31 May 2007
Column -- Burning all known reserves of fossil fuels, from Alberta's oilsands to China's vast stores of coal, would have much graver long-term consequences than previously thought, according to climate scientists who have peered far into the future. "Not only are we going to mess up our kids' and grandkids' lives, we are going to be interfering with the way the planet works for thousands of years," says climate scientist Alvaro Montenegro, noting that much of the carbon emissions would persist in the atmosphere more than 5,000 years and drive up global temperatures for millennia. Using sophisticated computer models, Montenegro and colleagues at the University of Victoria and the University of Chicago assessed the impact of consuming all known reserves of fossil fuels until they run out in 2300. Their simulations assume that the carbon dioxide producing by burning the fuel would waft into the atmosphere as it does today. "If we keep doing what we're doing right now, and the only thing that (stops) us from burning fossil fuels is the end of fossil fuels, that's what the experiment represents," says Montenegro, who presented the findings at an international meteorological conference in Newfoundland Wednesday. Asking what might happen if humans burn up all fossil fuels is pertinent today, he says, because global emissions continue to climb despite decades of talk about cuts. The scenario developed by Montenegro's group followed the UN panel's "business as usual" emissions path. According to that projection, oil, gas and coal consumption would continue on its current trajectory until 2100, then taper off over 200 years as supplies dwindle. Some 5,134 billion tonnes of carbon, locked underground for millions of years, would wind up in the global atmosphere. Supercomputers ran the models to calculate how the climate would respond in the 4,500 years after the emissions finally stop. The scientists concluded that average temperatures around the globe would soar six to eight degrees Celsius and would remain at least five degrees higher than pre-industrial levels for more than 5,000 years.
(Calgary Herald 070531)
The skeptics of course will say that projecting out 5,000 years is completely indefensible, which may be true, but the concept being presented isn't that difficult to predict - that dire consequences wait for the planet for many many centuries if we release all the sequestered carbon at a much faster rate than the planet can manage through its natural processes. Of course, I'm sure humanity (if we still can) will be forced to artificially assist these processes to mitigate the mess we've created in order to keep the planet from baking to a crisp.
This Australian Broadcasting Company documentary is very well done, and describes the possibly theories to explain periodic fossil fuel generation, and what might happen in the future if we return to a high-temperature planet.
Frank Young has an instant answer when asked what sort of land plan the province should adopt. The Calgary psychologist points to a poster of Okotoks, a town that long ago decided to live within its means, setting a limit on its growth based on the availability of water in the Sheep River. "It's development within a sustainable context," said Young as he and his wife took in the Alberta government's open house on land planning Wednesday. "The alternative to that is endless suburbanization. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot. That's what has been happening. Lack of planning has been the hallmark of the Alberta government." It's a hallmark that Young hopes the government is ready to abandon. After a year of talking with organizations, municipalities and businesses about creating a provincewide blueprint to guide development decisions, the Alberta government has turned its attention to the public, seeking input from Albertans at a series of open houses. The province is examining all kinds of development and land conflicts, everything from oilsands to residential sprawl to mud bogging. For a business like Lafarge, losing land plentiful with sand and gravel to other commercial ventures and residential housing is a concern. The company is having to travel farther for these materials, which are in high demand in Alberta's booming economy. In turn, extra kilometres on the road mean more harmful emissions released into the environment, said Trevor Feicht of Lafarge. Alberta's surging economy is fuelling the government's desire to create a land plan. There are just too many people wanting to do too many things on the same piece of land, Sustainable Resource Minister Ted Morton contends.
(Calgary Herald 070531)
The hallmark of the Alberta provincial government, at least over the last decade, has been a complete lack of proper planning regarding things such as land use issues, economic management, and public coffer evaluations (esp. the Heritage Fund). That's what happens when you get a one-trick pony in power for multiple terms. They forget (or never properly learn) how to do or manage anything other than what was specified in their mandate. That's what the Klein government did with all of these issues, and now the Stelmach government is following closely behind. Nothing like screwing things up royally, permanently!
30 May 2007
I wanted to go for a distance ride today in preparation for Pigeon Lake this weekend, but I think I'll be better off just laying low tonight. I did do a bit of work this afternoon using the support laptop to VPN into the network and I have to go into work tomorrow, plus it is Points Race night tomorrow at Thursday night racing and it's supposed to be 27°C, so I'd rather miss tonight than miss tomorrow.
I bought some Astragalus and Oil of Oregano yesterday at a natural foods store on high recommendation from some fellow racers. I'm not looking to stymie the illness I have now but attempt to generally bolster my immune system, which is weak at the best of times. Constantly hammering it with intense exercise and then blasting it with beer and prayers on the weekend does not make for a strong immune system. I hope that they help a bit!
29 May 2007
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 10:59 AM ET
TV's colourful, gurgling Teletubbies will be investigated in Poland, after a government-appointed children's rights official raised concerns that the popular program advocates homosexuality.
In an interview with a local magazine, Ewa Sowinska said she is calling for psychologists to review the show — aimed at preschoolers — and recommend whether it should continue to be broadcast in Poland.
As with previous criticisms of the BBC-produced program (broadcast since 1997), the target is Teletubby Tinky Winky, the purple character topped with an inverted triangle aerial.
"I noticed [Tinky Winky] has a lady's purse, but I didn't realize he's a boy," Sowinska said in comments published Monday.
"At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby…. Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone."
Over the years, European Union officials and human rights activists have criticized Poland's ruling conservative government for legislation that discriminates against homosexuals. For instance, the Education Ministry has proposed to fire teachers who promote a "homosexual lifestyle."
However, some government officials are distancing themselves from Sowinska's comments. Parliamentary Speaker Ludwig Dorn has warned Sowinska against making comments "that may turn her department into a laughing stock."
In 1999, U.S. evangelist and Christian right leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, who died earlier this month, also warned parents that Tinky Winky was a hidden symbol of homosexuality.
Poor Tinky Winky. He's been harrassed in the media so much in the past week. First references to Jerry Falwell, now the Poles. He's a hidden symbol of homosexuality because he's purple, has a triangle on his head and carries a purse? Do you think any five-year-old is going to figure that out, or is it only the adults who are taking this way over the edge? I don't see him playing pocket pool with the other Teletubbies. I would take that as an indication of promoting a gay lifestyle!
28 May 2007
Friday afternoon I met up with Jon and the gang at the Ship for a couple of pints to celebrate Jon's convocation for his Master's degree from U of C. The party moved to Jon and Sara's house for food and more cocktails. Eep! Cayenne pepper pecans! After some knitted fashion displays, I had to head out around 8:15 to meet the gang at the Plaza Theatre for the Friday night flick of the Fairy Tales Film Festival. We saw "Outing Riley" -- it was well-written and quite funny.
Saturday morning, I was off to the velodrome for the first day of the Spring Cleanup Track Race. The Flying 200m started off the day, but I didn't make my debut until the 4K pursuits later in the morning. I clocked a 5:08, which was good for fifth place and only 4 seconds off my PB. The match sprint quarter and semi finals were next, followed by the Scratch Races and the match sprint finals. I worked hard in the scratch race but couldn't get enough juice in the legs for the final sprints.
I left the track around 4:30, worked on a service call quickly when I got home, then Joe and I were off to the Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club for the OutGames Organizer Appreciation BBQ. We had a few beers there, food and a few rounds of Lawn Bowling, then we slipped over to Swan's to say hello to everyone quickly, then headed back downtown to meet the gang at Ryan's, where everyone had gathered for a pre-ARGRA dance party. Joe and I had picked up some $5 off entry coupons from Brad for the dance so we had to get them to them to the guys before they went. After they all headed out, Joe and I went home.
I got up Sunday and headed to the track again. The Kilos were first, then the Points Races and the Keirins. I did a 1:15 on the Kilo -- not too bad but not too good. In the Points Race I managed to bridge up to the lead pack of three and we finished the race that way with the chase pack about 200m behind, ending up in fourth.
Why is Shawn picking his nose?
Good representation by the four main Alberta track teams this weekend - Juventus, Bow Cycle, Synergy and Bicisport
After the racing was done around 1:30pm, I headed back downtown and met Doug at the apartment. We headed out onto 4th Street for the Lilac Festival and met up with Calvin and Doug soon after. We toured the entire strip from 12th Ave to 25th Ave, and then settled into the Wildwood Beer Gardens for the rest of the afternoon. Line-ups everywhere for everything. I guess you can't expect much else with crowds in excess of 100G.
Because the beer lines were so long, of course we got two drinks at once so that we didn't have to get into line again so soon. This got us into a funny conversation about 'double fisting'. Shawn was telling me that on his recent trip to the UK, he announced that he was 'double fisting' in a crowd of family and friends and got a big explanation as to how offensive a term this is in the UK. The comparable term there is 'double parked'. I never really thought of the term in this way -- I guess us Canadians are naturally perverted and don't give it much thought!
In the center of the beer gardens were 'clusters of 'mos' -- we had pretty much taken over the beer garden by 5pm. Around 5:30pm, like clockwork, it started to rain, so the four of us plus Shawn scurried to the Fleur de Sel restaurant on 4th St where we had heard that there was traditionally a good party after the festival. Needless to say with $5 martinis, $2.50 shooters, and a clientele that was suddenly 100% gay, things got out of hand on the inebriation side! Some people were even having a hard time staying put in their chairs! We finally got out of there around 8:30 and everyone headed home. I made it to the apartment, made spaghetti sauce and was sound asleep on the couch by 9:30.
Tonight, Joe and I are meeting some of the others at the Plaza for tonight's Fairy Tales selections -- "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "The Seven Secrets to Perfect Porn". The rest of the week outside of work will be spent at the track!
The FDA does not allow men who have ever had a sexual encounter with another man to donate blood, saying they are at increased risk of infection by HIV that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion.
Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the U.S. government said Wednesday, leaving in place — for now — a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.
The Food and Drug Administration reiterated its long-standing policy on its Web site Wednesday, more than a year after the Red Cross and two other blood groups criticized the policy as "medically and scientifically unwarranted."
"I am disappointed, I must confess," said Dr. Celso Bianco, executive vice president of America's Blood Centers, whose members provide nearly half the nation's blood supply.
Before giving blood, all men are asked if they have had sex, even once, with another man since 1977. Those who say they have are permanently banned from donating. The FDA said those men are at increased risk of infection by HIV that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion.
In March 2006, the Red Cross, the international blood association AABB and America's Blood Centers proposed replacing the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact. New and improved tests, which can detect HIV-positive donors within just 10 to 21 days of infection, make the lifetime ban unnecessary, the blood groups told the FDA.
In a document posted Wednesday, the FDA said it would change its policy if given data that show doing so wouldn't pose a "significant and preventable" risk to blood recipients.
"It is a way of saying, 'Whatever was presented to us was not sufficient to make us change our minds,'" Bianco said.
The FDA said HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate, but still cannot detect the virus 100 percent of the time. The estimated HIV risk from a unit of blood is currently about one per 2 million in the United States, according to the agency.
Critics of the exclusionary policy said it bars potential healthy donors, despite the increasing need for donated blood, and discriminates against gays. The FDA recognized the policy defers many healthy donors but rejected the suggestion it's discriminatory.
Anyone who's used intravenous drugs or been paid for sex also is permanently barred from donating blood.
© The Associated Press
Sure, gay men are a statistical risk, but so are promiscuous heterosexual men and women, but you don't see the Red Cross asking people how many partners they've had in the past x number of years, do you? All that matters is if you've had gay sex once since 1977. Don't you think that would make more sense to determine risk by quantity rather than making a general assumption of all gay men, especially since gay men can now marry and theoretically should be as 'chaste' as married heterosexual people? Why should someone who's been monogamous for ten years, gay or straight be singled out simply because of their sexuality? This policy still rings of discrimination to me. Ah, whatever. Despite the fact that all blood is screened now (therefore they really shouldn't be making a demographic generalization as they do with, say, auto insurance premiums based on age), it doesn't seem to matter. There is still a minute risk of false negatives in the testing process, and filtering gay blood out just decreases the chance of that, theoretically. But don't worry, those guys that bed hundreds of girls aren't any risk to anyone.
25 May 2007
POSTED: 11:41 a.m. EDT, May 25, 2007
MEQUON, Wisconsin (AP) -- Motorists pulled in to Harvey Pollack's gas station, honked and gave him a thumbs-up -- because he wasn't selling any fuel.
The owner of Towne Market Mobil in this suburb north of Milwaukee shut down his pumps for 24 hours, hoping to start a movement aimed at convincing oil companies to lower their prices.
"Somebody out there is making money at these prices, but not me," said Pollack, 57. "So I just thought: What can I do to help the consumer?" (Watch the finger pointing over soaring gas prices )
Yellow caution tape surrounded Pollack's six idle pumps for his protest, which drew dozens of drivers. One in a green minivan rolled down her window and shouted "Thank you!"
Maria McClory, 38, drove 10 miles out of her way to buy a diet soda from Pollack's station after seeing local television coverage of the protest.
"I just wanted to support them and thank them for making a statement," said McClory, who drives about 100 miles a day for work in her sport utility vehicle.
Other drivers were more skeptical.
Jeff Bensman, 52, pulled in expecting to gas up his Honda sedan. He said he appreciated the protest but did not think it would make much difference.
"Most other places are going to be open in the area," he said.
Jack Sobczak, general sales manager for Lakeside Oil Co., a contracted Mobil distributor that supplies Pollack's station, said Bensman was probably right: "The demand will just move down the street to the next Mobil station."
Pollack and station general manager John Schwartz agreed to experiment with a pump shutdown after an Internet-based push for a one-day gas boycott went largely unheeded last week.
"Somebody's got to be the first to try this," Schwartz said.
The Mequon station sells about 3,500 gallons of gas a day, Pollack said. He estimated the station would lose only $1,500 on the protest because some losses in gas would be made up by people buying convenience store items or more gas on Friday.
Pollack, who also owns a Milwaukee title insurance agency, said he bought the gas station in 2003 as an investment but he has not turned a profit in 30 months because gas margins are razor thin and he cannot sell enough volume to compensate.
Pollack said he has virtually no control over the price he charges for gas. The company usually makes 8 to 12 cents per gallon after suppliers' prices and credit card fees. On Wednesday -- the day before the protest -- that added up to $3.49 for a gallon of unleaded gas. (Watch what you can do to save at the pump)
Schwartz called that "outrageous" and said even he can't fill up his SUV at that price.
"If it keeps going like this, my kids will never be able to afford to drive," said Schwartz, who has an 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
The protest came as several Wisconsin service stations announced they would no longer sell gas because they make little or no profit on it after they pay wholesalers, credit card fees and taxes. They said they would focus on auto repairs instead.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Stupidest. protest. ever.
Do these people read? Do they truly understand the size of the monster problem they are trying to address here? One woman drives 10 miles out of her way to support the protest. Another SUV-driver laments that his children will never be able to drive at these prices. This dude buys a gas station as an investment? Does he not understand the fundamentals of what is going on?
These people can't fathom that they are as much a part of the problem as the oil companies themselves. The oil companies are only providing a service that our entire society wants...no...needs. Irrational addicts of a magical elixir.
Let me rephrase all of that. These people can't fathom that they are the source of the problem. We all are. We have allowed our dependence on oil and gas to become so deep, so precarious, so fundamental, that backing off would damage us more than to simply suck it up and pay the piper until we can't afford it any longer. Then everything falls apart. We've all agreed to let it happen. We've all agreed to become dependent on this infrastructure for everything we need to survive. We all know that we've been paying way less for this than we should have been for a very long time. We all knew this day of reckoning was going to come (...if we did our homework on the fundamentals, once again). We've lived so far beyond our means for so long it has become the norm, and now everyone's feeling the pinch, becoming inconvenienced, and now looking for a scapegoat.
Gob, we're so stupid on so many levels. This is only the beginning.
Aging baby boomers dominate the work force. They believe rules should be obeyed - unless the rules are contrary to what they want. And they tend to equate hard work with long hours at the office, according to a report released yesterday. Little wonder, then, that about half of Canada's younger workers find the boomers a pain to work with, according to a survey of more than 2,100 employees conducted by the online jobsite Monster.ca. “They [Gen-Xers] entered the job market in the wake of the boomers, only to be confronted with new terms like downsizing … as the economy plunged into recession,” the Monster report said. “Gen-Xers scorn the hard-core, super-motivated, do-or-die boomer work ethic. They're not slackers; they just value control of their time, flexibility, and freedom.” It now appears that many boomers, many of whom have risen to supervisory and managerial ranks, have no immediate plans of relinquishing that control, given that mandatory retirement has been abolished in most jurisdictions. “This likely means that the boomers will be sticking around the workplace a lot longer, especially in supervisory and management roles, creating a glass ceiling of sorts for Gen-Xers,” the report said. “As a result, the frustration and resentment from which Gen-Xers suffer can easily be directed toward the boomers, and tensions in the workplace ensue.”
The boomers' idea of what constitutes a strong work ethic also clashes with younger generations, who do not buy into the concept that you are only working hard if you are seen putting in long hours at the office, according to the survey. It found that younger generations of employees place a greater value on work-life balance and believe their performance should be judged on results - not time spent. The oldest employees, born prior to 1945, report relatively few difficulties working with boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), while Gen-Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and Gen-Ys (born after 1980) experience the most difficulty. “The chronic labour shortage and the phasing out of mandatory retirement in much of the country has many aging boomers working well into their golden years alongside recent college and university graduates,” Gabriel Bouchard, vp and gm of Monster Canada, said in releasing the survey results. “As diverse generations cross paths on the job, we sometimes see a clash of attitudes, ethics, values and behaviours that can result in misunderstandings and potential conflict. With a multigenerational work force a reality, employers must develop a generational strategy.”
(Globe and Mail 070525)
Any wonder why the question of lack of succession planning and knowledge transfer continues? I don't believe Boomers are individually malicious and greedy, but collectively they stubbornly hold on to the beliefs in their manifest destiny of grandiose entitlements and luxurious golden years, no matter the cost to later generations, the economy, the planet. Their demographic consequence shines directly in their faces, yet doesn't change a thing. I'm sure the loss of mandatory retirement frustrates many of them, but also many capable Gen-Xers that are ready to assume the leadership roles. Unfortunately sheer numbers indicate that to retain any semblance of status quo requires that the Boomers will be holding onto the reins for quite some time yet. But then, status quo must go whether the Boomers like it or not, right?
24 May 2007
Kucera honours mentor during Alpine team bike trek from Lake Louise to Whistler
By ERIC FRANCIS, CALGARY SUN
The road to Whistler will be a long one for every member of the Canadian Alpine Ski team.
To prove the point, they're about to bike it.
As part of a team-bonding/training exercise that also serves as a symbolic journey to the site of the 2010 Olympics, 20 members of the squad will depart Lake Louise this morning for a 10-day, 1,000-km ride to the west coast winter playground.
This following a banner season in which the team won 13 medals and returned Canada to a serious threat on the World Cup circuit.
And while several skiers admit the exercise will be a gruelling test of strength and will, Calgary's John Kucera sees it more as a tribute to his fallen friend, mentor and coach, Jason Lapierre.
"He's going to be rolling with me on this one," smiled Kucera yesterday at COP, where he and his teammates launched their Summerstart Tour of Champions.
"He's a huge part of my life, he's my mentor in the sport and life basically and he's one of my best friends so I think about him a lot. He's the one who actually got me into road biking -- it was his passion -- so it's going to be cool to do this ride."
Lapierre was killed last July while cycling along Hwy 1A outside Cochrane where the 34-year-old was struck by a passing motorist who had suffered a stroke and veered into him. Months earlier Kucera leaned heavily on Lapierre, his former coach at the Calgary Alpine Racing Club, to help rebound from a disappointing showing at the Turin Olympics. Despite missing some of a training camp in Chile to give the eulogy and a nine-minute slide presentation at 'Lapp's' memorial at COP, the Bishop Carroll grad built on his pal's inspiration and guidance to rebound with a breakthrough season on the World Cup circuit. Dedicating his first career win to Lapierre -- a stunning, season-opening win at Lake Louise -- Kucera went on to help the team post its best season in history.
"He's a big part in everything that's happened in my career," said Kucera, 22, whose bike features a sticker with Lapierre's name on it and a front tire formerly used by the longtime coach. He'll also wear an outfit given to him by J-Force Triathlon team, made up of friends honouring Lapierre.
"We did a ride from Jasper to Banff a few years ago with my old club and we spent a chunk of it riding together. I'm sure I'll have some thoughts of him throughout the ride. It'll be emotional on that front, I'm sure, but it'll be good."
Along the way the ski squad will make stops for several community fundraisers including a barbeque and soccer game with the Jasper ski club.
"At first, I was really excited, then I got nervous, then I drove it and got really, really nervous," laughed women's team veteran Emily Brydon.
"It's symbolic because we're taking the road to Whistler but it's more about the dynamics within the team and helping one another work together as a group."
A somewhat surprising member of the road crew is Canmore's Allison Forsyth, who was given medical clearance last week to resume skiing following four knee surgeries stemming from a crash in Turin.
"Don't tell anyone because I have a reputation to uphold but I'm looking forward to the ride," laughed Forsyth, 28, who plans on skiing through 2010.
"It's a life experience and an opportunity to come together as a group. We will be the No. 1 alpine nation in Vancouver and to do that we need to be ridiculously fit."
No one knew that better than Lapierre and his proud student, Kucera.
Good luck, guys. You have a very strong spirit travelling with you.
As the energy sector booms in Western Canada, workers in the oil and gas sector are commanding 80% more in wages than the average Canadian employee, a gap that has widened by more than 20% in the past decade, a new study shows. Statistics Canada reported yesterday that total employment in all oil and gas industries was roughly 298,000 in 2006, a 22% increase from 1997, slightly faster than the average of 20% for the economy as a whole. In the "upstream" component of the sector, which covers oil and gas exploration, extraction and production, employment increased at three times that pace, or about 65%, from 107,000 to roughly 177,000, the study added. Three-quarters of the jobs were in Alberta, with its vast oil and gas reserves, the report said. "The impact on wages was pronounced," Statistics Canada said. While in 1997 employees in oil and gas extraction earned 58% more per hour than the average worker, by 2006 this gap had widened to 80%. It cited workers in oil and gas extraction, who earned about $30.36 an hour in 2006 compared with $16.73 for the labour market as a whole, as an example.
But while the wages might sound attractive, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, which operates the Web site www.careersinoilandgas.com together with Human Resources Development Canada, warns the sector is not for everyone. "The oil field service sector can be a rewarding but demanding career," the association says. "Long hours and time away from home are commonplace in any of the oilfield service jobs. Above average pay, beautiful outdoor scenery and challenging work with the newest of high-tech equipment makes up for the downside, and for the right individual can provide a very rewarding career." Last year, the contribution of the oil and gas sector to Canada's gross domestic product exceeded $40-billion. Between 1997 and 2005, crude oil production rose 21%, from just under 112.7 million cubic metres, with a value of $15.9B, to 136.2 million cubic metres, with a value of $45.2B, the study said. Natural gas production increased about 8% in terms of volume, but because of higher prices, the value rose by more than 312%, it added. Canada is currently the world's eighth-largest producer of crude oil, pumping out about 2.5 million barrels a day, Statistics Canada said, adding that current world demand is about 84 million barrels, while production stands at about 86 million barrels.
(National Post 070524)
The oil company field workers and oilfield service workers should get paid 80% more than everyone else. Have you ever worked in this industry before? It is some of the dirtiest, shittiest, dangerous, physically demanding, life shortening crap a person could ever do. All of that on top of never being home and staying awake and/or travelling for hours and hours on end. Most people can only stand working in this environment for only a few years before they burn out and long to return to civilization and a 'normal' life (because remote oil production work is about as abnormal a human being can get). It might be a bit more tolerable on a Caribbean island, for instance, but Northern Alberta in the dead of winter? No thanks. Been there, done that.
You get paid lots because it is dangerous and shitty with a short career expectancy. It is expected that most get in, make their money and then get out. If someone in the East is complaining about wage disparities, they're more than welcome to come and work in the industry. For most jobs and locations, it sucks. It really sucks. End of story. That's why there's money to be made.
Oh yeah, and truthfully, those supply and demand numbers? Flip them around for the true number, and that will also explain to you partially why gas is now at $1.20/liter.
Via Rail is taking part in a feasibility study for a bullet train between Calgary and Edmonton but expects funding will have to come from the Alberta government, the federal Crown corporation's top executive said Wednesday. Via Rail brought its 30 years of expertise to the feasiblity study, and nothing more, president and ceo Paul Cote said. “This is not a Via Rail decision,” he said, about the project. “But we don't want to disassociate ourselves from development of research and design of this project.” Cote said the provincial government would likely take the lead on building a bullet train between the two cities. Van Horne Institute president Peter Wallis praised Via for its contribution to Alberta's bullet train concept. "The work of the Via team on the study was first class, professional and informative," Wallis said. "We're looking forward to the Alberta government's study of its feasibility." In the meantime, Via is discussing options for the passenger service in Eastern Canada with Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon. “We are looking at different scenarios, and are encouraged there is a dialogue.” Cote would not divulge details of the discussions, which focused on the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, but said Via Rail would act accordingly once the minister went public with the government's plans for the passenger service.
In the West, Via Rail would enjoy resuming the spectacular Rocky Mountain run, but haven't been successful negotiating track usage with CP. “Since we stopped servicing Calgary in 1990, we've always made it clear that if there was a possibility for us to come back here and offer to Calgary through Lake Louise to Vancouver, we'd like to do that,” he said. However, CP has argued that car and bus travel on improved highways through the mountains have made such an option obsolete. “We don't see that it would be a viable service,” CP spokesman Mark Seland said, adding the company hasn't been approached by Via Rail in two years. Via Canadian passenger trains haven't operated on the CP route since the early 1970s, Seland said.
(Canadian Press 070523, Edmonton Sun 070524)
What the hell? Are all of these people insane? The provincial government refuses to dole out any cash for expansion of Edmonton and Calgary rapid/public transit, including the LRT lines; we haven't had passenger rail in Calgary for 20 years; the two cities are completely car-centric so if you even did take the train from city center to city center, you would still need to jump in a car somewhere; and they're still salivating over this high-speed rail white elephant between the two cities? It's fricking ludicrous.
Letter to the editor in the Globe & Mail:
The little engine that should
Letter -- A writer responds to yesterday's Globe and Mail article on luxury rail travel in the Rocky Mountains. She agrees that if you're looking for the ultimate in opulent travel, hop on the Rocky Mountaineer or the Royal Canadian Pacific. But if you're an ordinary person wanting to take a train from Calgary to Banff or Vancouver, forget it: Brian Mulroney's government removed passenger train service from Calgary. The writer lives in Banff, and suggests many of the town's traffic, congestion and emission problems could be solved by resuming passenger train service from Calgary. Why does the federal government expect citizens to do so much of the work to reduce emissions when intelligent policies such as reintroducing passenger service along the Calgary/Vancouver corridor could make a significant and sustainable difference?
(Globe and Mail 070524)
And then they ask CP about passenger rail to Vancouver? That's like asking a chicken about how he feels about a duck. They're using the same corridor, but in two different businesses. I would have thought CP would be a bit more appreciative of this from a environmental perspective -- but it's probably too intrusive on the fluidity of the scheduled rail service. What about the airlines? I've bitched for years that we need an alternative to the airlines to get the hell out of this burg when we need to. I would gladly foresake an extra week of vacation time if I could travel to Eastern Canada without having to deal with those bastard airlines. I think there are many others that would also say this, but truth be told, the market in Alberta is probably still too small to make any of this viable in the long run. They could maybe make a go of it though as the editorial responder said above....if they marketed the resumed service properly.
Now a bullet train between Calgary and Vancouver....that's something I could get behind. Screw Edmonton! Let's blow us up some mountains!
Alas, my only advice right now? Via Rail should run, run as fast as possible, away from any association with this bullet train project.
Daryl Cagle: Today I took a cartoon that I drew back in 2005, when everyone was screaming about gas prices over two dollars a gallon, and I changed the "2" to a "3."
Voila! An entirely new cartoon, updated for our times.
Sometimes the big oil companies make it too easy.
Boy, that's an easy one for the illustrators. I think the comparative analysis is funnier than the cartoon itself!
If you ever needed any further evidence as to the true immensity of Canada, here it is:
Calgary, May 24: current temp 0°C, 5cm of snow on the ground. Forecasted high today, 4°C with rain.
Toronto, May 24: current temp 22°C, smog advisory. Forecasted high today, 31°C with killer smog.
The entire western half of the country is cold and dour (with the exception of the coast, as always, of course). The eastern half is basking in heat and sun.
And you wonder why sometimes we don't get along?
Another consideration of the relative isolation of Western Canada from the rest of the world - you can drive 8 hours in any direction of Calgary and the only other population centre over a half million you will pass through is Edmonton. Scary, isn't it? You would need to drive 10 hours west to get to Vancouver or 12 hours east to get to Winnipeg. The Canadian Prairies are huge. The closest American city over a half million would be Seattle. I don't think you hit a city over a half million in population if you drive south until you hit Salt Lake City (1475km) or Denver (1850km)!
23 May 2007
Derrick Jensen on Saving the Planet
“We need the industrial economy to stop.”
by Zoe Blunt / May 21st, 2007
In his most recent book Endgame: The Problem of Civilization, deep ecology author Derrick Jensen compares western civilization to an abusive family, where violence is a constant threat and the victims feel helpless and dependent on the abuser. He urges his readers to bring down this culture by any means necessary. His ideas are controversial, and Jensen confesses he gets “hate mail from pacifists.” I spoke by phone with Jensen in Crescent City, California in April.
Zoe Blunt: Your book Endgame has been getting a lot of attention. You write that “civilization and the civilized continue to create a world of wounds.”
Derrick Jensen: Yeah, where do you want to start? Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. The passenger pigeons are gone. The great auks are gone. The oceans are being murdered. There’s dioxin in every mother’s breast milk. Indigenous people have been dispossessed, had their land stolen and forced to enter this economy, forced to enter this system. People all around the world have been enslaved. So, what wounds would you like to talk about?
Lets talk about — Mary Daly said there’s only one religion in the world, which is patriarchy. Robin Morgan wrote about something she calls “the democracy of fear,” which is that everywhere in the world, any woman could be walking alone at night and if she hears footsteps behind her she has reason to be afraid. So there’s a huge wound right there.
We could talk about the wage economy. We could talk about the fact that there are more slaves on the planet right now than came across on the middle passage, using a tight definition of slavery. That’s not even including wage slaves or anything else.
ZB: You’ve been getting a lot of response to your book, and not all of it positive. Why is it so difficult for some people to contemplate the end of civilization?
DJ: I think that one of the reasons is we identify more closely with being civilized beings than we do with being animals who need habitat. Another way to talk about that is if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them.
Like any good abusive system, this system has made us dependent upon it. And another important thing about the whole question of abuse is that one of the things that happens within any abusive dynamic, and that’s true whether we’re talking about an abusive family or an abusive culture, is that everything — and I mean everything — in this dynamic is set up to protect the abuser. And so every member of an abusive family comes to identify more closely with the abuser’s feelings than they do their own.
If you look at all the “solutions” proposed for global warming — anywhere, all of them — what do they take as a given? They take as a given industrial capitalism. That’s the baseline. The baseline is not the real world, the physical world, which must be the baseline for all of our decisions because without a world, we don’t have anything.
Most of the complaints about Endgame, and most of the hate mail I’ve gotten about Endgame, frankly, has not come from people who think that civilization will go on forever. Most of it’s come from pacifists and lifestyle activists, and one of the jokes I’ve started making is that I should write a version of Endgame called “Endgame for Pacifists,” which would be a thousand blank pages with one in the middle that says “sometimes it’s okay to fight back.” Because it’s the only thing they’re hearing in the entire book, or the only thing they’re reading in the entire book. All the other analysis goes by the wayside. They see that, it triggers them, and they can’t think about anything. And I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail from both pacifists and also from lifestyle activists who get very upset when I suggest they have to do more than just live simply.
ZB: You’ve written about hope in regard to reforming civilization, and you said hope is harmful …
DJ: I don’t want to reform civilization, by the way.
ZB: No. So you’re saying hope is harmful, when it comes to our goals.
DJ: Okay, let’s back up a second. What are our goals? What are your goals? What do you want?
ZB: You’ve talked about — and I agree with this — a world where every year there are more salmon, where there is more old-growth forest, where there are more spotted owls, for example. We’re about to lose the last of our spotted owls in Canada. If we want to stop that, what do we do?
DJ: Okay, that’s great. The first thing we have to do is figure out what we want. And the next thing we have to do, I think, is figure out what it takes for those creatures to survive. And it’s pretty fundamental. I mean, what they need is habitat. Okay, end of conversation, talk to you later!
What do salmon need? They need for dams to be removed. They need for industrial logging to stop. They need for industrial fishing to stop. (I’m not saying they need for fishing to stop; they need for industrial fishing to stop.) They need for industrial agriculture to stop, because of runoff. They need for global warming to stop, which means they need for the industrial economy to stop. They need for the oceans not to be murdered. And each of those is pretty straightforward.
The problem is that so often, when people say, “What will it take for salmon to survive?” what they mean is, “What will it take for salmon to survive, given that we’re not going to remove dams, we’re not going to stop industrial logging, we’re not going to stop industrial fishing?” It’s the same. What do spotted owls need to survive, given that we’re going to allow all of their habitat to be clearcut?
It’s like, once again, what is primary and what is secondary? And what’s always considered primary is this culture and this culture’s exploitation.
And now, at long last, to your question of hope. One of the things we need to do first is — there’s false hope. I think it needs to be eradicated. False hope is one of the things that binds us to unlivable situations. That’s one of the reasons why, like I mentioned earlier, that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational best interest to not resist [the Nazis]. There’s a false hope that if they just go along, they won’t get killed. And my mother — one of the reasons she stayed with my father is because of the false hope that he would change.
And what are the false hopes that bind us to this system? I mean, does anyone really think that Mac-Blo is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone think that Monsanto is going to stop Monsanto-ing because we ask nicely? Oh, if we could just get a Democrat in the White House, things would be okay!
I was bashing hope at a talk I did a couple years ago, and someone in the audience interrupted to shout out, “What is your definition of hope?” I didn’t have one, so I asked them to define it. And the definition they came up with was that hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.
But I’m not interested in hope. I’m interested in agency. I’m interested in us finding what we love, and figuring out what it will take to defend our beloved, and doing it.
ZB: Do you have any new books in the works?
DJ: Oh, my gosh. Okay, so Endgame came out about a year ago. I’ve got another book coming out in a month or so, which is an anti-zoo book. It’s written with Karen Tweedy Holmes, the photographer, and that’s coming out through [publisher] No Voice Unheard. Then I have a book coming out next January from Seven Stories [Press], called As the World Burns: Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial. That’s a graphic novel done with Stephanie McMillan, who does the wonderful cartoon “Minimum Security.”
And right now I’m writing a book about shit — whoops, I’m writing a book about feces, and how this culture has taken something that used to be a tremendous gift to the landbase and turned it into something poisonous. And how, in a sustainable culture, all of the products are helpful to the land. There’s no such thing as waste. And how, when I defecate, somebody else — slugs or flies or the soil itself — eats it. And this culture produces wastes that are not useful, but in fact harmful.
ZB: That’s a lot of work that’s going to be coming in the future.
DJ: Yeah. You know, I’m actually thinking that I’m really tired. And it’s not just because I’ve been touring so much. I think I might take a couple months off this summer. Because for one, I’ve been really sick the last couple of years. And also, I’ve written thirteen books, I think, in the last six years. I remember I was thinking, “When I finish Endgame, I’m going to take a break.” I finished it in November of whatever year that was, and then in December I wrote that anti-zoo book, and then the next year I wrote those two novels. And it just goes on.
I haven’t taken a break in years. And you know, I go back and forth because things are so, so desperate. And I just — I can’t stop. There’s a couple reasons I can’t stop. One is because things are so desperate and they’re getting worse every day. And another reason is because I’m so in love. I’m in love with [the land] and that’s what you do. If you love someone and they’re being hurt, they’re being killed, you do what you can. You don’t rest.
And then, also, I’m very aware of my own mortality. I don’t want to die with eight books still in me. You know? I don’t want to die and look back at the very last second and say, “I wish I could’ve done more. I wish I could’ve done this much more to help the salmon. I wish I could’ve done this much more to help the redwood trees.”
When I die, I want to be spent. I want to feel like — You know there’s some days when you work really, really hard, and then you go to sleep and you are so, so ready to go to sleep? That’s how I want to die. It’s like, you know what? I’m done. There’s nothing else I can do.
Zoe Blunt is an Earth First! contact in western Canada. She also writes for Guerrilla News Network and Lowbagger. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The reference to western society as an abusive family was what I found very interesting in Jensen's interview. He's pretty off the wall on some things. It's not like we're going to un-dam a river to save the salmon. It's just not going to happen. He's passionate, and he's got the effects right, but he is off on the cause. The problem is not capitalism or patriarchy. We have always had repressive, wasteful and exploitative societies...always!
The problem is scale. There are simply too many people. When there were fewer, being repressive, wasteful and exploitative didn’t endanger life on the planet. And now it is here, whether we want to deal with it or not.
Radiation-hungry fungi could clean up waste
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 | 2:15 PM ET
Scientists have found some fungi can turn radiation into an energy source for spurring growth, a discovery that could prove useful in cleaning up radioactive sites or provide a food source on future space missions.
Fungi have been long known to feast on a menu that other life forms would consider indigestible: plastic, asbestos and cardboard, to name a few. Fungi have also been known to consume radioactive material, a dietary ability found in bacteria such as Deinococcus radiodurans.
But the ability of fungi to break down the radiation and convert it into energy is a previously undiscovered trait.
Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University also connected the ability to convert radiation to the amount of melanin present in fungi.
Melanin is a dark pigment also found in human skin that helps protect us from the sun's ultraviolet rays.
"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum — ionizing radiation — to benefit the fungi containing it," said Ekaterina Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology and immunology at Einstein and the lead author of a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLoS One.
Senior author Arturo Casadevall said he began the study five years ago when he read on the web that a robot sent into the Chornobyl power plant in Ukraine after the 1986 meltdown had returned with samples of black, melanin-rich fungi growing on the reactor's walls.
The researchers exposed several types of fungi to radiation from the decay of cesium-137, an isotope of cesium created as a byproduct of the nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium.
Two types of fungi — one of which was induced to create melanin and another where the pigment occurred naturally — both grew significantly faster when exposed to radiation levels 500 times higher than those we are normally exposed to on Earth. Fungal strains without melanin did not grow any faster when exposed to radiation.
The researchers said fungi that convert radiation could be useful for nuclear cleanups or in outer space, where ionizing radiation is more prevalent.
"Astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets," said Dadachova.
Just think of all the possible missed opportunities there might be as we continue to destroy the biodiversity of the planet with our unimpeded growth and polluting ways. A cure for AIDS, a plastic-degrading bacteria, a new superior building material or plentiful energy source that could be lost forever as we destroy or pollute the biosphere and warm the planet up. Scary and lamentable at the same time.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Wednesday, May 16, 2007, at 12:46 PM ET
The discovery of the carcass of Jerry Falwell on the floor of an obscure office in Virginia has almost zero significance, except perhaps for two categories of the species labeled "credulous idiot." The first such category consists of those who expected Falwell (and themselves) to be bodily raptured out of the biosphere and assumed into the heavens, leaving pilotless planes and driverless trucks and taxis to crash with their innocent victims as collateral damage. This group is so stupid and uncultured that it may perhaps be forgiven. It is so far "left behind" that almost its only pleasure is to gloat at the idea of others being abandoned in the same condition.
The second such category is of slightly more importance, because it consists of the editors, producers, publicists, and a host of other media riffraff who allowed Falwell to prove, almost every week, that there is no vileness that cannot be freely uttered by a man whose name is prefaced with the word Reverend. Try this: Call a TV station and tell them that you know the Antichrist is already on earth and is an adult Jewish male. See how far you get. Then try the same thing and add that you are the Rev. Jim-Bob Vermin. "Why, Reverend, come right on the show!" What a fool Don Imus was. If he had paid the paltry few bucks to make himself a certified clergyman, he could be jeering and sneering to the present hour.
Falwell went much further than his mad 1999 assertion about the Jewish Antichrist. In the time immediately following the assault by religious fascism on American civil society in September 2001, he used his regular indulgence on the airwaves to commit treason. Entirely exculpating the suicide-murderers, he asserted that their acts were a divine punishment of the United States. Again, I ask you to imagine how such a person would be treated if he were not supposedly a man of faith.
One of his associates, Bailey Smith, once opined that "God does not hear the prayers of a Jew." This is one of the few anti-Semitic remarks ever made that has a basis in fact, since God does not exist and does not attend to any prayers, but Smith was not quite making that point. Along with his friend Pat Robertson, who believes in secret Jewish control of the world of finance, and Billy Graham, who boasted to Richard Nixon that the Jews had never guessed what he truly thought of them, Falwell kept alive the dirty innuendo about Jews that so many believing Christians seem to need. This would be bad enough in itself, and an additional reason to deplore the free ride he was given on television, if his trade-off had not been even worse.
Seeking to deflect the charge of anti-Jewish prejudice, Falwell adopted the cause of the most thuggish and demented Israeli settlers, proclaiming that their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was a holy matter and hoping that they might help to bring on Armageddon and the return of the Messiah. A detail in this ghastly narrative, as adepts of the "Left Behind" series will know, is that the return of the risen Christ will require the mass slaughter or mass conversion of all Jews. This consideration did not prevent Menachem Begin from awarding Falwell the Jabotinsky Centennial Medal in 1980 and has not inhibited other Israeli extremists from embracing him and his co-thinkers ever since. All bigots and frauds are brothers under the skin. Trying to interrupt the fiesta of piety on national television on the night of Falwell's death, I found myself waiting while Ralph Reed went all moist about the role of the departed in empowering "people of faith." Here was the hypocritical casino-based Christian who sought and received the kosher stamp from Jack Abramoff. Perfect.
Like many fanatical preachers, Falwell was especially disgusting in exuding an almost sexless personality while railing from dawn to dusk about the sex lives of others. His obsession with homosexuality was on a par with his lip-smacking evocations of hellfire. From his wobbly base of opportunist fund raising and degree-mill money-spinning in Lynchburg, Va., he set out to puddle his sausage-sized fingers into the intimate arrangements of people who had done no harm. Men of this type, if they cannot persuade enough foolish people to part with their savings, usually end up raving on the street and waving placards about the coming day of judgment. But Falwell, improving on the other Chaucerian frauds from Oral Roberts to Jim Bakker to Ted Haggard, not only had a TV show of his own but was also regularly invited onto mainstream ones.
The evil that he did will live after him. This is not just because of the wickedness that he actually preached, but because of the hole that he made in the "wall of separation" that ought to divide religion from politics. In his dingy racist past, Falwell attacked those churchmen who mixed the two worlds of faith and politics and called for civil rights. Then he realized that two could play at this game and learned to play it himself. Then he won the Republican Party over to the idea of religious voters and faith-based fund raising. And now, by example at least, he has inspired emulation in many Democrats and liberals who would like to borrow the formula. His place on the cable shows will be amply filled by Al Sharpton: another person who can get away with anything under the rubric of Reverend. It's a shame that there is no hell for Falwell to go to, and it's extraordinary that not even such a scandalous career is enough to shake our dumb addiction to the "faith-based."
Great eulogy by Mr. Hitchens. Here are some quotable quotes by the man himself:
"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for [the attacks of Sept. 11] because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."
"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."
"I listen to feminists and all these radical gals -- most of them are failures. They've blown it. Some of them have been married, but they married some Casper Milquetoast who asked permission to go to the bathroom. These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men -- that's their problem."
"When you have a godly husband, a godly wife, children who respect their parents and who are loved by their parents, who provide for those children their physical and spiritual and material needs, lovingly, you have the ideal unit."
"The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews."
"I am saying pornography hurts anyone who reads it -- garbage in, garbage out."
"I am such a strong admirer and supporter of George W. Bush that if he suggested eliminating the income tax or doubling it, I would vote yes on first blush."
"I believe that global warming is a myth. And so, therefore, I have no conscience problems at all and I'm going to buy a Suburban next time."
"It is God's planet -- and he's taking care of it. And I don't believe that anything we do will raise or lower the temperature one point."
"I truly cannot imagine men with men, women with women, doing what they were not physically created to do, without abnormal stress and misbehavior."
"It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening."
"There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas."
"I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"
"The First Amendment is not without limits."
"Someone must not be afraid to say, 'moral perversion is wrong.' If we do not act now, homosexuals will 'own' America! If you and I do not speak up now, this homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way ... and our nation will pay a terrible price!"
"If he's going to be the counterfeit of Christ, [the Antichrist] has to be Jewish. The only thing we know is he must be male and Jewish."
"The argument that making contraceptives available to young people would prevent teen pregnancies is ridiculous. That's like offering a cookbook as a cure to people who are trying to lose weight."
"The whole global warming thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability."
"You'll be riding along in an automobile. You'll be the driver perhaps. You're a Christian. There'll be several people in the automobile with you, maybe someone who is not a Christian. When the trumpet sounds you and the other born-again believers in that automobile will be instantly caught away -- you will disappear, leaving behind only your clothes and physical things that cannot inherit eternal life. That unsaved person or persons in the automobile will suddenly be startled to find the car suddenly somewhere crashes. ... Other cars on the highway driven by believers will suddenly be out of control and stark pandemonium will occur on ... every highway in the world where Christians are caught away from the drivers wheel." (from Falwell's pamphlet "Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Christ")
"God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."
"You know when I see somebody burning the flag, I'm a Baptist preacher I'm not a Mennonite, I feel it's my obligation to whip him. In the name of the Lord, of course. I feel it's my obligation to whip him, and if I can't do it then I look up some of my athletes to help me. But, as long as at 72 I can handle most of the jobs I do it myself, and I don't think it's un-spiritual. When I, when I, when I hear somebody talking about our military and ridiculing and saying terrible things about our President, I'm thinking you know just a little bit of that and I believe the Lord would forgive me if I popped him."
"The Bible is the inerrant ... word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etcetera."
"The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the National Order of Witches."
"God doesn't listen to Jews."
"Tinky Winky is gay."
It might be the end of the world's most phallically sad SUV. But has the damage been done?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The late Rev. Jerry Falwell? He was exactly like a Hummer H2. Oh yes he was. Bloated, arrogant, offensive to millions and deeply wrong in a thousand ways and yet blindly worshipped by a shockingly large and happily uninformed throng of devout minions for no other reason than he was, well, bloated, arrogant and wrong.
Is that too harsh? Lacking in prudent subtlety? I'm completely OK with that.
See, it is time for much rejoicing. It is time for an upraising of hands and a hallelujah and a praise be to the heavens despite how, of course, the heavens don't really exist.
No, not for the death of Falwell, for that would be pointless and in poor taste and besides, the ever-acerbic Christopher Hitchens did it much better over at Slate. And as I pointed out last week, Falwell's own collection of (in)famous quotes do a far better job of revealing the man's true nature and worth to humanity than any sort of carefully articulated, cheerful celebration of his demise ever could.
No, this minor offering of joy is for the imminent and forthcoming death of the Hummer H2 itself. Oh my yes.
See, sales of this particular model -- perhaps the most idiotic consumer vehicle ever produced in your lifetime -- are down. Way down, a full 27 percent from last year alone, which was already way down 22 percent from the year prior, with sales continuing to plummet as fast as gas prices are rising and Bush's war is raging and Americans are generally snapping awake to the fact that dumping well over 100 bucks to fill the tank of this monster abomination every other day might not be the best way to waste their kid's college fund.
Hence, it's heavily rumored that GM will soon kill the model entirely, which is already being supplanted by a slew of smaller, less disgusting H2 offspring like the H3 and the H3 pickup and the H3 whatever-the-hell-else-they-can-think-of to milk this horrible idea until it's deader than Dick Cheney's black soul at a pagan tree festival.
Is this not good news? Is this not a sign that times, at long last, might be changing for the better, even just a little? Wait, don't answer just yet.
First, a flashback. Do you remember the time, that dark and skanky period of bleakness way back in, say, 2003, when gas was (relatively) cheap and Bush's war was still being spun as some sort of righteous, WMD-justified love-in and the dour, global-warming-is-a-liberal-hoax Republicans controlled the sour American universe? It was a time when GM dealers couldn't sell the giant hunk of laughable penis compensation known as the Hummer H2 -- which was nominated that very year for North American Truck of the Year -- fast enough.
GM even went so far as to build ridiculous, theme park-like Hummer dealerships and to contract with special plants in Indiana to crank out America's ugliest, most dangerous, least environmentally friendly monster truck, and celebs and rappers and pro athletes and supermodels and senators and glitz wannabes of every ilk everywhere couldn't waste 50 grand on the horribly built, lunkish hunk of karmic contempt fast enough. Oh what a time it was.
Fast forward to right now. The Republican party is grumbling on the sidelines, kicked to the curb by their own impressive corruption and warmongering and excessive kowtowing to the extreme religious right. America feels slightly more wary, awake, a tad more environmentally aware, slightly more in touch with something resembling its soul. And the H2 -- essentially the emblem of all that is/was wrong with Bush's America -- the bloat, the recklessness, the false machismo and unchecked waste and bigger-is-better senselessness -- might very well end production entirely. Something, at long last, seem to be changing for the better.
Or is it?
See, there's this snag (isn't there always?): Because despite the H2's apparent demise, despite $4 gallons of gas, despite a huge increase in sales of hybrids and the move toward alternative energy and despite all the talk of the "greening" of America, sales of giant SUVs seem to be surging once again, just this year, after many months of slumping sales.
What the hell is going on? Is it because, like Dick Cheney, like Karl Rove, like Jerry Falwell, like reality TV, the dumb-as-lead Hummer H2 has had its nasty, permanent effect? Has the giant SUV now become so mainstream, so deeply tattooed into the pasty, overweight flesh of American culture that it doesn't even really matter that the H2 is on its way out, essentially turning into a sad, silly cultural footnote? Do you already know the answer?
Perhaps it is simply the way of the culture, the evolution of a very bad idea, made slightly more palatable through slick, careful marketing. Today, manufacturers are simply redesigning and rebranding their luxobarges as crossover vehicles, offering slightly improved handling and slightly improved fuel economy and not at all improved emissions and slightly less chance of flaming rollover death at the slightest need for emergency handling at any speed over about 20 mph, and hence many Americans somehow think that buying the newer, sleeker three-ton Chevy Suburban with 23 cup holders instead of the 2005 model with only 14 must be, you know, a healthy improvement.
Or perhaps it's a remnant of the careless Boomer worldview, that all-American, use-it-before-it's-gone attitude that spins on an axis of a truly horrible irony: The more we learn of our desperate environmental straits, the more we learn of dwindling oil reserves and the more we learn that our shiny happy United States might not be the responsible, beneficent global superpower we once dreamed it was, the more we say "screw it" and grab onto the last gasp of pleasurable excess and vice no matter the future repercussions, telling ourselves we might as well enjoy that stupid, chromed-out three-ton GMC Yukon Denali before the oil runs out and the terrorists eat my babies and the damn liberals change the laws and make us all drive Smart cars to the Tofu Hut in order to turn us all gay. Sound familiar?
But no matter how you slice it, the ongoing SUV phenom is, in its way, one of our most fascinating cultural studies, a neat -- if rather depressing -- measure of American attitudes.
The truth is, the comically irresponsible H2 represented and encapsulated its brutal -- though mercifully brief -- time period in Bush's America perfectly. And now perhaps we are simply moving on to the next phase, slightly improved, a tad more aware, but somehow remaining completely unfazed by $120 tanks of gas and ongoing pollution and the rather obvious idea that, despite the slick marketing hype, nothing significant has really changed at all.
Bottom line: You can hope for the big shifts. You can hope for some sort of grand awakening, some sort of removal of the tumor and a relief from the pain of excess waste and abuse and happy ignorance.
But, of course, what you get instead is, well, a nice drive to the megamall in a shiny 2008 Escalade for a couple of aspirin and some compact fluorescent lightbulbs and a copy of "An Inconvenient Truth" on DVD. Ain't that America.
Like we've discussed, like the embodiment of the Hummer H2, the Boomers are consuming in stellar fashion and taking everything they can in a last gasp of entitlement before it's all gone (either that or before they lose access to their supposed entitlements). Come hell or high water, or at the expense of their children, grandchildren, and the generations after, they've decided to pillage far beyond their fair share because they were told it was their destiny. That's why there's a chilling lack of succession planning at corporations, a focus on profit-making schemes over everything else (like intelligent legacy growth), a run on the stock market, and a social net that will run our economies into the ground once the Boomers begin their retirement exit. Take everything out of the house before you burn it down? Pathetic.
22 May 2007
World emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide increased three times faster after 2000 than in the 1990s, putting them at the high end of a range of forecasts by an international climate change panel, scientists reported on Monday. At the same time, a trend toward cutting Earth's energy intensity -- the ratio of how much energy is needed to produce a unit of gross domestic product -- appears to have stalled or even reversed in recent years, the researchers reported. "This paper should be a rallying cry," said Chris Field, a co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Field said the study found that between 2000 and 2004, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions increased by 3.1% a year, about three times as fast as the 1.1% rate of increase in the 1990s. In addition to energy intensity, the speed-up is also due to a rise in how much carbon it takes to make the energy people use. Other factors include growth in world population and individual gross domestic product, the study said. Field noted the scientific consensus that carbon emissions contribute to global climate change. Much of the accelerated carbon dioxide emissions come from China, where a fast-growing economy is powered largely by coal-fired energy. The developing world, including India and China, and some of the least-developed countries accounted for 73% of the growth in global emissions in 2004 and contain about 80% of world population, the study found. By contrast, the study said the world's richest countries contributed about 60% of total emissions in 2004 and account for 77% of cumulative emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The panel has said that global carbon dioxide emissions must fall 50% to 85% by 2050 to stop the Earth from heating up more than two degrees C. Higher temperature rises could prompt more deadly floods, droughts and heat waves.
(Vancouver Sun 070522)
No change will occur until the cheap easy lifestyle is all gone. Then it will all be necessitated hardship and woe. We need to top off the energy shortage considerations by bringing on severe climate change even sooner than planned. Burn it all up, people, time's a wastin'! Overconsumption is the rule of the day! Don't fall behind! Act now!
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | 12:16 PM ET
The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world, and Canada is not immune, say industry experts.
Food prices rose 10 per cent in 2006, "driven mainly by surging prices of corn, wheat and soybean oil in the second part of the year," the International Monetary Fund said in a report.
"Looking ahead, rising demand for biofuels will likely cause the prices of corn and soybean oil to rise further," the authors wrote in the report released last month.
Statistics Canada says consumers in the country paid 3.8 per cent more for food in April 2007, compared to the same month last year.
Jyoti Sahasrabudhe, an independent food industry consultant in Calgary, says consumers would be amazed to learn just how much of their food contains corn.
In a recent trip to the grocery story with CBC News, Sahasrabudhe underlined the point.
"For example, in the sushi in the California rolls, we've got hydrolyzed corn protein. Here we are looking at coiled garlic sausage and I believe we will find some modified cornstarch. It's used as a thickener to bind all the ingredients together," said Sahasrabudhe.
"Corn has so many uses throughout the food chain as feed for animals, as an ingredient on its own. I don't know that a relatively inexpensive substitute for all those functions could be found."
The flip side of course is that corn dependency is offering farmers like Alberta's Brett Stimpson a kernel of hope
"We look at it as a business opportunity … prices are strong. And you know we're just going to give it a try," Stimpson told CBC News.
Canada is not alone in feeling the effects of rising corn prices, which rose to over $4 a bushel earlier this year.
Average U.S. grocery bill up by $47
A study released in May from Iowa State University shows increased prices for ethanol have already led to bigger grocery bills for the average American — an increase of $47 US compared to July 2006.
In the United States, as elsewhere, ethanol is made from corn. But corn is also used to feed chickens, hogs and cattle, which means a rise in prices for meat, eggs and dairy.
In Mexico last year, corn tortillas, a crucial source of calories for 50 million poor people, doubled in price. The increase forced the government to introduce price controls.
In Canada at least, the fallout from increased production in corn-based ethanol is not likely to lessen any time soon. In its March budget, the federal Conservative government committed $2 billion in incentives for ethanol, made from wheat and corn, and biodiesel.
The move is based in part on wide-spread belief that ethanol-blended fuel produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline.
But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.
Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol — whether from corn, beets, wheat or other crops — takes more energy than is derived from the product.
As cheap, high-quality energy is being consumed as quickly as we can get at it, the inevitable result is that all those sources of not-so-cheap to produce, lower quality energy are going to be tapped for what they're worth. So now (once again as in pre-industrial days), our food system is going to be in direct competition with our energy distribution system for the land required to produce both. The cost of both are going to go up. We're only seeing the beginning of this. All of our quests for more energy are going to have much more visible trade-offs with other aspects of our existence, now that the cheap, condensed stuff has been used up.
Our lamentations after the fact are going to be loud and shrill.
21 May 2007
Saturday night was Fetish Night at the Calgary Eagle, where everyone was encouraged to at least wear something dark, if not tight and slinky:
Sunday night was the White Party at Twisted that we waited in line to get into and then got disgusted with the wait and bailed, ending up on 17th Ave. by the end of the night. This really sucked as we were all quite looking forward to getting into the bar. There was not many people going in, nor were there many people standing in the smoking line, so we knew the bar wasn't full by any means, however they were still making the line stand and wait. They also advertised ticket sales at the door. It was raining out (they at least had the decency to throw up some tarps to keep the people in line dry), so we said 'fuck it' and left. We left when the bouncer wasn't there to see us, unfortunately, because I certainly would have said something to the extent of, 'Man, I had all this money to spend in the bar tonight - I guess Twisted isn't going to get any of it. Too bad for them.'
I'm also not sure what the correlation is between long weekends and server cluster problems, but there certainly was no shortage of work calls this weekend either. Nothing wrecks a long weekend faster than being on call, and then actually getting called! Crappy!
18 May 2007
A multibillion-dollar, high-speed rail link between Calgary and Edmonton took a forceful step forward Thursday after Premier Ed Stelmach threw his support behind the idea. "We have to. We have no choice. It will reduce emissions and it's visionary. Now is the time to prepare because we have the options available to purchase land," Stelmach said. "It's part of planning for the future - there's no doubt about it - as the province of Alberta continues to grow and we see more people move to Edmonton, Calgary and, of course, the Highway 2 corridor." Stelmach's comments came in the wake of a report from the Conference Board of Canada calling on the federal and provincial governments to fully investigate the costs and benefits of high-speed rail links for both the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and between Windsor and Quebec City. In April, the province bought land in downtown Calgary and in Edmonton that could serve as train stations and the acquisition of property along the highway. The think-tank's call adds momentum to the concept, which has been discussed for years but is now the subject of a $1-million market assessment study by the Alberta government, due in July. It's the latest in a series of examinations that have indicated the concept has merit. "It's certainly a new voice. There's already a lot of attention on the idea here in Alberta," said Jerry Bellikka, spokesman for Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette, of the report. "You have to look at things on a business case and that's going to involve a lot of factors: whether or not there's a market for it, what the cost would be, if we have the population to support it," Bellikka said, adding the government has no plans beyond its current market study.
While a rail link along the Queen Elizabeth 2 Highway would seem like the most logical right-of-way, Stelmach said the government has also eyed Highway 21, which runs parallel to the QE2 about 50 kilometres to the east. Stelmach said past studies have indicated the train could reduce vehicle traffic by 22%. In Ottawa, an official in Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon's office said the federal government's upcoming infrastructure plan might provide some funding for a feasibility study. A Calgary group, Alberta High-Speed Rail, has floated the idea of a private-public sector joint venture that would see the Alberta government spend $1.6 billion to buy land and build the line, while western Canadian private investors would fund the trains and administration. "What we're proposing to build is a double-track electric line with TGV-style trains doing 300 kilometres an hour and taking 84 minutes to go from downtown Calgary to downtown Edmonton," said High-Speed's president and ceo, Bill Cruickshanks, on Thursday. Estimates of the project's total cost are as high as $5B. The premier said the project would not be solely funded through Alberta taxpayers' dollars, noting an equity partnership with Ottawa - or any other type of deal - isn't out of the question. Municipalities must also work closely together, he said, noting Calgary should be planning for future rail links to communities like Okotoks and Airdrie.
(Calgary Herald 070518)