Wherever we lift one soul from a life of poverty, we are defending human rights. And whenever we fail in this mission, we are failing human rights.

Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General

Among other items “proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “… human beings shall enjoy freedom … from want.”

The UDHR preamble goes on to state that “fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person … have [been] determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Article 25(1) outlines what each human should rightfully be availed of:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Accordingly, anyone lacking the rights listed in article 25(1) would be construed in some level of poverty.

Fortunately, the UN has committed itself to Ending Poverty, and it claims that it has made strides in that direction since 2000. However, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, threw a monkey wrench into narrative that extreme poverty is nearing eradication based on the World Bank’s measure of extreme poverty. His report finds that more accurate measures indicate only a slight decrease in the fight against poverty in the past thirty years.

The current UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, in his September 2020 report pointed to challenges in dealing with poverty such as the COVID-19 pandemic and “how climate change will have devastating consequences for people in poverty.”

In the capitalist United States, 2019 statistics revealed that 10.5 percent of Americans live in poverty, a drop of 1.3 percent from 2018 — the lowest published rate since such estimates began in 1959.

Currently, the poverty situation is exacerbated by COVID-19 along with the fact that there are about 26 million Americans without health coverage (2019 figures).

Capitalist Canada, which has universal medical care, also continues to struggle with poverty. This is apparent from the proliferation of tent cities — indicative of homelessness. Sadly, this poverty is not always greeted with compassion for the downtrodden.

Regardless of a plethora of western-based billionaires and several western companies listed in the Fortune 500, there is a moral argument to be made that a society that permits the poor to sink in a sea of plenty is, to put it mildly, an unfulfilled society.

Imagine instead a place where everyone has a home, water and ample nutritious food, adequate clothing, and no one needs to fear becoming injured or ill and not receiving medical care. If a nation were to achieve becoming a compassionate society where the basic needs of all are met, should it not be shouted from rooftops across the globe? Shouldn’t other countries be exploring how they could achieve such human rights for all its citizens?

However, there is no need to merely imagine because there is such a place soon to be free of poverty. But the rooftops elsewhere are largely silent. Why? Because such a monumental feat is not being feted by the capitalist countries of the world. In fact, the self-proclaimed leader of the so-called Free World (albeit not free of poverty) has made the eradicator of poverty the enemy du jour.

In the US, the descriptor “Communist” is used as a pejorative by president Donald Trump and his officials.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said, “We gave the Chinese Communist Party and the regime itself special economic treatment, only to see the CCP insist on silence over its human rights abuses as the price of admission for Western companies entering China.”

The self-admitted liar, cheater, and thief Pompeo alleges the contradiction that the CCP could be simultaneously pulling people out of poverty and committing human rights abuses. Why should anyone believe him?

Since the 1980s, the Communist Party of China had lifted over 700 million people out of poverty. Now, China is nearing its goal to eliminate absolute poverty in 2020. Chairman Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CCP Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, has not wavered in ridding the country of poverty despite the imposition of COVID-19.

Xi has been feted by Chinese media for his visits and concern for poor villagers.

Poverty alleviation was a priority in his roughly 80 domestic inspections over the past eight years. These trips took him to some of the country’s most remote and impoverished areas.

He once cited an old Chinese adage: “Great leaders of nations treat their people like a father loves his son and an elder brother loves his younger sibling. They will be saddened to hear of their people’s hardship or toil.”

Xi’s personal history is one of having endured years of poverty, having spent much of his youth living with rural peasants. This experience contributed to Xi’s focus on poverty elimination.

Xi knows well that poverty is incompatible with socialism. Accordingly, the CCP has identified the factors causing poverty in various areas and devised for each case a custom poverty relief plan. The plans are then followed up on to ensure effective outcomes.

In Chinese history, the Mandate of Heaven justifies the ruler. The people are above the king whose rule is based upon the support of the people. To continue to rule, the king must ensure that the people are protected and provided for. This was reflected in Xi’s statement, “Poverty alleviation must have genuine effects that can win the approval of the people and stand the test of practice and history.”

Poverty is not just being fought on the Chinese homefront, China is also involved in the global anti-poverty fight, helping developing countries grow their economies and improve their people’s livelihoods. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has helped develop the economy of countries, creating employment and enhancing people’s lives.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce reports that “Chinese companies’ non-financial direct investment in 54 countries along the Belt and Road grew by over 33 percent to reach 72.18 billion yuan in the first seven months of 2020.”

The World Bank estimates that worldwide the Belt and Road initiative could help lift about 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million from moderate poverty.

The Leading Nation

Although China is already the world’s biggest economy, it is the eradication of poverty that places China at the forefront of global nations. Leaders in other countries would do well to learn what is applicable from the Chinese experience and provide for the needs of the populace. As their nations are signatories to the UDHR, they have committed themselves to this undertaking.

Many challenges still face China and the CCP. As the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

China sees the elimination of poverty as a necessary step in becoming a moderately prosperous society in all facets.

The post The Communist Party of China: Putting the People First first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Question RT More!

The RT headline speaks volumes: “China’s Forced Rape and Slave Labor Being Excused.” The right-wing RT Eat the Press host Steve Malzberg presents the ludicrous-on-its-face charge that China has some preponderant influence over American corporations. Why ludicrous? Because ever since Donald Trump lost the vote and won the presidency in that bastion of democracy, the United States, the media wonks and White House apparatchiks have stepped up an unrelenting demonization of China. Thus China is blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, blamed for trade frictions, accused of intellectual property theft (this while Trump tries to purloin Chinese social media phenom TikTok), criticized for undermining democracy in Hong Kong, alleged to engage in aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, and China is asserted to pose a national security risk because of Chinese apps and cutting-edge technology, such as 5G. Simultaneously, the American Establishment continues to stoke interethnic conflict in China’s Xinjiang province, an area where the US and its CIA have long sought to undermine Chinese sovereignty.1

All of this is being pushed by American corporate media, but it is now joined by RT via Malzberg and his guest Justin Danhof, the general counsel for the “conservative” National Center for Public Policy Research. The NCPPR is “dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems.” In other words, it is a right-wing think tank. It is aligned with:

  • the corporate lobbyist group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC);
  • a project that bombarded senior citizens with “fright mail”;
  • the ill-reputed right-wing lobbyist Jack Abramoff;
  • anti-environmental protection groups and the climate-change skeptics;
  • GroupSnoop, a site that attacks progressivist groups such as the Center for American Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Center for Media & Democracy;
  • several right-wing foundations that fund NCPPR.

Danhof is also a a policy advisor for the right-wing Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is criticized for its climate-change skepticism. It is also loosely affiliated with the deceptively named National Endowment for Democracy — in actuality, a CIA front for instigating coups.

Malzberg and Danhof — and RT through providing the platform — castigate Disney, one of the Big 5 media oligopolies in the US, for seeking profit in wicked China. Danhof criticized the Disney movie Mulan because it was shot in “ZIN-JING.”2 Why is that a problem?

Danhof, an advocate for capitalism, claims,

That is where the Chinese Communist Party has forced labour camps of a minority Muslim population known as the Uyghur, okay? So Disney moralizes and proselytizes us in the United States of America over its quote systematic racism and Black Lives Matter while they are burning our cities down. But they turn a blind eye to actual slave labor … and there is forced rape here…

Sheesh! What is this guy talking about? Proselytizing? More than 39,000 mosques are in China, with 25,000 mosques in Xinjiang. And “forced rape”? Statutory rape aside, whoever heard of consensual rape?

For some reason these two conservatives turned the conversation to protests in the US. It seems they had three targets to try and topple in the interview: China, corporations that do business with China, and BLM.

As for burning the cities down? Who and why? That the state and its police use agents provocateurs is so well known that one should always be skeptical of casting blame without evidence. Besides, what caused the protests to mushroom? If police were not murdering Black people3 and if there were a fair distribution of the wealth in the country, the call of the streets would not have beckoned with such widespread appeal to the marginalized, disenfranchised, immiserated, and social-justice advocates among the citizenry. I suggest that the government in the US and many western nations could learn a thing or two from China in eliminating poverty, thereby quelling simmering unrest.

Malzberg and Danhof seem incapable of drawing the palpable causal link between the police murders and protests. If there were jobs with decent wages for all and were the police peaceably and without prejudice upholding the law, then there would be no fillip for mass protests. The no-brainer solution to the protests, burning, window-smashing, destruction, and looting (committed by whoever: state actors, protestors, or criminal elements) is stop police killings of people and provide a decent living for the people of the nation, as is required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is a signatory.4 To focus only on the aftermath in a system that promotes capitalist enrichment and turns a blind eye to egregious inequality and mass impoverishment instead of focusing on the capitalist government mismanagement of the state of the nation is backwards and obtuse.

And horrors! Danhof informs us that the protestors support Marxism in America. This is simple-mindedness to the extreme. To merely toss out a political-economic label is a non sequitur. It has no logical basis. If it did have a logic, then people of a different politico-economic leaning, for example socialists, could merely state — “that’s capitalism” — to present their disagreement. This is hardly compelling argumentation from whichever angle. Nonetheless, an open-minded, skeptical comparison of the economies and the economic trajectories between Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and US Capitalism should prove quite revealing — for those who are not of the capitalist or petite bourgeoisie classes in the US.

Danhof, with Malzberg chuckling in agreement, talks of human rights abuses right in front of people’s eyes. The video showed no such human rights abuses. A genocide of Uyghurs? As CGTN informs, “… the Uygur people, had always enjoyed preferential population policies. In the four decades between 1978 and 2018, the Uygur population in Xinjiang doubled, from 5.6 million to 11.7 million.” Uyghurs are found throughout China, and I have never noticed any animosity to them. In particular, many are prominent for owning and operating restaurants and food stands that are quite popular.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in a release stated, “Issues in Xinjiang are nothing about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but combating violence, terrorism and separatism.”

How the US combats terrorism versus China’s handling of terrorism

What is not disputed is that Xinjiang has suffered terrorism. This is also true of the US (which also wreaks most of the terrorism elsewhere in the world). How China responds to terrorism is starkly at odds with how the US responds. In the below two videos, two westerners living in China (unlike Danhof and Malzberg) discuss the responses to terrorism.

The right-wing think-tank functionary Danhof claims that the Chinese Communist Party is “one of the greatest propaganda machines in history of mankind.” Presumably that includes womankind as well.

Combating disinformation on Uyghurs in Xinjiang

Danhof calls this a “hypocrisy issue.” Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing the opposite. Americans criticizing others while ignoring the plank in their eyes is quite condemnatory. Danhof falsely claims, again without evidence, a genocide of Muslims in Xinjiang; yet, according to professor Gideon Polya, the Zionist-backed US genocide of Muslims has resulted in 32 million avoidable deaths in 20 countries since the American 9-11.5 The heinous crimes of the American state against Muslims are too numerous for this article to extensively list. To briefly state some of the more recent outstanding human rights abuses, there is the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse in Iraq, the Bagram prisoner torture and abuse in Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Gulag prisoner torture and abuse, extraordinary rendition, the occupation of Syrian territory and theft of its oil, supporting the Saudi genocide and starvation of Yemenis, participation in the violent overthrow of the Libyan government giving rise to slavery and impoverishment in what heretofore was the richest country in Africa, and complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the slow-motion genocide against Palestinians. Thus, Danhof ignores his own backyard and appeals to hypocrisy when he criticizes Chinese human rights abuses, without an iota of evidence, while ignoring the indisputable litany of US human rights abuses, including those in the US homeland, which Danhof belittles.

The need to demand that RT adhere to its stated principles

Given the paucity of rigorous reporting in news media, especially among state and corporate media, RT has for the most part been a necessary and much appreciated breath of fresh air. For this media consumer, RT, CGTN, and Press TV (of those media that I am most aware) are among the most credible of news media.6

RT has a slogan it promotes: “question more.” It is excellent advice, and RT on-air personalities should abide by it. However, episodes like this one hosted by Malzberg make “question more” seem like an empty slogan. There was no questioning by the media critic Malzberg. There was no asking for evidence. It was an example of what does not pass the most basic journalistic muster. By all means report about concentration camps, rapes, genocides, and other crimes in China, the US, Canada, wherever. Such outrages against humanity must be reported. Malzberg, contrariwise, takes exception to revealing the monstrous crimes of the US. Malzberg again, as is his wont, without evidence accuses Assange of illegal hacking and opines: “Assange should be locked up for what he did.” Assange is the victim of kangaroo court proceedings in the Britain for exposing, among other war crimes, an incident where US helicopters gunned down journalists and civilians walking on a street in Iraq. A conscience-bound journalist would applaud the exposure of crimes against his fellow journalists, but not Malzberg.

To iterate, these horrific crimes must be reported and brought to public awareness. However, scrupulous viewers will, and must, demand evidence for the commission of crimes. The famous scientist Carl Sagan insisted: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Although this Malzberg-hosted episode accused China of propaganda in the extreme, in actuality, this RT episode was not only propagandic by definition but worse, it was rife with disinformation. Through presenting unquestioning propaganda on its channels RT insults its viewers and undermines its integrity.

As RT anchor Rick Sanchez is fond of saying: “It is time to do news again.” That means questioning more and demanding evidence of itself, its presenters, and guests.

  1. Read Thomas Laird, Into Tibet: The CIA’s First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa (2003).
  2. What kind of China expert is Danhof anyway? He cannot even pronounce the name of China’s largest province correctly.
  3. Whites and other ethnicities are murdered by police as well, but Blacks are killed disproportionately relative to Whites.
  4. Article 25(1) of the UDHR reads, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family…”
  5. Gideon Polya, US-Imposed Post-9/11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide (Korsgaard Publishing, 2020): xxvii.
  6. The Real News has had quite a drop off since the departure of many on-air personalities and Democracy Now! can be highly problematic; e.g., falling for the contrived Russiagate fiasco and its pro-imperialist orientation toward the attack on Syria.

The post Question RT More! first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Neverending Holocausts of the Neoliberal Order

Biochemist, writer, humanitarian activist, and artist, Gideon Polya has had a selection of his essays gathered into a compendium titled US-Imposed Post-9/11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide (Korsgaard Publishing, 2020). The compendium is important because it brings to the forefront, for anyone who cares an iota for peace and social justice, the horrible crimes of the “mendacious and politically dominant neoliberal One Percenters” wreaking holocausts and genocides. Polya draws a distinction between the two in that while both involve a massive number of killings, genocides are carried out with an “intent to destroy.” For me, these two are synonymous and interchangeable because, where it concerns militarism, who ever heard of an unintentional holocaust? When the fatalities become so huge, it must be that the killers are aware of what they are doing; ergo, there is intent in the killings.1

Polya does not write in euphemistic niceties. He speaks straight to the matter and sees it as crucial to honesty, and such honesty is needed to bring to an end the holocausts. Accordingly, he is highly critical of the state and corporate media for lies of commission and lies of omission. The latter he considers more insidious because what is unstated cannot be refuted. Effectively, the state and corporate media is complicit in the history of genocides up to today.

The genocides are many. Some are arcane and while enormous, many people will never have heard of them; e.g., the Bengali Holocaust where, from 1943 to 1945, 6-7 million Indians perished under the auspices of the racist genocidaire Winston Churchill, and the WWII Chinese holocaust whereby Japanese invaders put 35 million Chinese to death.

Polya examines the genocides in separate chapters from Bengal to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, India, and of the Rohingya forced out of Myanmar — and many more in the text. A superfluity of the genocides are targeted at Muslims. Genocides are not merely carried out through warring and physical violence. Polya also addresses the opiate holocaust, the air pollution holocaust, and the climate genocide. Polya also finds that the International Criminal Court is complicit as a bystander to genocides, describing it as “a cowardly, racist, degenerate and look-the-other-way organization… a holocaust-ignoring and genocide-ignoring organization…” (p 143)

Polya addresses global avoidable mortality: “The post-1950 excess mortality has been 1.3 billion for the World, 1.2 billion for the non-European World and 0.6 billion for the Muslim World…” (p 10) Polya does not shirk from criticizing his home country of genocide in the millenial homeland of Aborigines (“Australia — a nation that has exterminated all but 50 of 250 Indigenous languages and Aboriginal nations, with the rest at great risk” [p 32]) and abroad, along with much of the West. The author identifies the lead war criminal as “the Zionist-backed US War on Muslims (aka the US War on Terror)…” (p 19)

Readers are informed that the United States, which was born out of a genocide against Indigenous nations, has invaded 70 countries since independence in 1776. The current US-waged genocide against Muslims, argues the professor, is rooted in the US false flag of 9-11. In Iraq, this led to 1.5 million violent deaths and another 0.8 million avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation. Polya calculates 34 million avoidable deaths in 20 countries post-9-11.

Throughout the book, Polya provides and explains statistics and footnotes (unfortunately, there is no index) to the wars, killings, and excess mortality in country after country. The statistics provide a revealing and necessary lens on imperialist insouciance to the lives of Others. At times the presentation of stats is irksome because of over-repetition, as is the excessive iteration of the Genocide Convention. Editing would have helped to eliminate repetitive reading of parts of the book.

By encouraging the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, the US has unleashed addiction around the world, even in the US. Polya charged, “Presidents Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been the worst drug pushers in history since Great Britain’s Queen Victoria …” (p 127) Iran, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has been particularly burdened by the opium trade. Yet it is responsible for 75% of the world’s opium seizures and 25% of the world’s morphine and heroin seizures. (p 126) Nonetheless, the US-imposed opiate holocaust has killed 33,000 Iranians and 5.2 million worldwide. (p 123)

Although the genocides are US-imposed, the Jewish/Celtic Australian author takes a harsh aim at his home country and the Jewish state. He writes of “the ongoing Aboriginal genocide in which some two million Indigenous Australians have died untimely deaths…” (p 233) In 1778, there were 350-759 different Aboriginal tribes whereas only 150 survive today with all except 20 endangered. (p 233)

The author decries “the ethnic cleansing of 90% of Palestine by a nuclear terrorist, racist Zionist-run, genocidally racist, democracy-by-genocide Apartheid Israel.” (p 340)

Polya notes Jewish-assisted genocide extends beyond killing Palestinians. “Apartheid Israel is intimately involved in Aung San Suu Kyi-led Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide … the Maya Indian Genocide in Guatemala, the Sri-Lankan Tamil Genocide, the South Sudan Civil War, the Syrian Genocide, the Iraqi Genocide and the ongoing, endless Muslim Holocaust and Muslim Genocide.” (p 247)

Polya is scathing in his denunciation of Zionism: “Zionism is egregious, genocidal racism and racist Zionists and all their supporters should be sidelined from public life, as have other racists such as neo-Nazis, Nazis, Apartheiders and the Klu Klux Klan.” (p 248)

And, holy genocidal complicity Batman, the US taxpayers have bankrolled Israel to the tune of $40 trillion in today’s dollars! (p 302)

Polya offers solutions, among them enacting BDS, exposing journalists who omit genocides, a 4% annual global wealth tax that would wipe out avoidable deaths globally, mandatory inclusion of externalities in the pricing of goods and services, and replacing neoliberalism with social humanism. Neoliberalism, writes Polya, is a “ruthless ideology … ultimately responsible for the carnage of the ongoing, 21st century Muslim Holocaust and Muslim Genocide …” (p 356)

People genuinely in support of a world of peace and social justice should be informed of the horrendous crimes humans commit against other humans. Read US-Imposed Post-9/11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide and become informed. Readers may be skeptical of the numbers that Polya presents and the methodology, but the killings are real.

Informed people must speak out about the evil, racist criminality of destroying swaths of humans. Polya exhorts readers: “Silence kills and silence is complicity.”

  1. Thus, while Polya differentiates, I will use either of the terms, holocaust and genocide, interchangeably in this review.

The post The Neverending Holocausts of the Neoliberal Order first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Logic of Mask Wearing

[T]he hard but just rule [of science] is that if the ideas didn’t work, you must throw them away.

— Carl Sagan1

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan puts into plain language the principle of falsification propounded by the philosopher of science Karl Popper. Rigorous science demands that a theory must be capable of being tested and disproven; when disproven, the theory must be discarded.2 Popper posited a modus tollens (“If P, then Q. Not Q. Therefore, not P.” This is also known as denying the consequent). If a hypothesis can have the modus tollens logic applied, then it is a science, if not it is a pseudoscience.

In evaluating scientific knowledge within health care, the gold standard is the randomized control trial (RCT).3

Physicist Denis Rancourt has examined the scientific literature on what RCTs reveal about the prophylaxis of masks and respirators against respiratory viruses. His conclusion is that masks don’t work.4 While Rancourt relies on the gold standard of scientific results, those results fly in the face of what the broad swath of mass media and the Establishment proclaim.5

This topical dissension sparked a recent debate between Denis Rancourt and philosopher David Kyle Johnson on the efficacy of wearing face masks to protect against transmission of respiratory viruses. The debate over mask wearing has taken greater significance now that some jurisdictions worldwide are punishing non-compliance with mask wearing impositions.

Johnson began the debate by downplaying Rancourt’s credentials pointing out that Rancourt is “a physicist who specialized in metals and no longer works in academia.”

This smacks of academic snobbery. Johnson’s logic seemingly posits that only people working in a specific profession can possess the expertise to speak on certain topics. If so, then one wonders why have a debate at all given that the ability of non-experts to discern factual accuracy and logic is in question. To Rancourt’s credit, he says of people: “I trust their ability to judge for themselves whether they be scientists, laypersons, and so on…”

Johnson is not a professional scientist, but he sought to accredit his expertise to participate in the debate because one area of his study includes pseudoscience, which he accuses Rancourt of promoting. In fact, Johnson claims greater expertise than Rancourt:

Although I am not an epidemiologist either, I am a logician who teaches entire courses on argumentation and medical pseudoscience. So, unlike with Rancourt, my writing of this article falls squarely within my area of expertise.6

While promoting one’s bona fides gives insight to the level of knowledge expected of a source, it is the factual accuracy and the logic of an argument that is important and not the source of the argument. To think otherwise is the logical fallacy of argumentum ex cathedra. During his summation, Johnson will correct this faux pas, although it appears he did so without realizing that he had committed such an error.

The non-scientist begins his ad hominem by denigrating the expertise of a man who was a tenured full-professor of physics — which is by most anyone’s understanding, a hard science.

Johnson focuses, not on whether masks work, but on the mechanism of how masks work, and he adamantly states that masks do work. He says evidence supports the filtration effectiveness of masks. The problem with the studies that Johnson cites are that they are correlational, non-control studies. Correlation does not lead itself to ascribing causation because not all variables are controlled. For example, if one were testing the effectiveness of mask wearing at reducing contraction of COVID-19 while other preventative measures were simultaneously being carried out, then how should one ascertain with certainty what was the cause? If mask wearing is accompanied by hand washing, social distancing, fomite disinfection, etc and a statistically significant reduction in becoming infected by a viral pathogen was found, then a question arises: was it solely due to the wearing of face masks? Or did the face masks have a nugatory effect and the significant finding was due to one or more of the other variables? Rancourt points to this in his paper: “no study exists that shows a benefit from a broad policy to wear masks in public. There is good reason for this. It would be impossible to obtain unambiguous and bias-free results.”4

Johnson accuses Rancourt of a confirmation bias through cherry-picking studies. Yet Rancourt examined all 14 RCTs7 that survive the quality barrier to be included in most systematic reviews (7 RCTs in the initial paper4 ). RCTs remove experimenter bias and allow for causal attribution. When RCTs have been carried out, what is the logic of preferring results from inferior science methodologies? Nonetheless, Johnson gives short shrift to the primacy of RCTs and relies on less rigorous observational and comparative studies to affirm the efficacy of mask wearing.

In choosing Rancourt’s number one egregious mistake, Johnson says Rancourt “quote-mined” bin-Reza et al. (2012). The quotation in question is:

There were 17 eligible studies. … None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza infection.8

In his blog, Johnson refines his argument against the bin-Reza quotation from the debate. It has importance because he told Rancourt,

Given that it appears in the section of his paper where he is arguing that masks don’t work, his quoting of this line from the study implies that the authors intended this statement to mean there is no benefit to wearing masks. In reality, however, the slash in the “mask/respirator” phrase is meant to indicate a comparison between the two types of facial coverings. The study is not lumping them together and declaring them both ineffective; the study actually concludes that masks and respirators are equally effective. Several of the sentences before and after the one he quotes demonstrate this. For example,
“Eight of nine retrospective observational studies found that mask and ⁄ or respirator use was independently associated with a reduced risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).”6

First, what Johnson means by “it appears in the section of his paper where he is arguing that masks don’t work” is puzzling because Rancourt’s entire paper from the title to the conclusion argues that masks don’t work.

Second, it seems Johnson has a non-mainstream grammar take on the slash/virgue. A virgule is used “between two words indicating that whichever is appropriate may be chosen to complete the sense of the text in which they occur.” Applying the typical grammar usage of a virgule to “None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza infection,” two renderings are possible: (1) None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask use and protection against influenza infection. (2) None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between respirator use and protection against influenza infection. After reading the bin-Reza et al. paper left to right, right to left, upside down, downside up, I fail to see how this is the big mistake of Rancourt. I invite readers to do so for themselves.8

Third, Johnson’s cited example is a red herring. Why inject less rigorous observational studies into the debate? Rancourt confined himself to the gold standard: RCTs. Bin-Reza et al. did not find statistical significance for a RCT investigating the effectiveness of wearing face masks; in fact, the results for all of the studies were non-significant.

Johnson does catch a mistake in Rancourt’s article wherein he stated that Jacobs et al. (2009) studied N95 wearing.9 Although Jacobs et al. did not find any statistical significant finding in support of wearing face masks, the sample size was too small to reach a definitive conclusion.

Johnson appealed to Cowling et al.’s (2010) summary wherein it was stated:

There is some evidence to support the wearing of masks or respirators during illness to protect others, and public health emphasis on mask wearing during illness may help to reduce influenza virus transmission.10

However, this summary belies what Rancourt pointed to in Cowling et al.:

None of the studies reviewed showed a benefit from wearing a mask, in either HCW or community members in households (H). See summary Tables 1 and 2 therein.11

Interested readers can go to the Cowling et al. article and see the results. What is important is the results of a study. The results speak for themselves. The numbers don’t lie or twist perceptions as is possible with words in a discussion or conclusion. This is what Rancourt pointed out during the debate.

Johnson’s twisting of language to rebut Rancourt’s article is evident:

The article is now widely cited by the “anti-mask” movement as proof that masks don’t work and thus laws requiring citizens to wear masks are ineffectual. But, to put it mildly, Rancourt’s argument is fraught with pseudoscience and logical mistakes, and it fails entirely to even provide evidence for (much less proof of) his thesis.6

The use of the wording “anti-mask” is pejorative and tendentious. Rancourt could characterize Johnson’s argument of compulsory mask wearing as anti-freedom. Laypersons may mistakenly refer to an experiment as proving something, but scientists should never make that mistake. Science disproves the alternative hypothesis (the principle of falsification); science, however, proves nothing. Johnson is not a scientist, but given that he claims expertise in the philosophy of science, he should not make such a mistake.

Characterizing Rancourt’s literature review, as any good researcher would do when doing a meta-analysis, as having “scoured the literature” is further evidence of injecting animus into the debate.

Johnson states that Rancourt’s position is that “COVID spreads solely via aerosols.” It is a mischaracterization, as Rancourt does not state this.

Although inconsequential to Rancourt’s meta-analysis of the RCT mask literature on protection against respiratory viral contraction, Johnson next takes aim at Rancourt’s positing a connection between humidity and transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Johnson refutes such a hypothesis by pointing to the spread of COVID-19 during the humid summer in Texas and Florida. What Johnson has seemingly overlooked is that COVID-19 is likelier to be contracted indoors. During the hot summer, air conditioners are in widespread use, especially in shopping malls and other places of business. AC dries out the air, thus mitigating humidity indoors. However, the current state of knowledge regarding transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is still developing.

Adding to his litany of ad hominem against Rancourt, Johnson states that Rancourt does not understand the mechanism of the N95 mask.

Johnson also takes aim at those who share the position of Rancourt regarding the paucity of data supporting mask prophylaxis (disparaged as Rancourt’s “echo chamber” and ideologues averse to scientific evidence), and says such people cannot be expected to be persuaded by his argument since “you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.” Negative aspersions aside, this is easily refuted sophistry. For example, many people grew up as Christians (and other religious faiths) and accepted it as the truth because that was what the community and a wide segment of society believed (aka the appeal to ancient wisdom fallacy), but some people would later scrutinize the words of the religion and the archaeological evidence. Many came to the conclusion that the evidence is underwhelming and became apostates.

Johnson, who has accused Rancourt of falling prey to the all-or-nothing fallacy, finishes off with, “What I have presented is enough to persuade any fair and open-minded person that, yes indeed, public-mask mandates exist in curbing the spread of COVID-19…” Thus, Johnson can be accused of succumbing to the all-or-nothing fallacy — either one is fair and open-minded and is persuaded by Johnson’s argument or that person is unfair and close-minded and refuses his argument.

Johnson says that masks work and “the burden of proof is on Rancourt to prove otherwise.” Again, this is not how science works. Science disproves, not proves phenomena.

Later in the debate, Johnson introduces a bizarre analogy, a faulty analogy.

It’s like putting a cast on your broken leg, and your friend says “There could be asbestos in that cast, I wouldn’t do that.” [You respond] “Yeah, I guess, but until I actually have good reason to think there is an actual risk, and the risk outweighs the benefit, I’m going to stick with what has been proven to work.”

Rancourt posits two things:
    1) the RCT evidence shows masks do not work
    2) mask wearing is known to cause harm

Johnson’s analogy posits:
    1) casts are known to help heal broken bones (he does not directly posit this, but assuredly he agrees with the premise)
    2) there might be asbestos in the cast, and asbestos might be harmful

Comparing the two:
    1) Rancourt points to something not working and Johnson points to something known to work (these are mirror opposites)
    2) Rancourt points to known harms; Johnson points to potential harm

Perhaps the most egregious of Johnson’s arguments is that RCTs can not be done and would be unethical. Yet, the fact is, as Rancourt stated, several RCTs have been done. As for the ethical prohibition against such a RCT, that is premised on the assumption that masks are known to work and that masks are safe to be worn. In other words, the results were in before the science was carried out. That is not science.

Johnson sees no need for RCTs because observational studies are sufficient in his estimation. Johnson apparently lacks understanding in experimental design and methodology. As Rancourt argued, “RCTs are designed to remove bias … and, while not perfect, are the best way to get at the truth.”

Rancourt adds that since there is no evidence yet that masks are effective, this points to the conclusion that even if there is an effect, that “effect is too small to have been detected.”

In the follow-up, Johnson appeared flustered and referred to a collection of bad studies that find no evidence for masks working, what he calls an appeal to ignorance, aka absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The philosopher argues that because the studies “were unable to detect any difference… that doesn’t prove they [masks] don’t work.” Sagan points out the absurdity of such an argument: “There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist.”12 Another problem with such an argument is that it attempts to shift the burden of proof. Yet, the onus must be on a person making a claim to support that claim.

Johnson wields ad hominem to support his case; he says Rancourt doesn’t understand, misrepresents, is a conspiracy theorist, and then attempts to paint him as a Nazi because his article was posted at a Nazi website — in other words the fallacy of guilt by association.

In the end, Johnson argues against ad hominem; he says an “argument should stand or fall based on evidence.”

To be fair, Rancourt is not pristine during the debate. He does give back later in debate. He says to Johnson, “You wouldn’t even know how to measure it [a minimally infectious dose].” He dismisses a “broad nonsensical question,” talks of “spinning and misrepresenting” and “cherry-picking.” At one point, he says to Johnson: “You’re nuts.”

And Rancourt talks about proof as well.13

Watch the video below, read the papers, and judge for yourself what is scientific, factual, and logical.

  1. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Headline Book Publishing, 1997): 34.
  2. See Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2005).
  3. Lars Bondemark and Sabine Ruf, “Randomized controlled trial: the gold standard or an unobtainable fallacy?,” European Journal of Orthodontics, 37(5), October 2015: 457–461, https://doi.org/10.1093/ejo/cjv046
  4. Denis Rancourt, “Masks Don’t Work: A review of science relevant to COVID-19 social policy,” Technical Report · April 2020. See interview, “Do Masks and Respirators Prevent Viral Respiratory Illnesses?” 8 May 2020.
  5. Today one newspaper article tells us the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is falling “a development experts credit partly to increased wearing of masks– even as the outbreak continues to claim nearly 1,000 lives in the U.S. each day.” in “New virus cases fall in the U.S. and experts credit masks,” Times-Colonist, 26 August 2020: A9.
  6. David Kyle Johnson, “A (Complete) Debunking of Denis Rancourt’s Argument That ‘Masks Don’t Work,’” 28 July 2020.
  7. Quoted is a 2020 CDC published paper, “Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.” See Todd McGreevy, “Still No Conclusive Evidence Justifying Mandatory Masks,” River Cities’ Reader, August 2020.
  8. Faisal bin‐Reza, Vicente Lopez Chavarrias, Angus Nicoll, & Mary E. Chamberland, “The use of masks and respirators to prevent transmission of influenza: a systematic review of the scientific evidence,” Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, 6(4), July 2012: 257-267.
  9. Jacobs JL, Ohde S, Takahashi O, Tokuda Y, Omata F, Fukui T. “Use of surgical face masks to reduce the incidence of the common cold among health care workers in Japan: a randomized controlled trial,” Am J Infect Control. 2009;37(5):417-419. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2008.11.002
  10. Cowling, B., Zhou, Y., Ip, D., Leung, G., & Aiello, A. (2010). “Face masks to prevent transmission of influenza virus: A systematic review,” Epidemiology and Infection, 138(4): 449-456. doi:10.1017/S0950268809991658
  11. Denis Rancourt, “Masks Don’t Work: A review of science relevant to COVID-19 social policy,” Technical Report · April 2020: 2
  12. Sagan, p 199.
  13. “We prove that the ‘COVID-peak’ feature that is present in the all-cause mortality data of certain mid-latitude Northern hemisphere jurisdictions, including France, cannot be a natural epidemiological event occurring in the absence of a large non-pathogenic perturbation.” [italics added] See Denis Rancourt, Marine Baudin & Jérémie Mercier, Abstract in “Evaluation of the virulence of SARS-CoV-2 in France, from all-cause mortality 1946-2020,” Research Gate, August 2020. This report, while likely contentious, deserves closer examination.

How America’s Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice

Any conditions that compel the teacher to take note of failures rather than of healthy growth give false standards and result in distortion and perversion.

— John Dewey,1

Academic Fredrik deBoer has written a book, The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice (All Points Books, 2020), that questions the enormous value attached to people based on their academic talent. The author defines the Cult of Smart thus: “It is the notion that academic value is the only value, and intelligence is the only true measure of human worth. (p 5-6)

I am of the mind that if the average person puts in sufficient effort and the environment is not prohibitive, then such a person can attain her academic goals. I have never thought that the degree of difficulty or ease of learning would be the same for each person. I considered this to be the case in most fields of endeavor be it sports, art, writing, music, etc. However, the truly elite levels would favor those who had the predilection, natural gifts, and put in the effort to succeed in a chosen field.

DeBoer departs from the convention thought that holds academic success is tied to effort; he acknowledges that there is inequality on academic aptitude.

DeBoer does not refrain from emphasizing that there is a strong genetic component to intelligence, but he also acknowledges the role of the environment, even stating, “Profoundly unequal environments for children can drown out genetic effects. (p 23) He downplays group genetic differences and focuses on individual genetic differences. Intelligence is not attributed to group membership.

DeBoer opposes “the great American obsession with appearing intelligent above and beyond all things, the one thing that is thought to define us and our worth.” (p 13)

The author also criticizes the notion of a meritocracy: “Only the false god of ‘equality of opportunity’ keeps the fiction of meritocracy plus equality alive.” (p 29)

I agree; it is exactly because there is no equality of opportunity and no equality of conditions that meritocracy is an illusion. I wrote about this previously:

Just because people speak of a meritocracy as if it exists does not mean it does exist.

If people want to posit something exists, then they should provide evidence of its existence. A meritocracy patently does not exist in most societies, and this is obviously so in education.

Why do I say so? Some people will object saying that Kindergarten to grade 12 education is free for everyone, and that textbooks are supplied by the schools, and that everyone writes the same or similar tests which determine the grade each student merits.

This objection is stated as if there were a level playing field for all students. However, the educational playing field is not confined to the school. It extends to the homes of the students, the upbringing they receive at home, and the economic status of the home. Some of the discrepancies among homes and home life can be equalized, but others would be most difficult or impossible to equalize. If the playing field is unequal for students and the inequality of the playing field is uncorrected for, then a meritocracy within the educational system simply does not exist.2

DeBoer writes, “To recognize that our abilities lie outside our control woud be to strike the hardest possible blow against meritocracy.” (p 239)

Once the notion of meritocracy is dispelled, then the differential rewarding of people according to their academic performance and credentials comes into question. DeBoer identifies the capitalist system as the culprit. The education system is not a mitigating factor for inequality; deBoer writes that it “deepens inequality, sorting winners from losers and ensuring greater financial rewards to the former.” (p 50)

DeBoer argues that even if there were perfect equality of conditions, “the untalented”3 would not all succeed. (p 62)

In Chapter 5, deBoer states that school quality doesn’t matter much and test prep doesn’t work. What matters is academic talent.

Given the economic disparities associated with the range of academic performance, deBoer argues that a reworking of the social contract is called for. (p 121) The approach he favors is an ethical one: “We must move to a vision of human equality based on the equal right of all people to a good life.” (p 163) Who would argue against everyone having a good life? DeBoer writes, “There is no a priori reason for society to privilege the interests of the talented, and no clear justification for a system of genetic aristocracy.” (p 154)

In the chapter “Realistic Reforms” he calls for an education revolution. This starts by killing the Cult of Smart. (p 2020). It can be achieved by reforms such as lowering the legal dropout age to 12, eliminating enforced competition, and loosening standards. DeBoer writes that low passing rates can cause harm. But this writer wonders why any young learner should fail. In the advanced economies of Japan and Korea there is no compulsion to repeat a grade.

In chapter 9, “A World to Win,” the author promotes the people-centered system of socialism. There are, accordingly, “No Gods, No Masters, No Smart Kids.” (p 202)

One point seemed overlooked in the book. Since it is crucial to the book’s discussion, intelligence should have been defined. When one looks up intelligence in the index, it comes up only as paired with IQ. That IQ is a true depiction or accurate reflection of intelligence is highly debated.

The Cult of Smart is particularly focused on American perspectives regarding education and academic success. North of the United States, the elementary schools, high schools, and universities one attends is usually determined by which is nearest to where one lives. Unlike the US, the Canadian public schools and public universities are generally not considered to differ in the quality of education delivered. So which Canadian university one graduates with a bachelor degree from plays little role in employability.

However, The Cult of Smart opens a window into reforms that would undoubtedly benefit learners in schools in many countries, including Canada. DeBoer has critically pondered who we are, what diversity means in education, what education means for learners as individuals, and how improvements in education and society can be brought to fruition.

The Cult of Smart is an excellent read whose solutions should be given deep consideration for implementation.

  1. John Dewey, Moral Principles in Education (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1909): 189.
  2. Kim Petersen, “The Illusion of a Meritocracy,” Dissident Voice, 2 June 2012.
  3. While not arguing against its descriptive accuracy, this is a term deBoer uses that I find objectionable. But how best to render those not academically predisposed to a unobjectionable short form?

The Unmasking of Science and Ethics

Media Lens (ML) provides a first-rate critical eye on the media, especially the British mediascape, as well as sundry events in the world. In a recent piece, ML pointed to the science as supporting the effectiveness of wearing face masks against respiratory viral infections. In addition to citing science to buttress their support of mask wearing, ML attempted to dismiss those with opposing views as conspiracy theorists.1 If that and the science was not persuasive, the fallback was to appeal to one’s sense of ethics.

ML critiqued a tweet by Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens on the use of face masks:

the primary purpose of enforced muzzle wearing in public spaces (which protects nobody against anything) is to humiliate the wearer and make him or her accustomed to unquestioning obedience to authority.

ML commented, “This was indeed a conspiracy theory – literally, and also, in our opinion, in the deranged and dangerous sense commonly used by journalists.”

I with ML that this lone statement by Hitchens comes across as conspiratorial because there was no evidence offered in support of it. I do not concur that the statement per se is either deranged or dangerous.

ML then switched its focus to a comment in Off-Guardian by Iain Davis:

Face masks work well for surgeons who want to avoid dribbling or sneezing into their patients, but are useless when it comes to stopping viral infections. In terms of preventing the spread of COVID 19 there is no evidence that they achieve anything at all.

ML chided both Hitchens and Off-Guardian: “Hitchens and OffGuardian had better be right. If they are not, they are handing out advice that is encouraging people to take risks that could cost lives.”

Two points, 1) the logic that derives from the ML writers is that people ought to accept some information at face value, without solid evidence, even from those same authorities, e.g., the UK government, known to be steeped in prevarication; 2) ML’s criticism did not extend to or mention that other authorities, such as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, had in March also said there was no need to wear a mask. Nor did ML mention that the World Health Organization (WHO) had said there was no need for healthy people to wear face masks.

Moreover, ML failed to mention a pertinent sentence in the Off-Guardian article: “If there are health risks associated with wearing face masks, and there are, this notion of protection rapidly becomes a nonsense.”

ML’s accusation of possibly putting people take risk, skimmed past Davis’s charge that wearing masks has known risks. What readers are left with is a choice between a possible risk versus known risks. Albeit the COVID-19 risk can be quite lethal and contagious.

ML noted the Off-Guardian’s focus was not on coronaviruses but on “research mostly relating to influenza and influenza-like illness.” To buttress their argument, ML pointed to a study by Cheng et al. (2020) who said:

Previous research on the use of masks in non-health-care settings had predominantly focused on the protection of the wearers and was related to influenza or influenza-like illness. These studies were not designed to evaluate mass masking in whole communities.2

First, I’d say the focus of Davis’s Off-Guardian article was on anti-authoritarianism and conflicting UK government guidance about whether wearing face masks protects against Covid-19. Second, given that SARS-CoV-2 was believed to be a recent type of respiratory-infecting coronavirus, it seems quite reasonable to compare it to the data on other respiratory-disease causing viruses.

Cheng et al. concluded, “An evidence review and analysis have supported mass masking in this pandemic.”

If one checks the studies cited to by Cheng et al., one finds the “evidence review” by Howard et al. (2020) is supportive:

The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts.3

However, when one reads the Greenhalgh et al. (2020) “analysis” cited by Cheng et al., stated is,

The evidence base on the efficacy and acceptability of the different types of face mask in preventing respiratory infections during epidemics is sparse and contested.4

Even though the evidence for the efficacy of face mask usage was absent, the authors still encouraged the wearing the masks.

This raises an ethical question: should policy makers apply the precautionary principle now and encourage people to wear face masks on the grounds that we have little to lose and potentially something to gain from this measure? We believe they should.4

It is a case of the science being shunted aside. In his paper pointing out that the scientific evidence does not support the prophylaxis of masks, Denis Rancourt argued that the precautionary principle does not apply in this case:

In light of the medical research, therefore, it is difficult to understand why public-health authorities are not consistently adamant about this established scientific result, since the distributed psychological, economic and environmental harm from a broad recommendation to wear masks is significant, not to mention the unknown potential harm from concentration and distribution of pathogens on and from used masks. In this case, public authorities would be turning the precautionary principle on its head.5

Greenhalgh et al. did raise a caution, saying:

External validity relates to a different question: whether findings of primary studies done in a different population with a different disease or risk state are relevant to the current policy question. We argue that there should be a greater focus on external validity in evaluation of masks.

The Lancet article also admits and explains,

Research has also not been done during a pandemic when mass masking compliance is high enough for its effectiveness to be assessed. But absence of evidence of effectiveness from clinical trials on mass masking should not be equated with evidence of ineffectiveness.2

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. This is true, but it is not rigorous science. Scientific rigor demands that when the null hypothesis (what researchers predict will happen before carrying out an experiment) fails to reach statistical significance that the hypothesis be rejected and the theory from which it derived also be rejected. Ergo, the Lancet is recommending measures from an admitted epistemological lacuna. Science never claims truth or proof. Science tests hypotheses that are falsifiable.6

ML quoted Richard Stutt, lead author of a Cambridge University study:

If widespread facemask use by the public is combined with physical distancing and some lockdown, it may offer an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and reopening economic activity long before there is a working vaccine.

Is a combination required for effective protection? Obviously, if you are in a lockdown or sufficiently physically distant from other humans or creatures that can transmit the virus, then there should be no need for a mask, so mask usage would only apply when one is out in public. But absent a randomized controlled trial (RCT) supporting the prophylaxis of face mask usage, we are unable to pronounce on the efficacy of wearing face masks.

Renata Retkute, coauthor and Cambridge team member said, “We have little to lose from the widespread adoption of facemasks, but the gains could be significant.” [emphasis added] Rancourt has already addressed the “little to lose” assertion for this something that “could be.”5

ML noted an American Thoracic Society report by the Chinese University of Hong Kong on “how public interest in face masks may have affected the severity of COVID-19 epidemics and potentially contained the outbreak in 42 countries in 6 continents.”

Sunny Wong, one of the study’s authors, commented:

One classic example is seen in Hong Kong. Despite [Hong Kong’s] proximity to mainland China, its infection rate of COVID-19 is generally modest with only 1,110 cases to-date. This correlates with an almost ubiquitous use of face masks in the city (up to 98.8 percent by respondents in a survey). Similar patterns are seen in other Asian areas, such as Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. To date, there are more than two million cases in the U.S. and more than one million cases in Brazil.

Wong stated that this is correlational. He ascribes no causation.

A sentence ML did not mention from the article is: “While, the authors acknowledge that face masks are seen as important in slowing the rise of COVID-19 infections, it is difficult to assess whether it is more effective than handwashing or social distancing alone.” [emphasis added]

Next, ML looks at a study by Virginia Commonwealth University on coronavirus death rates in 198 countries to gain insight into why some countries had very high death rates and others very low. Lead author Christopher Leffler commented:

What we found was that of the big variables that you can control which influence mortality, one was wearing masks.

It wasn’t just by a few per cent, it was up to a hundred times less mortality. The countries that introduced masks from the very beginning of their outbreak have had hardly any deaths. [ML emphasis]

Well, this was a news channels report. The study cited was Leffler et al. (2020) in ResearchGate.7 ResearchGate is an online site for science papers. It had originally published a paper by Denis Rancourt that masks don’t work5 and later retracted it. Yes, censorship is alive and kicking in science.8

Leffler et al. concluded,

These results support the universal wearing of masks by the public to suppress the spread of the coronavirus. Given the low levels of coronavirus mortality seen in the Asian countries which adopted widespread public mask usage early in the outbreak, it seems highly unlikely that masks are harmful. [emphasis added]

Saying masks are not harmful9 is different from saying masks are protective. Again this is not a RCT. Rancourt looked at meta-analyses of RCT studies on the efficacy of face masks and his article was published, received 400,000 views, and was then censored. Subsequently, a post hoc study was published at ResearchGate with a conclusion that coincides with status quo approval of the Establishment.

In their article, Leffler et al. pointed to a study by Xiao et al. (2020) who concluded:

Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.10 [emphasis added]

Leffler et al. still pointing to the Xiao et al study nonetheless sought support for face mask use:

Much of the randomized controlled data on the effect of mask-wearing on the spread of respiratory viruses relates to influenza. One recent meta-analysis of 10 trials in families, students, or religious pilgrims found that the relative risk for influenza with the use of face masks was 0.78, a 22% reduction, though the findings were not statistically significant.11 [emphasis added]

Leffler et al. further speculated, “Even if one accepts that masks would only reduce transmissions by 22%, then after 10 cycles of the infection, mask-wearing would reduce the level of infection in the population by 91.7%, as compared with a non-mask wearing population…”12

However, Leffler et al. was referring to a paper cited within in the Xiao et al. study, namely Balaban et al. (2012) who gathered data on Muslims making a pilgramage to Mecca that produced results in contradiction to how Leffler et al. reported the findings. Balaban et al. stated:

Compared with other protective behaviors, wearing face masks during Hajj seemed to have little protective effect. Wearing a face mask was actually associated with greater likelihood of respiratory illness. This finding is consistent with previous findings that face masks either offered no significant protection or were associated with sore throat and with longer duration of sore throat and fever symptoms among Hajj pilgrims.13

Balaban et al.’s finding was damning for any protection from viral infiltration by mask wearing. Furthermore, the authors found mask wearing to be associated “with greater likelihood of respiratory illness.” Thus, it appears Leffler et al. were lax in their literature review and engaged in cherry-picking information, giving the appearance of a confirmation bias.

Leffler et al. did note several concerns about what the data examined pertain for the verisimilitude of their conclusions.14 Among these were:

  1. “One major limitation is that evidence concerning the actual prevalence of mask-wearing by the public is unavailable for most countries.”
  1. “Some countries which used masks were better able to maintain or resume normal business and educational activities.
  1. “Limits on international travel were significantly associated with lower per-capita mortality from coronavirus. As compared with no restrictions, complete shutdown of the border throughout the outbreak was independently associated with 86% lower per-capita mortality.”
  1. “The adoption of numerous public health policies at the same time can make it difficult to tease out the relative importance of each.”
  1. “We also acknowledge that country-wide analyses are subject to the ecologic fallacy.”

ML refer to a “dramatic verdict” in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences:

Our analysis reveals that the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic worldwide. We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with extensive testing, quarantine, and contact tracking, poses the most probable fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine. [ML emphasis]15

It flies in the face of logic that wearing face masks would be more effective than a quarantine or isolation.

The PNAS researchers, Zhang et al., cautioned,

It is also important to emphasize that sound science should be effectively communicated to policy makers and should constitute the prime foundation in decision-making amid this pandemic. Implementing policies without a scientific basis could lead to catastrophic consequences, particularly in light of attempts to reopen the economy in many countries.16

For science purists, post hoc analysis of data is not considered sound science. It is too tempting to take existing data and shape them to a preconceived outcome — the confirmation bias. I submit that the proper scientific course for Zhang et al. would be after going through the data, to then formulate a hypothesis, set up and implement an experiment, gather the data, and carry out tests for statistical significance.

The Lancet study had reached similar conclusions:

We encourage consideration of mass masking during the coming phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, which are expected to occur in the absence of an effective COVID-19 vaccine… Mass masking for source control is in our view a useful and low-cost adjunct to social distancing and hand hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic.2

The Lancet paper made the distinction that face masks protect other people from the wearer, not vice versa: “People often wear masks to protect themselves, but we suggest a stronger public health rationale is source control to protect others from respiratory droplets.”

ML turned to Rich Davis, Clinical Microbiology Laboratory director at Providence Sacred Heart Hospital in the US. Davis has published photographs showing how face masks block respiratory droplets coming from the mouth and throat. However, Davis used bacteria which he acknowledged to be “incredibly different from viruses!” He reasoned:

But since we expect respiratory droplets to be what primarily spreads #COVID19, I exploit the presence of (easily to grow and visualize) bacteria in respiratory droplets, to show where they go.

First, there exists confusion about the terms droplets and aerosols. In general, a droplet is considered to be a water particle that submits to gravity; therefore, it is less likely to be inhaled. Aerosols are tinier and tend to remain suspended for a much longer duration than droplets. The aerosols containing SARS-CoV-2 virions were found to remain infectious longer and reach deeper into the lungs than droplets.17 Second, The problem with this comparison is that bacteria are much larger (100+ times larger) than viruses, especially compared to the minuscule SARS-CoV-2 virus. Masks may be dense enough to block bacteria, but they are porous to coronaviruses that are tiny enough to pass through the mesh of masks and even respirators.

The Paucity of Scientific Evidence for Face Mask Prophylaxis

ML argue that the compulsory wearing of face masks “in a fast-moving field, where some kind of overview is needed promptly, it is the most reasonable approach, bearing in mind the usual caveats that the work has not gone through a thorough process of vetting and checking as part of the normal academic peer-review process. This nevertheless remains highly credible evidence.”

The evidence that ML present in their article, for this writer, is far from highly credible. In fact, the evidence is contrary to what ML claim. So this writer wonders given the paucity of scientific support for facemask wearing, why did ML even pursue the scientific route which is strongly against what ML assert?

But ML had another card in their backpocket should the science not be convincing for face mask wearing. ML pulled out the ethics card.

Some honesty is necessary in this debate. The evidence supporting face mask usage as protecting against being infected with COVID-19 is extremely weak. For example, at least 3387 healthcare workers in China contracted COVID-19, and 23 died.18 Supposedly, these healthcare workers had access to N95 respirators and PPE.

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus. We are still learning much about it.19 Much of the information disseminated is contradictory, even self-contradictory; it is evolving, and with that our understanding is evolving. There is no solid scientific evidence in support of wearing face masks; consequently, the theory that face masks will filter out viruses must be discarded.

The Right Thing to Do?

Nonetheless, I will not state with 100% certainty that face masks are totally useless. Science does not state with a 100% certainty. Maybe tomorrow the sun will appear to rise in the West, and then the knowledge about the sunrise20 will be amended to integrate the new information with what is now understood.

Most of us live together in a society. We ought also to make our decisions based on living with and among others and not just on the state of scientific knowledge at a given period in time. It is preferable that we come across as caring and not arrogant or righteous in our knowledge of facts and evidence. Those who eschew mask wearing can try to avoid it as much as possible through isolation. But maybe one has to travel by bus one day. Here is the question I suggest posing to oneself: Is it better to maintain fidelity to one’s convictions and risk incurring ill will among other passengers by not wearing a mask on bus trips?21

Essentially, a steely knowledge of the science will not be enough to smooth the ruffled feathers among some science skeptics.

A preferred perspective to viewing oneself, and others, as submitting to false dictates by the State (despite being secure in one’s knowledge that such dictates are not based in rigorous scientific evidence), is to view oneself as instead choosing a path of least resistance to get along with others. When one comes across as pleasant and respectful, it is easier to engage in dialogue with fellow citizens on whether mask wearing is essential or not.

The Ontario Civil Liberties Association took a position. It wrote a letter to the director general of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, asking for a retraction of the WHO’s recommendation favoring the use of face masks as preventative of COVID-19 transmission. Two excerpts from the letter:

… the WHO cannot collect and rely on potentially biased studies to make recommendations that can have devastating effects (see below) on the lives of literally billions. Rather, the WHO must apply a stringent standards threshold, and accept only randomized controlled trials with verified outcomes. In this application, the mere fact that several such quality studies have not ever confirmed the positive effects reported in bias-susceptible reports should be a red flag.

and

It is an unjustified authoritarian imposition, and a fundamental indignity, to have the State impose its evaluation of risk on the individual, one which has no basis in science, and which is smaller than a multitude of risks that are both common and often created or condoned by the State.

ML posed an ethical hypothetical: “Given that [certainty that face masks are worthless is highly questionable], should we not all err on the side of caution by using face masks, particularly when interacting with the old and infirm who are at most risk from Covid-19?” [ML emphasis]

It is all too easy to pose a leading ethical hypothetical. E.g., what if acquiescing to the directives of the Establishment to wear face masks causes predictable harm to people? What if the 1%-ers take advantage of the docilized citizenry to consolidate control over the working class and cut social services and healthcare, leading to greater penury, ill health, and a shortened life span?

Different situations will evoke different moral responses among humans. Humans have different origins, different upbringings, different challenges, different ways of thinking, and different experiences that will influence a person’s concept of what is right or wrong. A moral basis would call upon each person to recognize that morality is not always a unanimously clear-cut concept for all people.

To Wear or not Wear a Mask

Dissident Voice editor Angie Tibbs’s email provides a perspective for consideration on the fear evoked by media reports of COVID-19 and whether to wear or not wear a mask:

Well, science aside, what about health issues?  The taxi driver who brought me home from my ill-fated visit to the hospital on Friday morning has asthma, and she refuses to wear a mask because it creates a worse problem than she would normally have.  Are the respiratory problems of people taken into consideration with respect to mask wearing?

In my case, I’ve only worn one when I visited the hospital because I had to. I am extremely claustrophobic at the best or times, and wearing a mask only increases that. As well, on the three occasions I’ve worn one I was constantly pulling the damn thing down from my eyes. On Friday past at the hospital  every time I moved my head the mask moved, hitting off my eyes.  I ended up at home later having to spend most of the day and night away from my computer and editing DV submissions.  If masks are provided in hospitals and you’re ordered to wear one (or else leave) the least one can expect is a mask that is not in an attack mode!

I go to the market in a cab, sitting in the rear seat with a screen between myself and the driver. At the market I wipe the cart and my hands with the sanitizer provided, put on plastic or rubber gloves and follow the floor markings to where I need to go. I’m in and out of there as quickly as possible. If others want to wear masks, they can. If others don’t, they don’t have to. If someone is ill, they ought not be out amongst the public at all. I spent the first month of this virus (from March 23 to April 18) refusing to step outside the door, not because I was sick but because I was scared, scared because I foolishly listened to the fearmongering of the media. I wouldn’t even go to the market. Instead I had a friend pick up my groceries and paid her. How f***ing insane is that? On April 18 I went off early to the grocery store for the first time in weeks and found I wasn’t allowed to carry in my shopping bags. I had to leave them, pick up my groceries in plastic bags, and head down again to get my shopping bags – only to find out the idiot guard or whoever had “thrown them out”.   On Saturday past at this same grocery store, the checkout clerk asked: “Did you bring your shopping bags?”  I was surprised.  “No, we’re not allowed to do that here.”  To which he replied “You will have to bring them in the future”.  Hell!!  Talk about changing the rules!

Regarding how to deal with and protect oneself and others from contracting COVID-19, I do not claim scientific certainty. I do not claim moral certainty. What I do realize is that many of us are learning through this experience, and many of us reach our own conclusions and act in the belief that we are doing what is right.

  1. I was very disappointed by ML, who have always seemed a cut above, in resorting to ad hominem.
  2. Kar Keung Cheng, Tai Hing Lam, Chi Chiu Leung, Wearing face masks in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic: altruism and solidarity, Lancet, April 16, 2020. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30918-1
  3. Jeremy Howard, Austin Huang, Zhiyuan Li, Zeynep Tufekci, Vladimir Zdimal,Helene-Mari van der Westhuizen, Arne von Delft, Amy Price, Lex Fridmand, Lei-Han Tang, Viola Tang, Gregory L. Watson, Christina E. Bax, Reshama Shaikh, Frederik Questier, Danny Hernandez, Larry F.Chun, Christina M. Ramirez,and Anne W. Rimoin, Face Masks Against COVID-19:An Evidence Review, (available as pdf) Preprints, 12 April 2020.
  4. Greenhalgh Trisha, Schmid Manuel B, Czypionka Thomas, Bassler Dirk, Gruer Laurence. Face masks for the public during the covid-19 crisis, BMJ, 2020; 369 :m1435
  5. Denis Rancourt, Masks Don’t Work: A review of science relevant to COVID-19 social policy, ResearchGate, April 2020.
  6. See Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2005): 18-20.
  7. Leffler, Christopher; Ing, Edsel; Lykins, Joseph; Hogan, Matthew; McKeown, Craig; and Grzybowski, Andrzej. (2020). Association of country-wide coronavirus mortality with demographics, testing, lockdowns, and public wearing of masks (Update July 2, 2020). ResearchGate.
  8. See Denis Rancourt, “COVID censorship at ResearchGate: Things scientists cannot say,” Activist Teacher, 5 June 2020.
  9. This is disputed. “There are significant anticipated harms from the widespread use of masks in the general population, which both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the OCLA have described in detail. [ http://ocla.ca/ocla-letter-who/ ]” See “OCLA Recommends Civil Disobedience Against Mandatory Masking,” Ontario Civil Liberties Association, 30 June 2020. Disclosure: Denis Rancourt is a researcher with OCLA.
  10. Xiao J, Shiu EY, Gao H, Wong JY, Fong MW, Ryu S, Cowling BJ. Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings- Personal Protective and Environmental Measures. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2020; 26(5): 967-75. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32027586/
  11. Leffler et al., p 27.
  12. Leffler et al., p 28.
  13. Victor Balaban, William M. Stauffer, Adnan Hammad, Mohamud Afgarshe, Mohamed Abd‐Alla, Qanta Ahmed, Ziad A. Memish, Janan Saba, Elizabeth Harton, Gabriel Palumbo, Nina Marano, Protective Practices and Respiratory Illness Among US Travelers to the 2009 Hajj, Journal of Travel Medicine, 19(3), 1 May 2012: 163–168.
  14. Leffler et al., p 29.
  15. Renyi Zhang, Yixin Li, Annie L. Zhang, Yuan Wang, Mario J. Molina. Identifying airborne transmission as the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2020, 117(26) 14857-14863; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2009637117
  16. Zhang et al., p 7.
  17. Matthew Meselson, Droplets and Aerosols in the Transmission of SARS-CoV-2. N Engl J Med, April 15, 2020, 382:2063. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2009324. Meselson, “suggests the advisability of wearing a suitable mask whenever it is thought that infected persons may be nearby and of providing adequate ventilation of enclosed spaces where such persons are known to be or may recently have been.”
  18. Mingkun Zhan, Yaxun Qin, Xiang Xue, & Shuaijun Zhu, Death from Covid-19 of 23 Health Care Workers in China. N Engl J Med, April 15, 2020, 382: 2267-2268. About those who died, Zhan et al. speculated, “The infections in these patients may have resulted from inadequate precautions and insufficient protection in the early stages of the epidemic.”
  19. For example, rather than a respiratory infection, COVID-19 is now considered to be a vascular infection causing blood clots. Catherine Matacic, “Blood vessel attack could trigger coronavirus’ fatal ‘second phase’,” Science, 2 June 2020.
  20. Strictly speaking, the sun is actually not rising; it is the motion of the Earth that gives the appearance of the Sun rising above the horizon.
  21. Granted: “In some areas of the United States, you’re more likely to be harassed for wearing a mask rather than not wearing one.” Amit Katwala, “The rise of mask shaming reveals the tricky science of social change,” Wired, 27 June 2020.

#CancelCanadaDay

July 1 is celebrated by many Canadians as Canada Day. Originally it was called Dominion Day to commemorate the establishment of the Dominion of Canada. But not every inhabitant of “Canada” will be celebrating. On that day, the Indigenous activist organization, Idle No More, is calling for “3 hours of Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence!”

Resurgence indeed.

Back in 2014, Gord Hill, Kwakwaka’wakw author of The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book (see review), when questioned about Idle No More, said:

Flowing from [Idle No More’s] reformist strategy was an emphasis on “peaceful” protests, pacifism, and the “flash mob” round dances in malls. So while we took one step forward with the INM mobilizations, we also took two steps back in that pacifism and “peaceful rallies” was widely promoted on a national level. This is in contrast to decades of grassroots Indigenous resistance that has used militant actions such as blockades and even armed resistance. I’m glad that the INM mobilization occurred, but I’m also glad that it had a relatively short life and hopefully those that were mobilized will learn and grow from this experience.

Black Lives Matter, whose activist credentials have also been called into question, has reemerged as a prominent protest movement following the videotaped police killing of George Floyd.

The United States has a deplorable history of genocide.1 But Canada is no exemplar as far as the killing of Blacks and other ethnic groups. Genocide is also a historical fact in Canada. Racism is deeply embedded in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), especially against Indigenous peoples who also suffer high levels of incarceration.2

A Small Sampling of Recent Cases of RCMP Racism against First Nations

The above were just two video samples. With the ubiquity of cell phones, there is an abundance of police criminality captured on video available for viewing online.

Thus Idle No More will oppose Canada Day:

We will not celebrate stolen Indigenous land and stolen Indigenous lives. Instead we will gather to honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian state – Indigenous lives, Black lives, Migrant lives, Women and Trans and 2Spirit lives – all of the relatives that we have lost. We will use our voices for MMIWG2S, child welfare, birth alerts, forced sterilization, police/RCMP brutality and all of the injustices we face.  We will honour our connections to each other and to the water, land, and sky.

Idle No More asks its supporters,

Find or organize a #CancelCanadaDay action in your community and join Idle No More for a live #CancelCanadaDay broadcast on July 1.

Celebrating Genocide

Would anyone knowingly eat, dance, sing, play, and watch fireworks in celebration of the day that First Nation’s peoples were denationalized through genocide? Because that is the flip side of the colonialism. In order for the nation of Canada to come into being, on “home and native land” (as the lyrics of the Canadian anthem state), the other nations had to be subsumed, assimilated, and otherwise disappeared.3

And this process of dispossession is not confined to the past. Witness the Canadian state wielding the RCMP to thwart the unrelenting resistance of the Wet’suwet’en traditional chiefs and people opposed to a pipeline being constructed through their unceded territory.

Today’s email from the Unist’ot’en Solidarity Brigade of the Wet’suwet’en read: “Cancel Canada Day Rally tomorrow in Vancouver and many other cities!”

“canada day” is a day of celebration for some. For those who know the history of so-called “canada”, it’s obvious this is not a day of celebration. It’s a day that represents an ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples.

“canada” was stolen at gunpoint. Any and all treaties made, have been broken. The colonial system has been imposed through attempts of forced assimilation.

Suppression and oppression of Indigenous peoples came through land theft enforced by the #NorthwestMountedPolice (today known as the BC RCMP), weaponized starvation, #ResidentialSchools (the “kill the Indian in the child” method), medical testing without anaesthesia, beatings when people spoke our languages, the #SixtiesScoop, forced or coerced sterilization, inaction in regards to Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls #MMIW #MMIWG, mass incarceration, criminalization of culture #PotlatchBan, criminalization of #LandDefenders & #WaterProtectors, ongoing displacement to reserves, boil water advisories, enabled & encourage racially motivated violence (by elected officials), and no justice when attacks occur… and so much more.

These are not part of a “proud past”. These are acts of genocide that continue today – via forced assimilation & colonization only through which the state can exist. These are the reasons we need to #CancelCanadaDay

The hurtful, racist symbols and nomenclature of colonialism need to be dealt with promptly. The argument about preserving history does not supersede the commission of genocide and other crimes against humanity. It is past time that people of conscience join the resistance against colonialism, imperialism, oppression, and racism.

It is well understood that for people to overthrow the systems of oppression that solidarity is a must, and a sustained solidarity it must be.

  1. See, e.g., Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Review.
  2. See Kim Petersen, “Land and Jail,” The Dominion, Part I, Part II, and Part III.
  3. See Bruce Clark, Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights (2018). Review; Bruce Clark, Justice in Paradise (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999); Splitting the Sky with She Keeps the Door, The Autobiography of Dacajeweiah, Splitting the Sky, John Boncore Hill: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake (John Pasquale Boncore, 2001). Tamara Starblanket, Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018). Review; Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus The Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Burnaby, BC: Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). Review; James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (University of Regina Press, 2013); Robert Davis and Mark Zannis, The Genocide Machine in Canada (Black Rose, 1973).

Academic Freedom: Redress for Denis Rancourt

Denis Rancourt

Denis Rancourt is a person who is unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom. For example, he is skeptical about the scientific consensus around climate change, and recently, he looked at the meta-analyses of using masks and questions their effectiveness against viral respiratory infections. Whether Rancourt is right or not in his conclusions is consequential, but more important is that he raises arguments and interpretations of the data that should set in process debate to help steer toward a clearer understanding of phenomena. Rancourt doesn’t challenge for the mere sake of irking the purveyors of the status quo. He challenges narratives he finds contrary to the facts and evidence. He is a scientist, and that is what a trained scientist should do. It is what any person, scientist or not, who wants to engage in reasoned debate should do.

One place reasoned debates should be welcome is at a university. Universities are supposed to be bastions of academic freedom, where thoughts, dreams, conclusions, theories, ideas, politics, and even sometimes nonsense are all open for discussion and debate. Unfortunately, that is just not the case, and even fully tenured university professors have to be aware of how the Establishment might view and react to emerging findings, viewpoints, and facts that threaten to expose — or worse lead to the overturn of — a system that is favored by elitist society.

Rancourt was a distinguished tenured physics professor at the University of Ottawa. Nonetheless, one day he found that he had been dismissed and locked out of his university office. He was persona non grata on campus. Why? The university said it was because Rancourt had assigned high grades to all 23 students in one advanced physics course.

There are plenty of studies that indicate assigning grades as being harmful to learning and destructive of curiosity. Critical pedagogue Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes explodes the practice of and need for assigning grades as well as critiquing other forms of behavioral coercion.

In an interview with Jesse Freeston, Rancourt explained his rationale on grading:

JF: Why is it important to you to not grade your students?

DR: With grades students learn to guess the professor’s mind and to obey. It is a very sophisticated machinery, whereby the natural desire to learn, the intrinsic motivation to want to learn something because you are interested in the thing itself, is destroyed. Grades are the carrot and stick that shape obedient employees and that prepare students for the higher level indoctrinations of graduate and professional schools. The only way to develop independent thinking in the classroom is to give freedom, to break the power relationship by removing the instrument of power.

JF: In the classes where students were not graded, how would you describe the work that they accomplished?

DR: The variety of projects, the breadth of topics that were explored by the students is an order of magnitude or more (a lot) greater than what you would normally see in a standard class, because they were the ones that came up with it, they were intrigued by it, they were following their own curiosities, their own self-directed research. Because they were able to find their own intrinsic motivation within the subject itself, I believe their learning was deeper.

Even in fourth year physics, I was able to demonstrate to the class the extent to which they hadn’t really understood many things. We sat there sometimes and reviewed things from first year physics, and I was able to find things that are very fundamental to Newton’s laws that the majority of the class had not understood.

It was to some extent humiliating for students to realize that they had bought into a system which doesn’t work. In which they can be convinced that they’ve learned something even though they haven’t understood it. It was a bit of a shock to them, but that shock is essential. You have to be willing to accept that you don’t really understand something if you’re going to be a researcher who makes great discoveries of how nature functions and so on.

So deep, however, was the U of O’s rancor toward Rancourt that it spent over $1 million, as related by the professor, sponsoring a defamation lawsuit against him.

Rancourt asked, “Just how far can a Western university, in a so-called free and democratic society, go in violating the freedom of expression and the professional independence of a tenured professor?”

During his tenure at U of O, Rancourt wielded his academic freedom, well, freely; he taught activism, and he poked the administrative eye with his “U of O Watch” blog.

The university administration’s actions against Rancourt affected not only him; they also negatively impacted U of O students and researchers. Graduate students were also locked out of the laboratory and, said Rancourt, “the university destroyed my large collections of valuable scientific samples, and immediately made the laboratory inoperable.”

Imagine putting in the years of study to get a PhD, working 22 years for an institution, and then being fired and having one’s work destroyed. Rancourt had amassed an important collection of scientific samples that the university, in apparent vindictiveness, destroyed. Worse, the career of the tenured, full professor with a bevy of publications in peer review journals was seemingly at an end.

However, in the end, there has been some solace for Rancourt, now a researcher for the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, who said,

I’m happy to report that all the matters in dispute between the University of Ottawa and me have been amicably resolved, through voluntary mediation that occurred on January 16, 2019, with the help of expert mediator William Kaplan.

The general public won’t know exactly what the settlement is as the terms of the agreement are confidential. Nonetheless, Rancourt said he is happy about the settlement.

He thanked his union, the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO), the many students, friends and others who offered their support to him over the years.

Academic freedom is important. In the 17th century, Italian polymath Galileo Galilei was forced by a Roman Catholic Inquisition to renounce heliocentrism and support the Ptolemaic conception of the Earth as being at the center of the universe. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the Vatican came clean and admitted Galileo was correct.

Unfortunately, censorship is not confined to the past. Case in point was an article by Rancourt that was published at ResearchGate. Later it was removed (The article is available here). ResearchGate called the article, to this writer’s puzzlement, “non-scientific” and complained about the “controversial subject matter.” In essence, it seems that the managing directors of ResearchGate are indeed acting as research gatekeepers.

So, I can’t help but wonder why a more concerted agitation had not manifested itself early on against the U of O. If the faculty and students truly cherished academic freedom, why had they not demonstrated an activist solidarity with Rancourt?

Solidarity has power, but only if it is used.

In recent weeks, the massive outcry against the hellacious police murder of George Floyd has caused the state apparatchiks and their bosses to fret. What will the outcome of demonstrations be? Only time will tell.

Alone, we — the working class — are all rather easy targets within the system. In togetherness we have strength; we have the strength to protect each other. More importantly, we have the strength to bring about changes in the system, and when the solidarity is sustained a revolution can cause a system to topple and raise a new, people-centered system in its place.

The Oppressed Have the Moral Right to Decide How Best to Resist Their Oppression

Question: Should people from the oppressor group tell the oppressed people how to conduct their resistance?

Should Jews tell Palestinians what form their resistance to Israeli oppression should take? During World War II should Germans have directed Jewish, Roma, Slavic resistance in the concentration camps?

Nowadays, should whites be telling Blacks how to resist systemic racism — a racism entrenched by segments (and maintained by a plurality) of White society?

I think not. That is why I have a problem, with a likeliest well-intentioned essay, “Racism: Another Crossroads.”

The writer identifies himself as a White male. He then immediately goes on the defensive: “Some people would immediately dismiss my opinion on that basis, but they would be wrong to because prejudice is wrong.”

To defend his opinions, he resorts to ad hominem by accusing dissenters of prejudice.

His opinion is that those who want to bring about change for the better should do so non-violently. He writes, “Mohandas Gandhi in India, was a exponent of non-violent resistance, which King enthusiastically took up. They met their oppressors with resistance but a resistance based in love of humanity, not the resistance of vengeance and hatred.”

In his book Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths: Civil Disobedience, Nonviolence, and Satyagraha in the Real World, Mark Shepherd emphasized,

It’s important for us to be clear about this: There is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.

Gandhi’s nonviolent action was not an evasive strategy nor a defensive one. Gandhi was always on the offensive. He believed in confronting his opponents aggressively, in such a way that they could not avoid dealing with him.

But wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent action designed to avoid violence? Yes and no. Gandhi steadfastly avoided violence toward his opponents. He did not avoid violence toward himself or his followers.

Gandhi said that the nonviolent activist, like any soldier, had to be ready to die for the cause. And in fact, during India’s struggle for independence, hundreds of Indians were killed by the British.

Gandhi and his non-violent resistance — Satyagraha — targets the oppressors for conversion from their violent ways. It is preposterous that the victims of oppression should be targeted to convert to non-violence under conditions of oppressor violence.

The essayist continues,

We are now at a crossroads once again … to tackle this … with intelligence, compassion and dignity to achieve a new era of cooperation and understanding through non-violent resolution. We can also choose to tackle this through violent insurrection, looting, rioting, vandalism and murder. While vengeful behaviour may be totally understandable, we must ask will it achieve a fairer and more just future? Or will it just perpetuate negative cycles?

… If we want a better future, a better world we need to achieve unity of purpose and mutual understanding. Resorting to the basest instincts of humanity will not elevate us to a better place, it will only bring more pain. This fight against racism must be won, but it can only be won by taking the higher ground and maintaining the dignity that all humans should aspire to.

Question: Why does the White male writer target the oppressed rather than the oppressors?

Why focus a call upon the oppressed for “intelligence, compassion and dignity to achieve a new era of cooperation and understanding through non-violent resolution”? Why describe the protests as “violent insurrection, looting, rioting, vandalism and murder”? There is an argument to be made that short of violent insurrection (a pleonasm, since is there a non-violent insurrection?) how else is a revolution in the system to be brought about? Elections? Please… such a response should cause one’s eyes to roll. The essayist ought also to have considered that much of the looting and destruction of private property was probably carried out by agents provocateurs.

With all due respect, has the non-violence preached by any of its proponents achieved racial equality for the Blacks in the US? Yes, every one regardless of melanin production can be seated anywhere on the buses. It is even possible to star as the captain in a Star Trek series. But in the real world can Blacks walk the streets without fear of being subjected to a stop-and-search? Are Blacks accorded respect and partiality in the economic life of the United States (Canada, Australia, and Europe)? Are they treated fairly by the justice system, the penitentiary system, and the gendarmerie? Or are Blacks, by and large, still oppressed today?

Yet the essayist writes of the protestors, “Resorting to the basest instincts of humanity will not elevate us to a better place, it will only bring more pain.”

Who is “us”? And more pain for who? The oppressed are already in pain.

As for the “basest instincts of humanity”? Really? What could be baser than one group of humans oppressing another group of humans? Yet to inversely chide the resistance as being as base as their oppressors for the temerity to resist that oppression is morally unhinged.

I agree 100% with the essayist that the “fight against racism must be won.” But I disagree that “it can only be won by taking the higher ground and maintaining the dignity that all humans should aspire to.” The higher ground belongs to the resistance by default. “[M]aintaining dignity”? The dignity of resistance was quintessentially captured by the anarchist revolutionary Emiliano Zapata when he said: “I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.” It is a sentiment that Gandhi would also agree with (Shepherd writes about what Gandhi “described as the coward’s way: to accept the wrong or run away from it.”).

In a previous essay I argued,

First a given: there can be no resistance unless there is something to resist against. There can be no anti-occupation resistance if there is no occupation, and there can be no resistance against oppression if there is no oppression. It is a simple logic that eludes many people. That it eludes many people (and almost all of the corporate media) is demonstrable by noting the outcry whenever a resistance uses violence: Those evil, soulless terrorists harming other people — and they do it without reason. Well, there is a reason, although the corporate media refuses to divulge it. Occupation/oppression is violent, and it gives rise to resistance. There would be no violence were it not for the violence of occupation and oppression. There is no chicken and egg here. It is obvious that the sole target of vehemence should be the occupation/oppression that induces the resistance, for without the occupation/oppression and the violence that perpetuates it, there would be no violent resistance. Ergo, resistance (whether non-violent or violent) seeks to end violence by defeating an occupation/oppression.

In another essay, “Progressivist Principles and Resistance,” I wrote:

As a principle, resistance to oppression must be an inalienable right no matter what the type of resistance it may be. Blame for any violent resistance must never be laid on the oppressed but rather on the oppressor because oppression in itself is violent and when one suffers violence then violent resistance becomes justified as self-defense.

This is akin to “fighting fire with fire.” Uncontrolled fire can wreak great devastation, but few would object when a large fire is lit to snuff out what might be a more calamitous fire. Why, then, should people object when a violent resistance brings to an end a violent oppression? Peace can only reign when an oppression has been halted. Certainly, it would not be preferable for the violent oppression to continue in the face of pacifist resistance?

Therefore, as a second principle, a resistance movement must never incur greater limitation in tactics than an oppressor uses. To limit a resistance more than an oppressor would be morally anathema. The logical proof is easily verifiable since the cause of the violence is the morally reprehensible oppression; without oppression there could be no resistance. In the case of an occupation/oppression, an entire population is targeted – both civilian and military. In a morally just intellectual space, a military field should never be supported or tilted in favor of the oppressor. Intellectually, if not morally, the entire population of the oppressor could be considered a legitimate target; this writer would, however, recoil at targeting children, elders, and women…

It also follows that an oppressed people must be granted an equivalency in tactics and targets that is beyond moral condemnation, again because there would be no violent resistance were it not for the oppression and violence wreaked upon the resisting people. Ergo, the blame for any violent resistance belongs to the oppressor – not to the resistance.

Conclusion

To summarize briefly:

  1. 1) it is not up to a member of the oppressor group, despite being a dissenting member, to dictate to an oppressed group what form the road to liberation may or may not take;
  2. 2) all the impetus for a resistance and the responsibility for the tactics of a resistance lie with the oppressor;
  3. 3) consequently, a resistance should never have a hand tied behind its back.

Foreign Troops: What is too Close for Comfort?

Tensions in the skies. RT presented a news story of the United States intercepting a fleet of Russian bombers off the Alaskan coast. Four Russian Tu-95 bombers, accompanied by Su-35 and MiG-31 fighters jets, flew from Siberia toward Alaska where they were shadowed by US F-22 fighters. The US and NORAD admitted that the Russian planes stayed in international airspace and did not enter American sovereign airspace.

Siberia and Alaska are close. At its narrowest point the Bering Strait separates Russia and the US by only 88.5 km (55 mi), so it wouldn’t take long upon leaving one coastline to approach the other country’s coastline.

As for the tensions, they were attributed to the Russian bombers and fighter jets being “too close for comfort.”

Siberia and Alaska are very close, but the South China Sea is quite distant from the continental US and US Pacific territories. Nonetheless, the US sends its warships into the South China Sea — this to the consternation of China.

If China were to send its warships through the Straits of Florida would the US reaction be muted?

The provocations have their impetus in former president Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia, which has been an abysmal failure, as it has failed to prevent the rise of China.

Another failed US foreign policy objective was to prevent the Democratic Republic of Korea from becoming a nuclear state. US belligerence toward the government in the north of the Korean peninsula has not been effective in causing the North Koreans to cower. While US president Donald Trump has taken steps to engage North Korea, it has been mixed with hyperbolic threats and bombast.

The US, with South Korea, practices decapitation exercises targeting the leadership of the nearby DPRK — a country that is also distant from the continental US.

The examples of the US being too close for the comfort of other nations are myriad.

Russia is one country indignant at America provocations near its borders. Back during the Ronald Reagan administration, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev received a promise that NATO would not advance “one inch to the East.” The US reneged on its promise and has expanded ever closer to Russia, placing missiles and basing soldiers nearby.

Presently, in Syria the US is not just nearby; it is physically ensconced on the sovereign territory of Syria. There the uninvited and unwelcome US troops are helping to plunder Syrian oil.

US troops are also unwelcome in Iraq, which told the US troops to leave the country. Trump responded by threatening to impose sanctions against Iraq. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and resistance to the US troop presence has caused the evacuation of some US bases in Iraq.

Following 9-11, the US invaded Afghanistan when it failed to turn over the accused mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Taliban said they would consider surrendering bin Laden to the US if the US provided evidence of bin Laden’s guilt. However, the US refused to provide evidence, and subsequently the US finds itself militarily mired in Afghanistan approaching 20 years onward, and at a cost approaching $1 trillion dollars.

From Asia to Africa. The US meddling in the backyards of other countries is spread far and wide. No matter that Africa is another continent across the Atlantic from the US. US forces are involved in the fighting in Somalia, Kenya, Niger, and other African countries.

From Africa to South America. Trump has deployed US warships to the waters near Venezuela. Then, in early May of this year, there was a bizarre attempt to overthrow the elected government in Venezuela and capture president Nicolás Maduro. The coup attempt ended in utter ignominy for the would-be coupists, which included two former US special forces soldiers. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, a self-confessed and proud liar, stated, “There was no US government direct involvement in this operation.” [italics added] Makes one wonder exactly what the indirect US government involvement was.

Later in May, Trump warned Iran and Venezuela to not engage in trade with each other. Nonetheless, both countries, already under US sanctions, ignored the threats and Iran dispatched five tankers loaded with gasoline to help Venezuela. Despite the thousands of kilometers that Iran is from the US, it still has to contend with the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf.

In Closing

Hypocrisy is defined as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.”

Given the fact that the US reacts aggressively to the presence of foreign militaries that it considers too close for comfort, how ought one view the juxtaposition of the US military to countries that do not appreciate the presence of the US military?