Monthly Archives: May 2014

A whale for the taking

 Photo by Greg Locke - COPYRIGHT 2014

A team from the Royal Ontario Museum begin dissecting a blue whale on the beach at Woody Point, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2014 …click to enlarge.

Anybody want a dead whale?

After a rough winter in the waters around Newfoundland on Canada’s east coast a number of dead whales, including a number of endangered North Atlantic blue whales, washed up on the beaches of many small fishing villages. The question became how to dispose of a 100 tonne, 25 metre, rotting carcases that threatened the health of the people in the communities and dampened the pending tourist season. One town went as far as to offer it up on eBay. Its a story of something no one was going to touch …until someone wanted it. Then the stink began.

Part 1, by Greg Locke, looks at the smelly dilemma on the beach of a Newfoundland village.
Part 2, by Deborah Jones, examines the ramifications of the mystery deaths of the endangered North Atlantic Blue Whales.

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The water is rising


Thwaites Glacier. Image credit: United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Research showing that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is breaking up lends an hallucinatory air to our political and business discourses, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood. We carry on as though the historical world will last forever, as if our biggest problem is which superpower or hedge fund will prevail — while our world is slipping into the sea.

An excerpt of Wood’s new column, The point of no return (subscription):

If there were before some footing left for doubt, narrow and slippery though it might have been, there is none left now. The world as it has been for the entirety of human history is on its way to the exits.

What makes this certain is a pair of studies of the behaviour of a glacier most of us have never given much thought to. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is a vast ice-scape at the bottom of the world, nearly half again larger than Canada. And it is breaking up.

Indeed, the scientific teams that gathered the evidence of the ice-sheet’s retreat say its collapse is now “irreversible.” Evidently this Antarctic ice sheet—unlike it’s larger eastern counterpart—has been frozen at the bottom to what otherwise would be seabed, below the level of the oceans. What’s happening now is that the gale-force winds in the fabled ‘Roaring Forties’ south latitude, freshened further by climate change, are driving relatively warm liquid seawater between the ice and the bedrock it has been frozen to for millions of years.

Log in to read The point of no return (Subscription or $1 site day pass required*)

Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page is here.


Hear Chris Wood “talk dirty about water,” when he joins a panel of other authors and thinkers on stage at two events convened in Vancouver and Toronto by The Walrus magazine. Join the ‘Walrus Talks Water’ open discussion on May 22 in Vancouver or May 28 in Toronto. Tickets are available …  

Vancouver link:

Toronto link:


*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.


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Thailand in Turmoil — Manthorpe


Caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan

Thailand is once again roiled by political turmoil, with a rural-urban split. Will there be civil war? Can the country’s aging King Bhumibol Adulyadej hang on? What will come of its democracy when Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, “seen as a vindictive man with thuggish instincts,” takes over? International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe explains why military intervention – now being widely discussed – is no simple matter. Excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

Thailand’s military leaders are clear that they don’t want to launch another coup, but the growing intensity of the political chaos may give them little choice.

Last week’s ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by the Constitutional Court for abuse of power has left dangerous uncertainty about which political leader, if any, has the authority to run the government.

There is even talk of civil war as cohorts of pro and anti-government supporters circle each other in the capital, Bangkok, so far without serious clashes.

In the last few days anti-government demonstrators from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, known as Yellow Shirts, have rampaged through the capital, Bangkok, attacking media outlets and demanding the removal of the caretaker government.

So far there have been no clashes with the government supporters of the United Front for democracy Against Dictatorship, known as Red Shirts. But emotions are high and on a hair-trigger …  read more.*

*Subscription or a $1 site day pass  required to read Renewed fears of Thai military coup as political chaos grows.

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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Interviews for The World’s Toughest Job

Interviews were held for the World’s Toughest Job.

The requirements:

  • Standing up almost always
  • Constant attendance on an associate
  • Constant exertion
  • Work hours: 135+  per week
  • Degrees in medicine, finance and culinary arts necessary
  • No holidays
  • Increased duties on traditional holidays
  • No time to sleep
  • Salary = $0

Watch the recorded reactions of the applicants here. Really, do.

Further reading:
24 People Who Applied for the World’s Toughest Job Were In for Quite a Surprise

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Finding: the virtual universe in video


The science journal Nature released an extraordinary video this week. It’s of a computer model called Illustris, which aims to show the creation of the universe. An excerpt of the Nature report:

“Mark Vogelsberger, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and his colleagues created a model of the Universe that follows the evolution of both visible and dark matter starting just 12 million years after the Big Bang (see video). While previous models have either been small and detailed or large and coarse, this simulation covers a region of space big enough to be representative of the whole Universe — a cube 106.5 megaparsecs (350 million light years) across — but is detailed enough to resolve small-scale structures, such as individual galaxies.”

 Watch Vogelberger’s four-minute “Virtual Universe” here: 

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged |

On China’s dangerous assertiveness — Manthorpe

Backed by its arsenal of modern ships, submarines, warplanes and missiles, Beijing has become increasingly assertive over its territorial disputes with its neighbours,  writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. The most recent — and most dangerous — case is in the South China Sea, an area of many territorial disputes including between China and Vietnam. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s column:

Schina_sea_88The Chinese government seems determined to provoke a military clash with its neighbours over disputed ownership of islands and conflicting maritime boundaries.

This week’s clashes between Vietnamese naval and coast guard vessels, and Chinese ships defending a deep-sea oil rig Beijing’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has parked in disputed waters in the South China Sea is the most dangerous confrontation in the area in many years.

China is reported to have deployed about 80 ships to the area, supported by aircraft, and Hanoi has sent 29 vessels to disrupt the rig’s placement and operations. The clashes have left sailors on both sides injured and several of the ships damaged in collisions, but no lethal weapons have been used so far.

In these situations it is easy for mistakes or misjudgements to be made, and for violence to swiftly spiral out of control.

It is particularly dangerous because Beijing clearly intended the positioning of the rig to be provocative …  more.*

*Subscription or a $1 site day pass  required to read Beijing attempts to provoke conflict with Vietnam over maritime claims.

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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On arming North Korea with nuclear weapons and “psychopathic violence”

NASA N Korea

A photo of the Koreas at night taken from the International Space Station January 30, 2014. The image illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea: North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Photo courtesy of NASA.

North Korea is reportedly preparing for an underground bomb explosion at its Punggye-ri testing site, and also to test an inter-continental ballistic missile at its Sohae launch site. And amid rising tensions, there is no international consensus on a response. The country’s leader, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe, “has shown a capacity for psychopathic violence that is unsettling in a man who, quite apart from his quest for nuclear weapons, already possesses conventional forces capable of flattening South Korea and much of Japan.” An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

If North Korea’s young and unpredictable leader Kim Jong-un nursed any doubts about his need for nuclear weapons, recent events in Ukraine and Syria will have dismissed them.

With American and other spy satellites showing that North Korea is preparing new tests of a nuclear bomb and an inter-continental ballistic missile, the reality is that Pyongyang’s weapons program can no longer be negotiated away.

Kim, like his father Kim Jong-il before him, has read the lesson of the last decade. That is: if you don’t have or have given up your nuclear capacity, you risk invasion.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein stopped trying to develop weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s, and look what happened to him.

Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi figured that cozying up to Washington was the answer, and voluntarily handed over all his nuclear development equipment. But it didn’t help. Gadhafi wound up hiding in a sewer pipe, and being mutilated to death by rebels, who felled his regime with the help of NATO.

Log in to read  North Korea’s Kim renews his quest for a nuclear life-saver. (Subscription or day pass required*)

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 readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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Privacy Tools: Encrypt What You Can


In the course of writing her book, Dragnet Nation, Julia Angwin tried various strategies to protect her privacy. In this series of book excerpts and adaptations, she distills the lessons from her privacy experiments into tips for readers.

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

Ever since Edward Snowden revealed the inner secrets of the NSA, he has been urging Americans to use encryption to protect themselves from rampant spying.


Photo credit: NotFromUtrecht, GNU Free Documentation License

“Encryption does work,” Snowden said, via a remote connection at the SXSW tech conference. “It is a defense against the dark arts for the digital realm.”

ProPublica has written about the NSA’s attempts to break encryption, but we don’t know for sure how successful the spy agency has been, and security experts still recommend using these techniques.

And besides, who doesn’t want to defend against the dark arts? But getting started with encryption can be daunting. Here are a few techniques that most people can use.

Encrypt the data you store. This protects your data from being read by people with access to your computer.

  • Encrypt your hard drive so that if you lose your computer or you get hacked, your information will be safe. Most recent Apple Macintosh computers contain a built-in encryption system called FileVault that is simple to use. Some versions of Microsoft’s Windows 7 also contain a built-in encryption system called BitLocker. Another popular solution is the free, open-source program TrueCrypt, which can either encrypt individual files or entire partitions of your computer or an external hard drive.
  • Encrypt your smartphone’s hard drive. Yes 2014 your smartphone has a hard drive much like your computer has. In fact, your phone probably contains as much 2014 or more 2014 sensitive information about you as your computer does. Apple doesn’t let you encrypt your smart phone’s hard drive or the files on it, though it allows encryption of your phone’s backup files on iTunes or iCloud. You can also use Find my iPhone to remotely “wipe,” or delete the data on your iPhone or iPad if it is lost or stolen. Google’s Android operating system lets you encrypt your phone hard drive.
  • Encrypt the data you store in the cloud. I use the SpiderOak encrypted cloud service. If an encrypted cloud service were somehow forced to hand over their servers, your data would still be safe, because it’s encrypted using a key stored only on your computer. However, this also means that if you lose your password, they can’t help you. The encrypted data would be unrecoverable.

Encrypt the data you transmit. The Snowden revelations have revealed that U.S. and British spy agencies are grabbing as much unencrypted data as they can find as it passes over the Internet. Encrypting your data in transit can protect it against spy agencies, as well as commercial data gatherers.

  • Install HTTPS Everywhere on your Web browser. This encrypts your Web browsing sessions, protecting you from hackers and spy agencies that scoop up unencrypted traffic across the Internet. Not every site works properly with HTTPS Everywhere, though an increasing number do.
  • Use encrypted texting apps with friends who install the same apps on their phones. On the iPhone, Silent Circle and Wickr offer apps for encrypted texting. On Android, the TextSecure app encrypts texts in transit and when they are stored on your device.
  • Use the Off-the-Record Messaging protocol to encrypt your instant messaging conversations. You can still use your favorite instant-messaging service, such as Gchat or AIM, though you’ll need to use a software client that supports the Off-the-Record protocol. On Macs, free software called Adium can enable OTR chats, and on Windows, you can use Pidgin. Once you’ve set up OTR and gone through a simple verification step, you can IM as you usually do. Both parties have to use OTR for the encryption to work.
  • Use Gnu Privacy Guard to encrypt your email conversations. Like OTR, if you’re using GPG you’ll need the people you email with to use it as well in order to encrypt your conversations. I use free software called GPG Tools with Enigmail and Postbox. GPG Tools also works directly with Apple’s built-in Mail program.

    GPG has some shortcomings 2014 it’s difficult-to-impossible to use it with the mail program built into most smartphones, and you can’t use it easily with webmail like Gmail. (Although there are some new web-based mail programs that use GPG called Mailvelope and StartMail that I haven’t had a chance to try yet.)

    The most difficult part of GPG is that, unlike the encrypted texting and instant messaging programs, you have to generate a secret key and keep it somewhere secure (usually on your computer or on a USB stick). This often means you can only send GPG mail when you have your key with you. Even so, it is incredibly satisfying once you send your first message and watch it transform into a block of numbers and letters when you click “encrypt.”

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The Legend at 50: Northern Dancer and a Doping Mystery

The Kentucky Derby of 1964, run 50 years ago this weekend, would in some ways turn out to be one of the most important and telling in horseracing history, its real and symbolic impact felt a half-century later throughout a sport roiled by doping scandals, writes Ryan Goldberg for ProPublica, in a story published in F&O’s Think-Magazine section.

It sealed the reputation of Northern Dancer, one of the most iconic stallions of the 20th century, whose bloodlines today span the globe. And much of all that history turned on the outcome of one race, the length of a neck — and maybe a little help.

Was Northern Dancer, a member of the Canadian Hall of Fame, doped for the Derby? Says the heiress of his breeding stable: “It unfortunately just falls within the mists of time.” An excerpt of Goldberg’s story (free public access):


Northern Dancer

E.P. Taylor, a tycoon who rolled his inherited brewery fortune into dozens of Canadian companies, had bred Northern Dancer at his Windfields Farm outside Toronto. Canada had never delivered a Derby winner, and millions watched their national pride on television. Taylor, or Eddie to his friends, was a man “who often looks as though one of his many companies has just declared bankruptcy,” wrote Whitney Tower of Sports Illustrated.

Northern Dancer was a little runt, born late in the season, on May 27, 1961. When Taylor offered up his yearlings at his annual sale, there were no takers at the base price of $25,000. So Taylor kept him. Nevertheless, Northern Dancer’s pedigree was faultless, and for a horse his size he had a large girth — spacious room for heart and lungs. As he grew into his stocky frame on the racetrack, he shocked observers with exceptional balance.

Click here to read The Kentucky Derby, A Legendary Horse, and a Doping Mystery. (Free.)

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Car, life and fire insurance are normal. Now let’s cover the planet

English Bay

English Bay, Vancouver, Canada. Photo copyright Deborah Jones, © 2013

In much of the world environmental regulations are lax, and any changes controversial. F&O Natural Security columnist Chris Wood suggests a simple fix, one already embraced by business and civil society alike. An excerpt of his new column:


Chris Wood

Acidifying oceans. Desertifying fields. Liquifying glaciers and icecaps. Toxifying lakes and rivers. Our species has a nature problem. Or to put it another way: nature has a human economy problem.

Before this century is over — more likely before it’s half over — that problem will be resolved, one way or another. Either we’ll be bright and change the way our economy works, or — and also more likely — we’ll carry on until either our economy or nature or both break beneath our weight.

What we need here is a little insurance. Seriously.

Insurance is what I buy when I know something bad, expensively bad, could happen to me. Maybe it won’t, but it might.

I don’t light candles under paper streamers. I don’t smoke in bed. I don’t overload the wiring. But I also have fire insurance.

I don’t drink and drive. I keep my car’s brakes maintained. I try to watch for the other guy’s lapses in attention. I still carry car insurance.

I try to watch my weight. I get my exercise. I control my blood pressure. And I have health insurance.

Right now, when it comes to the planet, we’re behaving like an overweight chronic alcoholic who downs a double vodka with beer chaser for breakfast before leaving his lit cigarette on a sofa and getting behind the wheel for the freeway commute to work — all without a penny of insurance.

Log in to read Wood’s column: Planet Insurance. Seriously  (Subscription or day pass required*)

Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page is here.


*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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