Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Week at F&O: From snake oil to Dumbledore

Photo of an Alberta oil rig by Greg Locke, Copyright 2014

Photo of an Alberta oil rig by Greg Locke, Copyright 2014

Introducing a new three-part series: The Global Implications of Oil Price Renormalization

To understand the global oil market, it helps to grasp the history and makeup of the commodity. In North America, from time immemorial, the Indians in the Western Allegheny area had skimmed oil seepage off the surface of the water and used it as a medicine. The settlers called it ‘Seneca oil’ after the local tribe, and used woven cloths or skimming boards to get the seepage off the water’s surface. Some entrepreneurs began to bottle and sell it as a cure-all. According to one version, “se-nay-kah’, as it was pronounced, oil entered the American popular vocabulary as ‘snake’ oil.

Storm of complaints pounds disaster work by American Red Cross.

By  Justin Elliott  and Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica, and Laura Sullivan, NPR 

In 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks. Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job. They were wrong.

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 2001. Promotional photo via Flickr

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001. Promotional photo via Flickr

From King Arthur to Dumbledore: Richard Harris

by Brian Brennan

Richard Harris was off the booze and missing it when he starred as King Arthur in a touring production of Camelot. He said going back to his native Ireland and not having a drink was like “going to church and not saying a prayer.”

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan 

By Jonathan Manthorpe

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.  Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now.

Big Data is changing sports. 

By Bruce Dyer

In sport we don’t just want to know who won. We now want to know how to replicate success and then improve on it. And to do this, we’re using data – and lots of it. The field of “big data” analytics has come to sport and athletics, with massive implications for sport as we know it. The Women’s Tennis Association recently approved real-time data capture, which means that court-side coaches can now advise their players during a match on best shot placement or serve direction using little more than a smartphone or tablet. It could be argued that this detracts from a player using their instincts to make their own decisions. But it means that to tennis fans watching, it’s easier to understand what makes a good player great and why their opponent lost, while players have an even keener competitive edge. 

Recommended elsewhere:

Against the Grain 
Should you go gluten-free?

By Michael Specter, The New Yorker 

Asks the New Yorker: “How could gluten, present in a staple food that has sustained humanity for thousands of years, have suddenly become so threatening?” 

Could it have something to do with industrial processes used in making massive quantities of commercial bread? These differ from ancient techniques and true “artisanal” bread in the use of vital wheat gluten as an additive, used to strengthen the dough and to help the loaf rise.

Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’
Richard Berman Energy Industry Talk Secretly Taped

By Eric Lipton, New York Times 

If you despair about democracy in an age of money, and wonder how our social discourse became so nasty, and where the trolls that infest the Internet come from, this story goes a way to explaining who and why.

“If the oil and gas industry wants to prevent its opponents from slowing its efforts to drill in more places, it must be prepared to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, a veteran Washington political consultant told a room full of industry executives in a speech that was secretly recorded. 

The blunt advice from the consultant, Richard Berman, the founder and chief executive of the Washington-based Berman & Company consulting firm, came as Mr. Berman solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives to finance an advertising and public relations campaign called Big Green Radicals.”

Leaked Sellafield photos reveal ‘massive radioactive release’ threat

By Oliver Tickell, The Ecologist

Dilapidated nuclear waste storage ponds abandoned 40 years ago containing hundreds of tonnes of fuel rods pose an immediate danger to public safety, photographs sent to The Ecologist reveal. The fuel and sludge in the ponds could spontaneously ignite if exposed to air, spreading intense radiation over a wide area.

Posted in Current Affairs

Kurdistan could be a silver lining in Middle East quagmire

Refugees from the war in Syria continue to arrive to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, children created a mural that reads, “hope gives wings to humanity.” Photo by Samantha Robinson, European Commission, public domain

Refugees from the war in Syria continue to arrive to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, children created a mural that reads, “hope gives wings to humanity.” Photo by Samantha Robinson, European Commission, public domain

The siege of Kobani has pushed to the surface some of the internal and external pressures working against the creation of a complete Kurdistan homeland, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. But if any good can come of the latest ill-conceived bombing of the Middle East, it would be furthering the cause of Kurdistan. Excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan:

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.

Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now.

Sadly this latest international escapade to try to neuter the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq does not appear to have any clearer line of march or long-term strategic purpose than the Libyan adventure.

But there is a worthwhile objective that could raise this campaign above the bombing of psychopaths in stolen trucks. It is to use this conflict to propel the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan. Log in to read War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan  (paywall*)

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

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising, and reader payments are essential for us to continue our work. Journalism to has value, and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and a monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee). 

 

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , , , |

Brian Brennan on Richard Harris, of Camelot and Hogwarts

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 2001. Promotional photo via Flickr

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001. Promotional photo via Flickr

Richard Harris was off the booze and missing it when he starred as King Arthur in a touring production of Camelot. He told Arts columnist Brian Brennan that going back to his native Ireland and not having a drink was like “going to church and not saying a prayer.” An excerpt of Brennan’s new Brief Encounters column: From King Arthur to Dumbledore: Richard Harris

There was no booze in the star’s dressing room when Richard Harris came to Canada to star as the the once and future King Arthur in a touring production of Camelot. The one-time roaring boy from Limerick, Ireland – former drinking buddy of Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas – told me he hadn’t touched a drink in more than four years.

“It makes my life extremely boring and probably very dull,” he said. The cultured singsong accent still betrayed Harris’s Irish upbringing. “I can’t even drink a thimbleful of wine nowadays. I’d go into shock because of the sugar in it.”

He suffered from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), a condition that in severe cases caused the sufferer to lapse into a coma. Harris still remembered the day, even the hour, when the condition forced him to quit drinking. …  log in to read From King Arthur to Dumbledore: Richard Harris (paywall*).

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support – a day pass is a buck and monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee.

Here is Brian Brennan’s columnist page;  here is F&O’s page to purchase a subscription or $1 site day pass

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , , |

From King Arthur to Dumbledore: Richard Harris

RICHARD HARRIS AS KING ARTHUR - BEDFORD ROW IN LIMERICK  This is located in the centre of the main Limerick City shopping area just off O'Connell Street on Bedford Row. The statue commemorates Richard Harris who was born in Limerick. It depicts him in one of his most famous roles as King Arthur in the movie Camelot. Photo by William Murphy via Flickr, Creative Commons

A statue of Richard Harris playing King Arthur in Camelot, in Bedford Row in Harris’s birthplace of Limerick, Ireland. Photo by William Murphy via Flickr, Creative Commons

BRIAN BRENNAN: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS  
October, 2014    

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 2001. Promotional photo via Flickr

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001. Promotional photo via Flickr

There was no booze in the star’s dressing room when Richard Harris came to Canada to star as the the once and future King Arthur in a touring production of Camelot. The one-time roaring boy from Limerick, Ireland – former drinking buddy of Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas – told me he hadn’t touched a drink in more than four years.

“It makes my life extremely boring and probably very dull,” he said. The cultured singsong accent still betrayed Harris’s Irish upbringing. “I can’t even drink a thimbleful of wine nowadays. I’d go into shock because of the sugar in it.”

He suffered from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), a condition that in severe cases caused the sufferer to lapse into a coma. Harris still remembered the day, even the hour, when the condition forced him to quit drinking.

“It was August 11, 1981, at twenty past eleven at night. I remember the date with great pain and anguish. Oh God, do I remember it. It was in the Jockey Club in Washington and I had ordered a couple of bottles of Château Margaux. They cost $300 a bottle, you know. I was supposed to take over from Burton in Camelot, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s about time I stopped this, then.’ And I haven’t had a drink since.”

Would he like to have a drink now, I wondered? A glass of champagne on opening night, perhaps?

“Oh God, I wish. They told me if I went on a certain diet and took certain things, I’d be cured in three years. But here it is, going into my fifth year, and I still can’t have a jar. It’s terribly boring.” He was then 55.

“It’s especially difficult for me when I go back to Ireland,” he said. “Going back to Ireland and not having a drink is like going to church and not saying a prayer. It becomes very tiresome, after a while, having to explain that I’m ill and that I can’t have a drink. Particularly when I’m over there for a rugby match.”

Rugby was Harris’s passion. Before he became an actor, his greatest ambition was to captain the Irish national team against England at Twickenham. He won two cup medals as a schoolboy in his native Limerick, was capped twice for the provincial schools team, picked up a senior cup medal with Limerick’s formidable Garryowen team, and was well on his way toward a tryout with the Irish Triple Crown-winning team in 1949 when a bout of tuberculosis downed him at age 19. The illness put Harris out of circulation for almost three years.

But if he didn’t get to play rugby for Ireland, at least he got to play a rugby player in his first major film, Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life in 1963. That brought Harris, at age 33, a best actor award at Cannes and an Academy Award nomination for best actor.

It was while recovering from tuberculosis that Harris had decided to become an actor. Initially, he failed to show any promise as a performer. He was turned down by two major acting schools in London before a third, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), agreed reluctantly to accept him.

“They wanted to turn me down, too, but I wouldn’t let them. I didn’t want to go home a failure, empty-handed. When you leave Ireland, you want to be successful. So I barnstormed LAMDA and sort of bullied and threatened the principal into accepting me. He told me afterwards that my audition pieces were so bad, so outrageously bad, that he figured there had to be something there. He couldn’t believe anyone that bad would want to be an actor.”

It was that kind of determination that subsequently landed Harris the coveted role of King Arthur in the 1967 film Camelot when it looked as if the part would go to Richard Burton, the star of the 1960 Broadway production. Harris sent telegrams to the film’s director, Joshua Logan, for months before the movie was cast, but the director had his heart set on hiring Burton. “Finally, Logan came to London to do some testing. I knew he was staying at Claridge’s so I went there and barged my way into his suite. He had me removed. Then I followed him to a party. I dressed as a waiter and brought him his vodka and tonic. He recognized me and said, ‘For God’s sake, why don’t you leave me alone?’ I said, ‘I won’t leave you alone until you at least agree to test me.’ So finally he agreed. He tested me and I got the part.” Harris was then 37.

The film was universally panned, but it established Harris as a movie actor of bankable proportions. It also set the pattern for a series of similar critical disasters, prompting one critic to remark, “Harris seems to be at his best in terrible films.” Another critic, reviewing Harris’s performance in the 1970 movie Cromwell, wrote, “He’s so bad even his horse upstages him.”

Harris acknowledged that the movies he made in the 1970s were “terrible, really dreadful.” For that reason, he was going to spend the rest of his acting career on the stage. Touring in Camelot had “made me realize what a mistake I made in staying away too long from the theatre.”

Richard Harris, unattributed photo via Wikipedia

Richard Harris, unattributed photo via Wikipedia

He had been asked to do the Camelot tour in 1981 after Burton fell ill, and Harris didn’t want to do it initially because “it meant having the same critics coming to see me after they had already seen him.” It also meant taking the show back to New York. “God, was I courting death, because Burton had just done the show on Broadway the year before.” But Harris managed to show audiences and some of the critics that he was a credible successor to Burton. He then toured the show intermittently for the next four years across North America and over to London.

The Camelot tour ended in December 1985. Harris never got much happening for himself on stage after that, so he returned to screen work. He also returned to drinking, though only occasionally with friends in pubs. He received an Academy Award nomination for his starring role as Bull McCabe in 1990’s The Field, but most of his other film and television work was forgettable until he accepted the role of Professor Albus Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter movie in 2001. Harris said he only accepted the part because his 11-year-old niece said she would never speak to him again if he didn’t.

Harris had just completed work on a Harry Potter sequel when he died in 2002, of lymphatic cancer at age 72. According to The New York Times, he told friends he found it remarkable he had lived long enough to develop the disease and still be working, “given the nature of the life I’ve led.” The Times of London suggested his epitaph should be a comment he once made about actors who didn’t share his passion for boisterous living: “There are too many prima donnas in this business and not enough action.”

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2014

 

 Facts and Opinions is a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  We appreciate your interest and support by purchasing a day pass for $1; subscriptions start at $2.95 per month A subscription is required for most of our original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address). Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged |

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan

Refugees from the war in Syria continue to arrive to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, children created a mural that reads, “hope gives wings to humanity.” Photo by Samantha Robinson, European Commission, public domain

Refugees from the war in Syria continue to arrive to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, children created a mural that reads, “hope gives wings to humanity.” Photo by Samantha Robinson, European Commission, public domain

JONATHAN MANTHORPE 
October 31, 2014  

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.

Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now.

Sadly this latest international escapade to try to neuter the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq does not appear to have any clearer line of march or long-term strategic purpose than the Libyan adventure.

But there is a worthwhile objective that could raise this campaign above the bombing of psychopaths in stolen trucks. It is to use this conflict to propel the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan. The 30 million Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic group without a homeland and for hundreds of years they have been viewed with hatred and mistrust, abused and persecuted. The Kurds’ home territory overlaps the current borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran and an internationally recognized state of Kurdistan could provide a very useful buffer state in this troubled neighbourhood.

Already the Kurds have shouldered much of the grim foot-soldier work in the fight against the rampant Islamic State forces. There is little doubt that Washington, the men at NATO headquarters and the allied Arab states would like much of the door-to-door fighting to be done by the Kurds while everyone else flies at 30,000 feet and lobs bombs on likely targets.

Well and good. Some of the Kurdish fighters have already shown themselves to be a match for the Islamic State thugs. The defence of Kobani on the Syrian border with Turkey and, in August, the rescue of Yezidi Kurds, Christians and other minorities trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq have been exceptional feats of arms. But if the Kurdish fighters are going to do the brunt of the infantry fighting, they deserve to know what they are fighting for beyond survival until today’s sunset.

There is already a nascent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan has had quasi independence since the early 1990s when the U.S. and Britain imposed a “no fly zone” over the region to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s revenge after the First Gulf War. The Iraqi Kurds now have a largely autonomous state within the Iraq federation. They have massive oil reserves and relatively stable politics. There are well-founded speculations that the Iraqi Kurds will declare full independence within a decade.

But there are serious internal and external impediments making it a Herculean task to weld neighbouring Kurdish regions into a single Kurdistan.

The most likely prospect for Kurdish expansion is the Kurdish region of northern Syria abutting Iraq and Syria. Since the civil war erupted in Syria as the country was engulfed by the shock wave of the Arab Spring early in 2011, the regime of President Bashar al Assad has allowed and even encouraged the Kurds to go their own way. Until they became a target for Islamic State psychopaths, the Syrian Kurds had established a functioning administration in their region, including managing border posts with Turkey and Iraq.

However, the siege of Kobani has pushed to the surface some of the internal and external pressures working against the creation of a complete Kurdistan homeland. The dominant political group among the Syrian Kurds in Kobani and northern Syria is the Democratic Union Party known as PYD. Although the PYD is a distinct political group, it is closely affiliated to the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish independence in eastern Turkey since the 1980s. It is outlawed as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government, the U.S. and the European Union. Ankara’s strong resistance to allowing arms and reinforcements to cross its territory into Kobani just over the border is based on the fear that these will boost the PKK.

It’s easy to argue that Ankara is its own worst enemy in dealing with the Turkish Kurds. Peace talks aimed at providing the Kurds a culturally secure region within Turkey have stagnated. In recent weeks there has been a serious upsurge in conflict in eastern Turkey between Turkish security forces and Kurdish fighters. There has also been an up-tick in extreme anti-Kurdish nationalism among Turks. Ankara will remain as adamantly opposed to Kurdish eastern Turkey joining Kurdistan as it has ever been.

As part of its efforts to contain the PKK, the Ankara government has in recent years developed a working relationship with Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). For the KDP in northern Iraq this has been an entirely pragmatic alliance. It has allowed the Iraqi Kurds to export their oil and do other business through Turkey without having to deal with the corrupt, obstructive and oppressive administration in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

In return, the KDP has made little fuss when Turkish forces have made raids over the border against KPP camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.

That has changed since August when both Turkish Kurds of the KPP and Syrian Kurds of the PYD rushed to the aid of Iraqi Kurduish fighters, known as Peshmerga (those who confront death) in their resistance to the onslaught by the Islamic State thugs. In particular, it was KPP and PYD fighters who broke the Islamic State siege of Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yezidi Kurds were trapped and awaiting death either from exposure or the butcher’s knife.

This and other successful engagements against Islamic State fighters has raised the status of the KPP and the PYD among the wider Kurdish community and at the same time lessened Ankara’s influence over the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government in its capital or Irbil.

The KDP in Irbil has also played a significant role is constraining the separatist aspirations of Kurds to the east in neighbouring north-western Iran. Much of the leadership of the Iranian Kurds’ Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) is in exile in Iraqi Kurdistan. But the Irbil Kurds of the KDP have maintained good relations with Tehran for their own protection and therefore limit the actions of the PJAK.

There are growing signs of rapprochement between Iran and the West, especially Washington, both over Tehran’s nuclear program and their common purpose in fighting the Islamic State uprising. Iran’s Republican Guard and its allied fighters from such groups as the Lebanese Hezbollah are important elements of the ground troops fighting the Islamic State. Military men with recent experience of the region all say there is undoubtedly co-ordination of the U.S.-led air raids with Iranian-guided troop movements on the ground.

What the foreseeable ending of Iran’s isolation from western governments and the possible liberalization of politics in Tehran could mean for the Iranian Kurds is hard to predict. There is some speculation political reform in Tehran could lead to some form of autonomy for Iranian Kurds and thus the prospect of the region joining Kurdistan in the future.

For all of these reasons, the emergence of an independent Kurdistan from the war against the Islamic State remains a distant prospect. But there are good reasons to believe significant steps toward that goal are being taken now.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2014

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com  

Map of Kurdistan region. Map by Ferhates, Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Map of Kurdistan region. Map by Ferhates, Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Related reading:
Nation of Kurdistan springs from Arab chaos, July 4, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State. August 21, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
Libya finds its new Qaddafi. July 25, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate. July 16, 2014, by Jonathan Manthorpe 
 Who are the Yazidis? By Christine Allison 
Verbatim: Desert depredations. By F&O

 

Jonathan Manthorpe

Jonathan Manthorpe

Jonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has traveled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged |

Finding: “Ambition,” a film about possibility

After traveling for 10 years the European Space Agency's deep space probe Rosetta is scheduled to place its lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November. Artist's interpretation of Rosetta and the comet © ESA 2014

After traveling for 10 years, the European Space Agency’s deep space probe Rosetta is scheduled to place its lander Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November. Artist’s interpretation of Rosetta and the comet © ESA 2014

The audacity of our enterprise can be hard to comprehend, especially when it’s scientific, and especially to those of us who struggle with math and physics.

That gap is why the arts — why story telling — matters so much. And this wondrous seven-minute sci-fi film Ambition, which had its debut in London on Friday October 24, captures the story-teller’s art rather perfectly.

Ambition is a creative co-production by Platige Image and the European Space Agency, directed by Tomek Bagiński and starring Aiden Gillen and Aisling Franciosi. It’s about wonder and human capability, though its subject is, technically, the agency’s Rosetta Mission. The agency launched the deep-space probe Rosetta in 2004, and its lander  Philae is scheduled to light down next month on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and will continue with, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Posted in Gyroscope

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

IN A ROOM – RODNEY SHARMAN & ADRIAN VERDEJO 

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

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Bears, wolves, and salmon for the soul

Three black bear mothers wait turns at the favoured fishing spot. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

Three black bear mothers wait turns at the favoured fishing spot. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

It has been a brutal week, in many of the world’s places but most acutely for those of us who live in Canada, washed by a torrent of grief, outrage and increasing bombast over the murders of two Canadian soldiers and a madman’s attack on the House of Commons.

Perhaps, like me, you will find salve for the soul in Ian McAllister’s photos, the excerpt of his book, and above all the video accompanying his new project Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest.  My first career plan, alongside writing, was as a biologist. Since I abandoned the science of biology for the craft of journalism, a lifetime ago, there have been countless times when my mind has drifted back to a certain stream, redolent with wild mint and damp earth, in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. I held a long-ago summer job in that vast park, living rough in the Boreal forest far from human settlement, “commuting” to work projects by paddling a canoe or zooming in skiffs along the mighty Peace River. The experience was life-altering, and it convinced me that everyone should spend time, real and significant time, existing — just being — in the natural world. 

Ian McAllister does just that as a lifestyle, and with this project he brings his audience into that world.

Here’s a sample of his piece in F&O:

Looking down through the occasional breaks in the spray and mist, I can see hundreds of black salmon heads and tails rising occasionally above the swirling foam. Large house- sized boulders fill the tight gorge, forcing salmon to swim through fast-moving tunnels below. It is a coho salmon bottleneck. A fishing derby is not far off. Downriver, the early run of pinks is mostly spawned out, and I see a small bear stand up on its hind legs to access some crabapples. The sharp tartness must be a nice respite from the decaying corpses floating downriver. When I passed those swimming carcasses earlier in the day some of them were moving and technically were alive, but their souls appeared to have since departed, their bodies unable to shut down after such a constant journey. …  click here to read Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest

McAllister is also now on a book tour through Western Canada and the U.S. — here you can find the dates of his talks in places from Vancouver (tonight, Oct. 24) to Portland, Banff, Seattle, and elsewhere.

 

 

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , , , |

Book excerpt — Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest

Coastal wolves

Sea wolves of the rainforest swim from island to island hunting seals and sea lions.
Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

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.”  

By Ian McAllister
Excerpted with permission from Chapter Two, Rainforests of Home, October 24, 2014

Only a week ago, the chatter of wrens, the rhapsodic thrushes, and the soft splash of a salmon tail were the ambient signatures of this rainforest alcove. Everything now is replaced by water—lots of water. A torrent falls from the sky, rushing across beds of moss as the river spills over and through the forest understory. Nothing escapes saturation.

Record-breaking rain hammers the coast. It is the end of September and already we have endured four separate storm events, characterized by winds exceeding sixty knots. Long-time mariners tell me they have recorded the strongest winds on their boats’ ane- mometers in over fifty years. This kind of weather makes hard work for everyone, whether you’re a bear fishing for salmon or a captain trying to keep your boat and crew safe.

Octopus and bat stars.  Canada has the longest coast line on the planet and ranks among the last in marine protected areas. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014.

Octopus and bat stars. Canada has the longest coast line on the planet and ranks among the last in marine protected areas. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014.

The canyon has filled with spray and mist. The bears below are having a tough time keeping track of one another; normally scent is their navigation tool, but the pouring rains, unpredictable gusts, and loud rushing sound put them at a disadvantage. These bears couldn’t even hear a shotgun blast from across the river. This is an old and well- established fishing spot, and for some of these bears, many of the most important days of their lives have been spent here.

Coming here feels like traveling back in time; all thoughts of oil pipelines and tankers that increasingly consume the coastal conversation these days seem distant. The fresh smell of salmon, blood, and ripped flesh comes in chaotic waves with the mist, but I choose to stay higher up. The chance of disturbing a bear in the close confines of the canyon bottom is too great, so I wait above on the cliff’s edge. Like the many carnivores around me I also feel sensory deprivation. The noise makes me feel like I’m underwater— there would be no warning of an animal’s sudden appearance beside me.

A mammal-eating transient killer whale circles a sea lion haul waiting to make a kill. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

A mammal-eating transient killer whale circles a sea lion haul waiting to make a kill. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

When salmon return in strong numbers like this it has a calming effect on coastal inhabitants, human and non-human alike. A level of accommodation is being displayed between everyone in the canyon that normally would not be observed during other seasons. But the uncertainty of who, and what, is in the canyon, mixed in with my scent, creates a charged environment. There are only so many good fishing spots in these fast-moving island creeks, where bears, wolves, salmon, and a host of others are forced to meet.

Today is a day to be patient. If you are going to see things here you often have to wait quietly for quite a while and let things unfold in their own time. When I first arrived I didn’t actually see any animals. But that’s normal, and I suppose a bit like being in a seemingly empty neighbourhood in an unfamiliar city. Minutes might go by in which nothing happens. If you leave, you might report that the place is void of life. But if you wait, a door might open, and people and their routines will soon become visible.

But bear signs are everywhere: The trees are worn, varnished from hundreds of gener- ations of bears sliding up and down as their mothers fish for salmon, a kind of arboreal ursine daycare. Down below, the occasional coho has a deep red mark on its back, a badge of honor for having escaped a whale, bear, wolf, seal, or net, though there are many more mouths to avoid before this spawn has played out. The fish move through the river with heroic purpose, but the bears feel the anxiety of never knowing how large the salmon run will be and how long it will last. Bears furrow their brows like humans do when they are concerned.

Soon a bear comes out of a corner of the rapids, grabs a fish, and is replaced by another. 

Three black bear mothers wait turns at the favoured fishing spot. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

Three black bear mothers wait turns at the favoured fishing spot. Photo by Ian McAllister, Copyright 2014

Looking down through the occasional breaks in the spray and mist, I can see hundreds of black salmon heads and tails rising occasionally above the swirling foam. Large house- sized boulders fill the tight gorge, forcing salmon to swim through fast-moving tunnels below. It is a coho salmon bottleneck. A fishing derby is not far off. Downriver, the early run of pinks is mostly spawned out, and I see a small bear stand up on its hind legs to access some crabapples. The sharp tartness must be a nice respite from the decaying corpses floating downriver. When I passed those swimming carcasses earlier in the day some of them were moving and technically were alive, but their souls appeared to have since departed, their bodies unable to shut down after such a constant journey.

I first came to this spot over twenty years ago and have not missed a salmon season yet. Even by Great Bear Rainforest standards this place is remote, hidden among a sea of unbroken rainforest, wild creeks, islands, and mist-cloaked fjords. Down at the end of the main creekside bear trail, near the ocean, the entrance to this particular watershed is deceiving. It appears to be just like any one of the countless creeks emerging from the rainforest edge, but there is nothing typical or usual about this place. Being one of the few strong salmon runs for many kilometers, this river attracts a disproportionate amount of wildlife that come for the salmon, or predators that come for the salmon eaters.

Last year Karen and I brought our children here for the first time. It was a rich day, watching our small ones scampering about under such large and ancient trees, hearing their chatter and laughter as the ravens bounced along curiously above. I suspect that it had been many generations of ravens since the sound of young children’s laughter had been heard so near the headwaters of this valley.

Copyright Ian McAllister 2014

Excerpt and photographs from Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest, 2014, Greystone Books (Canada), University of Washington Press (U.S.)

Dates for fall events in the Pacific Northwest and Alberta, for Ian McAllister’s talks about this project, are here.

 Ian McAllister is a co-founder of the conservation organization Pacific Wild

Great Bear Wild – Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest from Pacific Wild on Vimeo.

 

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and will continue with, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Leon Uris bristled when accused of historical distortion

 

Leon Uris with a patrol in the Negev Desert, in the 1950's. Image from the Doubleday book cover of Exodus via Wikipedia.

Leon Uris with a patrol in the Negev Desert, in the 1950’s. Photo scan from the Doubleday book cover of Exodus via Wikipedia.

Leon Uris prided himself on being a popular historian who did his homework, as well as being a bestselling novelist. However,  Arts columnist Brian Brennan dared to question the accuracy of his historical research. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column: From High School Dropout to Brand-name Novelist: Leon Uris:

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.”

When I offered him the name of one scholar, Wayne Hall, who begged to differ, Uris dismissed the criticism on grounds that Hall “must be an Englishman.” (Hall was actually American, then teaching Irish literature at the University of Cincinnati.) Baltimore-born Uris had a thing about the English, it transpired. They hadn’t liked his blood-and-thunder novel Exodus, about the birth of Israel, because he described Great Britain as a “tired colonial power sitting between two warring communities.” …  log in or subscribe* to read From High School Dropout to Brand-name Novelist: Leon Uris.

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*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in theform on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , |