Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Value of a World

The world’s ecological and atmospheric infrastructure — from ocean currents to mango forests, the jetstream to wetlands — contributes at least $1.50 to human economic wellbeing for every dollar that we mark in the official economy of goods and services, new research has found. What does this matter? A lot, it turns out, as Chris Wood writes in his new Natural Security column. An excerpt: 

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Robert Costanza

If you have ever spent a night under the canopy of stars undimmed by city lights, in a place where the only sounds are those unmade by man that have whispered and lapped and knocked and called out through the dark hours in that place since the last big ice released its grip on the Earth, you may share the view of many who have been so blessed that the essence of our planet’s nature and worth cannot possibly be reduced to the grasping calculi of dollars or pounds or Euros.

You would be only partly right.

An American economist has done just that, sort of, for a second time. And while Robert Costanza doesn’t for a moment suggest that the planet’s service value to the human economy exhausts its rainbow of other values, he does say that we need to know that hard economic dollar value if we are to make wiser decisions about how we use the planet … read more (paywall).* 

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Wood’s column:

What’s a World Worth? We now have a very precise idea

Click here for Chris Wood’s’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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The Philosophy of a “Soccer Fanatic”

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The Fernandez siblings in 2011. Image by Sheldon Fernandez © 2014

In  June, the largest global audience in history will tune in to watch the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, a quadrennial carnival rivalled only by the Summer and Winter Olympics. Many will live and die by the progress of their teams, with hearts-in-mouths and lumps in throats. Tears, shrieks and all the rest will combine into smorgasbord of emotion that only soccer can induce. What is it about the game that gives it such widespread appeal? Against the backdrop of club football, Sheldon Fernandez searches for the answer ….

An excerpt of his new piece in F&O’s Think-Magazine section – part memoir, part musing:

The dimensions of my Man United fandom frightens me at times, so intense and entrenched are the emotions. When my team wins the universe is vibrant and orderly and rays of sunshine shower my existence. But when they lose the cosmos is a morbid void and I feel like a helpless actor in an absurdist play. Quite often the scale of these emotions is tied to the scale of the triumph or failure. In the wake of a spectacular victory I devour the newspapers like a giddy parent as if the team’s accomplishments are my own. But after a crushing defeat I erect a firewall, a media blackout of therapeutic and existential necessity, though in the back of my mind I agonize over wrongful tactics and chances missed. 

Yes, this is absurd – so the detached philosopher in me, of years past, would intone to the fanatical version of himself today. Civil war in Syria, strife in North Korea, and trouble and tribulation elsewhere throughout the globe, but there you sit, raptured and transfixed, your happiness and wellbeing tied to an athletic scrimmage. The soccer enthusiast today would indeed mystify his more mature doppelganger of years past, but in-between these personalities there lies an interesting story, a gradual metamorphosis from soccer dabbler to footballing addict. 

It began on November 26th, 2006, a slow and slothful Sunday for me but monumental in Manchester … 

One day at Wembley: a soccer fanatic reflects. (This piece is published free, with public access, at the author’s request.)*

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Japan Responds to China — Manthorpe

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Shinzo Abe. Japan government photo

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week launched a challenge of China’s increasing assertiveness in Asia, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. It’s a significant departure  for Abe, who became Prime Minister for the second time in 2012 with a mandate to reform Japan’s moribund economy and reassert the country’s international status. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column: 

Japan this week launched a three-pronged response to China’s growing military and diplomatic shadow over Asia.

In Singapore today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged his country’s “utmost support” for the countries of Southeast Asia that are locked in increasingly tense confrontations with China over Beijing’s claims to ownership of most of the South China Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking this week at a meeting of Japan’s House of Councillors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. Government of Japan photo.

On Thursday, Tokyo announced a breakthrough in talks with the North Korean government that could give the Japanese government a significant renewal of its political influence in the Far East, a status that has waned in recent years.

And on Tuesday, a parliamentary panel of members of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and their New Komeito party allies put forward suggestions for revisions of Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution … read more*

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Japan deals itself in to the Asian poker game.

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by reader payments. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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Who Did In the Republic of Doyle?

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Republic of Doyle cast. CBC Photo

Charles Mandel writes about the end of the Republic of Doyle, a television series that captured the essence of Canada and Newfoundland. A production of Canada’s public broadcaster, the Doyle family was well-loved — but apparently, in a time of severe government cutbacks, not sufficiently loved. An excerpt: 

These are damn sad days in the Duke of Duckworth. The Doyles have announced they are hanging up their detective badges – and such a statement must have sent fans in the droves to drink at the Duke.

As any Republic of Doyle fan worth his or her salt knows, that pub – in a side alley in St John’s, Newfoundland – is home base for the Doyle TV series dynasty. That’s where the East Coast family of detectives supposedly operate from: the family owns the pub, and maintains their offices on the second floor. The latter, of course, is a bit of television fiction … read more*

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read One Last Cheer for Republic of Doyle.

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European ground shifts beneath supporter’s feet

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Nigel Farage. Photo: Diliff

When all is said and done following the European Union elections, the person who really counts is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. Is Merkel correct in believing that surging support for rightwing parties stems from economic insecurity — and not a fundamental objection to EU powers? Still, EU supporters are treading with care. Excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

There is no comfort for Europe’s band of supporters of a bigger and more powerful political union that their side won nearly 64 per cent of the vote in last weekend’s election.

That victory cannot override the reality that parties that want to either radically reform or abandon the 28-member European Union (EU) doubled their support from the 2009 election to 36.4 per cent of the vote.

As leaders gathered in Brussels on Tuesday evening for an informal post-mortem dinner, the mood was markedly downbeat. Even the most avid EU supporters were displaying an unusual lack of certainty about the group’s immediate future.

French President Francois Hollande, for example, can, like all his predecessors, usually be depended on to respond to any crisis within the EU by issuing demands for more centralized European control and power.

Not today … read more*

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Revolt against Brussels rattles European leaders.

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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On Rachel Carson’s birthday

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Researchers Rachel Carson and Bob Hines, 1952

Rachel Carson, the American scientist and environmentalist who wrote the classic Silent Spring, was born 107 years ago today. Charles Mandel, who reported on Carson’s life and the impact she made, writes:

I believe if she were still alive, she’d be singularly unimpressed with the progress – or lack thereof.

Governments are still wrestling over bans to cosmetic pesticides. When Manitoba enacts a ban in 2015, it will bring to six the number of Canadian provinces shunning the use of such products. It seems like a hard-won, slow process overall. More contentious still is the controversy over pesticide-coated corn and soybean seeds, which are being blamed for the demise of bees. Europe has banned the use of neonic pesticides, but according to the CBC, Bayer CropScience – the company that developed the seed – and Health Canada maintain proper planting practices minimize risk to the bees. 

Twelve years ago, Edmund O. Wilson wrote in the afterword to a new edition of a book about Carson that if she were alive she would have given America a mixed-grade.

These days I suggest the writer and environmentalist would be less generous given all the time we’ve had to correct the errors of the past.

Read Mandel’s archived story, Pesticides prevail decades after Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” here. (Public access) 

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Flash Boys: Nathan Rothschild redux

McNiven for F&O bio

Jim McNiven

Michael Lewis’s latest book, Flash Boys, is the 21st Century version of the story of those British financiers who lost out to Nathan Rothschild in 1814, and of their attempts to figure out how Rothschild did it, writes Jim McNiven in ThoughtlinesToday, semaphores and carrier pigeons have been replaced with fibre optic cables and microwave towers. There is nothing illegal in getting to the market microseconds ahead of the other guy by using up-to-date technology. And yet, in the aftermath of the trauma of the crash of 2008, the unethical and the illegal easily flow together, especially when the risk is of another crash. An excerpt of McNiven’s new  column: 

“I Stole It Fair and Square.” I have sometimes used that quote to describe what went on in much of the United States’ land policy with respect to Native Americans. An awful lot of land was acquired from various ‘chiefs’ who were deemed by the American authorities to have the legal right to sell property presumably owned by their tribes. Often the ‘purchase’ was made for a pittance, especially from chiefs who were largely unaware of the import of what was being discussed, since in their world view no one could own the land. Treaty in hand, the ‘buyers’ would then move in and evict the tribe from the land, survey it, and sell it off in parcels to eager settlers, all legal and proper-like.

Cross this with another story: that of Nathan Rothschild in London in 1814. Two hundred miles away, across the English Channel, British and Allied forces were meeting the French army at Waterloo, near Brussels. The outcome would affect the British financial market. Rothschild had operatives in Brussels who reported the outcome to him, not with the standard technology of the time, of fast horses and Channel sailing ships, but through semaphores and carrier pigeons. He got advance information, and did well out of it.

Now, ratchet these two early 19th century stories forward 200 years and we arrive at Michael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys.  … log in to read I Stole It Fair and Square.*

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Beijing’s Empire Grows in South China Sea: Manthorpe

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Southeast Asia. Map: Wikimedia

At what point will Beijing be challenged on its empire-building campaign? International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe examines China’s latest moves to claim territory and influence in Southeast Asia. An excerpt of his new column:

China’s project to slowly gobble up sovereignty over the South China Sea and, with money and threats to cow the 10 countries of Southeast Asia into subservience, has made dramatic advances.

Beijing will be well pleased with the success of the latest strike in its campaign, which started with the moving on May 1 of the massive deep sea oil drilling rig Haiyang 981 into South China Sea waters that are within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, but claimed by China.

The provocation led to some ugly confrontations at sea as Vietnamese vessels jostled the 100-or-so ships Beijing sent to guard the rig. Meanwhile on land Vietnamese mobs attacked Chinese-owned businesses. At least two people were killed and Beijing evacuated several thousand of its nationals … read more*

 

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Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer on HBO

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Larry Kramer. Photo: David Shankbone, CC

This Sunday, North American television watchers will at last have a chance to watch American playwright Larry Kramer’s pioneering work on AIDS – an adaptation for Home Box Office of his blistering 1980s play The Normal Heart.

When it was first staged the play was a timely and angry indictment of government, the media and the public for failing to recognize the gravity of the unfolding crisis — a j’accuse that could not be ignored. Today, writes critic, author and F&O feature writer Brian Brennan, the work has the air of a documentary – and remains just as relevant. An excerpt of Brennan’s story:

After almost 30 years of seeking Hollywood’s attention, New York playwright Larry Kramer has finally gotten his wish. A film adaptation of his 1985 AIDS-crisis drama, The Normal Heart, will be shown Sun. May 25 on HBO in Canada and the United States. It stars Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Taylor Kitsch.

The drama is deeply rooted in Kramer’s own experience as a gay rights activist during the years, 1981-84, when the authorities looked the other way while a mysterious disease — never identified before — began to claim hundreds of lives. The playwright’s angry indictment of government, the media and the public for failing to recognize the gravity of the unfolding crisis made the play a j’accuse that could not be ignored. 

A co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York in 1982, Kramer was edged out of the advocacy organization a year later for — in his word — “merchandizing” the AIDS epidemic in mainstream magazines and newspapers across North America … read more*

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Martial law an interlude in Thailand crisis – Manthorpe

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

Amid the tension and turmoil in Thailand this week, only one thing is  certain — the military would not have intervened without the approval of ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt of his new column:

A day after declaring martial law, the first attempt by Thailand’s army to mediate an end to the country’s eight years of political turmoil ended inconclusively, with both major factions refusing to end their street protests.

Hours after launching what has been called “a half coup,” Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha today chaired a meeting with representatives of the governing Pheu Thai Party, the opposition Democrat Party and the chairman of Thailand’s election commission. 

But he was unable to get any commitment from either the governing or opposition parties to end their demonstrations, which have regularly spawned violence since Thai politics was thrown into chaos by the 2006 military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in self-imposed exile.

Gen. Prayuth insists his declaration of martial law is not a coup, that the government of Pheu Thai acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan is still the administration, and that his only aim is to prevent bloodshed …  read more.*

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Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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