The Week at F&O


OTTAWA, Oct. 22, 2014 -- Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and fellow reservist Brandon Stevenson stand guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa, moments before a shooter killed Cpl. Cirillo. Photo © Evanem on Twitter @kamakazi19982, with permission
OTTAWA, Oct. 22, 2014 — Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and fellow reservist Brandon Stevenson stand guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa, moments before a shooter killed Cpl. Cirillo. Photo © Evanem on Twitter @kamakazi19982, with permission

The photo above, posted on Twitter by a user named Evanem, is of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and fellow reservist Brandon Stevenson. The Canadian Forces Reserve soldiers were photographed standing as Honour Guards at the War Memorial in Ottawa, moments before a shooter killed Cpl. Cirillo. The 24-year-old was one of two Canadian soldiers murdered on home turf in a two-day period. Cirillo’s shooter later ran into Canada’s Parliament, where he was shot dead by the House of Commons sergeant-at-arms, as terrified legislators, journalists and staff present for a packed morning schedule dove for shelter.

Police identified the dead shooter as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Quebecois in his early 30s estranged from his family and with a history of drug addiction and petty crime convictions.

Two days earlier, on October 20, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, died after he and a fellow soldier were deliberately hit by a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Police shot their assailant, Martin Rouleau, 25, who died shortly after in hospital. 

Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau had been flagged by authorities as extremists inspired by the Islamic State, and had their Canadian passports revoked. Both men were, according to numerous reports, alienated from their communities, considered to be mentally unstable, and self-identified followers of Islam — a claim publicly rejected by several established Muslim organizations in Canada.

The questions, recriminations, investigations and soul-searching will begin. But first, a period of mourning, please.

Here is our roundup of new stories on F&O:

Book excerpt — Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest. By Ian McAllister

Great Bear Wild, a book of observations and photographs, and a video (see below), is the latest project by Ian McAllister, conservationist, photographer, and 25-year resident of the Great Bear Rainforest on Canada’s West Coast. He describes it as “a deeply personal journey from the headwaters of the region’s unexplored river valleys down to the hidden depths of the offshore world. Globally renowned for its astonishing biodiversity, the Great Bear Rainforest is also one of the most endangered landscapes on the planet, where First Nations people fight for their way of life as massive energy projects threaten entire ecosystems.”  

Survival Lessons in Iceland’s Resilience. By  Johanna Hoffman

HEIMAY, Iceland – The grassy slopes above this small Icelandic fishing town exploded with lava and ash 41 years ago. Rolling meadows erupted into a raw volcano and columns of 2,000º molten rock burst from the Earth. The surprise five-month eruption nearly destroyed the town. Yet residents found ways to not only return but benefit from the devastation. That Heimay’s townspeople bounced back with speed and agility is no accident. For Icelanders, long tested by fire and ice, resiliency to environmental change is par for the course.

From High School Dropout to Brand-name Novelist: Leon Uris. By Brian Brennan (paywall)

I must admit I came loaded for bear when I went to interview bestselling American author Leon Uris. Earlier, I had written a negative review of Trinity, his 751-page novel dealing with Northern Ireland’s politics of violence. After spending the first 23 years of my life in Dublin, I figured I knew a thing or two about Irish history. I said in my review, and repeated it when I met Uris, that the book offered a simplistic and distorted view of history because it castigated the British as oppressors and portrayed the forerunners of the Irish Republican Army as valiant freedom fighters. “I think you’re mistaken and you’re trying to bait me,” responded Uris. “Every responsible scholar I know has said that this book follows very accurate historical lines.”

Verbatim: Bombing to lose; air attacks bolster insurgents –review. By Michael Sasges

What does expert research have to teach the West about the current bombing campaign against the Islamic State? After reviewing almost 23,000 United States Air Force sorties over Afghanistan, an American academic concludes that aerial attacks and shows of force are a poor counter-insurgency tool. It’s an important historic document: it furthers a discussion that began 90 years ago when the Italians in North Africa, and the British in the Middle East, inaugurated aerial attacks, and it adds to the discussion of current strategy to battle the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from the air.

Mission completed, but not necessarily accomplished. two United States Air Force fighter jets, on September 23, fly 
over northern Iraq after attacking ISIL targets, actual or suspected, in Syria. U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch, Creative Commons
Mission completed, but not necessarily accomplished. two United States Air Force fighter jets, on September 23, fly 
over northern Iraq after attacking ISIL targets, actual or suspected, in Syria. U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch, Creative Commons

Gut bacteria linked to depression and brain health. By Clio Korn

One of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It transformed our ability to combat disease. But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host. The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain.

Ebola: the Black Death Revisited. An essay, by Ewa Bacon

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.

Tech shares: undervalued, or dangerous bubble? By Benjamin Dean

Sustainable businesses are built on business models with sustainable revenue streams. Social network companies are not exempt from this rule and only when sustainable revenue streams can be found – by providing products and services that someone will actually pay for (end-users or advertisers) – can sustainable tech businesses be built. The only way out is for the tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to show that they can indeed attract sustainable revenues, which means abandoning the online advertising business model. If they can’t, an enormous correction in these US tech stock prices will have to happen eventually.

Dark Money: How a Mining Company Defeated an American Senator. By Theodoric Meyer

When billionaire Chris Cline’s company bought an option to mine a swath of northern Wisconsin in 2010, the company touted the project’s potential to bring up to 700 well-paid jobs to a hard-pressed part of the state. But the Florida-based company wanted something in return for its estimated $1.5 billion investment — a change to Wisconsin law to speed up the iron mining permit process. So, Cline officials courted state legislators and hired lobbyists. And, unbeknownst to Wisconsin voters and lawmakers, the company waged a more covert campaign, secretly funding a nonprofit advocacy group that battered opponents of the legislation online and on the airwaves.


And finally, here’s a list of some items we at F&O — and some of our friends — recommend from elsewhere on this weird, wide and webbed world. 

Stephen Hawking's profile photo on Facebook
Stephen Hawking’s profile photo on Facebook

 Stephen Hawking joins Facebook

Status update, October 24:

I have always wondered what makes the universe exist. Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit. Our connections to one another have grown infinitely and now that I have the chance, I’m eager to share this journey with you. Be curious, I know I will forever be. Welcome, and thank you for visiting my Facebook Page. -SH


A video of music with an interview. By Mark Mushet,Vancouver Review Media 

Adrian Verdejo performing Rodney Sharman’s “In A Room” for solo classical guitar.  Adrian is one of Canada’s foremost new music interpreters for the guitar and Rodney is one of the country’s best composers. VR Media interviewed them at Green College over the summer of 2014 and recorded this live and intimate performance at Cecil Green House on a hot and windy July afternoon. 

Wake Up, Europe

By George Soros, New York Review of Books

Europe is facing a challenge from Russia to its very existence. Neither the European leaders nor their citizens are fully aware of this challenge or know how best to deal with it. I attribute this mainly to the fact that the European Union in general and the eurozone in particular lost their way after the financial crisis of 2008.

The fiscal rules that currently prevail in Europe have aroused a lot of popular resentment. Anti-Europe parties captured nearly 30 percent of the seats in the latest elections for the European Parliament but they had no realistic alternative to the EU to point to until recently. Now Russia is presenting an alternative that poses a fundamental challenge to the values and principles on which the European Union was originally founded. It is based on the use of force that manifests itself in repression at home and aggression abroad, as opposed to the rule of law. What is shocking is that Vladimir Putin’s Russia has proved to be in some ways superior to the European Union—more flexible and constantly springing surprises. That has given it a tactical advantage, at least in the near term.

 The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails

By Michael Sauga, Der Spiegel

Capitalism in the 21st century is a capitalism of uncertainty, as became evident once again last week. All it took were a few disappointing US trade figures and suddenly markets plunged worldwide, from the American bond market to crude oil trading. It seemed only fitting that the turbulence also affected the bonds of the country that has long been seen as an indicator of jitters: Greece. The financial papers called it a “flash crash…”

Politicians and business leaders everywhere are now calling for new growth initiatives, but the governments’ arsenals are empty. The billions spent on economic stimulus packages following the financial crisis have created mountains of debt in most industrialized countries and they now lack funds for new spending programs.

Central banks are also running out of ammunition. They have pushed interest rates close to zero and have spent hundreds of billions to buy government bonds. Yet the vast amounts of money they are pumping into the financial sector isn’t making its way into the economy.

Be it in Japan, Europe or the United States, companies are hardly investing in new machinery or factories anymore. Instead, prices are exploding on the global stock, real estate and bond markets, a dangerous boom driven by cheap money, not by sustainable growth.

 ‘You are so loved’: Ottawa lawyer describes trying to save Cpl. Nathan Cirillo

By Laura Eggertson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Lawyer Barbara Winters was headed to a meeting Wednesday near her office at the Canada Revenue Agency when she passed the National War Memorial, stopping to snap a few pictures of the two honour guards standing soberly at attention.

Moments later, after passing by a Canada Post office at the corner of Elgin and Sparks streets, she heard four shots. For Winters, a former member of the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve, the sounds were unmistakable.

Turning, she saw people on Elgin Street ducking. She began to run — not towards safety, but towards the shots, and the wounded soldier lying at the foot of the memorial.

As Winters ran, she looked for — but couldn’t see — the two soldiers. Her mind went to the hit-and-run death in Quebec of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent two days earlier, and she instinctively knew the honour guards had been targeted. 

Acid attacks in Iran: ‘My sister won’t go outside anymore’

France 24

There have been at least four cases of acid attacks on women in the last two weeks in Isfahan, in central Iran. A rumour quickly spread throughout the city according to which the women were attacked because they weren’t covered up enough. This prompted several thousand residents to take to the streets in protest, and call on the authorities to act.

Though the local authorities said they were doing everything in their power to find the perpetrators of the attacks, their promises were not enough to calm the 2,000 to 3,000 protesters who gathered in front of Isfahan’s courthouse on Wednesday. The demonstration ended in clashes with the police.

In Tehran, about 100 people – including internationally renowned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh – gathered in front of the nation’s parliament, where a proposed law regarding enforcement of hijab-wearing is currently being examined. If approved, this law would give more power to bassijis, who are volunteers with the Revolutionary Guard.

In the West, a Growing List of Attacks Linked to Extremism

In the wake of the attacks in Canada on three soldiers, and Canada’s Parliament, the New York Times lists some of the attacks by self-styled, mostly home-grown Jihadis that have taken place in recent years in Ottawa, Oklahoma, London, Brussels, SW France, Texas, Arkensas. What is most striking is the contrast between the vast attention they draw, and how sporadic and so relatively rare they are compared to most other causes of violent or preventable death. 

Giving Up the Ghost — When it comes to quitting smoking, you’re on your own

By Lynn Cunningham, The Walrus

I HAD EXPECTED an austere, sanatorium-like atmosphere, with staff in crisp lab coats, the walls plastered with rules and bumper sticker–type slogans: Rehab is for quitters, maybe. Instead, the place skews toward homey, or at least as homey as a medical facility can be, with nary a motivational poster to be seen. My room features a Murphy bed, a small desk, a wall-mounted TV, and an inoffensive print; brown and beige are the dominant colours. The space is reminiscent of an upscale dorm or a highway motel, except for the syringe disposal receptacle in the bathroom.

But matters of decor are not top of mind on this Friday in January, as I stand outside the entrance of the building. Instead, I’m focused on cigarettes—or, more precisely, smoking as many of them as possible in the time left before 4:30 p.m., when nine other people and I will hand over our packs and lighters, and put our faith in the Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center.

A HALF-CENTURY AGO, I lit up for the first time. It was 1964, the same year that United States surgeon general Luther Terry released a depth-charge report unequivocally drawing a direct link between cigarettes and lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and coronary heart disease. Or, as the New York Times headline succinctly put it, “Cigarettes Peril Health.” Being fourteen at the time, I didn’t read the Times, but the news filtered into my hometown of Guelph, Ontario—the site of an Imperial Tobacco factory, where, it was said, workers got free cartons. My friends and I mordantly joked that every cigarette we smoked would shorten our lives by ten minutes. Because we were immortal, this didn’t seem like a big deal.

Amazon Spends and Grows, but Still Wants for Money

 By David Streitfeld, The New York Times 
Why does Amazon defy the rules of gravity? (Or at least business and investing norms?) 

 …  Amazon is above all a story about the future, about the glorious moment when the e-commerce giant will sell everything, whether electronic or digital, to everybody. And so the focus in the earnings report will be on Amazon’s huge investments in trying to make that moment come true.

In this scenario, Amazon will commission TV series and beam them to you to watch on Amazon devices, as you nibble on popcorn delivered by Amazon drones while choosing your next vacation from the Amazon ad network.

Building an Amazon-centric world takes money, lots of it. The company announced over the summer that it would invest $2 billion in India’s fledging e-commerce market. And it paid $1 billion in cash for Twitch, a game-streaming site that did not exist three years ago.

Even with Amazon likely to hit $100 billion a year in revenue in 2015, it is not throwing off all the cash it needs. Last month the company revealed it had taken out a $2 billion line of credit with Bank of America for “working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions and other corporate purposes.”

Meanwhile, losses are mounting. Three months ago, analysts thought the company would lose 7 cents a share in the third quarter. Then, after Amazon ratcheted down expectations, the estimated loss swelled tenfold, to 74 cents.

It is getting to be a familiar story. The last time Amazon made a profit in the third quarter was in 2011.

How Quantitative Easing Contributed to the Nation’s Inequality Problem

By William D. Cohan, The New York Times

Janet L. Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, is regarded as a person of the highest integrity. And that is what’s so utterly confounding about the speech she gave in Boston last week about inequality. She did a wonderful job highlighting the growing disparity between rich and poor and how it is beginning to impinge upon what it means to be an American, but she ignored the fact that, in many ways, the Fed’s policies have compounded the problem.

There is no question that her remarks were a real shocker. We have been conditioned not to expect anything so honest, and in such clear and unequivocal language, from any top government official, let alone from the sitting head of the Federal Reserve.

That’s why it’s worth repeating a few of Ms. Yellen’s conclusions. “The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” she said. “The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then. It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority. I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

Ms. Yellen’s speech seemed heartfelt. Yet, she has endorsed the Fed’s policies, started by her two immediate predecessors, Alan Greenspan and Ben S. Bernanke, that drove down interest rates to historically low levels – policies that have actually exacerbated the problem that she says she wants to correct.

She is failing to appreciate how Mr. Bernanke’s extraordinary quantitative easing program, started in the wake of the financial crisis, has only widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots. If she does understand, she certainly made no mention of it in her speech in Boston. Indeed, there was no mention whatsoever of the Fed’s easy monetary policies at all, let alone how they have helped to cause income inequality.

 Reagan astrologer, Joan Quigley, dies at 87

Poltico, Associated Press story

Joan Quigley, the astrologer who helped determine President Ronald Reagan’s schedule and claimed to have convinced him to soften his stance toward the Soviet Union, has died at the age of 87. 


Email me a note and the url, please, at editor@factsandopinions if, in your travels, you find an item so compelling that you’d like to share it in this space. Meantime, it’s been a heavy week in much of the world. So, for some silly relief, and apropos only of October, here is a video of a vocal porcupine eating a pumpkin. And on that note — have a good weekend. 

— Deborah Jones