Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fire Tornado

yeah, exactly what the title says. The Guardian has posted a video of what happens when a twister meets a bushfire in Australia.

I don't know about you, but that strikes me as both really cool and really scary.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Well Said

and well written. This post from Weekly Sift is solid and well-reasoned, exploring the distress of the privileged.

The Distress of the Privileged

In a memorable scene from the 1998 film Pleasantville (in which two 1998 teen-agers are transported into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV show), the father of the TV-perfect Parker family returns from work and says the magic words “Honey, I’m home!”, expecting them to conjure up a smiling wife, adorable children, and dinner on the table.
This time, though, it doesn’t work. No wife, no kids, no food. Confused, he repeats the invocation, as if he must have said it wrong. After searching the house, he wanders out into the rain and plaintively questions this strangely malfunctioning Universe: “Where’s my dinner?”
Privileged distress. I’m not bringing this up just to discuss old movies. As the culture evolves, people who benefitted from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.
If you are one of the newly-visible others, this all sounds whiny compared to the problems you face every day. It’s tempting to blast through such privileged resistance with anger and insult.
Tempting, but also, I think, a mistake. The privileged are still privileged enough to foment a counter-revolution, if their frustrated sense of entitlement hardens.
So I think it’s worthwhile to spend a minute or two looking at the world from George Parker’s point of view: He’s a good 1950s TV father. He never set out to be the bad guy. He never meant to stifle his wife’s humanity or enforce a dull conformity on his kids. Nobody ever asked him whether the world should be black-and-white; it just was.
George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.
It seems so unfair. He doesn’t want anybody to be unhappy. He just wants dinner.
Levels of distress. But even as we accept the reality of George’s privileged-white-male distress, we need to hold on to the understanding that the less privileged citizens of Pleasantville are distressed in an entirely different way. (Margaret Atwood is supposed to have summed up the gender power-differential like this: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”)
Read the whole thing. Really.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Awesome, awesome bus commercial. I am so dismayed we don't do stuff like this here. And the bus looks terrific....

This Is Not An Enbridge Animation

From the Dogwood Initiative website:
Last Saturday, Dave Shortt emerged from 10 days of filming in the northern B.C. bush, found a wi-fi connection at the Kitimat library and happened upon a story online about Enbridge being criticized for deleting islands in the Douglas Channel from a video animation.

“I had this eureka moment,” Shortt says. The 38-year-old filmmaker had been filming along Enbridge’s proposed pipeline route with an eye to putting together a five-minute video to help raise awareness about the areas at risk and encourage people to sign Dogwood’s petition at

“The plan was to film for another week or two but then I read the story about omitting the islands and I realized that’s what the video should be about,” he said on Wednesday afternoon from his camper van parked outside the Prince Rupert Safeway store. “It’s about trying to bring some reality to what’s at risk.”

Shortt knew the media interest in the missing islands would pass quickly, so he needed to get the video posted pronto. “It was 10 in the morning, but I still needed to finish filming because I didn’t have the shots of Kitimat yet,” Shortt says.

He quickly got the shots he needed, then headed back to the Kitimat library where he spent four hours editing the video — but then he hit a road block. “I had to sit as close to the wireless internet as possible, but it wasn’t suitable for uploading or transferring data. I realized it was going to be like three hours,” Shortt says.

While he battled with the wi-fi, Shortt’s friend asked the librarian if she knew anywhere with fast Internet in town and she recommended the rec centre. And that’s how it came to be that Shortt launched his soon-to-be-viral video into the world from the lobby of the Kitimat Rec Centre — humble beginnings for 100 seconds of footage that have been viewed more than 34,000 times in four days, driven 4,500 new signatures to the No Tankers petition and drawn the attention of the Huffington Post, Toronto Star, Vancouver Province and Canada AM.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rally for Science: Follow-up

When your Uncle Roy tells you that 9/11 was a conspiracy between the Colorado militia and New York African American Muslims, you pretty much figure that he's had a little too much of the moonshine he's been brewing out behind the barn. But when Andrew Weaver tells you that the current high Arctic search for the Franklin Expedition is so much bullshit, you kind of have to sit up and take notice. Weaver points out that the expedition now under-way is mapping the sea floor--not for Franklin's ships, but to prepare the way for the exploratory oil drilling planned for the area. And this, he points out, "In a year with a record reduction in Arctic sea ice. A reduction in area that, ironically, happens to be about the size of the province of Alberta."
Arctic sea ice extent on 12 September 2012, in white,
compared with the 1979-2000 median, marked with a red line.
Photograph: NSIDC

Let me tell you, the crowd I was in yesterday was not unappreciative of that particular irony. Andrew Weaver was the opening speaker at the lunch hour Rally for Science in Victoria. Attended by a committed crowd pushing up towards a hundred people, the rally lasted about 25 minutes and featured four speakers: Dr. Andrew Weaver, MP Elizabeth May, performer and long-time enviro activist Raffi, and "Dr. X," a senior scientist from the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney appearing incognito (as speaking to the public is now an offence for federal scientists).

Courtesy of the CHEK tv website

Dr. Weaver was clearly angry, as he spoke about the censoring of science that is much worse in Canada than it was under the Bush regime in the US. When James Hansen was silenced in the US, scientists could still speak with people, they just couldn't do it without a media handler. In Canada today, they are not allowed to speak at all--the only people allowed to communicate with the public are media spokespeople. For which, there is no excuse. It is censorship by a fascist-leaning government lead by a crazed ideologue.
Green MP Elizabeth May was short and to the point--and spoke better than I've ever heard her speak before. She communicated well, sharing emotion with the audience and showing that she has the capability of being a great rabble-rouser. Her line “Why do citizens across this country have to rally for science? We have to rally against ignorance,” hearkened back to the great orators of Canadian political history.
Raffi was...well, Raffi. His focus was, as always, on the ocean and the cutting of programs that mean Canada no longer collects any data on the bio-accumulation of toxins in the marine food chain. If we experience an outbreak of Minimata disease, we'll never know how, where, or why. Which would suit the Harper government just fine. If we did know, we might hold a corporation or corporations responsible, and that will no longer be possible at the end of Harper's regime.
The rally was MC'd by Ken Wu of the AFA, a group I've supported financially in the past, and will probably give money to again.
So, to sum up: 25 minutes, four speakers, rising outrage, email follow-up. Well planned, well executed. Kudos to all!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rally For Science Victoria

 With my comments yesterday on Truth vs Evidence, its clear where I'll be today--at the Rally for Science.
From the email:
Stop the Harper Conservatives’ assault on scientific research and informed decision-making!

Speakers include:
  • Dr. Andrew Weaver (UVic School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, team member of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC)
  • Elizabeth May (Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Green Party of Canada leader)
  • Raffi (Children’s Singer and Songwriter)
Please come and show your support, whether you are a scientist or a concerned citizen who understands the vital role of science and evidence in a modern democratic society, and the importance of environmental monitoring for our individual and planetary health.

Democracy depends on informed opinion. Informed opinion relies on understanding all the evidence, not just that which supports a political objective or ideology. Science provides much of the best evidence, without regard to political agendas or ideology.
When: Friday, September 14, 2012 at noon
Where: Federal Building at the corner of Yates and Government Streets (Note: NOT the Legislative Buildings), Victoria
The event is free.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Truth vs. Evidence

Long time political insider and former Tory pollster Allan Gregg has written (and delivered) an excellent summing up of where we stand right now. And it seems, to him, to look like the edge of a precipice.
Reason has taught us that it is cheaper and more efficient to enter into a commercial arrangement with our neighbours than to invade, plunder or colonize them. Trade of goods and services between nations, in turn, inflates and widens our empathy beyond kin and tribe and encourages immigration and pluralism.
Beyond empathy, science has revealed that all races and peoples share common traits and therefore deserve to be treated equally. This humanism and the placement of the rights of the individual on an even plane, above the rights of states, draws us inevitably towards concepts such as the responsibility to protect. While the scriptures might tell us we are all each other’s keepers, it is reason that compels us to behave in this way.
In fact, our entire notion of progress has reason at its core. As Ronald Wright reminds us in his brilliant lecture series, “A Short History of Progress”, this is a relatively modern concept. For most of civilization, people believed their station in life would be pretty much the same when they died as when they were born. And they believed this because it was true – mortality, health and wealth improved little for most of human history. It was only when we began to imagine that man and society was, if not perfectible, certainly improvable, that optimism and scientific endeavour sought to propel mankind forward.
And more than anything else, societal progress has been advanced by enlightened public policy that marshals our collective resources towards a larger public good. Once again it has been reason and scientific evidence that has delineated effective from ineffective policy. We have discovered that effective solutions can only be generated when they correspond to an accurate understanding of the problems they are designed to solve. Evidence, facts and reason therefore form the sine qua non of not only good policy, but good government.
This long address goes well with Andrew Nikiforuk's piece in the Tyee discussing why Canadians have the right and necessity to know about Stephen Haprper's church and its creed.
Unknown to most Canadians, the prime minister belongs to the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant church with two million members. Alberta, a petro state, is one of its great strongholds on the continent. The church believes that the free market is divinely inspired and that non-believers are "lost."
Now let's be clear: I am a Christian and a social conservative and a long time advocate of rural landowners and an unabashed conservationist. I have spent many pleasant hours in a variety of evangelical churches and fundamentalist communities. Faith is not the concern here.
But transparency and full disclosure has become the issue of paramount importance. To date, Harper has refused to answer media questions about his beliefs or which groups inform them. If he answered media queries about his minority creed (and fewer than 10 per cent of Canadians would call themselves evangelicals) he'd have to admit that he openly sympathizes if not endorses what's known as "evangelical climate skepticism."
No one knows this fossil fuel friendly ideology better than Dr. David Gushee, a distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and a Holocaust scholar. The evangelical Christian is also one of the drafters of the 2006 Evangelical Climate Initiative. It declared climate change a serious threat to Creation that demands an ethical Christian response.
But that's not the wing of the evangelical movement that Harper listens to. Given his government's pointed attacks on environmentalists and science of any kind, Harper would seem to take his advice from the Cornwall Alliance, a coalition of right-wing scholars, economists and evangelicals. The Alliance questions mainstream science, doubts climate change, views environmentalist as a "native evil," champions fossil fuels and supports libertarian economics.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain

Photograph: Guy Bell for the Guardian

There's a new exhibit opening at the Tate in the UK featuring the pre Raphaelites which tries to place them, historically, as a Victorian avant-garde. Jonathan Jones has written an excellent essay in the Guardian reviewing the show. You've gotta love the opening paragraph:
Tate Britain's new Pre-Raphaelites exhibition is a steam-punk triumph, a raw and rollicking resurrection of the attitudes, ideas and passions of our engineering, imperialist, industrialist, capitalist and novel-writing ancestors. The pistons are pounding, the steam is hissing, cigars are being lit and secret lives once more being concealed. The Victorians are back in town. This is as much a costume drama as a show, jam-packed with heroes and villains and innocent victims, holding up a lurid mirror to the age that built Britain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Business As Usual

From the Grain website

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "Green Economy"? Maybe you get warm and fuzzy, thinking about small artisans and market gardeners pursuing making a local and sustainable living? Or maybe you think a bit bigger, about factories turning out solar panels and low-energy light bulbs. If you're the folks at Grain, you think a bit differently, and write an "article [which] examines the real intentions behind the proposals for a "Green Economy". It is the introductory chapter to a Compendium on the Green Economy that was prepared as a common position for RIO+20 and that was published collectively in Spanish by GRAIN, Alianza Biodiversidad, World Rainforest Movement (WRM), and Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC)." When you're at Grain, you thnk about how the "Green Economy" is maybe just another excuse for business as usual.
Grain's new publication is called Behind the 'Green Economy': Profiting from environmental and climate crisis, and the introduction is available online. It discusses the economy of scarcity, and, with a world economy based on scarcity, the lengths trans-national corporations will go to in order to ensure scarcity in order to maintain their business model:
Destruction, of course, has its limits. Somewhere, at a certain level, of which we are unaware, there is a limit where the climate’s dysfunction or the destruction of all the ecosystems will stop being a source of profit and will become a problem that cannot be ignored, even for the owners of big business. That is why they found it necessary to consider secondary strategies.
One such plan, projected as possibly the most important in the future is that of seizing, controlling and physically monopolising reserves where nature can supposedly continue to function adequately or appropriating spaces that contain the resources essential for mitigating the effects of the crisis. This is the second role that privatisation plays. Herein lies the logic behind land grabbing, for instance. As agriculture becomes more difficult, it will be increasingly advantageous, from a business point of view, to possess or control cultivable land for the short or long term. We find similar reasoning and logic behind new concessions for fishing in cold waters, or the frenzy of privatisation of national parks and natural reserves, or the buying up of huge expanses of natural vegetation, either in tropical forest zones, or in the extreme south of South America.
Under the logic of expanding business possibilities, the physical control of large areas of land plays another important role: to stop populations, and in particular rural populations, from evading mechanisms of dependency. Eighty-five per cent of peasant and indigenous families all over the world have access to less than two hectares of land.15 With all the legal, technical, and political hurdles that peasant and indigenous agriculture is faced with, relations with the market develop in irregular ways, with resistance coming and going according to the different circumstances. Big businesses and financial entities seem to have learnt the lesson that as long as they have control over their own resources, the people of the countryside will always be able to resist them with their capacity for autonomy. The response, again: total dispossession.
Whether it’s under the guise of protection against environmental devastation, or under the guise of disarming mechanisms of evasion and resistance, or if it is simply about making profits, the seizure and control of large areas of land has become a useful strategy for businesses. This process works in conjunction with the forced removal of families, communities and people from their homes, lands and territories. This is what we have observed more and more frequently. Whether forced removals or dispossession are undertaken “calmly” or whether they are done by means of open warfare depends in large part on the character of the governments that cooperate with the investors to repress people.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hmm. Who To Believe...

The Guardian (and others) are reporting on a new report from Human Rights Watch, alleging:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the US government of covering up the extent of waterboarding at secret CIA prisons, alleging that Libyan opponents of Muammar Gaddafi were subjected to the torture before being handed over to the former dictator's security police.
The New York-based human rights group has cast "serious doubt" on Washington's claim that only three people, all members of al-Qaida, were waterboarded in American custody, claiming in a new report to have fresh evidence that the CIA used the technique to simulate drowning on Libyans snatched from countries in Africa and Asia.
The report, Delivered into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi's Libya, also says that the CIA, Britain's MI6 and other western intelligence services were responsible for "delivering Gaddafi his enemies on a silver platter" by sending the captured men to Tripoli for further abuse after the American interrogations.
"only three people, all members of al-Qaida, were waterboarded in American custody" Now, two things spring to mind. First, the acknowledgement that three people were waterboarded opens up members of the Bush administration to charges of torture at the International Criminal Court. Now that it's been acknowledged, this should make arrest easier in any country other than the US.
Second, do I believe them that they only tortured three people? I certainly can't think of any other country that has restricted its use of torture so strictly. By the time you've begun torturing, you've pretty much abandoned "civilized" behaviour. So no, I don't believe them. Do I think that HRW might make a few mistakes, be mislead by others for their own political ends? Of course. Which is why I think members of the Bush administration should be standing trial. Courts may be imperfect, but they are the best venue we currently have for determining were the truth lies when we're faced with a Rashomon situation.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

We Know Mitt Has Money...

...but just where did it come from? Matt Taibbi, contributing editor to Rolling Stone, knows.
Matt Taibbi, from his RS blog

And he knows because he's one of the few willing to do a bit of legwork to understand just how Mitt Romney became so wealthy. And he'd like you to know, too. So he was on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman (one of the very few other journalists willing to do legwork) to tell you. And it's the story of late-stage capitalism. From the interview (transcript) (original program audio):
Well, Mitt Romney is really the representative of an entire movement that’s taken over the American business world in the last couple of decades. You know, America used to be—especially the American economy was built upon this brick-and-mortar industrial economy, where we had factories, we built stuff, and we sold it here in America, and we exported it all over the world. That manufacturing economy was the foundation for our wealth and power for a couple of centuries. And then, in the '80s, we started to transform ourselves from a manufacturing economy to a financial economy. And that process, which, you know, on Wall Street we call financialization, was really led that—sort of this revolution, where instead of making products, we made transactions, we made financial products, like credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. We created money through financial transactions rather than building products and selling them around the world. And that revolution was really led by people like Mitt Romney. And the advantage of financialization, from the point of view of the very rich and the people who run the American economy, is that it was extremely efficient at extracting wealth and kicking it upward, whereas the old manufacturing economy had the sort of negative effect of spreading around to the entire population. In the financialization revolution, you can take all of the money, and you don't have to spread it around with anybody. And Mitt Romney was kind of a symbol of that fundamental shift in our economy
 Matt's original article, Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital appeared in Rolling Stone.  The appearance of the article raised a lot of questions, and one major piece which tried to refute it. Matt took the time to answer the criticism.

Friday, September 7, 2012

One Step Closer

George Monbiot, from his website

One of the principals of democracy is that all persons are equal before the law. That this is not so is pretty much self-evident, does not need me listing case after case as proof, and is one of the major failings of our system. But we're getting one step closer, at least in the UK.
Public intellectual and professional gadfly George Monbiot has set up a bounty fund to further the attempt to bring former UK PM Tony Blair to account in front of the International Criminal Court at the Hague. He also wrote a piece September 3rd about how the philosophical and societal support for different types of justice for different people is beginning to crack apart. An excellent article, and well worth reading more than this excerpt:
For years it seems impregnable, then suddenly the citadel collapses. An ideology, a fact, a regime appears fixed, unshakeable, almost geological. Then an inch of mortar falls, and the stonework begins to slide. Something of this kind happened over the weekend.
When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.
The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.
That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair's cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

After Capitalism

In the vein of becoming the change we want to see in the world, The Guardian is hosting a forum called "After Capitalism."
In the following animation, George Monbiot takes on something of what we mean by "capitalism" and what a different future might hold.

Mr. Monbiot has taken the time to post the text of the video.
To answer the question of what the world will look like after capitalism, we first have to decide what we mean by capitalism. If it means a system that arises from lending money at interest, then there will be no “after capitalism”. Even when usury was banned on pain of execution or excommunication, it continued, so powerful was the profit drive. While executing bankers has much to commend it, it’s likely to be ineffective. Lesser measures would produce even poorer results.
If on the other hand capitalism means something like the current dispensation, which allows a few people to seize much of the wealth generated by everyone, which blocks social mobility, which re-engineers the political system to serve the economic elite, then, yes, there’s a lot we can do about it.
For the past 200 years, men and women have fought stoicly for political democracy. Now we should fight for economic democracy. The natural wealth of the world, its land, its soils, its crops, minerals, water, forests, fish, is limited. The wealth arising from its use and multiplied through all the complex layers of the modern economy, is also limited, bounded ultimately, as the subprime mortgage crisis showed us, by the real value of assets in the physical world. Just as it was wrong for monarchs and aristocrats to concentrate so much political power in their hands, so it is wrong that billionaires and corporations should be permitted to seize so much of the common treasury of humankind: the wealth arising from the use of a finite planet.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Environmental Overshoot

Yasuni national park is the most biodiverse region on Earth.
Photograph: Corbis via The Guardian

From The Guardian:
In international bodies, biodiversity loss was long treated as a poor cousin to climate change. But this is changing amid growing awareness that both are approaching dangerous tipping points as a result of human pressures. Earlier this year, a group of leading scientists warned that biodiversity loss could result in a "global-scale state shift".
"Much as the consensus statements by doctors led to public warnings that tobacco use is harmful to your health, this is a consensus statement by experts who agree that loss of Earth's wild species will be harmful to the world's ecosystems and may harm society by reducing ecosystem services that are essential to human health and prosperity," noted Prof Bradley Cardinale, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who led the study published in Nature. "We need to take biodiversity loss far more seriously – from individuals to international governing bodies – and take greater action to prevent further losses of species."
But the trend is in the opposite direction. WWF says we are in an ecological overshoot situation in which it now takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate what we use in a year. [emphasis mine]