Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why is everything always "under investigation"?

The holiday season seemed like a good time to get a trivial language matter that has bugged me for awhile off my chest.
Have you noticed how when the police (or any group) investigate a possible crime or issue, the media invariably report that the matter is "under investigation"? Why do they never say that something is being investigated?
Using a similar grammatical construct, some examples of why "under investigation" and similar are a poor use of language:
  • "Whether Canadians prefer hockey to football on Monday was under discussion at the conference." vs "Whether Canadians prefer hockey to football was discussed at the conference."
  • "The hospital's new computer system is under implementation in January." vs "The hospital's new computer system is being implemented in January."
  • "Our massive transfusion policy is under review." vs "Our massive transfusion policy is being reviewed." vs "We are reviewing our massive transfusion policy."
  • "Our dinner was under consumption when the cops arrived. " vs "Our dinner was being eaten when the cops arrived." vs "We were eating dinner when the cops arrived."
  • "My eyes were under examination by the optometrist." vs "My eyes were being examined by the optometrist." vs "The optometrist examined my eyes."
Journalism schools should promote the benefits of forceful language.

Or maybe I should write, "Journalism schools should put the benefits of forceful language under promotion."

It's up to you, the readers, to put the issue under decision... oops...make that "to decide".

Monday, September 27, 2010

When journalists praise 'bottom feeders'

Gary Lamphier's column of August 18, 2010 ('Cash Store rings in new phase of success') failed to elucidate how companies that charge high interest rates for short-term loans operate nor provide details of the legal troubles of Cash Store, which once operated as Rentcash and Instaloans.

Indeed, Lamphier's column reads as a promo for Cash Store. All he reveals about the business and its background is that

  • Some provinces have established clear interest rate caps for short-term loans
  • Loan rollovers have ended, and several class-action lawsuits have resolved, all of which "have finally cleared the air for Cash Store's investors."
He assumes readers are well versed in the nontraditional loan business and omits the company's past business practices that allow the vulnerable to quickly run up huge debts and that led to class action lawsuits. Would readers know that, when combined with interest, cheque cashing and broker's fees, the rate of interest charged by such companies can range to over 1000%? See
As well as profiling such businesses, details of the company's history of being sued would have provided readers with valuable insight. As but one example, in 2008 Rentcash settled an Ontario class action suit for $3 million.

The lawsuit alleged that brokerage fees, in combination with interest charged by The Cash Store and Instaloans on customer loans, constituted interest in excess of the maximum rate prescribed by the Criminal Code of Canada, which forbids charging interest rates of over 60% per year.

The fact that such services are legal, and that they serve a segment of the population, does not change the fact that cash-loan firms profit specifically from those in poverty. Among its services, Cash Store offers short-term cash advances for up to 50% of customers take-home pay and short-term loans against their Child Tax, Disability, Old Age Pension, and Employment Insurance. Clients are those who cannot exist from payday to payday, including the disabled and old age pensioners.

Cash Store says it provides full disclosure of fees, but a search of its website shows no information on interest rates and other charges. Cash Store may have altered its most exorbitant interest rates and fees, but it did so after being faced with lawsuits and changes in provincial regulations.

Readers may disagree on whether, at their core, such businesses are predatory and inherently unethical. To assess their services and record of behavior, we need information and context. Some say such companies provide a needed service. That could be said of drug dealers and loan sharks too. The only real difference is that payday loan companies are legal.

All Lamphier does is spread the word that Cash Store has become successful. Too often business reporters just keep score of who is winning and losing and gladly 'pimp' for the winners, even if they are 'bottom feeders' like Cash Store.

While it no doubt helps a reporter to be nice to those reported on, providing context would be appreciated. Otherwise, the public is surprised by events like the subprime mortgage crisis that led to a global banking meltdown while reporters were asleep at the switch. More analysis please and less cheer leading:

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Can we outsmart nature?

Canada's National Post has many columnists who deal in the realm of ideas. Despite often disagreeing with many of the NP's thought merchants, I read them all.

Today this column by George Jonas caught my eye:

In writing about the decision of the Cordoba Initiative to build an Islamic cultural centre, including a mosque, two blocks from 'ground zero' (site of the 9/11 attack in 2001) in New York City, Jonas concludes that, regardless of the current controversy*, they must build the mosque and we must allow it to be built.

* Controversy:

Jonas cites 'an old fable' as the reason why:

A sage on the riverbank rescues a scorpion that has fallen into the water. When the sage pulls it out, the scorpion twists to sting him and falls back into the river. The sage rescues it again, and the same thing happens.

The sage is about to rescue the drowning arthropod for the third time, when a disciple stops him. "Master," he says, "teach me. Are you no wiser than the scorpion to keep making the same mistake over and over again?"

"A scorpion must sting because it's a scorpion," comes the reply. "I must save it, because I'm a sage. Nobody's wiser than his nature."

Versions of the 'Scorpion and the Sage' are commonly quoted by those into transcendental meditation. Differences in the various versions tend to be trivial but the endings can create significant nuances. For example, here are three other endings:
  1. "It is the scorpion's nature to sting, but it is my nature to save."
  2. "It is the scorpion's nature to sting, and it is my nature to be helpful to all beings. If the scorpion keeps its nature even in the face of death, why should I give up my compassionate nature in the face of his sting?"
  3. "My friend, just because it is the scorpion's nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save."

In the context of the fable, I interpret 'nature' to be one's essential characteristics, qualities, and core beliefs.

While each ending has something to recommend it, I prefer the one cited by Jonas:

  • "A scorpion must sting because it's a scorpion," comes the reply. "I must save it, because I'm a sage. Nobody's wiser than his nature."

It's the last bit that gets me: "Nobody's wiser than his nature." Wiser interjects intellect, intelligence, and judgement into the equation.

Jonas seems to be saying that the we and they in the mosque issue, indeed all of us, are hard-wired to behave in a certain way (our nature). Even if objective analysis shows otherwise, all concerned will behave in accord with their natures.

Is this what he meant and is it true?

  • We cannot change our nature and are prisoners to it.
  • Our qualities* will always trump our intellectual findings. (*compassion and empathy vs. indifference and hatred)
  • Our core beliefs (e.g., the weakest among us deserve respect and help, not disdain) overpower critical analysis.
  • Emotions not only influence our thinking but rule our objective thoughts.
  • Our hard-wired nature dominates our ability to reason.

Does "Nobody's wiser than his nature" seem a truism that holds for most, if not all, major decisions made in life? Are personal characteristics, emotions, core beliefs always paramount when we make important decisions, regardless of what our intellectual, objective assessment determines?

Something to think about....

Update: Testing America's tolerance (Rex Murphy, National Post, 14 Aug. 2010)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Canada's shame (Pimping asbestos overseas)

Updated: 15 Dec. 2016 (to fix one of the links) 

Sometimes, and I hate to admit it, I am ashamed to be Canadian:
Another example of 'geld uber alles.'

Reminds me of people moaning about poor American tobacco farmers losing a living and how the US government subsidizes an industry that kills millions. Tobacco companies sell a deadly product to developing countries now that domestic markets have decreased.

Turns out Canada also plays this despicable game. Shame on us!