Friday, December 31, 2010

Hellhounds on your trail

"If only part of the things brought out prove true, These men have done the American people more damage than all the incidental operations of Al Capone. Capone had the merit of confining his robbery and the infliction of physical violence to the wicked.... [I]f these stories are true these men are not bankers , they are banksters who rob the poor, drive the innocent to poverty and suicide and do infinite injury to those who honestly work and strive. Worse than that, they are traitors to our institutions and national ideas."
        US president Herbert Hoover 1933.

    As 2010 closes out, we're two years into a Democratic administration in the US and at least two years into the worst speculative bubble since the Crash of '29. Praise must go to the Obama administration for their masterful work in preserving the international financial system without actually making any systemic changes to help prevent a recurrence of the same problems. That there is any confidence in the international financial system is testament to the loosely coordinated international effort to disguise the depth of the problems from the public at large while desperately injecting trillions of dollars into resuscitating the system.
    In the US, the administration is allowing millions of foreclosures to go forward under the same conditions that prevailed during the issuing of the original mortgages; that is, a system without protection for the consumer, with perverse incentives built in that breed casualness, incompetence, and outright fraud, and where the 91% of US citizens who consider themselves "middle class" are cheated, lied to, and exploited. (Personally, I love the stories of the people who have frozen the foreclosure proceedings on their homes by the simple act of asking the foreclosing bank to prove that they actually hold the mortgage on the property. With the extensive collateralization and re-collateralization of these debt obligations, the actual ownership of even a portion of a mortgage is often impossible to define).
    The only real difference between this crash and the Crash of '29 is that this time there isn't the panic of depositors trying to get their money out of the bank before the bank fails. The creation of federal deposit insurance has kept the banks, and the countries they do business in, liquid.  But after the Crash in '29, it took the US four years and a change in administration (from Hoover to Roosevelt) before the excesses and failures were recognized and corrective legislation was considered. It is depressing that the most important corrective, the Glass-Steagall act separating commercial from investment banking--repealed under Reagan, seems to be at the heart of the current series of speculative boom and bust cycles. And it is even more depressing that one of the same banks, Citigroup, is again at the epicentre of the crisis.
    There are differences between crashes; the last time it took years for the tricksterism, fraud, and near-criminality to be exposed. This time there are plenty of books and information being generated on the same topics, although they are being presented in formats that most people (particularly in the US) no longer access (books and newspapers, primarily). But the root causes of the crisis' are pretty much identical. Roosevelt intimate and (eventual) Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter wrote that:

    [I do] not believe that vice inheres in the rich and virtue in the poor. But for too long we have been largely operating on the assumption that the converse is the truth, and more particularly that the rich are the guardians of wisdom and should control affairs.... The crux of the business is not the wickedness of the Mitchells [head of City Bank in 1933] but the power which is wielded by concentration of financial  power which they are wholly unworthy--no matter who they are--to wield because of the obfuscations and the arrogances which power almost invariably generates. [sic]
       (quoted in Hellhound of Wall Street, Michael Perino, page 223)

    People are no smarter today than 80 years ago (in many respects, they're more ignorant), and although we have some experience with worldwide financial crisis', our governments are still allowing laws to be written by the same group of people the same laws are meant to regulate, we still fall under the spell of the same slogans ("Greed is Good") and economic theories (the Chicago School, neo-liberalism, laissez-faire). The same people selling CDOs knew that a crash was coming--which led them to re-double their efforts to sell more of them in order to get their money while the getting was good. All we've really changed is the degree to which our economies are interlinked. And we still persist in our view that crashes and speculative bubbles are aberrant, rather than the normal operation of the financial system we live under. Welcome to a new decade.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Liars, Damned Liars and the Conservative Party

    The Toronto Star /  Canadian Press Service are reporting that despite repeated claims that the Canadian government would address global warming and GHG emissions in step with the United States, Environment Minister John Baird has stated that this will not happen.
    With the failure to institute cap and trade in the US, the Obama administration has announced a "Plan B," passed by executive order, that strengthens the EPA regulation over greenhouse gasses. To quote the article:
    The first step tightens rules for existing facilities planning any expansion that would increase emissions. Then, starting in July, the rules will be extended to include newly constructed facilities.
    The EPA says its regulations target operations that produce nearly 70 per cent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.
    The agency estimates the more stringent rules will require first-time permits for about 550 sources between 2011 and 2013. It also expects an additional 900 permits for new and modified projects each year.
    Although the EPA regulations are national, Texas has announced that the state will refuse to meet the federal guidelines. Baird offers the excuse that because of this refusal, this makes the US regulations "not national."
    Frankly, this position is absurd. It is the equivalent to suggesting that because Alberta has argued with, and been in contravention of, aspects of our national healthcare program, that this invalidates Medicare. It was not true in the case of Medicare, and it certainly isn't true in the case of the new EPA regulations.
    The Conservative Party has been relying on the American Republicans tactics of lies, denial, and fear to keep any meaningful change in American policy on GHGs from being enacted. With the strengthening of EPA regulation by the White House, this claim that "when the Americans do something, we'll do something" has been rendered moot. The Americans have done something-- and, importantly, something that could make a difference here in Canada. They have targeted GHG emissions from stationary sources. In Canada, that means only one thing; the Alberta tar sands projects.
    If the Conservatives were to actually harmonize Canadian environmental regulation with the US, this would force greater efficiencies on the tar sands projects, possibly restricting their (currently a cancer-like unrestrained) growth. It would do nothing to address the appalling waste handling in the tar sands, nor would it do anything to deal with tailpipe emissions (a 1970s problem addressed by a Conservative proposal to harmonize Canadian regulation with American earlier this year).
    The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper has made it abundantly clear that they will not, under any circumstances, do anything that might slow the exploitation of the tar sands, or that would impose any kind of regulation on them. This does, from their point of view, make sense; any regulation of the tar sands would raise, in Alberta, the spectre of the hated National Energy Program. Which, of course, would mean political suicide for the Tories in Oilberta. The Tories have recognized that opposing corporate interests, particularly in the oil patch, particularly in Alberta, is a non-starter. This despite the fact that most Albertans couldn't have told you what the NEP was about in the '70s, never mind now.
    In our current irony-impaired environment, Baird made his comments while preparing to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference that begins this week in Cancun, Mexico.

Friday, October 15, 2010


    I currently live in a temperate rainforest--or what used to be one. I live next to the ocean beside a park that is at or below the high tide level and only survives because of the massive amounts of fill that was trucked in 60 years ago. For six months of the year, we are regularly inundated with rain. And yet...and yet...for at least two months a year, this temperate rainforest does without rain.
Previous to moving back here, my family and I spent 14 years living on a farm north of Edmonton, Alberta. By the time we left, we had watched the land dry out and drift in front of the wind, like snow in winter.
    For most of the time we lived on the farm, the biggest problems were getting water into the house, and getting water out of the house. We had a dug well (as opposed to a drilled well), which meant that we were dependent on water held in the first thirty metres or so of soil. The first five years, I climbed down the well and scooped the dead gophers (technically, Richardson's Ground Squirrels) off the surface of the water two or three times a year. Eventually we re-dug the well and solved that problem. But in the meantime, we just boiled water and tried not to think about it.
    The water we drank, cooked, and generally used wasn't great--it had a high nitrate content--but it was usable. Unlike, say, the Athabasca River running past Fort MacMurray and the oilsands. But the Athabasca River only affects the Northern Cree of Oilberta, so that really doesn't count.
    I had never thought of there being a water problem in Alberta. There had always been water while I was growing up there. The winters had snow, the spring, summer, and fall had rain. And when you turned the tap on, water came out--as much as you could want.
    But there were a few factors that I wasn't aware of, growing up. Like Edmonton hadn't yet reached a million people, as it did a couple of years back. That glacial run-off did a good job of maintaining summertime flow in the North Saskatchewan River, just like it did in the Bow River running through Calgary. And the big one; that we were living through the wettest century in two thousand years.
    Alberta wasn't even a century old as a province back then. All our weather and water information was based on the century we were living through. We had been through six major drought events, including the "Dirty Thirties," but those events were anomalies, unusual, abnormal. the problem wasn't availability of water, but the distribution. And so the provincial government subsidized irrigation projects aimed at the area south of red Deer, and planned a massive water diversion project that would take the water flowing north and re-direct it south. Part of it for southern agriculture, and part of it for export into the United States. As the oil-patch became the primary political driver in the province, permits for water were approved that removed acre-feet of potable water out of the southern river systems to pump down played-out oil wells, forcing the last of the oil out and permanently removing the now-contaminated water from the water cycle.
    And even though Alberta elects its governments for multi-decade reigns, there was, and is, no long-term thinking about resource issues in the province. Especially water issues. There is resource "management," where fair access is managed, but never any thinking about whether water should be used in the ways we use it.
    And getting water in and out of the house is really one of the driving forces of civilization, like access to food and taxation. Here where I live now, in Victoria, there's a major fight going on over sewage treatment--aka getting water out of the house. In Alberta, there's agreements in place with Saskatchewan over how much water can be taken by each province out of shared rivers, but there's no thinking about how much water is needed by the river system.  We don't simply need batter water management in Canada, we need a serious re-think about how we relate to water. After all, without water there's not really much point to anything else, is there?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sean Bruyea

So Sean Bruyea is an Canadian retired intelligence officer and (currently)an advocate for soldiers rights. When he was testifying against the new Veterans Charter about five years back, he ran into problems getting treatment for his PTSD.
Over on Sympatico, there's an article about his appearance on Question Period this week. Last Thursday, Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart acknowledged that his files were indeed accessed and shared among Department of Veteran's Affairs staffers.From the article:
Stoddart's year-long investigation stemmed from a complaint made by Bruyea that his personal and medical information was contained in briefing notes prepared for then-veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson in 2006. The notes covered Bruyea's participation in a press conference in which he was critical of the department.
"What we found in this case was alarming," Stoddart said Thursday in a news release.
"The veteran's sensitive medical and personal information was shared -- seemingly with no controls -- among departmental officials who had no legitimate need to see it. This personal information subsequently made its way into a ministerial briefing note about the veteran's advocacy activities. This was entirely inappropriate."
So Bruyea is understandably upset. Then he saw a memo in which " in which a department official suggested bureaucrats get tough on him for his criticism."
"When I received that memo I was stunned that I suddenly became subversive, I became a dissident, I became an enemy of the state for the very department that I was trying to help so that it can improve the treatment of veterans," Bruyea said. "I didn't get that. For me, it was mind-boggling."

So let me state for the record that what happened to Sean Bruyea was unconscionable. It was wrong. Both the current and previous governments deserve to be slapped around for their actions and Mr. Bruyea deserves apologies, compensation, whatever.
But, to be foul-mouthed and crude about it, exactly what part of this is fucking surprising? Has he been living with his head up his ass for his entire life? Has he never read a book? A newspaper? Watched a news program? Of fucking course he became subversive, a dissident, an enemy of the state. Did he not hear of Nixon keeping an enemies list? Or watch the actions of the Canadian government over the last fifty years?
I just want to slap this guy upside the head (not that I would, but the feeling is there). He was a part of the apparatus that maintains state power. The left has been yelling about this for decades. Hell, they even get it when the right complains about the same thing.
It's this fucking blindness to anyone who isn't us that drives me insane. CSIS recruits spies to infiltrate the union movement in Canada, who cares? That's them unionists. They're all probably commies anyway. That's YOU you fucking eejit! How fucking hard is it to understand that if one of us is a slave, NONE of us is free. Maybe it''s just because I would walk away from Omelas, but this shouldn't be that hard to get.
Every time a Communist, a gay man, an accused serial killer, is treated with fairness, justice, compassion, THAT'S YOU. This veneer of rights and democracy is thin enough. We have to do what we can to strengthen it, because when we do, it keeps us a little safer. It's not that fucking hard to understand.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Having a Nice Day? I Can Fix That.

In this version of the Christian Gospel, the exploitation and abuse of other human beings is a good. Homosexuality is an evil. And this global, heartless system of economic rationalism has morphed in the rhetoric of the Christian Right into a test of faith. The ideology it espouses is a radical evil, an ideology of death. It calls for wanton destruction, destruction of human beings, of the environment, of communities and neighborhoods, of labor unions, of a free press, of Iraqis, Palestinians or others in the Middle East who would deny us oil fields and hegemony, of federal regulatory agencies, social welfare programs, public education--in short, the destruction of all people and programs that stand in the way of a Christian America and its God-given right to dominate the rest of the planet. The movement offers, in return, the absurd but seductive promise that those who are right with God will rise to become spiritual and material oligarchs.  They will become the new class.Those who are not right with God, be they poor or Muslim or unsaved, deserve what they get. In the rational world none of this makes sense. But believers have been removed from a reality-based world. They believe that through Jesus all is possible.  It has become a Christian duty to embrace the exploitation of others, to build a Christian America where freedom means the freedom of the powerful to dominate the weak. Since believers see themselves as becoming empowered through faith, the gross injustices and repression that could well boomerang back on most of them are of little concern. They assuage their consciences with the small acts of charity they or their churches dole out to the homeless or the mission fields. The emotion-filled religious spectacles and spiritual bromides compensate for the emptiness of their lives. They are energized by hate campaigns against gays or Muslims or liberals or immigrants. They walk willingly into a totalitarian prison they are helping to construct. They yearn for it. They work for it with passion, self-sacrifice and a blinding self-righteousness. "Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty," Simone Weil wrote in Gravity and Grace. And it is the duty of the Christian foot soldiers to bring about the Christian utopia. When it is finished, when all have been stripped of legal and social protection, it will be too late to resist. This is the genius of totalitarian movements. They convince the masses to agitate for their own incarceration. 

Hedges, Chris  American fascists : the Christian Right and the war on America  New York : Free Press, ©2006

If you haven't read this book yet, you really should. No, really. the Christian Right from the inside.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Truth Doesn't Always Show Up

I recently read Harvey Cashore's book The Truth Shows Up, and was fascinated by the amount of attention he'd given the story of Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney. So when I came across the Executive Summary of the Oliphant Report (the handier version of Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney: Report Volume 1: Executive Summary (opens a pdf of the executive summary)) I had a little bit of background to make some sense of the book.
    Back in the day, Airbus Industries was desperately trying to break into national markets held almost exclusively by Boeing Aerospace, and one of those markets was Canada. Specifically, Airbus wanted a chance to provide AC with the new aircraft it required. This would give them some legitimacy in the North American marketplace. In order to get to Air Canada, Airbus first cut a deal with Max Ward's Ward-Air. Max Ward wouldn't have purchased the aircraft on offer from Airbus, but for a sweetheart of a deal they offered him, making it impossible to turn down. This led to Airbus being able to approach Air Canada and pursue a deal. Air Canada ended up buying from Airbus a number of unsuitable aircraft, which were eventually sold to the Canadian military who neither needed nor wanted them, but the deal allowed AC to get out with a minimum of financial loss. But the poor old Canadian taxpayer ended up being stuck with the bill, as usual. And Airbus, having broken into the market, has since gone on to great success.
    In order to cut the deal, Airbus relied on Karlheinz Schreiber, who developed significant relations with members of the Conservative Party establishment in Alberta and, ultimately, across Canada. Schreiber dispensed large amounts of cash to various and sundry war-chests (both to individuals and to the parties) in order to curry influence and favour. And it worked. Eventually he became tight with the lawyer from Baie-Comeau; Brian Mulroney.
    During Brian's rise to power, it was reported by various sources that his win against Joe Clark at the PC leadership convention in 1983 had been managed by flying and/or busing in large numbers of "instant delegates"; people who had never been members of the Progressive Conservatives, but had their memberships paid for just in time for them to vote at the convention. Karlheinz Schreiber has since claimed  that it was his $50,000 contribution that paid for those" instant delegates" and their transportation to Winnipeg. Whether this happened or not has never really been investigated (Clark actually came out against anyone following up on these reports, feeling, I would suppose, that confirming the rumours would tar the Progressive Conservative Party as a very sleazy operation). Oliphant, in the Report, actually addresses this story, remarking that he was "struck by [Schreiber's] proclivity for exaggeration as he described the nature of his relationships with people, particularly those in positions of influence and power. Furthermore, with respect to Mr Schreiber's testimony regarding the leadership review, there is no evidence on which I was able to rely to support this testimony. Because his evidence is self-contradictory, I found Mr. Schreiber's evidence respecting the leadership review to be unreliable." (page 8, Report). Mr. Cashore, in The Truth Shows Up, suggests that there might be a bit more to this story, and at the very least it should be pursued. After all, the suggestion that a foreign national (as Mr. Schreiber was) may have influenced the outcome of the Canadian political process might be something to look into. But I do understand the reluctance of the Canadian political establishment to pursue the issue, as it might actually expose the tremendous influence wielded by the US political right since, well, forever, but particularly the last thirty or so years. In particular, the seed capital for the Alberta (later Western) Report and the impetus behind the birth of the Reform Party.
    But even more interesting is Oliphant's commentary on the source of the $1000 bills Schreiber passed to Brian Mulroney on three separate occasions.
    The issue of where the money came from is important. Airbus has acknowledged that they did use schmiergeld (slush or bribe monies) when dealing with foreign governments around the time of the sale of aircraft to Air Canada. There still remain questions around the AC sale--was anyone paid off, if so, how much, and who received the schmiergeld. This is the question that has been haunting Brian Mulroney since his time in office. Did a sitting Prime Minister take a bribe from a sleazy representative of a foreign firm--something we might expect from a banana republic, but surely not in a nice developed-world liberal democracy like our own.
    Both Mulroney and Schreiber agree that yes, Brian was paid significant cash money to do something. But they don't agree on how much or just what services were rendered for the money. Both agree that Brian was doing work hyping the "Bear Head" project for Thyssen (a German arms manufacturer looking to establish a manufacturing facility in Canada in order to be able to export weapons to countries off-limits to German based companies). But it is clear in the Oliphant Report that Brian did nothing on the Bear Head file to earn somewhere between $225,000 and $300,000.
    Oliphant's Report agrees that Mulroney was paid out of an account coded "Britan," but is very clear that it is impossible for this account to have funds from Thyssen in it. Rather, the Report concludes that the "funds that made up the Britan account can be traced back to commission payments made to IAL by Airbus Industries in connection with sales of aircraft to Air Canada." (page 23, Report) Harvey Cashore's book on the topic delves a lot deeper into the question of Schreiber's accounts and the source of the funds in them--and where those funds eventually went. Such as how much went to Frank Moores and Mulroney confidant Fred Doucet as well as to Brian.
    But Oliphant could not pursue the question of Airbus during the Inquiry. The mandate of the Inquiry made it clear that Airbus was off the table, so seeing Brian paid out of the "Britan" account, and clear evidence from the forensic accountants that the money in the "Britan" account came from Airbus made no never mind. Oliphant couldn't pursue the question.
    But what does it matter anyway? In Germany, very connected and powerful people have ended up in jail over Airbus' actions. In Canada, a former Prime Minister has had his reputation tarnished (and honestly, could it be any blacker than it already was?). And as far as the public is concerned, the story is about over. We paid Lyin' Brian just over two million dollars for damage done to his reputation--even though he's admitted that he did take money from Schreiber after all. Questions of undue influence in Canadian politics by foreign nationals have been tabled. And whether government officials were bribed or not are to be ignored. the status quo, after all, is sacrosanct in Canada.

Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney: Report Volume 1: Executive Summary
The Honourable Jeffery J. Oliphant: © Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada 2010

The truth shows up : a reporter's fifteen-year odyssey on the trail of Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber
Harvey Cashore Toronto : Key Porter Books, ©2010.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Building Stuff--and Societies

    In the Globe and Mail (Monday, 26 July 2010, pp A1, A8) Douglas Saunders writes about Birmingham, England and the current economic conditions there. His way in to the story is through a small manufacturer, The Acme Whistle Works, which he describes as "an anachronism: a bustling, noisy Victorian factory" . Saunders reports that although employment at the factory is only 68 people, it is the district's second-largest employer. The current international economic crisis has hit Britain's industrial cities even harder than the rest of the county (currently, unemployment in Birmingham is running at about 10.8% overall and 15.4% for men (at least officially. Actual unemployment usually runs much higher than the official statistics)).
    The reason for this is fairly straightforward, and something I've written and talked about before: the hollowing of the economy by exporting manufacturing jobs overseas. At the end of 2008, as the international monetary system came within a whisker of crashing (a situation not yet avoided--see Spain and Greece), there was an outburst of anger over the bailout of the North American auto sector. I argued then that bailing out the auto sector was a very good idea--without the jobs connected to auto-making (well-paid, unionized jobs) it might well crash the Central Canadian economy and, by extension. the national economy as well. Stephen Harper held his nose and approved the bailout. This was the right thing to do; the loans provided a needed boost of confidence in both the manufacturing and financial sectors, and GM has apparently already paid off their line of credit with the Canadian government.
    Douglas Saunders, in his report in the G&M, describes what happened in the manufacturing centre of Birmingham: the removal of government support for the manufacturing sector (not only financial support, but political support; where there were no trade missions selling British products abroad, but also a campaign suggesting that manufacturing had no future in England, which had the effect of removing private sector financial interest in manufacturing), and the expansion of government support for knowledge, finance, and service industry at the expense of manufacturing (replacing rather than supporting the sector). The Labour governments of the day under Blair and Brown poured billions of pounds into "urban rehabilitation," kick-starting the New Economy in places like Birmingham.
    There was a problem with the New Economy, but for 15 years the boom times papered it over. The benefits of the New Economy don't spread through society like the benefits from a maker economy do. To quote Doug Saunders: "Eighty-five per cent of the employment created during that recovery took the form of government jobs, jobs in privatized, former government sectors, or jobs in the service industries that provided for government. At its heart, Birmingham didn't have an economy of its own--its boom was mostly just poor service jobs and government spending."
    Manufacturing jobs, particularly unionized ones, move working-class people into middle-class tax brackets, and spark a propagating wave of consumer spending and wealth creation. Service jobs don't. Service jobs are a race to the bottom, halted only by minimum wage laws. That's why the "Asian Tigers" went after the manufacturing sector--it generates wealth. Knowledge and financial services also generate wealth, but for a much smaller portion of society, and when combined with a decline in manufacturing and a rise in outsourcing,  exports the broad wealth creation as well.
    It's all well and good to talk about upgrading the workforce to participate in the "New Economy." But it overlooks the fact that so much of the workforce is  male and (at best) high school educated. A quick scan of YouTube shows that these people aren't stupid--building a pulse jet and attaching it to a go-kart or kayak may be insane, but you can't be stupid when you do it. But what we are is monkeys, and as such, we like to muck about with our hands. We make things. Things from sticks to pull termites out of their nest so we can eat them, to backyard, Volkswagen-launching trebuchets with no purpose at all except to throw cars around.
    But with the export of manufacturing to progressively lower-waged countries, no one has yet explained to me where the new broad-spectrum wealth creation is supposed to come from.  If I design something cool, I'll send it off to be manufactured in a low-waged economy, and then it will be shipped back here for people to buy. But that generates wealth for me, but not a lot for the rest of my fellow citizens. Retail sales of the whatever generate wealth at the top and minimum wages at the bottom. I hire a maid and a nanny, I don't pay manufacturing job wages, I import low wage help from overseas. Nowhere in that system is there a middle class--there are only the rich and the poor and a small group of hard-core hustlers who want to become rich.
    Yet it is the nation of shopkeepers and small businesses (remember, in Canada small business is rated at under one million a year in sales) that generate a middle class, and its a middle class that generates demand for middle and higher margin items.

Monday, June 28, 2010


was a busy day. But rewarding, as I now have another year's worth of relish in hand.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Are You Ready For...Boobquake?

One of my new favourite people; Jen McCreight. And isn't that a great t-shirt?

Well, its Monday morning, and no reports of an earthquake yet. But if Islamic cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi is right, we should finally experience the Big One here on the coast.
 Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi apparently said,  “Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”And Jen McCreight decided to put that to the test. So today, thousands of women plan to dress "immodestly" in order to see if they can actually cause an earthquake.
This is exactly why authoritarian regimes like churches and dictatorships fear laughter--there's really no defence against it.

Who Said Things Were Crap?

Not the wealthy of the U.K., that's for sure. According to The Guardian, the wealthiest 1000 of them managed a 30% increase last year. To quote the article:

There may have been a recession, but the combined fortunes of the richest people in Britain still managed to rise by nearly 30% last year, the biggest increase for more than two decades, according to annual ratings published today.
The Sunday Times Rich List suggests that the combined wealth of Britain's 1,000 richest people rose by more than £77bn to £333.5bn, with the number of billionaires up from 43 to 53. That still leaves the list relatively poorer than at its peak in 2008, when the combined total was nearly £413bn and there were said to be 75 billionaires. But it still means that the richest 1,000 people are more than three times richer than when Labour came to power in 1997, when their combined wealth was less than £100bn.

Yeah, three hundred percent increase in combined wealth in 13 years. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore points out that in the U.S. the top 1% now own more than the bottom 95%. Madness.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The Guardian has put up a series of photos of new ocean life, including microbes, zooplankton, larvae and burrowers. The pictures are, typically, both fascinating and gorgeous.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Instructional Video

You know, we could all use an "Uncle Andy" in our lives. No beating around the bush, just information, communicated directly and clearly. And check out the kid's grin at the end of the clip.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Books Read: March

Again, not a great month. Marion Nestle's Food Politics took way longer than I thought, and I still hadn't finished it by the end of the month. Jon Stewart was very funny, Slow Death By Rubber Duck was unfunny and made me very angry (I highly recommend it to everyone). Food Rules is a fast and light read--shouldn't take more than a half hour. The Butcher and the Vegetarian was a great unexpected find; a revealing look into meat culture from an outsider's perspective. And A Taste of Charlevoix just made my mouth water. A book on Canadian terroir.

Naked Pictures of Famous People / Jon Stewart / New York, New York : HarperCollins, ©1998

Slow death by rubber duck : how the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health / Rick Smith, Bruce Lourie with Sarah Dopp / Toronto, Ontario : A.A. Knopf Canada, ©2009

Food rules : an eater's manual / Michael Pollan / New York : Penguin Books, c2009

The butcher and the vegetarian : one woman's romp through a world of men, meat, and moral crisis / Tara Austen Weaver / Emmaus, Pa. : Rodale, c2010

A taste of Charlevoix / photography by George Fischer and Pascal Arseneau ; preface by Elizabeth Baird / Halifax, NS : Nimbus Pub., c2009

Business Insider--The Wealth Slideshow

The Business Insider offers up a reality check on Amerikan wealth; who's getting some and who isn't. And it's pretty clear that the top 1% are getting most all of it. Why am I not surprised?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Death From Above

In war, mistakes are made. But it seems the US military is making  more than you would think. Wikileaks has decrypted and released a video of two Apache helicopters spotting a crowd, recognizing numerous weapons, and getting permission to open fire. The problem is, almost nothing reported by the pilots is true.

According to The Guardian website:

A secret video showing US air crew falsely claiming to have encountered a firefight in Baghdad and then laughing at the dead after launching an air strike that killed a dozen people, including two Iraqis working for Reuters news agency, was revealed by Wikileaks today.
The footage of the July 2007 attack was made public in a move that will further anger the Pentagon, which has drawn up a report identifying the whistleblower website as a threat to national security. The US defence department was embarrassed when that confidential report appeared on the Wikileaks site last month alongside a slew of military documents.
The release of the video from Baghdad also comes shortly after the US military admitted that its special forces attempted to cover up the killings of three Afghan women in a raid in February by digging the bullets out of their bodies.
The newly released video of the Baghdad attacks was recorded on one of two Apache helicopters hunting for insurgents on 12 July 2007. Among the dead were a 22-year-old Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40. The Pentagon blocked an attempt by Reuters to obtain the video through a freedom of information request. Wikileaks director Julian Assange said his organisation had to break through encryption by the military to view it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lighten Up

Upside Down--what a lovely little song and video. Nothing heavy, nothing dreary, just some light jazzy pop. Good times.....

Thanks to Danica LeBlanc for finding this one.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Books read: February

This felt a little better, but still. 

Empire of illusion : the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle / Chris Hedges/Toronto, Ontario : Knopf Canada, ©2009

Float your boat! : the evolution and science of sailing / Mark Denny/Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, ©2009

The price of a bargain : the quest for cheap and the death of globalization / Gordon Laird/ Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart,©2009

Egon Schiele / Alessandra Comini/ New York : bG. Braziller, ©1976.

Stuffed and Starved: markets, power and the hidden battle for the world food system / Raj Patel/ Toronto : HarperCollins, ©2007

Last Words / George Carlin with Tony Hendra / New York : Free Press, ©2009

At this rate I'll only get through 60 books this year. And that seems rather low. On the other hand, I've been reading A Geography of the Canadian Economy -- yes, for pleasure-- and it's taking a long time to get through. But Carlin's bio took about 4 hours.So, more Carlin, less everything else?

Books Read: January

I thought this would be a good idea. So far, not so much. Its just telling me what I'm not doing.

The slow food story : politics and pleasure
/ by Geoff Andrews/Montreal : McGill-Queen's University Press, ©2008

8 days of crisis on the hill : political blip-- or Stephen Harper's revolution derailed? / Thomas W. Joseph/New York : iUniverse, ©2009/

Beer belly blues : becoming the ultimate male. Again : what every aging man and the women in his life need to know / Brad J. King/Edmonton, Alberta: Abundant Health Systems, Inc. ©2008/

Goat song : a seasonal life, a short history of herding, and the art of making cheese / Brad Kessler/New York : Scribner, ©2009/

Have a nice doomsday : why millions of Americans are looking forward to the end of the world / Nicholas Guyatt/New York : Harper Perennial, ©2007

Yeah, that was it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Tobin Tax

What would a 0.05% tax on bank transactions raise? Richard Curtis (the writer behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually) brings in Bill Nighy (Underworld, Love Actually, etc) to help explain just what it could mean to the Uk and to those of us in the rest of the world.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Disaster Movie!

Pick 4 numbers between 0000 and 9999 and then head over to the Random Filmpocalypse Plot Generator at the Guardian, and find out what movie you've created. And then think about how many films like that one you've actually seen. When film-making becomes this by-the-numbers (I don't want to say Avatar, but there you are...), you know something's gone very very wrong. It's okay to tell the same story again, but you're supposed to add something to it with each retelling--and that doesn't mean bigger explosions and stupider, more impossible escapes.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

L'Homme qui marche

Alberto Giacometti's sculpture L'Homme qui marche, it is reported in the Guardian, has sold for north of $103M US. It really is an extraordinary work of amazing potency. I remember the impact it had the first time I saw a photo of it--even mediated through a picture, it bowled me over. Some years later, for a show called "Seat Specific"  here in Victoria, I paid hommage to Giacometti with a piece called "Hungry Ghosts Walk the World, and it's Time They Had a Chance to Sit Down: A Chair for Alberto Giacometti." It was a spindly-legged Douglas fir chair, 3 metres tall, which I had textured with pigmented plaster to simulate the effect of the tortured bronze used by Giacometti. I was gratified by the response--even though it didn't sell and was eventually trashed. I've since managed to see some of his work, and he remians, for me, one of the great artists of the last century.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Techniques of Communication

Once upon a time, rap was the underground CNN. Very serious people like Chuck D used the form to communicate some fairly complex ideas. Herewith, for your edification, two white guys laying down some oldschool education.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

See you later, accelerator

In this brave new world, we sometimes have to go backwards to advance. Around the world, people are going back to experimenting in their own backyards, trying to create something from their own brains that can have a desired impact on the world.
 There's a heap of music here, an example of which is below. Instruments carved out of vegetables, music composed out of the standard sounds of Windows, sand music. It's all being done. Check out Blue Man Group, and the way the artists behind BMG encourage you to build your own instruments and experiment.

Diego Stocco composed a breath-taking melody by bowing twigs and shaking leaves on a tree as his instrument. The sounds used to make this piece of music were not modified in any way. The track was recorded using Pro Tool LE system.

Diego Stocco - Music From A Tree from Diego Stocco on Vimeo.

Or maybe you want to go fast. I mean, really fast. Hacknmod offers some ideas on building a jet engine in your backyard. And Instructables offers a tutorial.

Or maybe you want to make yourself heard. But in this media-saturated world you need a new technique. How about Craftivism? (Craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.).

Everywhere you look, if you look deeply enough, people are changing the way the world works for them.There's amillion places to learn stuff--maybe we should all be taking more advantage of them.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Mr Green, He's So Serene

Oh what can I say. One of the great pop songs written by Goffin and King and played by one of the great under-rated pop bands of the sixties; The Monkees.

Great production techniques, the song was popply, catchy and terribly subversive. Plus, it includes the Monkee-mobile!

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Across England

I just thought this was a cool shot, no special reason or comment to make. Credit goes to NASA.
You can read more about it here. Thanks to Jono for the link.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some American Numbers

But can Canada be far behind?

Statistically SPEAKING

Because we’re rarely far from a well-stocked supermarket or convenient drive-thru, many Americans aren’t aware of the worrisome trend toward monoculture in our agricultural ecosystems. But the loss of diversity in the plants we eat should give us all food for thought.

Our food supply by the numbers:
Approximate number of plants that are edible:
Of those, how many have people consumed throughout history:
Of those, how many make up the basis of our diets today:
Of those, how many provide 80 percent of the world’s food:
Of those, how many provide 60 percent of the world’s food:
Percent of genetic diversity lost in agricultural crops over the last century:
75 percent
*(Note: You get extra credit if you guessed which four crops these are: Wheat, rice, maize and potatoes.)
Statistics courtesy of: Dean Bill Chameides’ blog, The Green Grok,

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