Monthly Archives: December 2014

Value for money: journalism and politics

© Greg Locke 2013

From Photo-Essays. © Greg Locke 2013

Everybody is asking for money this week, to beat year-end deadlines. It’s exhausting.

As well as giving money that works sideways at best — to charities and NGOs, from conservative think tanks to environmental groups — I wish more people would be straightforward and donate directly. In my books, the best value is in *real* professional journalism, and in donations to the political actors that have the power to make a difference.

Political parties and candidates are verboten for non-partisan reporters, so I direct my own limited funds to supporting journalism. Quality  journalism is the ultimate democratic project: how will our legislatures, and systems of distributing goods and services, fare without common, evidence-based, non-partisan information sources to inform our decisions? Journalism is, in some ways, an extension of the education system. Unlike the education system, there is little public discussion about it, and even less public support.

There are several outlets that rise above the flood of junk media but, personally, I pay to subscribe to the New York Times, the public-sphere  equivalent of a world heritage site. This year, in addition to pouring resources into Facts and Opinions, which I co-own with my colleagues, I gave a few dollars to a handful of local independent media, and also to ProPublica. ProPublica and the Times are American, but I think they’re worth supporting by anybody, anywhere, because their newsrooms keep tabs on the American politicians and corporations that have an outsize influence on the world. Also, unlike many outlets that defer to advertisers, funders or ideological owners,  they walk the walk on ethics.1

— Deborah Jones

 

Notes:

1. New York Times Standards and Ethics: http://www.nytco.com/who-we-are/culture/standards-and-ethics/
    ProPublica Code of Ethics: http://www.propublica.org/about/code-of-ethics/

 

Help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. Receive free blog emails via the form on FRONTLINES. Please tell others about us.

Posted in Gyroscope Tagged , , |

Earth, from space, in an unforgettable timelapse

Noteworthy: Watch earth roll by via the lens of European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, in a six-minute time-lapse comprised of 12 500 images. Gerst captured the photos during a six-month Blue Dot mission on the International Space Station.

Posted in Gyroscope Tagged , , , |

R.I.P., Joe Cocker

 

"I'll get by with a little help from my friends."  British rocker Joe Cocker.died, age 70, on December 22 of lung cancer. Photo of Joe Cocker at Festival du Bout du Monde, 2013, by "The Supermat" via Wikipedia. Creative Commons

“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,” British rocker Joe Cocker sang, in his iconic cover of the Beatles hit. Cocker, age 70, died December 22 of lung cancer. Photo at Festival du Bout du Monde, 2013, by “The Supermat” via Wikipedia. Creative Commons

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged |

eReaders are the enemies of sleep

If you receive gifts of e-books in your virtual Christmas stocking this year, you might want to avoid reading them before bedtime.

Worldwide research shows that exposure to electronic light in the hour before bedtime can impair sleep and alertness the next day, and may have a long-term impact on health, performance and safety. 

Photo by Daniel Suarez via Flickr, Creative Commons

Photo by Daniel Suarez via Flickr, Creative Commons

The cause may be short-wavelength–enriched light emitted by electronic devices, German and American researchers report in a study published today.

Exposure to the artificial light has been shown to raise alertness, suppress the hormone melatonin, and phase-shift the circadian rhythm, our natural biological clock. Dim light, on the other hand, “is a cue for circadian rhythms, allowing for production of melatonin,” noted the study, in the science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The results matter, they said, because of links “with the increased risk of breast, colorectal, and advanced prostate cancer associated with night-shift work … classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization.”

Reading an electronic book, the study said, “is likely to increase the risk of delayed sleep-phase disorder and sleep onset insomnia, especially among individuals living in society who self-select their bedtimes and wake times. Induction of such misalignment of circadian phase is likely to lead to chronic sleep deficiency.”

The study noted a survey of 1,508 American adults showed 90 per cent regularly use electronics in the hour before sleep.

Researchers compared the quality of sleep obtained after study participants used an eReader before bed, with the quality of their sleep after reading a printed book. Electronic readers experienced more “reduced evening drowsiness, took longer to fall asleep, and reported reduced morning wakefulness.”

Reference: Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness, by Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler, in PNAS http://www.pnas.org/lookup/doi/10.1073/pnas.1418490112

 

 

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

F&O’s lineup of Facts and Opinions

 

Amid the Sixth Great Extinction of the World, and grotesque stories about whales and species extinctions, carnivores thrive and provide hope in Europe. Above, a Eurasian lynx, Europe's largest cat, in Slovenia. © Miha Krofel, for the journal Science

Amid the Sixth Great Extinction of the World, and grotesque stories about whales and species extinctions, carnivores thrive and provide hope in Europe. Above, a Eurasian lynx, Europe’s largest cat, in Slovenia. © Miha Krofel, for the journal Science

FEATURES:

Newfoundland’s Offshore Account. Photo-essay by Greg Locke/F&O  (subscription*)

The few oilfields off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in the Northwest Atlantic, are  small compared to the hundreds of producing wells in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico, but the royalties not only kept Canada’s historically-impoverished and remote eastern province from bankruptcy, but propelled it into a Canadian economic hot spot. That is, until oil prices plummeted in the fall of 2014. Now, Newfoundland is learning the reality of having more than thirty percent of its revenue dependent on oil royalties.

The Animal “Kingdom of the Dead.” By Deborah Jones/F&O  

 All the attention on killer whales — the grotesque mutilation of a dead female named Rhapsody in Canada, the controversies over their use in trained-animal shows, the orphans who turn up periodically — has done no more to save a unique population of Orcinus orca than it has helped to slow pandas and polar bears and elephants on their own slides toward extinction. And that brings us to the fact that Rhapsody’s story is one small part of a far bigger saga: the Sixth Great Extinction in the history of the world.  

 Mummers the Word. Photo-essay by Greg Locke/F&O 

In Canada’s most eastern province, and the first colony of the once-mighty British Empire, Newfoundland’s cultural revival has recently included the dark art of summering. With roots in the pagan, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic cultures that celebrated the winter solstice and Samhain, mummering became a local folk arts variant, evolving with it own traditions.  In the small and remote Newfoundland fishing villages, it was the seasonal Christmas entertainment, for the traditional 12 days of Christmas ending on Old Christmas Day of January 6. People dressed in makeshift disguises and roamed each village, knocking on doors and demanding entry. Inside they would sing, dance and play music in exchange for food and drink … but mostly drink, fueling the darker and rowdier possibilities before the evenings wore out.

$50 billion ‘moon shot’ targets Mississippi Delta restoration. By Bob Marshall, Al Shaw, Brian Jacobs/Lens & ProPublica

As Brig. Gen Duke DeLuca wrapped up his 32-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August, he contemplated the key to Louisiana’s massive, 50-year, $50 billion effort to prevent the southeastern portion of the state from being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. DeLuca, an expert on the many threats facing the coast, said: “It will take a moon-shot type of investment in the science.” Many in Louisiana’s coastal scientific community believe DeLuca’s description is right on the mark, capturing the undertaking’s daunting uncertainties. The mission could not have been set on a more challenging landscape, at a more inopportune time.

IN ARTS:

Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees: Michael Nesmith/F&O

Beatrix Potter's beloved characters. Image via Project Gutenberg

Beatrix Potter’s beloved characters. Are children’s books literature? Image via Project Gutenberg

According to the gossip of the day, the Monkees couldn’t play their own instruments. They were a band made to order for American television: Artificially manufactured to appeal to teenagers who had flocked to see the Beatles’s movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Michael Nesmith lent credence to the non-playing rumours in 1967 when he called a press conference in New York to declare that this ersatz TV band – in which he mimed playing guitar – was just a bunch of singing actors backed by uncredited studio musicians. “We’re being passed off as something we aren’t.”

Are children’s books “literature?” By Kiera Vaclavik/The Conversation

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, was an ardent defender of children’s literature, believing the works of Beatrix Potter to be equal to “the greatest English prose writers that have lived”. One wonders therefore what he would have made of the rather unedifying row between the executors of his estate and the Rosenbach Museum and Library, to which he bequeathed his collection of rare books, including several volumes by Potter, on his death in 2012. His executors are refusing to hand them over, arguing that they are “merely” children’s books.

NOTEWORTHY:

Mumbai Attacks: Piles of Spy Data, a Puzzle Unsolved By Sebastian Rotella/ ProPublica, and James Glanz and David E. Sanger/New York Times

The Mumbai attacks in November, 2008, may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. Indian, British and American intelligence agencies did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11.

The psychology of materialism, and Christmas. By Tim Kasser/AMA

A psychology professor who specializes in materialism and well being, has some thoughts on consumerism, Christmas, and well-being.

Global Implications of Oil Prices. By Jim McNiven/F&O

The Oil economy begins to crumble, the final of a three-part series, looks at the impact of the electric economy, demographics, American self-sufficiency, and alternatives to oil and gas.  

Torture unlawful and unhelpful: ACLU. By Marcellene Hearn/ACLU

One of the most important takeaways from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report summary is that senior CIA personnel — which the report refers to as CIA headquarters — knew from the very beginning that torture was unlawful and learned quickly that their brutal program was pointless.

Heroes of the Revolution? The Cuban Five. By Stephen Kimber/StephenKimber.com

In 1998 Fidel Castro had his good friend Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel prize-winning Colombian novelist, carry a top secret message to American President Bill Clinton about a terrorist plot against Cuba. But American authorities arrested the Cuban agents who uncovered the plot – and the group became known as the Cuban Five. In Cuba Gerardo, René, Antonio, Ramón and Fernando today rank only below Fidel and Ché in the revolutionary pantheon: they are certified, certifiable, first-name Heroes of the Revolution. In America, however, the stories about the Cuban Five dramatically differ. What the myriad tales do have in common — aside from spies, terrorists, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, cops, mercenaries, politicians, heroes, villains, journalists, and innocents — is a larger narratives about Cuban-American relations, about the war on terror, about hypocrisy, about truth and fiction, about right and wrong.

Some presidential pointers to the meaning of Cuban-American rapprochement. By Michael Sasges/F&O

Restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba would reverse an estrangement that has endured for more than half a century.  As President Obama said in his dramatic announcement: “I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime.” What follows are observations and professions by American presidents about Cuba, really about its definitional role in American national consciousness, in the half-century before Barack Obama’s birth. 

Journalism Underpinned New York’s ban on Fracking. By Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica

When natural gas companies first pressed into New York in 2008, state environmental regulators barely understood the process of “hydraulic fracturing.” On Wednesday December 17, six and a half years after ProPublica first raised concerns that the drilling could threaten both the state’s water supply and its residents’ health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the process across the state. The ban makes New York, which holds large natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, the largest and most significant region to bow out of the nation’s energy boom because of concerns that its benefits may be outweighed by the risk. 

COMMENTARY:

Tyrants trump under-resourced International Criminal Court, by Jonathan Manthorpe/F&O (subscription required)

When the International Criminal Court came to life in 2002 it was touted as a place where tyrants and their underlings would be brought to account for genocide and crimes against humanity. But the ICC, based in The Hague, has never gained altitude. The limits on its powers and its inability to fulfil even its restricted mandate were put on display this month by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.  

My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis, By Tom Regan/F&O

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

Read Tom Regan’s atheist fan letter to Pope Francis. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

As much as I or any other atheist might wish it, religion is not going away. And so we as atheists have a choice: we can stamp our feet and rage against religion, or we can support those figures within religious belief systems who are fighting to make those systems more caring, compassionate, open-minded, accountable and willing to work with those who do not subscribe to their creed. And Francis is one of those figures.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Lima Accord announced on climate. Update by Deborah Jones/F&O

Every country would be required to submit a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Lima Accord announced this month at global climate talks in Peru. The Lima talks aimed to set ground rules for a global climate deal between world leaders meeting late next year in Paris. That deal would kick in after 2020. Negotiators representing 196 counties talked in Lima about adaptation and resilience, boosting a “Green” global fund, and emissions. Their agreement includes a commitment to raising public awareness of climate change in schools and national development plans, among other items.

Who Are the Hypocrite on Lima’s Carbon Footprint? By Chris Wood /F&O (subscription)

The charge of hypocrisy, let’s be clear about it, is deeply hypocritical. The argument turns up regularly. To paraphrase this week’s example: the people who released all those greenhouse gasses to get together in Peru for the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, have no right to lecture the rest of the world about carbon. The same argument was trotted out here in Canada recently, to scold activists for driving to a demonstration against a bitumen-tar pipeline. This is one of those many supple and seductive but wrong aphorisms that emerge regularly, cunningly honed, from the political right’s constellation of propaganda-research institutes.

 

NOTEWORTHY

Noteworthy series offers our eclectic pick of stories on the wider Internet: items worth your while amid the floods of infotainment.

How Partisan Conservative Ads Undermine the Rule of Law, by Errol Mendes, Globe and Mail

In what country does a government take tax revenues and use it to pump out continuous government propaganda that tries to brainwash the citizens with its performance, whether truthful or not? Many would suggest China, Russia or even Zimbabwe. Sadly, it is also true in the Canada governed by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. … Read on the Globe site

The Wall Street Takeover of Charity, By Jesse Eisinger/ProPublica

Donor-advised funds run by huge money management firms are exploding …. People aren’t literally giving to these companies. They are setting up accounts at these firms and then disbursing the money, advising on which charities get how much. The idea of the funds was to make it easier for individuals to give to charity. People could drop money into the account during flush times, and donate as they see fit, not in a panicked rush to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for contributions. So far, this has turned out to be a bad deal for society … read on ProPublica’s site

 

Fifty Years Ago This Month, John Coltrane Recorded One of the Greatest Jazz Tracks of All Time By Erica R. Hendry, Smithsonian magazine

The saxophone used by John Coltrane to record A Love Supreme, one of the most beloved jazz tracks was donated by his son Ravi to the Smithsonian museum this year . The museum’s magazine marked the 50th anniversary of the recording with a this story about Coltrane and the instrument.  …  read on the Smithsonian site

Listen to the soundtrack of Coltrane’s recording, a half century ago:

 

Posted in Current Affairs

An atheist praises Pope Francis

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

Facts and Opinions’ Seeking Orenda  columnist Tom Regan is a fan of Pope Francis. Regan is an atheist. He explains in his column, My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis. An excerpt:

When you’re an atheist you don’t spend much time thinking about “important” religious figures. Most of them are just too silly to care about. Pat Robertson is an example.

He’s a former Baptist preacher, and Republican presidential hopeful, and a media mogul who hosts the Christian conservative show The 700 Club where he makes pronouncements like gays were responsible for the damage in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.

I’m not one of those atheists who tend to hate all forms of  religion. I’d like to think my approach is more nuanced.

Basically, I don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t try to make me believe it and as long as what you believe does not make the world a worse place.

So while I have lots of good Muslim friends, I consider the twisted hyper-fundamentalist form of Islam practiced by a group like ISIS as sort of being a modern-day version of the Spanish Inquisition on steroids.

In fact when you come right down to it I’m pretty down on almost all forms of fundamentalism: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, pick your poison. … continue reading My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis.

Tom Regan’s columnist page is here

*If you value our journalism, please support us by buying a day pass or subscription, and share the links to our stories, not our entire works.  Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate your support:  click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up in the form to the right, on our blog, to receive a free email subscription to blog posts and notices of new work. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

 

 
Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , |

Music videos were the lasting legacy of the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith

Michael Nesmith, circa 1967

Michael Nesmith, circa 1967


Michael Nesmith achieved fame as a member of the Monkees during the 1960s. But as Arts columnist Brian Brennan reports, he left a more lasting impact as the technological genius who developed the concept of music videos. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees: Michael Nesmith:

According to the gossip of the day, the Monkees couldn’t play their own instruments. They were a band made to order for American television: Artificially manufactured to appeal to teenagers who had flocked to see the Beatles’s movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Michael Nesmith lent credence to the non-playing rumours in 1967 when he called a press conference in New York to declare that this ersatz TV band – in which he mimed playing guitar – was just a bunch of singing actors backed by uncredited studio musicians. “We’re being passed off as something we aren’t.”

Nesmith repeated his assertion when I interviewed him in 1979. “We were no more a rock ’n’ roll band than Raymond Burr is crippled or Marcus Welby is an MD,” he said. “The fact that people ever wanted us to be an actual rock ’n’ roll band seems very bizarre to me. It’s like asking Marcus Welby to check for symptoms”

Nesmith, known as “Wool Hat” in the television series, was the withdrawn, introspective, George Harrison type in The Monkees. It ran on the NBC network between 1966 and 68 and later in Saturday morning re-runs. The other stars were singer Davy Jones, drummer Micky Dolenz, and bassist Peter Tork. Log in to read Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees: Michael Nesmith (subscription*) 

*You’ll find lots of great free stories on our pages, 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 a monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee.

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 an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , |

Manthorpe on the International Criminal Court: a hobbled creature

Fatou Bensouda

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has withdrawn charges against Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta and said she’ll “hibernate” investigations into crimes in Dafur, for which President Omar al-Bashir was charged with genocide and war crimes in 2008.

The International Criminal Court is a “hobbled creature,” unable to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against humanity, writes  International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe’s. It’s under-resourced, shunned by China, Russia, and America, and under attack by critics with much to gain who say it’s a tool of western neo-colonialism, and biased against Africa. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, Tyrants trump under-resourced International Criminal Court:

When the International Criminal Court came to life in 2002 it was touted as a place where tyrants and their underlings would be brought to account for genocide and crimes against humanity.

But the ICC, based in The Hague, has never gained altitude. The limits on its powers and its inability to fulfil even its restricted mandate were put on display this month by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. On Dec. 5 she withdrew charges of crimes against humanity lodged against Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta. A week later, Dec. 12, Bensouda said she will “hibernate” investigations into crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region of Dafur, in which President Omar al-Bashir and some of his officials were charged with genocide and war crimes in 2008.

Bensouda’s climb-downs came as representatives of the 122 countries involved in the ICC, the Assembly of States, met in New York. It was not a happy meeting. The ICC’s budget was cut, Kenya led a charge accusing the court of being biased against African heads of state, and the Palestinian Authority achieved observer status with the intention of suing Israel for war crimes when it achieves full membership … Log in to read Tyrants trump under-resourced International Criminal Court  (subscription*).

 

 

Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription.  See Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page

 *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, and reader payments are essential for us to continue our work. Journalism to has value, and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and a monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee). 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , |

The back story behind New York’s fracking ban

Alberta Gas well

New York banned fracking after investigative journalism revealed risks. Above, a gas well in Alberta, Canada.

 

Careful, evidence-based journalism underpinned New York’s decision Wednesday to ban fracking in the state. This story by the not-for-profit investigative news room ProPublica provides the back story of the state governor’s announcement.

Fracking — the technique of fracturing underground rock by piping in hydraulically pressurized liquid  — has boosted oil and gas extraction around the world. The boom in fracking in the U.S. especially has vastly increased America’s domestic energy supply, and is a factor in the recent plunge in global oil prices. Fracking has also led to conflicts over land use, and is also linked to human health and environmental risks, and earthquakes under some conditions. 

Jurisdictions that have banned or suspended fracking include, as of this posting, several counties and municipalities in other American states; parts of Spain; France; Germany; the Netherlands; Bulgaria; and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.1 Other jurisdictions have banned or regulated some of the chemicals used in fracking. 

 

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica

When natural gas companies first pressed into New York in 2008, state environmental regulators barely understood the process of “hydraulic fracturing.” On Wednesday, six and a half years after ProPublica first raised concerns that the drilling could threaten both the state’s water supply and its residents’ health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the process across the state.

The ban makes New York, which holds large natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, the largest and most significant region to bow out of the nation’s energy boom because of concerns that its benefits may be outweighed by the risk. 

The decision comes after a long-awaited report from the state’s Health Department this week concluded that the fracking would pose health risks to New Yorkers. It also follows an exhaustive state environmental review effort that began the day after ProPublica’s first story in July 2008.

Since then, New York has walked an indecisive line on drilling, while an energy boom provoked by advances in fracking technology took much of the rest of the country by storm. Today’s lower oil prices are due, in part, to an oil bonanza in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale that had barely begun when New York first put a temporary halt to new drilling in the state. Likewise, the gas drilling waves that have rippled through states from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, Texas and Wyoming had yet to run their course.

But by delaying a decision on drilling for so many years, Cuomo also allowed a clearer picture of the impacts and changes that drilling activity would bring to emerge. That clearer picture ultimately dampened the enthusiasm for drilling in New York and validated many of the environmental and health concerns that anti-drilling groups have raised across the country.

Just across the state line from New York’s Southern Tier, where the richest Marcellus gas deposits lie, Pennsylvania landowners dealt with one incident of water contamination after another. They complained of illnesses caused by both the water and new air pollution brought by the drilling. State regulators in Pennsylvania 2013 once enthusiastic boosters of the process 2013 wound up cracking down on drilling companies’ messy practices and strengthening their own environmental laws as a result.

Across the country, similar stories emerged, many of them reported as part of a four-year-long investigation by ProPublica. From Texas and Louisiana to California, drilling waste was being spilled or leaking into drinking water aquifers and high pressures caused by fracking activities were causing wells to leak. Methane gushed from wells and pipelines. And residents’ allegations that the drilling was causing symptoms from nerve disorders to skin lesions and birth defects began to be substantiated through peer-reviewed scientific research.

The potential payoff for such risks 2013 which the drilling industry long maintained were minimal 2013 was that drilling would bring huge economic benefits to rural regions long desperate for new jobs and an injection of economic vigor. That economic promise has been born out across many parts of the country, but in some instances, those who needed the financial benefits most have been denied them.

An investigation by ProPublica earlier this year found that landowners in Pennsylvania who supported drilling and signed leases with drilling companies in order to earn a share of the profits were instead being cheated out their payments, called royalties. In fact, the stories showed, energy companies had withheld royalty payments worth billions of dollars from both landowners and the federal government across states from Texas and Wyoming to Louisiana and Colorado, substantially blunting the prosperity that could come from allowing drilling to proceed.

All of this, it now seems, must have made Cuomo’s decision this week a lot easier. But the ban also reflects the conclusion of a lengthy learning curve for New York State.

When ProPublica reporters, in a joint project with WNYC, first went to Albany to talk with the state’s environment regulators, those officials couldn’t answer basic questions about the process they were poised to permit: What chemicals would be pumped underground near drinking water supplies? Where would the waste be disposed of and did New York have facilities capable of handling it? State officials told ProPublica then that fracking had never once caused pollution to water supplies, and said they were unaware of the hundreds of cases brought to their attention by ProPublica where such damage had indeed taken place.

On the morning of July 23, 2008, then Gov. David Paterson called for those state environment officials to go back to the drawing board in their assessment of the risks of fracking before the state issued any new permits, effectively placing a moratorium on drilling that lasted until now.

Creative Commons

Notes:

1. Wikipedia page: Hydraulic fracturing by country
     Keep Tap Water Safe organization

Further reading on F&O:

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking, F&O Magazine, by Chris Wood (subscription)

F&O NATURAL SECURITY column, by Chris Wood (subscription)

Fracking Water Contamination Feared in California Drought (ProPublica)

Aggressive Tactic on the Fracking Front (ProPublica)

Landowners often losers in deals with U.S. energy companies  (ProPublica)

Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies (ProPublica)

Frack fluids can migrate to aquifers within years, study predicts (ProPublica)

 

Posted in Canadian Journalist, Current Affairs Tagged , , |

On the psychology of materialism, and Christmas

Photo by Ian Muttoo, Creative Commons

Shoppers at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, Canada Photo by Ian Muttoo via Flickr, Creative Commons

Tim Kasser, an American psychology professor who specializes in materialism and well being, has some thoughts on consumerism, Christmas, and well-being.

 On why materialism is sometimes considered a negative, and affects people differently:

To be materialistic means to have values that put a relatively high priority on making a lot of money and having many possessions, as well as on image and popularity, which are almost always expressed via money and possessions. 

I think materialism is viewed in a negative light because people may have had unpleasant experiences with materialistic people. We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. Such behavior is usually not appreciated by the average person, although it is encouraged by some aspects of our capitalist economic system. 

Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values. First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important, whether through their parents and friends, society, or the media. Second, and somewhat less obvious — people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears, or thoughts of their own death.

On the impact of media on materialism:

The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are. That’s probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular. One has to remember that, in the U.S. at least, the vast majority of media are owned by a few for-profit corporations that make money by selling advertising, and the purpose of advertising is to sell products. 

A study I recently published with psychologist Jean Twenge tracked how materialism has changed in U.S. high school seniors over a few decades and connected those changes with national advertising expenditures. We found that the extent to which a given year’s class of high school seniors cared about materialistic pursuits was predictable on the basis of how much of the U.S. economy came from advertising and marketing expenditures — the more that advertising dominated the economy, the more materialistic youth were.

One study of American and Arab youth found that materialism is higher as social media use increases. The findings suggest that, just as television use is associated with more materialism, so is use of social media. That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit.

On extreme materialism and compulsive shopping:

Materialism is about values and desire for money, possessions and the like. Compulsive consumption is when a person feels unable to control the desire to consume, often because she or he is trying to fill some emptiness or overcome anxiety. Materialism and compulsive consumption are related to each other. In a recent meta-analysis of the association between materialism and people’s well-being, we found that the correlation between people’s materialism and the extent they reported problems with compulsive consumption was strong and consistent across many studies.

 While materialism is a risk factor for compulsive consumption, they are not the same thing. Another psychologist, Miriam Tatzel, suggests that some materialists are “loose” with their money and some are “tight.” Both types of people care about having money and possessions, but the loose materialist is going to spend and spend and spend, whereas the tight materialist will be more like Scrooge or Silas Marner, trying to accumulate wealth.

On the bad and good of materialism:

We know from the literature that materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes. It also is associated with more spending problems and debt. From my perspective, all of those are negative outcomes. 

But from the point of view of an economic/social system that relies on spending to drive high levels of profit for companies, economic growth for the nation, and tax revenue for the government, consumption and over-spending related to materialism may be viewed as a positive.

On links between materialism and happiness:

The connection between materialism and well-being is the longest-standing strand of research in the materialism literature. My colleagues at the University of Sussex and I recently published a meta-analysis that showed the negative relationship between materialism and well-being was consistent across all kinds of measures of materialism, types of people, and cultures. We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives. 

The most supported explanation for why well-being is lower when materialism is high concerns psychological needs. Specifically, materialistic values are associated with living one’s life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent, and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

On religion and materialism:

A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits. That is, research on how people’s values are organized has shown that some goals are easy to simultaneously pursue, but others are in tension or conflict with each other. For example, it is relatively easy to focus on goals for money at the same time one focuses on goals for image and popularity, as those goals all are related and facilitate each other. The research shows there is a tension between materialistic goals and religious pursuits, just as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tze and many other religious thinkers have long suggested. It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.

One study has shown that this plays out during Christmas, too. Psychologist Ken Sheldon and I co-authored a study that found that to the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims. We also found that people reported “merrier” Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects.

Kasser_2010_millermccune

— Adapted from a Q&A from the American Psychological Association

Tim Kasser is a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, specializing in materialism and well-being. He is the author of The High Price of Materialism, and Psychology and Consumer Culture. A former associate editor of APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kasser earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester.

 

 

  

Please help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95 per month to $19.95 annually. Subscribe by email using the form on the right to our free FRONTLINES blog.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , |