Monthly Archives: January 2015

Noteworthy: Davos, Ebola, media matters

Davos Conference Center, Switzerland. World Economic Forum photo via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Davos Conference Center, Switzerland. World Economic Forum photo via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

The World Economic Forum, AKA the “annual summit for the one per cent,” kicks off in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, tomorrow. Subjects range from bicycles for African kids to global trade, Ebola to climate change, “honey laundering” to oil markets. Switzerland’s tourism industry is delighted at the publicity. Even China’s premier will be there. For the rest of us, well, there’s always online attendance. Click here for the WEF agenda and links to online webcasts.

Speaking of Ebola, there’s (somewhat) good news. The head of the United Nations said progress in fighting the disease in West Africa shows it can be done. The World Health Organization reported that Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this month reported their lowest tally of new cases since August.

It’s possible to fight the virus, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a UN meeting today, after a trip to the region. But he said to avoid a new surge of cases a regional response will be needed.  In case you missed them, two pieces on F&O add perspective to the deadly virus:

Ebola: the Black Death Revisited. By Ewa Bacon

There is no rational reason to fear Ebola in the developed world, writes Ewa Bacon, because we know the source of contagion and have methods to deal with it.  However, panic has set in.  Image: Plague is defeated -- a detail of the "Column of the Plague" (Pestsäule), in Graben, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Jebulon via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

There is no rational reason to fear Ebola in the developed world, writes Ewa Bacon.  Above: a detail of the “Column of the Plague” (Pestsäule), in Graben, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Jebulon via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

It is not Ebola that is stalking the land, but anxiety and fear. We fear an extinction event. We search the environment and note the loss of plants and animals. We worry as we examine “Martha,” the last ever passenger pigeon. We examine the geological record and note that not even the mighty dinosaur survived the cataclysm of Cretaceous period. Could that happen to us as well? We search history and note some sobering examples of global catastrophes. Few are as renowned as the “Black Death.” Early in the 1300’s Europeans received news of unprecedented diseases raging in the wealthy, remote and mysterious realm of China.

Ebola’s first casualty: clear thinking. By Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

The ebola panic overshadows far more deadly diseases. Unfortunately, humans are appalling bad at risk assessment. In recent weeks Ebola has tweaked our primal fears of the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, in the same way as my run in with the Black Death. Politicians, world health officials and the media are near hysteria as they pump out fear-inducing prophecies about the looming pestilential scourge.

What else we’re reading, with a focus on media matters:

Preparing for Fidel Castro’s death – How Florida news organizations plan to cover the Cuban dictator’s passing, by Susannah Nesmith in the Columbia Journalism Review is funny, in a black-humour sort of way. Excerpt:

Every year or so, a rumor bubbles up that the world’s most famous Cuban has this time, finally, truly, died. The local press corps sends crews to Versailles, the iconic Little Havana restaurant where presidential candidates appear to appeal to Cuban American voters and where journalists gather when anything about Cuba might be happening. Pretty early in the news cycle of a Fidel-is-dead rumor, The Associated Press writes a story that essentially says Castro might not be alive but no one on the island says he’s dead. This year, on Jan. 9, the AP’s Havana bureau chief, Michael Weissenstein, wrote that story, noting the rumor that the foreign press was being called to a press conference.

Weissenstein also took to Twitter. “Foreign correspondents now furiously calling each other about supposed press conference, an event not usually kept secret from press itself,” he wrote.

For the schadenfreude file: City of Paris Threatens to Sue Fox News Over False Report, in Rolling Stone report. Excerpt:

The city of Paris has threatened to sue Fox News over an erroneous report the network made claiming Paris had “no-go zones” for police and non-Muslims. The network later apologized for the error.

“When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told CNN on Tuesday. “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”

The comments stem from numerous segments Fox aired last week claiming that police and non-Muslims refuse to enter certain areas in France and England out of fear, with one show, Fox & Friends, erroneously showing a map “highlighting” the non-existent zones.

A F&O reader recommends a disturbing report in the Guardian about how British spies are snooping on journalists, whom they hold in similar regard to terrorists: GCHQ captured emails of journalists from top international media. Excerpt:

GCHQ’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, analysis of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals. …

One restricted document intended for those in army intelligence warned that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security”.  

It continued: “Of specific concern are ‘investigative journalists’ who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.

The country so concerned about journalists as security threats would be the same Britain whose premier David Cameron joined other world leaders in Paris this month, marching in the massive rally for freedom of expression after the terrorist attacks on the Paris satirical paper Charlie Hebdo.

 

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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 Canadian Journalist, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , , |

New Facts, and some Opinions

A spat of major new global reports on health, climate, and inequality contain warnings that can be met only by  joint action, the kind of community response that has fallen out of favour lately in much of the West. 

Today Oxfam released, in the lead up to the World Economic Forum that starts Wednesday in Davos, a prediction that would be bizarre were it not so shocking: “Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016,” said the press release for a new report.   “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More, a research paper published today by Oxfam, shows that the richest 1 percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 and at this rate will be more than 50 percent in 2016. 

Also today, the World Health Organization said 16 million people leave this mortal coil earlier than their natural lifespans would predict — due to “lifestyle” factors that end their lives prematurely, from heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The global agency called for government action to end the epidemic. Director-General Margaret Chan said  in a release that by “investing just US$ 1-3 dollars per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs. In 2015, every country needs to set national targets and implement cost-effective actions. If they do not, millions of lives will continue to be lost too soon.” Read more by Alessandro Demaio of The Conversation, in F&O’s Science section: WHO report takes aim at Grim Reaper of “lifestyle.” Notes Demaio, “Non-communicable diseases now kill more people than any other cause across the world; they were responsible for 38 million (68%) of the world’s 56 million deaths in 2012. More than 40% of them (16 million) were premature deaths – that is, the people who died were under the age of 70 years.”

And last week U.S. government agencies released the finding that 2014 was the global hottest year since records began in 1880. “The annually-averaged temperature was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F), easily breaking the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.04°C (0.07°F). This also marks the 38th consecutive year (since 1977) that the yearly global temperature was above average,” said the analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It noted that both global average ocean temperature and global average land temperatures hit record highs.

Predictions are almost always for chumps, I say. But in the case of these three reports, I will predict our response to them depends on whether the communitarians or the Ayn Randians prevail. Meantime, here’s a video of how we’re cooking the earth.

 

Reproduced with permission. © Lucille Clerc 2014

Reproduced with permission. © Lucille Clerc 2014

Freedom of expression is still the issue of the year so far, with continuation of the raging debates that began when extremists slaughtered 10 journalists and two policemen on January 7 in Paris, outside the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical  publication.

There has since been an ocean of ink spilled  — but one aspect stands out for me, typified by the broken red pencil image created on January 7 by European artist Lucille Clerc. 

Clerc posted her image on Twitter,  someone spotted it, lifted it, stripped it of colour, and posted the black-and-white version without crediting Clerc onto another Twitter account. And instantly Clerc’s pencils were everywhere on social media, “gone viral,” as they say. At the same time another  image became an instant icon: the black, white and grey “JE SUIS CHARLIE” square by Joachim Roncin of Stylist magazine, also instantly posted, without credit, mostly in black and white. The speed with which people bleached every spot of colour out of Clerc’s red pencils and Roncin’s grey word “Charlie” was stunning. 

Satire and freedom of expression, like most everything, rely on a grasp of nuance — on seeing the shades of grey, if you will. And it’s a sign of how very polarized —  how black and white, if you will — our world has become that these images instantly bled out. They were too complex, I can only assume. I guess black and white faux versions better serve the simplistic viewpoints at the extremes of the political spectrum.

Within F&O this week you’ll find two nuanced pieces: 

The Hidden Complexity of Simplicity, by columnist Tom Regan

I want there to be absolute freedom of speech. I believe that freedom of speech means the freedom to offend everyone. But I can’t ignore that millions of good religious people, and not just Muslims, find the works of publications like Charlie Hebdo offensive, though they’re not going to kill anyone. Is there a way to protect freedom of speech and yet work to find a way not to needlessly offend? I don’t know. It’s complex. It will take hard work solution to find a solution. But try we must.

Islam, blasphemy and free speech: a surprisingly modern conflict. By Ali Mamouri

The persecution of blasphemers as it is done currently is a very recent phenomenon; the Rushdie fatwa was the beginning of this trend.  Many writers throughout different parts of Islamic history have criticised Islamic belief, including the prophet Muhammad and the Quran, without facing persecution. A quick look at the books about sects and creeds in Islam shows a great variety of discussions and debates between Muslims and non-Muslims about the essential parts of Islam. Many include sarcastic language.  The notion of religious actions is problematic; nested within and shaped by other human dimensions, and the sociopolitical background can change any religion.

Other new works on F&O include:

Ghost of murdered mistress haunts Prime Minister of Malaysia, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

Murdered Mongolian aspiring fashion model, translator and mistress to the mighty, Altantuya Shaariibuu, may yet get the last laugh. The men who murdered Altantuya in October, 2006, two police bodyguards to Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, who was then the defence minister, were acquitted on appeal in 2013 after a farcical judicial process. The trial was a fine example of the skill with which Malaysia’s judiciary has learned to perform in politically sensitive cases involving the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has ruled the country at the head of the Barisan Nasional coalition since independence from Britain in 1957. So when Malaysia’s Federal Court reversed the acquittal, and upheld their original conviction and the death penalty, it is a signal that the political ground has shifted.

Travels with her Harp: Mary O’Hara, a Brief Encounters column by Brian Brennan

 In 1956, at age 21, Mary O’Hara had the world by the tail. The Irish-born singer-harpist had a recording contract with Decca for her albums of Celtic songs, she was touring internationally, and was happily married to a rising American poet named Richard Selig. Then her world fell apart. Her husband died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma just 15 months after they married, and O’Hara lost her desire to continue performing. She fulfilled her remaining contractual engagements, took vows as a nun, entered an English convent, and stayed there for 12 years. She melted down her wedding ring to solemnize her vows. When she emerged from the convent in 1974, O’Hara was amazed to discover that her recordings were still selling. 

Artists call for buffer zone for Canada’s Gros Morn National Park, a brief with a photograph by Greg Locke

Thirty two well known artists sent an open letter to Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, and  Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Paul Davis, calling on them to establish a permanent buffer zone free of industrial activity around Gros Morn National Park  and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland.

Human survival in danger zone, study confirms. By James Dyke

The Earth’s climate has always changed. All species eventually become extinct. But a new study has brought into sharp relief the fact that humans have, in the context of geological timescales, produced near instantaneous planetary-scale disruption. We are sowing the seeds of havoc on the Earth, it suggests, and the time is fast approaching when we will reap this harvest.  The research paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that our industrialised civilisation is driving a number of key planetary processes into areas of high risk. 

Noteworthy elsewhere: 

Google said today was the last day to acquire its Glass Explorer Edition. What’s next? “Future versions,” said Google enigmatically. The team that created Google Glass has “outgrown the lab and so we’re officially “graduating” from Google[x] … We’re thrilled to be moving even more from concept to reality.” The “reality” may be only virtual, if sceptics are correct about the future of Glass. Google Glass finally cracks: it was a product looking for a market writes Paul Levy in The Conversation. “Google Glass has not been the success that was hoped for.” 

Followers of American politics can tune into Tuesday’s State of the Union address on the web site of the White House, here. First, you might scan this Associated Press report about promises president Barack Obama made in 2014 — and how they fared: 5 goals from Obama’s 2014 State of the Union: Yay or Nay? Also, we recommend this as a good read:  State of Union Speechwriter for Obama Draws on Various Inspirations, by Michael S. Schmidt,  New York Times.

 

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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 Current Affairs

Noteworthy: prescriptions on inequality

Worth reading:  A joint American-British report today prescribed new policies aimed at reducing the growing gulf between haves and have-nots in Western democracies, using case studies from several countries.

Lawrence Summers

Lawrence Summers

The middle class has not fared well lately in advanced economies roiled by globalization, technological change and a shift in economic power from people to corporations, said the report. Headed by Lawrence Summers and Lawrence Balls, it said “economic growth, even coupled with productivity growth, is no longer enough to ensure middle-class income growth.” It called for “progressive public policy choices … to ensure that all of their citizens share in economic success.”

Produced by the Center for American Progress, the report cites case studies and makes recommendations on minimum wages, family-friendly labour standards, profit sharing, education, infrastructure investment, governance and climate change. Its recommendations aim to “create stable, sustainable growth by encouraging both the public and private sectors to focus on the long term,” and calls for cross-national cooperation to “boost economic and financial stability, all the while preventing a race to the bottom on international tax competition.”  An excerpt:

History tells us that societies succeed when the fruits of growth are broadly shared. Indeed, no society has ever succeeded without a large, prospering middle class* that embraced the idea of progress. Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before. The primary challenge democracies face is neither military nor philosophical. Rather, for the first time since the Great Depression, many industrial democracies are failing to raise living standards and provide opportunities for social mobility to a large share of their people. Some of those countries that have produced economic growth have done so in a manner that has left most of their citizens no better off. This is an economic problem that threatens to become a problem for the political systems of these nations—and for the idea of democracy itself.

The citizens of industrial democracies continue to value their freedom and their opportunity to participate in the task of self-government. But they also count on their political systems to create circumstances in which they can use their talents and their labor to provide a decent standard of life for themselves and their families. When democratic governments and market systems cannot deliver such prosperity to their citizens, the result is political alienation, a loss of social trust, and increasing conflict across the lines of race, class, and ethnicity. Inclusive prosperity nurtures tolerance, harmony, social generosity, optimism, and international cooperation. And these are essential for democracy itself.

The economic troubles of the democracies also erode support for the democratic idea around the globe. In our time, advocates and apologists for anti-democratic regimes argue that the democracies are no longer capable of managing their problems or creating a sense of social dynamism. Democracies are cast as sclerotic, inefficient, and ungovernable. We believe that this critique is wrong today, as it has been historically. But countering this persistent attack on democracy requires that free economic and political systems restore their vitality and reclaim their ability to deliver on the promise of prosperity for all.

It has always been the mission of progressives to ensure rising prosperity and opportunity. A strong, inclusive economy is the platform for a socially mobile, optimistic, and successful society. While the economic mission of progressives is unchanging, the means of its achievement change from generation to generation as the economy evolves. Today, we are living in the age of globalization and technological revolution. Both have delivered much benefit to society, but have reshaped the political economy of western industrialized countries in ways that challenge the middle class and those striving to get into it.

Our report is about embracing the new economic opportunities of the 21st century by finding ways to ensure they serve the vast majority of society. In previous eras, political institutions have responded to economic transformations to ensure prosperity is shared: the New Deal in the United States and the European social welfare state; the “third-way” politics of putting people first of Clinton and Blair by investing in people and reforming institutions. Just as it took the New Deal and the European social welfare state to make the Industrial Revolution work for the many and not the few during the 20th century, we need new social and political institutions to make 21st century capitalism work for the many and not the few. …. read Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity on the site of the Center for American Progress. (You will leave F&O’s site)

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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 Current Affairs Tagged , , |

Artists call for ban on fracking near national park

FAO-BonneBay_GSL8376

Gros Morne National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bonne Bay, Newfoundland, Canada. Photo by Greg Locke © 2014

Thirty two well known artists sent an open letter to Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, and  Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Paul Davis, calling on them to establish a permanent buffer zone free of industrial activity around Gros Morn National Park  and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland.

The area has been the target of many unsuccessful oil exploration attempt over the past two decades. In 2012 a number of companies proposed to conduct hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) drilling right up to the park’s boundaries. Last summer, UNESCO called on Canada to do more to protect the site. There was much public opposition, and in 2013 the proposals failed. There is currently a moratorium on fracking while the provincial government reviews a commissioned industry study.

The artists include musician Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta, authors Lawrence Hill, Lisa Moore, Michael Crummy and Joseph Boyden, astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar, painter Mary Pratt, and actor Greg Malone, who said, “If we can’t protect the most brilliant places in our province and in our country, what are we doing?”

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

Research adds a weapon in our war between germs and drugs

Photo by Iqbal Osman via Flickr, Creative Commons

Photo by Iqbal Osman via Flickr, Creative Commons

A research breakthrough in a report in Nature  this week, A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance,  may turn out to be the biggest and most hopeful medical news of the year. 

It’s been decades since scientists made significant progress on new weapons against deadly microbes. Antibiotics have been, numerous studies show, over-used and abused to the point even the most powerful are no longer effective. As Nature noted, “Antibiotic resistance is spreading faster than the introduction of new compounds into clinical practice, causing a public health crisis.”

The cost of antibiotic resistance is devastating. A major new British review warns, “a continued rise in resistance by 2050 would lead to 10 million people dying every year and a reduction of 2 per cent to 3.5 per cent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It would cost the world up to 100 trillion USD.”

This week’s report of a  breakthrough by European and American scientists, of a potential new class of antibiotics they say is likely to avoid developing resistance, has enormous implications.

Read the new research report here in Nature, (subscription required), or find a smart layperson’s explanation here in MIT Technology ReviewFrom a Pile of Dirt, Researchers Discover New Antibiotic, by Karen Weintraub. There’s a good backgrounder on the topic at the Antimicrobial Resistance page of the World Health Organization.

Also on the topic of antibiotics, from F&O’s archives, find Clio Korn’s report,  Gut bacteria linked to depression and brain health; Chris Wood’s Natural Security column (subscription required), We’re all in this together, and — if you want to reach that far back — my   own magazine piece on antibiotic resistance from 1995,  Germ Warfare.

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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

New on F&O: From Peak Civilization to Birdman

 

 Are We at Peak Civilization? By Chris Wood (subscription required)

Will 2015 be the end of our capitalist consumer cornucopia world? That world cannot go on. And as some bright person once said (the words are variously attributed to Henry Ford and economist Herb Stein): “What cannot go on, will stop.” The ultimate foundation of that world, just as it was for the worlds of the Greeks, the Ming and the Maya, is our natural security: the supply of ecoservices like food, water and air — to name only the crudest — which constitute our biological habitat, which keep us alive, and which thus underwrite everything else in the human experience more complicated than bare survival. And, thousands of observational data sets show that our natural security is crumbling.  Click here for Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page.

Birdman speaks of cinema’s capacity not just to move, but to move between fantasy and reality as if they were the same thing, writes William Brown. Michael Keaton in Birdman. Publicity photo by Atsushi Nishijima, Twentieth Century Fox.

 Michael Keaton in Birdman. Publicity photo by Atsushi Nishijima, Twentieth Century Fox.

Birdman and the intoxicating alchemy of cinema. By William Brown

Birdman speaks of cinema’s capacity not just to move, but to move between fantasy and reality as if they were the same thing. Cinema’s power over society also comes through: theatre might well add gravitas and credibility to a performer, but these days no one at all is anything unless mediated by the screen, whether that be at the movies or on Twitter. The fear of being irrelevant has now become the fear of fading from our screens.

Bucking Hollywood’s commercial trend: John Frankenheimer, by Brian Brennan (subscription required)

For the 59-year-old John Frankenheimer, The Fourth War offered another opportunity to re-establish his place in the American mainstream after an up-and-down 32-year directing career. During the 1970s and 1980s his career had stumbled because of his problems with alcohol. It ascended in 1988 with the hit re-release of his 1962 classic, The Manchurian Candidate, but then dipped again with the disappointing Dead-Bang, a thriller in which Don Johnson played a Los Angeles homicide detective pitted against a neo-Nazi killer.

Saudi Arabia succession struggle looms as king ails, by Jonathan Manthorpe (subscription required)

It’s been a long time coming, but the looming crisis in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy is finally in clear sight. What has brought matters into focus was the dispatch to hospital in Riyadh this week of 91-year-old King Abdullah, who is suffering from pneumonia. The king’s months of evident ill health come after his attempt to embed some political stability in the country of 29 million people and the world’s largest oil producer by appointing not only his successor, but also his successor’s successor. Far from providing security and continuity, Abdullah’s action is more likely to set off a potentially disastrous contest for the throne among Saudi Arabia’s princely families.

In case you missed it:

Check our Contents page for new stories as we roll them out. Here are some recent items:

The pen is not always mightier than the sword. Ten journalists and two police officers were slaughtered Wednesday in Paris, as extremists yelling Allahu Akbar attacked the officers of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. You can read Je Suis Charlie, F&O’s report on the carnage, and concerns about its implications, here. 

In Let the Good Times Roll, economist and F&O Thoughtlines columnist Jim McNiven predicted the American and Canadian economies will do well this next year, especially the American.  

The ProPublica/New York Times report by Charles Ornstein,  A Man Dies on Reality TV, and Privacy and Permission Collide, investigates how America’s reality television show NY Med filmed Mark Chanko’s final moments without the approval of his family. Even though his face was blurred, his Anita wife recognized him on the show. “It was the last clip before the commercial … or as I put it, ‘Watch this man die, now we’re going to sell you some detergent.’”

Eyeing that bottle of fine wine received as a holiday gift, wondering if it will increase in value? Just drink it: wine is rarely worth an investment, advises Karl Storchmann.

You might also consider just when you use your new eReader – or many other light-emitting electronic devices. At least some eReaders are the enemies of sleep when used in the hour before bedtime, scientists concluded. They may also  have a long-term impact on health, performance and safety.

One of the most significant developments in Canada was last year’s decision by the country’s top court recognizing aboriginal rights over a vast swath of land and resources. Read the report, Canadian Court Expands Aboriginal Rights, about the case,  Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia.

Watching Homeland? Check out our story in Arts, Homeland, Carrie Mathison, and mental illness on TV, by academic Meron Wondemaghen. In our books section Ex Libris, you will marvel at  Ursula K. Le Guin’s call to action, in video and text, as she takes the U.S. publishing industry’s “ignorance and greed” to task and issues a cri de coeur on behalf of artists in a world where “hard times are coming” and writers will be needed who offer hope and freedom, and “see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.”  

 Noteworthy:

 Look up, far up, into the night sky this month and seek Comet Lovejoy, now visible in the night skies as it nears earth.

"Sungrazer" Comet Lovejoy in 2011, from the International Space Station. (NASA photo)

“Sungrazer” Comet Lovejoy in 2011, from the International Space Station. NASA

 

The ball of ice and rock has a plucky past. In 2011, when astronomers first discovered it, it dove into the roaring inferno of the sun’s atmosphere, where scientists predicted it would meet its demise. Instead, it emerged on the other side.

“It’s absolutely astounding,” said Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, at the time.“I did not think the comet’s icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us.”

You can watch the comet emerge, unscathed, in this video (it loops three times):

 

Also worth a look:

CES: Security Risks From the Smart Home, by Molly Wood, New York Times

LAS VEGAS — THE Internet of Things arrived in force at this year’s International CES, the huge trade show here. But while manufacturers at the event painted a rosy picture of connected grills, coffee makers, refrigerators and door locks, security experts and regulators warned that the Internet of Things could be a threat to both security and privacy.

How much are words worth? by Scott Carney

Last but not least, two American writers did a rough estimate of the pool of money currently available for magazine work, and discovered it is only enough to employ 72 scribes full time. ” The total market for long form journalism in major magazines in America is approximately $3.6 million. To put it another way: the collective body of writers earned less than Butch Jones, a relatively unknown college football coach, earned in a single year,” concluded Scott Carney. 

“As a writer, this state of affairs horrifies me,” wrote Carney. “I feel strongly that writers contribute more than just 0.6% of value to the overall magazine industry. Yes, magazines have a host of expenses–printing, distributing, editing, fact checking, office overhead and marketing all have a cost. But there is also something deeply sick in how little writers’ work is actually valued by the industry.” Read his blog post, How much are words worth? …. and weep.

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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, Gyroscope Tagged , , , , |

Saudi Arabia upheaval will soon rock Middle East and beyond

Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdul al-said  in 2007. U.S. government photo/ Cherie A. Thurlby.

Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdul al-said in 2007. U.S. government photo/ Cherie A. Thurlby.

Politics are heating up in Saudi Arabia, a key player in the three-cornered contest in the Middle East between modernity, theocracy and absolutism, a contest waged between warring proxies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, and felt in corners of the world from Paris to Nigeria. International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe notes that, like many countries of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia was born out of the destruction of the Ottoman Turkish empire in the First World War. The turmoil that will soon wrack the country will reverberate far beyond its borders, due to its wealth and its influence as the leading exponent of Sunni Islam in the contest for regional pre-eminence with Shia Islam, led by Iran. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, Saudi Arabia succession struggle looms as king ails:

It’s been a long time coming, but the looming crisis in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy is finally in clear sight.

What has brought matters into focus was the dispatch to hospital in Riyadh this week of 91-year-old King Abdullah, who is suffering from pneumonia. The king’s months of evident ill health come after his attempt to embed some political stability in the country of 29 million people and the world’s largest oil producer by appointing not only his successor, but also his successor’s successor.

Far from providing security and continuity, Abdullah’s action is more likely to set off a potentially disastrous contest for the throne among Saudi Arabia’s princely families.

The prospect of political upheaval in Saudi Arabia is severe. Saudi Arabia is the heartland of the Sunni Muslim sect and the home of the most sacred Islamic sites. But it is has a large and restive population of Shia Muslims and is the fountainhead of the most fanatical and violent Muslim organizations such as Al-Qaida and the Islamic State group (ISG), also known by the Initials ISIS and ISIL.

Vast floods of income from its oil reserves and reasonable cohesion within the royal family have enabled the Saudi government to keep a lid on the country’s internal contradictions. But if the current halving of oil prices continues indefinitely, with resulting damage to Saudi Arabia’s patronage-based economy, and the royal family of about 15,000 princes and princesses shatters into contesting factions, then the future looks grim for not only the country but the region. Log in first to continue reading Saudi Arabia succession struggle looms as king ails (subscription required*)

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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 , , |

John Frankenheimer: Emmys, enthusiasm, and energy

Film director John Frankenheimer was often at odds with Hollywood producers because he insisted on making movies for artistic rather than commercial reasons. But, as Arts columnist Brian Brennan reports, he later found his niche in television.  An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, Bucking Hollywood’s Commercial Trend: John Frankenheimer:

Publicity photo via Wikipedia

Publicity photo via Wikipedia

The movie was called The Fourth War. It took its title from Albert Einstein, who said he didn’t know how a third World War would be fought, or with what. “I can, however, predict that the fourth World War will be waged with sticks and stones.”

John Frankenheimer, the movie’s director, wasn’t happy with the title. Neither was his star, Roy Scheider. Both were anti-war advocates. “What we’re trying to show, without hitting people on the head – boom, boom, boom – is that war is an unthinkable alternative,” said Frankenheimer. “We’re sick of it. The Russians are sick of it. The people who wage war now are the lunatic fringe.”

The year was 1989. The Cold War was thawing and a spirit of glasnost was prevailing. Alternative titles being discussed by Frankenheimer and Scheider were Game of Honor and Face Off.

The movie, being shot in the Canadian Rockies near the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics, was set on the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. Scheider played a trigger-happy American army colonel who harboured a grudge against the Soviets. … log in to read Bucking Hollywood’s Commercial Trend: John Frankenheimer (subscription needed*)

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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 |

Je Suis Charlie

charlie

The web site of Charlie Hebdo was draped in a virtual black flag Wednesday, with a link to a pdf file displaying the words “I am Charlie” in numerous languages.

Scorecard, Wednesday, Jan. 7: Pen – 0. Sword – 12, and counting.

Masked gunmen with AK47s and a rocket launcher killed at least 10 journalists and two police officers early Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that had been under police protection since extremists firebombed it in 2011.

 French leader François Hollande  declared a national day of mourning for Thursday. The hashtag #jesuischarlie flooded social media. World leaders spoke out in solidarity.

Crowds flocked to Place de la République in Paris in the evening, many people holding up pens. The web site of Charlie Hebdo was draped in a virtual black flag Wednesday, with a link to a pdf file displaying the words “I am Charlie” in numerous languages.

World leaders expressed outrage, support for France, and in some cases, also support for press rights. It was a rare outpouring of support for journalists and freedom of expression which, literally and metaphorically, have been under fire on all fronts and in most countries lately.
 
“This is an attack against freedom of expression and freedom of the press – the two pillars of democracy,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who, ironically, was in the midst of a New Year visit to the UN Correspondents Association.
 

From the United States, Barack Obama called  the shooting “horrific” while Secretary of State John Kerry said, in French, “Tous les Américains au côté de la France.” British prime minister David Cameron tweeted, “”We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

 
Reporters Without Borders appealed to all media outlets globally to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons thought to offend the extremists. “Freedom of information cannot shrink in the face of barbarity and yield to blackmail by those who assail (our) democracy and what  (France) stands for. In the name of all those who have fallen in the defence of fundamental values, let us continue Charlie Hebdo’s fight for free information,” said RSF in a statement.
B6vwy0sCMAABMA5.jpg-large

One of the last cartoons drawn by Charb, killed in Wednesday’s slaughter by extremists. “Still no terrorist attacks in France,” it says. “Wait! We have until the end of January to present our wishes,” says the man with an AK47. Photo via Twitter, fair use.

It’s no coincidence that on the same day a dystopian novel by Michel Houellebecq, Submission, was released in France, amid a media fire storm. 

“The book’s publication could not come at a more sensitive time as France is currently undergoing a fierce debate on Islam and national identity,” noted  an analysis on the French site France 24.

Charlie Hebdo was one of many outlets to feature the book.

Submission, said numerous French media outlets, portrayed a France years in the future ruled by Sharia law and a Muslim government. In the world of Submission Muslims would eliminate France’s secular focus on human rights, captured in the official national motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, coined during the French revolution. 

France takes human rights seriously, and has a long tradition of accepting and even celebrating satire. It was in France the famous quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” was coined, attributed to a biographer of French enlightenment writer Voltaire, the pen name of François-Marie Arouet.

One of the journalists killed by the extremists Wednesday was Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier. “A drawing has never killed anyone,” he  told Der Spiegel in 2012.  “Extremists don’t need any excuses. We are only criticizing one particular form of extremist Islam, albeit in a peculiar and satirically exaggerated form. We are not responsible for the excesses that happen elsewhere, just because we practice our right to freedom of expression within the legal limits.”

“I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” Charbonnier told Le Monde in 2012, in a story about the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo by extremists in 2011, after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed. 

As the world learned through the bloody, brutal, irrational, self-defeating and continuing aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the clear and present danger now is the fanatical attack on Charlie Hebdo will boost fanatics of all stripes.
 
Extremism by fanatics, the latest of whom claim allegiance to the self-branded “Islamic State,” has been met by extremist xenophobia and bigotry aimed at Muslims in general. Carnage in the names of religion and “war on terror,” both, continues in world war zones, far from the light of publicity now shining on Charlie Hebdo. And if recent history is a guide, the reaction can easily backfire on all of the rights cited today in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings. Since 9/11, press freedoms of all kinds have been amongst the collateral damage in the “War on Terror.”
 
Warned UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “If this attack is allowed to feed discrimination and prejudice, it will be playing straight into the hands of extremists whose clear aim is to divide religions and societies. With xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments already on the rise in Europe, I am very concerned that this awful, calculated act will be exploited by extremists of all sorts.”
 
Who will keep a cool head after Wednesday’s slaughter by gunmen reportedly screaming, triumphantly, “Allahu Akbar?”
 

 

Further reading:

Freedom of Expression, Freedom House: https://freedomhouse.org/issues/freedom-expression#.VK2lEt6kb8s

An image gallery of the attacks, Le Monde: http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/portfolio/2015/01/07/en-images-l-attentat-de-charlie-hebdo_4550797_3224.html

Wikipedia page for Charlie Hebdo, including backgrounder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo

Ban outraged by ‘horrendous and cold-blooded’ attack on French magazine: United Nations news release: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49741&Cr=UNESCO&Cr1=#.VK2JBN6kb8s

World leaders condemn attack on France’s Charlie Hebdo, France 24: http://www.france24.com/en/20150107-charlie-hebdo-paris-attack-journalist-terror-/

‘Charlie Hebdo’ Editor in Chief: ‘A Drawing Has Never Killed Anyone,’ by Stefan Simons, Der Spiegel, September, 2012

A “Charlie Hebdo”, on n’a “pas l’impression d’égorger quelqu’un avec un feutre,” Le Monde archive:  http://www.lemonde.fr/actualite-medias/article/2012/09/20/je-n-ai-pas-l-impression-d-egorger-quelqu-un-avec-un-feutre_1762748_3236.html#jsi567twGzKCWauk.99

RWB APPEALS TO MEDIA OUTLETS TO PUBLISH CHARLIE HEBDO CARTOONS, Reporters san Frontiers/Reporters Without Borders:  http://en.rsf.org/france-rwb-appeals-to-media-outlets-to-07-01-2015,47454.html

1101 Journalists Killed since 1992: Committee to Protect Journalists report: http://www.cpj.org/killed/ 

 

 

 

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Posted in Gyroscope Tagged , , , , , |

New on F&O

 

A participant in the Polar Bear swim in Vancouver dives into the New Year. F&O file photo © Bead Shop Media 2014

A participant in the Polar Bear swim in Vancouver, Canada, dives into the New Year. F&O file photo © Bead Shop Media 2014

Let the Good Times Roll. By Jim McNiven

The American and Canadian economies will do well this next year, especially the American. Their consumers, who represent over 70% of that economy’s GDP, should begin to shed their uncertainties and the Federal Reserve won’t raise interest rates. The Canadian economy will go into an election year with the outcome looking close, which means Canadian austerity will relax and its consumers, only representing 50-or so per cent of that economy, will get some breaks. The biggest break for both countries is the collapse of oil prices, which is likely to persist for some years, well after the initial sigh of relief has disappeared from the consumers. It is like a nice, ‘progressive tax cut’ in both countries. Numbers like $750 billion are bandied about in the U.S., a lot more than any Congress could deliver. On top of this, there is a ‘goody’ coming to the travelling well-off, including seniors.

 

A camera from the ABC show NY Med films medics at work. NY Med publicity photo via Facebook

A camera from the ABC show NY Med films medics at work. NY Med publicity photo via Facebook

 A Man Dies on Reality TV, and Privacy and Permission Collide. By Charles Ornstein

The U.S. reality television show NY Med filmed Mark Chanko’s final moments without the approval of his family. Even though his face was blurred, his Anita wife recognized him on the show. “It was the last clip before the commercial … or as I put it, ‘Watch this man die, now we’re going to sell you some detergent.’”

Just drink it: wine is rarely worth an investment By Karl Storchmann

Investing in fine wines has become increasingly popular over the past few decades as many in the viticulture industry have promoted fermented grapes as a way to boost returns and diversify a portfolio. The rapid rise in public interest has been accompanied by a growing body of economic literature. The evidence suggests it may not be wise to buy wine as investment instead of for drinking. Investing in common stocks yield higher returns in the long run – and is less risky.

 

 

 Noteworthy: our recommendations from elsewhere on the Internet:

 

Recommended by F&O contributor Sheldon Fernandez:

Virunga – Official Trailer 2014 from Grain Media on Vimeo.

 

Playing Dumb on Climate Change. By Naomi Oreskesian, New York Times

When applied to evaluating environmental hazards, the fear of gullibility can lead us to understate threats. It places the burden of proof on the victim rather than, for example, on the manufacturer of a harmful product. The consequence is that we may fail to protect people who are really getting hurt.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope