Thursday, September 04, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Unlikely Utopia: the Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism

Environics pollster, Michael Adams, is known for his other books, Sex in the Snow: The Surprising Revolution in Canadian Social Values, and American Backlash: The Untold Story of Social Change in the United States. While, I really enjoyed one of Adams’ last book Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, I was somewhat disappointed with this book.

In Fire and Ice Adams dedicated an entire chapter to Methodology. As a student of statistics and economics, I am very skeptical of anyone who uses statistics. I am always pleased to see a methodology section, as it is much more transparent of the researcher/pollster/author. What makes this book different from Fire and Ice is that it uses a bunch of Census and Stats Can data, instead of primarily a research poll for the premise of the book.

There was not enough citation of sources and methodology in the book. Anyone can manipulate StatsCan and Census data to make it say what they want; depending on the variables they choose (or choose to drop). For instance, Adams tries to make a point (Chapter 2) with using Census data of the percentage of the Canadian population who are foreign-born (19.3%) compared to the number of federal MPs who were foreign born (13%). To make a fair comparison, you should compare the Canadian foreign-born adult population with the number of MPs, otherwise your statistics would, of course, be lower with a large number of children in that population statistic, who could not be MPs. There are several examples of simplistic uses of statistics—which I won’t bore you with in this review—that without a critical eye, one would just accept the “facts” how they are being presented.

Adams further uses this argument with other countries and then conducts a micro argument of taking these 308 MPs and stating that we have 41 foreign-born MPs—pointing out that if it “truly” mirrored the country we would have 55 foreign-born MPs—and then names off how many we have from each continent/region (20 from Europe, 9 from Asia and so forth)—pointing out that if it “truly” mirrored the country it would be 25 from Europe, 22 from Asia and so forth. But there is no source listed with how he obtained this information (whether it was a Wikipedia search or a more legitimate source). Further it is a fallacious argument that our political representatives should or must represent us through gender and ethnicity, when you vote for someone to represent your ideas, not your ethnic heritage/gender/race or other category. To say that we need X number of MPs born in X region assumes that all foreign-born MPs from X region will act, think or represent in the same way. This is silly! The concept of ‘representation’ has lost its original meaning and has been manipulated to think that we need perfect “representation” in order for it to be “equal” or “fair.” This of course has led to quotas or “targets”, affirmative action and other manipulations of the system to achieve this idea of “equality.”

Adams opens by stating that multiculturalism is easily blamed for social problems: “Creeping racial segregation? Blame multiculturalism. Gangs in schools? Diminished civic engagement? Global terror? Must have something to do with multiculturalism…” Adams points out how problematic this is. While I agree, it’s too bad the same criticism isn’t done when things like global warming being blamed for everything.

Adams dedicates a chapter to Muslims and another chapter to Quebec, this book clearly identifies many of the contentious issues regarding multiculturalism in Canada, however there is a clear (unadmited) bias and assumptions. For instance, “the current identity crisis isn’t about whether white, European, Christian Canada can survive the presence of ‘Others.’ That question has long since been resolved.” Actually, Mr. Adams, with the simple example of the erosion of Christmas cards, Christmas trees, and Christmas school plays to becoming “holiday” cards/trees/plays, I believe Canada’s identity crisis actually has something to do with the survival of Euro-Christian culture!

I did like Adam’s distinction between the Paris youth riots and 9/11. He argues that a terrorist attack does not tell us how newcomers or minority group are doing. He states that had male youth from North Africa had the same job opportunities as white French youth and felt a part of French society, the Paris riots likely would have never happened. However, if every Muslim in the US had the above described opportunities, 9/11 very likely still would have happened. His point is, “discussions about terrorism are important, but they’re not at the bottom discussions about migration, diversity, and multiculturalism.”

Adams admits, “this book isn’t the work of a historian or a futurist; it is the work of a pollster who, decidedly not an academic, at times aspires to be considered a social scientist.” Unfortunately, in an effort to make a book appeal to the general Canadian population, the “scientist” part is gone and all that is left is a “social book”—something to talk to people about at your next dinner party, but ultimately, not worth a whole lot.

Running at 152 pages (180 with the index, appendix, notes and acknowledgement), it was a quick—and disappointing—read. I would still recommend this book, but borrow it from the library.

Overall Rating: 6/10

BOOK REVIEW: Stuff White People Like

Written by the same author who wrote the blog, Stuff White People Like is a book format of the blog but has at least half new material. This book is laugh out loud funny and summarizes many of the people at my alma mater, Trent University. Basically it describes liberal urban yuppies (and most of my friends). Why do I say this?

Going to an undergrad school filled with Birkenstock-wearing-Marxist-loving-hippies and a grad school in a program for policy makers/analysts grows one accustomed to having friends and colleagues with interests in many of things listed in the “stuff white people like” such as: farmer’s markets, organic food, Barack Obama, Non-profit organizations, having black friends, awareness, microbreweries, not having a TV, veganism/vegetarianism, Apple products, Indie Music, Sushi, Documentaries, knowing what’s best for poor people, modern furniture, hating corporations, having gay friends, music piracy, Noam Chomsky, natural childbirth, Che Guevera, Premium Juice, and dive bars.

A passage from # 82 Hating Corporations:

One of the more popular white-person activities of the past fifteen years has been attempting to education others on the evils of multinational corporations. White people love nothing more than explaining to you how Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Microsoft, or Haliburton is destroying the Earth’s culture and resources....WARNING: When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it important to never, ever mention Apple computers, Target, or Ikea in the same breath as the companies mentioned earlier. White people prefer to hate corporations that don’t make stuff they like.”

In fact, I actually pictured a few of my friends or people I have known over the years when reading certain parts of the books. Did I see myself in this book? Not really.

According to Lander’s rating scale I am 11% white because I like: coffee, yoga, gifted children, wine, architecture, brunch, living by the water (I am writing this review on the deck at the cottage staring out at the beautiful lake), bicycles, expensive sandwiches, recycling, water bottles, multilingual children, grad school, bad memories of high school, outdoor performance clothes, dinner parties, New Balance shoes, red hair (duh!), scarves, high school English teachers, acoustic covers, not having cash, books, glasses and cheese. (16/150)

Overall rating 8/10

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Lecture

If you have seen Randy Pausch’s lecture on YouTube, or saw him when he was on Oprah it still doesn’t compare to this book. The book tells what was going on in his head before, during and after his lecture. Further to this, he provides an inspirational story about life lessons and learning what’s truly important in life. Moving and inspiring at the same time, I laughed and cried. This books beats Tuesdays with Morrie hands down and is now my new favourite book.

Randy passed just this past month. I was incredibly disappointed that I honestly didn’t get around to watching the lecture on YouTube or reading his book until after his passing. After reading a good book I like to contact the author to tell them how much I enjoyed it. Sadly, I did not live in the moment and waited until it was too late for this opportunity. This does not negate the wonderfulness of this book.

Coming in at 207 pages, I read it in a day and truly could not put it down. I would recommend this book to everyone young and old.

BOOK REVIEW: Fifteen Days

This book is filled with terrific stories of Canadian soldiers told by Globe and Mail writer, Christie Blatchford. I love her humble writing style in her telling of the stories of soldiers she met or heard about in her three embedded assignments in Afghanistan in 2006. Running at 385 pages with a full index and glossary, this book was difficult to put down. It definitely tells the stories of soldiers not heard in the mainstream media.

Growing up in a military family and spending several years as an Army cadet, I was quite familiar with most of the military lingo/lexicon. However, reading this book late at night sometimes you can get lost in all the military jargon and acronyms. To really understand and absorb all of the detail that Blatchford provides, in my opinion this book requires a second read—which I don’t mind at all—and I plan to do once everyone who wanted to borrow it from me has read it.

I received this book from my roommate last Christmas. I started reading it over a week of holidays I had back in April, but had to stop when I started working overtime at work and an intensive summer course in health economics. I picked it up again once my summer vacation started last week and read it non-stop until I finished it. Because each chapter is one “day” I didn’t feel too lost after putting it down for a little while.

A moving account of Canada’s greatest heroes, I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to know what’s going on beyond the headlines and who these soldiers are.

Overall rating: 9/10