Tag Archives: technology

Where have all the jobs gone?

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY
March, 2017

Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr/Creative Commons

“Every would-be populist in American politics purports to defend the ‘middle class,'” wrote Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich recently, “although there is no agreement on what it is.

Back in 1977 the pair (then married) proposed that the American economy had created a new “professional and managerial class” (PMC) that expanded the upper-middle class from its base of successful bourgeois merchants to include doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists, professors, social workers and other professionals, as well as middle and executive managers at major corporations.  PMC members’ success showed that anybody could achieve wealth through education.

The PMC grew rapidly, from an estimated one per cent of workers in 1930 to 35 per cent of workers in 2006, just before the great crash of 2008. By the 1970s, professionals had education, confidence and enough wealth to start questioning some social effects of the capitalist economic structure.

That’s when the “capitalist class” started pushing back, cutting business workforces and pouring resources into union busting. As capitalists cut the workforce, they also cut the management class, the PMC.

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 What’s more, capitalists reached across borders and moved their businesses to cheaper labour pools in other countries, which also had weaker labour and environmental protections. That, along with the Internet,  brought near-total collapse of the PMC as well as the blue-collar job markets.

Ah, but in the 1980s and 90s, economists forecast a coming “Information Economy,” where knowledge itself would generate revenue. Just as industrialization’s much more efficient tools supplanted the cottage industries, they promised, so too would digitization produce useful goods.

Maybe all that will happen in a generation or two. To date, mostly what we’re doing is eating our own young.

Industry after industry has fallen to technical disruption. On February 7 in Canada, Dominic Blanc, who chairs Justin Trudeau’s economic advisory council, told a university conference that automation will take 40 percent of existing jobs within the next decade. 

An Investopedia article names 20 industries “threatened” by technical changes, (I’ve added a few too)  such as:

  • travel agencies found their customers making their own bookings online;
  • tax accountants lost business to tax software programs;
  • newspapers lost their subscribers and their lucrative classified advertising market to free online services;
  • Secretaries, switchboard operators and executive assistants have lost their jobs to answering systems, online calendars and tailored software;
  • bookstores have closed everywhere as people order their books online;
  • employment agencies have had to compete with online listings and networks like Linked-in;
  • postal workers have much less mail to sort or deliver;
  • the whole film manufacturing and developing industry has folded with the advent of digital cameras;
  • ATMs and online banking are replacing bank counter clerks;
  • most corporations have flattened their structures, trimming middle management;
  • self-serve check-outs are replacing cashiers;
  • pre-recorded playlists (like Clear Channel in the US) have replaced most radio DJs;
  • hotels and motels are challenged by AirBnB and HomeAway;
  • taxis and couriers are challenged by Uber and Lyft;
  • driverless cars may do away with driving jobs altogether, although right now truck driving is the second-largest occupation in North America;
  • Napster crashed the U.S. music and movie industry business model; and of course,
  • as U.S. student debts top $1.3 trillion, universities have to compete with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like Udemy, Coursera and the Khan Academy, which make higher education available even to students who can’t afford university tuition.

Hold on, because that’s just the beginning of the list. The Paris Agreement calls on fossil fuel industries to restrict current activities, let alone explore for more resources.  Banks and financial industries already compete with online services. On the horizon is “blockchain” software that promises security for anonymous financial dealings, such as Bitcoin. Meanwhile, a whole generation of computer experts is becoming obsolete as smartphones and tablets replace desktops and laptops.

Consumer spending drives 70 per cent of the economy, yet retail stores are folding in the face of Walmarts and online catalogues. Supermarkets may be next, as more people can order online from local warehouses that send out vans for local delivery. Amazon has said it will add groceries to its online products, with drone delivery within 30 minutes in urban areas.

So where are the new industries, the new jobs? Gigs like Uber and AirBnB seem almost regressive, stepping back from health and safety standards, and paying the worker even less than the industry does. Amazon’s monitored warehouse workers might well envy the bored department store clerk.

Sometimes it seems like there isn’t enough work to go around. Scratch that: the world is full of essential tasks that need to be done. What we lack are ways to pay people to do them. There certainly aren’t enough paid jobs.

On the other hand, maybe capitalism has just reached the earthly limits of constant growth. Maybe this is the tipping point forteold by 1950s futurists, when robots take over dirty and dangerous jobs, computers handle personal and corporate transactions, and people like you and me receive Basic Annual Incomes (plus housing if we need it) to keep the retail economy going.

We live in a time of paradoxes. Sixty-three million refugees are on the move globally, fleeing war and famine — famine in four countries simultaneously. At the same time, U.S. corporations are sitting on $1.9 trillion in their bank accounts, not invested in any active enterprises at all — despite the tax breaks they get as “job creators.” Everybody is waiting for the next innovation.

Here’s an innovative idea: let’s share! Let’s suppose two ideas about the futurel 1) Whatever you think of capitalism, the global economy is in flux, and will be volatile for quite a while.  2) Humans are much less inclined to ignite conflicts when they have their basic needs met.

We have a choice. We can step in and share necessities. Or we can throw up our hands in horror and let shortages cause tensions that develop into war, which is capitalism’s usual method for re-booting the economy.

Now is the time to kickstart a true sharing economy. The government could start by funding start-up groups dedicated to establishing national and local sustainable housing (and co-housing) programs, universal connectivity, and geothermal greenhouse farming everywhere across Canada.

Maybe an unemployed coal miner can’t become a computer programmer, but almost anybody can learn how to retrofit homes, from insulation to solar panels. Maybe we can use sustainable technology in a way that means that Indigenous people don’t have to pay $12 for a fresh tomato or travel far from home to get a high school education.

The Ehrenreichs say the Professional Managerial Class rose in the 1930s and started to fade early in the 21st century, lasting barely 100 years.  Instead, in recent decades, the educated middle class spiralled down into service jobs as wealth was sucked upwards.

Last January, Oxfam announced that eight individuals controlled as much wealth ($426 billion US) as all of the poorest 3.6 billion people on earth. Such are the wages of unfettered free markets. No wonder Bernie Sanders found that Americans are finally receptive to the phrase, “democratic socialism.”

Copyright Penney Kome 2017

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome here

Related works on F&O:

Technology, not trade, real job-killer, by Tom Regan   Column

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but those jobs U.S. President Donald Trump promised aren’t coming back. And for others, there’s a very good chance that soon more people will be out of work. It won’t happen because of production going to China or Mexico, or and an immigrant or refugee taking jobs. It will be because of technology.

From F&O’s archives, a Focus on Artificial Intelligence:

Figure-1The chilling significance of AlphaGo. By Sheldon Fernandez  Magazine

In March, a computer named AlphaGo played the human world champion in a five-game match of Go, the ancient board game often described as the ‘Far East cousin’ of chess. That AlphaGo triumphed provoked curiosity and bemusement in the public — but is seen as hugely significant in the artificial intelligence and computer science communities. Computer engineer Sheldon Fernandez explains why.

The Sunflower Robot is a prototype that can carry objects and provide reminders and notifications to assist people in their daily lives. It uses biologically inspired visual signals and a touch screen, located in front of its chest, to communicate and interact with users. Photo by Thomas Farnetti for Wellcome/Mosaic, Creative CommonsA one-armed robot will look after me until I die. By Geoff Watts Magazine

I am persuaded by the rational argument for why machine care in my old age should be acceptable, but find the prospect distasteful – for reasons I cannot, rationally, account for. But that’s humanity in a nutshell: irrational. And who will care for the irrational human when they’re old? Care-O-bot, for one; it probably doesn’t discriminate.

Product and graphic designer Ricky Ma, 42, gives a command to his life-size robot ''Mark 1'', modelled after a Hollywood star, in his balcony which serves as his workshop in Hong Kong, China March 31, 2016. Ma, a robot enthusiast, spent a year-and-a half and more than HK$400,000 ($51,000) to create the humanoid robot to fulfil his childhood dream. REUTERS/Bobby Yip SEARCH "ROBOT STAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESBuilding a humanoid Hollywood Star. By Bobby Yip  Report

The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor market changes that the World Economic Forum projects will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. Where will they come from? Why, we can make them ourselves. Or at least some of us can, and do.

Return to F&O’s Contents

Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page or use the PayPal button below to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Technology, not trade, real job-killer 

Wind turbines are seen near the Andasol solar power station near Guadix, southern Spain August 10, 2015. The plant is the biggest solar farm in the world and provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people. The 620,000 curved mirrors harness the sun's power even after dark, and the glass alone would cover 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) - the size of about 210 soccer pitches. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Wind turbines are seen near the Andasol solar power station near Guadix, southern Spain August 10, 2015. The plant is the biggest solar farm in the world and provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people. The 620,000 curved mirrors harness the sun’s power even after dark, and the glass alone would cover 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) – the size of about 210 soccer pitches. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
February 25, 2017

Living where I do in rural Northern Virginia, about 10 miles from the West Virginia border, it’s not uncommon to see trains pulling long lines of railcars full of coal to local power plants or towards Baltimore to be loaded onto ships or trucks, to be carried to other parts of America or the world.

In this day and age, however, the need for these trains is growing smaller and smaller. Improved solar and wind power is starting to make a difference in this country’s energy output and the jobs for these miners who fill these trains with coal is becoming more and more obsolete as the United States and the world continues to move away from fossil fuels.

President Trump, however, promised to reverse this trend. It’s part of his campaign to “Make America Great Again” by bringing back jobs to people like coal miners in West Virginia. The same is true of manufacturing jobs in the Midwest or in Pennsylvania. Areas decimated by changing global economics gladly accepted Trump’s promise that he could bring all those jobs back.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but those jobs aren’t coming back – at least not in the way the people who voted for Donald Trump want them to come back. And for many people who currently have a job in any one of several areas, and think they can just ride that job into retirement, there’s a very good chance that within the next 10 years, maybe even sooner, you’re going be out of work.

But what takes your job away won’t be that your company switched production to China or Mexico, or that an immigrant or refugee came and took your job away, or that America started to import coal from someplace like China or Russia. No, the thing that will cost you your job will be technology. Maybe something as simple as a piece of software, or as complex as a robot, or as small as a microchip or as large as a field of solar arrays – regardless it will allow your employer to lower costs and improve productivity. And you’ll be out in the street.

President Donald Trump loves to complain that China and Mexico have been stealing jobs from American workers and that he plans to bring those jobs back. And you can see why this campaign promise resonated with so many people – there are five million fewer manufacturing jobs in the United States now than there were in 2010. Bringing those jobs back is nice idea but it’s totally pie-in-the-sky and not doable. Because the truth is that even if you brought those manufacturing jobs back they would probably be taken by a machine and not a human.

There’s a lot of recent research to back this up. A study by Boston Consulting Group shows that industrial robots perform 10% of manufacturing jobs today. By 2025, eight years, they will perform 25%. Another study by two Ball State professors showed that between 2000 and 2010, 87% of manufacturing jobs were lost to technology and not to trade. If that’s not bad enough, a report from McKinsey and Company showed that 49% of current worker activities can be replaced by technology. And that number is only going to grow, particularly in jobs that require repetitive tasks. Jobs, for instance, like in accounting, food preparation, taxi driver, truck driver or even some aspects of journalism, will be replaced by machines or robots that can do the job faster and allow increases in productivity.

So why is more attention not paid to this? There are probably two answers: 1) American businesses like to make money and cut costs. Their concerns are for their shareholders and not for their employees. If making more profit means replacing humans with machines, then so be it. They just don’t like to talk about it a lot; 2) it’s much easier for an unemployed 50 year-old white guy to blame foreigners or outsiders for losing his job than it is to blame technology. The steelworker in Pennsylvania has a much easier time blaming a worker earning less in China, then struggling with the fact that technology made his job redundant.

Yet there is a way to combat this problem. It’s called education.

For instance, in late 2016 there were over 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States, numbers similar to what were available before the 2008 recession. There is, however, another important factor. Most of these jobs require what are known as “high skill sets” which means that they require a level of education that will enable a worker to operate technologically advanced machinery. To go back to our steelworker in Pennsylvania, chances are he or she is not interested in returning to school to learn a whole new skill set. It’s just much easier to complain about China and Mexico.

Meanwhile, most other Americans are ignoring the writing on the wall. A study by the Pew Research Center show that 80% of Americans think that their job will existed in its current form in 50 years. It’s just whistling past the graveyard.

It boils down to this. American jobs are being lost to technology, not to trade. The answer is education and improved skills but that requires much more investment in education. And based on who President Trump just named as his Secretary of Education, the befuddled Betty DeVos, there is a serious question whether that will happen or not.

President Trump can rant all he wants about China and Mexico but that won’t stop American jobs from disappearing. And unless he faces the real issue, it’s only going to get worse.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

LINKS

Rise of the machines: Fear robots, not China or Mexico:
http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/30/news/economy/jobs-china-mexico-automation/

Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation
https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.29.3.3

Special report: Automation puts jobs in peril:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/02/06/special-report-automation-puts-jobs-peril/96464788/

Harnessing automation for a future that works:

http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/digital-disruption/harnessing-automation-for-a-future-that-works?utm_content=bufferd9ccc&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/02/06/special-report-automation-puts-jobs-peril/96464788/

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Verbatim: The Doomsday Clock ticks closer to disaster

January 23, 2015

DoomsdayClock_black_3mins_regmark

Scientists, including 17 Nobel laureates, this week moved the minute hand of their terrible Doomsday Clock two minutes ahead, as they urged world leaders to defuse nuclear and climate-change threats to the world and humanity. We humans have, metaphorically, just three minutes to get our act together, they warn.

The decision on the Doomsday Clock is made annually, intended to signal the “world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains,” said the Bulletin.

Eerily, the last time the people at The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists placed their famous clock at three minutes to midnight — essentially the global apocalypse — it was 1984. 

In between , the world breathed a little easier. It was fully six minutes to midnight in 2010, when the group was hopeful enough to proclaim, “”We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons.” Their most optimistic year since they began their time-keeping, in the wake of WW II, was 1991. Back then, they moved the clock 17 minutes away from midnight: “With the Cold War officially over, the United States and Russia begin making deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals.”

The 21st Century has brought renewed pessimism. Following are excerpts of their letter, Three minutes and counting

From: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board

To: Leaders and citizens of the world

Re: It is only three minutes to midnight

In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth …

A climate catastrophe looms—but is not inevitable.

According to US government environmental scientists, 2014 was the hottest year in 134 years of record keeping. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000. This pattern is deeply disconcerting.

In November 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Synthesis Report encapsulating the key findings of its just-completed multivolume assessment of climate change. The IPCC reported that global warming is unequivocal and unprecedented and already responsible for widespread damage. It warned that warming—if unchecked by urgent and concerted global efforts to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions—would reach 3 to 8 degrees Celsius (about 5.5 to 14.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

This may seem like a modest rise in the average global temperature. After all, people at a given location often experience much greater temperature swings in the course of a single day. But that is a local variation, not a change in the average temperature of the surface of the entire planet. A similarly “modest” global average warming of 3 to 8 degrees Celsius brought Earth out of the frigid depths of the last ice age, utterly transforming the surface of the planet and in the process making it hospitable to the development of human civilization. To risk a further warming of this same magnitude is to risk the possibility of an equally profound transformation of Earth’s surface—only this time the planet’s hospitality to humanity can by no means be taken for granted … 

Nuclear modernization programs threaten to create a new arms race.

Although the United States and Russia have reduced their arsenal sizes from Cold War heights, the pace of reduction has slowed dramatically in recent years. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, “in terms of warhead numbers, the Obama administration so far has cut the least warheads from the stockpile” of any post-Cold War administration.

Meanwhile, as they slow the pace of disarmament, the nuclear weapon states have given other strong indications that they are committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. The most worrying evidence of this commitment: huge and expensive programs of nuclear arsenal modernization that all nuclear weapon states are pursuing. These massive modernization efforts undermine the nuclear weapons states’ promise to disarm, a central tenet of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and they therefore also threaten the global nonproliferation regime …

The leadership failure on nuclear power.

Nuclear energy provides slightly more than 10 percent of the world’s electricity-generating capacity, without emitting carbon dioxide. Depending on the type of fossil fuel displaced by the electricity nuclear power plants generate (that is, coal or natural gas), nuclear power plants help the world avoid approximately 0.5 gigatons of carbon emissions annually. But the international community has not developed coordinated plans to meet the challenges that nuclear power faces in terms of cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation risk.

Nuclear power is growing sporadically in regions that can afford it, sometimes in countries that do not have adequately independent regulatory systems. Meanwhile, several countries continue to show interest in acquiring technologies for uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing—technologies that can be used to create weapons-grade fissile materials for nuclear weapons. Stockpiles of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel continue to grow (globally, about 10,000 metric tonnes of heavy metal are produced each year). Spent fuel requires safe geologic disposal over a time scale of hundreds of thousands of years …

Dealing with emerging technological threats.

The world’s institutions were proven arthritic during the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Medical scientists had a good grip on what to do to quell the outbreak of that deadly virus. But social and political institutions stuttered and, at times, failed to respond effectively. In the age of synthetic biology and globalization, world governance must develop ways to react quickly and effectively to confront emerging disease and the possibility of bioterrorism.

Unfortunately, microbes are not the only emerging technological challenges to civil society and international governance.

It is clear from the recent hacking of major organizations and government facilities that cyber attacks constitute a threat with the potential to destabilize governmental and financial institutions and to serve as a medium for new escalations of international tensions. Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence have led a number of prominent individuals to express concern about human command and control capabilities in the field, on national and international scales, over coming decades.

The Bulletin is concerned about the lag between scientific advances in dual-use technologies and the ability of civil society to control them. …

These stunning governmental failures have imperiled civilization on a global scale, and so we, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, implore the citizens of the world to speak clearly, demanding that their leaders:

  • Take actions that would cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The 2-degree target is consistent with consensus views on climate science and is eminently achievable and economically viable—if national leaders show more interest in protecting their citizens than in serving the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry.
  • Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs. The United States and Russia have hatched plans to essentially rebuild their entire nuclear triads in coming decades, and other nuclear weapons countries are following suit. The projected costs of these “improvements” to nuclear arsenals are indefensible, and they undermine the global disarmament regime.
  • Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results. The United States and Russia, in particular, need to start negotiations on shrinking their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals. The world can be more secure with much, much smaller nuclear arsenals than now exist—if political leaders are truly interested in protecting their citizens from harm.
  • Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem. Reasonable people can disagree on whether an expansion of nuclear-powered electricity generation should be a major component of the effort to limit climate change. Regardless of the future course of the worldwide nuclear power industry, there will be a need for safe and secure interim and permanent nuclear waste storage facilities.
  • Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies. Scientific advance can provide society with great benefits, but the potential for misuse of potent new technologies is real, unless government, scientific, and business leaders take appropriate steps to explore and address possible devastating consequences of those technologies early in their development.

Also on Facts and Opinions, read Anders Sandberg’s analysis in our Expert Witness section: Doomsday Clock: can we really predict the end of the world?

Sources and further reading:

Full text of Three Minutes and Counting, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: http://thebulletin.org/three-minutes-and-counting7938

Doomsday Clock Puts Us 3 Minutes Away from Apocalypse, Time magazine

Three minutes to Armageddon: Scientists reset ‘Doomsday Clock’ Deutsche Welle

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F&O Weekend

This F&O weekend ranges widely: bringing wolves back from the dead to the role of 3D printers in killing industries;  greenwashing to Europe’s role in Ukraine’s mayhem; a eulogy for a Canadian swan to a macabre American hospital mystery.

No Going Back. Column, By Jim McNiven (Subscription)

When we read about the Great Recession of 2007-11, there seems to be an assumption on the part of commentators that as soon as the economy ‘turned around,’ we could get back to normal. That’s not how it is turning out — and that should not be surprising. There is no going back.

Wild Bees Catch Infections. Science dispatch, By Deborah Jones (Subscription)

Disappearing Honey Bees

© Greg Locke 2013

Agricultural crops from almonds to zucchini are necessarily pollinated by bees, both managed and wild — but colonies of all bees have been collapsing, for reasons that are likely complex and but dimly understood. That’s why it matters, and not least to human food security, that researchers have now found that two infections common in domestic bees can spread to wild bees. Global trade may be worsening infection rates, suggests the study published in the February 20 edition of the science journal Nature.

Roads paved with good intentions Column, By Chris Wood (Subscription)

Ronald Reagan, in a lucid moment, famously characterized his approach to nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union as: “Trust — and verify.” Much the same, it turns out, might be said for the green boasts of business. If we’re honest about it, most of what threatens our natural security is the result of our own appetites. Boreal forests are turned into tar pits to push our comfort pods from driveway to the mall. Mountains are crushed to expose the copper and rarer metals that ignite the digital fire in our smartphones. Rivers are emptied to grow our out-of-season salad. But what if we could have our smart-phones and February salads and cars without any of that destruction?

Europe carries blame for the Ukrainian violence. Column, By Jonathan Manthorpe (Subscription)

European leaders should not congratulate themselves too heartily for mediating the compromise agreement that, with luck, will end the demonstrations and appalling violence on the streets of Ukraine’s capital Kiev and other major cities. It is, after all, sins of commission and omission by Brussels that have played a large part in stirring up the political chaos in Ukraine as its people try to decide if their future should be with the European Union (EU) or their old political overlord in the Soviet Union, Russia.

China’s role in North Korean atrocities complex. Column, by Jonathan Manthorpe. (Subscription)

By emphasizing China’s complicity in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people, United Nations investigators have doubtless ensured Beijing will use its Security Council veto to block further action. Beijing has reacted angrily to the commission’s findings and recommendations, which are highly critical of China’s treatment of North Korean refugees who have fled across the border.

Winter Swan Essay in words and photos, By E. Kaye Fulton (Public access)

Swan

© E. Kaye Fulton

This has been a hard, hard winter for wildlife  – the worst, locals say, in 70 years. For a month or more, the mute swans of Wellington, Ontario, have been buffeted by howling winds and driving snow. Unable to forage the frozen shorelines and bottom of Lake Ontario for food, they fend off starvation by curling themselves into snowy white mounds, immobile and defenceless on the impenetrable surface. Two nights ago, in search of easy prey, coyotes crept across the ice to claim two sleeping swans huddled at the end of the line formed by their 26-member flock.

Wolves as Ecosystems Engineers. Column, By Deborah Jones (Subscription)

gray wolfRed Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs have a lot to answer for: thanks partly to fairy tales, wolves have a ghastly and global reputation as big and bad, terrorists of young girls and small pigs, good for nothing but their pelts. But science offers redemption — and one fair wolf tale can be found in Yellowstone National Park in the western United States. Alas, it’s a tale without an end. Free Range column by Deborah Jones

Hidden in a Heart. Justice dispatch, By Marshall Allen, ProPublica (Public access)

Linda Carswell thought her quest to recover her husband’s heart had come to an end. Finally, after almost a decade, she would be able bury it with his other remains. She could have peace of mind. Instead, the saga has taken a macabre twist that she calls, “beyond belief.”

Findings: social media matters By staff (free blog)

The big picture matters. A heart-wrenching photo on Twitter spread wildly this week. It appeared to show a little boy separatedfrom his family as they fled Syria’s violence: “UN staff found 4 year-old Marwan crossing desert alone after being separated from family…”   But the photo showed only a tiny portion of a crowd, which included the boy’s family. And therein lies the sting.

Miscellany:

  • ProPublica, the not-for-profit American investigative journalism news organization, was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, which recognizes creativity and impact. The $1 million U.S. is very nice – ProPublica said it will add the money to its reserve, “laying the groundwork for an expansion of its investigative newsroom.” Equally important is the recognition from the globally-prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. ProPublica is one of just seven non-profits around the world to win the  one-time grant. The others are the Campaign Legal Center, the National Housing Trust, NatureServe, and the University of Chicago Crime Lab —  all in the United States, and the Citizen Lab in Canada and the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative in Nigeria.
  • Mavis Gallant died this week. Her last name was graced with serendipity: she was a woman with the guts to quit a perfectly good journalism job, move to Paris on a wing and a prayer, and write fiction. And, boy, did she Write. “I have lived in writing, like a spoonful of water in a river,” she penned in Selected Stories, highlighted in an interview with The Guardian. The New Yorker offers a selection of stories  published by that magazine. F&O’s Frontlines blog about Gallant, here, includes a link to the excellent CBC radio documentary portrait of her, and selected readings including her own short stories in the New Yorker.
  • Recommended: Below the city of New York lies heaven … if you’re a geologist. The New York Times reports on the city’s latest wave of excavations, and the bonanza they provide for scientists.
  • Recommended: The Disintegration of Kiev, a photo gallery in Europe’s Der Spiegel
  • Recommended: This Old Man, Life in the nineties, a glorious treatise on aging and love by American baseball writer Roger Angell, in his natural habitat of the New Yorker.

Last but not least:

The woman flying in the Twitter photograph below is Husna Sari, a Turkish journalist. Poynter interviewed her about her encounter with security forces who used firehoses to quell demonstrators and the country’s journalists. Sari told Poynter: “Turkey is now a country of censors but in that demonstration people didn’t protest the internet censorship. It was a demonstration set up to stop the unfair imprisonment of scientists, soldiers and journalists.” In his last F&O column on Turkey (subscription required) analyst Jonathan Manthorpe wrote of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s desperate efforts to stay in power and the contentious roles of the military and Islamists in Turkey.

 

Have a good weekend.

 

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