Monthly Archives: January 2014

History for Sale: The King Brothers Ranch

Truth is not always stranger than fiction: sometimes they combine, to create a good yarn. Historian and author Brian Brennan writes in F&O about two eccentric ranchers, Maurice and Harrold King, characters of both myths and outlandish facts. An excerpt of Kings of the Ranch:

The pending sale of a cattle ranch in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies has drawn renewed attention to the two eccentric brothers who once owned the rangeland property. Although they saw the ranch appreciate in value to an estimated $6 million during the 60 years they lived and worked on it, Maurice and Harrold King always gave the outward impression they were barely keeping the wolf from the door. They were squabbling bachelors who disagreed about almost everything yet couldn’t live without one another. Their home was a modest homesteader’s shack on a ranch that eventually spread to more than 5,000 acres. … continue reading

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Posted in Gyroscope Tagged , , , , |

Findings: Beauty

Found on the web: Beauty, directed by Rino Stefano Tagliafierro, a remarkable interpretation of beauty in art.

Beginning with Shakespeare Sonnet no. 9 and ending, as does all life, with death, a work of art that brings sound and animation to masterpieces. The creators of this remarkable video explain:

“In this interpretation by Rino Stefano Tagliafierro, this beauty is brought back to the expressive force of gestures that he springs from the immobility of canvas, animating a sentiment lost to the fixedness masterpieces.
Its as though these images which the history of art has consigned to us as frozen movement can today come back to life thanks to the fire of digital invention….”

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws … :

B E A U T Y – dir. Rino Stefano Tagliafierro from Rino Stefano Tagliafierro on Vimeo.

Posted in All, Gyroscope Tagged , |

Week in Review

New work on F&O this week includes a column by Chris Wood about an aspect of climate chaos that is often ignored: the extremes that kill, compared to averages of which climate scientists speak. The average, writes Wood in Natural Security, is a mathematical fiction that obscures dangerous realities.

The recent death of gun inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov had international columnist Jonathan Manthorpe thinking about his own close encounters with the infamous AK-47, and the global impact of the “The real weapon of mass destruction,” the title of one column. In another column, Arab Spring still waiting to blossom, Manthorpe holds out some hope that the region’s revolutions may yet lead to democratic reform.


© Deborah Jones 2014

In news reported elsewhere Canada’s Supreme Court agreed to revisit the issue of euthanasia: a civil liberties group will argue that criminalizing doctors who help “competent, seriously ill individuals who wish to hasten death” violates the country’s constitution. F&O published a previous piece recapping recent developments internationally, and arguing in favour of euthanasia, Death with Dignity.

Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Speculation continues about the murky roles played in his death by the United States and United Kingdom spy agencies, and Belgium. An American historian wrote that Lumumba’s death, by a provincial firing squad, was “the most important assassination of the 20th century.” The comment suggests a case of amnesia —  the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria did, after all, spark World War I — but the point about the importance of great powers assassinating a democratically elected leader is taken.

And last but not least, I offer some small thoughts on the end of a large and venerable tree.

— Deborah Jones

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Arab Winter of Discontent Lingers

The so-called Arab Spring inflamed democratic imaginations even as activists, citizens, soldiers and rulers clashed violently throughout the region. More than three years after it began, writes international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe, the democratic potential of the revolution has yet to be realized. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

Manthorpe B&WThree years after the flight into exile of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali triggered popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, there is little to show for the cost in blood and chaos … The picture is not all of doom and gloom, however. In all four countries where long-standing dictatorial regimes were toppled by the popular uprisings, the hammering out of new constitutions is in process, with elections in the offing.

Log in to read the column, Arab Spring Still Waiting to Blossom.*

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On the real weapon of mass destruction

The Russian inventor of the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, died last month aged 94. In life he publicly denied responsibility for what became of his weapon: politics and politicians bore responsibility for the millions killed with it, he said. Last week, a newspaper published a letter in which he said he felt guilt-ridden. International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe, who has had many close encounters with the AK-47, examines its impact. An excerpt:


Soldiers near Awere, Uganda. © 2004 Greg Locke

Somewhere in the corner of one of the drawers in my desk is a bag containing bullets and cartridge cases I picked up on various battlefields in Africa.

For some I have special affection because they were fired at me and missed. But most are just the litter from civil wars and insurrections in the 1980s and ‘90s when I was an Africa correspondent.

There are cartridge cases from Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo, Namibia and South Africa. There is also a fine tear gas canister from a bad morning in the central square of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe where we lived. Police decided to clear protesters from the square and didn’t bother with any niceties, such as issuing a warning, before opening fire.

But, as can be easily guessed, most of the cartridge cases are the distinctive short, stubby ammunition for the world’s favourite killing machine …

Log in to read the column, The Real Weapon of Mass Destruction.*

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Posted in Gyroscope

Privacy Tools: How to Safely Browse the Web


In the course of writing her book, Dragnet Nation, ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin tried various strategies to protect her privacy. In this blog post, she distills the lessons from her privacy experiments into useful tips for readers.

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

One of the easiest and simplest things you can do to protect your privacy is to be a smarter Web browser.

This is surprisingly difficult because most popular Web browsing software is set up to allow users to be tracked by default. The reason is simple economics — you don’t pay for Web browsing software, so the companies that make it have to find other ways to make money.

The most egregious example of this conflict came in 2008 when Microsoft’s advertising executives helped quash a plan by the engineers to build better privacy protections into the Internet Explorer 8 Web browser. Microsoft has since added additional protections — but they are not turned on by default. The situation is no better at Google, whose Chrome Web browser has “buried and discouraged” the “Do Not Track” button, and is pioneering the use of new tracking technology that cannot be blocked. And it’s worth noting that the other big Web browser maker, Mozilla Corp., receives 85 percent of its revenues (PDF) from its agreement to make Google the default search engine on Firefox.

Even worse, many of the tools that Web browsers offer to protect privacy are not effective. Tracking companies have refused to honor the “Do Not Track” button. And Google Chrome’s “Incognito” mode and Internet Explorer’s “InPrivate Browsing” mode won’t protect you from being tracked. Those settings simply prevent other people who use your Web browser after you to see where you’ve been online.

And so, in order to prevent the most common types of tracking, I ended up loading up my Web browser — Mozilla’s Firefox — with a bunch of extra software. It sounds like a lot of work, but most of this software can be installed in a few minutes. Here’s what I used:

  • I installed “HTTPS Everywhere,” created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. This tool forces your Web browser to use encrypted Internet connections to any website that will allow it. This prevents hackers — and the United States National Security Agency — from eavesdropping on your Internet connections.
  • I also installed Disconnect, a program created by former Google engineer Brian Kennish, which blocks advertisers and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, from tracking which websites you visit.
  • And finally I set my default search engine to be DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t store any of the information that is automatically transmitted by your computer — the IP address and other digital footprints — so DuckDuckGo has no way to link your search queries to you. That means DuckDuckGo won’t auto-complete your search queries based on your previous searches or based on your physical location, as Google does. So you’ll have to be a little smarter about your searches, and remember to bookmark the pages that you visit often, to save time.

After browsing with my ungainly setup for nearly a year, I found a Web browser that had all the features I wanted built in — called WhiteHat Aviator. It has built-in HTTPS Everywhere, it doesn’t retain or sell your online activity, and it uses Disconnect to block trackers from advertisers and social media companies. Its default search engine is DuckDuckGo.

It’s built by a computer security firm called WhiteHat Security, but it hasn’t been audited by any computer security experts yet, as far as I can tell. So use it at your own risk (and currently you can only use it on the Mac OSX operating system). But I’ve been using it for a few months, and after some bugginess in the beginning, I’ve started to enjoy the unusual feeling of having privacy as a default setting.

Re-published by F&O under Creative Commons licence  

Posted in All, Current Affairs Tagged , , , , , , , |

Extremes, more than averages, are the killers

Paid propagandists blow hot or cold about climate change, depending on the weather of the day. But the fact is that averages rarely kill — it’s the extremes that do that, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood.  An excerpt of Wood’s new column:

Servicing communications towers during a winter storm on the Doe Hills in Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2013

Photo by Greg Locke © 2013

North America’s recent wintry blast, and one unfortunate crew of ice-detained eco-cruisers in the south polar sea, have stirred the blood of the science deniers. According to well-paid propagandists working for media outlets, small-time municipal councillors, and a certain spotlight-seeking New York City property magnate and game-show host, the occurrence of cold and — OMG! — snow, is sufficient to overlook millions of other data points meticulously collected around the globe over the last 40 years, and conclude, ever hopefully, that this whole climatey, changey, thing is a hoax.

If only it were so.

Sensible observers have already pointed out the many reasons why the leap of illogic such deniers make is, well, illogical. But their reaction is emotionally understandable. A shot of the kind of winter we haven’t experienced often in the last quarter-century certainly feels counter-intuitive when we’re told the planet is accumulating heat.

The trouble is that when scientists and advocates explain that greenhouse gasses are trapping more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere and raising Earth’s temperature, they are speaking about its average temperature. And the average is a mathematical fiction. None of us actually live there …

Log in to read Wood’s columns, here.*

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Week in Review

Climate chaos dominated world news again this week. A heat wave broke records in Western Australian, with reports of tens of thousands of bats falling dead from the sky and kangaroos collapsing. Meanwhile frozen residents of the northern hemisphere became acutely aware of the existence of a polar vortex — a fierce whirlwind that usually stays put at the poles — and that it had broken loose from its normal pattern to descend on areas of Europe and North America utterly unprepared for minus 40 degree cold — or worse. Amid intense debate over the role of climate change in the freeze, Niagara Falls partly turned to ice, ice storms and blizzards lashed cities, and systems from airports to regional electrical grids to sprinkler systems failed. We humans have been reminded, again, of our vulnerability.

New work on F&O’s this week includes columns in the Think, Commentary section on political upheaval in Thailand, now braced for massive demonstrations next week by activists angry with the government, and on extraordinary developments in the Middle East, with Tehran and Washington finding common cause in the face of turmoil in Iraq and Syria. Read about these issues in in Jonathan Manthorpe’s columns.  An interview with an influential  American abortion researcher published in Dispatches, Science provides food for thought about the intersection of science and the law.

Selected developments reported elsewhere: China said it surpassed the United States as the world’s largest goods trader — but as the BBC reported, the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. A controversy erupted in Canada over reports that members of the committee charged with overseeing Canada’s intelligence service are closely linked to the influential oil business; the committee’s chair is a registered lobbyist for the pipeline company Enbridge. In Pakistan a 15-year-old boy named Aitzaz Hassan is being hailed as a hero after giving his own life to prevent a suicide bomber from going into a school. And at a zoo in Toronto a polar bear cub, being nurtured by human caregivers after its siblings died shortly after birth, took its first steps. Seize the moment.

 — Deborah Jones

Posted in Gyroscope

Analysis: Will Thailand’s military again intervene?

Expect more turmoil next week in Thailand’s dysfunctional political culture, writes international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. The big question in the expected fracas between the two main factions – identified by the yellow shirts worn by urbanites or the red garb of rural dwellers — is whether the military will intervene. Excerpt:

Manthorpe B&WThailand is awash with rumours of a looming military coup as opposition activists aim to shut down the capital, Bangkok, on Monday, in their campaign to oust the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. All the signs are, however, that the military is reluctant to intervene unless the police lose control of the streets.

The head of Thailand’s army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, was involved in the 2006 coup in which the government of Prime Minister Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted. Thai politics have been in sometimes-violent disarray since, and people close to Prayuth say he is well aware that military coups solve nothing.

More difficult to envisage is what will solve Thailand’s increasingly dysfunctional political culture. The fissures in what was always a bumbling, corrupt and ineffectual democracy have been widening and deepening since the 2001 election of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Log in to read the column, Thai military poised as country approaches political deadlock.*

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Analysis: Iran and United States join forces against common foes

International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe writes on the sea-change in the Middle East as Tehran and Washington find common cause and turmoil grows in Iraq and Syria. Excerpt:

As al-Qaida-linked groups hijack the anti-government insurgencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, Washington is finding itself making common cause with its old enemy, Iran, and exciting the anger of its traditional ally, Saudi Arabia.

This tectonic shift in Middle Eastern alliances stems from two decisions made by the administration of President Barack Obama in the closing months of last year.

Washington is now finding itself in the previously unthinkable position of leaning more towards the Shiite factions of Islam, led by Iran, and turning away from the purist Sunni factions led by Saudi Arabia.

The first of Obama’s decisions that propelled this shift was his response after United Nations investigators claimed the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran whose followers belong to the Shiite Alawite sect, had used chemical weapons against rebel insurgents and civilians.

Log in to read the column, Common enemies draw Washington and Tehran closer, here.*

*F&O premium works, including commentary, are available for a $1 site day pass, or with monthly or annual subscriptions. Real journalism has value, and to avoid the conflicts inherent in advertising or soliciting outside funding F&O relies entirely on reader payments to sustain our professional quality.

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