The end of scientific, rational thinking: Donald Trump, Doug Ford and Jordan Peterson

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Participants in the March for Science, marching on Constitution Ave. in Washington, D.C. in April 2017 after listening to speakers at Washington Monument on a rainy Saturday Earth Day.
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David Chandross, Ryerson University

This has been a terrible year for science and evidence-based decision making, which are the newest casualties of the growing wave of populism in North America where “postmodern thought … is being used to undermine scientific truths.”

In the United States, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims such as those that led to the repeal of environmental protections.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford, whose election win symbolized an overthrow of a left-leaning government, has already cancelled the “cap and trade” program for emissions control, moving Canada further away from Kyoto emissions targets accepted by the federal government.

Adding to this is bestselling author and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson who accuses the liberal left in universities as well as liberal politicians of postmodern thinking. This unrelenting attack on postmodern thinking is the core argument that propelled Peterson to fame.

Postmodernism
emerged with views that Western morality and universal truths — as outlined in the modern period of Enlightenment — should be deconstructed. This created a form of skepticism in which Western morality and later science came into question.

One of the erroneous impacts of this new skepticism is the erosion of public confidence in the conclusions of scientific studies.

The science wars

Peterson’s well established critique of postmodernism misses how this arena of postmodernism has become dangerous through the deconstruction of science and outright denial of scientific facts.

Marcel Kuntz argues that this version of postmodernism has led us toward an increasing dissolution of the notion of objective reality. Social critic Noam Chomsky argues that a “turn away from postmodernism” is necessary. He says although “there are institutional factors determining how science proceeds that reflect power structures,” that does not mean we should “abuse scientific concepts”.

‘Make America Think Again’ among many placards in the March for Science in Washington, D.C. on Earth Day 2017.
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What we see with Peterson, Trump and Ford is a new set of values in which science is just another factor in determining reality. Science has lost its primacy.

Scientific relativism

The political right has embraced scientific relativism. Scientific relativism is based on the idea that scientific observation and analysis are framed within unique cultural biases.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper adopted a cautionary stance against science and muzzled his own federal researchers on climate change. But even this was not the catastrophic rejection of science that has currently evolved.

Peterson refers to all forms of relativism as a form of cancer. But Peterson fails to criticize Trump’s litany of relativistic transgressions when it comes to science.

Even Peterson’s mentor, Bernard Schiff, has now said that Peterson might be more dangerous than those he attacks.

It is paradoxical that both Trump and Ford are embracing postmodernism much more than the left, which they accuse of the same sin. But the left demand factual evidence for decisions. Cap and trade was selected because the only other alternative is a regulation that denies corporations financial incentives to participate.

Peterson should challenge science relativism

One leaves a Peterson lecture with the sense that there is no coherency between ideas; the ground itself has been taken away. He mercilessly opposes unscientific thinking in his discussion of sexual and gender identity. But he then jumps to unscientific ideas like Carl Jung’s transpersonal psychology and his mystical collective unconscious in the next breath.

Is he a Jungian mystic or the embryology guy who asserts that science confirms there are only two sexes? Peterson has many followers and they participate in this sustained polemic attack on the left, claiming that moral relativism has left the world in disarray.

Peterson places all blame squarely in the hands of those who fight for social justice and who embrace progressive ideology. Resistance to change is associated with the political right and he says this is where postmodernism truly dwells.

By focusing on the moral relativism of postmodern thinking and ignoring scientific relativism, Peterson further erodes our ability to think critically. Peterson says that his aim is to build critical thinking in his readers, but his method of analysis is combative and takes no note of the virtues of depolarizing facts.

Protesters hold signs during Earth Day’s March for Science, April 22, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif.
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Which Ford will we get today, the one who accepts climate change or the one who denies that regulating emissions is an antidote worthy of analysis? And which Trump will we get today, the one who sees Canada as a partner, or the one who demonizes our trade pacts?

Depolarizing facts are not what make Ford, Trump or Peterson fans tick. They argue for political effect, not to test their own hypothesis of the world.

One leaves both Peterson’s lectures or a Trump rally with a frightening sense of unreality, there is no place that is safe. Your own rationality is called into question. These voices remove safety and then quickly replace it with a new set of basic truths that now stabilize a weakened framework of the world.

Science rejection

There is new evidence that science can neutralize polarizations. This depolarization through independent science may be the antidote for a political sphere that seems about to shatter any form of debate. Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli historian says that although false narratives are nothing new, citing the dogmatic acceptance of religion as an example, he cautions us to use science as a final arbiter.

Stripped of basic rational coordinates we have no shelter, no starting point for making sense of the world. Similarly, leaving a Ford press conference or a Trump rally (they are interchangeable), one has the same disquieting sense that there is nothing left, all maps have been burned. There is only Ford’s truth, Trump’s declaration or Peterson’s harsh admonitions. They deny us any factual compass.

Instead we have a series of memes and parables, not the pressure gauges and coordinates by which to navigate the challenges that life provides. What has happened to belief in inquiry, and to refutation of that which has no evidence? It has, like a photograph long exposed to light, lost its hues.

Rationality is on the executioner’s block, and the results are predictable if Maoist China is any example. This is the ferment of totalitarianism and by vilifying the left, and ignoring the emotional ramblings of the right, there is little one can do in this intellectual vacuum that remains, but to suffocate. And like a kill on the savannas, suffocation is the pretext to being consumed by a predator.

David Chandross, Program coordinator; researcher, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tech’s next great opportunity is mid-career workers

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Mid-career workers have solid business skills valuable to the tech industry.
(Unsplash), CC BY

Arvind Gupta, University of Toronto and AJ Tibando, Ryerson University

In the movie The Intern, a 70-year-old Robert De Niro decides to make a career change and lands an internship at an online fashion startup overflowing with young millennials and free food. The running joke in this film is that DeNiro is too “old” to create space for himself in a startup, a world for the “young.”

While De Niro’s character is fictional, the lessons in this film about talent and ageism in the tech sector are quite real.

In displaying the golden goose of characteristics that many of Canada’s tech giants are after — a desire to constantly learn and grow — the analogy of the “aged intern” highlights tech’s next greatest talent pool: the middle-aged or “mid-career” worker.

We’ve spent several decades studying and operating in the skills training and workforce development space. While job transitions have always been an area of challenge for mid-career workers, our research with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship has highlighted the looming impacts of automation in exacerbating that challenge, as well as the inherent opportunity for these workers to be absorbed into the digital economy, an area of high growth desperate for talent.

Shattering the myth

For many years, the idea has persisted among tech companies that in order to be innovative, they must be built by and for young people. Mark Zuckerberg infamously declared that tech companies should think twice before hiring anyone over 30. Now in his mid-30s, he has presumably moved that bar.

However, many tech companies are still made up predominantly of younger workers. Young founders often hire young peers, recent graduates are often paid less, and there are a deeply entrenched ageism and assumptions in the tech world that “older” workers (those over 30) won’t fit into a company’s culture or contribute the same value.

To put it bluntly, this view is short-sighted.

As Canada’s digital economy grows and scrappy startups become larger multinational corporations, they will require many of the same solid business skills that any other company does. Positions in sales, marketing, project and people management all require transferable skills that are often in the greatest demand for larger firms, tech or otherwise. Beyond that, understanding solid business processes that foster scaling are critical and come from years of experience.

This is where we need a new pool of talent for fast-growing Canadian tech companies that is highly experienced, skilled and understands the systems that make a business succeed.

Who are mid-career workers?

Mid-career workers are individuals who have been in the workforce for 10 or more years and who are sitting at the halfway mark in building their careers. This describes the vast majority of the workforce in Canada. They generally have strong business acumen in fostering firm growth and bring a level of maturity and professionalism that comes through hard-earned experience.

As tech companies rapidly grow, they need to hire people who have real-world experience, have worked on and led teams, can build relationships and know how to move products and processes forward. Many such companies regularly say they struggle to find tech workers with these skills.

The true obstacle here, however, may be that tech companies are largely unwilling to accept the suggestion that their best possible hires may neither be young nor from within the tech sector at all.

Many workers will likely soon be looking for their next career move due to rapid advances in automation. Unlike a recession or the shocks to the economy that we are familiar with, automation has the potential to have drastic and permanent impacts on entire sectors.

For mid-career workers in vulnerable sectors, losing a job at one company may well eliminate the option of finding work at another similar firm because automation would have affected jobs there as well.

The likely result will be a growing demographic of top talent looking to break into new industries, including tech. Seizing this opportunity, however, will require Canadian tech firms to adopt some new thinking and a new approach when it comes to retraining and reskilling.

Converting potential into talent

The challenge is to convert the foundation of knowledge and experience of highly skilled mid-career workers into new streams of talent for fast-growing sectors, such as tech, without overlooking the specificities of what it takes to succeed in these sectors.

For example, a senior retail sales manager understands the sales process: how to listen to potential clients, build a sales channel, nurture prospects and close a deal. In the tech space, the product or service will be different and the tools almost certainly state-of-the-art. Although the core skills gained from years of experience will be key to making the transition into a tech firm, doing so will likely require more training.




Read more:
Is Canada’s skills shortage real, or are businesses to blame?


Now consider the life of a mid-career worker who, with a mortgage and growing family obligations, needs to make this shift as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Less interested in “credentials,” these people will need the digital literacy and technical skills that allow their new employers take them seriously.

Training that is mid-career focused and cross-sectoral does not currently exist at scale. We envision a training approach that is entirely industry-led, designed to operate on the fastest timeline possible and leverages job placements and work-integrated learning opportunities so that these workers are not just skilled, but provided with on-ramps to new careers.

What is needed to accomplish this is a mechanism that rapidly confers new skills to mid-career workers, shifting their talents and potential from high-risk sectors to high-demand sectors.

Our new Canadian initiative, Palette Inc., is attempting to do exactly this. Palette is pioneering a new approach to mid-career retraining by connecting industry, workers and educators to develop new pathways for workers to move from declining industries to growing ones. As automation’s impacts become more present, this mechanism will match employers up with workers that possess the right skills.

For companies willing to look past the obvious yet minor gaps in skills to see potential and talent, great rewards await.

Arvind Gupta, Professor of computer science at the University of Toronto and the former CEO & founder of MITACS, University of Toronto and AJ Tibando, Project Lead + Founder of Palette Skills Inc., Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No matter what method is used to teach math, make it fun

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The Ontario government “back to basics” approach to the curriculum will not best serve children who need a mixture of traditional and discovery learning methods.
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Anthony Bonato, Ryerson University

There’s a change coming to Ontario’s elementary school math curriculum. The new provincial government says it is responding to a decline of standardized test scores and plans to recommend a return to “back-to-basics” teaching methods for mathematics teachers.

Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Lisa Thompson have told educators that directives for changes will be coming within a matter of weeks. Teachers, whose lesson plans for the fall are already drawn, are possibly now scrambling to implement new curriculum guidelines.

Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) scores for students in Grade 6 and Grade 3 in Ontario are both down one percentage point from last year. Previous efforts, including a $60-million initiative by the former Liberal government to improve the EQAO scores, have not worked.

What are ‘back-to-basics’ methods?

What exactly are “back-to-basics” teaching methods for mathematics? These traditional methods of mathematics education include an emphasis on drills, formulas and memorization. If you are old enough, then this was how you were taught mathematics in grade school. In contrast, discovery-based methods spend less time on rules and puts more emphasis on problem solving and applications.

The two methods have somewhat opposing approaches. In traditional methods, rules are taught first and then drilled into students via memorization and solving problems. In discovery methods, problems and examples come first and are abstracted to rules and formulas.

Doug Ford’s ‘back-to-basics’ approach to mathematics is a traditional method where math is drilled into students via memorization.
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For example, in a traditional math lesson, children are told the rule that the order of multiplication of two numbers doesn’t matter, and then they would work on problems related to that topic. In discovery math, children would work out examples such as 2 times 3 and 3 times 2, and then abstract this to the general case. Both approaches teach the same thing, but in different ways.

No one should be surprised by these changes after the Progressive Conservatives won a majority in the Ontario election in June. During the election campaign, Ford tweeted, “…We are going to scrap discovery math, and replace it with proven methods of teaching:”

A similar change was announced regarding Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum and elementary school teachers are now required to teach a curriculum essentially dating back to 1998.

Which option is better?

There are pros and cons to both traditional and discovery methods.

My issue with the debate about the “correct” way to teach mathematics to children is the way it is phrased as a binary, either-or approach. The choices we are given are:

1) Drill students on topics such as fractions and timetables.

2) Have children discover math rules and formulas from scratch.

Neither approach in isolation does justice to math education or reflects how people learn mathematics.

Learning rules and formulas in mathematics is an essential skill, as you need a foundation from which to build. Children need to know what the product of 6 and 8 is without having to rediscover it every time.

Children gain critical skills through discovery.
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At the same time, children gain critical problem-solving skills via discovery. They get to think more deeply about the subject. No one would teach language skills by only teaching grammar. You teach children the rudiments of grammar to get them speaking, reading and writing.

In my university teaching, I employ a mixture of traditional and discovery approaches. For example, in a first-year Calculus course, I introduce a formula or rule at the beginning of a lecture but spend most of the class working out examples interactively with the class so they may figure out how things work. In a more advanced, upper-year mathematics course, I state a theorem or problem, but then break up the class into smaller groups and have the students discover the proof with hints from me along the way.

A third path: Math specialists

When I was in elementary school, our classes had the occasional visit from specialist teachers who focused solely on art or music. These teachers didn’t perform the regular, daily instruction in classes but instead floated between classes enriching the curriculum. It was always a treat when these specialist teachers came and it also was a break from the routine of everyday instruction.

Let’s imagine something like this with mathematics education. Math specialists could be teachers with a mathematics background in their university education, or even math professors or university students with the proper training to engage with elementary school classes. I can think of plenty of fun and engaging lessons in my research area of networks for a Grade 6 class, for example. Math specialists would float between classes with the sole goal of enriching math education for kids.

Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s Minister of Education scrums with reporters following Question Period, at the Queens Park Legislature, in Toronto on Thursday, August 9, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

 

Math specialists may assist with the teaching of core material, but more importantly, they would help coach teachers and provide lesson plans that complement the material. Their goals would be to engage students and cultivate their interest in learning mathematics.

While mathematics educators like myself might point to the positive impact of math specialists, research on their effectiveness is still emerging. A study funded by a National Science Foundation at Virginia Commonwealth University found that math specialists have a significant, positive impact on student achievement. Similar results were reported by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Beyond test scores

While test scores are important, there is much more to mathematics education. Despite the declining EQAO scores, our kids aren’t exactly flunking out of math in droves. The EQAO standards require a 70 per cent or better to qualify as meeting the standard, not the typical passing grade of 50 per cent.

Our children must be exposed to a rich, engaging mathematics curriculum, even if they don’t become mathematicians or have anything to do with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) directly in their adult lives. Numeracy, like literacy, is an essential skill in our modern world.

A generation with weak math skills will not be competitive to tackle the next set of challenges in our knowledge-based economy. And a dislike of math tends to pass on from one generation to the next. No child should think it makes them cool to boast that they hate math.

While we are rethinking math education in Ontario, let’s use the best of both traditional and discovery methods and add in math specialists. Done correctly, this should not only increase test scores, but also bolster student engagement.

Let’s also take the time and effort to make math fun. Imagine if children were excited to learn mathematics? Isn’t that what we all want?

Anthony Bonato, Professor of Mathematics, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Building housing on flood plains another sign of growing inequality

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A woman gets back into her flooded car on the Toronto Indy course on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto on July 8, 2013. Housing developers are building housing on known flood plains in cities around the world.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Deborah de Lange, Ryerson University

Many cities around the world face a lack of affordable housing in and around expensive central business districts. Employers want cheaper labourers, who need more affordable housing in accordance with their lower salaries, to live nearby. So developers are invited to build on flood plains, without consequences. And often there is no public involvement in the decision.

Flood plains are easy to build on because they are flat and, in cities, they tend to be close to amenities. Yet all parties involved in housing know that cities are facing more rainfall and flooding due to climate change. Cities are now starting to prepare for catastrophic floods. and research has estimated flooding losses in the United States to be increasing dramatically.

Irresponsible and autocratic choices made by elites, at Waterfront Toronto for example, leave unsuspecting, lower-paid professionals in dangerous circumstances with rising insurance costs and potentially bad investments. That’s because, in the future, flood insurance may become prohibitively expensive or insurers may decide not to cover such high-risk properties, making them difficult to sell.

Flood risks worldwide

Difficult housing choices are reflective of a broader loss of worker power and associated income inequality. Research shows that densely populated areas are more vulnerable to disasters — the same disaster affects more people in dense environments. And where there is income inequality, there are more victims of natural catastrophes.




Read more:
Storms hit poorer people harder, from Superstorm Sandy to Hurricane Maria


Cities dominated by appointed, un-elected officials, such as the board members of Waterfront Toronto, are helping to generate this inequality.

In this August 2006 photo, two New Orleans women grieve for a relative who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In the U.K., where there’s an ongoing housing crisis, government has approved building on flood plains as long as the new homeowners are made aware of the risks in advance. At least the British are having an honest conversation about it. In Toronto, we are not.

New Orleans has long relegated its poorer populations to lower elevations by the Mississippi River, where floods and subsequent disease have devastated the city. The terrible treatment of Hurricane Katrina’s victims in New Orleans is a continuation of an enduring history of racism.

Research also describes how in the flood plains of Bangladesh, income inequality is related to a higher risk of flooding and lower preparedness to deal with floods.

In South China, increasing rainfall has left millions of the poor living in such dangerous low-lying areas that China’s president has called in the army.

Public space can be climate-adaptive

Today, most North American coastal cities are in danger of climate-related sea level elevations and storm surges. Hurricane Sandy caught New York’s elite off guard because they became victims too. It didn’t matter whether you were in the Upper East Side or in Harlem.

In wealthy south Florida, saltwater rises not only directly from the sea, but also up through porous limestone, so Miami cannot use the same climate adaptation approaches as in some other cities, like adding green space. Miami is working to add pumps and other infrastructure instead.

Toronto could turn its remaining waterfront space into parkland, instead of housing developments, as a protective barrier.




Read more:
Toronto needs more beauty in its waterfront designs


New York City is going to build a wall around the lower part of Manhattan, and add a park. The Dutch are using public space to absorb floodwater. New Orleans is building parks to double as reservoirs for floodwaters, on the advice of the Dutch.

Toronto’s recent floods a wakeup call

Toronto has had a few waterfront floods over the years, including this year and last, damaging the Toronto Islands in 2017. The city faced several storms in 2018 with violent winds and flooding downtown. Some wealthy Torontonians leave the city for private lakefront properties in cottage country, but others live within limited space affected by the aftermath of catastrophes.
The Toronto Islands recovery, for example, is still ongoing and has not yet been fully paid for.

Toronto’s east-end beaches flooded badly in 2017 amid a rainy spring. Housing developers are nonetheless building housing on known flood plains, in Toronto and around the world.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Meanwhile, new Toronto lakefront condominium developments are proceeding in the Quayside and Portlands neighbourhoods, near the Islands, on flood plains historically contaminated by heavy metals, oil and coal. “Workforce housing” is a required part of the plan.

Will Flessig, former Waterfront Toronto CEO, says that middle-income professionals are expected to settle in the waterfront condominiums so that they can be closer to where they work.

But no one in Toronto is talking about the flood plains, since elected officials apparently consider the issue resolved. Based on a plan developed in 2007, the federal and provincial governments are investing $1.185 billion to reconstruct the mouth of the Don River so that the water safely flows into Lake Ontario.

However, the waterfront area still remains a flood plain, and is still affected by storm surges associated with climate change.

Klever Freire, left, and Gabriel Otrin pose for a photograph in the building where they were trapped in a rapidly flooding elevator during a heavy rainstorm in Toronto in August 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Building on flood plains has serious consequences, including future uninsurable buildings as insurance companies anticipate they won’t be able to afford the payouts. A single major flood causes a great deal of damage and requires insurance companies to pay all at once. With a higher frequency of catastrophic floods and the corresponding required payouts, the pool of insurance premiums collected to cover the losses dries up, and insurance companies face bankruptcy.

Before that happens and buildings are left derelict, people and property are endangered. We recently saw life-threatening flooding of buildings in Toronto, and there are limited rescue personnel to address all of the issues at the same time when mass floods happen.

Simultaneously, damage to personal property can be overwhelming — for example, to cars and contents within condominium lockers in underground parking garages. In Toronto, we have also seen streetcars submerged in water recently with people trapped inside.

Flooding stops a streetcar on King St. W. in Toronto on Aug. 7, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Shlomi Amiga

Fixing the damage therefore adds costs to public transit. Water quality and disease concerns are also heightened as storm sewage systems cannot handle increasing rainfall volumes. Over the longer term, repeated flooding also weakens building foundations.

Hard to manage water levels

On a broader scale in the Great Lakes region, the ability to adapt to changing conditions is reduced. That’s because the ability of water officials to manage water levels is much more difficult when condominiums and other housing is built on flood plains.

For example, water flows are somewhat controlled in the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River watersheds through an international agreement called Plan 2014. If buildings are in the path of water flow, this complicates and limits the range of adjustment options.

We know now what we’re confronting. Let’s learn from past mistakes. In the best interests of homeowners, the public and climate adaptation, what’s left of Toronto’s waterfront should be public parks, not condominiums billed as “workforce housing.”

Deborah de Lange, Associate professor, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ — a movie and a movement

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Crazy Rich Asians depicts cosmopolitan rich Asians with complex humanities.
Warner Bros.

Yunxiang Gao, Ryerson University

On the heels of the Afro-centric Black Panther (2018) comes Crazy Rich Asians, a sure summer hit. Based on Kevin Kwan’s entertaining novel, Crazy Rich Asians boasts an Asian director, screenwriter and a cosmopolitan, super-talented Asian cast.

The film marries familiar western tropes such as Cinderella meets the parents, or, in Chinese culture, The Dream of the Red Chamber, the renowned classic fiction of a sophisticated romantic love story set within noble families of 18th-century China — a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet.

In Crazy Rich Asians, NYU economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, star of Fresh Off The Boat) accepts her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) seemingly innocuous invitation to attend his best friend’s wedding in Singapore, and at the same time meet his parents. It’s only on the plane, when the couple is suddenly escorted to first class, that Rachel senses Nick is wealthy.

Upon arrival in glamorous Singapore, Rachel meets the engaged couple, Araminta Lee and Colin Khoo (Sonoya Mizuno and Chris Pang), and then reunites with her pal, Peik Lin Goh (rap star Awkwafina). Goh’s nouveau-riche family breathlessly tells her that Nick is the most eligible bachelor in Asia and from one of Singapore’s oldest, wealthiest families.

Goh exclaims: “They are crazy rich!” That an economics professor would not have known this elementary fact about her boyfriend, especially in this age of instant communication, is a small flaw in the plot.

Rachel finds out her boyfriend is wealthy on the way to meet his parents.

Everyone in Singapore knows about Rachel and Nick, however, thanks to Celine Lim (Constance Lau), also known as Radio One Asia, who spots the couple canoodling in New York City and sends a photo that travels instantly among a global network of young, agog Asians. Many of them, including Amanda Ling (Jing Lusi), are disappointed rivals for Nick’s affections and have their knives sharpened for the naïve young professor.

More sympathetic is Nick’s fabulous cousin Astrid Leong Teo (Gemma Chan), a fashionista with marital problems. Fierce opposition comes from Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who finds the commoner unacceptable potential daughter-in-law material.

An intergenerational battle is a main theme in Crazy Rich Asians.
Warner Bros.

 

Yeoh’s effortless performance as the tradition-bound matriarch (her husband is perennially on a business trip) highlights old Singapore’s snobby rejection of the young American striver. The women’s intergenerational battle consumes most of the plot. I will not spoil the ending, though it is an American romantic-comedy, so be assured that all ends well.

The long struggle for Asian representation

In June 1945, Pearl S. Buck, the first female American Nobel laureate for literature and foremost interpreter of China, wrote to H. H. Kung, former financial minister of Republican China (and brother-in-law of the legendary Madam Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of China) to seek funds for her living Chinese Theatre.

Pearl S. Buck expressed her distaste for the way white actors depicted Asians.
CC BY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring actress Wang Yung, acclaimed “queen of modern Chinese drama,” Buck’s troupe, the author contended, “may mean the opening up of Hollywood to Chinese actors and actresses in Chinese plays, a project which I have long wanted to see accomplished.”

Buck had in mind her distaste for the “yellow faces” seen in Hollywood — casting white actors as Asians as seen in the 1937 award-winning screen adaption of her famous novel, The Good Earth, the first Hollywood feature film set in contemporary China. The casting director famously rejected Anna May Wong, America’s top actor of Chinese descent, citing Wong was “not Chinese enough.”

Buck longed for Hollywood’s acceptance of Wang and other talented Chinese actors. In my book manuscript, Arise, Africa! Roar, China!: Sino-African-American Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century, I trace the dream of Buck and Wang for Hollywood and Broadway’s acceptance of talented Chinese actors presenting “authentic” modern China without Orientalist prejudices.

Buck and actors of Asian descent had to wait decades for substantial Asian presence in Hollywood productions.

Portrait of Anna May Wong. Hollywood relegated her to playing the ‘exotic other.‘
British Film Institute

Nancy Kwan starred in two films: The World of Suzie Wong (MGM, 1960), a lovely exploration of mixed-race love, and Flower Drum Song (1961), made by Universal Films with a terrific, largely Asian cast. Suzie Wong, despite a fine evocation of Hong Kong, sadly continued an earlier stereotype of the Asian woman as a prostitute.

Flower Drum Song portrayed Chinese immigrants as lowly beggars, including Kam Tong as Dr. Li, a Beijing University graduate, now a street musician. Despite highly favourable reviews and good box office returns, the pair of films stood alone for 30 years.

Move forward to 1993, as Hollywood Pictures presented the Joy Luck Club, a sensitive, brilliant portrayal of four Asian-American women and their convoluted relationships with traditional culture. Directed by Wayne Wang and derived from an Amy Tan novel, the film did well critically and at the box office.

The Joy Luck Club had an all-Asian cast and did well at the box office.
Hollywood Pictures

After that, another lengthy hiatus occurred, interrupted only by the success of Asian productions, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), neither produced in Hollywood. There have been promising signs, including the emergence of significant female stars like Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh, popular television shows like Fresh off the Boat, great comedy (the Harold and Kumar series 2004-2011) and occasional genre-busting independent films like Saving Face, (2004), demonstrating the wealth of top and repertory Asian theatrical talent.

First all-Asian cast in 25 years

It’s now 2018, and Crazy Rich Asians seems poised to be a critical and box office smash hit. Beyond the allure of the all-Asian cast, who seem on screen, even in dark moments, to joyfully exult in their achievement, the dynamic city-state of Singapore, and by extension, young, rich Asia, the film stuns the audience with its opulence. Despite the back-stabbing schemers and occasional oafish parvenu men, Singapore Chinese are portrayed as vibrant, wealthy and young. Women are gorgeous, male leads are genial hunks.

America, the dream world of past films, is perceived as an unacceptable, impoverished exile. The children in Goh’s family are sternly instructed to eat their chicken nuggets gratefully because “there are children starving in America.” Music ameliorates culture-crossing; the soundtrack consists of Canto pop, 1930s “yellow music” (Chinese adaption of Jazz) in Shanghai, and great Asian interpretations of Madonna and Elvis songs.

Director Jon M. Chu, cinematographer Vanja Cernjul and screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim use foundation shots to display Singapore as a glittery playground for the rich, who cavort on rooftop pools, plunge into the city’s extraordinary food markets or helicopter off to private beaches.

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ showcases Singapore as a playground for the rich.
Warner Bros.

Their mansions, invariably shown at night in spectacular colour, are dream worlds. Fashion is the most constant desire. Everyone dresses expensively, from the tacky Goh family to the uptight family of Charlie Wu (Harry Shum, Jr.) and the cosmopolitan Astrid, the preferred customer for Parisian and Asian designers.

Astrid collects clothes and jewelry to assuage the pain of her failed marriage; she hides her million-dollar purchases from her husband. The jewelry is genuine; Chan had a bodyguard to protect against theft while wearing the baubles.

The film is unashamed of its excess. Indeed, that may be the point. Cosmopolitan rich Asians with complex humanities invoke China’s wealth during Marco Polo’s time, as suggested by the book.

It relives the power, material culture (extravagant clothing and cuisines), and traditional structures of the dominant noble families during late imperial China depicted in The Dream of Red Chamber. The detail of the heroine almost mistakenly drinking tea meant for hand washing in the film comes directly from that classical fiction.

Asian filmmakers have confidently created pure Hollywood escapism with a magnificent production and cast. That may not be what Pearl Buck envisioned in 1945, but it tells the world that Asia and Asian-Americans have arrived, and can produce magnificent films.

Yunxiang Gao, Associate Professor, Department of History, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The secret formula for becoming an elite athlete

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Specializing in a specific sport at an early age is not necessary to become an Olympic athlete. In fact, the opposite is true.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Nicole W. Forrester, Ryerson University

The next Olympics are less than two years away and for many athletes, the Games in Tokyo will be the pinnacle event in their career. Aspiring Olympians strive to compete on the world’s largest sporting stage, but only a few will ever realize that goal.

While anatomical and physiological factors clearly play a role in the development of a super-elite athlete, there are other critical components necessary to achieve success.

So, just how does somebody become an Olympian? As an Olympian and former world-class high jumper, I know that hard work and dedication are just part of the formula for success.

It is not uncommon for coaches, parents and athletes to believe that specializing in a sport at an early age is the secret ingredient to becoming a world-class athlete — especially when you consider the success of athletes like Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal, who excelled in their sports at an early age. However, research exploring elite athlete development suggests their chosen path is less common than the typical case.

The 10,000-hour myth

In addition to the belief that starting early is a path to success, the popularity of the 10,000-hour rule has given rise to the belief that a certain numeric value of time must be acquired for an individual to become an expert.

The 10,000-hour rule is a fallacy that has been taken out of context, neglecting the most significant research findings by Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson.

In that seminal study into the development of expertise in musicians, Ericsson and colleagues found talent to be the result of “deliberate practice” that occurred over a span of 10 years — or approximately 10,000 hours for some individuals. The study stated the concept of deliberate practice was more important than any magical number.

Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity requiring intense effort and is not inherently enjoyable. It is not about training and clocking in the hours of practice. Rather, it is about being immersed in the action at hand, with the end goal of improving one’s performance. In fact, the acquisition of expertise has been achieved with as few as 4,000 hours of deliberate practice.

Testing the theory of deliberate practice and 10,000 hours, Dan McLaughlin, at the age of 30, quit his job and began to learn how to golf with the hopes of achieving his PGA Tour card. He reached a golf handicap of two by the summer of 2018.

The importance of play

Musicians, athletes and other people in other fields pursuing excellence appear to share the need for deliberate practice. However, sport also requires the unique element of deliberate play — arguably just as important as deliberate practice.

Deliberate play is intrinsically motivating unstructured play in sport, designed to provide a high degree of enjoyment. An example of deliberate play is a group of kids playing shinny instead of an organized hockey game. Ice time and positions are not structured by an adult, and kids of different ages and skills play against each other for the sake of fun.

On the surface, deliberate play may not appear to provide immediate benefits in the advancement of an athlete’s ability. The real benefits of deliberate play are actually realized later in an athlete’s development.

Deliberate play provides a breadth of cognitive and motor experiences while supporting an athlete’s later involvement in deliberate practice activities. Most importantly, it is fun and keeps children enjoying sports. The most common reason youths drop out of sport is that it is no longer fun. That means the best way to ensure your child drops out of sport is to force them to specialize at an early age.

In a study exploring the amount of training time elite hockey players acquired, researchers from Queen’s University found that by the age of 20, an equal amount of time was shared between deliberate play and deliberate practice.

Sport specific vs. multiple sports

There is also a myth that participating in many different sports is not advantageous in advancing an athletes’ ability. By engaging in various sports, athletes are able to develop a breadth of skills transferable to their eventual primary sport. In fact, researchers have found elite athletes spent less time training in their primary sport before the age of 15 compared to their less successful counterparts.

Sports researchers use something called the development model of sport participation to study elite athletes. The model shows that having a diverse sports background does not hinder the performance of elite athletes.

Athletes who develop skills in one sport are able to transfer those skills to another seemingly different sport and still reap the gains. For example, a child who has played soccer may have developed the skill of reading the field of play. This skill is also applicable and transferable to a sport like basketball, where that same athlete must learn to read plays on the court.

Recognizing the progression of athlete development, the Long-Term Athlete Development model is a framework enacted by sport organizations to promote skill learning in accordance to human development.
Sport for Life Society

 

 

In the initial phase of the development model, termed the sampling years, athletes are introduced to various sports with a focus on having fun and deliberate play. In their teens, athletes enter the specializing years and begin to reduce their involvement in numerous sports. In this phase, the element of having fun is still important and coupled with the introduction of intentional effort.

As athletes advance in age (approximately 15 years and older), they enter the investment years and begin to focus on a primary sport. It is here where deliberate practice plays a larger role and the role of deliberate play lessons.

While this model is not intended to be the universal approach to developing sport expertise for all athletes, it certainly provides a framework for recognizing the integral role of deliberate play, deliberate practice and diversification in sport play.

It is worth noting that other factors. such as one’s (date of birth) and the size of their town (the size of their town), has also been associated with predicting elite athlete development. These cases highlight the role that environment plays in an athlete’s development.

Sometimes luck plays a role

And then there’s the element of luck, which was a factor in my own athletic career.

Author Nicole Forrester, seen here competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, didn’t start high jumping until she was 18 years old.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

I was almost 18 when a track and field coach saw me and my tall, lean physique working at McDonald’s and gave me the phone number of a high jump coach at the University of Toronto. That fateful day led me to become a member of 20 national teams, an eight-time Canadian champion, an Olympian and a multi-medalist on various major Games, spanning a career more than 15 years.

I attribute my quick progression in the high jump to the various sports I played growing up. Had I started specializing in my sport at an earlier age, I doubt I would have lasted for as long as I did or had the same level of success.

The path to becoming an Olympian requires a mixture of important ingredients that may vary according to the sport and the individual athlete. Ultimately, for many, the path is navigated through deliberate play and involvement in various sports, developed through a commitment of deliberate practice, and reinforced by support, resources, motivation and effort.

Most importantly, in sports where peak performance occurs after maturation, early sport specialization is not the answer to becoming a super elite athlete.

Nicole W. Forrester, Assistant Professor, School of Media, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Toronto needs more beauty in its waterfront designs

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Density is an idea sold to us by corporate developers who want to build on every last bit of green space. To fully enjoy our city now and for the future, we need more public green space. (Shutterstock)

Deborah de Lange, Ryerson University

A healthy and happy city includes creating social capital — those benefits that come with social networks, public spaces and community, much as the Danes have in their famous city of Copenhagen. Toronto’s focus, too, should be on “place-making” rather than city building. How can our waterfront contribute towards Toronto becoming a happy city?

The proposed project by Sidewalk Toronto, “high-tech” Quayside, is the most recent excuse to develop our waterfront with condos. It is ultimately just a dressed-up “real-estate play.”

We do not need to install an entirely new and experimental “smart city” on 12 acres of prime Toronto waterfront. We should not then also give away another 800 acres in the Port Lands to developers, a space almost as large as Manhattan’s Central Park.

The need for public waterfront space

Toronto’s waterfront is a magnet for nearby city dwellers, not only local residents. We seek out the waterfront on our long weekends. Families have barbecues and reunions in lakeside parks; volleyball players need a beach.

Congestion occurs because so many people want to escape to be near the water.

Where will millions more in the future go given the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is projected to have a population of about 13 million by 2066? We should not repeat the same mistakes made by the government-appointed Waterfront Toronto, “the public steward of waterfront revitalization,” of not planning for sufficient public green space.

Toronto’s urban dwellers are attracted to the downtown core.
Eugene Aikimov/Unsplash

 

“Density” is promoted for the benefit of corporate developers. But if more and more people are to be without the privacy and pleasure of a backyard for the sake of increasing density, then we need public parks to compensate for this. The cooler waterfront is the best location for more parkland, especially as we face blazing hot summers related to climate change.

The existing built environment at Toronto’s lakefront has so far been unsuccessful in “place-making” — turning spaces into communities. The west side of the lakefront (Bathurst to Yonge Streets) does not have enough parkland. The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization project added more concrete and traffic confusion to the already built environment of condominiums. The eastern side is also filling up with condos up to the water’s edge. Someone needs to stand up and protect what is left of Toronto’s lakefront for social capital building and climate adaptation.

Place-making can work

Some great North American cities are known for heroic efforts in place-making. In Chicago, entrepreneur-turned-magnate Aaron Montgomery Ward fought a 20-year battle to save Grant Park from greedy builders. Today, Montgomery Ward’s celebrated legacy is Chicago’s waterfront park: It is what makes Chicago a great city.

New York City has its Central Park. Central Park is one of the outstanding design features that makes New York forever attractive.

New York’s Central Park was created to improve public health.
Shutterstock

 

The New York State legislature stepped up to purchase more than 750 acres, 843 acres today, of parkland because, even in 1853, politicians understood that “a great public park would improve public health and contribute greatly to the formation of a civil society.” Manhattan, well-known for its limited and expensive real estate, is 13 miles long and 2.3 miles wide; Central Park is 2.5 miles long and a half mile wide.

Also, Boston’s parks, including Boston Common and the Public Garden, have been preserved. The Public Garden is the first botanical garden in the United States, established in 1837, and is considered one of Boston’s greatest attractions.

Toronto still has a chance with the waterfront space that remains.

Why is Waterfront Toronto contemplating building more condominiums? It seems the organization is attempting to pack too much into the precious waterfront space. Does a park seem too simple? Well, simplicity is majesty, as the great parks central to other world-class cities suggest. Toronto should be preserving waterfront space and making it our “Central Park.”

Toronto’s last decade has seen a rise in residential buildings, many on the waterfront, possibly related to the influence of a now-defunct Ontario Municipal Board, which gave developers too much power.

Those days are gone as of this year, so Toronto can revise its approach to be more like that of Vancouver, where the new chief planner is talking about a “vision for the future.”

Density is not the solution

The cost of living, a lack of space, transport issues, pollution and noise are problems in dense environments.

But density is not equivalent to affordable housing, especially in a downtown core. It’s a myth that developers espouse because they make more money selling more units on a smaller parcel of land.

Increased density by way of taller buildings is also not safe for people, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In a 2016 CMAJ study, people living above the third floor had lower survival rates after cardiac arrest. That was due to the time it took to reach them and, in some cases, because elevators were too small for stretchers. Above the 25th floor, no one survived.

Research offers this warning: “If development is not in the right place, at the right time, and in the right form, even compact urban
forms can disrupt ecological and social systems
.”

Tech hubs should be built elsewhere

We have lots of space around the GTA for experimenting with smart-city technologies. Transit hubs — communities built around major transit stops — begin as smaller spaces, not located on precious lakefront property. They can become additional vibrant central business districts where new smart-city technologies may be tried out as smaller individual pilot tests.

Toronto can add compact communities, with architecturally interesting low-rise buildings like Boston’s brownstones but without the hefty price tags, because they are not downtown. These communities can also include workplaces near to homes. With many of these mixed-use hubs, commuting is reduced, local housing is more affordable and small business rents are decreased. Downtown locations, while still desirable, are no longer required.

There is still time to save Toronto’s waterfront. Here are the Toronto Islands (formerly Hiawatha or Menecing). Shutterstock

 

Integrated into a park-focused, climate-adaptive waterfront vision should be inspiration, beautification and monumental design that creates social capital as a primary goal, and ultimately, a happy world-class city.

Toronto needs to step back and reconsider its development assumptions and approach, including citizen participation in design, not just consultation or communications. The city should find inspiration in international examples of place-making like Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, as well as Vancouver, as it reconsiders its direction.

Toronto could still take back control of at least part of its rare and precious lakefront. The city could create an extraordinary public experience, possibly with world-class monumental architecture placed within a larger green space to satisfy and inspire future generations of happy city dwellers.

Who will create a green vision for our waterfront, as Montgomery Ward did for Chicago?

Deborah de Lange, Associate professor, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Joyous resistance through costume and dance at Carnival

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Underneath the façade of the Caribbean carnival, historical, cultural and political undercurrents run deep. A parade participant performs during the Grand Parade at last year’s Toronto’s Carnival.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Henry Navarro Delgado, Ryerson University

We partied morning to morning, and a joyous spirit permeated everything; speech, customs and appearances. The centrepiece of it all were wheeled fantasy islands (floats) inhabited by amazingly glamorous yet exquisitely vulgar costumed creatures played by Carnival masqueraders. The best part of the whole affair? People from the community created everything.

With Toronto’s famous Caribbean Carnival around the corner, these memories from my adolescence in the Caribbean return.

Acquaintances from my grandmother’s neighbourhood, La Risueña in the city of Santiago de Cuba, spent a whole year working on their carnival wares. They practised their moves in secret. Their goal was to outdo other townsfolk’s floats, costumes, music and choreography.

Growing up in Cuba, people of all ages and walks of life waited for summer’s arrival. Not because of the heat and humidity (we unanimously loathed that), but because of carnival season.

The carnival served as a collective social valve. This was a time of the year when all conventions and codes of behaviour were thrown out the window. A carefree and tolerant spirit reigned, albeit for a short window of time.

Carnival in Toronto is an opportunity to publically honour diverse ideals of beauty. Parade participants perform during last year’s Grand Parade.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

For Toronto’s heterogeneous population, the Caribbean Carnival is an opportunity to partake in a communal celebration of diversity and to publicly honour non-mainstream ideals of beauty.

Most people are familiar with how Caribbean-style carnivals look. They recall a sea of extravagantly costumed bodies swaying to the same beat. But there is something very special to the West Indies’ brand of bacchanal. Underneath the façade of the Caribbean carnival, historical, cultural and political undercurrents run deep.

Colonial authorities mocked

Caribbean carnivals share roots with European traditions, but African and Indigenous influences fundamentally shaped and flavoured their culture. That culture has marinated for more than 500 years in colonial syncretism — a fusion of cultures, symbols and religions. Since the majority of the Caribbean population was of African and Indigenous descent, the region’s carnivals evolved into celebrations of anything contrary to dominant European culture.

They started off as Christian religious processions and end-of-harvest festivities. Over time, the saintly and agrarian elements fell by the wayside.

Revellers decorate costumes with colours symbolizing African and Indigenous deities in Havana, Cuba in 2012.
Shutterstock

In western Cuba, carnival metamorphosed from the “Dia de Reyes (Kings’ Days)” celebration. At this week-long event, societies of colour (called Cabildos) had their processions and paraded their kings and queens. In eastern Cuba, carnivals coincided with the end of the tobacco and sugar cane harvests.

At these celebrations, slaves and free people of colour wore hand-me-down or borrowed clothes from the masters. Others donned attire fashioned to look European. They mischievously decorated costumes with colours symbolizing African and Indigenous deities.

Deomonic characters made their way into the festivities. A reveller is seen here on J’ouvert Morning, the party before the carnival parade in Trinidad.
Eduardo Skinner, CC BY-NC

 

 

Revellers also adopted exaggerated affectations and customs from colonial society. Eventually, more and more openly Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous and syncretic symbols and conventions populated the carnivals. These included demonic characters, degrees of nudity and widespread adoption of percussion instruments.

Colonial powers may have introduced the carnival, but it morphed into public events where a mix of African and Indigenous cultures were celebrated. All was conducive to African and Indigenous-influenced forms of collective dancing and the mockery of colonial authorities.

Celebration and transgression

Even in their original incarnations as religious and agrarian celebrations, the Caribbean’s carnivals were a community affair. Representatives of the different strata of society coordinated the festivities. It was only natural that a competitive spirit promptly developed.

Carnival is a community-building activity. A carnival parade in Old Havana, Cuba.
Alan Kotok

Battling among classes and neighbourhoods isn’t just part of the Caribbean carnival. Competition is central to Caribbean carnival’s traditions. This is visible in the rivalry among Brazil’s Samba Schools and the distinction between the upper class “Pretty Mass” and traditional festivities such as “J’Ouvert” in Trinidad’s carnival.

Spending summers with Afro-Cuban relatives in Santiago de Cuba, I witnessed friends and family preparing for carnival. While female participants worked hard for a top spot in the floats, males wanted to be caperos (cape bearers). Capes are flag-like, embellished with symbols and the colours of the neighbourhood.

Utmost secrecy is important when preparing for carnival. Carnival of Santiago de Cuba.
Christian Pirkl, CC BY-NC-SA

Later, at the Universidad de las Artes (then the Superior Institute of Arts) in Havana where I went to school, two of my classmates belonged to opposing carnival troupes. Hailing from Remedios, a town in central Cuba, they collaborated in school projects and art exhibits, but never discussed their neighbourhoods’ plans for Las Parrandas de Remedios. Utmost secrecy surrounded their carnival teams.

Carnival in the Caribbean is raw community at its best. Racial and class distinctions are erased; individuals toil, create and sweat side-by-side — unless they belong to competing carnival troupes. This is a sanctioned space for celebration and transgression.

A video capture of carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Bodies of disruption

At carnival anywhere in the Caribbean, part of the focus is on the human body. Carnival bodies come in many shapes, sizes, complexions, genders and states of dress. This makes carnival into a primarily embodied experience.

The body was the only agency left to African, Indigenous and people of colour in a colonized context. Bodies are also central to artistic expressions in African and Indigenous cultures where fine arts, dress and performance are on equal levels.

The body in motion is the ultimate form of social, aesthetic and spiritual expression. Such centrality of the body was fostered by colonization and the plantation model of production. Embodied cultural expressions then found their perfect outlet in the carnival.

The carnival body is a collective expression. A reveller on J’ouvert Morning in Trinidad.
Eduardo Skinner, CC BY-NC

During carnival, people of colour have a spatial-temporal opportunity within colonial society to publicly inhabit their cultural bodies. Tangentially or directly, the carnival body — adorned with colourful costumes, headdresses, feathers, body paint and different states of nudity — is a reflection of the cultural subconscious of people of colour in the Caribbean.

Carnival costumes contrast Judeo-Christian and European norms, ideals of beauty and modesty and instead celebrate African and Indigenous cultures.

Caribbean carnival’s style of dress became full-frontal outrageous during the 1970s when body-centric approaches reached an all-time high. Multiculturalism and global Afro-centric tendencies greatly shaped the carnival dress during this decade.

The cultural significance of carnival bodies has far-reaching implications well beyond the visual immediacy of the celebrations. As collective entities, carnival bodies constitute political commentary. A parade of decorated bodies performing in unison has a real persuasive power.

Carnival politics

With slavery finally abolished in the late 19th century, carnival’s space for cultural expression and disruption widened. By the 1920s, Caribbean carnivals also became an instrument for social and political campaigning. Under the guise of mindless revelry, coded political messages were disseminated as songs and slogans.

A 1925 photo of Sexteto Habanero in Havana, Cuba.
CC BY-NC-SA

Caribbean carnivals continue to serve as megaphones for political and social platforms. An extreme case was Fidel Castro, who used the carnival to attack a Cuban army garrison in 1953. Although unsuccessful, the attempt sparked the Cuban revolution.

Currently, carnivals in Brazil serve as platforms for political debates, including the fate of Indigenous populations. Meanwhile, controversies around carnival funding have exposed racial, social and economic divisions in the Bahamas and Jamaica.

The Toronto Carnival nexus

At Toronto’s Carnival, we can see some of this rich social, political and cultural past. Costumed performers and revellers represent a continuum of Caribbean traditions that originated during colonial times. Yet, Toronto’s Carnival projects them towards the future.

Amalgamating Pan-Caribbean traditions in a cosmopolitan metropolis, Carnival is a public cultural space for Toronto’s racialized residents. There, participation and creation continues to function as community building.

Santiago’s Carnival allowed my teenage self to tune into my Afro-Caribbean heritage. Toronto’s Carnival legitimizes the city’s embrace of its own mix of cultural identities.

Henry Navarro Delgado, Assistant Professor of Fashion, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The math behind Trump’s tweets

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President Donald Trump delivers a lot of information through Twitter. Here he speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, March 2018.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Anthony Bonato, Ryerson University and Lyndsay Roach, Ryerson University

United States President Donald Trump has a preoccupation with Twitter. Since his account @realDonaldTrump became active in March 2009, it has amassed 53.2 million followers, making it the 18th most popular account on the social media site.

While Trump has tweeted more than 38,000 times, his tweets during and after the 2016 presidential election made his Twitter account a lightning rod for the media and the public. Major news outlets like CNN, CBC, and BBC routinely embed tweets from @realDonaldTrump in their online stories. The Daily Show even turned Trump’s tweets into a mock presidential museum.

In a controversial and unparalleled fashion, Trump uses Twitter as a vehicle for his political announcements. On high-impact issues such as the U.S. travel ban, transgender military recruits and immigration, to name a few, Trump used Twitter to communicate policy decisions.

Alec Baldwin on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in a 2016 sketch on how Trump, then the president-elect, couldn’t stop tweeting.
NBC

Given the volume of Trump’s tweets and their potential political relevance, we thought it would be revealing and novel to use mathematical methods to analyze the web of interactions formed by his most frequently used keywords.

Network analysis

One of our primary goals was to uncover communities, which represent groupings of thematically related keywords. We formed co-occurrence networks based on Trump’s tweets, where nodes are keywords, and form links between two keywords if they appear in the same tweet. For example, if the keywords “bad” and “media” appear in the same tweet, they receive a link.

Using an online archive of the president’s tweets on GitHub, we extracted the top 100 keywords from Trump’s Twitter account from each of the last four years. We removed retweets and common words like “it” and “the.”

Some nodes were combined if the keyword was made up of two words; for example, “white” and “house” became “white house;” others such as “e-mail” and “e-mails” were kept separate because Trump used them in different contexts. Labels containing more than one word without spaces are hashtags that frequently appear in the tweets.

We visualized networks of keywords in @realDonaldTrump using the open source software Gephi with the ForceAtlas2 layout algorithm. Communities are groups of nodes that are more likely linked to each other than to other nodes in the network. Gephi uses the Louvain method on network modularity to identify communities, where modularity measures the strength of the division into communities. The Louvain method is an algorithm that optimizes the modularity of a network, so the higher the modularity, the better the division into communities.

The communities were uncovered as a byproduct of the overall network structure, and not by any manual manipulation on our parts. The Gephi software randomly assigned colours to each community: keywords with the same colour are thematically related.

Visualizations

The following network visualizations represent keywords from Trump’s Twitter account taken in 2015 and 2016, leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Links and nodes were resized based on their relative frequency.

The keyword network from Trump’s 2015 tweets.

In the 2015 network, the two nodes with the most links are “trump” and “realdonaldtrump,” which both appear in the purple community. The likely reason why Trump’s name came up so often as a keyword in 2015 was that he was campaigning for the Republican primary, and his tweets often included compliments made about or by him.

The purple community containing “cruz,” “rubio,” and “carson,” and the green community containing “kasich” and “bush” correspond to his Republican primary opponents.

In the 2016 network, the communities reflect his race against the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The purple community appears to focus on Clinton and the Democratic Party, containing “crooked,” “fbi,” “emails,” and his hashtag “draintheswamp.”

The keyword network from Trump’s 2016 tweets.

In the orange community, there are keywords “rally,” “new hampshire” and “michigan,” along with his hashtag “makeamericagreatagain.” In the blue community, we observe the swing states “ohio” and “florida,” and his shortened hashtag “maga” that stands for “Make America Great Again.”

Next we looked at the 2017 and 2018 networks which correspond to the first and second years of Trump’s presidency.

In the 2017 network, the blue community corresponds to Trump’s dislike of the media, and it contains “fake,” “news,” “cnn,” “bad” and “media.” The orange community contains “hillary clinton,” “fbi” and “crooked.”

The keyword network from Trump’s 2017 tweets.

The green community corresponds to domestic policy issues such as “healthcare,” “economy,” “jobs,” “tax,” “reform,” and “cut,” while the purple community has a cluster related to foreign policy issues such as “security,” “china,” and “north korea.”

The keyword network from Trump’s 2018 tweets.

In the 2018 network, communities emerged related to trade (in orange) and borders and immigration (in purple). Trump’s focus on the media and Clinton continues unabated and moves into the blue community. He frequently tweeted about “tax,” “cuts,” and “jobs” in the green community.

Five communities revealed

While’s Trump’s words spoken in the traditional media may at times appear unpredictable, our analysis suggests a long-term trend with his tweets.

Considering that Trump tweets on average ten times a day and on a range of issues, it is remarkable that in each of the four years, his Twitter networks consistently split up into precisely five communities. In other words, by accident or design, his tweets tend to focus on five broad topics each year since 2015. Some of the issues morph over time, and this is evident from before and after his presidency.

The content in the communities sometimes beg further questions. For example, in the 2018 network, the green community contains the keywords “russia,” “comey,” and “collusion.” These refer to the ongoing Russia investigation. The green community, however, also includes “crooked” and “hillary,” and we leave it to pundits to explain how all these keywords are related.

Our take is that by repeating keywords together, his sizable Twitter audience will view them as more likely linked in real life.

Trump is unlikely to stop or even reduce his tweeting anytime soon. Twitter represents a vital aspect of Trump’s media engagement.

Our analysis used network science to map out Trump’s keywords on Twitter and their interactions over the timescale of years. From this approach, we obtain a historical view of the topics that matter to him. A potential future research plan would be to map Trump’s Twitter networks over shorter time periods such as months, weeks or even days.

Every politician and public figure on Twitter have associated with them an evolving web of keywords. These networks are not always evident in our break-neck 24-hour news cycle, and our approach holds the potential to make these hidden networks more visible. We need only to look to network science to uncover them.

Anthony Bonato, Professor of Mathematics, Ryerson University and Lyndsay Roach, Masters Student in Applied Mathematics, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why e-sports should not be in the Olympics

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Jong Seok Kim, a player for the London Spitfires team in the Overwatch League, which gets primetime coverage on ESPN. Will e-sports soon be part of the Olympics?
Robert Paul/Blizzard Entertainment

Nicole W. Forrester, Ryerson University

The International Olympic Committee and the Global Association of International Sports Federations recently hosted an e-sports forum to explore shared similarities, possible partnership and the looming question of whether video gaming could be recognized as an Olympic event.

Ever since the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris first expressed interest of possibly adding electronic sports to the Olympic Games program, we’ve seen a growing interest by the IOC in e-sports — traditionally defined as any “organized video game competitions.

Recognizing the growing interest in e-sports, the organizing committee of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris said: “The youth are interested, let’s meet them.”

As an Olympian and former world class high jumper, I struggle with the notion of e-sports becoming an Olympic sport. I am not alone. Conversations I’ve had with other Olympians reveal concerns about comparing the physical skill and demands of traditional athletic competition with e-sports.

Given the IOC’s advocacy role for physical activity, e-sports seems to be a conflict with its push for an active society.

In an interview with Inside the Games, Sarah Walker, an IOC Athletes’ Commission member and three-time world champion in BMX, explained her opposition.

“If I want to practise any Olympic discipline, if I wanted to try one of them, I actually have to go out and do it. I have to be active. Where gaming is right now, if I was inspired to be a gamer, my first step is to go home and sit on the couch.”

Most Olympians recognize that those who participate in e-sports spend a great deal of time training — even working with nutritionists and sport psychologists to improve their prowess. But is that is that enough to join the Olympic Games family?

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, attends an e-sport forum held at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland in July 2018.
Greg Martin/International Olympic Committee

$1 billion market

Given the growth in popularity, it’s understandable why the IOC would want to partner with e-sports. The IOC generates more than 90 per cent of its revenue from broadcast and sponsorship. Partnering with e-sports, where revenue is generated mostly through sponsorship but where more money is coming from broadcasting, could be complementary and attractive.

The marketing firm Newzoo estimated last year that with brand investment growing by 48 per cent, the global e-sports economy will reach almost $1 billion in 2018.




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ESPN provides in-depth analysis and coverage with a digital vertical platform on e-sports and the network recently announced an exclusive multi-year agreement with Blizzard Entertainment for live television coverage of the professional e-sport Overwatch League, with the finals airing in prime time.

Is e-sport a sport?

Still, the question remains, is e-sports — “organized video game competitions” — actually a sport?

To answer this question, perhaps we need to revisit the academic definition of sport. While differences may exist in their granular descriptions of sport, researchers appear to converge on three central attributes: The sport involves a physical component, it is competitive, and it is institutionalized, meaning a governing body establishes the rules of performance.

While e-sports can be argued to be competitive and institutionalized, the first criteria of physicality is where it falls short.

Some have argued the fine motor movements that are required with the hand-held controller by e-sport players fulfils this criterion. However, the same could be said about various table top games.

A 2016 study in Quest, the journal of the National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education, used the block-building game Jenga to illustrate this point. Jenga requires precision and dexterity as each player must to remove one block from the bottom and delicately place the block on top without disturbing the structure. There is even a Jenga World Championship. Perhaps then Jenga should also be considered an Olympic sport.

Since the modern Olympics were first held in 1896, the number of participating sports has grown over the years. The first Games had just nine sports — athletics (track and field), cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, a total of 28 sports were contested. Five more will be added for 2020 Games in Tokyo Games.

Participants at the e-sports forum held at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Christophe Moratal/International Olympic Committee

The first step for a sport to be included in the Olympic Games program requires being recognized by the IOC. In this process, the sport must have overarching international federation (IF) that will govern the sport — enforcing the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement, which includes drug testing. (It is also possible for a sport to be recognized as an Olympic sport and never participate in the Games, as is the case for chess, bowling and powerboating.)

Once recognized, the sport’s IF can apply for admittance into the Olympic program as a sport, a discipline or an event. For example, the women’s steeplechase was added to the 2008 Olympic Games as an event within the sport of athletics.

More sports added

An Organising Committee of an Olympic Games (OCOG) can also propose the inclusion of an event. Most recently, the IOC allowed the addition of karate, surfing, sports climbing and baseball/softball to the Olympic program in Tokyo 2020.

Paris 2024 had indicated an interest in including e-sports on its program, but the IOC has said it won’t be eligible by the time the schedule is set in 2020. Still, IOC President Thomas Bach said at the recent e-sports forum that the meeting was a “first step of a long journey” to what could lead to Olympic recognition.




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A male-dominated activity

Central to the Olympic Movement and nestled within the criteria of accepting a new sport is gender equality. Interestingly, this has been an area in which e-sports has been heavily criticized.

A study that reviewed gender and gaming determined that even though there are approximately equal numbers of males and females who play video games, most professional gamers are male. Moreover, female players who achieve some level of success are marginalized. Researchers concluded the “video game culture is actively hostile towards women in the private as well as the professional spheres.”

Thirteen minutes of sexual harassment on Cross Assault in e-sports for Miranda Pakozdi.

Within the gaming community, it is not a surprise for female players to be harassed.

One notable case involved Miranda Pakozdi, who was sexually harassed for 13 minutes on the live internet program “Cross Assault.” The portrayal of females in e-sports should also concern the IOC. Women are usually depicted as highly sexually and as victims instead of heroines.

Many Olympians, including me, feel it’s inevitable that e-sports will one day join the Olympic family. Still, one can only wonder if Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Games, would question whether the values of the Olympic Movement are being compromised for the financial enticements that e-sports promise.

Nicole W. Forrester, Assistant Professor, School of Media, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.