Monthly Archives: August 2016

Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week

Facts and Opinions is on a reduced publishing schedule until after Labour Day in September, when our regular columnists and schedule will return.

What Comes After Colombia’s Peace Deal?   By Annette Idler  Analysis

What will happen after the  Colombian government and the guerrilla group FARC finalized a peace deal, ending the long-running war?  An official end to war with the FARC is only the start of the road to peace.

Mudlarks and History on the Thames  By Neal Hall   Photo-essay

A torch on his head, Jason Sandy scours the nighttime London foreshores of the Thames river, searching for objects that could offer a glimpse of life in the British capital hundreds of years ago.

Confirmation Bias: The Death of Truth  By Tom Regan  Column

My first real exposure to people not wanting the truth, but only hearing what they want to hear, happened  25 years ago. My friend Deb Amos, NPR’s well-known and extremely talented Middle East reporter, had been invited to speak to an elderly Jewish group in Boston about her experiences in Israel and Palestine. Then an interesting thing happened.

An artists' conception of what Proxima b might look like. Image: © European Southern Observatory

An artists’ conception of what Proxima b might look like. Image: © European Southern Observatory

Findings:

Literary fiction by the likes of Salman Rushdie, Harper Lee and Toni Morrison helps improve readers’ understanding of other people’s emotions, according to new research – but genre writing, from authors including Danielle Steel and Clive Cussler, does not. The Guardian reports.

This week’s announcement that a newly-discovered planet, Proxima b, may be habitable and (relatively) near by  has space researchers, futurists, scientists of all stripes and fantasists hoping for an escape from earth excited.  Already, a robotic mission is planned.  See Wikipedia’s page for details.

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Posted in Current Affairs

Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible. The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Photo by Ruth Hopkins, © 2016

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible.
The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Above, a demonstration in New York. Photo by Ruth Hopkins, © 2016

New York’s Colour Line, Between Black and Blue, by Ruth Hopkins  Magazine 

When American police officers shot dead two black men – Anton Sterling and Philando Castile – within 24 hours in the sweltering heat of July, thousands took to the streets to protest against the violence that they say is predominantly aimed at African Americans. Two days later, a sniper killed five police officers, who were guarding a demonstration. His aim? To kills as many white cops as possible.
The reciprocal violence exposes a raw inflamed wound, where many hoped there was a scar. Ruth Hopkins reports from New York

Democracy as Laboratory, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines  column

“It is one of the happy accidents of the federal system that a single, courageous State may, if the citizens choose, serve as a laboratory…” noted  United States Justice Louis Brandeis in a dissenting opinion from a 1932 Supreme Court decision. His statement is as applicable in any other federation, and the experiments going on in Canada with carbon emissions reduction serve to underscore the value of Brandeis’ observation.

‘The killing has to stop:’ Canada’s missing women’s inquiry, by Penney Kome, Over Easy column

“The killing has to stop,” said Nicole Robertson, naming the most urgent goal of Canada’s inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) at a panel discussion in Calgary.

An Ancient Fossil’s Lessons About Cancer,  by Richard Gunderman, Loose Leaf column

The finding of cancer in the bone of a 1.7-million-year-old human relative isn’t just a biological oddity – it is a reminder of what it means to be both alive and human. Life is fraught with hazards. Thriving biologically (and biographically) does not mean eliminating all risks but managing the ones we can, both to reduce harm and promote a full life.

Corpspeak, Technosputter,  MeMyBlah: Words as Spam, by Louise Katz, Arts report

Our current cultural and political reality is one of neoconservative instrumentalism, and to maintain it we have to talk the talk. Here then, is my linguistic guide to this neoliberal world.

Fair and Foul in Edinburgh: Shakespeare’s Many Guises, by Elisabeth O’Leary and Zoe Daniel

Rapping, drunkenness and “Star Wars” are some of the twists given to William Shakespeare’s plays at the Edinburgh festival this year, marking the 400th anniversary of his death.

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Posted in Current Affairs

Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week

Philippines President Rodrigo R. Duterte shows a copy of a diagram showing the connection of high level drug syndicates operating in the country during a press conference at Malacañang on July 7, 2016. Photo handout, Philippines government

Philippines President Rodrigo R. Duterte shows a diagram he says shows connections between drug syndicates in the country, at a press conference at Malacañang July 7, 2016. Photo handout, Philippines government

Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, aboriginals and many newcomers refer to ourselves as The People of the Salmon. This week, sports fishing was cancelled, alongside closed commercial harvests, on the mighty and mythical Fraser River. Too few wild salmon are returning from the Pacific Ocean to spawn, said the joint Canada/U.S. Pacific Salmon Commission. The waters are nearing historically hot temperatures, and flowing much lower than average.

We are all occupied this week by sports in Rio, grotesque politics in the United States, endless wars in the Middle East, and global financial markets in flux. Earth Overshoot Day on Aug. 8 received little attention (see below). Nor did major reports on global warming and humanity’s impact on wildlife (see F&O stories, below).  But it’s salmon that lingers in my mind as I scan headlines about these  issues. What if the salmon vanish, as fisheries have vanished elsewhere? What becomes of the People of the Salmon when the salmon are no more?  What, in your own corner of this small world, is your equivalent of salmon — and how is it faring?

On that poignant note, here is F&O’s line up this week: from a beautiful photo essay honouring a photographer’s grandmother, to the Philippines, to Trumpian America. From finding joy in life to solving the plastics problem. From Turkey’s Fethullah Gülen, to the environment. We aim to offer provocative, informing journalism that matters. Drop us a line and tell us how we’re doing, at editor@factsandopinions.com. And, as always, if you value what we do, please contribute (below). We are supported by readers only, to avoid the conflicts of interest that accompany advertising and running sponsored (fake) stories.

Trump is a feeble version of the Philippines’ Duterte, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs Column

In the hierarchy of demagogues, Donald Trump is not in the same league as the Philippines new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike Duterte, whose approval rating is at 91 per cent since he came to office at the end of June, Trump doesn’t have the guts to say what he means.

"At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" -- Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel for the US Army, to Senator Joseph McCarthy, in 1954 at the Army-McCarthy hearings. The quote and the confrontation is seen as a turning point in the history of McCarthyism. Photo: United States Senate, public domain, via WikipediaBy United States Senate - http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/graphic/xlarge/Welch_McCarthy.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27839902

“At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” — Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel for the US Army, to Senator Joseph McCarthy

America Reclaims Its Decency? by Penney Kome   Column

Decency and basic values as the central concerns in a U.S. election? No wonder the U.S. news media are confused. They’re used to talking about tax cuts and horse race comparisons.

Joy in doing something you love, badly, by Tom Regan  Column

Florence Foster Jenkins, the subject of a Meryl Streep/Hugh Grant film, had a very interesting career as a bad singer. But why was she a role model for my daughter?

How a Global Treaty on Plastics Can Work, by Nils Simon Expert Witness

Why has plastics pollution been so intransigent from a global governance perspective? Two options seem most viable for crafting a binding international agreement to deal with plastics.

Squib: National Peacekeepers’ Day, by Deborah Jones   Brief Comment

August 9 was National Peacekeepers’ Day.  I’d really prefer, please, that we just keep peace.

Marisa Vesco embraces her nephew Luca Squarci during a visit to Cossato, Italy, June 22, 2015. REUTERS/Gaia Squarci

Marisa Vesco embraces her nephew Luca Squarci during a visit to Cossato, Italy, June 22, 2015. REUTERS/Gaia Squarci

My Nonna’s last months, by Gaia Squarci  Photo essay

On Oct. 11, 2015, the day Nonna died in Biella, Italy, I was across the world in Brooklyn, New York. I had spent five months with her, celebrating her life instead of mourning her death.

Fethullah Gülen: public intellectual or public enemy? by Joshua D. Hendrick  Report

Presented by his followers as a learned scholar and orator, Fethullah Gülen leads a transnational social and economic network. If Gülen helped orchestrate the July coup in Turkey, as the government claims, tens of thousands of affiliates and sympathizers, as well as those of us who have tried to more objectively study this man and his movement, will need to come to terms with one of the most fantastic frauds in modern history.

An iceberg floats near a harbour in the town of Kulusuk, east Greenland August 1, 2009. Picture taken August 1. REUTERS/Bob Strong

An iceberg floats near a harbour in the town of Kulusuk, east Greenland August 1, 2009. Picture taken August 1. REUTERS/Bob Strong

Hunting, fishing, farming biggest threats to wildlife, by Sean Maxwell, James Watson & Richard Fuller  Science report

Climate change threatens 19% of globally threatened and near-threatened species. It’s a serious conservation issue. Yet our new study, published in Nature, shows that by far the largest current hazards to biodiversity are overexploitation and agriculture.

Earth swelters as global warming targets near breach, by Alister Doyle  Science report

The Earth is so hot this year that a limit for global warming agreed by world leaders at a climate summit in Paris just a few months ago is in danger of being breached.

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Noteworthy:

The New York Times Magazine devotes a special issue to one 40,000-word article on more than a decade of war, terror and revolution in the Middle East, Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart. It’s a remarkable and magnificent piece of journalism.

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On Earth Overshoot Day, Day August 8  humanity began exceeding the limits of the natural bounty our planet provides. For the rest of the year we will sink further into our debt to nature, overfishing, overharvesting, and over emitting, so much that we would need 1.6 Earths to continue supporting our species. If you’re confident that we’ll invent enough technology, or find another habitable planet, before this debt bankrupts our civilizations, then I have a bridge to sell. The Overshoot organizers suggest that each of us pledge to help. The pledges seem paltry, but we’ve got to start somewhere. They are (and I chose the first):

I host a vegetarian dinner party
I lower my household energy consumption
Is my country an ecological creditor or debtor? I become a natural resource expert
I pick a day to telecommute or use other transportation than my car
I illustrate my commitment to tread lightly on the Earth
I reduce my paper waste

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I can no longer bear to read news about the unspeakable man, or the horror show of American politics. (I don't recommend any of us who need not do, for sanity's sake.) But, my gawd, look at Time's cover this week. It says all, about the former democracy and its grotesque politician both. Maybe America's remaining good is as an object lesson, for those places where democracy still has promise. Its melt down shows us why civility, intelligence, education, respect and tolerance for other opinions matter.

I, for one, can no longer bear to read news about the unspeakable man who would be president, or the horror show of American politics. I don’t recommend any who don’t need to do so, for sanity’s sake. But, my gawd, look at Time’s cover this week. Even without reading the story, Inside Donald Trump’s Meltdown, the image says all, about the former democracy and its grotesque politician both.

Perhaps America’s remaining good is as an object lesson, for those places where democracy still has promise. Its meltdown shows us why civility, intelligence, education, respect and tolerance for other opinions matter.

— Deborah Jones     

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Posted in Current Affairs

Facts, and Opinions, this week

Dump the Olympics, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

There comes a time in life when all good things must come to an end. This is certainly true of the “modern” Olympics with one small change – the Olympics are no longer a good thing.

South African politics see tectonic shift, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

South African voters delivered the most stinging rebuke to the party of Nelson Mandela since it led the country out of apartheid a quarter century ago. The messianic reputation of the African National Congress is crumbling under the weight of administrative incompetence and endless corruption scandals.

By United States Senate - http://www.kaine.senate.gov/about, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24544383

Tim Kaine. Official portrait, United States Senate

US Democrats watch their language, as bilingualism grows, by Penney Kome, Over Easy columnist

The current election shows that the U.S. is joining the rest of the world, becoming a place where it’s an advantage to know at least two languages.

Squib: Rude but Necessary Questions for Americans, by Deborah Jones, commentary

Rude and necessary questions for Americans include this: which action by United States leaders is more disrespectful of a nation’s men and women in uniform?

Japan remembers Hiroshima, by Kiyoshi Takenaka  Report

Japan marked the 71st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Saturday as its mayor urged world leaders to follow in U.S. President Barack Obama’s footsteps and visit, and ultimately rid the world of nuclear arms.

Found Elsewhere:

The annual State of the Climate report this week confirmed that 2015 surpassed 2014 as the warmest year since at least the mid-to-late 19th century. The findings show, yet again, that we are cooking the earth, and no one who is paying attention thinks it will end well, at least not for the human species. Cockroaches, or bacteria that like acidic water maybe. Not humans.

George Monbiot was rightfully in full dudgeon about the climate issue this week: “What is salient is not important. What is important is not salient. The media turns us away from the issues that will determine the course of our lives, and towards topics of brain-melting irrelevance. ….. Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began. In Siberia, an anthrax outbreak is raging through the human and reindeer populations because infected corpses locked in permafrost since the last epidemic in 1941 have thawed. India has been hammered by cycles of drought and flood, as withering heat parches the soil and torches glaciers in the Himalayas. Southern and eastern Africa have been pitched into humanitarian emergencies by drought. Wildfires storm across America; coral reefs around the world are bleaching and dying.”

“A national instinct that small government is always better than large government is grounded not in facts but rather in ideology and politics,” reports a group of American scholars. ” The evidence throughout the history of modern capitalism “shows that more government can lead to greater security, enhanced opportunity and a fairer sharing of national wealth.” Eduardo Porter of the New York Times takes that report and runs with it, in a piece entitled The Case for More Government and Higher Taxes.

“This is an extraordinary time to be a woman,” wrote American president Barack Obama, in an essay for the women’s magazine Glamour, “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like.” “The progress we’ve made in the past 100 years, 50 years, and, yes, even the past eight years has made life significantly better for my daughters than it was for my grandmothers. And I say that not just as President but also as a feminist.”

“Waste people. Rubbish. Clay-eaters. Hillbillies. Two new books that reckon with the long, bleak history of the country’s white poor suggest their plight shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country off guard.” That’s the intro to a new ProPublica feature on America’s election, ‘White Trash’ — The Original Underclass,” by Alex MacGillis. It’s a great read if you’re not already fed up with American politics.

Millions will be discomfited by two items in science news this week. First, flossing may be a waste of time concluded an investigation by intrepid AP reporter Jeff Donn, with much expert agreement. If this is right, we have wasted hours or even days of our lives doing an unpleasant task because we were long told flossing was good for us. The second item is that research has cast doubt on the usefulness of sunscreen. It may work, researchers say, but add they just don’t know — meaning  none of us knows if sunscreen makes us safe in the sun.

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Posted in Current Affairs