Thursday, December 31, 2009

Living Down to Expectations

Stephen Harper has failed to surprise by disappointing us again, proroguing Parliament for political advantage.

Just over a year ago, if I had been Governor-General, I would have exacted a price for assenting to that prorogation, allowing it only if accompanied by Harper's resignation as party leader and (thereby) Prime Minister. This would discourage future would-be dictators from seeking to close down parliament to avoid a vote of confidence.

By now, it's all standard procedure, and the precedent has been set. Prime Ministers can avoid facing parliament on any pretext.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Olympic Ideal . . .

Count me among the many who don't think the Olympic Games are such a great idea. Let me count the ways:
  1. They stimulate an orgy of consumption. You don't think they're sponsored by a bank out of idealism, do you?
  2. They promote competition in an unhealthy way.
  3. They usually stick taxpayers with a large bill and a lot of sports facilities that promote watching more than participation.
  4. They encourage nationalism.
  5. They give the athletically gifted a sense of entitlement out of proportion to their value to society.
  6. They're run by a bunch of aristocratic snobs who also have a sense of entitlement out of proportion to their value to society.
  7. They encourage Olympic sites to sweep the marginalized under the rug for the duration.
  8. They encourage the belief that physical activity is something to watch, rather than to do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The far-reaching power of waste

Chris Jordan's immensely powerful images of the damage wreaked by human waste and carelessness in one of the most remote parts of the planet could make you weep.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It makes you proud to be human. . .

In today's news:
The world's most influential man, according to a survey by, is a fictional character who smokes, drinks, and beds women in a 1970s world (Don Draper in Mad Men).

A Calgarian was mauled by a tiger after breaking into the Calgary zoo and crossing a fence meant to keep people at a safe distance from the tiger cage. Apparently he and a companion broke into the zoo just for the hell of it.

Women still do more of the housework than men in two-job families.

The Nova Scotia bishop who was caught with child porn on his computer had been reported to a church superior 20 years ago as showing porn to adolescent boys, and warned about it. "Obviously my message didn't get through to him," says Kevin Molloy, who passed the information on to the man who was archbishop at the time.

A leading sumo wrestler has been chastised for smiling and raising his arms after winning a tournament, horrifying the panel of judges.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Michael Jackson: I don't understand.

The recent death of pop star Michael Jackson has led to endless accolades. He is apparently widely regarded as a great and influential originator.

This point of view, though widely held, confuses me. Ignoring his messy private life, his actual musical contributions don't impress me. He always seemed to me to be a novelty act. First came the novelty of being a little kid in a family group. Then came his skillful use of video with his cleverly deceptive "moonwalk" dance moves, and his mannerisms like the single glove. All these things seem to me to be shallow attention-getting tricks of no real significance to music. He didn't take music in new directions like Bob Dylan or the Beatles, or even open up a style of music to new audiences like Elvis Presley.

But that's just my opinion.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Apres nous, le deluge.

Nobody knows exactly what the sequence of events will be, but it is becoming increasingly clear that our way of life will take a drastic downward turn in the next 50 years or less. Environmental destruction is out of control, with the acidification of the oceans and climate change set to be the central engines of our collapse, with the end of cheap energy playing a strong supporting role.

There is no type of leadership that will lead us out of this mess. Far too many people are incapable of accepting the facts, many because of their religious faith, others out of denial, and still others out of inertia. There may be many in positions of wealth and power who simply don't care, because they figure they will be dead by the time things get really bad.

It's possible that some kind of worldwide pandemic will reduce our population and disrupt our economies to a point where we will actually reduce both our energy consumption and our production of greenhouse gases and other pollutants sufficiently to avoid the tipping point that will cause runaway climate change. This disaster that could save our species must happen within the next 10 or 15 years.

I project my own lifespan at another 25 years, maximum. So I may get to see enough of what happens to project the type of planet my immediate descendents will live on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fun with the end of the world as we know it

Visit the ApocaDocs web site for a chance to laugh in the face of disaster - and maybe cause others to laugh as well.

From the site:
About the ApocaDocs Project
How this all started

Originally, this project was to be a web meta-fictional endeavor, jointly created by Jim and Michael. It was a sort of comedic Web novel about relationships, about academia, and about the collapse of civilization viewed through the lens of conflicting doctrines. It had a backstory (most clearly delineated in a faux news article); had a leitmotif of a misguided partner who, over time, would become a very interesting character; included a conflict of philosophical approach with competing apocalyptic institutes. The story even had a mysterious woman.

However, as we constructed the sites, doing background research on the topics, and began gathering the scenario news, we began actually eyeing the bare face of the likely apocalyptic horrors. We shifted to producing only, in order to shift the project, "mute the meta," simplify, and focus on the true, frightening realities facing humankind. We spent a year collecting information daily, thinking about what we were seeing.

Recently, we decided we needed to shift to a more personal, direct, yet participatory framework. So we launched, which lets us jape, and joke, and quip, and snark -- and let others do the same.

We've got a lot of bits of humor thrown in -- as you'll see if you browse around. Don't miss the PANIQuiz collection in particular. And please help us build the funny, by adding your own quips to any scary item.

If you know of other sites doing what we're doing, pass them on to us, since we haven't found many that match. If you're freaked about what's going on, what you're reading, what you're seeing, then forward this site to others -- and let's see if we can get change a-coming, and have some fun along the way.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

You can't use half an ark: compromise on climate change is suicide.

More forboding insights from Gwynne Dyer (published April 8, 2009):

"We want to be in (the new UN climate pact), we want to be pragmatic, we want to look at the science," said Jonathan Pershing, the head of the U.S. delegation, during the talks on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in Bonn last week. So how will the Obama administration reconcile political "pragmatism" with the scientific realities? "There is a small window where they overlap. We hope to find it," Pershing explained. But it doesn't really exist.

Signing the United States up to the new climate treaty that will replace the Kyoto accord in 2012 is essential. The 1997 Kyoto treaty was gutted to accommodate American objections, but even so President Clinton, who signed it, never dared to submit it to Congress. Then President Bush "unsigned" it.

A dozen wasted years later, the climate problem has grown hugely, so this time everybody else is determined that the U.S. must be aboard - and Barack Obama also wants the United States to be part of the treaty. But we recently learned what he thinks is "pragmatic." It is that the United States should cut its emissions back to the 1990 level by 2020.

The Hadley Climate Centre in England, one of the world's most respected sources of climate predictions, recently released a study showing that even rapid cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, turning the current one per cent annual growth into a three per cent annual decline within a few years, would still warm the world by 1.7 degrees Celsius by 2050.

That is dangerously near the two degrees C rise in average global temperature which is the point of no return. Further warming would trigger natural processes that release vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from melting permafrost and warming oceans. These processes, once begun, are unstoppable, and could make the planet four, five or six degrees hotter than the present by the end of the century.

At those temperatures, much of the planet turns to desert, and the remaining farmland, mostly in the high latitudes, can support at best 10 or 20 per cent of the world's current population. That is why the official policy of the European Union is never to exceed two degrees of warming.

The Obama administration's offer falls far short of that goal.

Obama is clearly calculating how much he can get through Congress. But this isn't an ordinary bill where you settle for what you can get through Congress after the usual horse-trading. If there's going to be a 40-day flood, you either build an ark or you learn to breathe underwater. Building half an ark is not a useful option.
Obama's offer means that the United States would be cutting its emissions not by three per cent annually, the minimum global target if we hope to avoid more than two degrees of warming, but by only half that amount. In the long term, it leads inexorably to disaster. Most other industrialized countries are on track to meet or exceed their modest Kyoto targets. Britain and Germany will both be 20 per cent below their 1990 emissions level by 2012, and Germany is promising 40 per cent cuts by 2020. The European Union as a whole promises a 20 per cent cut by 2020, but will go up to 30 per cent if other industrial countries do the same.

Even that would barely meet the annual three per cent cut in emissions we need if we are not to sail through the two-degree point of no return and trigger runaway warming. And we have yet to figure out how to bring the rapidly developing countries into the regime, for their emissions are growing very fast.

We are in deep trouble, and "pragmatism" will not save us.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist. His column appears each Wednesday. His new book, Climate Wars, was published recently in Canada by Random House.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Prepare for attack!

"The engines would show evidence of bird strike, and could have enough bird remains to yield DNA that would show the bird species, investigators say."

If the plane turns out to have been brought down by Canada Geese, can we expect the US government to close the borders, and sue the Canadian government for damages? Or will they just make a pre-emptive strike on all goose nests?