Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Real Gulf where the Oil really Spills


Yesterday, after reading through an article chronicling how things are going right now on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, I came to a realization. The greatest environmental threat facing humanity right now is not the up to 3.6 million barrels of raw crude sloshing around in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a gulf greater and grander than a hundred Gulfs (Gulves?) of Mexico. It is the Gulf between the opinion of many highly visible and prominent people on what the situation should be and the actual situation on the ground in North America right now with respect to the environment.

The person who wrote the article in question is Thomas Friedman, a man whose sweeping, high level, bullet-point style writing is good enough to give you a lowdown on whatever major international issue is being aired out on the airwaves (and he usually doesn't take too long to address them), and who is worth $25 million, according to wikipedia. If there's a coast this guy should be on, it's the Amalfi, in a villa, not the most battered and bruised one in the Western Hemisphere traipsing around surveying wreckage.

But I'm not here to praise Mr. Friedman's altruism in choosing subjects for his columns nor to comment on his net worth. I'm here because this is a prominent guy, whose columns are syndicated in 110 countries, and who has been browbeating the shit out of me for two plus years about the same thing, regardless their reputed subject in the title. The message is always the same.

We're killing ourselves with petroleum. We're killing the environment. We're guaranteeing the total and utter redundancy of our economy by continuing to depend so heavily on it.

He is the most stark and overt about it. And if you're not familiar with his writing, the basic catch-all premise is that America can defeat terrorism in the Middle East and get its economic testicles back from China by becoming a green energy powerhouse. I'm not so sure that that's going to happen. But he also talked recently about a retired army guy in North Carolina who knows he should persuade his wife to give up her SUV for a bike. That sounds even more unlikely than Mr. Friedman's high-level wish for America's direction.

My point is, after him, you can literally line up the prominent opinion leaders who have dedicated their lives, or at least their public air time, to this subject, hammering the same point home so breathlessly that you wonder if they can ever take the odd column off and talk about, I don't know, kids these days, or the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe, Paul Krugman at the times, George Monbiot at the Guardian, Louis-Gilles Francoeur at the Devoir, Andre Pratte at La Presse, the entire Globe and Star editorial boards, plus a bevy of former world leaders, these guys are all insisting the same thing. Things have to change now or were royally f---ed. This can't go on. We have the ability to change, let's change.

And it mostly stays there, on the opinion pages, on the via satellite news show conversations, and in isolated bubbles of worried conversations between citizens who've heard a thing or two on the subject. Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore may be self-styled eco-warriors who feel validated as crusaders because their own large carbon footprints are mitigated by their advocacy and visibility. But for regular people, meanwhile, nothing has changed.

We are now in the back nine of the 2010 Year of the Awakening of the Collective Consciousness Golf Classic and we have all but guaranteed that we have to Eagle every hole to make up for fifty years of triple bogeys to escape this unscathed. And yet, people continue to use and abuse and demand cheap cars, cheap energy, cheap property, and no taxes. There is still nothing that penalizes a guy for building a 20,000 square foot home that has to be heated and cooled with fossil fuels, and parking five hummers in the driveway. In fact, the stigma that this individual may have felt a year ago is slowly waning and admiration is creeping back in to replace it, providing much needed vanity reinforcement.

But slowly, and not so surely, something is creeping up on a sleepy population with its head in the sand. What is it? Government. The big, bloated, bureaucratic hydras that are the governments of nation states in this world have been talking like the columnists I mentioned for some years now and with increasing unambiguity. Since they cannot count on the goodwill of their citizens to stop, or at least make efforts to reduce, the petroleum poison pills they are knocking back in ever larger volume, they are preparing to hit them over the head with the one hammer that will stun enough to wake them up – their wallet. It has been the ivory tower solution for some time, and the only one that will give us any kind of start, despite having its own detractors from the establishment union left (which has its own vested interests in the status quo) to the hardcore environmentalists which find it too feeble: the carbon tax. Start taxing companies, and individuals, en masse to pollute. To drive cars, have fume belching smokestacks, and consume (yes) all the parts of the cow who innocently create the methane and soil erosion that come with keeping such large numbers of them in an industrial capacity, needs to cost at least double what it does now to make any kind of dent in the destructive havoc we are wreaking.

And what is that going to do? Stir up a lot of predictable angry rhetoric from the new hilarious right wing, all these wannabe "libertarians" who call everything a "tax grab", a "boondoggle" and a "fiasco" or "scandal". People who basically think there's good money and ripe political gain to be made from defending the status quo. Maybe in 1980. Today, not so much. That's why, despite 20,000 articles a day intricately documenting the fall and failure of Barack Obama, the "Just say no" Republicans still can't crack the mid to high twenties in the polls. That's why here in Ontario, barely anybody knows who Tim Hudak is. That's why the Harper government has been hiding all summer, only emerging with bizarre spin and obtuse reasoning that has even their most ardent backers and former strategists shaking their heads in disbelief.

Believe me, this is not a partisan blog, and I could surgically gut Obama, McGuinty or Ignatieff on their gaffes, positions and own serious status quo kowtowing, all. But if people really are "mad as hell" and want to revolt against any initiatives aimed at reducing emissions and fossil fuel consumption that see the light of day, I say let them. Because Reagan was right, in a way. Government is the problem to. Government has been the rubber stamper that gave us industrial agriculture, telecom and media monopolies, and a free pass to developers to kill our prime agricultural land with suburb upon suburb that will become redundant with the demise of petroleum. Not to mention propping up entire industries that exacerbate the problems we will soon be stuck with. So they can get on the ground to quell the shitstorm, and maybe build a more sustainable society with more transit, less waste and garbage, and more restrictions on ostentatious consumption behaviour. This is what red and blue governments alike have been tacitly encouraging for 50 years.

So yes, we may have a thousand Gulfs to cross before the opinion hits the critical mass, and by then it will probably be too late, but my small seed of hope lies in the fact that if these guys so vigourously defending continual unabated expansion and resource consumption really were the real deal, they'd be getting validated with massive majorities. They're not. And even we have a major head sand plunge and they manage to once more, even, it will be the last before nature catches up to them. 2010 is the hottest year on record.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Future of the Book

It has become fashionable lately to openly question the viability of printed and bound books in the years to come and take subtle jabs at their obsolescence. It went from last fall, when a pre-Christmas MSM fascination with the Kindle predicted an all out Hiroshima for the book industry (Almost a year later, it fails to crack 2% of the reading market), to the Globe lamenting yesterday on the front page about U of T looking to close the Literature Studies department founded by Northrop Frye. Also sighted today: an article in Cabinet magazine wondering how, with Google digitizing books at the speed of a swinging pendulum per two pages, anyone could even still take the notion of a reference library seriously. While the technological advancements are no doubt impressive, what amazes me is people's dramatic dismissiveness of "the old way" as soon as some unproven, unused, and usually, impractical revamp on reading is created.

The argument goes like this. People have no attention spans anymore. How do you expect people who follow 160 character tweets and laugh at 2 and a half minute youtube videos to sit down and read...cue disgusted voice...a book. How can Howard's End or Rememberance of Things Past compete with 24 or Modern Warfare? The book was already dying, and our bad taste and low attention span has killed it, so the dwindling demographic who still insist on reading these archaic 35,000 word tracts (*yawn. You lost me at 160 characters) might as well do it on the cool gadgets the rest of us normal folk are glaring at and tapping ferociously on 24-7.

Not really. Why don't you stop talking about flavours of the month and ask people who actually read books? It's not all they do. They can appreciate other mediums too. Take the show Entourage. It's fast and furious, totally current, and relies on vulgarity and one liners to keep you entertained. But it works because there is story. There is plot. There is good dialogue. There is character development. This is what book readers crave and what they don't get out of a lot of popular culture. How many tweets or youtube videos do you actually remember? How interesting do they sound when you describe them? The most popular shows, CSI and 24, consist of watching the same man do the same thing getting to say all the cool lines and beat all the bad guys in every episode. This will bore the crap out of any book reader.

As will, for the most part, staring at a screen, whether it's the latest Hollywood sardine-crammed with clich├ęs whose story you're calling 15 minutes ahead of time (Think Coach Carter ), or blowing the crap out of a bombed out city centre on xbox, or watching David Caruso rip those shades off to deliver yet another sanctimonious one liner. Mass culture, while entertaining, is often devoid of content or substance, and the only way to defeat it is to 1)make good stuff or 2) find classic stuff. And classic stories are often books. Many of the best movies of the past 30 years are based on books. It's a way to get that great story to a greater number of people.

Before a child can read, he or she loves stimulation. Lullabies, peek-a-boo, jolly jumpers and lord knows, TV, everyone's favourite and much-needed babysitter. It doesn't matter what's on, the combination of bright colours and soothing sounds is too much for the infant mind to resist and they are in a trance. The dream-like trance of a good story in a book, one where the author is so masterful that you are immersed in a world that is entirely external to you and you don't think about where you are in the present, is a logical evolution and extension of this inherent desire we have to want to be entertained. Alas, over the past thirty years the collectively diminished attention span, whether it was all or in part due to technology, has led to the infantilization of culture.

But alongside the crap on TV and in theatres, and the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen and Steve-O, literature is not sinking. Literature is soaring. How can the decade that produced Rowling, Brown, Gilbert, Martel, Meyer and Kinsella, capable and gifted writers all, be the same one in which we announce literature's death knell? People are still reading at a voracious pace. What they are reading all has one thing in common - it's a matter of books, on pages, with no pictures, that you have to pay money to get, or be put on the waiting list at your library to rent.

Now that we've established that people are reading, let's take a look at how they're reading these works. Certainly less and less on the antiquated, outdated pages of printed book. No, thanks to Google soon we'll all be diving into that first chapter of Jane Eyre like we never have before: hunched over internet explorer at our desks. Or kicking back with the laptop on the couch on Saturday afternoon to fall asleep a couple hours into The Fountainhead with that hot lithium ion battery breeze blowing pleasantly on your groin area. I've already read The Trial twice, but I don't think I'll have ever truly experienced the pained and stifling aesthetic of its genius until I've squinted at one paragraph of it at a time on a sideways-turned smartphone at the window seat of a bus on a rainy day.

That's what these technology- perpetual erection havers don't get. Reading books takes time. Newspapers, maps, and bank accounts have adapted flawlessly and seamlessly to technology for the better - because they all take relatively little time to consult. A book takes longer, and needs nothing but your time - no upgrades, no repairs, no breakdowns (if it's good enough, you'll keep reading even as it falls apart in your hands) and no maintenance. Cheap, efficient, classy and beautiful to look at. Improves with age, and lasts decades.

If papyrus scrolls lasted in the libraries of Alexandria for thousands of years, how long do you think Google's data banks will last? The physical plastic, silicon, fibre optics and concrete may kick around for awhile but what good is the stuff without humans humming around the premises operating it?

Paper is eminently more practical, and the written word is the most effective way to convey interesting stories or thorough research. And book readers are happy to be sticks in the mud to the analysts, boardrooms and technophiles who have their fingers crossed for the demise of their preferred medium and a world where everyone has A.D.H.D.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Speaking Out - The Burden of the Bourgeois

Holy shit, it's hot. It's so hot that the mainstream media slog heap is really starting to stink. I'm sitting here in my sauna office, my sweaty fingertips sticking to the keyboard, trying to make sense of it all. And I'm a little delirious, so let's see where this one goes.

I know Christie Blatchford is an aging and incendiary provocatrice who doesn't take herself totally seriously, but imagine that the Globe pays her six figures to do what I do here - rant and rave and write bad sentences. And you can always count on her, from her central Toronto pulpit, to seethe about things that really matter to her white, middle aged audience - tamil protestors, native protestors in Caledonia, the Taliban. But kudos to her for saying things that noone else will. It was no big D when she was at the post - its pages are filled with that stuff. But now at the Globe, at the end of her career, she does manage to occasionally shock with her insinuations. So much so, that I'm writing this right now to calm down.

The first five paragraphs were a bla-bla-bla about publication bans in Ontario and the farce of open courts. Right there with you, Christie. Me and you both got a serious set of beefs with the current provincial government, starting with the fact that they're getting extremely lazy and more and more autocratic with public complacency backing them up. But since the trial in question was the first for the "ringleaders" of "violence" in Toronto at the G20, you began the next paragraph by getting personal and lining them up for a broadside. Which brings me to the subject of today's article.

The perpetrators, you said, were all white kids with good teeth. Now, I know you got newspapers to sell and that's why they pay you the big bucks, so I'll forgive you that catchy attention grabber.

Then it goes on.

Some of them are in University. Some of them drive their parents car. Some of their may want to take a deep breath in - have cottages. The cottages may even be in Muskoka. Oh, the humanity, Christy. The sheer humanity of this crazy world we live in.

I'll stand up here in the Royal court of Blatchford. No, I waive my right to an attorney. Oh, it's already waived with a bunch of my other rights, for being a spoiled, insolent young punk. Yes, I am guilty, judge. Guilty on all charges. University educated. Have a driver's licence, have driven my parent's car before. And I've spent many summer weekends in Halliburton, Bancroft, Muskoka, Parry Sound. Barbequing, jumping in lakes. And I was not okay with the G20, or the legal and fiscal fiascos that have resulted from it.

Also, I'm white and I have good teeth (from braces). I've always been able to get work, and I know about good food and exercise, and I read your newspaper. I file tax returns every year, have RRSPs and even a TFSA. My parents did a great job in raising me, and I have experienced no oppression or discrimination against me in my lifetime.

Just to make it clear to you that I'm not here posing as some "activist". And I didn't go near the protests, either.

But I probably would have, if I was there.

The message is very clear from you, and all the columnists at the Globe, and all the columnists at the post, and all the columnists at the Star, and in most of what comes out of Canada's consolidated, monopolized media. The only people who complain are the very people the system benefits - young and middle aged, upper middle class white people. A tiny minority who need to shut up, grow up, join the masses of their fellow countrymen, and start enjoying life like proper, docile adults. That means ponying up for a ridiculously inflated property, leasing two gas guzzling vehicles, spending your nights watching prime time on the 42", seven weeks of your year commuting, and one week on an all-inclusive resort. Just sit back and wait for cheap gas, cheap food and cheap electricity to come to you and complain when it doesn't come. Cheap, that is. Wait till it stops coming at all. Worry about really important things in the meantime like cutting grass and feeding domesticated animals. "Urban elitists" in their "ivory towers" with their "idealistic pipe dreams" want to destroy all this, the greatest society in the greatest country the world has ever produced.

The choice to speak out against all that in a generalized fashion is not out of some desire to be "unique" or "different". It's not to get attention. It's not because it doesn't interest us, although why it interests anybody is beyong my comprehension personally. And although we've been spoiled, sure, I'm the first to admit it, it's got nothing to do with that. The system and its current policies must be spoken out against because its f----ed and we see it. The only objective that anyone can have without shame and focus on is growth. And governments and companies are busy buying up the remaining resources there are to feed into this experiment, really quite demented when you think about it. For me, writing this blog helps me deal with that reality and understand it. Others choose to express their discontent in different ways.

But the problem is, were in the wrong demographic. The light skinned one. We're not Mandela, we're not Gandhi, and we're not Martin Luther King. We're just a bunch of spoiled rehabilitated suburbanites mistaking ourselves for those guys, the revolutionaries, the guys who really took the power back because they were so righteous. Except two of them got killed and one had to wait until he was 71 before they acheived this designation.

My question to the indignant columnists therefore is, if we don't speak up, who will?

I speak up because I am genuinely worried and preoccupied by the ridicule and smear which poisins any public debate now. I speak up because I realize just how devoid of ideas and outdated the red-blue party cabal really is and I think we need to get talking before their obsolescence becomes apparent. And because if another generation gets swindled into thinking they can have all that stuff I mentioned, all over again, the same way, that fuckin' American dream or whatever you want to call it, the consequences will be dire. They already are. This is no longer blog-grainy conspiracy theory documentary territory. It's all over the front page and the business section. And don't believe the ignorance is bliss people who say they never read it cause it's all bad and it's always been bad. Take my word for it, John Lennon would not sound so weary singing "I read the news today, oh boy" today.

But, I don't have a leg to stand on, because I had a petit bourgeois upbringing. I have tasted the fruits of cottages and campuses and bay street and single malt scotch. Leave the advocacy to real poor people who've really been stepped on and really been hungry and really are totally marginalized by the system. How those people are supposed to find the words or the strength to stand up and shout is their problem. Look around the world and around history. The only people who ever made a difference, except for some extremely rare exceptional visionaries, were educated, healthy, borderline establishment people. By and large they're the ones who have had the desire and the energy, the vision, to see where we could be and why where we were was killing us. So stop using class as an argument against us. This is supposed to be a democracy. Sadly, I feel more and more citizens are defaulting into authoritarianism.

Monday, 5 July 2010

We Are All Anarchists

Two quotes from two sources will provide the foundation for today's blog posting.

The first source is Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, which I recently finished, having spent much of the last four days inside it. It is the best piece of non fiction I've read in years and a surgically precise, yet wonderfully entertaining and inventive, stock taking of the wreckage and destruction humanity has wrought on this planet, the Earth, our home, at its own peril. No whining, no crying, no sanctimonious hectoring of the world population from a private jet soapbox about their carbon footprint, just scientific chronicling of human and natural wonders. And their imminent doom, which was probably inevitable anyway, but greatly accelerated thanks to us and our persistent addictions to plastic, petroleum, heavy metals, overfishing, factory farming, monoculture, and nuclear power/weapons with the plutonium and uranium stockpiles that go with them.

It's much more specific and enjoyable than that, but the quote is not about us current inhabitants of Earth. It is about ancient Mayan civilization, which flourished for centuries and suddenly collapsed. This quote is part of the explanation derived from Mr. Weisman's research

"Nobility is expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society's energy to satisfy it's frivolous cravings."

It refers to something that is indeed frivolous, and exotic to our modern, rational eyes. Empires' expansion of agriculture does away with swaths of biodiversity in order to grow staples, to feed expanding populations, to form herculaean slave labour forces, to construct palaces, tombs, and fine clothes, and mine precious minerals and stones, all to feed a deluded and useless king or prince's fantasies of self-aggrandizement.
No wonder the Maya collapsed and were buried under a carpet of Amazon forest over the next 1,500 years, a process that was totally indifferent to them and their accomplishments.

When we try to think of a modern equivalent to such colossal hubris and delusions of grandeur, one thing inevitably comes to mind. A thing which involves spending 1.2 billion dollars to plot the continual maintenance of an economy which is doomed to collapse because of its dependence on resources and its own inability to grow consistently and indefinitely. This involved clearing a civil population from a bustling city, paying police millions in overtime to sit on and intimidate those brave enough to contest, building fake lakes, and achieving no visible benefit or tangible result for anybody. This megalomaniacal romp was nothing more than a pathetic excuse for a closet fascist to show his fascist true colours to the city he can't stand. His government has so carefully cultivated an image of order, stability, and defending the economy (and the status quo) that people overwhelmingly believe them. Canada, drunk from it's own abundant resources, believes it can have the planet and eat it too.

Yet much fallout from the affair has been blamed on the "little people", the "anarchists", the people who dared to attempt to disrupt the Prime Minister's economic sinking ship orgy that he got to be the life of, for their lack of morals, their disrespect, their challenging of the status quo. The nerve of them to ransack businesses and burn police cars. Well, they got the largest mass arrest in Canadian history that thanked them in kind, in particular French speaking ones, while these men were inside plotting our health and well-being. Many of these people may have been anarchists in their political views but did not take part in the aggressive actions of a few, but it doesn't help them. If I read the paper or facebook news, we are not much in the mood these days to tolerate any sort of politics other than the red-blue, pepsi-coke, no substantial difference between the two variety, and all others are universally condemned. Fringe lunatics, everyone who went to the protest or sympathized in the least. The second quote, almost a hundred years old, explains the predictability of the angry uniform reaction in the mainstream media and among status quo individuals:

“The Psychology of Political Violence” (1917)

The ignorant mass looks upon the man who makes a violent protest against our social and economic iniquities as upon a wild beast, a cruel, heartless monster, whose joy it is to destroy life and bathe in blood; or at best, as upon an irresponsible lunatic. Yet nothing is further from the truth. As a matter of fact, those who have studied the character and personality of these men, or who have come in close contact with them, are agreed that it is their super-sensitiveness to the wrong and injustice surrounding them which compels them to pay the toll of our social crimes. The most noted writers and poets, discussing the psychology of political offenders, have paid them the highest tribute. Could anyone assume that these men had advised violence, or even approved of the acts? Certainly not. Theirs was the attitude of the social student, of the man who knows that beyond every violent act there is a vital cause.…

That every act of political violence should nowadays be attributed to Anarchists is not at all surprising. Yet it is a fact known to almost everyone familiar with the Anarchist movement that a great number of acts, for which Anarchists had to suffer, either originated with the capitalist press or were instigated, if not directly perpetrated, by the police.

Maybe Emma Goldman generalized too much in this essay. It's not all pinned squarely on the shoulders of self described and accidental "anarchists". "Socialists" are also thrown in, as well as "the Left", "Libtards", "Leftards" and, if you go a bit further right (where 90% of the MSM sits) "Liberals" is sufficiently pejorative. All of which are "deluded" and "loony" enough to question what's going on. And when the MSM isn't lining up to take shots at opposition to the G20 with these various monikers, it has apologists like Craig Kielburger selectively reading history and saying that Gandhi and MLK are the only path to freedom, equality, and justice. That non-violent, civil disobedience has achieved great things. Yet not only do they ignore liberation from oppression that has been achieved through tenacious armed struggle, such as the(this is for you, right wing detractors) State of Israel's in 1948 from the Arab foes which surrounded it, they also swipe away with the swipe of their pens the thousands of violent acts which underpinned Gandhi and King's movements and gave them their strength.

But this is not about history, about divisive class warfare, about radical anarchist theory. This is about the Earth we live on, the Earth that will punish us for our opulence. It is very hard for North Americans to understand that every car, every TV, every steak, every tank of gas, every all inclusive resort, every case of bottled water, every 7$ half skim mocchacino that we buy, without restrictions, with questioning why, without thinking there's anything wrong with it, and without anyone demanding justification for the action, is an act of pure anarchy. The oceans are filled with a billion tons of plastic that we have produced in the last fifty years - all the plastic we have and continue to produce is on earth, breaking down but never disintegrating, getting eaten by the bottom of the food chain and going up. The oceans, which keep the planet alive, are sick, less and less able to absorb the skyrocketing amounts of carbon dioxide we are propulsing into the atmosphere. But people don't think it's their problem, they want convenience - fast, easy, satisfying, and numbing convenience of tv dinners. We want to fight the planet to give us more, not reward it by asking for less. This is the real anarchy. F--- you Earth, we don'r care about you, we're stuffing you and us and the birds and the bees and fish down this black hole, and never coming back.

I saw a placard in Europe, where the results of an all-entitlement, non productive economies with miniscule birthrates are wreaking havoc on the Southern nations, that said "Les vrai casseurs sont les chefs d'├ętats." "Casser" is to break something, forcefully and decisively. So the real "casseurs" are not the breakers of some storefronts, but the people who insist we each commit as many acts of anarchy as we can, every day. Listen to America the past couple months, telling Germany and Asia, imploring them to get their citizens to consume more, because America's done its share of over-consumption duty. Is this really where we are, as a human race? Consuming our way out of a bloody mess that we caused in the first place. Breaking everything, destroying everything, respecting nothing. Strip mines, open pit mines, urban sprawl, pesticide filled fields, parking lot expressways, oil gushing in the gulf. And a million new humans, every four days. This is ridiculous...this is insanity...this is...this is....this is bloody anarchy.