Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Stupid Gene Has Crossed the Border

A survey commissioned by the Ontario Science Centre has given a blunt depiction of just how stupid a lot of Canadians really are and, by stupid, I mean Tea Party stupid.

Are scientific findings a matter of opinion? Forty-three per cent of Canadians agree that they are, suggests a new poll.

The survey found widespread concerns about fake news — 66 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that "false information reported as fact (so called 'fake news') is affecting your knowledge of science."

It also uncovered possible evidence of that happening, including a widespread belief in ideas contrary to scientific consensus:

52 per cent of respondents agreed that "genetically modified organisms are bad for your health." (This is an issue where there recently has been the biggest divide between scientists and the public.)

47 per cent (up from 41 per cent last year) agreed that "the science behind global warming is still unclear," despite what scientists have been calling for years "unequivocal" evidence.

19 per cent agree "there is a link between vaccinations and autism," even though the study that made the link was found years ago to be "an elaborate fraud."

Kelly Bronson, a University of Ottawa professor who has studied and written about science communication, said people are confused about where to go for reliable information and how to tell facts from beliefs.

She thinks the media are partly to blame for focusing too much on telling both sides of the story: "It doesn't help the public learn how to distinguish true knowledge from mere opinion, if both are given equal weight in a news story."

In many cases, while scientific consensus develops around matters like climate change, scientists coming from different backgrounds may generate findings that appear to conflict with one another.

"Those often find their way into the mass media and can be confusing for members of the general public who actually don't have a clue as to how science works."

That's the bad news but there's more. A study into science literacy in 35 countries ranked Canada 1st. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump Went to the United Nations with Tough Talk and Only Managed to Embarrass the United States

Every blowhard bully runs the risk of some thing, some event that can gore his credibility.  That something for Donald Trump in his bombastic threats against North Korea is China.

Trump rode to power on brash pronouncements of how he was going to put ChYna in its place. America wouldn't be putting up with any more games from Beijing. No sirree. Trump's supporters, the Gullibillies, lapped it up. They couldn't get enough of it.

Talk is cheap. Donald Trump talk is cheaper still. It's not president Xi Jinping who is kowtowing these days. That era is over.

Not since the British garrison at Singapore surrendered to Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita in 1942 has Western opinion of an Asian power changed so fast. When China’s 2015 stock market bubble popped, prevailing Western opinion held that China’s economic boom would flame out in a debt crisis comparable to America’s subprime disaster of 2008 or the near collapse of Europe’s southern tier in 2013.

Now that China’s tradeable stock market has risen by 43% during 2017 in US dollar terms (with the MSCI-based ETF as a benchmark), Western opinion is melting up.

The same applies to Western evaluation of China’s standing as a world power. Graham Allison’s 'The Thucydides Trap,' a plea not to oppose China’s strategic challenge to the United States, now sits on the desk of every senior staffer at the National Security Council courtesy of President Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMasters.

It will shock Americans who have been told for years that China merely copies Western technology by stealing trade secrets, and for that reason alone Prof. Allison’s book fairly might be called the most influential book of the year.

Allison warns:

In the three and a half decades since Ronald Reagan became president, by the best measurement of economic performance, China has soared from 10 percent the size of the US to 60 percent in 2007, 100 percent in 2014, and 115 percent today. If the current trend continues, China’s economy will be a full 50 percent larger than that of the US by 2023. By 2040 it could be nearly three times as large. That would mean a China with triple America’s resources to use in influencing outcomes in international relations. Such gross economic, political, and military advantages would create a globe beyond anything American policymakers can now imagine.

American influence in Western Asia is eroding quickly. Turkey is now a NATO member in name only; it has bought Russia’s S-400 air defense system over NATO protests, and it has allied with Iran to suppress Kurdish forces in Syria whose success threatens to strengthen Kurdish independence movements in Iran as well as Turkey.

Suddenly, from the South China Sea to the Bosporus, the United States cannot move without brushing up against Chinese influence, if not outright Chinese power. It’s not quite the same as Yamashita’s march across the Malaysian jungle. But if anything, the fecklessness, complacency and incompetence of America’s leaders exceeds the fabled stupidity of the British at Singapore.

Trump waved the threat of unilateral action against North Korea at the UN this morning but everyone, save for the Gullibillies, knew he was just blowing smoke. China will not tolerate that sort of conflict chaos on their border. They certainly will not tolerate the use of even tactical nuclear weapons on their doorstep.

The sun is setting on American hegemony in Asia. Even Trump may realize it eventually.

Will Manafort Sing Like a Canary?

According to The New York Times former Trump campaign manager and associate, Paul Manafort, has been given notice by the Mueller team that he is going to be indicted. Indicted for what, who knows? Well, I assume Mueller's sleuths and Manafort know but the rest of us will have to wait.

Now it seems that the FBI was wiretapping Manafort both during the campaign and after Trump's triumph.

It's now also come out that, when the FBI raided Manafort's home while he slept, they didn't bang on the front door, they picked the lock and swarmed in. Now that's a curious thing for a guy of Manafort's wealth and stature. You might confuse Manafort with Al Capone.

So what's behind Robert Mueller's full court press on Manafort? The special counsel is probably pressuring Manafort to start talking about things they know he knows about.

Maybe if Trump can wrap things up early at the United Nations he'll have time to give Manafort the Arpaio Absolution

Trump Impresses U.N. - Foresees the U.S. Having "No Choice But To Totally Destroy North Korea."

It's a safe bet that a lot of delegates to the United Nations had their worst suspicions of Donald Trump confirmed this morning.

"If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph," Trump said, as he detailed the horrors of what he called the "depraved" North Korean regime.

"Rocket man is on a suicide mission," he said, using a nickname for Kim that refers to the North's recent missile tests.

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump said during his address.

While the U.S. could take military action itself, Trump urged the U.N. to join together in curtailing North Korea's nuclear efforts.

"We meet at a time of both immense promise and great peril," Trump said, calling it up to the nations gathered at the U.N. General Assembly to decide whether the world grows to "new heights" or falls "into a valley of disrepair."


The president also took on Iran, dismissing the nuclear deal between Tehran and the U.S. and other key world powers which lifted sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Trump ripped the deal as an "embarrassment" and vowed that this would not be the last the world hears of the deal — "believe me."

Iran's future, Trump said, comes down to its people who could continue down their current road "or return to its ... roots as a center of civilization, culture and wealth."

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monbiot on the Malignancy of Growth

It's encouraging to see more voices speaking out against the heresy of modern politics - perpetual, exponential growth. There are those, our prime minister among them, who cling to the notion of constant increase in GDP as a measure of success. These people are fools no matter how many of them rise to the top tiers of power in parliaments or board rooms. Fools, all of them, and we pay a high price for indulging them.

George Monbiot sees today's hyper capitalism at the root of our failure to address crises such as climate change. 

A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions. After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse.

You can now buy a selfie toaster, that burns an image of your own face on to your bread – the Turin Shroud of toast. You can buy beer for dogs and wine for cats; a toilet roll holder that sends a message to your phone when the paper is running out; a $30 branded brick; a hairbrush that informs you whether or not you are brushing your hair correctly. Panasonic intends to produce a mobile fridge that, in response to a voice command, will deliver beers to your chair.

Urge, splurge, purge: we are sucked into a cycle of compulsion followed by consumption, followed by the periodic detoxing of ourselves or our homes, like Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in.

Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element.

The environmental crisis is an inevitable result not just of neoliberalism – the most extreme variety of capitalism – but of capitalism itself. Even the social democratic (Keynesian) kind depends on perpetual growth on a finite planet: a formula for eventual collapse. But the peculiar contribution of neoliberalism is to deny that action is necessary: to insist that the system, like Greenspan’s financial markets, is inherently self-regulating. The myth of the self-regulating market accelerates the destruction of the self-regulating Earth.

Monbiot takes up the call for a new system that includes a new ethics, a new politics and a new economic paradigm. People like Trudeau and the leaders of our other mainstream parties stand in the way with their feet of clay. The longer we tolerate them the worse our chances of being overtaken by events they will not even address.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Think of an Ark for the 21st Century

Let's recycle the fable of Noah and his Ark. Only this 21st century ark isn't intended to hold mating pairs of creatures, two by two. It's intended strictly for a human cargo. Not just any humans either. It is reserved for the most advantaged, affluent individuals and families. The rest, and, yes, that includes you, need not apply. 

You're not getting on the ark. It's not for you.

We know from who's not getting on the ark and from what those who are keep doing that construction is well underway.

A good many people wonder how a scientific issue such as climate change became such a political football in the United States. How did it become an issue of right and left. After all, surely no one will be immune from its impacts, right? Yes, no one will be immune from climate change impacts but that doesn't mean that everyone will be in the same boat either. Some, in fact, have a reserved cabin on the ark and, for them, climate change is a different matter altogether.

Think of it as a "just not yet" approach to a looming crisis.  The mine may be in danger of collapsing but there's still a rich vein of ore to be exploited, enormous wealth just waiting to be brought to the surface.  It's getting increasingly more dangerous for the hard rock miners but their peril isn't shared by the guys at Head Office counting the cash.

If you want to pursue the "just not yet" approach to wealth extraction you need someone who's on your side and definitely not on the side of those ungrateful, undeserving miners. And that's where political capture - legislative, regulatory and executive - pays off "bigly." It facilitates wealth extraction, it facilitates wealth accumulation and it does it all within an "everyday low taxes" platform. It's win, win, win for the People of the Ark. 

If everything works out as planned, climate change will morph from a political issue into a class problem. The process is already well underway.

As we've witnessed in the aftermath of Katrina and Sandy, Harvey and Irma, it's not the rich wading chest deep through water full of sewage and toxic chemical waste. The People of the Ark don't have to fret about boil water advisories. If God had wanted them to suffer those indignities He wouldn't have given them helicopters and executive jets.

It's the poor that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of floods, droughts and every imaginable hammer blow of severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration.  The poor get to flail about, reeling from dislocation and worsening poverty, rotating through toxic FEMA trailers, powerless over their fate. It's a plague visited upon them by their betters for the sake of chasing that last vein of ore in the mine. The bigger irony is that those few who played such a significant role in shaping this future for the many know they have reserved accommodation on that ark.

And yet it would be condescending to the poorest and most vulnerable to cast this as an "us versus them" issue. The People of the Ark are very much the "them" but there really is no "us." If there was such a thing, our political caste would respond far differently than what we've experienced to date. We would have a voice and unassailable political power if we had even a modicum of coherence and that's simply not a factor. There is no common will, no universal voice. We are as the people of the tower of Babel. 

Ask yourself what common bond you feel to the people you see wading through waste water. You may sympathize with them and their plight but you almost certainly don't feel "of" them. You don't carry anxiety for their uncertainty, their loss of whatever power and dignity they once might have had. You don't see yourself in their shoes, ever. You have faith in some superior resilience. You count on never experiencing their fate. You bet the farm on it. A good many of us are far less charitable and caring, more ready to blame those who have been overwhelmed for their fate. Many more of us are simply too busy or distracted to feel much of anything.

The "us versus them" threat ceases to be of much significance if the "us" is so fractured, so divided, so at odds with itself as to present a challenge much less a threat to "them." And that, I fear, is where it's going to remain until we come to see ourselves, to make ourselves, part of "us," to reach down until we form some sort of human chain. We're a long way from that right now.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Annexation of Palestine and the Expulsion of Its People

What did we expect after collaborating with the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian homeland for more than a half century? They've even got a name for it, "The Decision Plan."  

The approval of the plan, dubbed by its supporters “The Decision Plan,” has been actively promoted by Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich. It aims to “alter the discourse and present a true alternative to any plan based on dividing the land,” according to a National Union statement.

“After a hundred years of managing the conflict, the time has come for a decision,” Smotrich told the assembly. “The principles [of the left] have within a few years become accepted by growing parts of the Israeli leadership. First on the left, and later, unfortunately, also on the right, which to a great extent has lost its belief in the justice of our path and has been dragged toward the two-state solution.

“The vision of the decision plan is not new,” Smotrich said. “These are the foundations on which Zionism was erected. We do not assume that there are two narratives here that are equal. There’s one side that’s correct, and another that is undermining the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.” 

They're not even pretending any more although we're pretending they still are.

Smotrich added, “We have to engrave in the consciousness of the Arabs and the entire world that there is no chance of establishing an Arab state in the Land of Israel.”

The Smotrich plan presents a kind of surrender-or-transfer ultimatum to the Palestinians in which “two alternatives will be offered to the Arabs of the Land of Israel:
“1. Anyone who is willing and able to relinquish the fulfillment of his national aspirations will be able to stay here and live as an individual in the Jewish state.
“2. Anyone who is unwilling or unable to relinquish his national aspirations will receive assistance from us to emigrate to one of the Arab countries.
There is also a third option.
“Anyone who insists on choosing the third ‘option’ – to continue to resort to violence against the Israel Defense Forces, the State of Israel and the Jewish population will be determinedly handled by the security forces with greater force than at present and under more comfortable conditions for us.” 

Bibi Nods Approvingly.

Smotrich’s program may sound ephemeral, but it received recognition from Netanyahu, who sent a videotaped message of support to the conference.

“I was happy to hear that you are devoting the discussions at the conference to the subject of the future of the Land of Israel. Up until not so many years ago, this country was deserted and abandoned, but since we returned to Zion, after generations of exile, the Land of Israel is flourishing,” said Netanyahu in the recorded greeting.

The prime minister added: “Within less than 70 years, we have succeeded in building a prosperous country, a world leader in economics, technology, security, agriculture, cybersecurity, health and many other fields. We are building the country and settling it in the mountains, the valleys, the Galilee, the Negev and in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] too, because this is our country. We have been given the privilege of living in the land, and we have an obligation to guard it carefully.”

Life and Death in Cattle Class

They still like to call it "economy" or "coach" but to a lot of people it's now just "cattle class" and it's no laughing matter. In fact it could be deadly serious.

Go back far enough, back to the early jetliners such as the 707, the DC-8 and the first 747, and air travel was fun, comfortable and, if you got the right carrier, such as Ward Air or Lufthansa, it might even be a bit elegant.

The 707 and the DC-8 are long gone and so, for most passengers, is any trace of fun or comfort much less elegance. It's all a war of elbows, knees and arses today - oh, and a complimentary bag of peanuts or cookies or some other form of crap. The fun and comfort and elegance, that's for your betters sitting in those neat seats in the front of the aircraft. 

Over the decades airlines have focused on cramming as much fare-paying humanity as possible into the available space in the bilges.The seats, even the aisle, have gotten narrower. The "pitch" between the rows, what humankind might call legroom, has been truncated as though, by the doing, your legs might somehow retract into your hip sockets and they do try without much success. There's no extra charge for misery. Deep vein thrombosis is absolutely free.

Now a US consumers group, Flyers Rights, has the FAA before an the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and the airlines aren't enjoying this one bit.

For years the airlines have been allowed to steadily shrink the size of coach class seats and the space between seat rows without regulators considering the impact of this on safety. A Daily Beast investigation has found:

• The tests carried out to ensure that all the passengers can safely exit a cabin in an emergency are dangerously outdated and do not reflect how densely packed coach class seating has become—or how the size of passengers has simultaneously increased;

• No coach class seat meets the Department of Transportation’s own standard for the space required to make a flight attendant’s seat safe in an emergency;

• Neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration will disclose the evacuation test data for the newest (and most densely seated) versions of the most widely used jet, the Boeing 737.

The court ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to respond to a petition filed by Flyers Rights to promulgate new rules to deal with safety issues created by shrinking seat sizes and space in coach class cabins.

Furthermore, the court complained that the FAA had used outdated studies to argue that no change was needed in the way emergency evacuation tests are carried out—and, at the same time, had refused to release details of the test results because they involved proprietary data.

The Daily Beast has since examined more than 900 pages of Department of Transportation documents and FAA regulations that address the way airplane cabins are configured to ensure rapid evacuation in an emergency. All of the tests designed to achieve the fastest possible evacuations were devised decades before the appearance of budget airlines greatly increased the density of seating and, in particular, before the size of seats shrank and the space between each row of seats similarly shrank.

Honey, Does This Seat Make My Ass Look Big?

In bringing the case, Flyers Rights documented what this contraction of space means in actual inches. Two measures are particularly critical in deciding the ease (or otherwise) of evacuation: the dimensions of the seats themselves and the extent of the space between seat rows, measured from the top of one seatback to the next, called pitch. Flyers Rights said that in coach the pitch has decreased from an average of 35 inches in the early 2000s to 31 inches today—and in an increasing number of cases it has now shrunk to 28 inches. In the same period average seat width has shrunk from 18.5 inches to 17 inches.

Paul Hudson, the president of Flyers Rights,[argues] that the disparity in the density of seating between classes of cabin was “a Titanic waiting to happen,” comparing the plight of passengers in coach with the plight of steerage class passengers on Edwardian-era steamships where priority in an emergency was given to first- and second-class passengers.

Furthermore, Hudson is concerned that the space between seat rows has become too tight for passengers to adopt the brace position illustrated on the emergency evacuation instruction cards supplied to every passenger, in which passengers are told to lean forward and cover their heads with overlapping hands to lessen the risk of head and spine injuries in a violent crash landing.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Uh, Yeah, Duly Noted

There's an eye-opener. Canada's top officer at NORAD, a lt.-gen no less, tells us that the US does not consider itself obliged to defend Canada in case of a North Korean missile attack.

Really? Well, what about Afghanistan? Even though the United States was never actually attacked by the Afghanis, we dutifully responded to Washington's Article 5, NATO charter plea and joined other NATO partners in America's hapless Afghan war.

So, if Washington, which is so fond lately of poking Pyongyang with a sharp stick, doesn't consider itself obliged to defend Canada in the event of a North Korean missile attack, what is the point of NORAD at all or, for that matter, NATO?

Our Dilemma in Three Graphs

In a world where mankind is already running headlong into so many walls this is what some see in store for the next twenty of thirty years. If they're right, you won't recognize the place.

Ostracizing Washington?

Donald Trump is not going to like this. He's being sidelined while the leaders of 34 major economies gather in Montreal this weekend for talks aimed at preventing Washington from scuttling November's climate summit in Bonn.

Though ministers from 30 major economies will be present, accounting for half of the G20, one major economy will not have a senior minister there - the United States. That is as intended.

The summit is, in part, an effort to head off any attempts by the US to play a spoiler role at the Bonn talks.

US President Donald Trump announced his intent to withdraw his country from the Paris climate agreement in June. But since then it has become clear that the US is in no hurry to pull out, and will still have a seat at the table until 2020. That has left other signatories to the deal worried that US representatives will use their delegation to thwart efforts to strengthen the regime at this year's summit in Bonn.

The Montreal meeting is the first of its kind, because it has been called by individual countries and is taking place outside the UN framework.

My Weekend Cooking Tip

In a word, two words, "sous vide." I was a fierce apostate until my daughter bought me the device last Christmas and a true believer ever since.

Granted my cooking is inspired by British chef, Heston Blumenthal, a champion of sous-vide but it wasn't until I tried it a couple of times that I became a total convert.

If you're unfamiliar with it, sous-vide is essentially water-bath cooking. The device itself is a combination precision heater and circulating pump. You take your food, put it in either a ziploc bag with the air carefully removed or, better yet, a foodsaver bag, get the water to the appropriate temperature, put the bag in the water and - wait.

It is not for the impatient. You must be prepared to wait, sometimes for hours. The way it works its magic is that it brings whatever you're cooking to the desired temperature, and not one degree more, all the way through. Once it's finished you remove it from the bag, pat it dry with paper towels, toss it into a preheated and very hot skillet, sear it for a couple of minutes (strictly for that great flavour) and serve.

It's not just meat either. You can sous-vide fish, vegetables, even eggs. If you can eat it, chances are you should be able to sous-vide it.

My kids really love my sous-vide burgers. Here's the drill. Two parts medium ground beef to one part ground pork. One red onion, minced. Blend in bread crumbs (Italian or panko), some fresh ground pepper, a moderate amount of Club House Montreal Steak Spice, a similar amount of Italian seasoning (to keep the salt content down) and, my secret ingredient - the North African spice, sumac.

I weigh the burgers, about 6 ounces, form them up, pop a couple into a foodsaver bag, vacuum seal them, and then into the water bath for 90 minutes at 134 degrees F. Out of the bag, dry them off, into the heated skilled for two minutes aside and then serve. You won't need a lot of condiments, slice of tomato and a little ketchup or mustard will probably do.  Pop one of those into a nice bun, add a bit of salad, and - dinner.

There are plenty of different devices available.  I got the one shown above for Christmas and it works just fine. Sometimes you can get one real cheap online. 

The Right Corrupts Everything, Even Think Tanks.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

When America's great think tanks were born, they were specifically intended to advance the public interest, the public welfare. That was before they were perverted to become a marketing/lobbying tool of the far right. From The New Republic.

The term “think tank” didn’t appear until the Kennedy administration, which relied heavily on Rand Corporation research, but these policy groups and research institutes date from 1916, when philanthropist Robert Brookings established the Institute for Government Research, which later became known as the Brookings Institution. Robert Brookings was one of a group of very wealthy businessmen who had become convinced that through the application of social science, government policies could be devised that would stem the rising conflict between the classes and parties and also achieve world peace. They were Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson progressives in the broadest sense of the term.

Brookings wanted a research institute that was “free from any political or pecuniary interest.” The scholars didn’t raise their own money, but were employed like university faculty. In founding the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Andrew Carnegie went farther: In 1910, he endowed the new institution with bonds that he hoped would allow it to forego fundraising entirely. Other groups that began during those first decades included the Council on Foreign Relations, the Twentieth Century Fund (now the Century Foundation), the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Committee for Economic Development.

The groups attained a reputation for intellectual independence. When coal company officials complained in 1933 to Brookings’ first president, classical economist Robert Moulton, about a study recommending their nationalization, Moulton responded, “We are concerned only in finding out what will promote the general welfare.” That reputation lasted into the 1960s, when, under John F. Kennedy, think tanks were conspicuously welcomed in the policy debate. But Robert Brookings’s early model of political disinterestedness and scientific objectivity began to erode soon afterward.

Three developments contributed to this change: Beginning in the 1940s, and in earnest in the early 1970s, conservative Republicans and business groups established think tanks and policy groups that had a specific economic and/or factional purpose. Businessmen dissatisfied with the New Deal created the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in 1943. In 1964, it served as the policy arm of Barry Goldwater’s right-wing campaign for president, and in the ‘70s became the preferred think tank of the Fortune 500 and of center-right Republicans, even when, for appearance’s sake, AEI kept around a few liberal researchers.

The Heritage Institution was founded in 1973 as a sophisticated business lobby (its first president came from the National Association of Manufacturers) that, unlike the more scholarly AEI, actively worked on Capitol Hill to develop legislation. It became a key player in the growth of Republican conservatism. Other groups included the American Council for Capital Formation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and later “action tanks” like Citizens for a Sound Economy and its successors FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

Together, these business and conservative Republican groups attempted to take advantage of the reputation created by the older think tanks: They demanded attention for their “experts” in the media—on op-ed pages and, later, TV news shows—but they were in fact the kind of political organization or business lobbies that Robert Brookings and Andrew Carnegie had wanted to avoid at all costs. These groups’ scholarly output, particularly from a group like Heritage, was nugatory. They debased the coinage of the older thinking. And their model of partisan intervention and policy briefs spread leftward to groups like the Center for American Progress, which is something of a Democratic version of the Heritage Foundation.

Then there's the Canadian experience, the Fraser Institute. No matter how biased or outrageous the messaging of the Boys of Fraser, our media regularly pay them homage. For what? Because they exist on the payroll of some fairly narrow interests as their marketing/lobbying tool?

It's hardly any better in Britain where, save for Chatham House, the majority of think tanks are very much aligned, left or right.

The currency of think tanks, their credibility, has been severely debased. The majority are now mouthpieces for their patrons and ready to bend fact and truth to their supporters' service. And, for that, we're all worse off.

There's No 'Maytag Man' to Fix Neoliberalism.

I recently went through a slow death experience involving a flatscreen Sony TV. It would work, sort of, after a while of whinging. At first it only took a few minutes, then 10 and 15 followed by half an hour before the screen finally became clear. It got to the point where I would turn it on before I cooked dinner.

Then the day came where 30 minutes didn't do it. I sat patiently for another half hour and then I left to attend to other things. I came back at hour two - still dead.  No real grief, I was waiting for the end from the day I discovered that, of the three main circuit boards that made that Sony do its magic, precisely none of them was still available. Not one, nada. 

That faithless Sony reminds me of what's going on with neoliberalism and our government's obsession with clinging to it even as it steadily fails us. It's broken and it can't be fixed no matter how much Trudeau claims to otherwise. That's just his inner drama teacher talking.

Which brings me to William Davies' timely review of George Monbiot's new book, "Out of the Wreckage."

The capacity for democracy to throw up surprises, such as Britain’s 2017 general election result, is mesmerising. Brexit may be a famous act of economic self-harm, but something new will be born one way or the other. Still the danger persists and may be growing.
That this is happening now, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago, is a direct consequence of the disintegration of the economic policy framework that has held sway in Britain, the US, the European commission and many multilateral institutions for much of the previous 40 years. That framework is often referred to as “neoliberalism”, even if the term irritates a certain class of pundit, for whom it is some sort of swearword without any clear referent. Its disintegration is producing conflicting sympathies, as many on the left come to realise the xenophobia that can be unleashed in the absence of stable market-based rules.
The grand global difficulties of neoliberalism are plain to see. The financial crisiswas testimony to the stupidity of deregulation, while the inability to move on from it demonstrates that orthodox economic policy tools no longer work. Solutions to climate change are hamstrung by the need to respect existing corporate and financial strategies. But Monbiot also details considerable psychological and biological evidence for how the ethos of individual competition harms us all, running counter to our innate needs and instincts. Loneliness and distrust are not just the defining social problems of our age, but increasingly posing risks to our health.


It is far from certain that democracy – even thriving, inclusive democracy – will produce the happy social and environmental outcomes Monbiot expects it to, including a respect for science. The indeterminacy of popular power is both its thrill and its danger. At one point Monbiot writes expertly on how to combine music, “energisers” and speakers to convert the vitality of protest marches into more lasting campaign outcomes. “The energiser would bring back the musicians to lead the crowd in an anthem: there’s no better way of generating a sense of solidarity and shared emotion,” which sounds as much like a Trump rally as the ones that attract Monbiot’s sympathies.

Monbiot might well respond that severe dangers have already been realised, in the form of climate change, political corruption, psychological distress and inequality. Why live in fear of emerging enemies, when the established ones are already running amok? Out of the Wreckage is partly an activists’ manual, which aims to coordinate and energise those who want a different world. You don’t build an evocative story out of warnings and fears. I hope it succeeds.

But if the Brits are imagining a post-neoliberal order, what are we doing in Canada to find our own alternatives to this faithless, duplicitous orthodoxy? Apparently next to nothing. We are, after all, a petro-state, not because it's the dominant part of our national economy but because it's how we have chosen to cast our identity. Remember when Harper boasted bitumen would make Canada an "energy superpower" or when Ignatieff called Athabasca, "the beating heart of the Canadian economy for the 21st Century"? 

Think about it. It wasn't that long ago that we were being told these things and, while Trudeau stops short of the same boastful pronouncements, he nonetheless is still bitumen's handmaiden. For him it's a race to get bitumen to "tidewater" and off to Asian markets before they dry up, before someone bursts the Carbon Bubble and bitumen becomes a stranded asset - yet again.

Maybe when we're no longer held hostage to Harper's and Ignatieff's and Trudeau's orthodoxy we'll be able to do what the Brits are doing now and reimagining the future, a viable future of Canada and our people. Maybe.

Pope, Calling. Is Anybody Listening?

When the Pope speaks out on climate change, he's not just another world leader spouting off his pet world view. Pope Francis has the straight goods delivered fresh and hot from top officials of the Vatican science academy. When it comes to climate change that means the Potsdam Institute's Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. That's what sets the Pope apart from most leaders including our own. He not only has first rate scientific advisors, he listens to them.

That's why Francis warns our world will "go down" if our political leaders don't finally address climate change. Is anybody listening? 

"Shitstorm Irma"

Hurricane Irma will be remembered by Floridians for high winds, storm surges, flooding and widescale destruction. But what about the turds?
Pollution reports submitted to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection show that, due to power outages and flooding caused by Irma, human waste has been spilling into streets, residences, and waterways across the entire state. At the time of this article’s publication, at least 113 “Public Notices of Pollution” had been submitted to the DEP. Combined, those discharge reports showed more than 28 million gallons of treated and untreated sewage released in 22 counties. The total amount is surely much more; at least 43 of those reports listed either an “unknown” or “ongoing” amount of waste released, and new reports continue to roll in—sometimes as many as a dozen per hour.

In other words, Irma was a literal shitstorm. But it’s no laughing matter. Sewage spills pose a major threat to public health, and they’re likely to become more common due to two increasingly connected crises facing America: an aging infrastructure and climate change.

Miami, the city’s South District Wastewater Treatment Plant reported a six-million-gallon sewage spill that reached Biscane Bay, a state aquatic preserve. While the report said the area was cleaned and disinfected, it also says the public was not notified and the sewage was not recovered. In Seminole County, north of Orlando, a sewer overflowed for six hours, spilling two million gallons. More than 300,000 gallons flowed into Stevenson Creek, which the Tampa Bay Times reports is already “one of Pinellas County’s most polluted bodies of water.” The St. John’s River in Jacksonville has seen at least 130,000 gallons of sewage released into its tributaries. And in Volusia County, which holds Daytona Beach, a two-million-gallon spill of treated sewage has seen “no cleanup efforts” so far, according to a notice.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Say What? The Skull and Crossbones?

Enquiring minds are asking why the nuclear attack submarine, USS Jimmy Carter, returned to base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington state flying the Skull and Crossbones beside the Stars and Stripes.

The last time I can remember a NATO sub flying the Skull and Crossbones was when HMS Conqueror returned home after sinking the Argentine heavy cruiser, Belgrano.

Nobody is talking about what SSN Jimmy has been up to but it's base in the Pacific Northwest is perfect for forays to North Korea. It's said that the Jimmy Carter is the most secretive attack sub in the US Navy. Its hull was even lengthened a full 100 feet for some purpose, perhaps landing special forces.

Every President Gets 'Em.

Here's some food for thought in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  During his two terms in office, George w. Bush issued more than 420 disaster declarations for severe storms, tornadoes, wildfires and floods and, of course, Katrina. That's about one a week. That's 11 per cent more than the disasters declared by Bill Clinton and 130% more than the declarations issued by Ronald Reagan. I'm trying to track down the states for Obama but it seems he kept pace with Bush Jr.

It does seem these disaster declarations are coming in pretty fast and furious these days but, of course, that says nothing about climate change which we all know is a hoax.

Changing the subject, a bit, what do you think of when you see increasingly common photos like these?

The first thing I wonder is just what's really in that water?  Some of it, unfortunately, is top soil, something that's already in peril.  But there can be a lot of other nasty stuff in it too including chemicals as well as animal and human waste and everything that sort of effluent carries. As the waters recede they'll take some of the nasty stuff with them, some of it will be left behind. Sort of like when the sanitary sewer backs up in your basement. I recall an experience with that at my folks' home back in the 60s. Gross.

You Can't Make This Up. The Land of Netanyahu.

Bibi and Uday

I just went to the web site of the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. There's some brouhaha about supposedly anti-Semitic cartoon posted on social media by Benjamin Netanyahu's son, Uday, attacking George Soros.

The article linked to three other stories:

Netanyahu Jr. refuses to pick up dog poop, then claws at his critics

Analysis Why Netanyahu hates George Soros so much

Opinion Attacking Soros: Israel’s unholy covenant with Europe’s anti-Semitic ultra-right

WTF - from a story about Netanyahu's punk son to dog poop to Bibi's hate-on for George Soros to Israel's "unholy covenant" with Europe's anti-Semitic ultra-right. 

Not enough? How about this one?

Ex-KKK leader David Duke comes to the defense of Prime Minister Netanyahu's son after he posts a meme that suggests a conspiracy is behind his family's growing legal problems
read more:

Now, unlike our prime minister, I know that Israel has become an ultra-right, near-fascist state intent on holding the Palestinian homeland the only way it can short of outright ethnic cleansing, an apartheid state, but courting ultra-right European extremists or garnering support from David Duke?

David Asks the Really Awkward Question

While our prime minister fantasizes that we're still in the 1980s, David Suzuki poses the RAQ, the Really Awkward Question - how do we square Trudeau's pursuit of perpetual exponential economic growth with our fight against climate change?

A July 2017 study in Nature Climate Change concluded that the world only has a five per cent chance of keeping global average temperature from increasing beyond 2°C. On a positive note, the authors found economies worldwide will likely become more energy-efficient, and low-carbon sources like wind and solar will make up a growing share of the mix.

But economic growth will likely cancel out these advances. For every megatonne of emissions reduced through efficiency and clean energy, another megatonne will be produced because of economic expansion. Our economies will get bigger almost as fast as they get cleaner, and emissions will not drop quickly enough to stave off catastrophic climate change.

Economic growth has been the primary goal of every Canadian government, provincial and federal, for decades. Leaders’ speeches are peppered with references to it. Election campaigns are filled with promises of economic expansion. Pity the politician who presides over an economic downturn.

Rarely do we stop to ask what economic growth means. In short, it’s a year-to-year increase in production, distribution and consumption, as expressed by gross domestic product.


This promise of “green growth” is popular because it offers something for everybody. It maintains a commitment to economic growth while claiming greenhouse gas emissions will drop. But, as the Nature Climate Change study asserts, “green growth” is likely an oxymoron. (I have another word for it, "bullshit.")

“Degrowth” advocates argue that tackling climate change requires shrinking the economy. A planned slowdown of the economy would be achieved by implementing shorter workweeks and more holidays and encouraging low-consumption lifestyles.

“Agrowth” advocates such as environmental economist Jeroen van den Bergh argue that we should ignore GDP altogether, and instead evaluate progress using indicators such as literacy, employment, rates of diabetes and heart disease, water and air quality and climate stability. If GDP happens to go up while these indicators improve, so be it. If GDP goes down while other measures of well-being increase, what have we truly lost?

This argument has been made by economists of the "steady state" school for decades.  Let's pursue growth where it can serve us, growth in knowledge, growth in quality of life. Not Trudeau's idea of growth or the premiers' - growth for growth's sake alone.

If moving beyond the Pan-Canadian Framework is at odds with growing the economy, let’s make sure our elected officials have their priorities straight. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should take precedence over economic growth.

Face it Liberals, Trudeau is young, to be sure. But, where it matters most, he's just another old man following the footsteps of all the old men that went before him.  Sure the Tories are worse. Doesn't matter. I never put my trust and my hope in Tories. My problem is that I'm old enough to remember when Liberals were a meaningful bit different than Tories.

Cathy Chats While Justin Mumbles

Poor Justin. He wants to do the Fossil Fuelers bidding, he really does. Whether it's walking away from his election promise to clean house at the National Energy Board or repair the damage Harper inflicted on our navigation and fisheries laws or that business about First Nations consultation and, gasp, "social licence," or championing pipelines east, west and south, our prime minister has been the Oil Barons' bum boy extraordinaire.

The last thing Justin needs is his enviro-min, Dame Cathy, getting off the script. Remember when Slick scolded Elizabeth May for linking last year's Fort Mac fires to climate change?

"There have always been fires. There have always been floods. Pointing at any one incident and saying: ‘This is because of that,’ is neither helpful, nor entirely accurate. We need to separate a pattern over time from any one event. What we are focused on right now on is giving the people of Fort McMurray and the rest of Alberta the kind of support that they need right now and in the months and indeed the years to come.”

There have always been fires, yes indeed. This year the entire west coast has been on fire from Mexico to Alaska, Junior, and now wildfires are again sweeping through Alberta. There's been so much wildfire smoke it came out to sea and blanketed Vancouver Island you dummy.

Justin got one upside the head from McKenna this week. There's this Canadian climate scientist down in Texas, a God-fearin' Born Again evangelist, Katherine Hayhoe, who has been doing her Lord's work opening the eyes of Americans in the southwest to the reality and urgency of climate change. Professor Hayhoe's comments about the recent climate catastrophes, Harvey and Irma, got minister Cathy to chime in.

"Now is exactly the time to be talking about extreme weather, climate and resilience," McKenna told Hayhoe on Twitter on Monday. "Failing to do so is irresponsible."

No, no, no, Chatty Cathy. Now is precisely the time not to talk about it. We don't do that until it's all but forgotten, maybe when the news reports come out next year on the anniversary. Just not now. That's  "not helpful."


Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Paul McGeough, adds his commentary on this "Shhh, not now" dodge of our political leadership.

It's as bizarre as it is American – the immediate aftermath of a crisis is never the time to debate what might have caused it.

Big losses in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? No – to question the wisdom or management of the wars was to disrespect the memory of soldiers who had died. 

Gun violence? No, no – talking about gun control after yet another massacre is insensitive to the grief of the victims' families.

And so it was in the weekend, when a reporter was rude enough to ask US Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt​ about the impact of climate change on monster hurricanes that have been smashing southern states, he responded: "To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced…very, very insensitive to this people in Florida."


As comic commentator Seth Meyers put it on Monday, not talking about climate change as Florida recovers, "is like crashing your car into a telephone pole and telling the cops, 'This is not the time to talk about my drinking problem.'"

It's not that our leaders are adverse to hammering away at disasters when that's convenient. They are. The stuff they admonish us for bringing up is the stuff that might call into question their own policies and gross negligence. That stuff is for another day - a long way off - preferably after they've left office.