Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Kid With a Utility Knife Gets Mowed Down. In Montreal, a Guy With 182 Firearms Who Shoots at Cops Gets a Non-Lethal Rubber Bullet.

Isidore Havis is a lucky man.  He's especially lucky that he lives in the Montreal burbs, not in Toronto.

71-year old Havis is in a Montreal hospital with a possible broken bone received when Quebec police decided to take him down with rubber bullets.  18-year old Sammy Yatim lies in a funeral parlour after a Toronto cop went after him with nine, 40 mm. hollow-point bullets.

Havis was armed and actually fired a round at the cops who surrounded his house.   Yatim waved around a 3-inch knife but actually attacked no one, least of all the cop who unleashed a fusillade of fire into his body.

Montreal cops spent 20-hours to resolve the standoff with Havis.  Toronto cops are said to have taken roughly two-minutes to gun down Yatim.

Sorry, Toronto, this problem with your police force didn't begin with the execution of Sammy Yatim.  It's been around for a long time, many years.   You've let these rabid dogs in uniform have the run of the place.  Maybe it's time you culled this pack before there are more kids lying helpless, bleeding out on your streetcars.

Define "Democratic Reform"

You knew when Harper appointed Pierre Pepperpot to his cabinet as minister for democratic reform, something remarkably undemocratic was bound to follow.  And so it has.

Pipsqueak Pollivre has struck, opining that the very provinces that forged our confederation need not approve of the most undemocratic government in Canada's history's plans to remake the Senate.

Anything short of abolishing the Senate can be done, in house, by the federal government without provincial consent claims the miniscule member for Kanata.  No need to re-open the constitution, claims Pollivre.  Steve can do as he bloody well likes.

Of course, if Petie Poll is correct, then every future prime minister with a majority or coalition government could remake the Senate in her image also.  What joy!

I associate myself with the views of a fellow blogger who declared he would put Pollivre on his personal, "Top 5" enemies list because "the little twerp is such a dick."

The Guardian Praises BC's Carbon Tax Initiative. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, or, Christy Clark's Giant Methane Fart

According to The Guardian, British Columbia's 5-year old experiment with carbon taxes has been a great success and stands as an example of to governments everywhere.

In 2008, British Columbia implemented a carbon tax, with the revenue returned to citizens through lowered income taxes. A new peer-reviewed study examines the data through 2012 to see how British Columbia's emissions and economy have fared, and the results are impressive. Consumption of taxed fuels per capita has fallen 19 percent in British Columbia relative to the rest of Canada.

As a result, British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions fell 10 percent between 2008 and 2011, as compared to a 1.1 percent decline for the rest of Canada.

Polls also show that public support for the British Columbia carbon tax has grown to 64 percent, and 59 percent of Canadians say they would support a similar carbon tax system in their provinces. The popularity may be in part a result of the fact that by offsetting the carbon taxes, British Columbia has the lowest income taxes in Canada.

Gee, fellas, thanks for the pat on the back but you may be trumpeting British Columbia's virtues a bit prematurely.  The same government that implemented this carbon tax is now working furiously to develop another, far more powerful greenhouse gas - methane.

We know methane by another name, natural gas.  It's a common domestic fuel for furnaces, water heaters, stoves and faux fireplaces.

British Columbia is said to be sitting on massive reserves of natural gas just waiting to be fracked out of the ground that Christy Clark is determined to go after in the "out of sight, out of mind" remote tracts of northern B.C.

Unlike CO2, which tends to be a product of combustion, methane doesn't need any mechanical process to wreak havoc on the atmosphere.    Just release it, that's all it takes.   Get it out of the ground, let it escape into the air and - voila!  - you've got instant greenhouse gas of the worst kind.

The latest word on methane comes from the documentary, Gasland 2.  Methane fracking is all the rage across the United States.  There's so much to be had so easily that it depresses domestic prices for natural gas.   So what's a country to do with surplus gas?  Save it for future generations that might need it?  Hell no, bugger them.  There's big money to be made overseas where they'll pay several times the North American price.   And so you pipe it to ports, compress it into LNG or Liquid Natural Gas, load up specially designed tankers with it and sail it to waiting markets in Asia. Yippee.

Natural gas is being sold as the transitional wonder fuel, a low-emissions fuel to bridge the gap between coal and alternative, clean energy.   This narrative has taken hold in the media and in legislatures across North America.  That it's a premise based on complete lies goes virtually unmentioned.

In fairness, burning natural gas is better than burning coal but it's not the burning gas that matters.   It's the escaping gas that's the problem.  It is estimated that fracked natural gas extraction and transport loses between 3 and 11% of the product straight into the atmosphere.  That loss makes natural gas a more powerful greenhouse gas fuel than even coal itself.

The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk looked at fracked gas leakage in January:

...industry studies clearly show that five to seven per cent of all new oil and gas wells leak. As wells age, the percentage of leakers can increase to a startling 30 or 50 per cent. But the worst leakers remain "deviated" or horizontal wells commonly used for hydraulic fracturing. 
In fact leaking wellbores has been a persistent and chronic problem for decades. Even a 2003 article in Oil Field Review, a publication of Schlumberger, reported that, "Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry."

Now the pneumatic Ms. Clark likes to envision British Columbia as even wealthier in fracked gas than Alberta is from bitumen and fracked oil.   She can't wait to get an LNG plant up and running in Kitimat, the same spot her Alberta counterpart, Redford, is eyeing for a dilbit port.   And Clark wants to get those massive, LNG supertankers plying the Douglas Channel and Hecate Strait ASAP.

What happens if we have a LMG tanker mishap?   With any luck (crew and anyone within miles of the explosion excepted) it will explode.   If not, the high-pressure tanks may be vented deliberately or left to rupture naturally, releasing a big methane fart directly into the atmosphere.   At least the ocean won't be contaminated as it would from dilbit.

Another little worry that popped up in Gaslands 2 is what the effect of overseas sale of North American natural gas is going to have on your home utility bill.  The argument is that, once North American natural gas is sold overseas for several times our domestic price, the overseas price will gradually become our domestic price and so we'll wind up paying several times more for our own natural gas.

Christy Clark may be counting on the fact that BC's fracking will go on in the sparsely populated and often remote north and that methane leaks are odourless and invisible to the naked eye but Gaslands 2 shows an easy, inexpensive way to document the leakage.   All that's needed is an infrared camera that will clearly capture the gas plumes of leaking, high-pressure methane because of the temperature differential.

How will Christy Clark explain herself and her vaunted carbon tax programme once it's revealed that she has turned British Columbia into a greenhouse gas emitting pariah and her carbon tax into a dark farce?

Politicians in the States might have little to fear over fracked gas but this is British Columbia and I think it's pretty easy to imagine a corps of IR camera-amateurs suddenly taking to the unspoiled northern wilderness to track what's really going on with Christy Clark's dream.

Those Critical Five Seconds in the Life and Death of Sammy Yatim

Stills taken from security camera video of the Sammy Yatim execution, published by National Post, may be the most important evidence of all.   Better yet, Lorne has the video itself posted at Politics & Its Discontents.   You can see that Yatin indeed goes down and stays down, his body flinching from successive gunshots.

These images reveal that the young man was felled by the very first round of nine shots fired by the Toronto police gunman.  Yatim was hit, he slumped to his knees and fell backwards.

Wounded and dropped to his knees, what possible threat could Yatim have posed, even in the feverish mind of the Toronto gunman?

You've dropped the kid with one round.  You're still a safe distance from the young man, now an undoubtedly, very safe distance.  For some reason you fire twice more.

Here's where it gets tricky for Toronto constable James Forcillo.  In the span of those first two seconds, Forcillo unleashes three rounds at Yatim, at least one of which hits and takes him down.   Then there's an interval of nearly five seconds before Forcillo resumes firing.  Six more rounds follow in the next six seconds.   Thirteen seconds in all, nine rounds.

The shooting in those first two seconds - the first three rounds - can arguably be said to be a different event from what followed.  The two events were broken by that five second pause.

How Forcillo is judged for those first three rounds is one thing.  The final six shots are a different matter.

Forcillo had five seconds to re-evaluate the situation.   He had five seconds to observe the scene, to discern Yatim was down, to re-evaluate the obviously diminished threat Yatim posed to anyone.

Forcillo's actions in emptying the rest of his clip into Yatim have to be weighed not on whatever happened before the first three shots but after, during those five seconds.

The cops will probably try to spin the execution based on those first three shots.   They'll try to wrap this all up into that first salvo.  They almost certainly will not treat this as two distinct situations, the first three and then the final six shots.   And, if they do, you know that their only concern is covering their asses.

Those critical five seconds cannot be wiped away.  It's within that pause that what follows has to be assessed and, for Forcillo, that is a huge problem.

Police should not be afraid of criminals but society should not have to fear their police.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gone Fishin'

No posts today from me.  Time for some long overdue moto-photo therapy.  The moto part is my now 8-year old BMW R1200GS, "The Beast":

It is widely considered the best touring motorcycle ever.  Not the most comfortable, the Hondas and Harleys, but by far the most capable.  I bought this bike, sight unseen, based on the "Bike of the Year" reviews it  gathered in 2005.  I showed up at the dealership in Eugene, Oregon and I'd never even seen one.   There, front and centre in the showroom was The Beast.  It was HUGE.  I briefly thought about turning around and walking straight back out but then I remembered I had put a deposit on it so...  well, you can imagine the rest.

BMW sets these bikes up for a 600 mi./1000 km. break-in.  The bike then comes back for a complete fluid change and check-up.  By the time I finished all the introduction lessons and all the paper work it was nearly noon.   The dealer asked when I wanted to book my appointment for the 600 mile service.   I had to get back to Vancouver Island so I said to have a service bay cleared for me at the same time tomorrow.

I headed out to the Oregon coast road and, around supper time, I found myself well down into California.   Back to Oregon, Brookings, where I found I just needed to ride back to Eugene to have my 600 miles on the clock.

That bike has been my year-round ride for going on eight years now.  I have logged a good many miles on it.  I have ridden The Beast from Vancouver Island to Ottawa and back.   It has taken me into the far north.  I have carved every corner on the Pacific Coast Highway on it six times.  It has taken me through deserts in the American southwest and Mexico.   The Beast took me from breakfast in Lethbridge, Alberta to a lovely dinner (yes, the formal diningroom was still open) in Kenora, Ontario in one day.

It does an honest 130 mph.   It could easily do 150 mph. but for the governor.   It is happy running all day at 110 to 115 mph. without  complaint.   0-60 mph. clean is an attention getting 3.2 seconds.  I can personally vouch for that.

You're possibly familiar with the Mighty GS (Gelande/Strasse) from Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman's documentary series, "The Long Way Round."  On video it seemed almost too good to be true.  It seemed good enough that I changed my plans from buying the big KTM and went for the BMW instead, a  decision I have never for a moment regretted.

My GS, The Beast, will, in all probability be the last of my bikes.  It easily has another 15 to 20-years in it, more years than have I.  BMW says it has a 250,000 mile engine and I don't doubt them.

The beauty of the GS is that it does so many things so well that, when I was a twerp of 16 or 18, we had to do ourselves and often not very well at all.   Throwing a leg over that machine is truly like taking 20-years off your age.  It's that good.

I wish we made more things like the BMW GS, things that allowed us to revisit what we once were, what we long ago could do and were willing to try.

I do have a car, a high fuel-efficiency VW diesel Golf.   But the two or three days a week I actually drive anywhere I have to choose between car or bike.   Far more often than not, The Beast wins. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Let's Retire the "Once in a Hundred Years" Label

Calgary had a "once in a hundred years" flood in 2005.   Eight years later it had a "once in a hundred years" flood that was three times worse.

There's something reassuring about bad events labelled "once in a hundred years" because you know that you've survived something you won't have to deal with again in your lifetime.  You've dodged that bullet.  Don't worry, be happy.

But the two flooding events that hit Toronto this year and the 2008 and 2013 floods that devastated Calgary should be cause enough to ditch the "once in a century" assurance about anything.

The Atlantic Cities is running an article entitled, Flood, Rebuild, Repeat: Are We Ready for a Superstorm Sandy Every Other Year?

The article laments the destruction of the South Ferry subway station, renovated in 2009 to the tune of more than half a billion dollars.  Now it's going to cost more than that to repair the damage to the station from Superstorm Sandy flooding.   And New York City authorities had ample prior warning of the risk.

"Back in February 2009, a month before the station was unveiled, a major report from the New York City Panel on Climate Change—which Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened to inform the city's climate adaptation planning—warned that global warming and sea level rise were increasing the likelihood that New York City would be paralyzed by major flooding. "Of course it flooded," said George Deodatis, a civil engineer at Columbia University. "They spent a lot of money, but they didn't put in any floodgates or any protection."
"And it wasn't just one warning. Eight years before the Panel on Climate Change's report, an assessment of global warming's impacts in New York City had also cautioned of potential flooding. "Basically pretty much everything that we projected happened," says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, co-chair of the Panel on Climate Change, and the co-­author of that 2001 report."

The thing is, you've got to spend money to save money.   Nobody wanted to spend the money for floodgates to protect South Ferry and that sort of neglect is going on everywhere.

Who is doing any realistic assessment of the frequency and severity of extreme weather events our towns and cities will be coping with over the next twenty to thirty years?   Who is identifying the projects we need to get underway, the taxes we need to raise and spend, so that we don't wind up having to spend even more in the short to mid-term?   We're much better at doing studies than we are at doing anything about them.

We have our shares of looming problems in Canada but they've got'em supersized south of the border.

"...with sea levels rising along the East Coast—a natural phenomenon accelerated by climate change—scientists project that in our lifetimes what was once considered a 100-year flood will happen every 3 to 20 years. And truly catastrophic storms will do damage unimaginable today. "With the exact same Sandy 100 years from now," Deodatis says, "if you have, say, five feet of sea level rise, it's going to be much more devastating."

Roughly 123 million of us—39 percent of the US population—dwell in coastal counties. And that spells trouble: 50 percent of the nation's shorelines, 11,200 miles in all, are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the problem isn't so much that the surf laps a few inches higher: It's what happens to all that extra water during a storm. 

Climate change is sapping the strength of the U.S. government to provide disaster relief to its people.   Severe storm events of increasing frequency and intensity are going to cause more than storm damage.  They're going to trigger a retreat from the sea for saltwater inundation leaves lasting damage and can contaminate coastal freshwater resources leaving large areas incapable of supporting their previous population base.   Governments wind up with the follow-on challenge of internally-displaced people - where to relocate them, how to provide for them.

We've all heard the siren's warning.  We've heard it but when are we going to heed it?

We Have to End Police Killings and Brutality.

Indulge me for a minute.  Watch closely the video of Saturday night's killing of a kid aboard a Toronto streetcar.  The young man was apparently holding a knife with a 3-inch blade and had ignored a police command to drop it.

Ignore the officer with the gun doing the shooting.   Watch the other officers at the scene as they were before, during, and after the shooting.   Ignore everybody except those 'bystander' officers.

I count four officers near the front door of the bus before the shooting begins.  Off camera there are several others who enter the frame as the shots were fired.   When the shooting ends a number of other officers run to the bus.

The video is just 1:38 in length.  In other words, the mass of cops we see at the end must have been on site, just out of frame throughout the killing.  There were police cars, sirens blaring, cops everywhere, even bicycle cops in attendance.  The police gunman had to know that he had all the backup in the world.  Other officers also had their weapons drawn.  It was anything but a one-on-one confrontation.

The first shot occurs at the 11-second mark.   The first, 3-shot salvo is fired by the 13-second mark.   A second, 4-shot salvo, is fired in the 18 to 20 second interval.   An eighth shot is fired at 0:22 and the final, ninth shot at 0:24.   The fusillade spanned about 13 seconds.

What do all those other officers do during those life-ending 13 seconds?  Pretty much nothing.   Some seem to be milling around casually as though they were watching a street performer.  They certainly don't seem to be concerned much less fearful for their lives.

There was clearly an opportunity for nearby officers to restrain the shooter after the first, 3-round volley.  There were roughly five seconds that elapsed before that officer fired the next four rounds.  Five seconds in which any of the police officers immediately surrounding the shooter could have stopped this. The young man never left the bus.  He never emerged to present a physical threat to the officers.

Even if it could be said that the first three rounds were justified, and I question that, it's going to take some serious spin to justify the next six rounds fired into that kid.   To me, this resembles nothing so much as range practice only with a live target.

Why did the shooter's fellow officers not intervene?   Why did they stand by and let him fire another six rounds at or into that young man?  What might have been the outcome if those officers had interceded?

There's plenty of video of police officers blatantly assaulting even killing civilians while fellow officers mill about indifferently.  If we can stop police bystanding we can probably put an end to the frequency and severity of these situations.

If every cop spectator at that streetcar in Toronto fully understood they had a duty to protect the life of everyone, including that kid on the bus would shots four, five, six, seven, eight and nine have been fired?   If there was some protocol for situations where there is no truly immediate danger to take the decision to shoot away from the shooter, to make another officer responsible for deciding whether shots would be fired, would this young man be alive today?

We have to start making spectator cops liable if they fail to intervene where that is necessary.   How would the cop who fired those nine rounds have acted it he knew his actions were being scrutinized by his fellow cops and they might be under a duty to intervene?

People get hurt, some even die, when police in a position to police other cops don't.  Maybe we should think about changing that.

Coming Soon, Your Eyes on the World

Astronaut Chris Hadfield reconnected countless millions of people to the wonders of space.   His space station performance of the David Bowie classic "Space Oddity" has racked up more than 17-million hits on YouTube since its release two months ago.

Now two Vancouver brothers have come up with a venture to let you share something of the experience that crews of the space station enjoy.   Their company has a deal to install and operate two cameras that will be attached to the space station and will stream real time video back to us on terra firma.

One camera will be fixed.  The other will be steerable to allow it to zoom into natural disasters and other events underway on earth.

What's Old Is New Again. The Return of the Workhouse.

Stephen Harper has a prison fetish.  Despite steady declines in crime rates in Canada over the past four decades, Steve is hell bent on building new prisons.  We like to mock him for this but maybe we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss it as the product of a whacked-out fundamentalist mind.

Harper just might be introducing Canada to a project that's well underway in the United States - the return of the workhouse and the transformation of the poor into profitable slave labour.  That, at least, is the way Chris Hedges sees it.

Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations and private contractors if they are on the street. In jails and prisons, however, they each can generate corporate revenues of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. This use of the bodies of the poor to make money for corporations fuels the system of neoslavery that defines our prison system.

Prisoners often work inside jails and prisons for nothing or at most earn a dollar an hour. The court system has been gutted to deny the poor adequate legal representation. Draconian drug laws send nonviolent offenders to jail for staggering periods of time. Our prisons routinely use solitary confinement, forms of humiliation and physical abuse to keep prisoners broken and compliant, methods that international human rights organizations have long defined as torture. Individuals and corporations that profit from prisons in the United States perpetuate a form of neoslavery. The ongoing hunger strike by inmates in the California prison system is a slave revolt, one that we must encourage and support. The fate of the poor under our corporate state will, if we remain indifferent and passive, become our own fate.

In poor communities where there are few jobs, little or no vocational training, a dearth of educational opportunities and a lack of support structures there are, by design, high rates of recidivism—the engine of the prison-industrial complex. There are tens of millions of poor people for whom this country is nothing more than a vast, extended penal colony. 

Gun possession is largely criminalized for poor people of color while vigilante thugs, nearly always white, swagger through communities with loaded weapons. There will never be serious gun control in the United States. Most white people know what their race has done to black people for centuries. They know that those trapped today in urban ghettos, what Malcolm X called our internal colonies, endure neglect, poverty, violence and deprivation. Most whites are terrified that African-Americans will one day attempt to defend themselves or seek vengeance. Scratch the surface of survivalist groups and you uncover frightened white supremacists.

We can't tolerate the creation of a prison-industrial complex in Canada, we can't.  It's time to take Stephen Harper's prison fetish seriously and consider it a threat to our society and to our families.  The opposition needs to confront Harper on this, make him explain himself, expose him for the underhanded tyrant he is.

It's time our opposition MPs did more to earn their keep.  Contact your oppostion MP and tell him/her so.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Does the Solution to Climate Change Rest On Economic Reform?

What follows began as a comment I attempted to leave at A Puff of Absurdity in reponse to a post by Marie Snyder that you really should read.   In it, Marie questions whether, as a civilization, we have become "too stupid to live."

Hi Marie.  I have been wrestling with the question of how we can decarbonize our civilization for quite a while without success.  It's a problem that has a frustrating number of dimensions.  Solving one can create another or worsen others.

I'm beginning to think we need to decouple our political and economic apparatus from neo-classical "political" economics.  Solutions lie in jettisoning growth-based economics and shifting into what is called "steady state" or "full Earth" economics.  I'll try to outline the idea.

Growth-based economics, which has formed the political model of our lifetime and a few generations before us, is a malignancy.  We seem to quest for 3% annual growth in GDP.  But that's 3% compounded annually.  To achieve that target over an average 50-year adult lifetime, you have to grow the economy (per capita mind you) by 4.38 times.  At 100-years, that's 19.22 times.  150 = 84.25X.  200 = 369.36X.  In the span of two centuries we need to expand gross domestic product by 370 times.  You don't want to go beyond 200, trust me.

Neo-classical economics treats the economy as though it exists in isolation.  Natural capital is treated as an externality.  It's not valued.  Steady state economics views the economy as a subset of the environment.  It is something that exists within and, hence, is limited by the size of the environment of our very finite biosphere, Earth.  Believe it or not, this simple and obvious premise, is considered heretical to neo-classical economists and the political apparatus that they guide.  That might strike you as curious yet it goes a long way to understanding why our leadership appears intent on restaging the final scene in Thelma & Louise.

Steady state economics, recognizing that the Earth and its resources are essentially finite, seeks balance.  It advocates a zero-growth economy in which population is balanced, births to deaths, and production is balanced so that what we take and the waste we produce remain safely within the Earth's carrying capacity.

Steady state economics does accommodate some growth but it's qualitative, not quantitative.  The focus is on making things better, doing things better.  That's the sort of growth that best harnesses the human intellect and can, over time, deliver steady improvement in quality of life.

Full Earth economics places actual, fair market value on natural capital.  Natural resources, particularly water, are treated as property belonging to the public to be paid for by whoever uses it.  It also recognizes that pollution from production and consumption are a draw on natural capital, the Earth's ability to absorb these inputs and clean them.  This too then is priced.  Yes these create costs that are passed along to the consumer but not until the source has first paid the public for them.

Can we reorganize ourselves to live without growth?  Of course.  Do we have any choice?  No.  Can it work?  It did for millennia.  The growth-based economy was mainly a creature of the era since the industrial revolution.

Japan is exploring a form of steady state economics.  Krugman and Stiglitz are proponents of what is called "Abenomics."  While Japan's economy has, to growth-based eyes, stagnated for two decades what's remarkable is that employment rates and the standard of living and quality of life of the Japanese people remains very high.

Just the thought of living within our planet's natural means is heretical to our economic and political apparatus.  How bizarre.  Yet that also accounts for this Thelma & Louise moment.

To see how out of balance our captains of industry and lords of our legislatures have positioned us you should visit the Global Footprint Network (  The scientists there tally the Earth's annual production of renewables in terms of biomass.  Then they match that to our consumption of renewables. They allocate biomass to production, consumption and absorption of pollution.  The date on which mankind exhausts a year's worth of renewables is called World Overshoot Day.

When we enter "overshoot" we begin eating our seed corn.  This is not a theoretical concept.  It's quite tangible and, in many cases, measurable.  Some aspects of it are visible to the naked eye from the space station.  It takes all forms from the collapse of global fisheries to deforestation to desertification to the contamination of our atmosphere and so on represented in the chart above as "degraded carrying capacity."

When I began following the footprint network seven or eight years ago, overshoot day fell in late October.  It has advanced by more than a month since then and now falls in mid-September.

There are just three or four countries on Earth calculated to still have a biomass surplus.   Canada, due entirely to our vast area and relatively small population, is one of them.  That, in a world of increasing ecological deficits, is a mixed blessing.

A couple of years ago, before the arrival of the Cameron Tories, the British government issued a study that found the people of Britain consumed the equivalent of their country's entire annual agricultural output by Easter.   The rest of the year represented foodstocks they had to import, to buy abroad, usually from countries already facing food shortages.

The point is, when you reach overshoot, you're shifting, like it or not, from a growth-based world to an allocation-based world.  It's a form of rationing only the rich don't have to participate.  Recognizing this, richer countries have embarked on aggressive land-grabs.  The more affluent Asian and Middle Eastern countries are snapping up the best agricultural lands in southeast Asia, Africa and, recently, even in South America.  A lot of the countries whose land is being pillaged already have difficulties feeding their own people.  That's a candle burning fiercely at both ends (as the graph above plainly reveals).

Getting back to the problem of decarbonizing our civilization it's becoming clear that can only be achieved within a fairly radical overhaul of the global economy and that cannot be achieved without an enormous degree of upheaval, the sort of thing that can only come from below, a mass (and yet somewhat unified) public clamor for change.  It would have to be powerful enough to overcome the incredible inertia in our economic and political apparatus.

Does that sort of global public will exist?  Plainly, no.  We in the affluent nations have been conditioned to instinctively recoil from that sort of change.  Those in the poorer nations have no means of inciting any sort of global reformation.  That suggests the spreading unrest will be unharnessed, diverted into chaos.

I have to say this, Marie, but I think we have become a global civilization of Easter Islanders.  In other circumstances we might have eventually found our way into a steady state balance but I suspect that would require far more time than we have remaining to us.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

This Doesn't Look Quite Right

A knife-wielding man on a TTC streetcar last night wound up on the receiving end of a barrage of police gunfire.   A horde of cops had the streetcar surrounded when one officer opened fire.   First three shots.  Then another four shots and then another and finally one last shot.

Nine shots?  The cop firing was obviously a good distance from the suspect.  Plenty of other officers were just casually milling around, apparently not in any fear for their safety.

We can't see what the suspect was doing before the officer opened fire or to the point where the firing finally stopped.   Perhaps the driver's life was in peril.   Somebody's life better have been in the balance.  Otherwise this has that eerie look of a police execution or "suicide by cop".

The Toronto Star has video of a witness being interviewed by police at the scene of the shooting.  The witness tells police that everyone, including the driver, was off the bus except the kid with the knife when the police began firing.   If that was the case it's hard to imagine why an officer, well out of knife range, would fire nine rounds at the young man.  If the witness' statement is accurate it's hard to see what this shooting is other than an execution.

Maybe We Shouldn't Put All our Eggs in One Aerial Basket

Britain did something profoundly stupid in the early 30s.  It invested a huge amount of its air force budget in twin-engine, light bombers.   These designs were easily capable of out-running fighter aircraft of the day like the Hawker Fury and the Gloster Gladiator.  That meant bombers could range independently, in daylight, with very little defensive armament or armour plate protection and simply outrun enemy fighters if they showed up.  Or so the thinking went.

A decade later the air combat world had been stood on its head.  Fast, agile and heavily-armed fighters like the Hurricane, Spitfire and ME-109 ruled the air and all those bombers were just easy meat.   The Luftwaffe forced the British bombers to operate in the relative safety of night skies where they had a hell of a time getting their bombs anywhere near the target.  It took two critical years for the Brits just to begin to dig themselves out of that hole.

The lesson we should have learned is that, in aerial warfare, it doesn't take much to knock you off your game and risking all on a potentially brittle technology can, and usually will, come back to haunt you.   Which, it can be argued, is what we're doing today with our obsession for beta-version stealth warplanes, notably the Lockheed F-35.

This is illustrated by an article, "Warming Trend", published in the July 8 edition of Aviation Week.  It looks at the rapid development in infrared sensors and IR, heat-seeking missiles currently underway.   Why the focus on infrared?   Easy.  Stealth is designed to defeat radar detection but it's not effective against infrared detection.  In fact, the F-35 is said to have an enormous heat signature.  From an infrared perspective, it's akin to the torch on the Statue of Liberty on a moonless night.

So, if it emits heat you can see it.  The trick is to develop sensors and weapons that can see it and track it reliably at long-range.  That is what everyone seems to be building right now.   There's talk that they can get infrared weapon range comparable to the standard range of modern radar-guided missiles.

"The threat that is driving (the shift to infrared)   ...has not been identified, but China analyst Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Stragegy Center points to Chinese advances in X-band active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, which are able to be used as very powerful jammers.

Britain's Typhoon fighter uses "Pirate" IRST (infrared search and track) technology and advanced  heat-seeking missiles.

"The updated Pirate is believed to have shown its ability to detect the F-22 at significant ranges in 2010, when four of the stealth fighters were deployed to Lakenheath AFB in the U.K."

The F-35 we're about to buy is far less stealthy than its F-22 big brother.  If the Brits can spot the F-22 on infrared, they'll have no problem picking up the hot section of the F-35.  What that means they can force the F-35 to maneuver and, once it's not flying in a straight line, there's no radar stealth either.

"The Super Hornet IRST mates a new processor to the sensor of the AAS-42 which was developed in the 1980s for the Grumnan F-14D.  It has already been supplied to export F-15 operators, including South Korea and Singapore, and is under contract for Saudi Arabia's new and upgraded F-15s."

One aircraft that is going to have IRST is Russia's stealth counter-stealth fighter, the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA.  If you haven't seen it, here's a look:

From Paradise to Paradise Lost

If you've never experienced the magic of California's Pacific Coast Highway, you might want to add that to your list of things to see before they're gone forever.

To a motorcyclist, Hwy 1, the "PCH", is paradise.   The two-lane blacktop undulates along the rugged California coast, dipping from cliff tops to sea-level ravine crossings, it offers almost non-stop corner carving. 

Unfortunately the PCH may soon become Paradise Lost.  Last month's issue of Vanity Fair had an article on how the richest of the rich in Nantucket and in Malibu are watching helplessly as sea level rise begins to claim their coastal retreats.   The article notes that sea level rise is also expected to make the PCH unpassable from washouts.

This warning is confirmed by studies undertaken by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, into sea level rise, the increase in storm surges and the vulnerability of U.S. coastal regions.  Climate Central scientist Claudia Tebaldi says the impacts won't be uniform across coastal America.   Some places, like along the Texas Gulf coast are used to severe storms and surges and so development is further back from the water's edge.

“What is more surprising is that the greatest threats from sea level rise and future storm-surge effects will likely occur along the Pacific coast,” Tebaldi says.

Even a relatively small sea level change may result in large changes in risk because people and infrastructure in these areas haven’t had to deal with the effects of sea level rise, explains Tebaldi. For example, the San Francisco Bay area will likely be more susceptible to storm surges than a city like Galveston. In Galveston, where hurricanes frequently occur, residents live further away from the shoreline and infrastructure is built to withstand severe storms and storm surges. San Francisco has rarely had to deal with flooding or severe storms so risks from storm surges are going to be higher.

Sad as it is, the Pacific Coast Highway was not engineered or constructed with the powerful erosion of 21st century coastal storms in mind.  Maybe California Hwy 1 will be the Route 66 of the future.

NOAA Releases New Warming Data - Deniers Flummoxed, Again

Here's the skinny from the National Climate Data Center of the U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.  It's just boring data but it goes to refute the claim that global warming has magically stopped.

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for June 2013 tied with 2006 as the fifth highest on record, at 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F).
  • The global land surface temperature was 1.05°C (1.89°F) above the 20th century average of 13.3°C (55.9°F), marking the third warmest June on record. For the ocean, the June global sea surface temperature was 0.48°C (0.86°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F), the 10th warmest June on record.
  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–June period (year-to-date) was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average of 13.5°C (56.3°F), tying with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period on record.

Climate Change and the Attack of the Cannibal Lobster

It's kind of funny but it's really not, anything but.

When Obama Courted Ho Chi Minh

It's creepy how America's radical right New Think breezes straight past history to mislead the public.

Case in point.  The man who struggled against the Japanese, the French and ultimately the Americans to unify Viet Nam was inspired by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  Ho Chi Minh thought a liberated, post WWII Vietnam should emulate America and its democracy.

I don't know why that should surprise anybody.  It's been an historical fact for more than 60-years.   Even I knew it.

So, here's the deal.  Obama is visiting Vietnam.   Emerging from talks with president Truong Tan Sang, Obama said this:

"At the conclusion of the meeting, President Sang shared with me a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman. And we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it's 67 years later, it's good that we're still making progress."

Stop the presses!  All those rockets up all the asses of America's radical right instantly ignited in sheer outrage.  Former Tea Party congressman Allen West tweeted:

"Ho Chi Minh was inspired by Jefferson: POTUS gaffe or insult? Regardless he owes Vietnam vets & families an apology."

Several conservative media outlets blasted the president on similar terms. "Obama may have just been trying to flatter his guest who was obviously eager to show that Ho was not the monster history shows him to be," Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News wrote. "But his connection between the American founders and Ho shows either a massive lack of historical knowledge on the part of the president or a remarkable degree of moral flexibility." (The Drudge Report quickly picked up the Fox piece.) The headline at read, "Obama Praises Communist Dictator & American Enemy Ho Chi Minh." And so on and so forth.

The fact is, the Vietnam president was able to show Obama only a copy of Ho Chi Minh's letter.   The Americans have the original.  What's more:

What Obama said is literally a historical fact. In September 1945, Ho Chi Minh delivered the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi to a crowd of nearly a million Vietnamese. Not only was the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played by a Vietnamese band during his address, but he opens his speech by quoting Thomas Jefferson. Here's the excerpt:
"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"
This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.
So, what is the deal with the American radical right.  Did FOX News, Drudge et al really not know this?  That's hard to believe that they could trip up over something as well known as this.  Besides, they could always Google it or look it up on Wikipedia. It's not hard to find.   This suggests the benign interpretation, that these radical right pundits were simply ignorant of their own history is very unlikely.  That leaves only the second interpretation; that they were deliberately manipulating their already dumb-downed audiences.

This incident serves as a chilling example of the subject of Tuesday's post, "The Carefully Engineered Ascendancy of Public Stupidity" in the United States.  It echoes of Henry Giroux's warning

"America has become amnesiac - a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed."

Friday, July 26, 2013

What God Wants You to Know This Week

More Tweets of God:

I get too much credit for Friday and not enough for Saturday.

If women didn't want to be sexually harassed they shouldn't have been born with intelligence, self-respect and dignity.

My philosophy is always leave 'em wanting more.  Money, food, time on earth, whatever.

If you can make a difference in the life of one person, it should probably be you.

The circumstances under which you should send a photo of your penis to other people are as follows:  never.

The people who think the world will end all at once will be largely responsible for it ending gradually.

I had a #RoyalBaby once.  Much more low-key.  No reporters.  No hospital.  No sex.

Listening = hearing + giving a crap.

You can't believe everything you read.  But many people don't even read what they believe.

Comic-Con is the biggest assemblage of celibate, hero-worshipping sci-fi-lovers since the Last Supper.

Life is unfair, but that's a good thing.  If it were fair, things would go even worse for you.

Stephen Fry's Excellent Take on Being Gay

There really is nothing to add to this wonderful statement by English actor Stephen Fry on being proud to be gay.

How can anyone listen to this and not be nauseated by the homophobes in our world?

Weiner's Campaign Falls Limp

Face it, nobody wants a mayor they know won't be able to keep it in his pants.   Anthony Weiner, your weiner has had its last hurrah.  It's time for you and your namesake to simply go away.

The New York mayoralty candidate, once the frontrunner and apparent sure thing, has fallen well behind in the polls thanks to revelations that he's been up to his old tricks, sexting strange women online.

Weiner got caught up in this a few years back and it cost him his seat in Congress when he was forced to resign in disgrace.  He staged a comeback when he entered the race to be the next mayor of the Big Apple.  People seemed willing to forgive and forget until word got out that he's been doing the dirty talk/dirty picture thing again - with three other women.

His wife says she's forgiven him but so what, that's on her.  He says he'll never do it again but he's said that before.   Sorry, Tony, you don't get to be the mayor of the biggest town in America if you're a flasher.

Premiers Pan Harper's Make-Believe "Canada Job Grant" Scheme

If you've seen any of the seemingly endless TV ads (paid for out of your pocket) you would assume that the Harper regime has instituted something called the Canada Job Grant programme.  We're told it's to fund job training for Canadians.

There is no Canada Job Grant programme.   Harper dishonestly ran ads about an initiative that doesn't and may never exist.  He flooded the airways with those ads before he'd even negotiated essential deals with the nation's premiers who are supposed to be splitting the tab with the feds.

Now it appears the premiers aren't real happy about what they perceive to be Harper's cash grab.

Canada's provincial and territorial leaders vowed Thursday to fight Ottawa's controversial plan to fund jobs training for workers, saying the new scheme would require them to come up with more than half a billion dollars in extra cash.

There's concern across the board over the Canada Job Grant, said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is hosting the Council of the Federation meeting.
"There really was a very strong feeling that the program as it exists won't work," she said.
The Harper government wants to divert some of the money it gives to the provinces and territories to the new program, which would provide a grant of $15,000 per worker. The provinces and territories, as well as the employers, would each kick in $5,000.
But the premiers are worried that it won't give them enough flexibility to direct the money where it's needed most and could jeopardize existing provincially run programs. Small businesses aren't interested in taking part in this program either, Wynne said.

Lake North Pole - Don't Forget Your Water Skis

Summer time is boating time.   This year you might want to try something a bit different.  How about a spin on Lake North Pole.

Yeah, that's right.  A lake now exists atop the North Pole.  That's it in the picture, a photo provided by the North Pole Environmental Observatory.   The good news is that there's still a layer of ice underneath the lake.  The bad news is that this layer of ice is constantly thinning.   The lake has been forming every summer since 2002.

The really, really good news is that global warming is a hoax.


Dr. James Morrison of the NPE Observatory says a reconnaisance of the Canadian side of the Beaufort Sea found similar lakes across the surface.

“The melt ponds have covered the whole surface and melted though north of Alaska in the Beaufort. What we’re seeing on the Canada side is really bad. It’s melted all the way through.” 

While the melted ice looks dramatic, it’s the effect of the sun beating down on the half-metre deep lake that has Morrison more worried.

Erosion of sea ice happens at the bottom, under the surface, with less ice building on the foundation because of heat buildup.

NASA Presents Two Scenarios for Global Warming of North America This Century. This Should Be an Eye Opener for Canadians.

Check out this animation.   Notice that the heating our continent will experience is by far greatest in and from the north.  (sorry for the horrible embedded ad)

 Researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center teamed with scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, N.C., to create a new video, which compares two different climate change scenarios: One in which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase from today's level of 400 parts per million to 550 ppm, and a second in which carbon dioxide levels double to 800 ppm. (Parts per million means that, for example, for every million molecules of air, 400 of them are carbon dioxide.) 

These carbon dioxide concentrations are based on high- and low-emissions scenarios proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and are based on a variety of factors, including potential world population growth, economic development and global commitment to sustainability. The first scenario would require some kind of mitigation and curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions, while the second would occur if emissions continued to increase.

Put another way, the 550 ppm projection is the "best case" scenario that we might hope for but only if we act to mitigate the damage by slashing our greenhouse gas emissions.   Failing that, you've chosen Option "B".  Your choice.


A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a 56% growth in energy consumption by 2040 with fossil fuels still dominating.

“Rising prosperity in China and India is a major factor in the outlook for global energy demand. These two countries combined account for half the world’s total increase in energy use through 2040,” said EIA administrator Adam Sieminski in a press release. The EIA is the Department of Energy’s statistical and analytical agency.

Energy use in developing countries, for example, is projected to increase by 90 percent by 2040, while industrialized nations will see a comparatively paltry increase of 17 percent. By 2040, China's energy demand is expected to be twice that of the U.S., the report projected.

So, with that happy news you might want to reconsider the two scenarios presented by NASA to decide which you think the most likely.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

You See, Justin? It's Really Not That Hard.

Justin Trudeau has taken a policy stand, one calculated to trigger condemnation from the Harper regime.   Pushing on an open door, Trudeau has come out in favour of not just decriminalization but outright legalizing of marijuana possession and use.

Even Paul Martin wanted to get marijuana possession and use out of the criminal realm.  If memory serves, Martin's proposal would have permitted adult Canadians to grow up  to three plants to meet their personal needs.  Then again, I've known people who could grow a pot plant almost the size of the White House Christmas tree.

The majority of Canadians, it seems, are onside with Trudeau's views especially after we've watched how far U.S. states have gone without succumbing to a stoner crisis or crime waves.  Besides, Harper's approach is a proven and complete failure.  He can't stop people growing it, he can't stop the public buying it, he can't stop ordinary, law-abiding people using it.   What he can do, however, is maximize the income stream of organized crime.  Steve, they love you, they really love you.

I'd like to credit J. Trudeau with a brilliant strategy except it's not brilliant, it's obvious.  It's not novel either.  All he's done is take a stand that ensures Harper will have no choice but to break from the views of the majority of Canadians.  That's not brilliant.  That's not novel.  That's a no-brainer.

And for those who think the opposition parties must not risk revealing policy in advance of last minute, 6-week election campaign, this shows why you're simply and utterly wrong.  Harper is on the wrong side of the Canadian electorate on just about anything remotely progressive.  By ducking issues like this out of fear of the dreaded, big, bad, Harper all you're doing is not staking unclaimed turf, not differentiating yourself from this rancid, clapped-out regime, not speaking to issues that resonate with the Canadian public but go unmentioned.

Harper wants to play centrist, a moderate.  Draw him in, make him take stands, force Stephen Harper to show that he's anything but moderate.   This chump has been leading with his chin for years and has triumphed thanks to an opposition too timid to take a swing.

For Canada's sake, J.T., don't stop now.   Mix it up, draw some lines.  That's how you push phonies like Harper back out to the radical right where they really lurk.   Fill the centre with progressive centrist policies.   With the political compression that set in during Iggy's watch you either have to reinflate the Liberal centre or get crushed into irrelevance from the left and the right.

J.T., I'm not a believer in such things, but if you could just somehow manage to channel a bit of your old man, you could be whipping Steve Harper like the proverbial red headed stepchild.

What's That Behind Our Boat? A Cougar?

The local waters out here teem with life.   That includes several species of whales, including newly returned populations of humpback; dolphins and porpoise; seals and sea lions; sharks and rays; all manner of fish and shelfish; and mammals such as deer, bears and wolves migrating from island to island.

But a charter fishing operator out of Thasis on the west-side of Vancouver Island logged some video of a swimmer rarely seen - a cougar.

Turns out cougar are great swimmers and also migrate to pursue prey.   It looks like the one in this video had a mind to take a breather on the guy's swim grid.

You'll Like This - Chris Hayes Lays Bare Bill O'Reilly's Racism

Chris Hayes makes the point that FOX is crack for fearful old white Republicans and O'Reilly is their dealer:

Bombs & Bitumen - a Lethal Cocktail

There's a stretch of territory straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border where Canadian and allied fighter jocks go to play.  The strafe the place and they bomb it and even fire rockets into it.  It's called the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range.

Guess what else they do at CLAWR?   When the air force boys aren't blasting the hell out of it, the fossil fuelers go in to mine bitumen.  It all works out great for everyone - right until it doesn't, until now.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has a bitumen spill or four on its hands inside the CLAWR.   Nobody really knows when the spill began but it's been at least three months since it was noticed.   Nobody knows the actual extent of the spill since a lot of it is sub-surface.  And, because it's uncappable, nobody knows how much leakage there'll be.

As for the extent of environmental damage or the progress being made we'll just have to rely on what the company is saying.  It's an active air weapons range after all.   That means journalists and unwelcome eyes are not allowed on site.

Why Not Make Your Own Enemies List?

It began in Stephen Harper's boy band PMO.  The call went out for Tory nobs to compile enemies lists to help ministerial newbies distinguish between their real enemies from all their other enemies - the majority of Canadians.

They've even come up with a way to force organizations critical of them to self-generate enemies lists for them.   I know, I know, it does sound like something befitting a tyrant.

But, in the spirit of things, I invite you to come up with your own enemies list.  Who do you think are Canada's five most important enemies, the individuals most harmful to our country and our people?

Take a few minutes, come up with your names, list them in the "comments" section below.

More Prisons, More Prisons, Must Build More Prisons

Stephen Harper's faith-based crime wave took another hammering from the latest report showing that crime rates in Canada continue on their steady decline, reaching the lowest levels since the early 70s.  That's "faith based" in that he chooses to follow his beliefs even while flatly ignoring four decades of statistical reality.

But what about, oh I don't know, MURDER?  Sorry, Steve, that's down too - to the lowest level since 1972.

It would be nice if Steve could find a less expensive fetish than prison construction to indulge.  Maybe he could take up cross-dressing or golf.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What, Setting Aside Money for A Rainy Day? This Is Harperland After All!

One of the first thing Sideshow Steve Harper did upon seizing the reins of power was to powerfully defund the federal government.  Clinging to the neo-con ideology that taxation is theft and that government surpluses are the fruits of that crime, Harper slashed the GST by two points... and a few years later with the onset of the 2008 Great Recession the walls came tumblin' down.   With the treasury bare, Harper had to go to the markets to borrow money for his half-assed stimulus budget.

Now the folks who run Calgary are having to rethink this rancid rightwing tax phobia.   They're wondering if they shouldn't try banking their municipal budget surpluses for a while just in case, Jeebus forbid, they get another flood of the century like the two floods of the century they received in the past eight years.

Steve Harper, being the economic Dullard-in-Chief, never understood the wisdom of the Pharoahs who maintained large graneries where they could store wheat to see their people fed in years of crop failure.   Not only did our 5-watt prime ministerial light bulb fail to see the 2008 recession barreling our way, he did it with empty pockets and had to prorogue Parliament to cover his tracks.

So please, Calgary, do set money aside because these megafloods are becoming regular events and don't emulate the dimbulb of Calgary Southwest.  Nothing good ever comes of that.

Not In Front of the Children

 "We don't speak of these things, not in front of the children."

That, according to Gwynne Dyer, is the approach being taken by our political and military leadership when it comes to the geopolitical aspects of climate change.   They don't talk about it in front of the children - that's you and me.  Here, in a lecture from 2010, he explores the conversation we will never have:

N.B.  This was recorded in 2010 when Dyer was briefly optimistic that runaway climate change would be averted with a combination of common sense and geo-engineering.  That's a phase he's passed through since then.

Oh Yes We Do

Leave it to the head of Canada's most disliked cellular provider, Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, to whine that Canada doesn't need a fourth major cellphone company.

Okay, Nadir, how bout we put that to the test.   Let's put it to every Rogers customer and former customer from the past three years and see what they think.   No, not interested?   Yeah, didn't think so.

It's well documented that Canadians get lousy service and pay exorbitant prices for the privilege.   That's on you, Nadir.   So, sure, let in the competition and let's up the game.

And, while we're at it, we might consider doing the same thing with our cable television cabal.   They too charge way too much for crappy product.  They too have forfeited their right to a quasi-monopoly.  And yes, by "they", I mean you too Shaw.

Europe's New Climate - Deluge

Ah, southern Germany in May.  When I heard a buddy was going back to his parents' homeland for an aunt's 80th birthday, I told him of the glories of the south in May, especially the spargel season.  It's a white asparagus grown throughout Bavaria and elsewhere that, when fresh, is astonishingly good.  Munich, Baden - life is good.

Turned out I was wrong.  It was cold and damp, wet to be more accurate.   The place, along with much of central Europe was beset by heavy flooding.   My friend gave his aunt a kiss and headed off to seek refuge in Rome.

Things have changed over the course of thirty years.   Flooding is the order of the day from Britain to eastern Europe.  New research finds that's the way it's going to be for the future.

Heavy and prolonged rainfall will cause both more frequent and more severe flooding across the UK and the rest of north-west Europe as the atmosphere continues to warm, say British and American scientists

The study of these "atmospheric rivers", published in Environmental Research Letters, pins the blame for the increasing flood risk firmly on man-made climate change and says the same problem will afflict other parts of the planet.

The researchers describe how atmospheric rivers carry vast amounts of water vapour around the Earth, delivering heavy and prolonged rainfall, particularly to mountainous areas. They were responsible for the protracted winter and summer floods in the UK in 2012, which caused an estimated $1.6 billion (£1 bn) in damage.
In a warming world the atmosphere can carry more water and the research showed that the rivers, typically running a kilometre above the Earth, 300 kilometres wide and thousands of kilometres long, would become larger and capable of delivering even bigger quantities of prolonged rainfall.

An example of their potential danger is the atmospheric river that caused the severe flooding on 19 November 2009 over north-west Britain. As it approached the coast it was transporting a moisture volume 4,500 times the average gauged flow of the river Thames through London.

Atmospheric River hits California, 2012

In California, where atmospheric rivers (ARs) have already been assessed, the climate models predict that the number of years with these features will increase. To discover what could happen in Europe the models were tested against the known flooding events between 1980 and 2005, and the researchers found that they could accurately simulate what actually happened.

This gave them confidence to test what would happen in the future. All the models showed that with more greenhouse gases emitted by humans there would be a doubling of the number of atmospheric rivers later this century compared with the 1980 to 2005 period. Most of these events occur in the winter, but in a warmer world the danger period is extended.

Because of the way the warmer atmosphere is able to carry more water and deliver much higher rainfall totals, the potential for far worse floods from each of these rainfall events is much increased.

Ever Heard of a "Methane Pulse"? Get Ready, It Could be Just Two Years Away.

It's sort of like walking along a cliff edge blindfolded.   Most of us, given the choice, would say no.

There's a worst case scenario and a best case scenario and not much in between.  That's the situation that confronts us with new warnings that we could be taken by surprise by a "methane pulse" from the Arctic.  Put simply we may be at a major tipping point, the loss of Arctic sea ice, that triggers a natural feedback mechanism giving rise to runaway global warming.

A new paper in the journal Nature argues that the release of a 50 Gigatonne (Gt) methane pulse from thawing Arctic permafrost could destabilise the climate system and trigger costs as high as the value of the entire world's GDP. The East Siberian Arctic Shelf's (ESAS) reservoir of methane gas hydrates could be released slowly over 50 years or "catastrophically fast" in a matter of decades – if not even one decade – the researchers said.

Not everyone agrees that the paper's scenario of a catastrophic and imminent methane release is plausible. Nasa's Gavin Schmidt has previously argued that the danger of such a methane release is low, whereas scientists like Prof Tim Lenton from Exeter University who specialises in climate tipping points, says the process would take thousands if not tens of thousands of years, let alone a decade.

But do most models underestimate the problem? A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) projects that the Arctic will be ice free in September by around 2054-58. This, however, departs significantly from empirical observations of the rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice which is heading for disappearance within two or three years according to Nature co-author and renowned Arctic expert Prof Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar ocean physics group at Cambridge University.

If Prof Wadhams is correct in his forecast that the summer sea ice could be gone by 2015, then we might be closer to the tipping point than we realise.

Read The Guardian's interview with Professor Wadhams here.

When you think this through, there are only a couple of possibilities.   One, Wadham's right.  If he's right it's hard to imagine what we can do about this threat at this late stage.   The effective tipping point, that point at which we must take action to prevent the canoe from rolling over, has passed.  Or there's number Two, Wadham's wrong.   We might have decades before this occurs, possibly centuries.

The thing is, we need to know whether Wadham's right or, if not, how far off the mark he actually is.   We know that the Arctic climate has already undergone substantial change over just the past five to ten years.   We know the changes already in effect are accelerating further change.   We know these changes are wide-reaching, impacting most of the northern hemisphere and sometimes beyond.

The tangible and powerful changes we have already seen, researched and recorded mean that we don't get to dismiss warnings from Professor Wadhams as "alarmist".  The clock has run out on that ploy.  We need answers and the Harper government owes us that much - and a good deal more.

Now, Let's Put it In Harper's Language: Climate Change Catastrophe is Insanely Costly

Sixty trillion dollars, how's that Steve?

That's an estimate of the costs of Arctic thawing from climate change.   That's 60,000,000,000,000.00 and that's a lotta zeroes.

Rapid thawing of the Arctic could trigger a catastrophic "economic timebomb" which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system, say a group of economists and polar scientists.

Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia. But the release of a single giant "pulse" of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea "could come with a $60tn [£39tn] global price tag", according to the researchers who have for the first time quantified the effects on the global economy.

Even the slow emission of a much smaller proportion of the vast quantities of methane locked up in the Arctic permafrost and offshore waters could trigger catastrophic climate change and "steep" economic losses, they say.

The Arctic sea ice, which largely melts and reforms each year, is declining at an unprecedented rate. In 2012, it collapsed to under 3.5m sqkm by mid September, just 40% of its usual extent in the 1970s. Because the ice is also losing its thickness, some scientists expect the Arctic ocean to be largely free of summer ice by 2020.

We should consider the Harper government the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic of Canada's far north, utterly asleep at the controls.

The growing fear is that as the ice retreats, the warming of the sea water will allow offshore permafrost to release ever greater quantities of methane. A giant reservoir of the greenhouse gas, in the form of gas hydrates on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), could be emitted, either slowly over 50 years or catastrophically fast over a shorter time frame, say the researchers.

The ramifications of vanishing ice will also be felt far from the poles, they say because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems, such as oceans and climate. "The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer," said Prof Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar ocean physics group at Cambridge University and one of the authors of the paper published in the journal Nature.

Research and the emergence of new weather phenomenon over the past two years have revealed the Arctic to be a ticking time bomb of catastrophic climate change.   The tundra is thawing and burning, exposing the methane rich permafrost beneath.  There is a new and extremely powerful Polar Jet Stream that is bringing tropical heat far to the north, Arctic deep freeze conditions as far to the south as Venice, and severe floods and droughts that we have no idea how to cope with.   In the past week many of us first learned of this new Arctic summer cyclone that churns up many hundreds of thousands of sq. kms. of sea ice and draws in warm water from the Pacific and Atlantic.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When a Railroad Goes Deadbeat

You guessed it, we're talking Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, the railroad company that incinerated the luckless villagers of Lac Megantic, Quebec.

MM&A has stopped paying contractors working on the clean-up of the disaster causing the town to demand $4-million within 48-hours to pay the contractors MM&A itself hired.

MM&A chairman and jester, Special Ed Burkhardt isn't taking calls.  I'm guessing he's not planning on leaving his sanctuary in the States to put in another appearance in Quebec anytime soon either.

The Carefully Engineered Ascendancy of Public Stupidity

Maybe people who had survived the Great Depression and World War II were a little more wary, spent a little more time looking over their shoulders.   The postwar years gave rise to a period of insight and enlightenment that was abruptly arrested in the late 70's, early 80's with the arrival on the world scene of leaders like Reagan and Thatcher.   According to professor and renowned culture critic, Henry Giroux, they and their minions ushered in what has become the era of public stupidity.

Here are a few excerpts from Giroux's timely warning.  I hope they will pique your interest enough that you follow the link above and read the piece in its entirety.

"America has become amnesiac - a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.

...Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.

These anti-public intellectuals [Bachmann, Santorum, O'Reilly, Beck, Coulter] are part of a disimagination machine that solidifies the power of the rich and the structures of the military-industrial-surveillance-academic complex by presenting the ideologies, institutions and relations of the powerful as commonsense.

...The pedagogy of authoritarianism is alive and well in the United States, and its repression of public memory takes place not only through the screen culture and institutional apparatuses of conformity, but is also reproduced through a culture of fear and a carceral state that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

...Since the late 1970s, there has been an intensification in the United States, Canada and Europe of neoliberal modes of governance, ideology and policies - a historical period in which the foundations for democratic public spheres have been dismantled. Schools, public radio, the media and other critical cultural apparatuses have been under siege, viewed as dangerous to a market-driven society that considers critical thought, dialogue, and civic engagement a threat to its basic values, ideologies, and structures of power. This was the beginning of an historical era in which the discourse of democracy, public values, and the common good came crashing to the ground.   ...Democracy and the political process were all but sacrificed to the power of corporations and the emerging financial service industries, just as hope was appropriated as an advertisement for the whitewashed world, a culture whose capacity to critique oppressive social practices was greatly diminished. Large social movements fragmented into isolated pockets of resistance mostly organized around a form of identity politics that largely ignored a much-needed conversation about the attack on the social and the broader issues affecting society such as the growing inequality in wealth, power and income.

...What has changed about an entire generation of young people includes not only neoliberal society's disinvestment in youth and the lasting fate of downward mobility, but also the fact that youth live in a commercially carpet-bombed and commodified environment that is unlike anything experienced by those of previous generations.  Nothing has prepared this generation for the inhospitable and savage new world of commodification, privatization, joblessness, frustrated hopes and stillborn projects.

...At the start of the second decade of the 21st century, young people all over the world are demonstrating against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services. These demonstrations have and currently are being met with state-sanctioned violence and an almost pathological refusal to hear their demands.

...Within the existing neoliberal historical conjuncture, there is a merging of violence and governance and the systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres that have provided the minimal conditions for democracy. This becomes obvious in the emergence of a surveillance state in which the social media not only become new platforms for the invasion of privacy, but further legitimate a culture in which monitoring functions are viewed as benign while the state-sponsored society of hyper-fear increasingly defines everyone as either a snitch or a terrorist. Everyone, especially minorities of race and ethnicity, now live under a surveillance panoptican in which "living under constant surveillance means living as criminals."

These excerpts offer just a glimpse into the wonderful and important message Giroux conveys and I urge you to read it in its entirety. 

The point is clear, democracy is not safe - not in the United States nor is it safe in Canada.  In fact, democracy is being suppressed, incrementally but relentlessly, by the authoritarian Right aided by centrist political parties that seem unwilling to stand up to them, to fight back.   We're losing this war and we don't have a lot of time left to turn that around.