Monthly Archives: May 2017

Smart scientists make dumb protest decisions

Correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t think “smart” people make fun of the taxpayers who fund them and the politicians that make spending decisions.

My brother hunts with beagles. The best photo he ever sent was of a “heap ‘o hounds,” four dogs collapsed together, a hilarious pile of big paws, long ears, and sensitive noses, sleeping in blissful, oblivious contentment.

“It’s good to be part of a pack,” my brother observed.

Viewing coverage of the protests by scientists organized for Earth Day, I can’t help but draw comparisons to my brother’s hounds: they were blissful, but oblivious.

Scientists are the most recent group to adopt the tactic of street protests which make everyone feel excited and empowered to be part of a pack but do little to advance their cause among elected officials.

Take, for example, teachers and the Mike Harris government. Aggrieved teachers took to the streets to protest Ontario’s new funding formula; inside government, we scrambled to respond to what appeared to be a public relations nightmare.

In fact, the team around Harris had gleaned through polling that the more the teachers protested, the more Harris’ approval ratings went UP; we actually began planning events that would attract protesters. Mike Harris easily won a second majority government in 1999.

The taxi industry in Toronto loves printing up yellow t-shirts and packing City Hall when taxi issues come up. In planning sessions I asked: “Why are we doing this? Councillors hate it when we do this. They feel threatened and intimidated. We are not allowed to speak or even clap. Why are we doing this?”

Because, the industry loves it. The Rotunda is a cross between old home week and a family reunion, thoroughly enjoyed by all. We lost every vote at council, though.

In 2009, I attended the Science Communications program at Banff with about 20 Ph.D scientists who were there to learn how to communicate science more effectively. At that time and in the years since, I have warned many of the good people I met, “Do not get into public protests. You will destroy your credibility, and garner no sympathy from politicians or taxpayers. Don’t become just another special interest group whining for more money. Don’t try to become politicians; they will not trust your advice if you try to compete with them as politicians.” Clearly, I lost that debate.

Under Stephen Harper, scientists paraded around Ottawa carrying a coffin, mourning “The Death of Science.” On Earth Day, 2017, they protested the Trudeau budget, taking their sector even further down the road toward being labelled as a group that will run out of governments to protest.

And yet, one of the Banff faculty members, who teaches journalism at an American university, posted this:

“I’ve been advocating for scientists to become more engaged in communication, policy, and politics for at least 20 years…I’m struck by how very far we’ve come and optimistic for what comes next.”

The coverage I saw had scientists waving signs that said, “Make America Smart Again” – mocking the president whose government will make funding decisions and insulting taxpayers who are not as “smart” as they are. Scientists should not play politics; they should not protest in the street. They should not call taxpayers stupid.

No matter how great it feels to be part of a pack.

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Work is Love made visible

Fried onions, cabbage (or-kale!), and mashed potatoes are Colcannon. Topped with two fried eggs, it’s a heart-warming breakfast full of Love.

Yesterday, I was honoured to swim in such a deep sea of Love that I woke up singing.

I spent most of the business day as a volunteer facilitator at the Healthy Minds/ TriOs College professional development day on Mental Health in the Workplace. Conference leader Sara Lindsay, who is doggedly and successfully living a fantastic life while managing a bi-polar disorder, was the most engaging, insightful presenter I’ve ever seen. The staff at TriOs College were 100% committed to finding ways to be ready to support both students and staff dealing with mental health issues that might prevent them from succeeding. I left the TriOs campus on wings, so excited that skillsets I needed desperately 15 years ago are now being taught positively and comprehensively.

I made a quick detour to drop off a pack of Tom Smith’s Blue Jays memorabilia on the front porch of work associate’s porch for her son who loves the Jays; then I drove to downtown Toronto to drop off a 33 rpm turntable and tape recorder from Uncle Dave’s basement to beloved friends who collect them. Our friendship was forged working together on crazy projects during a tumultuous time for the Ontario government. We had not seen each other for 10 years; they are new grandparents and we spent 2 hours talking and laughing, and laughing, talking and talking. I had to run out the door at 6:08 because my parking meter expired at 6:09!

From there I drove up to the David Duncan House, where 3 amazing clients were waiting for me. They had planned an incredible dinner in one of the most beautiful places in Toronto to thank me for my many years of hard work on behalf of the taxi industry. The pepper steak and ceasar salad made table-side were the best I’ve ever had. We talked and laughed for more than 5 hours before I headed home with an enormous “doggie bag” of delicious food.

This morning, I used the left over mashed potatoes to make Colcannon for breakfast. I will eat the rest of the pepper steak for dinner. I will think of everyone with every bite. If I lived one day like yesterday every 5 or 10 years, all the work in between would be worth it.

I wish everyone a day like yesterday: swimming in a sea of Love. Work is Love made visible.

xo

Rita