Thursday, September 21, 2017

Not A Hopeful Sign

As much as I have long been an advocate for the development and honing of critical thinking skills (while readily admitting that I often fall short of the mark - for me, it is always a work in progress), I regret to report, via the CBC, that there is much, much work still to be done. In fact, many Canadians are having a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between facts and opinion, fake news and science fact. In our fraught times, that is surely a recipe for disaster.
Are scientific findings a matter of opinion? Forty-three per cent of Canadians agree that they are, suggests a new poll.
47 per cent (up from 40 per cent last year) agreed that "the science behind global warming is still unclear," despite what scientists have been calling for years "unequivocal" evidence.

19 per cent agree "there is a link between vaccinations and autism," even though the study that made the link was found years ago to be "an elaborate fraud."
The poll, commissioned by Ontario Science Centre, has results that should worry all of us. Maurice Bitran, chief executive officer of the Ontario Science Centre, had this to say:
"If you think that climate change is one of the main issues that we face as a society, and almost half of us think that the science is still unclear when there's a pretty broad scientific consensus about it, this affects the chances that we have to act in a unified way about it."
He is concerned about some of the findings that suggest a lack of trust in science and media coverage of scientific issues such as:
68 per cent agree that media coverage of scientific issues is "reported selectively to support news media objectives."

59 per cent agree that media coverage of scientific issues is "presented to support a political position."
Such conspiratorial views of the media when it comes to fact-based science should give us all pause to consider, among other things, the role media themselves play in this perception:
Kelly Bronson, a University of Ottawa professor who has studied and written about science communication, said people are confused about where to go for reliable information and how to tell facts from beliefs.

She thinks the media are partly to blame for focusing too much on telling both sides of the story: "It doesn't help the public learn how to distinguish true knowledge from mere opinion, if both are given equal weight in a news story."
An excellent illustration of this is to be found in a recent Hamilton Spectator letter to the editor:
RE: Republicans in denial (Sept. 13)

This article calls climate change skeptics "deniers", but is itself a denier. To accomplish this clever trick of contradicting itself, the Washington Post (WAPO) cunningly suppresses the huge hidden assumption behind their "denier" pejorative, which is that man-made climate change is settled science, which it isn't.

An example of the bad science behind "man-made climate change" is CO2, an essential component of all life including ours. In fact we likely need more of it. Reduce pollution, yes, but reduce CO2, no. We emphatically do not have a link between climate change and human-generated CO2.

Pedlars of bad science like Michael Mann are quoted supporting this unproven man-made climate change hypothesis. Natural phenomena like sea level rise are dragged in as proof of it, when actually the sea level is simply rising as it has been for thousands of years. Further, we should note that the climate change industry yields nice personal profits for its promoters, such as writers of columns like "Republicans in denial?"

It is difficult to connect these dots into a picture that warrants calling skeptics of man-made climate change "deniers", particularly when WAPO itself denies much.

Frank Gue, Burlington
Mr. Gue, and all others of his ilk, try to peddle the opinion that the science of climate change is not settled. The fact that it has been settled is but an inconvenience people like Gue circumvent by exploiting people's ignorance and prejudices. Are newspapers doing anyone a service by publishing such arrant nonsense?

Ignorance, sloppy thinking, mindless chatter and misdirection continue apace, but here is an incontrovertible fact: The time is growing very late, and the window to mitigation is rapidly closing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Matter Of Trust

I doubt there are many who would deny how precipitously the reputation of the United States has fallen since Donald Trump ascended to the White House. Each day seems to bring forth new and outrageous stream-of-consciousness pronouncements from the Infant-in Chief, and certainly, his speech to the United Nations was no different other than the fact that this time it was scripted. The world, except for chief-cheerleader Benjamin Netanyahu, was singularly unimpressed.

While Trump was content to rail against North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Venezuela as unworthy of trust, the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, offered some key observations about the U.S., observations that cut to the heart of a crucial consequence of having a giant id on the world stage. Americans are not generally receptive to being lectured to by other nations, especially when the lecture is delivered by a leader who says he would not be willing to sit down with Trump under the current circumstances. However, they would be very wise to listen carefully to his view of what will happen if the U.S. exits from the Iran nuclear deal.

Monday, September 18, 2017

An Ugly And Growing Reality

Although I have written before about the terrible problem of plastic pollution that is strangling the world in general, and our oceans and marine life in particular, it seems that we can never be reminded too often about the terrible toll our self-indulgent lifestyles exact.

While it is true to some extent that we are victims of the packaging imposed upon us by manufacturers (for example, you will find it fairly difficult to buy salad dressing that comes in actual glass bottles) one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution is the ubiquitous water bottle, an accessory almost none of us needs to use. Yet people tell themselves comforting lies such as, I don't trust the water from the tap, bottled water tastes better, I recycle, so what's the big deal? etc. Add to that our incessant reliance on plastic grocery bags, and the threat of environmental and health catastrophe increases even more. These same users refuse to confront the tremendous harm their demand for convenience exacts. Indeed, there is now evidence that microplastics are infiltrating our very cells.

When I look at pictures of shores littered with plastic, I think of what apt metaphors they are for the fact that, without question, we treat our world like a massive waste disposal facility. As to the effects of that attitude on the creatures of the world, graphic imagery abounds but apparently is insufficiently shocking to move people out of their complacency.

Fortunately, there is some basis for hope. If you start the following video at about the 16-minute mark, you will learn that Canada has become the 26th country out of 32 that has has now signed on to the Clean Seas initiative. Take a moment to visit their site, which will give additional insight into the problem as well as what all of us can do to contribute to the solution.

None of us can be passive bystanders here. We all have a role to play in remediation.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

When It Serves Economic Interests, Ignorance Is A National Policy

Burying their heads in rapidly disappearing sand is something of a national characteristic of Americans when it comes to climate change. However, when it is aided, abetted and promoted by monied interests, all should be concerned.

I think it is reasonably well-known that several states have banned any references to climate change or global warming in official government documents. Florida, recently pummeled by monster Hurricane Irma, was one of the first to take such measures back in 2011, when current governor Rick Scott took office. Earlier this year, the state of Idaho stripped any references to it in its revised K-12 science standards. In 2012, North Carolina banned the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise.

Of course, on the federal level, since Trump took office, intensive scrubbing worthy of Mr. Clean has taken place on the White House website. Predictably, that ardour has infected many federal departments. Even those researchers seeking grants from the US Department of Energy are being asked (?} to excise references to 'climate change' and 'global warming' from their proposals.

The mechanism behind this censorship is fascinating and worthy of deep study, but I will offer only a brief overview of the influence being wielded by powerful interests to suppress scientific fact. Not surprisingly, lobbyists for the real estate and housing development industries are leading the charge, striving to keep as quiet as possible some very, very inconvenient truths:
... a storm of scientific information about sea-level rise that threatens the most lucrative, commission-boosting properties ... warn[s] that Florida, the Carolinas and other southeastern states face the nation’s fastest-growing rates of sea-level rise and coastal erosion — as much as three feet by the year 2100, depending on how quickly Antarctic ice sheets melt. In a recent report, researchers for Zillow estimated that nearly two million U.S. homes could be literally underwater by 2100.
Given the rapid progression of climate change, I suspect the 2100 date is far too optimistic. I believe I may see some of the worst within my own lifetime, even though I am admittedly getting a tad long in the tooth.

Truth is frequently unpalatable, and realtors and developers are proving especially resistant to it:
Some are teaming up with climate-change skeptics and small government advocates to block public release of sea-level rise predictions and ensure that coastal planning is not based on them.
And they are getting some assistance from the top:
Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump rescinded an Obama-era executive order that required the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure, such as highways, levees and floodwalls. Trump’s move came after lobbying from the National Association of Home Builders, which called the Obama directive “an overreaching environmental rule that needlessly hurt housing affordability.”
Back in North Carolina, Willo Kelly, who represents both the Outer Banks Home Builders Association and the Outer Banks Association of Realtors
... teamed up with homebuilders and realtors to pass state legislation in 2012 that prevented coastal planners from basing policies on a benchmark of a 39-inch sea-level rise by 2100.

The legislation, authored by Republican Rep. Pat McElraft, a coastal realtor, banned the state from using scientific projections of future sea-level rise for a period of four years. It resulted in the state later adopting a 30-year forecast, which projects the sea rising a mere eight inches.
In South Carolina, the state Department of Natural Resources in 2013 was accused of keeping secret a draft report on climate-change impacts. In Texas, the 2016 platform of the state Republican Party states that climate change “is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives.”
Fortunately, not everyone is wallowing in, and extolling, ignorance:
In eastern North Carolina, geologist Riggs resigned from the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission’s science panel in 2016, citing legislative interference. He has since teamed up with local governments on the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds to address problems of flooding, windblown tides and saltwater intrusion, a threat to local farming.

Further east, the Hyde County town of Swan Quarter has built a 27-kilometre dike around homes and farms to protect $62 million in flood-threatened property. The dike helped prevent windblown flooding during recent storms, but county officials have some concerns about the future.
Climate change is growing increasingly dire, and it is clearly not the time for citizens to cede control and authority to those whose only interest seems to be squeezing out as much profit as possible in the finite time ahead.

Indeed, some might call such massive venality a massive crime against humanity.

Friday, September 15, 2017

UPDATED: More On Neoliberal Extortion

I admit that at one time, I worshiped at the altar of the NHL, this during the time of the Original Six. But then something happened. I grew up.

I know the above might be offensive to those who still take their sports seriously, but let me make plain I have nothing against such passions, but they are passions that should never cloud our thinking about other, much more important, matters, like the neoliberal gladiator games now being staged in the public arena.

The latest round comes to us from Calgary, where the owners of the Calgary Flames, like the feudal lords they fancy themselves to be, are demanding service from their vassals:
The owners of the Calgary Flames are demanding Alberta's largest city pay for a significant chunk of a proposed new arena and exempt the NHL club from property taxes and rent, all while refusing to open their books as the two sides negotiate, according to a municipal insider.

The club's proposal does not include sharing profits or repaying the city for any contribution it may make toward building a new facility in Calgary's Victoria Park, the source said. The new facility will cost around $500-million, multiple city hall sources said. The Flames asked the city to cover well more than one-third of the bill, the source told The Globe and Mail. Victoria Park is near the Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Flames play now.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a man who has always struck me as eminently sensible and reasonable, is resisting this extortionate play.
Calgary has offered to finance one-third of the arena, providing cash instalments over a number of years, a source told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. That money would have to be repaid, the source said. The Flames, according to this plan, would cover another third and the final chunk would come from ticket surcharges. Nenshi, on Wednesday, confirmed this structure is "part" of the deal.
Because a new arena to replace the old Saddledome is integral to Calagary's 2026 Winter Olympic aspirations, the city is taking the situation seriously, but is not prepared to offer carte blanche to the billionaire oilman, Murray Edwards, who is the Flames' primary owner. Being challenged, I imagine, is not part of Edwards' life experience, but he would do well to heed Mayor Nenshi's restrained and sensible comments:

Similarly, a Globe editorial has this to offer:
If the Flames' owners, six of Canada's wealthiest people, want a new arena they can pay for it.

As usual, the NHL cartel and its apologists are counting on Calgarians' succumbing to a wave of me-too feelings when they gaze at taxpayer-funded arenas elsewhere. But using past bad decisions to justify terrible future decisions does not qualify as logic. And governments in cash-strapped Alberta can't afford to capitulate.
All Canadians, if they pay attention, can now see the offensive and egregious nature of the neoloiberalism that is taking over more and more aspects of our lives. The question now, as always, is whether they are content to simply shrug their shoulders and go back to their IPhones and similar such diversions to shut out the real world, or will they finally start taking steps to vociferously resist this steady and ongoing encroachment of the public good?

UPDATE: The city of Calgary has just released the offer that it made to the Flames regarding building the new arena:
Calgary offered to chip in the equivalent of $185-million to cover the cost of a new $555-million arena ...

The offer demands the Flames remain in Alberta's largest city for at least 35 years and the Flames ownership group pay the property taxes. The team's owners would, in turn, collect all revenue in exchange for putting up $185-million, according to the city's proposal.

The city's contribution to the proposed arena is not pure cash. It would hand over land valued at $30-million and pay the $25-million it would cost to demolish the Saddledome, which is 34 years old. Its remaining $130-million obligation would be in the form of "non-property tax sources" according to the proposal.

Municipal taxpayers would be on the hook for "indirect" costs as well. Expenses associated with infrastructure, such as the 17th Avenue extension, total $150-million, according to the plan... the city will pay for a new transit station on a yet-unbuilt expansion of the city's light rail system and utility upgrades, although the price tag on those elements has yet to be determined.
Ken King, who is the president of the group that controls the Flames, described the negotiations, which included this offer, as "spectacularly unproductive."

Draw what conclusions you will.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Low-Risk Takedown

If you read my post from yesterday, you will know who Nick Shcherban is. Watch the following brief video, and ask yourself this: Have you ever heard of a noise complaint being answered by three police officers, an arrest, and handcuffs?

A powerful indictment, in my view, of the neoliberalism enveloping all of us.

For further insight into the predatory practices of film crews working for corporate behemoths, Star reader Ken Pyette of Toronto offers this:
Re: Man arrested for disrupting HBO production in Riverdale, Sept. 12

Enough already! I have just survived a film shoot next door to my home — the second this year. The first instance left my property a garbage-strewn shambles. In the latest invasion, I was given hours notice and chose to cancel the first few days of a planned vacation to protect my property.

It was a good decision. The neighbour on the other side of the shoot went away and I watched as the crew arrogantly placed equipment on their deck, held production meetings on it and completely took over the front yard with equipment and a control-room tent. The neighbour, upon her return, said no permission had been granted for the trespass and she had found damage. She has since been told there is nothing she can do about it. All of this is done with the blessing of the city of Toronto.

Today, I read in the paper that a man has been arrested and lead away in handcuffs for expressing his frustration over much worse experiences. I sympathize with the man.

Having self-important, inconsiderate people invade your street and community is not something residents want. The crew’s condescending attitude that they are bringing a bit of glamour to our benighted little lives is offensive. The usual comeback from the film industry is as quoted in your article: “We’ve pumped billions into Toronto.” I don’t believe this.

Someone should explain to our city council that the film business has a long and well-documented history of taking advantage of suckers.
And if I may be permitted a brief personal anecdote, last year I was picking up some desserts from my wife's church for a charity dinner they were putting on. When I pulled up to the entrance, I was told by someone with a walkie-talkie and a vest that I couldn't park there, as a movie shoot was going on in the area. I replied that I would only be a couple of minutes, but when I came back out of the church, I was told to move along, and someone else radioed that I wasn't complying.

When I told them they didn't own the street, the reply, with the sneering condescension often uttered by those who think they have authority, was, "Sir, we have a permit." I lost my temper at that point and, in a 'strongly worded' excoriation, I repeated my assertion that they didn't own the street, and that I had every right to be picking up the desserts, and that I would move when I was finished.

A small story, but I hope indicative of the kind of supine surrender our municipalities have made to the corporate agenda. I have little doubt that had I tarried further, I would have experienced something very similar to what what was inflicted upon Nick Shcherban.