Sunday, June 28, 2015

If Today's Youth Care About Their Future, They Would Do Well to Keep Their Distance From Us.

We're used to drought out here.  Every summer the Rain Festival takes a break for two to three months and the place dries out.  It's great for the tourist operators as visitors flock to the place to enjoy the vast beaches and ocean breezes, warm and sunny days and delightfully cool and comfortable evenings.

Not this year.

The drought arrived, months earlier than usual, and its brought what, for us, is a grinding heatwave that shows no sign of breaking anytime soon.  That's very worrisome indeed.  We didn't really have a winter this year so next to no snowpack on the local mountains.  That translates into a disastrous salmon spawning season and increased likelihood of major forest fires this summer.  It's not the same drought and heatwave conditions that are hammering the prairies but, hey, this is supposed to be the rainforest.

This brings to mind a couple of items I've recently read about the need for Canada's youth to embrace our political process, to make their voices heard, and lay claim to their fair share of political influence.  To me, that sounds like calling for our young people to capitulate, throw in with us and sit quietly in the corner while we mete out what will remain of their future.

The pre-Millennial generations have done a masterful job on today's young.  Our parents bequeathed us a much better world than they had known.  We never had to experience the turmoil they endured during the first half of the 20th century. No, we got the second half, the really good half.  We got the half our parents built and forged and handed us on a silver platter.  We got the half of ease and comfort and plenty that eclipsed anything in the entire history of mankind.

Compare what we got to what we are bequeathing to these poor buggers over the balance of this century.  For we not only took everything we got from our parents and grandparents but we helped ourselves to everything we could steal from the future.  In the process we're raping and pillaging the environment.  It's barely taken us thirty years to reduce the planet's stock of wildlife by half.

Bill Moyers did a series on posterity that is gathering dust in some tape vault somewhere.  I do so wish that could be aired again.  It traced the role of posterity in building the great society through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and the abrupt extinction of posterity in the postwar era.  Leaders, believe it or not, used to plan for the future, a better future for the generations to follow them.  What a fucking crazy idea, eh?

When was the last time anybody did that?  When was the last time some pol declared this is what we'll need to go into a better future?  I suppose you could argue it was Trudeau introducing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the instrument intended to secure liberal democracy for Canada.  He just squeaked that in with almost no time left.

Look at Harper today.  He and his absolutely despise that Charter because - well because it's doing its job, it's reining them in, limiting their powers against the individual.  Take a second, think about this.  Bad as Harper unquestionably is, what would the damage he's caused the country be like if he wasn't repeatedly rebuffed by the Charter? Absent the Charter, how much further would he have been encouraged to go? How much more of his darkness would have bubbled to the surface? The Harper so many of us loathe is the moderate one, the Harper who has been wrestled to the ground by the Charter and our Supreme Court. Keep that in your mind.

Do you think Harper gives a good goddamn about posterity, about future generations?  He dreamt of Canada becoming an energy superpower and it remains his abiding obsession.  He envisioned Canada as an American "Mini-Me."  No more peacekeeping for us, we bomb shit now.  Yeah, that's what we do - muscular (in a ripped, oiled up and bronzed, bikini-brief sort of way).  We're no longer in the business of making friends. Got all the friends we need, that book is closed. There are, however, still plenty of vacancies for new enemies.  Bring'em on.

To today's young people, we're the gift that just keeps on giving.  Long after we're gone we'll be giving them more and more cause to hate us.  Here's just one example. Today we're already getting the brunt of early onset climate change - more hot, more cold; more dry, more wet, that sort of thing. Sea level rise is accelerating, our oceans are steadily acidifying.  Our once pristine waterways are becoming polluted and clogged with blue-green algae.

The thing is, we've got all this and we're only just at 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  You won't see it when you look up into that big blue sky today but up there is a carbon bomb  just waiting for our young people.  The atmospheric CO2 already there has locked in for them 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels.  Even if we all threw our car keys in the sewer today that's already up there just waiting to wreak havoc on our kids. In their lifetimes and that of the next three generations, minimum, that's their lot and it, for them, is inescapable while yet they draw breath.

Okay, maybe we really didn't know better in time to prevent that 1.5C result. Maybe we didn't know but we damn well know now. We know our grandkids are going to take it in the neck.  So what are we doing about it? Well, we're going to raise carbon taxes.  Isn't that nice? What a thoughtful gesture, an open hand generously, selflessly extended to the future.  Sure.

Carbon taxes are great, don't get me wrong. They encourage consumers to cut down on their use of fossil fuels which is obviously a good thing.  Carbon taxes might have been an answer back in the 60s.  Just not today.  Every tonne of CO2 we release into the atmosphere today is going right atop that pile that now stands at 1.5C and rising.    Every tonne we add to the 1.5C is going to make our grandkids' lives just that little bit more hellish, more challenging, more dangerous.

Carbon taxes are sort of like taking a knife to a gunfight.  We need to commit to decarbonizing our society, our economy and we should be doing that, not for us but for the grandkids.  Here's the thing. We need to do it now because there's a lead time to this of at least twenty years, probably more like thirty and that's time we may not even have any longer.  We're already at 1.5C (partially deferred) so we have to get this happening, now.  This carbon tax initiative may actually doom us to failure because it makes us think we're dealing with this existential problem when we're really just kicking it down a very short, dead end road.

Carbon taxes are the ideal solution for people who believe they won't be around to experience that 1.5C world anyway.  It's a dandy solution for us, just not so good for the kids. It's really like asking the band on the Titanic to play something livelier, more jovial.  Carbon taxes, without more, are just a dangerous smokescreen.  They're all today's young people need to know to grasp that we're still just having them on and that's not about to stop especially not if they toss in with us.

It's delusional to believe that the "political process" offers solutions to the problems that confront our youth.  It's actually a major source of their problems and it takes people like us, the generation of comfort and ease, to conjure up bullshit that rank.

If they're to have a hope they need to circumvent and overcome our atrophied, unresponsive and oh so neoliberal political process or we really have to reverse direction - thrust reversers, now, full.  Fortunately - for us - we've got them right where we want them - disaffected, distracted, uncoordinated and, frankly, very weakened, at least for now.  I think it's quite possible that the day may come when that changes, when young people come together, unite and get political. But if and when that day comes I don't think they'll be uniting to participate in our political process.  No, they'll have something quite different in mind - collecting their due.

In keeping with this theme, I'd like to share a photo a friend sent along taken at the recent Pride parade in Dublin.

Friday, June 26, 2015

"The Greens Could Return Harper to Power" - That's Pretty Rich Coming from a Dipper

I've kept the NDP at arm's length all my life, a convenient place from which to observe their astonishingly convenient memories and full-bore, unrepentant hypocrisy.  Hell you would think they were Reformatories in liberal clothing.

I nearly flipped my biscuits today when I read this agitprop bullshit warning Greens that they could be Harper's salvation, drawing just enough of the vote to let Beelzebub squeak back into power.

This coming from the party of Layton and Mulcair that has done more than any other to first help Harper ascend to power and then to deliver him his majority. This from  the party that has completely abandoned the Left to become Latter Day Liberals for raw political opportunism, thus greatly assisting Harper achieve his fundamental goal to move Canada's political centre well and permanently to the Right.  Hell, if they'd played their cards better I'll bet Harper would have found a way to put the lot of them on the Conservative Party payroll.

It's a giggle to see how the NDP and the Libs are getting all touchy-feeley greenish in the runup to the election.  Sorry, buttwads, but you're a little late to the game to salvage any credibility on that front.  You're still solidly behind the extraction and export of the filthiest, highest carbon petroleum on the planet.  Oh yes, you'll raise the carbon levy.  So what?  Is that it, is that all you've got? And what happens when you change your mind as you have on one issue after another. That's a little better than the incoherent garbage coming out of the Libs but that only means you're just a little better than incoherent.

So spare me this agitprop bullshit and feeble guilt trip.  It's good to see you haven't lost any of your real skills.  As for this strategic voting business, have you ever heard the phrase "pound salt"?

A Word of Caution.

How can the most powerful court in the most powerful country in the world be so intellectually corrupt?

Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and especially Scalia - shameless political stooges the lot of them.

While many Americans and wellwishers in other lands celebrate today's US Supreme Court decision effectively extending same sex marriage to every state without exception, it was nonetheless a 5-4, split decision.  A 5-4 split on an issue as plain as this.  That's worrisome.  A little more stacking of that bench with another Scalia or Thomas could theoretically reverse today's decision, perhaps on the pretence of states' rights - you know, the same guise used to launch the Civil War.

It's nice to think "there's no going back now" but that may be just whistling past the graveyard.  This is 21st century America, something the 'founding fathers' would probably find unrecognizable.  Jesus Christ on a Crutch, this is the country that has abandoned habeas corpus.  It is the Land of Liberty where today even its very own citizens can be swept up and imprisoned indefinitely with neither charge nor trial. It's the nation where the president has assumed the power to execute US citizens by drone strikes.  It is the land of Total Information Awareness where everyone is spied upon by both government and the commercial sector.  This is the land where democracy and the political process has been subordinated to the forces of market fundamentalism, neoliberalism and corporatism.

This is not a place where same sex equality before the law is secure on the strength of a 5-4 split decision.  Sorry.  Maybe with time and a major demographic shift, political, civil and human rights may be restored.  Maybe not.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's the D-Word and It's Arrived in Canada

Prime minister Cletis doesn't seem to have noticed that global warming has arrived in his very own backyard.  Funny how he can't hear all those local Tories squealing like pigs over the drought setting in across the West.

It's the sort of think I watch out of the corner of my eye, hoping that somehow what's happening isn't.

Even where I live we usually get somewhere between one and five or six days of snow every winter.   This year - nada, zip, zilch.  Truth be told we didn't get a winter this year.  I even topped off my woodshed with an extra cord of logging leftovers but I used, in total, less than a third of a cord keeping the house warm in the cold spells.  A lot of days I got by just fine with a warm sweater.

The real problem, however, is the lack of snowpack on the local mountains.  That snowpack is really important to the wildlife on the island.  The summer melt helps reduce forest fires.  It's also vital to salmon spawning.  Those salmon are critical for eagles, bears, wolves and other predators.  Those fish are an essential part of our food chain.  If we catch a break the salmon will simply stay out in the ocean and try again next year.  If they do come upstream there's a serious chance there won't be enough cool melt water in the streams to keep their eggs alive in the hot spells.  And, when the food chain breaks down it's a real good idea to keep a close eye on your cats and fluffy doglets.

The drought progressed steadily over the winter from California to Oregon and on into Washington.  Drought doesn't recognize borders very well and so it arrived in the True North, even the normally soggy parts.

Until recently I wasn't aware of the state of the prairies.  Then I read a June 21 post on Saskboy's (John Klein) blog talking about Regina getting its first rain of the year.  Hells Bells, we might have missed out on snow but we sure got rain, including the odd deluge over the winter.  Regina didn't get a real rain until June 21?

They've been keeping rainfall records of the prairies for 68-years and the 68th is shaping up to be, hands down, the driest of the lot.  Worse still, the weather boffins are expecting nothing but heat waves continuing straight into September. That means crop failures.

"June is typically the wet month, the month where crops are growing feverishly, and it just hasn't happened," said David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist, in Barrie, Ont. "So people are using the D-words: dryness, drought, no question about it."

Compounding the problem is that the dry spring came on the heels of one of the warmest, driest winters, particularly in parts of British Columbia and Alberta.

These dry conditions are a stark contrast to a wet spring last year and the heavy rains and run-off from melting snow pack in the Rocky Mountains that led to damaging floods in Alberta in 2013.

The wild swings in weather have even inspired a new term in climate circles called "weather whiplash," Phillips said.

"It has been one extreme to another, and it has been a tremendous challenge for farmers, ranchers and growers. They can't deal with these kind of weird, wild, and wacky kind of changes."

It makes you wonder whether the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill (that's pretty much the lot of them except for that one lady who keeps fighting to be heard) are going to wake up and smell the dustbowl.  

Severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration in a pattern of cyclical and devastating droughts and floods.  I think I read that somewhere. Oh yeah, it's a warning that's been repeated in literally thousands of scientific studies and reports for many, many years - science that has gone effectively unheeded in the ranks of Tories, Liberals and New Dems alike.

Eventually some of you will come to realize that you have to be a crazy bugger to keep supporting those Petro-Pols and their neoliberal policies.  At some point you'll have to sit down and tally up what their market fundamentalism has done for and to us and what lies in store for your kids and theirs if we keep going down this path.

What Does the Pope Know About Climate Change? Plenty.

We know the Holy Father has a background in science and a chemistry degree but just what does he know about climate change?  Lots - lots and lots.  The IPCC may have been around about two decades but the Vatican has had its own outfit, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, for 400-years.

The Academy boasts some seriously brilliant and accomplished scientists.  Guess what?  Their ranks include loads of non-Catholics.  There's even a Hindu.  These guys know that the pope has a lot of clout and they want to see that clout well informed.

Besides it turns out the pope chose to name himself Francis after Roman Catholicism's first environmental radical, Francis of Assisi.  That's starting off with a bit of street cred, no?

The full academy meets every two years and is often granted an audience from the pope. In the stretches between the biannual sessions, scientists hold workshops and produce reports on whichever topics they agree are most important for the pope to understand. “The pope has his own experts, who are completely secular,” said Ramanathan. “Not all of them even believe in a god. They are there for pure scientific excellence, and they are not co-opted by any country. They’re not co-opted by the United Nations.”

Reaching the pope is one thing. They also wanted to reach everybody else. Ramanathan and a coterie of his colleagues endorsed a follow-up plan. They would bring leaders of reason and faith together under one roof to talk about the most consequential risk humanity has had to confront since the advent of nuclear weaponry.

That’s why in April, the Vatican invited representatives from the world’s religions — including Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other Christians — to a symposium discussing climate science and the ways religious leaders might lead on the issue.

More than a dozen faith leaders heard from one of the world’s top climate scientists, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, about how the earth went “from glacial chaos to climate paradise” during the last big climate transition 12,000 years ago, and what we may be in store for next.

They heard from Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen, who popularized the notion that human industry has shoved the world into a new geological phase — the “anthropocene,” or in plainspeak, “the human age.”

And they heard Jeffrey Sachs, prolific writer and Columbia University economist, say that “we can still, but just barely,” avoid pollution levels that lead to dangerous climate change risk.

So when Republican denialists like Senator James Inhofe or that weirdo Santorum or Bush the Chubby, tell the pope to bugger off and stick to things he knows about, they're just blowing smoke.

I agree, the pope was wrong to slam the door on the overpopulation problem but if he can kickstart some meaningful action on carbon emissions and our insanely destructive over-consumption, that'll be more than just about anyone else has managed.

Too bad their info session was limited to "leaders of reason and faith." That pretty much rules out prime minister Bullwinkle.

It's the Greybar Hotel for Deano Del

Dean del Mastro won't have to worry about buying groceries for the next month. He's been given a month-long, all expenses paid visit, probably to some minimum-security guest ranch followed by four months house arrest.  That's Harper's former spokesman and ex-MP's reward for fiddling with his election expenses in the last runoff.

DdM has also been given 18-months probation.

It's hard to say what Deano will do once he's paid for his crimes.  In the Tory camp there's not a lot open to jailbirds except a tour in the PMO.  Then again, consorting with slumlords, low rent drifters and shady characters like Steve Harper might be a breach of his parole.

Apparently DdM will only be spending one week in the slammer.  That's about how long he'll need just to get his lard ass in and out of a hammock.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In Defence of Justin

Justin Trudeau got sideswiped today, predictably so, by a self-identified Liberal (who, curiously, can't seem to get the time of day from Team Justin) for saying he would stop Canada's participation in the bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and that he would even restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Apparently that will cost the Liberals Canada's Jewish vote.

So what?

That sounds awfully creepy.  Canada's Jews are somehow going to hold the Liberals hostage?

That particular writer is a tad susceptible to sensational news stories and a bit weak on reality.  Unfortunately he rarely lets facts get in his way.

Here's a fact. It was the West's failure to forge an inclusive government in Baghdad that fueled Sunni resentment that sparked the creation of ISIS.  It was the West's failure to deliver on any and all of its promises to Afghanistan that now sees ISIS spreading there.

Here's another fact.  It was NATO's bombing campaign that helped allow murderous Islamist radicals to get established in Libya.  It dragged on and on and on - 8 months in all - which gave al Qaeda (now superseded by ISIS) time to realize its promise to use the continual chaos to establish a foothold in North Africa.

The current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria features most of the same players, on our side at least, and is achieving very similar results - little or nil to be precise. It's just another round of whack-a-mole conducted mainly for appearances. If we wanted to rout ISIS we and our allies have the means but that would cost money and lives and, as in Afghanistan and Libya, we're all about doing this on the cheap.

How then is anyone going to defeat ISIS?  Who can prevail without Western air power to vanquish these murderous Islamists?  Well, why not ask the Libyans?

You've probably not heard about it but they happen to have turned the tables - without our intervention - and now they've got ISIS on the run.  The downside is that the battle is being fought between ISIS and an al Qaeda affiliate allied with the Libyan National Army (our guys).

On June 9, fighting broke out in the eastern city of Derna between IS fighters and the forces of the Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC), a militia linked to Al Qaeda. The clashes broke out after IS militants killed one of DMSC’s leaders. In one day, the DMSC fighters rose up and expelled IS from the city, forcing them to retreat to their hideouts in the remote Green Mountains.

These developments are important for several reasons. First, the city witnessed something of a popular uprising against the Islamic State. Unarmed people, angered by the alien and repressive practices IS has implemented in the city since it seized power last year, took to the streets in protest. As was perhaps to be expected, given the group’s zero tolerance for peaceful opposition, IS fighters opened fire on the crowd, killing at least seven and wounding more than 30. According to my own conversations with sources in Derna, the ensuing confrontations lasted for several days. In the end the DMSC effectively joined forces with the Libyan National Army, which is loyal to the internationally recognized Libyan government. The Army targeted Islamic State positions with air strikes. The tacit alliance between these two sides, otherwise mutually hostile, would have been unthinkable if it wasn’t for IS.

That's the way these things play out in the Muslim world.  It's all shades of grey. Today's bad guy turns into tomorrow's not-so-bad guy and sometimes picking sides is a repeatedly shifting crap shoot.

When you bomb ISIS in Iraq, you're providing air support for the other side which, at the moment, includes both Iraqi and Iranian Shiite forces (the latter being the real fighters).  Saudi Arabia is our nominal ally and yet it's bombing Yemen's Houthi rebels who are fighting their own ground war against ISIS and al Qaeda forces.  We know that much of the initial support that got ISIS off the ground came from the Sunni sheikhs and princes of the Gulf States, also our dear allies.

There's a precise term for the Western intervention in the ME right now.  It's FUBAR which, for self-identified Liberals, stands for F__ked Up Beyond All Recognition.

America and Britain achieved none of their objectives in their invasion of Iraq. America and her ISAF allies (Canada et al) achieved none of their objectives in the notional war in Afghanistan.  The NATO coalition achieved none of its objectives in the air war in Libya. We've been banging away pointlessly in Iraq and Syria for months and, predictably, getting nowhere.

So Justin's only chance of winning the Canadian Jewish vote is to promise to keep playing FUBAR in Iraq and Syria and to continue to snub the very country that America itself made the dominant Muslim power in the region?

I'm no Liberal but if I was I'd see that as a pretty pernicious bargain.

Then again, if we want to do some good in the Muslim world, we could muster our forces to help the Tunisians defend their fledgling democracy against the Islamist contagion. However the Likudniks prefer military and monarchical despots to democratically elected governments in the Arab world so that probably wouldn't do much to help Justin curry the favour of this apparently vital segment of the Canadian electorate.

The Case for Gun Control - From Jim Jeffries

Brace yourself, Sheila.  Don't whine about the language.  It's Jim Jeffries.

Seriously... Really? Just When You Thought You Had Heard it All.

Okay, it's China and adulterated food products - yada, yada, yada.  Yawn.  Tell us something new.

How about something old instead?  40-years old in fact.  But don't worry, most of that time it's been frozen - or so we're told... by someone who heard it from someone who heard it....

Chinese customs have seized around 3 billion yuan ($625 million) worth of smuggled meat, some more than 40 years old and rotting, the official China Daily said on Wednesday, the latest in a grim series of food safety scares.

Beijing toughened food safety rules in April to shake off a reputation for safety scandals that range from donkey meat tainted with fox DNA to milk contaminated with industrial chemical melamine that killed at least six infants in 2008.

Chinese authorities have launched a crackdown on beef and frozen meat smuggling, in addition to a campaign last year to stamp out the smuggling of farm products.

Authorities had busted 21 criminal gangs by June, leading to seizures of more than 100,000 tonnes of smuggled meat, including chicken wings, beef and pork, state news agency Xinhua said. In one bust, police in southern Hunan province arrested 20 people.

Customs officials found some of the meat was more than 40 years old, meaning it dated back to the 1970s. Other parts were rotten and decomposing, the China Daily newspaper said. It was not clear if the seized meat had been destroyed.

Industry sources say hundreds of thousands of tonnes of beef is being smuggled into China via neighbouring Hong Kong and Vietnam, from countries such as Brazil and India, to sidestep Beijing's import curbs.

Meat can last for a long time if continuously frozen, but smuggled meat is often moved under poor storage conditions that lead to repeated thawing, making it eventually go bad.

"To save costs, smugglers often hire ordinary vehicles instead of refrigerated ones. So the meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers," Yang Bo, an anti-smuggling official in Changsha told the paper.

And there, kids, is your little culinary horror story for the day.

Austerity's Silver Lining - Arms Race Update

A couple of headlines this morning got me thinking that the West's embrace of austerity might not be all bad.  Of course it's probably just wishful thinking.

The first article concerns a refreshingly nuanced and balanced lecture delivered by former US ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock.

In a lecture at King's College London, Jack Matlock said that the crisis in Ukraine is increasingly comparable to what he saw during his time as ambassador during the turbulent end of the Cold War. "We see increasingly implicit military confrontations and I'm beginning to wonder, could this result in something which is almost the functional equivalent of the Cold War," he said.

According to Matlock, an explanation for the crisis in Ukraine and worsening relationship between Russia and the West does not simply lie with the actions of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

"Is it just a matter of Russia violating international norms and law, is there more to this story? There is no question that Russia has violated international law, that the way they conducted the referendum of the Crimea and then annexed it, was a violation of a number of agreements.

"However, all of us should recognise that as brutal and aggressive as Russian policy is, ultimately it is prompted by…feeling…that US and West in general…are trying to encircle and strangle them," he said.

Following a decision made at the recent G7 summit to continue imposing sanctions on Russia, and the steadily increasing popularity within Russia of its President, Matlock argues that the West needs to reconsider its own policies to "bring the results that we want."

The second headline concerns the newly minted NATO sec-gen Jens Stoltenberg claiming that the alliance will not get dragged into an arms race with Moscow.  I suspect Stoltenberg's comforting assurance is really code for the obvious.  With most of the peoples of the Western nations already under the heel of brutal austerity policies, their governing classes are keenly aware of what might befall them should they try to pump up their defence spending to 3 or 4% GDP to play the arms race game with Vlad Putin.  After all, you can't have defence and the ultra low, corporate tax cuts demanded by your corporate masters.

A silver lining?  Maybe, maybe not.  Well, we're plenty ready to sacrifice the environment and our grandkids future to the whims of corporatism.  Surely defence spending is a paltry bauble in the greater scheme of commercial morality.

Some Powerful Truths Require No Narrative

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Oh Why Did I Buy this Damned Book, Why?

I purposely leave my copy of Chris Hedges new book Wages of Rebellion, the Moral Imperative of Revolt on my breakfast table.  It suits me to take it a few pages at a time over a light lunch and then set it aside for another day.

This is what I took in over a BLT today.  See if you recognize yourself in any of it.

Clive Hamilton, in his 'Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change' describes the dark relief that comes from accepting that 'catastrophic climate change is now virtually certain.' This obliteration of our 'false hopes' requires not only intellectual knowledge but emotional knowledge, which requires us to accept that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery, and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire.  To emotionally accept the impeding disaster, to attain the visceral understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality.

The crisis before us is the culmination of a 500-year global rampage of conquering, plundering, exploiting, and polluting the earth - as well as killing by Europeans and Euro-Americans of the indigenous communities that stood in their way. The technical and scientific forces that created unparalleled luxury and unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite are the forces that now doom us.  Ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel - thirteen of the fourteen warmest years since weather record-keeping began over a century ago have occurred in the opening years of the twenty-first century - we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism.

Anthropologists, including Joseph Tainter in 'The Collapse of Complex Societies,' Charles Redman in 'Human Impact on Ancient Environments,' and Ronald Wright in 'A Short History of Progress,' have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to the breakdown of complex societies, which usually collapse not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. 'One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,' Reinhold Niebuhr wrote.

The last days of any civilization, when populations are averting their eyes from the unpleasant realities before them, become carnivals of hedonism and folly. Rome went down like this. So did the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Men and women of stunning mediocrity and depravity assume political control. Today charlatans and hucksters hold forth on the airwaves, and intellectuals are ridiculed. Force and militarism, with their hypermasculine ethic, are celebrated. And mania for hope requires the silencing of any truth that is not childishly optimistic.

...Our major preoccupation is pleasure. Margaret Atwood, in her dystopian novel 'Oryx and Crake,' observes that as a species 'we're doomed by hope.' The mantra is to be positive, to be happy. This mania for optimism - for happiness - leads to fantasy being mistaken for reality. Reality is dismissed when it is unpleasant. 

'We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real.' Daniel Boorstin writes in 'The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.' 'We have become eager accessories in the great hoaxes of the age. These are hoaxes we play on ourselves.'

Is This a Battle We've Already Lost Without Knowing It?

Okay they're listening and I've unwittingly let them in my house.

We were somewhat troubled to learn, several years ago, that certain game consoles had cameras that could allow others to watch what people were doing without them knowing of it.

Now I might have fallen for something along the same lines.  I've developed a heart issue that is somewhat sleep related.  I read about this fitness tracker plus thingee offered by Jawbone, the UP3, that has additional sensors that monitor, record and report things such as resting heart rate and detailed sleep data according to light, deep and REM sleep and waking intervals.

The software is amazing. It provides daily reports on activity, exercise, sleep, heart rate and such. These stats are then crunched into weekly and monthly summaries.  All this info is stored in "the cloud" for up to five years or at least you can supposedly access five years of your own data.

The other morning I woke up parched and immediately downed two glasses of water.  When I looked at the morning UP3 summary, I was surprised that my resting heart rate was a good bit higher than normal.  My smartphone app then went on to conclude that I had probably become dehydrated and urged me to drink 8 glasses of water that day.  I have to say I was pretty impressed.

The Cloud.  That's a network of remote servers and that's about all you'll ever know about them.  They're supposedly secure but don't tell that to the celebrities who risque selfies were hacked and then leaked online.

Now I'm not particularly worried.  I don't see how anyone would be interested in my health data or could possibly benefit by stealing it.  That said, I think others could be quite vulnerable.  Employers are becoming more focused on the health of their workers or those applying for openings.  What about insurers?  They really want that information and they don't have a great reputation for being too scrupulous about getting it.

Some months ago my daughter received an invitation through Amazon Prime (US) to purchase an Amazon Echo device at half price.  These are apparently much sought after.  She wasn't interested but she thought it would be great for me, living alone and all.

It's a black cylinder sort of thingee that operates by voice command.  Some of its functions resemble iPhone's Siri or Android's "Okay Google."  You can ask it things like directions to some destination or trivia such as who won the 1956 World Series and it spews out the info.

The Amazon Echo goes a few steps beyond.  You might turn your smartphone off to save battery power between charges but the Echo is plugged in so it's always on.  You activate it by saying its name "Alexa."  It has a wonderful voice synthesis technology that doesn't sound robotic.  You can ask Alexa for information.  If you're cooking you might need to know how many grams in an ounce or how many teaspoons in a tablespoon, that sort of thing.  Trivia is a specialty.  Whose faces are on Mt. Rushmore, that sort of thing, or who succeeded Joseph Stalin - your sense of curiosity is the limit.  It'll summarize the latest news, give you the local weather, tell you want time it is in Dublin or Tokyo.  It has a bluetooth speaker so it'll play whatever music you request, handy when you're doing something time consuming like making a batch of ravioli.

Amazon, of course, is a mega retailer so it's not surprising that Alexa can make up shopping lists.  "Alexa, put paper towels on my shopping list."  Done.  Then, when you're ready to go the shopping list is on your cell phone and you're away to the races.  Once you set up an account with Amazon, Alexa can also order directly from Jeff Bezo's outfit.  "Alexa, order Pears Soap from Amazon Prime." After that you just wait for the parcel to show up at your doorstep.

It all sounds too good to be true and it probably is.  Your communications with Alexa can go out via bluetooth and wind up somewhere in the Cloud.  I'm damned sure Amazon will be logging everything you put on your shopping lists, building up your consumer profile to target you for advertising.

What would happen if you began each morning with "Alexa, how can I contact al Qaeda?" or "Alexa, what household ingredients are required to make explosives?"  In this era of total information awareness is there some computer out there, maybe a horde of them, scouring the ether for these sorts of buzzwords, identifying the source, adding them to watch lists?

The thing is, I'm not sure Alexa and I are going to have a wonderful relationship. I might just wind up having to drown her in the bathtub - not that I would know anything about that sort of thing you understand.

Why Won't the Media Denounce Harper as a Despot?

As the Vancouver Observer points out, day in and day out Canadian journalists themselves are willing victims of Harper's tyrannical ways.

We like talking to him. It's our job, even when he makes it hard.

And he does. Harper takes only 3 questions at each public appearance (or none at all).

Reporters wishing to ask a question must be pre-approved by his team. If we're approved, we get one question. No follow-up for clarification. No discussion.

Same goes for his ministers, who stick to a script. This is bad for democracy. This damages the public's right to know.

The essence of democracy, its very legitimacy hinges on the consent of the governed.  But consent itself is predicated on an informed decision maker, in Harper's case the Canadian people.  It's their consent to give or withhold but it can only be validly given if their government informs them of what it intends to do and explains why and is prepared to answer questions.

When journalists can't question government officials, get the full story, their corporate bosses might not mind but they're abrogating their responsibility to the public.  When "don't make waves" becomes the standard for journalists, the erstwhile "watchdogs of government," it's bludgeoning democracy.

Oxfam Fingers the "Toxic Triangle"

Oxfam has identified three factors, the Toxic Triangle, it considers most likely to defeat our efforts to prevent runaway global warming - political inertia, financial short-termism, and vested fossil fuel interests.

“The fossil fuel industry has conjured a toxic triangle that is trapping us into a warming world. Governments and investors are helping the industry to recklessly protect its own profits at the expense of us all. The world’s poorest are already being hit hardest and millions more will be made hungry by climate change,” the Oxfam chief executive, Mark Goldring, said. 
Oxfam says the “toxic triangle” supported spending of more than $674bn (£423bn) on fossil fuels in 2012. Investment in the industry was propped up by tax breaks, government incentives and an estimated $1.9tn of subsidies a year. More than $500,000 a day was being spent on lobbying US and EU governments, it says.

Dear Steve, Don't Go Down in History as a Mass Murderer

It'll be millions, that's for sure.  More likely many hundreds of millions.  If you add in collateral events such as war, it could well end up in the billions.  Nobody really wants to pin the tail on that donkey, the one representing 4 degrees Celsius of global warming.

Yet that is the future that proponents of high-carbon fossil fuels would bequeath us, a world of chaos and mass death of unprecedented, unimaginable scale.  Here in Canada we've got those very people running the place or waiting in opposition to replace them and pick up where they leave off.  You can think of them as diabolical plague rats.

Look at this picture.

In a way it resembles photos of Chinese factory workers assembling iPhones only the product here is infants.  They're being treated for respiratory illnesses at the children's hospital in Xi'an, China.  Ever see such a thing?  If we don't stop Harper and the rest of the Tar Sanders on Parliament Hill on both sides of the aisle, maybe some day you will.

Germany's climate change centre, the Potsdam Institute, with the sponsorship of the World Bank, recently presented an excellent online course exploring what awaits us in a world beset by 4C warming.  There are plenty of reasons that's not discussed in polite company.  It is certainly not fit for dinner table conversation.

A report just issued by the British medical journal, Lancet, in conjunction with London's UCL (possibly the best university you've never heard of) concludes that climate change threatens to wipe out half a century of advances in global health (see photo above).

“We see climate change as a major health issue and that it is often neglected in the policy debates,” said Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission.

“On our current trajectory, going to 4C [of warming] is somewhere we don’t want to go and that has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival and could undermine all of the last half-century’s gains. We see that as a medical emergency because the action we need to do to stop that in its tracks and get us back onto a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next ten years – otherwise the game could be over.”

Game over, indeed.

There are only two camps, an we're all in one or the other.

One camp accepts science and fact, especially in the face of such an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.  It recognizes the enormity of the challenge and the incredible sacrifices necessary to meet it.

The other camp is for denialism.  There are the active denialists who reject the scientific consensus on the strength of belief as well as those who have personal interests to defend.  There's also another group in the denialism camp, the really large group who simply find climate change far too ominous and overwhelming to accept and who, instead, either ignore it or grasp for nonsensical responses about how the Earth has always warmed and cooled, it's all a scientific conspiracy and a massive hoax, or global warming has stopped.  Another substantial element just can't deal with it.  It's more than they can handle.  There are plenty of Liberals and New Democrats in this last subsection. Theirs are the votes that will keep the plague rats in power.

Of course as Canadians we'll be the last and least affected by the ravages of climate change.  We've got our own "sin eaters" - the poorest and most vulnerable in the most hard scrabble corners of the world.  They didn't accept that role but our prosperity prescribes it for them.  Can't be helped.  I suppose.

The worst can still be avoided but it's going to demand real sacrifice.  We'll have to decarbonize our economy and our society.  Not in 40 years, not in 20 years. We have to start now beginning with our highest carbon fossil fuels and a major clean energy initiative to replace that energy source.  By some estimates we've got 10 years left to make this happen.

While we're at it, we're also going to have to tackle our rampant consumerism and over-consumption.  Has to be done. Our concept of GDP has to give way. We have to break the chains that shackle us to perpetual, exponential growth. We have to discover that we can live smaller and actually enjoy a better, happier life.

Once we're committed to moving forward with decarbonization and a new mode of consumption that substitutes quality for volume, then we will finally be able to engage the global community on the issue of overpopulation.  We probably need to get our numbers down to around 3.5-billion and there are safe means to do that within just a generation or two.  There are plenty of other ways to get that result also but haven't we had enough killing?

But if we're not willing to do these things, and I expect we're not, then let's stop pretending that we're liberal much less progressive.  You can't be a progressive only when you're immersed in comfort and ease.  Being a progressive demands a willingness to do the necessary and right things even when they aren't easy and aren't comfortable.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Nikki Haley Says Take Down the Confederate Flag

South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, has called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state legislature.

Wow, Tylenol Hits One Out of the Park. You Must See This.

If you're progressive, this will make your day.

And the Band Played On

It's generally accepted in the scientific community that it takes one to several centuries, on average, for species to truly adapt to a 1 degree Celsius shift in temperature, up or down.

Look around today and you'll see species "running" for their lives, continually migrating ever further away from the equatorial zone.  Some species, particularly those that swim or fly, have a big advantage when it comes to migration.  Plants aren't quite so lucky yet it's calculated that, in totality, they too are migrating at about 8-inches every year.

From my perch out here on the Pacific we see lots of signs of this migration out of the south.  Humpbacks have returned to our waters in big numbers.  Large schools of white sided dolphins have arrived bringing pods of transient orca with them.  California has lost its once abundant anchovies which might be the same populations that have recently shown up here.  Victoria now even has a resident flock of brown pelicans that have taken up residence between the provincial capital and Race Rocks.

This may be a case where the race goes to the swiftest in which event there'll be plenty of losers.

One of the most prominent experts in this area is the University of Hawaii's Camilo Mora, whose specialties include biogeography, geology and climate data modeling.  Mora and his fellow researchers made headlines a couple of years ago when they produced a study that forecasts 2047 as the year by which every year that follows - every year - will be hotter than the hottest year that area has experienced over the previous century and a half, a phenomenon called "climate departure."  Some places will reach that point long before then:

Mora forecasts that the unprecedented heat starts in 2020 with Manokwari, Indonesia. Then Kingston, Jamaica. Within the next two decades, 59 cities will be living in what is essentially a new climate, including Singapore, Havana, Kuala Lumpur and Mexico City.

In an interview last year with Yale University's e360 Project, Mora touched on the frustration caused researchers by the public's and their leaders' reluctance to respond to the plain science.

You don’t see any action on these things. And the problem is that these things die away pretty quickly. The press coverage of this paper lasted two days. We were in the New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN. And next week, people were talking about something else. So as scientists, we are struggling to figure out how we can increase public awareness on this issue.

Pope Francis stirred up a lot of reaction last week to his papal encyclical on climate change in which he focused on climate change and over-consumption, especially by the advantaged countries, that were wrecking the environment. The pope, however, disingenuously gave overpopulation a pass.  Mora disagrees.  To him our population loading is already excessive.

Well, it’s paramount because people need food. And the planet is limited in the amount of resources that it can produce. We already have calculated that the planet has on the order of 11 billion hectares that can be harvested in a sustainable manner. Of course we can increase the number by increasing technology, but that’s been happening for the last three decades. The worldwide population is 7 billion people, and we know that to sustain a human being you need on the order of two hectares per person. That means that the world human population every year consumes on the order of 14 billion hectares. The planet only has eleven to give to us.

This doesn't take into account the more recent research about global soil degradation and the mounting threat to food security.  In March, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization released a report on the ongoing degradation of our stocks of arable land, warning that a lot of our topsoil over the next 60-years will be ruined by intensive agriculture and the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Like Mora's research and the Living Planet Report, 2014 finding that we have lost half our wildlife over the past 30 years, the UNFAO study was almost immediately flushed straight down the memory hole, completely forgotten.

Much of Mora's claims about overpopulation is borne out by research conducted by the NGO, Global Footprint Network, which tracks the biomass deficit that has set in around the world (only a handful of countries, Canada being one, remain in a biomass surplus).  From this the GFN issues an annual release to mark "Earth Overshoot Day," the date on which we exhaust a full year's supply of the planet's renewable resources.  Just a few years ago, Overshoot fell in mid October.  Now it has advanced to August.  For the balance of the year we deplete Earth's resource reserves and the rate at which our over-consumption is accelerating is a warning that we're depleting those reserves rapidly too.

In 2014, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 19.  This year it will arrive on August 15.  For more on that and GFN's take on the papal encyclical, you can go here.  

Professor Mora faults the environmental community, including the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for deliberately ducking the overpopulation issue.

Mora: It’s pure fear. It seems amazing, but friends of mine recommended to me not to publish that paper. They said, “This paper is going to be damaging to you. You don’t get it. You don’t need it.” What is remarkable, though, is that after the paper got published, I had multiple people calling me to endorse it.

e360: Did they endorse it publicly?

Mora: No, just to me. This is really the problem. But why we don’t take it on? I have no clue. Because the data are very clear. I guess the problem is that it can backfire. We have seen, historically, situations in which a scientist has taken on an issue and there are people who have been fired, or attacked by interest groups. So I guess the problem is fear of retaliation.

If he's right, if the scientific community is already too intimidated to address the issue of overpopulation, then we're genuinely screwed.  The pope hit two of three - climate change and over-consumption - but if you can't address overpopulation, you have almost completely undermined your chances of effective action on the other two.

We're already seeing the impacts of climate change but doing little to prepare for what those early impacts tell us is coming.  For now we're forestalling the consequences of ever increasing over-consumption by raiding the Earth's diminishing resource reserves. We have no collective will to even begin tackling overpopulation. 

We comfort ourselves by talking in terms of what might happen by 2100.  Oh hell, we'll all be gone by then anyway so, no big deal.  But, if Mora's research is accurate, "climate departure" begins to set in by 2020 and then spreads across the world until every country is hit by 2047.   

John Oliver Respectfully Suggests Where South Carolina Should Put Its Rebel Flag

Sums it up pretty well

Just in case you think South Carolina is alone on this confederate business, there's this.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For Blacks, That Goddamned Flag Is Their Swastika

That the Confederate flag still flies atop the South Carolina state capital is an affront to decent people everywhere.  For white trash southerners, they'll defend it as a symbol of the civil war, a war fought for "state rights."  Of course they're pretty good at avoiding any mention that the state right in question was the right to enslave human beings.

For "black folks" that flag has an enduring meaning.

They're Even Advertising It Now

"It" is the blatant affront to the laws of war practised by Israel and now known as "Dahiyeh".  It's a war crime that has become central to Israeli tactics against Lebanon, Gaza and presumably anywhere else lacking the means to retaliate in kind against Israeli non-combatants, civilians.

Israel, with the complete backing of Canada and our political leadership, knows full well it can deliberately and relentlessly slaughter civilians and get away with it. So cocksure has Israel become that it's now openly threatening to visit Dahiyeh on the people of Lebanon if another conflict breaks out.

The laws of war absolutely prohibit the deliberate targeting of civilians and their infrastructure - power plants, sewage and water plants, hospitals, schools and such.  Yet this is precisely what Israel visits on those territories it attacks.

The Israeli army will show ‘no restraint’ in attacking civilian centers in south Lebanon and Beirut should another war break out with Hezbollah, a senior Israeli military official told the German Die Zeit newspaper.

Israeli Air Force chief Major-General Amir Eshel warned Hezbollahin a recent interview picked up by The Jerusalem Post Saturday thatIsrael would not hesitate to attack military command centers situated in civilian buildings in Lebanon.

"[The Israeli Army] would not show restraint due to the immoral war tactics of our enemies,” he noted.

Dahiyeh, Lebanon - Before and After

Israel does it because it has just enough support to get away with it.  Israel counts on the open arm embrace of Canada's political leaders and that ever crucial UN Security Council veto that America never hesitates to deliver.  So for every woman or child they slaughter, every hospital they rocket, every school they destroy, we deserve our fair share of the credit.

Know what would stop this?  The threat of intervention by a country capable of inflicting retaliatory strikes against Israeli infrastructure - its power plants, its sewage plants, its water plants including its desalination plants.  No hospitals, no schools, no targeting of residential neighbourhoods.  What would also stop this is for Israel's political and military leadership to be made to stand trial for their war crimes.  Put thugs like Netanyahu and his top generals behind bars for life without parole.  

Know what would be a good place to start?  We could start by breaking all ties with any ally that thinks it can flout international and humanitarian law and the laws of war.  When we don't, what they do is on us.

As an aside, ever notice how these stories never, but never get carried in Canada's major mass media?  Never. That's curious.