Monthly Archives: September 2014

Good Reads

Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Photo by Andreas Metz, Creative Commons

Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Photo by Andreas Metz, Creative Commons

U.S. Financial Reform: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash. By Jake Bernstein

One day Carmen Segarra purchased a tiny recorder at the Spy Store and began capturing what took place at Goldman Sachs. In the tale of what happened next lie revelations about the challenges of reforming the American financial system, in the wake of  the 2008 crisis that crippled global finances and continues to reverberate through the world economy.

Kool-Aid Economics. By Chris Wood (paywall)

Canadians have been aware for some time that their Prime Minister subscribes to an arcane fundamentalist strain of Christianity. Being the polite and generally go-along types we are, we have quite properly left his faith between the man and his God. However, it is now evident that Canada’s P.M. is a credulous disciple of another not-so-fringe and much more dangerous faith, about which we have every right to be deeply concerned. That cultic faith is Old Testament economics.

Islamic State threat a media creation. By Jim McNiven (paywall)

The popular media, always looking for the next big thing, has fastened upon the swift victories and social media brutalities of the group calling itself Islamic State. The various media have portrayed the organization as a worldwide threat and a number of governments have organized themselves to deal with it, led by the United States. You have to read between the lines on this one. First, this terrible threatening force is actually weaker than the Taliban force that was over-running Afghanistan in 2002.

The Poison in Afghanistan’s Politics: Afghan unity deal ensures future conflict. By Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

As rival candidates for power in Afghanistan signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, an understandable sigh of relief swept through the corridors of power in those countries that have expended troops and treasure in the last dozen years trying to get the central Asian nation on its feet. In the six months since the first round of the presidential elections it looked as though the whole Afghan project might collapse into new chaos as the two main candidates, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, exchanged increasingly bitter allegations of vote-rigging.

Twisting the Years Away: Chubby Checker. A Time Capsule By Brian Brennan (paywall)

At age 36, dressed in spangled white jumpsuit with neckline plunging to the waist, Chubby Checker looked vaguely silly, like Elvis in Vegas. A dance routine in which a man pretends to grind out cigarette butts with his feet might seem a shaky foundation on which to build an enduring musical career. But there he was, 17 years after hitting the big time with The Twist, still twisting away as if his life depended on it.

War photography shocked and sanitized, but changed little. By Jonathan Long

Taken immediately after the ceasefire that ended the first Gulf War in 1991, Kenneth Jarecke’s photograph of the charred corpse of an Iraqi soldier in his burned-out jeep is one of the few memorable images of that conflict. Yet as a recent article in The Atlantic explains, high-level editors of news periodicals in the US refused to publish the image at the time, despite being urged to do so by their photo directors. The problems and debates that surround such images of war, violence, and atrocity, never quieten. And it is striking how many of the problems they address emerged during and after World War I.

The haunted painting of Sir John Franklin’s ship. By Laura MacCulloch

At Royal Holloway College at the University of London, Edwin Landseer’s picture Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864) is covered by a Union Flag every year during exams. Not because of any fears of cheating during history exams but because students believe they will fail their exams (or even go mad) if they look at it. This fear of the painting goes back a long way in the history of the college. The subject matter of the picture is highly grisly and macabre. 

Manproposesgoddisposes

“Man Proposes, God Disposes” by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1864

The Hitchbot’s Guide to a Continent. By  Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith

How do you rate your chances of completing a transcontinental road trip? What if you can’t drive and don’t have car? What if you can’t even move unaided? In fact, what about if you’re not even human? Tweeting, GPS-equipped robot Hitchbot managed it, hitchhiking across Canada this summer from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia. The cylindrical robot, sporting a digital LCD smile and a fetching line in matching yellow rubber gloves and boots, completed the 6,000km journey in around 20 days.

And in case you missed these from earlier this month:

 Britain’s New World. By Deborah Jones

Britain will never be the same. The day after Scots voted 55-45 to support the United Kingdom, on promises by unionists for a new range of Scottish powers, Prime Minister David Cameron set in motion a process to empower not just Scotland, but also Wales and Northern Island — and potentially to remake the British political system.

Scotland Decided: what the experts say

In its independence referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 versus 45 per cent. An expert panel looks at what happened, and where it leaves the UK and Scotland.

ALEX SALMOND: The Independent Scot. By Murray Leith

If there’s one figure that anyone anywhere would associate with the Scottish referendum campaign it’s Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the man who could be responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. But who is he, where did this political whirlwind begin and where will it take the man and his party?

Gerontocracies rule Africa. By Stephen Chan

There are many African presidents whose age far outstrips that of their peers on other continents. David Cameron (47), Barack Obama (53), François Hollande (60), Merkel (60), Vladimir Putin (61) – these are striplings compared with the gerontocrats of Africa. Even the Chinese, long committed to respect for the old and wise and venerable, now seemingly have a commitment to presidential and politiburo appointments under the age of 60.

 — Deborah Jones

You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, while much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. Journalism has value; and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee).  If you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, drop me a note at Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will email you a complimentary day pass. 

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Chris Wood on Canada’s Old Testament Economics

An illustration from Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster. Public domain.

Chris Wood writes that the religious faith of Canada’s prime minister is properly his business. His shepherding of the economy according to Old Testament economics, however, is everyone’s concern. An illustration from Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster. Public domain.

Outside Canada, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood,  dangerous magical thinking — what he calls Old Testament Economics — “is increasingly being called out for its error by economists more based in reality … a Reformation is sweeping the ecclesiastical strongholds of market idolatry.” Within Canada, the reality accepted by a growing body of economists is dismissed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his “secular congregation” — and that should concern everyone, writes Wood. An excerpt of his new column, Kool-Aid Economics (subscription):

Canadians have been aware for some time that their Prime Minister subscribes to an arcane fundamentalist strain of Christianity. Being the polite and generally go-along types we are, we have quite properly left his faith between the man and his God. However, it is now evident that Canada’s P.M. is a credulous disciple of another not-so-fringe and much more dangerous faith, about which we have every right to be deeply concerned.

That cultic faith is Old Testament economics.

Stephen Harper is an acolyte of an especially purist strain of neo-liberalism, a pseudo-scientific theology replete with parables, miracles and catechisms of faith. It is to reliable modeling of reality roughly what witches and alchemists were to modern science. (Then again, Harper might welcome the parallel; he has spent most of his majority term metaphorically stoning Canada’s public scientists and burning their labs.)

Nonetheless, among this faith’s central tenets is the idea that to make a profitable omelette, some eggs just gotta break. Or, as Harper himself has intoned, justifying his refusal to defend his country’s environment or the global climate: “No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

It’s the black and white thinking of dogma, like good and evil, believer or heretic. Choose one: a paycheque or, you know, air. We have a tragic history of this illusion in my country, where the rotten-egg stench of a pulp mill — often a town’s only reason for being — was colloquially described as ‘the smell of money’ … log in (subscription required*) to read Kool-Aid Economics.  

Click here for Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page,  or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass.

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

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Chubby Checker, Twisting through the years

 

Chubby Checker singing at his wedding reception in 1964 while his bride, Catharina Lodders, dances with a guest. Photo by Jack T. Franklin. Public domain via Wikimedia

Chubby Checker singing at his wedding reception in 1964 while his bride, Catharina Lodders, dances with a guest. Photo by Jack T. Franklin. Public domain via Wikimedia

Chubby Checker wasn’t getting much credit for his early contributions to rock ‘n’ roll during the disco dance craze of the 1970s.  Arts columnist Brian Brennan reports in his new time capsule piece that Checker viewed the popular dances of the day as little more than variations of his big 1960 hit, The Twist. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column: Twisting the Years Away: Chubby Checker:

At age 36, dressed in spangled white jumpsuit with neckline plunging to the waist, Chubby Checker looked vaguely silly, like Elvis in Vegas. A dance routine in which a man pretends to grind out cigarette butts with his feet might seem a shaky foundation on which to build an enduring musical career. But there he was, 17 years after hitting the big time with The Twist, still twisting away as if his life depended on it.

Disco dancing was all the rage when I saw him performing at a Calgary nightclub in 1977, and Checker was mightily annoyed that nobody was giving him credit for starting the craze. Didn’t they know that he was the one who originated the practice of dancing to rock ’n’ roll songs without touching one’s partner? Didn’t they know that he, Chubby Checker, had given the world a great new Charleston for the 1960s?

The latest addition in 1977 to Checker’s seemingly endless supply of novelty dance tunes had been something called The Rush but it failed to catch on. “It was played on 90 radio stations the first week and then – as if they all got a signal – they stopped playing it,” he told me. “It’s not good enough, it’s not fair. Disco owes its existence to me. If it wasn’t for me, this club wouldn’t be here. They’ll probably make me a star when I’m dead.” … log in to read  Twisting the Years Away: Chubby Checker (subscription*).

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, email Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will send you a complimentary day pass. 

Here is Brian Brennan’s columnist page;  here is F&O’s page to purchase a subscription or $1 site day pass

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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On Middle East context and media

 

Among the 21st century weaponry the American military is deploying against columnist Jim McNiven’s “eighth century caliphate” is the Tomahawk cruise missile. This one was launched Sept. 23 from an American warship on station in the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo

Among the 21st century weaponry the American military is deploying against columnist Jim McNiven’s “eighth century caliphate” is the Tomahawk cruise missile. This one was launched Sept. 23 from an American warship on station in the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo

Put events in the Middle East in context, Thoughtlines columnist Jim McNiven urges in a new column. “Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are working their way through a kind of 100-years of religious war, partially similar to that between Protestants and Catholics that devastated Germany in the 16th and 17th Centuries,” he writes. Excerpt of Islamic State threat a media creation:

The popular media, always looking for the next big thing, has fastened upon the swift victories and social media brutalities of the group calling itself Islamic State.1 The various media have portrayed the organization as a worldwide threat and a number of governments have organized themselves to deal with it, led by the United States. 

You have to read between the lines on this one. First, this terrible threatening force is actually weaker than the Taliban force that was over-running Afghanistan in 2002. That push ended when a few American spotters on the ground called in coordinates for bomber strikes. Deserts are unlike Vietnam: there is no jungle canopy to hide in. Very quickly, the Taliban were back in their mountains where they have mostly been ever since.

ISIS, or IS, is also in the desert and, to my knowledge, has no air capability. You may have noticed that the ISIS advance did not hold up any better than the Taliban against American drones and fighters, once they were deployed. In Iraq, the only mountains for an ISIS retreat are home to the Kurds, a Sunni nationality that has a very different agenda than the Arabs in ISIS. There, ISIS personnel will have to hide in the cities they have captured, but then a collapse from lack of munitions or money is but a matter of time. These guys are incapable of building or producing anything; they can only pillage and plunder. … click to read Islamic State threat a media creation.

Click here for Jim McNiven’s columnist page or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass*

Elsewhere: France 24 obtained a video by a student in Raqqa, Syria, taken this week before Arab and American bombs began falling on the city. It’s a surreal YouTube glimpse of daily life under fundamentalist control: armed men stopping the female student and tell her to behave, by fully covering her face; there is also an overheard conversation in an Internet cafe. In it, a covered Muslim French woman and her family are overheard arguing, and they plead with her to return. “I’m not planning to come back, Mama … I’m happy here.” 

 

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for select journalism,  sustained entirely by readers. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:   you can subscribe to F&O or buy a one-day pass for $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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The Poison in Afghanistan Politics

KABUL, Afghanistan -- American Secretary of State John Kerry Shakes Hands With Afghan Presidential Candidates Abdullah and Ghani on August 8, 2014. U.S. State Department photo, Public Domain

KABUL, Afghanistan — American Secretary of State John Kerry with Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, then Afghan Presidential Candidates, August 8, 2014. Their back room deal over-rode Afghans democratic exercise, in which millions defied threats to have their votes cast, writes Manthorpe. U.S. State Department photo, Public Domain

Afghanistan’s unity deal contains poisonous seeds which will pollute the country’s politics, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. Afghans turned out in their millions, defying Taliban and other threats, to have their votes cast. Ghani, Abdullah, with Kerry and other outsiders as handmaidens, over-rode that democratic exercise, argues Manthorpe. “Their backroom deal keeps at the hub of power all the corrupt and often brutal regional warlords and dispensers of patronage who have blighted Afghan politics.” An excerpt of his new F&O column, Afghan unity deal ensures future conflict (subscription):

As rival candidates for power in Afghanistan signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, an understandable sigh of relief swept through the corridors of power in those countries that have expended troops and treasure in the last dozen years trying to get the central Asian nation on its feet.

In the six months since the first round of the presidential elections it looked as though the whole Afghan project might collapse into new chaos as the two main candidates, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, exchanged increasingly bitter allegations of vote-rigging.

It has taken vigorous and persistent arm-twisting by United States Secretary of State John Kerry and many others to bludgeon Ghani and Abdullah to agree to a government of national unity. Under the pact, Ghani will be President and Abdullah has been given the authority to appoint a Chief Executive – essentially a Prime Minister – a job he is likely to grab himself.

However, the details of the deal contain poisonous seeds, which will pollute the new Afghan political process in coming years, and probably within months. An early indication of the troubles ahead came with Abdullah’s insistence that the results of the United Nations-supervised audit by the Independent Election Commission of the results of June’s run-off vote for the presidency not be published …. read Afghan unity deal ensures future conflict (Log in first; subscription or day pass* required)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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Kimber’s book on The Cuban Five wins award

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber

Big congratulations to Stephen Kimber, whose book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, won the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award this weekend at the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

The awards, which celebrate Atlantic writers and writing, were held Saturday at the Institute of Applied Creativity at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. The J.M. Abraham Poetry Award went to Don Domanski for Bite Down Little Whisper (Brick Books), while William Kowalski was awarded the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award for The Hundred Hearts (Dundurn).

Writes Kimber on his book web site: 

The Five were members of a Cuban intelligence network sent to Florida in the 1990s to infiltrate Miami exile groups plotting terrorist attacks against Cuba. Though they helped prevent a number of terrorist attacks, the Five were arrested by the FBI in 1998, tried, convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Three of the five are still in jail.

Although their case is still little known in the United States, international human rights organizations — including Amnesty International and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention — have criticized their treatment in the U.S. justice system, and a dozen Nobel laureates have written in their support.

Click here to buy a digital version of What Lies Across the Water, for $9.99 Canadian, on Kimber’s site. The site includes a link to purchase the physical book via Amazon.

You can read an excerpt of Kimber’s book, published by Fernwood, in F&O’s magazine section:  Heroes of the Revolution? The Cuban Five. Kimber is a journalist and university professor based in Atlantic Canada.

   – Deborah Jones

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Climate March well-meaning — but means next to nothing

Weed, California. Fire burned 100 homes September 15, 2014 in the Siskiyou County town of Weed. The state, experiencing record drought, declared an emergency in January. Photo by California Emergency Services.

Weed, California. Fire burned 100 homes September 15, 2014 in the Siskiyou County town of Weed. The state, experiencing record drought, declared a state of emergency in January. Photo by California Emergency Services.

By Chris Wood, Natural Security columnist

This isn’t the Bastille of the Climate Revolution. Not even close.

What organizers are billing as “the largest climate march in history this weekend,” hopes to draw as many as 150,000 people to New York City to urge leaders from 120 countries meeting there for the Climate Summit on Tuesday to kick up the pace of response to climate change.

People celebrate the September 19 arrival of the Climate Train at Penn Station in New York, where more than 100,000 people are expected in the Climate March prior to the Climate Summit at the United Nations starting September 23.

People celebrate the September 19 arrival of the Climate Train at Penn Station in New York, where more than 100,000 people are expected to join the Climate March Sunday, prior to the Climate Summit at the United Nations September 23. Photo by Light Brigading via Flickr, Creative Commons

I don’t mean to be mean, and I applaud the goodwill of everyone involved, but 150,000 people, if they get that many (and usually in these things actual warm body counts fall far short of heady expectations), in the streets of a city of eight million otherwise-occupied souls, will mean next to nothing to the men keeping climate action in first gear.

For one thing, 150,000 is a corporal’s guard compared, say, to the conservatively estimated (by the BBC) six to ten million people who mustered out to protest President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. That was one country about to commit one egregiously arrogant as well as stupid, act. If ten million people couldn’t get America to think twice about an invasion of choice, a relative platoon isn’t going to budge the keystone predators of the financial and fossil-fuel industries or their political chattels.

For another, the people abandoning the defense of our families, our economic savings, and our communities from the increasingly extreme violence of climate disruption, won’t be in New York. Both Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australia’s Tony Abbott — who have jointly put the rest of the world on explicit notice that they’re willing to see much of it destroyed (I mean this literally) so long as their economies prosper — are snubbing the event. So, as far as we know, are the Koch brothers, Charles and David, and Rupert Murdoch—among Harper and Abbott’s much more powerful analogs in the plutocracy.

So again: full marks for sincerity to the New York marchers. But sincerity only goes so far. The United Nations Climate Summit is no Bastille in the economic revolution (or something very close to it) that might just possibly keep our society from tumbling into the pit of our own ecological overdraft. Those Bastilles are in places like Ottawa and Canberra and Palm Springs, where the Koch Brothers annually gather their followers and sycophants and Congressional marionettes.

Turn up there with 150,000 men and women and kids righteously pissed off about having their future destroyed, and some of those leaders might just begin to worry enough about their own future to re-consider their neglect of our natural security.

— Chris Wood

Journalist and author Chris Wood’s most recent books and articles focus on the environment. Read his Natural Security column for F&O here (subscription*).

 

**You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, email Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will send you a complimentary day pass.

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:   you can subscribe to F&O or buy a one-day pass for $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Burt Mustin: Failed engineer, car salesman and Hollywood icon

Burt Mustin and Queenie Smith, 1971. NBC publicity photo, Creative Commons

Burt Mustin and Queenie Smith, 1971. NBC publicity photo, Creative Commons

Burt Mustin didn’t become a screen actor until he was 67. But  Arts columnist Brian Brennan reports in his new time capsule piece, over the ensuing 22 years Mustin became one of the busiest bit players in Hollywood. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column: “They Went That-a-way”: Burt Mustin:

I just knew I had to interview Burt Mustin when he walked into the newspaper office in June 1973 and told the receptionist he was “the best they-went-that-a-way” actor working in Hollywood. Work had stopped in the film capital because of a screenwriters’ strike. So Mustin was taking a short vacation in Canada, dropping into newspapers unannounced, and telling his story to any reporter who wanted to listen.

I wanted to listen. Mustin was 89 years old then and undoubtedly had a good story to tell. How did it all get started for him?

“I like to say I’ve been a professional since I was six and an inebriated gentleman heard me singing on my way home from kindergarten, took me into Morlein’s saloon to sing for the crowd, and I went home after dark with pockets full of money and got a licking for it.”

He was kidding, of course …  log in to read “They Went That-a-way”: Burt Mustin (subscription*).

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, email Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will send you a complimentary day pass. 

Here is Brian Brennan’s columnist page;  here is F&O’s page to purchase a subscription or $1 site day pass

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Britain’s New World

Alex Salmond official photo, supplied by the Scottish Parliament

Alex Salmond Photo from Scottish Parliament

Britain will never be the same. The day after Scots voted 55-45 to support the United Kingdom, on promises by unionists for a new range of Scottish powers, Prime Minister David Cameron set in motion a process to empower not just Scotland, but also Wales and Northern Island — and potentially to remake the British political system.

Meantime, First Minister Alex Salmond, who devoted his life to Scottish independence, shocked Scots by resigning, which he had earlier said he would not do if his Yes campaign for independence failed.

“For me as leader, my time is nearly over,” he told reporters in Edinburgh. “But for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die.”

United Kingdom prime minister David Cameron said he was “delighted” at the referendum result, and in a speech Friday rejected Salmond’s assertion that the campaign continues. “There can be no disputes, no re-runs – we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.”

Cameron appointed Lord Smith of Kelvin to oversee devolution in Scotland, and  William Hague to oversee plans for a system allowing more powers for citizens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, developed at the same pace as Scottish devolution.

“Now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together, and to move forward,” said Cameron. “A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

Salmond  called on Britain’s leaders to honour that settlement, and the 11th-hour promises made in the last weeks of the campaign, promptly.

Wrote Salmond: “The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course. Just as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by the 27th of March next year and not just the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence will demand that that timetable is followed but all Scots who participated in this referendum will demand that that timetable is followed. “

 – Deborah Jones

 Continued ….

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Creative Commons via Flickr Kilchurn Castle, north of Glasgow, Scotland, in Loch Awe

Kilchurn Castle, north of Glasgow, Scotland, in Loch Awe. Photo by Moyan Brenn, Creative Commons via Flickr

Excerpts of Salmond’s blog post on the Scottish referendum site: 

It’s important to say that our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country. I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.

But I think all of us in this campaign say that that 45 per cent, that 1.6 million votes, is a substantial vote for Scottish independence and the future of this country. Let us say something which I hope that unites all campaigns and all Scots. I think the process by which we have made our decision as a nation reflects enormous credit upon Scotland. A turnout of 86 per cent is one of the highest in the democratic world for any election or any referendum in history. This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics.

For example, the initiative by which 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote has proved to be a resounding success. I suspect that no one will ever again dispute their right and ability to participate fully and responsibly in democratic elections.

So we now face the consequences of Scotland’s democratic decision. Firstly, Clause 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement is now in operation. On behalf of the Scottish Government I accept the results and I pledge to work constructively in the interest of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, the unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course. Just as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by the 27th of March next year and not just the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence will demand that that timetable is followed but all Scots who participated in this referendum will demand that that timetable is followed.

I’ll be speaking to the Prime Minister shortly after this statement but can I return thirdly to the empowerment of so many Scots entering the political process for the very first time. It is something that is so valuable it has to be cherished, preserved and built upon…

Whatever else we can say about this referendum campaign, we have touched sections of the community who’ve never before been touched by politics. These sections of the community have touched us and touched the political process. I don’t think that will ever be allowed to go back to business as usual in politics again.

Excerpts of Cameron’s speech, posted on the UK government site:

So now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together, and to move forward. A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

Let us first remember why we had this debate – and why it was right to do so.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) was elected in Scotland in 2011 and promised a referendum on independence. We could have blocked that; we could have put it off, but just as with other big issues, it was right to take – not duck – the big decision. 

I am a passionate believer in our United Kingdom – I wanted more than anything for our United Kingdom to stay together.

But I am also a democrat. And it was right that we respected the SNP’s majority in Holyrood and gave the Scottish people their right to have their say…

Scotland voted for a stronger Scottish Parliament backed by the strength and security of the United Kingdom and I want to congratulate the No campaign for that – for showing people that our nations really are better together.

I also want to pay tribute to Yes Scotland for a well-fought campaign and to say to all those who did vote for independence: “we hear you”…

To those in Scotland sceptical of the constitutional promises made, let me say this we have delivered on devolution under this government, and we will do so again in the next Parliament.

The 3 pro-union parties have made commitments, clear commitments, on further powers for the Scottish Parliament. We will ensure that they are honoured in full. 

And I can announce today that Lord Smith of Kelvin – who so successfully led Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games – has agreed to oversee the process to take forward the devolution commitments, with powers over tax, spending and welfare all agreed by November and draft legislation published by January.

Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs. The rights of these voters need to be respected, preserved and enhanced as well.

It is absolutely right that a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of our United Kingdom. In Wales, there are proposals to give the Welsh government and Assembly more powers. And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations. In Northern Ireland, we must work to ensure that the devolved institutions function effectively.

I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.

So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.

I hope that is going to take place on a cross-party basis. I have asked William Hague to draw up these plans. We will set up a Cabinet Committee right away and proposals will also be ready to the same timetable. I hope the Labour Party and other parties will contribute.

It is also important we have wider civic engagement about to improve governance in our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities. And we will say more about this in the coming days.

This referendum has been hard fought. It has stirred strong passions. It has electrified politics in Scotland, and caught the imagination of people across the whole of our United Kingdom.

It will be remembered as a powerful demonstration of the strength and vitality of our ancient democracy. Record numbers registered to vote and record numbers cast their vote. We can all be proud of that. It has reminded us how fortunate we are that we are able to settle these vital issues at the ballot box, peacefully and calmly.

“Now we must look forward, and turn this into the moment when everyone – whichever way they voted – comes together to build that better, brighter future for our entire United Kingdom.

Further reading on Facts and Opinions:

Scotland Votes, Frontlines blog post

Scotland Decided: what the experts say

An expert panel looks at what happened, and where it leaves the UK and Scotland.

ALEX SALMOND: The Independent Scot. By Murray Leith

If there’s one figure that anyone anywhere would associate with the Scottish referendum campaign it’s Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and the man who could be responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. But who is he, where did this political whirlwind begin and where will it take the man and his party?

Scottish leader downplays difficulties of independence. By Jonathan Manthorpe, April 2014 (Subscription)

Scots  will vote in a referendum on September 18 on separation from the United Kingdom. But the division of assets and liabilities in the break-up of a country is complex and vexatious – and in the case of Scotland, these matters are particularly difficult. The latest polls in Scotland, with the undecided vote discounted, shows 52 percent of respondents support staying with the United Kingdom while 48 per cent want independence.

Further reading elsewhere:
Salmond to resign after Scotland rejects independence, Agence France-Presse 

Scotland’s pro-independence leader Alex Salmond said Friday he would resign after losing a referendum that left the United Kingdom intact but opened a Pandora’s box of demands for more autonomy across Britain.

Scotland is staying. London’s headaches are just starting, Christian Science Monitor 

British leaders are relieved by the Scots’ vote against independence. But devolving new powers to Scotland – and perhaps to England – may be a bigger challenge for Westminster than the referendum was.

Queen Accepts Scotland’s Apology (Satire), Borowitz Report, The New Yorker

In the aftermath of Scotland’s “no” vote in the referendum on becoming an independent country, Queen Elizabeth II, of Great Britain, took to the airwaves on Friday morning to inform the people of Scotland that she “graciously and wholeheartedly” accepted their apology. “Although the matter of independence has been settled, one question remains very much open,” she said in an address televised across Scotland. “And my answer to that question is this: yes, I forgive you.”

 

 

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Ig Nobel awards: Jesus toast, banana skins, and polar bear suits

Photo by Richard North, Creative Commons via Flickr

By Richard North, Creative Commons/ Flickr

Every day another media list of newly-published science papers arrives in my email inbox: the result of earnest investigations into weighty issues. Then, once a year, there’s the Ig Nobel Prize list, awarded by an organization called Improbable Research.

Part of the amusement around this awards ceremony, held at Harvard on Thursday, is that the researchers whose work is the brunt of the humour were conducting earnest investigations into things they considered weighty. That, and how they are good sports about having their life’s work roasted. The awards are the highlight of the scientific calendar, Improbable Research claims Nature to have declared — not improbably.

The scientists awarded Ig Nobels at the ceremony on September 18 included researchers who investigated the mental health problems of cat-owners;  the brains of people who see Jesus’s face in toast; linkages between staying up late and being a psychopath; whether dogs poop according to north-south geomagnetic lines; and how reindeer react to humans disguised as polar bears. 

“Improbable research is research that makes people laugh and then think,” states Improbable Research. “We also hope to spur people’s curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what’s important and what’s not, and what’s real and what’s not — in science and everywhere else?”

Here’s the full list of the 2014 winners, most of whom paid their own travel expenses to accept their prizes in person,  “from a group of genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel Laureates,” at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre:

PHYSICS PRIZE [JAPAN]: Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA]: Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [AUSTRALIA, UK, USA]: Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, JAPAN, USA, INDIA]: Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček and Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, and to David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.

BIOLOGY PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, GERMANY, ZAMBIA]: Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.

ART PRIZE [ITALY]: Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam.

ECONOMICS PRIZE [ITALY]: ISTAT — the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

MEDICINE PRIZE [USA, INDIA]: Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, for treating “uncontrollable” nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.

ARCTIC SCIENCE PRIZE [NORWAY, GERMANY]: Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.

NUTRITION PRIZE [SPAIN]: Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, and Margarita Garriga, for their study titled “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.”

 – Deborah Jones

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