Monday, July 30, 2018

Flying The Not-So-Friendly Skies

One of the major disappointments I have lived to experience is the fragility of democracy. That democratic traditions, customs and practices are so vulnerable to dismantlement, often with either the passive acquiescence or full-throated approval of 'the people' is something I never would have anticipated.

The latest example of this devolution is to be found in an investigation conducted by The Boston Globe:
Federal air marshals have begun following ordinary US citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency.

The previously undisclosed program, called “Quiet Skies,” specifically targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin in March.

... some air marshals, in interviews and internal communications shared with the Globe, say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat — a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, in one case; a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, in another; a fellow federal law enforcement officer, in a third.
The criteria for such surveillance are remarkably broad:
The teams document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a “jump” in their Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare,” among other behaviors, according to the records.
Additional criteria include whether passengers go to the bathroom, use their phone, eat, or talk to other passengers.

Will this Orwellian nightmare, now that it has been exposed, provoke outrage? I doubt it. As you will see in the following NBC report (advance to the 5:15 mark), the TSA assures the public that "ordinary Americans" are not being surveilled. I take it that is code for white citizens. Ergo, if you are an 'old-stock' American, step back and let the authorities protect you.

In The Second Coming, Yeats writes, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."

Applying that to today's sad state of democracy, I'd say he got that right.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

My Catholic Upbringing

It is a long time since I believed in Hell, yet the following scenes are eerily reminiscent of what the nuns used to warn would be our destination if we weren't good Catholic boys and girls.

Advance to the 10:30 mark to watch the infernal action:

Meanwhile, the rest of the world, both Christian and non-Christian, isn't faring much better:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Sad Beyond Words

If you are at all familiar with Ansel Adams, you will know that much of the palette for his photographic genius was Yosemite National Park. Indeed, I have a framed print of one of his most iconic pictures, Yosemite Clearing Storm, hanging in my dining room.

To look upon his work is to look into the soul of a man with a deep and abiding affinity for the world of nature, a man who took great pains to interpret and depict that world through some very intricate photographic and printing techniques that conveyed both the majesty of nature and the awe that it inspired in him.

If you are unfamiliar with his work, I strongly encourage you to explore it.

It therefore pains me deeply to learn that Yosemite is now under threat. Although at this stage of my life I have learned to accept some bitter truths, this is one I would fain turn away from, if I could.

The report begins at the 4:40 mark:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The New Normal

Watch or don't watch the following; it really won't make any difference, as the trajectory is already firmly set, momentum is building, and catastrophe can no longer be averted:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Second Verse, Same As The First

The playlist is, I know, increasingly repetitive, but Earth-station has but a few records remaining on the turntable, and they will only be played louder and louder as the party winds down.

Meanwhile, the wildfires in Greece, fueled by heat and drought, have claimed more than 70 lives:

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Further Down The Road

For those whose sense of weather peril is somewhat muted, the following picture of a London park, the top part showing it in May, and the bottom part as it appears today thanks to prolonged drought and heat, may help awaken the senses and cognition about how far down the one-way road of climate change we have travelled:

Still not convinced? Perhaps something a little closer to home will help:

Very soon, of course, these images will lose their power to impress, so common are they becoming. The new normal, indeed.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Rising Tide

I have just begun a book called Extreme Cites, by Ashley Dawson. As I have discerned it thus far, its thesis is that the world's great coastal cities are destined for massive inundation and destruction because of rising sea levels. This likely now-irreversible fate is undergirded by the one of the central facts of contemporary capital: its rapacious appetite for continuous and unlimited growth. I won't bore you with the details except to recommend that you read the book.

Should you have neither the time nor the inclination, an article in The Guardian, about another book dealing only with American coastal inundation, can provide much useful information. It also explores the work of Harold Wanless, chair of the geology department at the University of Miami, who, in taking issue with the more conservative estimates of two to six feet sea-level rise over this century, has come to some damning conclusions about his city:
“The rate of sea level rise is currently doubling every seven years, and if it were to continue in this manner, Ponzi scheme style, we would have 205 feet of sea level rise by 2095,” he says. “And while I don’t think we are going to get that much water by the end of the century, I do think we have to take seriously the possibility that we could have something like 15 feet by then.”
Dig into geologic history and you discover this: when sea levels have risen in the past, they have usually not done so gradually, but rather in rapid surges, jumping as much as 50 feet over a short three centuries. Scientists call these events “meltwater pulses” because the near-biblical rise in the height of the ocean is directly correlated to the melting of ice and the process of deglaciation, the very events featured in the documentary footage Hal has got running on a screen above his head.
Fun fact:
From 1900 to 2000 the glacier on the screen retreated inward eight miles. From 2001 to 2010 it pulled back nine more; over a single decade the Jakobshavn glacier lost more ice than it had during the previous century. And then there is this film clip, recorded over 70 minutes, in which the glacier retreats a full mile across a calving face three miles wide. “This is why I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the largest meltwater pulse in modern human history,” Hal says.

A wealth of information and scientific studies demonstrates beyond doubt our headlong plunge toward disaster. Despite that, we argue incessantly over piddling and ineffective carbon taxes while ignoring the real work that mitigating disaster would require. It used to be said that knowledge is power. That is obviously no longer true as we choose to willfully, egregiously ignore that knowledge.

Our fate is all but sealed.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blessed Are The Benighted

My good friend Dave in Winnipeg often rails sardonically against the twin curses of intelligence and critical-thinking. If you start the following video at about the 50-second mark, you'll see that some have 'blessedly' been spared such affliction.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Words Mean Little Anymore

While I realize it is not healthy to obsess over things over which I have no control, I find myself consistently astounded and dispirited by the dystopian reality we now inhabit. While the world has been deteriorating for many years, I find it hard to deal with the fact that we now live in a world which, were it a movie script, would be rejected by all major studios as so preposterous that it would have no chance of box-office success. A script that showed such complete contempt for the audience's intelligence would be a very tough sell.

And yet that is precisely the world that Donald Trump and his ilk inhabit and cultivate, a world where the president and his enablers utter the most outrageous falsehoods shamelessly and fearlessly. We have descended into a world where words have lost their meaning.

The Star's Daniel Dale keeps a running tally of Trump's mendacity which you can filter by topic. I urge you to visit the site. As well, today's Star explores this phenomenon,
the most comprehensive picture yet available of what historians say is an unprecedented avalanche of serial lying.
The following news story features Trump in his full mendacious 'glory,' his absolute contempt for truth and, by extension, people, made manifest:

Although it is likely apocryphal, the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," has never seemed more relevant or more biting.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Feeling Like An American

Now that Ontario is in the thrall of Doug Ford and his Regressive Conservative Party, I am beginning to understand how sane and balanced Americans must feel having an obscene fool as their national leader. It makes everyone look bad.

While Ford and his merry band of obsequious MPPs secured their majority thanks to a minority of voters who were filled with "passionate intensity" while the "best lacked all conviction" and chose to vote in smaller numbers, all of us, because we live in a democracy,' must bear the shame and ignominy.

The tail wags the dog here in Ontario. And make no mistake - just as Trump plays to his base, Ford et al. have every intention of tailoring their time in office to the demands of the minority who elected them. Just take a look at yesterday's Throne Speech:
The Tories will ... free police from “onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn,” [a return to carding and loose SIU oversight?] end “unaffordable green energy contracts,” and expand beer and wine sales to convenience and big-box stores.
Ignoring the fact that extensive consultation paved the way to the revised 2015 sex-ed curriculum, this benighted new government
... will replace the 2015 “sex education curriculum with an age-appropriate one that is based on real consultation with parents.”

In a sop to the social conservatives who helped him become Tory leader in March, the new premier’s administration will use the 1998 sex education syllabus, which predates Google, same-sex marriage, and social media, until a new lesson plan is developed.
Crazed evangelical leader Charles McVety is delighted, observing that
students can now “go and learn how to tie their shoelaces and do arithmetic and read and write and do what they should be doing in school instead of learning things that belong, really, in post-graduate studies.”
Others were not so kind:
Green Leader Mike Schreiner countered that Ford has “declared war on the modern world.

“I mean, to have no climate change plan and to take our sex-ed curriculum back to 1998 is taking the province backwards,” said Schreiner.
That old curriculum was woefully antiquated, in no way addressing the problems and concerns bedeviling 21st century children:
The 1998 health and physical education curriculum describes a society that few elementary school students would recognize. It does not mention the words cyber-bullying, social media, race, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It only once mentions the word Internet, and only to say that kids can use computers to surf the “World Wide Web” for information.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture that our 'new' government has some mighty 'old' ideas and beliefs.

On a personal note, it is very difficult for me to be anything other than contemptuous of my fellow Ontarians. But that, I suspect, will be the subject of a future post.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Amerika's Formula For Success

As noted the other day, the United States or, as I like to call it, Trump's Amerika, no longer even bothers to conceal its contempt for the rest of the world. It's disgraceful threats at the the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly against Ecuador for sponsoring a resolution to encourage breastfeeding, thereby reducing the profits of the corporate behemoths that produce baby formula exemplifies its shameless corporate thralldom.

Today, Star letter-writers weigh in on the magnitude of Amerika's crime against newborns:
The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 child deaths worldwide each year could be prevented by breastfeeding.

A 2016 Harvard study found that 3,340 infant and maternal deaths a year could be prevented by breastfeeding in the U.S. alone. In Third World countries where destitute moms dilute formula, often with dirty water, the rates are much higher.

They want their infants to look like the pictures of healthy babies on the advertising they are given by sales people dressed as medical professionals. So why would Trump threaten to withdraw military and other aid to Ecuador if they put forth a resolution supporting breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly?

Because Third World countries are areas of major growth for Nestlé and Abbott Nutrition, and they are big Trump supporters.

It is once again time to boycott the products from both of these companies, like we did in the 1980s. It helped then. Let’s make a difference now.

Gail Rutherford, Toronto

It is indeed stunning, but probably not surprising, that the Trump government would threaten countries with punishing trade measures to support American business interests against a breastfeeding policy that experience and science have proven to saves lives. Baby formula kills when mixed with polluted water that can be the only water available.

The U.S. is going back to the days when the American government would wage wars and depose elected governments to support an American company. We must acknowledge that Trump is at war with the rest of the world — except for the other strongarm dictators.

Ian McLaurin, Port Perry, Ont.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Signs Are All Around Us

How's that climate-change denial thing working for you these days?

Forecast: Expect more of the same and worse in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

Monday, July 9, 2018

American Thuggery

By almost any metric, the United States is a rogue nation. The depth of its depraved thuggery was recently made evident to the world:
A resolution to encourage breastfeeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and another passage that called on policy-makers to restrict the promotion of food products many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

Then the U.S. delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.
Captured by neoliberal forces, the once admired country resorted to mafia-like extortion to try to get its way:
Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.
Health advocates frantically sought another sponsor for the resolution, but none could be found as sundry countries cowered before the American behemoth. Then in a turn that amply demonstrates the inversion the world is currently experiencing, an unlikely ally came to the rescue:
It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.
The move to thwart maternal health benefits is part of a much larger pattern of strong-arm tactics from a nation clearly unmoored from moral underpinnings:
The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a WHO effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to life-saving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.
God bless America? Not on your life.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

When Is A Scab Not A Scab?

When (s)he is a 'replacement worker'.

I have always loved the word 'scab'. A fitting description of strikebreakers, it is a word that conjures up ugly imagery, imagery quite appropriate for those who act without integrity by engaging in strikebreaking behaviour, which are essentially shameless public declarations of individual extollment of the self over the collective good. There can be few lower forms of human than scabs.

During his time as Ontario Premier, Bob Rae passed legislation that banned these scourges, legislation that was repealed when Mike Harris, devoid of any semblance of integrity, became the next premier. Tellingly, subsequent Liberal governments were quite happy to continue his neoliberal labour view. Scabs therefore are alive and well in Ontario.

And yet, despite the fact that we live in a time when collective-bargaining rights are under regular assault by scabs and their enablers, the word itself seems to have disappeared from our lexicon. The euphemism, replacement workers, is an anodyne that attempts to conceal the ugliness of the act of strikebreaking. One is reminded of Orwell's observations about the insidious use of euphemisms:
Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.
Tamper with the language and you tamper with the reality.

Take a look at the following article, about an ongoing strike at a Goderich salt mine.
A rural community is rallying around salt mine workers who have been embroiled in a strike since April, a disagreement that has involved wooden pallet barricades, demonstrations and busloads of replacement workers.

The workers at the Goderich mine have been off the job since April 27.

Unifor Local 16-O represents the workers, and alleges Compass Minerals has been flying in replacement workers from New Brunswick to break the strike while demanding concessions that include mandatory overtime, reduced benefits and a weakening of contracting-out provisions.

In a letter to the community on June 28, Compass Minerals said it has used contractors to produce salt to fill long-term orders, and had little choice to do so in a competitive market.

The strike ramped up when workers blockaded an access road to the mining site this past week to express their frustration over the use of replacement workers. Photos posted on Unifor Canada’s Twitter showed wooden pallets stacked high in a barricade on the road. Videos also showed Unifor national president Jerry Dias walking out the replacement workers from the mine as onlookers chanted “Don’t come back!”

Representatives from local Unifor unions across the country have rallied at the picket line with the Goderich workers and flooded social media with solidarity. Lana Payne, Unifor Atlantic Regional Director, shared an open letter on Twitter that had been written to Laura Araneda, CEO of Vic Drilling, the company Payne says has been allegedly flying the replacement workers from New Brunswick to the Goderich mine.

“By crossing the strike line and doing the work of striking miners, Laura Araneda’s replacement workers are undermining the bargaining power of fellow miners,” she wrote. “The fact is, there is always somebody willing to do your job for a lower wage in more dangerous conditions.
Now do a quick reread, this time replacing the term replacement workers with scabs.

You can see how language choices have a great impact on how we perceive things.

Perhaps the ugly reality about scabs is best reflected by Unifor national president Jerry Dias:
“Crossing a picket line is shameful behaviour that cannot be tolerated,” ... no job is worth stealing food from another worker’s family.”
I close with a video that should leave anyone who has ever crossed a picket line feeling deep, deep shame.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Calling All Steadfast Canadians

Being pro-Canadian instead of complacent and meek in the face of American tariff oppression can take many forms. Perhaps the strongest expressions of how we feel are to be found in our purchase and travel choices.

Tim Harper reports that many are making those choices:
If Canadians are, in a typically understated way, spending their vacation dollars at home, taking a few extra moments at the grocery store to determine where that ketchup was made or buying Ontario rather than California wines, a national statement is being made this summer.
While technically not a boycott, it is a means of condemnng the Trump administration and its mistreatment of traditional American allies.
It is not a boycott to decide to holiday in New Brunswick rather than Maine.

If I decide to forego an annual baseball and beach jaunt to the U.S., or as TVO’s Steve Paikin wrote, the U.S. doesn’t deserve his money, or Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh courteously decline an invitation to a July 4th party thrown by the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa, we are not bringing the White House to its knees.

Nobody shouted their decisions from the barricades. We’re not boycotting. We are making individual decisions.
Increasing numbers are making those individual decisions:
A Nanos Research poll published by The Globe and Mail Thursday showed 73 per cent of respondents were “likely or somewhat likely” to stop or cut back travel to the U.S.

Another 72 per cent said they were “likely or somewhat likely” to stop buying American products and 68 per cent said they were “likely or somewhat likely” to stop purchasing goods from U.S. retailers.
Others are taking even stronger measures. Martin and Carole Lajeunesse, co-owners of a restaurant in Quebec, decided that national integrity needs strong expression:
Martin ... suggested they pull the American wines from their menu. They asked the server who runs the restaurant’s Facebook page to post a notice, and she wrote, in French, “In solidarity with our Canadian jobs, LaLa Bistro suspends the sale of wines from the United States for an indefinite period of time.”
And the resistance is spreading:
Many Canadians who’ve had it with Trump just crave a chance to do something, almost anything. For instance, in Halton Hills—a collection of communities northwest of Toronto that adds up to a municipality of 61,000 people—the town council voted unanimously for a resolution to “encourage residents and businesses with the town to become knowledgeable about the origin of the products and services that they purchase [and] consider avoiding the purchase of U.S. products where substitutes are reasonably available.”
Individual empowerment is not just a lofty ideal. Everyone can realize it:
In Ottawa, labour lawyer Scott Chamberlain ... on a recent grocery trip for his family, ... found himself standing in front of a display of oranges from the U.S. and others from Morocco, so he picked the Moroccan produce, then decided to see if he could buy an entirely “Trump-free” grocery cart. “It wasn’t out of anger . . . it was more out of solidarity,” he says. “I was really proud that people set politics aside to put a common front together to support Canadians. It was an attack on all of us.”

Chamberlain has altered his travel plans, too. He has family in the Maritimes whom he visits three to four times a year, but now instead of driving through New England, his family will stay in Quebec and New Brunswick hotels.
Merideth Broughton, a paramedic living an hour north of Calgary in Torrington, Alta., has made the same decision. She had planned to travel throughout the U.S. Midwest with her dog Scout this summer:
But between the trade tariffs and the horror of detained migrant children, Broughton just won’t do it. “I can’t in good conscience contribute to that economy or that government,” she says. Instead, she and Scout will stick to the Badlands of southern Alberta and wander through Saskatchewan to visit friends and family.
Want to get in on the action? Here are two videos that may help inform your choices:

Thursday, July 5, 2018

An Encouraging Development

Is momentum building? Let us hope so. As the following video explains, major restaurant brands are planning to ban plastic straws. (I suggest you turn off the sound in the following, as the overly-dramatic music is a bit much}:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

To Go, Or Not To Go

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the decision I and others have made to boycott travel to the U.S. as long as Donald Trump and his peculiar brand of madness hold sway. I am happy to report that Steve Paikin has come to the same decision:
[I]t’s been a Paikin family tradition for many years to travel to the U.S. for a baseball road trip with my dad and as many of my kids as can attend. We’ve done Boston, Cleveland, New York , Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and others.

We’re not going to do it this year.

....when President Donald Trump began slapping tariffs on Canadian goods for reasons of “national security,” it felt wrong. It was an intellectually dishonest move. How could the country that fought alongside the U.S. in World War II, in Korea, and in Afghanistan be a national-security threat? It makes no sense.

Even most Americans seem to recognize how misguided the tariffs are, given the negative impact they’re having on innumerable U.S.-based businesses. And when I saw the federal Liberal government and the incoming Progressive Conservative provincial government speak as one on the stupidity of this policy (with the support of all other major parties), I thought: Okay, that’s it.

America, you just don’t deserve our money.
Even though as individuals we may doubt we have much influence, money, as they say, talks:
We will not spend hundreds of dollars on your baseball tickets. We will not spend hundreds of dollars on your restaurants and hotels. We will not spend hundreds of dollars on your gas. We will not spend hundreds of dollars at museums or at the theatre. We will not spend hundreds of dollars on souvenirs and gifts.

I think it’s time I looked at product labels of all kinds much more carefully. California wines? Not anymore. I’ll try some local brands, from Niagara-on-the-Lake or Prince Edward County. And maybe I should make the extra effort to purchase groceries at local farmers’ markets rather than buy American brand-name stuff at the supermarket.
On a personal note, since Trump imposed those absurd and insulting tariffs on us, I have decided (reluctantly) to extend my boycott to bourbon, (there's no liquor like it) and will instead begin exploring some of our Canadian whiskies. As well, although it is impossible to avoid American goods, I am trying as much as possible to purchase Canadian.

In light of the deteriorating connection to our southern neigbours, we must ask ourselves a fundamental question:

Do we regard ourselves simply as citizens of a globalized world, or does being Canadian still mean something to us? Your answer will no doubt tell you whether taking a stand against what the U.S. now represents is a worthwhile endeavour.

Monday, July 2, 2018

UPDATED: It Can Be Done

"Where there's a will, there's a way," my mother always said. The question is,"Does that will exist?"

These two videos offer a glimmer of hope:

UPDATE: If you crave even more good news about a ban that, if enacted, will improve the health of coral reefs, click here.