Monthly Archives: February 2015

New this week on F&O

In Commentary:

protest-455714_1280A new age of ignorance, by Tom Regan

Ordinarily, it would be laughable for a U.S. Republican senator to throw a snowball in the chamber, as did climate change denier James Inhofe, and say that recent cold temperatures in Washington, D.C., prove that climate change was a hoax. But Inhofe is the head of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee, which means he gets to highly influence American policy about climate change. It is like a member of the Ku Klux Klan being appointed the head of a anti-racism committee.

Yankee Seamen on Fresh Water, Part 2 of a three-part series on the War of 1812, by Jim McNiven

America did not need control over the lower Great Lakes to access their communities to the extent that the British did, except for two spots. The first was the Niagara area, where inconclusive battles were fought mostly on the British side. The second was the western end of Lake Erie and its feeder, the Detroit River.

In Arts:

 From Shakespeare to “Blue Bloods”: Len Cariou, by Brian Brennan

By envisioning King Lear’s age as “four score and upward,” Shakespeare created a great role for an actor to play in the autumn of his career. So wasn’t Len Cariou, at age 44, a bit young for the part? In fact, he told me, he had already done it. Ten years earlier, when he was only 34, Cariou had played Lear at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. That made him one of the youngest actors ever to play the part. 

Zombies for a globalized, risk-conscious world. By Joseph Gillings

Bookshops, cinemas and TVs are dripping with the pustulating debris of zombies. And it is no coincidence that our societies are also  dominated by an overarching anxiety reflecting the risk associated with each unpredictable scientific development.

Oscars’ snub to world cinema reveals outdated worldview. By Stephanie Dennison

 By privileging English-language production, the Oscars promote an incredibly old-fashioned worldview in which UK, Australian and Irish films, for example, are not “foreign.” It’s a preposterous notion, proposed, lest we forget, by a private enterprise whose function it is to promote American movies (the Motion Picture Association of America), but we all play along. A whopping 83 countries played along in 2015 and submitted entries for the competition.

Reports:

15097510784_73bcc4b2e6RAJENDRA PACHAURI: Defended climate science, resigned amid sex scandal. By Marianne Lavelle

Rajendra Pachauri, who resigned Tuesday from chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change amid charges of sexual harassment, presided over the international effort to forge consensus on climate change during eight years in which the science grew stronger, but so did the attacks.

Flash Crash jitters: high-speed trading. By  Andrei Kirilenko

The transition from human to electronic trading came with the promise of using faster and cheaper technology to drastically lower the costs of trading shares and to make it much easier to determine the most up-to-date prices for all market participants (commonly known as price discovery). But with all that speed, automation and complexity comes the risk that a string of problematic ones and zeros could cause a market meltdown, even if only a temporary one.  

14743452312_ca04c8cebe_zNet Neutrality may face uphill battle. By  Leticia Miranda, ProPublica

The United States Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 for a proposal today that effectively bars Internet companies from prioritizing some Internet traffic over others. As John Oliver famously explained ”ending net neutrality would allow big companies to buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the slow lane.” The FCC’s proposal faces plenty of opposition from telecom companies and others, but it’s just the latest round in a long fight.

 

In case you missed it:

BRIAN BRENNAN– Brief Encounters (paywall) 

From Shakespeare to “Blue Bloods”: Len Cariou
One Playwright’s Homage to Another: Tennessee Williams
 
The clown prince of music: Victor Borge 
Absolutely Fabulous: Sophia Loren
 

JONATHAN MANTHORPE — International Affairs  (paywall)

Jonathan Manthorpe is on assignment and will return March 13. Meanwhile, in case you missed these columns:

Boko Haram heaps electoral bad luck on Goodluck Jonathan 
Co-opted judiciary sentences Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim to 5 years 
Truth of Franco-Taiwanese bribery scandal dies with arms-broker

CHRIS WOOD — Natural Security (paywall)

The Reichsmarschall’s Apprentices 
Thinking Outside the Pipe: Reflections on flood season
 
Davos: Pantomimes of Concern From the One Percent 

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Posted in Current Affairs

The Reichsmarschall’s Apprentices

A polar bear slides across thin Actic Ocean ice in August,  2009. Photo Credit: Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard

A polar bear slides across thin Actic Ocean ice in August, 2009. Photo by Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard

 “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” — Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring, 1946*

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY 
February, 2015

Consider the view from the conventional ‘top’ of the globe: the Arctic Ocean centred on the North Pole, embraced by two great sweeps of continental coastline. Most of that coastline belongs to either Russia or Canada, the world’s two biggest countries, together ruling over nearly a fifth of the planet’s land surface outside Antarctica.

Both countries’ landscapes contain big portions of what’s left of the relatively undamaged ecosystems that underwrite our species’ natural security. They also hold, in their permafrost, enough sequestered carbon to throw global warming into out-of-control overdrive if it is allowed to melt. And in both countries, enigmatic leaders are following Hermann Goring’s model to subdue dissent while they throw those ecosystems almost literally on the bonfire in their reckless urgency to extract and sell fossil fuels.

Vladimir Putin may eclipse Stephen Harper on the scale of macho. The Russian president wrestles tigers and photographs well rippling his muscular six-pack. On the one occasion on which the Canadian Prime Minister came within ear-shot of danger, he hid in a broom closet. Mental imagery of his naked torso is best avoided entirely.

Nonetheless, the two men have more than a capacity for a mirthless blue-eyed stare in common. Pedal-to-the-metal extraction of oil and other minerals is central to both their political strategies. Both northern countries’ economies rely disproportionately on foreign earnings from oil, gas and mineral sales. In both cases, that dependence is made all the greater by their leaders’ monocular economic vision, which has left both nations’ manufacturing and service sectors to wither. 

Both Harper and Putin, from different motives but with equal ruthlessness, are putting at risk the planet’s bioclimatic stability to pursue hubristic personal ambitions. And both are ready to wield every power of their respective offices to eliminate opposition.

That Putin and Harper are so alike, in rolling the dice with humanity’s natural security, is barely noticed. Partly, in Canada at any rate, this is because the two are playing out a show of mutual antagonism: Canada’s pusillanimous Prime Minister has gone out of his way to criticize Russia’s President in diplomatic settings where there is little likelihood that the latter will demand he take it outside.

But mainly it is because in each country, the two men have been able to deploy Goring’s recipe with great success.

Until the Ruble’s recent fall through the exchange-trading floor (and in some polls1 still) Putin’s prosecution of a semi-deniable, ‘defensive’ micro-war just across Russia’s border with Ukraine has won him wide popular support. Harper’s poll numbers have rebounded to a three-year high on a campaign of inflammatory public statements fanning Canadians’ fear of the purported reach of Islamic terrorism.

Of the two accomplishments, Harper’s is the more impressive. Putin began with several advantages: a political culture accustomed to autocrats, a ready-made ethnic nativist narrative ready to hand for propaganda purposes, and the never-fully-disbanded networks of the secret intelligence agency in which he once served as an officer. The Russian strongman needed only to crush the first pale seedlings of democracy in order to prosper.

Harper needed to destroy a democracy that not so long ago appeared as strong and vigorous as the mature maple whose scarlet leaf adorns Canada’s flag.

Canada’s strongman had to distort an established culture of tolerance, civility and liberty into one of paranoia, rancour and control. Through relentless abuse of largely unwritten Parliamentary rules of procedure, the silencing of independent voices in the national public service and the persecution of those in civil society, through disciplined deception of the Canadian public and now the late Nazi Reichsmarschall’s ageless stratagem, Harper has almost managed it. 

His Parliamentary majority will shortly allow Harper, with the support of the third-placed Liberal Party, to push through new legislation that will expand his security forces’ powers of surveillance and pre-emptive arrest. What Putin’s Canadian twin might do with those powers was strongly suggested by an intelligence report prepared for Canada’s paramilitary Mounted Police, and leaked recently to a newspaper.2

It revealed just how debased by politics the storied force has become. The RCMP document dismissed established science on climate change, and lumped citizens exercising their civil right to argue for a post-carbon economy together with “militants and violent extremists,” in the “growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement.”

Canadians are largely lapping it up. As are Russians. Meanwhile the two nations that together control nearly one-fifth of the living landscapes on which humanity’s natural security depends, are under the thumbs of brigands. 

 Copyright Chris Wood 2015

Notes and references:

1. Full quote from a conversation on 18 April, 1946, with Hermann Goring, reported by intelligence officer and psychologist Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist, in his book Nuremberg Diary.

  “Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.” 

”There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.” 

”Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book Nuremberg Diary.

2. Poll Shows Putin Remains Popular in Russia, Voice of America http://www.voanews.com/content/opinion-poll-putin-remains-popular-in-russia/2545340.html

3. Des groupes Environnementaux Inquiets du Projet de Loi Antiterroriste, by Hugo De Grandpre La Presse: http://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/6b16b226-0560-4aec-be82-70e919746faa%7Cg4zcHupMhZXg.html

 

chris1

Chris Wood is a founding writer with Facts and Opinions. He is the author of the Natural Security column and occasional long-form Think magazine pieces, and contributes the odd blog entry.

Wood writes about the issues of human social survival in the 21st century. His 40-year career has spanned award-winning work in radio, newsmagazines, books and the internet. He is the author or co-author of seven books, most recently Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources, with Ralph Pentland (Greystone, 2013).  After growing up near Hamilton, Ont., and later living for periods of time in rural Ontario, the Maritimes, Toronto, Dallas and Vancouver, his home is now on Vancouver Island with  his writer/marketer wife, Beverley Wood, and their two middle-aged bull terrier dogs. Currently, all are on an extended research and study term in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

Read more about Chris’s work, or book him as a speaker, at www.bychriswood.com

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Uncategorized

New on F&O: Boko Haram; press freedom; Tennessee Williams, and more

 

Children in a refugee camp in Niger

Children in a refugee camp in Niger. Photo by Wim Fransen, European Commission

Boko Haram heaps electoral bad luck on Goodluck Jonathan, by Jonathan Manthorpe (Paywall)

 

Reports from the Nigerian military that they have launched a major offensive against Boko Haram, killed 300 of the group’s fighters and recaptured 11 towns and villages should be treated with skepticism and caution. 

Freedom of the press ain’t so free anymore, by Tom Regan

A country often gets the press it deserves, particularly in the Western world. While we have no dictatorships in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, France or Australia, we do have governments which will do everything in their power to reduce the importance of media and any unfavorable coverage of their actions. And most Americans have grown fat, lazy and complacent about freedom of the press because of the illusion that it is unlimited. 

Oscars’ snub to world cinema reveals outdated worldview. By Stephanie Dennison

 By privileging English-language production, the Oscars promote an incredibly old-fashioned worldview in which UK, Australian and Irish films, for example, are not “foreign.” It’s a preposterous notion, proposed, lest we forget, by a private enterprise whose function it is to promote American movies (the Motion Picture Association of America), but we all play along. A whopping 83 countries played along in 2015 and submitted entries for the competition.

Condemnation of memory: the destruction of World Heritage. By Bastien Varoutsikos

Why, despite international efforts such as the UNESCO, is cultural heritage still under attack worldwide? Some have blamed nationalistic regimes, which often attempt to politicize cultural artifacts, using them to reinterpret the past for specific ideological purposes. Others have highlighted the striking contrast between the massive profit created by the illegal antiquity market and the relatively low penal risk tied to it. And some have also pointed to the lack of enforcement of UNESCO regulations But above all, there seems to be a disconnect among nations and individuals in how they comprehend the concept of world heritage, and its importance as a means to safeguard mankind’s memory. 

 One Playwright’s Homage to Another: Tennessee Williams, by Brian Brennan, Brief Encounters columnist (Paywall)

Tennessee Williams had always wanted to reimagine Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play, The Seagull. He considered it the greatest of modern plays after Brecht’s Mother Courage, and he felt it had never been properly released from the confines of the translation straitjacket.

Writing instructor Josephine Scicluna tells writers to think about creativity as a kind of altered space. Above, a statute in Paris celebrates French author Marcel Aymé, whose storied character Dutilleul could walk through walls. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2015

Creativity: nature/nurture, or just waiting for the muse? Writing instructor Josephine Scicluna tells writers to think about creativity as a kind of altered space. Above, a statute in Paris celebrates French author Marcel Aymé, whose storied character Dutilleul could walk through walls. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2015

 Creativity: nature/nurture, or just waiting for the muse?  By  Josephine Scicluna

 One of the hardest ideas to grasp is the seeming paradox that creativity has little at all to do with the intellect. But saying don’t try too hard, or try not to think too much, is far too easy and not all that helpful.

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Recommended elsewhere:

My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer. By Oliver Sacks, New York Times

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.  

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

Is Democracy in Decline? By Larry Diamond, Journal of Democracy 

“…around 2006, the expansion of freedom and democracy in the world came to a prolonged halt….

“Perhaps the most worrisome dimension of the democratic recession has been the decline of democratic efficacy, energy, and self-confidence in the West, including the United States. There is a growing sense, both domestically and internationally, that democracy in the United States has not been functioning effectively enough to address the major challenges of governance …”

“Even in weak states, autocrats perceive that the pressure is now off: They can pretty much do whatever they want to censor the media, crush the opposition, and perpetuate their rule … Meek verbal protests may ensue, but the aid will still flow and the dictators will still be welcome at the White House and the Elysée Palace.”

Sex redefined, by Claire Ainsworth, Nature 
The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that. Excerpt:

Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD2.

Recommended in Brief :

The United States hosted a summit this week on countering violent extremism. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the danger of putting aside human rights and a “moral compass” and giving into fear may be humanity’s greatest test in the 21st century. Host President Barack Obama touted human rights, tolerance and dialogue to combat terrorism, but as a New York Times piece pointed out, “his audience included representatives from some of the world’s least democratic countries.” In an essay in Foreign Affairs, security expert Audrey Kurth Cronin argues that Islamic State is not a terrorist organization, but a pseudo-state led by a conventional army, and counterterrorism strategies developed to combat al Qaeda won’t work.

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

New and Noteworthy on F&O: from the War of 1812 to Sheep Hotspots

Amédée Forestier's The signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December, 1814.

Amédée Forestier’s The signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December, 1814.

Two centuries ago today warfare between Great Britain and America came to its legal end, with the ratification of the The Treaty of Ghent on February 16, 1815.   Writes F&O Thoughtlines columnist Jim McNiven in the first of a three-part series on the War of 1812:

The War of 1812 was fought by the incompetent against the distracted. There are a few flashes of brilliance against this foggy background on land by British General Isaac Brock and American General Andrew Jackson. The war ended with both sides agreeing to roughly the status quo. Yet big things came out of this standoff. One was the eventual creation of Canada as a country separate from America. The second was the destiny of the Yankee exodus westward and the outcome of the Civil War. … click to continue reading War of 1812: The Incompetent vs The Distracted.

Tom Regan’s new column looks at the bigger picture surrounding U.S. television journalist Brian Williams suspension, The first casualty of war…

We all lie. Telling a lie is probably one of the most human things that we do. But when you’re a major TV network news anchor, and you tell a lie, it’s a big deal. NBC-TV anchor Brian Williams is learning that right now. But when you come right down to it, the lie Williams probably told about what happened to him on that helicopter in Iraq is really only a minor one when compared to the BIG LIE of the entire second Gulf War and why we were there in the first place. continue reading The first casualty of war…

“Lone-wolf” terrorists are everywhere in the news from Denmark to France, Canada to the United States. But Matthew Harwood of the American Civil Liberties Union cautions against over-reaction in an essay republished here with permission, Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease. Excerpt:

The shadow of a new threat seems to be darkening the national security landscape: the lone-wolf terrorist. Like all violent crime, individual terrorism represents a genuine risk, just an exceedingly rare and minimal one. It’s not the sort of thing that the government should be able to build whole new, intrusive surveillance programs on or use as an excuse for sending in agents to infiltrate communities. Programs to combat lone-wolf terrorism have a way of wildly exaggerating its prevalence and dangers – and in the end are only likely to exacerbate the problem. For Americans to concede more of their civil liberties in return for “security” against lone wolves wouldn’t be a trade; it would be fraud. … continue reading Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease

As noted previously:

In Arts, F&O features Brief Encounters columnist Brian Brennan’s “time capsule” on  The clown prince of music: Victor Borge  (paywall). While you’re there, take a look back at love letters through history by academic Emily Bernhard Jackson, Love letters – from Joyce’s dirty missive to Keats’s paeans.

International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the twisted prosecution of Malaysian opposition politician, Anwar Ibrahim, and the possibility he will have wrought real change. Click here to read the column, Co-opted judiciary sentences Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim to 5 years (subscription required).

Noteworthy elsewhere on the Internet:

86597_web

Researchers released the first estimate of how much plastic trash flows from land to the world’s oceans annually: more than 4.8 million metric tons in 2010 alone.

Recommended: Lynching in America, Confronting the History of Racial Terror,  a project of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. The report evokes some of the worst practices of today’s Islamic State terrorists. Its findings document the lynchings of thousands of African Americans between the Civil War and World War II in the United States, lynchings it calls “violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials.”

Recommended: A History of Violence: Accusations But No Justice in Liberia, by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, reveals that many of those accused of unspeakable brutality during Liberia’s civil war have never been formally tried. It’s the latest instalment in ProPublica’s stellar series Firestone and the Warlord, The untold story of Firestone, Charles Taylor and the tragedy of Liberia.

Recommended: TOWERS OF SECRECY, an ongoing New York Times investigation of the people behind shell companies buying high-end real estate.

In the news: In science, researchers published a study  predicting the American west will be hit by an epic drought, the worst in 1,000 years, something that will surprise only those who haven’t been paying attention to climate change science. There’s a report that dogs can tell the difference between happy and angry human faces, something that will surprise only those who don’t live with dogs. Researchers released the first estimate of how much plastic trash flows from land to the world’s oceans: more than 4.8 million metric tons in 2010 alone. 

In visual journalism, Reuters posted an online gallery of 56 photographs to mark the 30th anniversary of its photo service. 

You might want to give your head a shake at this baaa-zaar research, reported by MacWorld, about the potential of sheep and reindeer to provide Internet WiFi in remote locations.  

Last but not least, now that the obligatory sweetness of Valentine’s Day is beyond us, did you get a ‘Vinegar Valentine’ this year? Are you tired of the savagery displayed on social media? As Andrew Smith of The Open University notes, trolling is nothing new:

Over 150 years ago, as literacy rates improved and a universal postal service arrived in many industrialised nations, letter writing and the sending of greetings cards flourished. But with post boxes appearing on street corners it took no great leap of thought to realise it was possible to send an unkind sentiment through the post without the intervening messenger, postal service, nor the recipient knowing who sent it.

And so was born the Vinegar Valentine, the sharper side of an otherwise romantic tradition. Instead of sending a loved one a romantic gesture, people would instead send a vindictive card intended to upset an enemy, colleague, neighbour or friend.

Companies saw the commercial opportunity and caught onto the trend with their own versions. Rather than creating a romantic rhyme there were comically creative with cruel verse, for women and men alike. Cartoonists, greeting card companies and copywriters found an income from this unpleasant predilection.

Before the penny post was introduced, it was the recipient that paid for the letter sent to them. This meant that in a doubly cruel twist, the victims of vinegar Valentines would endure both insult and financial injury. While anecdotal and difficult to prove, there were reports of hapless souls subject to a deluge of these vinegar Valentines and having to bear the financial cost of their ignominy.

It would appear that vinegar Valentines lasted for some considerable time, finally losing their appeal by the 1940’s – an unsavoury 100 years or more of trolling by post.

Leaping forward to the present day, technology advances but alas it would seem that human nature does not, as the bosses of Twitter, Facebook, Ask.fm and many other online services have discovered. …

After all: Roses are red, violets blue, in under 140 characters I can be nasty to you #vinegarvalentine

The above is excerpted from an article on The Conversation. Click here for the entire piece. 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers like you. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Thank you for your patronage. Please tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , |

Anwar Ibrahim and a campaign of political vilification in Malaysia

The original Wikipedia Commons caption reads (more or less): "Thousands of Malaysians dressed in mourning black gathered in Kuala Lumpur on May 8, 2013 to denounce national elections that they claim were stolen through fraud by the coalition that has ruled for 56 years." Firdaus Latif is the photographer.

Malaysians protested in Kuala Lumpur on May 8, 2013, against national elections they claim were stolen through fraud by the coalition that has ruled for 56 years. Photo by Firdaus Latif, Wikipedia.

Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim is showing signs of eccentricity and paranoia, notes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. It’s not surprising — but it is also true that he will have wrought real change. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, Co-opted judiciary sentences Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim to 5 years:

Two of the most prominent finance ministers of modern times were in court this week on sex charges, which may seem like a thesis on the relationship between power, money and priapism just waiting to be written.

But there are profound differences between the case of Malaysia’s former finance minister and deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, and the former head of the International Monetary Fund and a finance minister of France in the late 1990s, Dominque Strauss-Kahn.

Whether his actions turn out to be criminal or not, Strauss-Kahn seems to have been entirely the author of his own downfall. Rationing himself to four orgies a year and forcing his attentions on hotel maids are not the actions of a rational public servant.

On the other hand, the sentencing on Tuesday of Anwar to five years in prison after his conviction for sodomy is yet another milestone in an extraordinary and sustained misuse of the courts in a campaign of political vilification.

In the end, what happens to Strauss-Khan is neither here nor there: a matter of no significant public importance. But the public reaction to the imprisoning of Anwar is another question. … log in to continue reading Co-opted judiciary sentences Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim to 5 years (subscription required*)

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

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Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , |

Brief Encounter with a child prodigy pianist-turned-comedian

This Victor Borge combination was created in February, 2015 by Mike Sasges from an undated image of the pianist and comedian and for a Brian Brennan column.

Victor Borge collage created by Mike Sasges from an undated image of the pianist and comedian.

When Arts columnist Brian Brennan asked the then 66-year-old Victor Borge why he continued to maintain a heavy touring schedule despite a health problem that had forced him to temporarily stop performing, the Danish-born entertainer had a simple answer: “I travel because people don’t come to me.” An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, The clown prince of music: Victor Borge:

Victor Borge had been a child prodigy on his way to becoming a concert pianist when he discovered a flair for comedy that sent him off in another direction and brought him international fame. When I met him 40 years ago, in 1975, he had been on the road for 40 years, mixing classical music with satire and impressing audiences with his talent for both. At age 66, he was still performing 150 shows a year despite having been forced to stop playing temporarily due to paralysis in his left arm. 

I asked him if he was thinking of retiring. “Retiring from what?” he replied. “Retiring from life? Performing is my life. A lot of people retire because they’re forced to, and then keep regretting it for the rest of their lives.”

The problem with his left arm had been a shocker, Borge said, because for three weeks in the hospital he wasn’t able to move it. “It scared the hell out of me. I had to cancel a concert for the first time in my life. The newspaper in Wichita didn’t like it, but what did they expect?” Log in to continue reading The clown prince of music: Victor Borge (subscription*)

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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 an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged |

Noteworthy: media on my mind

 It’s been a helluva year so far in the media world, which began with the slaughter of 12 people, including 10 journalists, outside the office of Charlie Hebdo in January, as part of a wider attack by extremists in Paris.

David Carr, speaking in Canada in 2013. Photo by Ian Linkletter via Wikimedia

David Carr, speaking in Canada in 2013. Photo by Ian Linkletter via Wikimedia

Journalism lost its most articulate and fiercest champion Thursday night, with the death of David Carr of the New York Times. Carr, 58, collapsed in the  newsroom late in the evening, following an event hosted by the Times.

Carr brought extraordinary life experience to journalism, and heart alongside intellect. A former drug addict who turned his life around and rose to the top of his craft, Carr wrote in his 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun: “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve … but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.”

“He was the best media writer of his generation, he really was,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told  Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast. “We loved him. He was a terrific human being and important to us. Just a truly unique talent.”

Related and recommended:

David Carr, Times Critic and Champion of Media, Dies at 58. by Bruce Weber and Ashley Southall, New York Times 
David Carr, a Journalist at the Center of the Sweet Spot, by A. O. Scott, New York Times
The Quotable David Carr, a  Times compilation of quotes
Farewell to my Friend David Carr – Journalism’s True North. By Sasha Stone, a blog post
His Dark Material. A book review of David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, by Bruce Hardy, New York Times, 2008

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This week also saw the deaths of “pioneering” Canadian sports journalist Alison Gordon, one of the first women to cover professional baseball, and American CBS 60 Minutes journalist Bob Simon, who died in a car crash.

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Meantime Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released on bail in Egypt, pending their next hearing later this month. Earlier this month Egypt deported their colleague Peter Greste to his native Australia. The three men had been in custody since December, 2013, related to controversial charges involving Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their case has become a cause celebre for global press rights.

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Elsewhere in journalism Jon Stewart, AKA “America’s most trusted fake news anchor,” announced that he would step down this year, age 52, at the height of his career, as host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central. Ok, ok, yes, I know. Stewart is not a journalist. But as countless others have pointed out, Stewart committed arguably more ethical and more accurate actual journalism than many of his counterparts in America’s television-land shows labelled “news.”

Related and recommended:

Jon Stewart on Criminal Justice — The jester takes a bow. A selection of some of his best criminal justice spots by The Marshall Project. 
Stewart’s announcement on the Daily Show:

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Famously, American television anchor Brian Williams was handed a six-month suspension this week by his network, NBC, after admitting, “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.” For 12 years Williams regaled audiences with his tale of being inside a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. This month, when challenged by soldiers who were on the helicopter, he said he remembered he’d been on a different helicopter far behind the stricken machine. “I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

People I know, who know Williams, say he’s decent folk. It’s human to err. His fall from grace is just sad. Plus who are we to judge? It’s risky for journalists to slam other journalists when all of us live in glass houses.

But in my books, Williams’ fantasy of derring-do discredited not only him and his news organization, but journalism and journalists. Our craft rests entirely on reputation and trust. Reporting of facts to the best of our ability is a sacred trust. Williams’ mis-rememberance is akin to a pilot mistaking a runway for a river, or a surgeon cutting off her patient’s wrong leg, then not only getting away with it but boasting for years.

To dismiss Williams’ lapse as minor is to dismiss the role of journalism — especially in the context. It was a time when journalism utterly failed to reveal the lies about weapons of mass destruction on which the invasion of Iraq was based, leading to the loss of countless lives and trillions in treasure.

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In Canada on Friday Sun News television fell silent. Some 150-200 media jobs are affected, reported CBCSun (which I dubbed “Faux News North” for its partisan positions and courting of controversies in line with America’s Fox News) said it had been plagued by low ratings, financial losses, and the refusal of Canada’s regulator to force consumers to buy it with basic cable packages. Sun was in my opinion a blight on civil discourse and journalism — perhaps exemplified in this ruling that its most visible host had displayed “ill will” and “reckless disregard for the truth,” or here in its apology to Canada’s Liberal Leader for a rant slamming his mother. But as comedian Rick Mercer, who once lauded said host, might agree, Sun also exemplified the admirably wide range of expression in Canada. Regrettably for them, it also employed several serious and very good journalists who are now silenced.

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Last but not least, Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans Frontieres released its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The country ranked as having the most press freedom is, for the fifth year in a row, Finland. Following among the top ten are: Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, Canada, Jamaica and Estonia. Least free are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. France is 38th, the United States 49th, Russia 152nd, Iran 173rd and China 176th.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , , , , |

New waterworks designs deliver larger environmental change

The designers and operators of water infrastructure have been forced, in a cost-cutting era for public works, to think outside the pipe, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood. And what they’ve learned hold lessons for all of us. An excerpt of Wood’s new column, Thinking Outside the Pipe: Reflections on flood season in the Pacific Northwest:

Water pipe in Brisbane Glen, U.K. via Wikimedia

Water pipe in Brisbane Glen, U.K. via Wikimedia

Infrastructure is an ugly word, but a big part of what governments do — especially those we live closest to, our town or city government. ‘Infrastructure’ is also the service backbone of everything else we do in our active lives — the bridges we drive over to work and the internet connections we jump on when we get there, the pipes that bring water to the tap and the others that carry away the toilet flush. It’s a mostly unglamorous subject. But it’s about to revolutionize, in ways that will also revolutionize how we deal with environmental issues. 

Three forces are driving that revolution. The first is the effect of time on the infrastructure that serves us now: a lot of it in North America is crumbling or obsolete. The second is climate destabilization: most of that same infrastructure, even if it’s not past its design life, was designed for climatic conditions that went out with the last century. But third, and most hopefully, thinking about urban infrastructure design has broken out of the single dimension in which it has been trapped for decades, and discovered the extraordinary potential of thinking in all four … Log in first to continue reading Thinking Outside the Pipe (subscription required*).

Click here for Chris Wood’s Natural Security column page,  or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass

 *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). 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers like you. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Thank you for your patronage. Please tell others about us.

 

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Thinking Outside the Pipe: Reflections on flood season in the Pacific Northwest

CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY 
February, 2015

Infrastructure is an ugly word, but a big part of what governments do — especially those we live closest to, our town or city government. ‘Infrastructure’ is also the service backbone of everything else we do in our active lives — the bridges we drive over to work and the internet connections we jump on when we get there, the pipes that bring water to the tap and the others that carry away the toilet flush. It’s a mostly unglamorous subject. But it’s about to revolutionize, in ways that will also revolutionize how we deal with environmental issues. 

Water pipe in Brisbane Glen, U.K. via Wikimedia

Water pipe in Brisbane Glen, U.K. Wikimedia

Three forces are driving that revolution. The first is the effect of time on the infrastructure that serves us now: a lot of it in North America is crumbling or obsolete. The second is climate destabilization: most of that same infrastructure, even if it’s not past its design life, was designed for climatic conditions that went out with the last century. But third, and most hopefully, thinking about urban infrastructure design has broken out of the single dimension in which it has been trapped for decades, and discovered the extraordinary potential of thinking in all four.

Let me explain. Most infrastructure that we use, when it’s laid out as a map, as it is in those airline route maps in every in-flight magazine, looks like a dense two-dimensional network with connecting nodes (airports). The same with any road map or those visualizations of web traffic around the world. And so, in a sense, they are. 

But in another perspective, each individual line in the route-map, every road or internet connection, is generally conceived of as one-dimensional: something — a call, a shipping container, a data-packet — is going from Point A to Point B in the most efficient possible way. In this perspective, the best connection is the one with the lowest friction, so to speak.

The friction may be physical (the reason why airliners fly at 30,000 ft. in thin air instead of down in the thicker air at 5,000 ft.,) or political and economic (the reason unit trains are carrying so much crude oil around North America at the moment, instead of pipelines doing the job: the trains are there, the pipelines aren’t, held back by cost and political resistance). But in principle, friction is bad, and maximizing one-dimensional efficiency is good.

This thinking has prevailed in the infrastructure we build for water management as it has everywhere else. By and large the idea has been to find a big pool of water (a natural or artificial lake, a large river or aquifer), and run it through a conceptually single pipe to a home or business. Storm runoff has been handled in the same single dimension: by being carried away from storm drains into the nearest natural water body with as little delay as possible. Taking care of the shower drain and toilet flush has been a bit more complicated: it’s made sense to join a lot of single pipes to one facility to treat sewage before it’s released back (often) into the same lake or river system. And to the extent that we build infrastructure for large-scale flooding events, we’ve largely done it with similar thinking: raising dykes and levees that turn rivers into big pipes for the transport of as much water as possible as fast as possible — efficiency, again.

This way of thinking handled things not so badly in the 20th century, when most of these systems were built. There were occasional failures when river waters burst through constraining dykes them, inundating vulnerable homes and farms behind them. But generally they have served us well. That, however, was then. This is now.

Much of that infrastructure is old and in need of repair. A consortium of U.S. water utility associations estimates that America’s water infrastructure needs US$530 billion, more than half a trillion dollars, above what is currently funded for maintenance and repair over the next twenty years. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimated eight years ago that water infrastructure — aging mains, out-of-date treatment plants — was responsible for half of the Cdn$123 billion deficit its members faced in overdue infrastructure upkeep and replacement; the deficit is surely higher now.

Meanwhile time is working its corrosive effects on cement and steel and plastic — the materials of water infrastructure. Maintenance delayed typically advances the day when replacement or massive overhauls can be postponed no longer. Complicating things for utilities, many growing communities are running out of room. As densities increase or suburbs sprawl, infrastructure for water capture, storm and sanitary water disposal, and even the larger pipes meant to serve apartment towers instead of bungalows, must all share the limited remaining space. 

And money, wherever neoliberal radical extremists have imposed their ideology — which is to say most of the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world — is in short supply for any work of service to the public in general. 

All of these factors have forced the designers and operators of water infrastructure to think outside the pipe: that is, in more dimensions than one. In fact, they have been doing so for a while now. Just as water is the essence of life as well as the economy, it is relentlessly material and immensely powerful. You mislead yourself about it at your peril. As a result the diverse specialists involved in bringing safe water to our taps, from land managers to mathematical modelers, are more than usually reality-based.

And the reality is that the old one-dimensional pipe model for water infrastructure can no longer get the job done. Thinking in new dimensions however, can take a lot of the strain off existing pipes, and may put off having to install new ones indefinitely.

Abandoning dykes for wider un-built set-backs from watercourses, giving some room ‘back to the river,’ as the practice has been called in Holland, allows waterways to spread out when they carry more volume, rather than force it through straining levee walls. Un-built river margins are among earth’s most biologically productive zones, and their protection enhances natural security. A popular if less natural use for land exposed to occasional flooding is park and sport field space.

“Green engineering” leverages depth as well as breadth to manage water. Porous vegetation and pavements allow storm water to infiltrate the ground instead of racing off into gutters. Green roofs, an emerging architectural trend, do the same. Many communities are effectively mandating such design features by requiring that finished lots absorb all the rain that falls on them, leaving none to run off into storm drains. Protected aquifer recharge zones leverage free underground reservoir space. Managing vegetation across watersheds can often improve the quantity and quality of a city’s water faster and less expensively — and with more ecological and amenity side-benefits — than engineered interventions. Other plants and biota bring their metabolic power to cleaning up industrial ‘brownfield’ and sewage streams.

Even the fourth dimension, time, is being exploited in new ways. If water backs up at a certain bend in the river every ten years or so, which makes more sense: building an intrusive dyke that isn’t needed nine years out of ten and can’t entirely be trusted to keep back the water in the tenth year either… or paying landowners a little bit of money every year to allow the river to spread out over their property in that tenth year? Many places are finding the second, essentially ‘renting’ flood space when it’s needed, to be a cheaper deal.

Water infrastructure is the earliest kind we know about. Above, remnants of the ancient water system in the dungeons of Dioklecijanova Palača, Split, Croatia. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2013

Remnants of the ancient water system in the dungeons of Dioklecijanova Palača, Split, Croatia. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2013

Water infrastructure is the earliest kind we know about: Babylon rose to power because of it. Water will also mediate every other stress placed on our natural security by extremes of human demand and climate destabilization. It poses problems that need solving.

But the three and four-dimensional thinking that water professionals are using to solve those problems hold lessons for all of us. We’re all running out of space, in a variety of senses. We can only solve our problems with approaches different from those that caused them, and by making good use of every cubic centimeter of life-supporting environment we have left. We need to see every intervention in the light of all its effects: the salmon migration cut off by a mega-dam, the biodiversity regained when riverbanks are given back to the river.

If ‘wicked’ problems are those that strike us in multiple, interlinked ways, ‘virtuous’ solutions operate in reverse: they make several things better at once. That’s multi-dimensional thinking.

I’ll drink to that.

 Copyright Chris Wood 2015

References and further reading:

This column was prompted by the release of the private-sector ‘Risky Business’ climate change study group’s examination of the U.S. Midwest, where water management will be critical to adapt to rising temperatures over coming decades, and an older article drawing the attention of residents of British Columbia, Canada, to the need for more accurate flood mapping, in part to enable some of these techniques.

“Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the Midwest,” by the Risky Business Project, is available here: http://riskybusiness.org/uploads/files/RBP-Midwest-Report-WEB-1-26-15.pdf

“Planning to Avoid Disaster: the state and fate of flood mapping in BC.” by Anna Warwick-Sears and David Sellars, is available here:

http://bcwwa.org/resourcelibrary/Watermark_Summer2013_planning-to-avoid-disaster.pdf

 

 

chris1

Chris Wood is a founding writer with Facts and Opinions. He is the author of the Natural Security column and occasional long-form Think magazine pieces, and contributes the odd blog entry.

Wood writes about the issues of human social survival in the 21st century. His 40-year career has spanned award-winning work in radio, newsmagazines, books and the internet. He is the author or co-author of seven books, most recently Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water Resources, with Ralph Pentland (Greystone, 2013).  After growing up near Hamilton, Ont., and later living for periods of time in rural Ontario, the Maritimes, Toronto, Dallas and Vancouver, his home is now on Vancouver Island with  his writer/marketer wife, Beverley Wood, and their two middle-aged bull terrier dogs. Currently, all are on an extended research and study term in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

Read more about Chris’s work, or book him as a speaker, at www.bychriswood.com

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged |

Brian Brennan: a Brief Encounter with Sophia Loren

 

Brian Brennan interviewing Sophia Loren in 1987.

Brian Brennan interviewing Sophia Loren in 1987.

Arts columnist Brian Brennan was told he couldn’t ask Sophia Loren about the sentence she served in a Naples prison for tax evasion. But he went ahead and asked anyhow, and received a surprising answer. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, Absolutely Fabulous: Sophia Loren:

 

Sophia Loren hardly ever talked to reporters, and hadn’t planned to do so when she came to Canada in 1987 to promote some beauty products. But after I talked to her publicity people, I was told I could interview her as long as I didn’t ask her about two things:

1. How was she getting along with Carlo Ponti, her much older (by 24 years) director husband? There were repeated rumours of a rift and of extramarital affairs by both, but Miss Loren would not be speaking about such matters.

2. How did she end up spending 17 days in a Naples prison in 1982 for income tax evasion? Couldn’t she have paid a fine or come to some other kind of arrangement with the Italian judicial authorities, given that she was one of the country’s major film stars? Again, Miss Loren would not be speaking about such matters.

She would, however be happy to talk to me about the jasmine-and-roses Coty perfume to which she had lent her famous name in 1980… log in to read Absolutely Fabulous: Sophia Loren (subscription required*)

*You’ll find lots of great free stories on our pages, 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 a 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 an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , |