Sunday, 27 October 2013

Celebrity Conscience Rehab

Russell Brand, the British actor you may remember from "Get him to the Greek" (whose on-screen acting performances are virtually indecipherable from his appearances as his real self on tv, and to this end make me think it is quite generous even designating him "an actor") has become the latest celebrity to embrace progressive activism and take the risk of exposing himself to loud ridicule and accusations of hypocrisy.  He guest-edited a publication called "The new statesman" and said voting was a waste of time, slammed and dismissed capitalism, bankers, and politicians, and pleaded for environmentalism and the need for a new paradigm.  I don't necessary disagree with any of that and don't think I need to write "Shut up, you have lots of money, you're an idiot and a hypocrite" as you can find those comments in the hundreds below any article but I would like to take Mr. Brand to task on one thing.  As a celebrity, just because you have a soapbox, doesn't mean you are required to use it.  And nothing is more lame, more trite, or more already been done than using it to fuck the system and we need a revolution and all this kind of stuff.  The media (well, specifically Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe) latches on to something like this and gets us all apprehensive about youth unemployment and youth voter apathy and tells us this message is really indicative of some new, bold, brave movement that is going to turn everything upside down.  The youth in Western countries today have even less in common with each other than the youth of previous generations that experienced these same type of "collective consciousness mobilization" moments, and Mr Brand himself uses these moments as examples.  I just don't understand how he cannot grasp or understand the complexity of the world as it exists today and instead delivers himself to the same irony of some of the examples he uses.

He cites a time in 1967 when Mick Jagger told a TV host that kids in Britain were "looting and burning" because there was nothing in society, in the workforce, in the government for them and so this type of behaviour wasn't surprising.  It was around the same time that craggy, scrappy voice of the prophet from Minnesota ('65 or '66? But don't quote me on that.) admonished the old fogies and put them on notice that indeed "The times, they are-a-changin'"

Now at the time Messrs. Jagger and Dylan were young, edgy rock stars in their prime, 25 or 26 years old, and I don't intend to diminish anything that either of them accomplished or their originality and cultural significance at that time.  But today these men are around 70.  Bob lives in Malibu, Mick has a spread in Wimbledon and probably others; both are worth upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars.  They both have continued to tour well into their senior years, pocketing millions more each time.  What is my point? That personal interests have this weird way of trumping idealism, and I have no wish to pick a fight with rock and roll gods today other than to use them as an example to show Mr Brand why his wholly unoriginal diatribe is not helpful.

It's why if you read Bono's wikipedia page, you are almost certain to be annoyed with his arrogant lecturing of common people on the plight of Africa.  Again, this criticism is of course not withstanding of his musical accomplishments, but the man is obviously a brilliant capitalist whose network now extends well into Davos and the executive offices of Western nations, so why should you feel like shit because of somebody like that.

Celebrity after celebrity after celebrity falls into this category.  They hate poverty, they hate war, they hate pipelines, they want to send little girls to school in africa, they want peace in Israel and Palestine and why have they had to use their public profile to advance these causes? Because you, joe schmo six pack, are not engaged or committed enough, or else we wouldn't be having these problems.  I actually appreciate nine figure guys like James Hetfield or Keith Richards more who have the discretion to say in an interview "You know, I don't want to talk about that.  Celebrities, politics, the environment - I'm not interested in discussing any of that with you" THANK YOU for not making your position known.

Even the prime minister of Canada, who gets dismissed as a one percenter and an elitist will only get a $256,000 a year pension when he retires.  That rate does effectively make him a one percenter in this country.  But if that makes you outraged which I'm sure it does ask yourself why you feel so much less outraged about Bob Dylan's $180,000,000 fortune (over seven hundred years of a Canadian prime minister's pension). 

I'll tell you the one celebrity fact which actually impressed me in my entire life.  Pope francis, before he became pope, lived in an apartment and took the bus.  You know, like millions of people on earth do every day, millions of people like this who have to endure lecturing and browbeating and guilt tripping by people who live in the Hollywood Hills or their equivalent, possess amounts of money that require several dozen employees to manage, and whether they get around by bugatti, suburban or private jet, sure as fuck don't take the bus.  I don't care how much money you made or continue to make making music or movies or iphones or whatever but just quit with the sanctimony that the millions of ordinary slobs who continue to buy your shit that you put out are somehow scourges that earth needs to get rid of.

There's a nugget of wisdom that I would like to share that I've acquired in the last few years since the time where I used to be quite vulnerable to being manipulated by these celeb consciences.  It's that people gotta live somewhere, and they got to get around somehow.  They also got to make a living.  These three undeniable truths are why the collapse, radical change, paradigm shifts and great resets have not occurred.  Yes there are too many humans on earth, 7x more than a century ago, but what living person can be faulted for that?  If we outstrip earth's capacity and all have to die well, we just have to learn to accept the risks of life at the macro level.  In the meantime, if we could all agree to live in apartments and take the bus, the falling level of stench of celebrity self-righteousness would surely do to lower global temperatures back to more sustainable levels.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Drainville - Le symbole ostentatoire de l'incompétence totale

Bernard Drainville était longtemps journaliste chez Radio-Canada.  Le journalisme, c'est un métier qui éxige un soif constant et acharné pour la vérité, la volonté de la trouver ou qu'elle soit, mettant tout son charme et sa perspicacité au travail dans ce but.  C'est drôle que cet homme a longtemps exercé ce métier parce qu'il n'y a rien de plus honteux, de plus pathétique, de le voir tous les jours maintenant défendre son merveilleux projet de charte de valeurs québécoisssses devant les même médias dont il faisait partie autrefois.

Comment un gars aussi instruit et expérimenté peut-il avoir cette obsession folle à dire aux gens ce qu'ils ont droit à faire?  Il se prend pour qui, notre guide morale? Le leader spirituel de la société?  Je n'ai jamais vu de démarche gouvernmentale si incohérente, si remplie de délusion dans l'occident, que cette charte de valeurs, à l'exception des lobby pro-life convaincus de certains états américain.  Le message de Drainville est clair: Nous, les blancs, francophones, d'héritage catholique, on est majoritaire.  Fait que nous, on en veut pas de ton hijab, de ton yarmukle, de ton turban.  Si tu veux porter ça, tu peux le faire à l'interieur de chez toi dans ton espace privée, un peu comme la défécation ou la masturbation.  Personne ne veut le voir.  Et mon espoir sincère c'est qu'eventuellement tu ne pourras même pas te trouver un job dans le privé car toute l'industrie privée du Québec aurait suivi l'exemple de Drainville l'illuminé et interdit ces signes réligieuse "ostenenatoires" (C'est lui qui a souhaité ça publiquement je mets pas les mots dans sa bouche).

Si tout ça n'a pas été fait dans le but de mettre du gaz sur les flammes de la xénophobie aux fins éléctorales, ce que le gouvernment nierait fermement, peut être Drainville pourrait m'expliquer dans quel but il veut empêcher un enseignant juif ou un infirmier sikh, tous les deux les membres honorables, travailleurs, CONTRIBUABLES QUI PAIENT SON MAUDIT SALAIRE, de notre société, égals à tous les autres HUMAINS qui vivent aujourd'hui au Québec, a travailler pour l'état.  Et quel droit pense-t-il avoir à imposer ça?

Moi je travaille avec les femmes qui portent l'hijab et je peux vous assurer qu'elles représentent bien plus d'utilité à la société québécoise qu'un ministre et son clientèle éléctorale d'intolérants qui veulent les faire fuir.  Ou les humilier si elles restent.  Pensent-ils vraiment que les citoyens canadiens ont à subir une telle humiliation?  Lundi matin tout le monde arrive au travail "oh regard, Mme X a enlevé son hijab. Elle a voulu rester ici donc elle a écouté Drainville.  Elle ne savait pas en débarquant ici que Drainville allait lui faire une leçon, c'est lui le boss (qui, en passant, garde le gros crucifix dans son travail a lui.  Parce que si le message n'était pas assez clair, c'est lui qui décide que ta réligion et ta culture sont inférieures, de seconde classe.  Les crucifixes, les messes dans les CHSLD, les prières municipales, ça reste.  Nous on était ici devant toi, donc il y a deux règles: Les règles pour nous et les règles pour toi).

La "neutralité" de l'état.  Quelle foutaise! Avez-vous des enfants M. Drainville? Les avez-vous elevés avec tant d'hypocrisie? Je pense que j'ai droit à me poser la question compte tenu tout ce que je viens de décrire.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Debating Keystone XL

One of the foremost political issues – the most foremost political issue of our time – in North America, I would argue, is how to proceed with the development of pipelines.  Specifically, the Keystone XL pipeline which TransCanada Inc. proposes to build for $7 billion to transport heavy oil sands crude from a terminal in Hardisty, Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast, the major heavy crude refining centres in North America.  This is all public information which has been repeated countless times in the media, and why so many?  Because it is a difficult issue to resolve.  There are dozens of firms operating in the oil sands and several would like to sharply increase their production in the next decade.  The issue is how to move all this oil to where there is capacity to refine it so it can then be transported abroad to energy-hungry markets.  Keystone XL is the easiest, simplest, cheapest, most obvious way to do this.
Lining up against the pipeline are several prominent American intellectuals, celebrities and at least one billionaire.  But I’m not here to take sides in the media’s fake polarization of the issue between the Hollywood High-horse cavalry and a bunch of profiteer oil companies hungry for new revenue and new markets, which is the simplistic way to frame it.  I have just realized, thanks to an excellent New Yorker article, what a big deal this actually is and thus, want to assess the probabilities and consequences in either scenario.
As a betting man, I’m thinking the President denies this pipeline.  The smart money was on him approving  it, a year and a half ago, until the republicans took back Congress and have made Obama’s failure their full time agenda.  Climate change legislation will not get nowhere, immigration reform is stalled, Obamacare, the signature health care reform legislation that the President would like to consider his biggest accomplishment, being attacked by all sides.  This is an issue whose approval is the exclusive jurisdiction of the State Department, an executive office under Mr. Obama’s purview headed up by former presidential candidate John Kerry, who would really like to be remembered as the 300 million dollar French speaking man who sold his $2.25 million worth of Suncor stock before becoming America’s top diplomat and denying them and all their competitors this crucial access to refining capacity in order to “save the world from climate change”.   Wow.  A fox news anchor would probably have a heart attack on air reading that.  All kidding aside, the President knows this is the one issue, the only issue around on which he can take decisive action for his legacy to be environmentalist trailblazer and not reluctant coward trying to please everybody.   You would think Stephen Harper, Alison Redford, and the oil patch’s lobbyists in Washington would realize that they are essentially saying the same things to Obama in nice sweet tones as the Republicans are screaming at him with expletives and thus not really endearing themselves to him, but they are literally defending their own constituencies bread and butter with passion more than being American right-wing lapdogs.  Harper and Redford were both elected by voters in constituencies of Calgary’s rich South-west suburbs, inhabited no doubt as well by many of the top executives of the dozens of Calgary-based oil and gas firms to whom Keystone would be a boon. 
Being pro-pipeline is a lot more complicated than being disgusted by the hypocrisy of private-jet owning environmentalist celebs.  It’s great to be for “reducing our dependency on fossil fuels” until you realize a) what this means for the average person and b) what this means for the broader economy.  I’m not talking about the convenience of one individual driving to Wal-Mart or hopping on a plane.  I’m talking about every farm, every mine, every oil rig across the land, every machine humming to get all that stuff we need out of the ground.  I’m talking about every manufacturer, every factory, every shipyard and scrap yard.  How are any of these goods going to be brought to market in the volume they are now, without petroleum?  Then there is the North American automobile fleet, with something like 1.6 cars per habitant.  This is the largest source of emissions globally.  Yet no North American politician, of any stripe, can prevent himself from proclaiming with sheer joy the speed at which North American auto plants are humming right now, churning out a record number of autos and making record profits.  Many of these politicians will, in the same breath, earnestly state the importance of “getting serious about climate change”  Does a whole continent not realize, improved fuel efficiency standards notwithstanding, the amount of energy required not just to power those vehicles on an ongoing basis but to build them and bring them to market? How about all the fuel and lubricants required to run all the crap found in the aisles of our national treasures, Canadian Tire and Rona or their US equivalents.  All the solvents, compounds, and dyes in our clothes, cosmetics, household products and electronics.  Where is all this energy going to come from, without petroleum.  Beets? Corn? Pixie Dust?
I know, I’m just stuck in the past.  I drank the oil companies’ propaganda.  Then the environmentalist will tell you about electric cars and Germany and Denmark until you realize that Germany and Denmark still run principally on coal despite their show-off windmills and “clean-burning natural gas” is only so when its easy to access – Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland highlights how the emissions intensity of the gas being extracted now from Shale plays all over the US makes it as bad as – coal.  So guess what.  I’ve looked into this, and you can’t get blood from a stone.  We can innovate, we can tweak, we can get more efficient, we can shave off bits of pollution here and improve biodiversity there – I don’t want to turn my nose up at the great work scientists all over the world are doing – but if the goal is truly avoiding the great catch phrase of our time “catastrophic climate change” – Keystone XL is about furthest thing from the panacea you can get.  I’m with internet bloggers like James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer – even former Canadian bank economist Jeff Rubin is kind of in this category now  -that any long-term hope in the future lies in the past, in the era before petroleum.  I do not see how these changes will arrive by choice – I am almost certain they will arrive by force
Of course I’m up to 1000 words now, and North America’s political class needs to sell things in one sentence or less.  Simply put, Obama understands the dangers of climate change – like most people – and knows that politically he has no skin in this and has nothing to gain by being the latest hapless politician to “kick the can down the road”.  It would send the message that the US is serious – we need to somehow, someway get off fossil fuels and carbon emissions.  It would be making a “moral” choice over an “economic” choice;  the last time a president did that, there was a civil war and it cost him his life.  But abolishing slavery was necessary to civilize the nation, and of course, the States with a vested interest in slavery fought the change tooth and nail and received an economic handicap from which they never really fully recovered.  The North was of course in a better position to withstand the abolition of slavery since it was already largely functioning without it.
Similarly, whether we choose to get off fossil fuels or are eventually forced to get off them by their scarcity, the societies which will adapt the best are those who are already functioning without it, i.e, Third world nations.  Canada, meanwhile, will suffer; up to one third of our economy may already be dependent on the oil sands.  Vehicle ownership is less popular for generation x and y but almost universal for boomers.  Millions of Canadians would simply not know what to say if you told them they could not drive to work, not because they are dumb, but because no other options exist.
As a Canadian I feel sort of morally obligated to defend Keystone.  We as an oil-producing nation that certainly pays for our energy in the form of taxes and regulations; Iran and Saudi Arabia give gas to their citizens for pennies.  At the same time I think powering down is the only real option and while I salute and support efforts to improve public transit, get us off of red meat, stop shale gas drilling, combat GMOs and Monsanto and overthrow corrupt and oppressive governments worldwide, I know we are just chipping away at a behemoth.  The 2013 citizen of earth knows he can have and wants fast internet, fast smartphones, real-time news, hummers, mcmansions, Costco and wal-mart.  I don’t want to uphold my personal choices like some virtuous ideal to be upheld but they exclude many of these things entirely or as much as possible and I think personal choices and personal responsibility are much powerful drivers of change than celebrities coalescing around the symbolic manifestation of a problem.  When there are shale plays and mountaintop removal going on all over the USA it seems a little hypocritical that they are turning their nose up at the 17% more carbon-emitting petroleum source that currently supplies 1/20th of their energy needs; however, what they may really be doing is dragging our asses into the future since no Canadian politician can really touch the oil sands with a ten foot pole since we are making tons of cash off them, like way too much to consider shutting them down, every single year.  Hmmmm.   
One thing that is clear is that the UN just released its latest report that should bring into line the last few deniers of climate change.  Come 2015 the Conservatives’ unapologetic belligerence about our 3rd-highest per capita energy consumption population on earth may not play out as well as it has in the past.  And then there is a very good chance of a keystone denial waking up the nation before then.  The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers may be right about environmental improvements and progress made on oil sands development but it in the end their defence of their industry and the government’s obfuscation are no substitutes for leading by example and “getting serious”, so to speak.  If we pushed harder on transit, efficiency, building standards and R&D then we could probably get away with the oil sands and be exporting that shit like crazy.   As it stands, we have a bad reputation for strip mining bitumen (which is what we’re doing no matter what you dress it up with) and for that to continue we are going to have to dialogue and we are going to have to create.  The government muzzling scientists and accepting “mandatory motoring” as our nation’s inevitable destiny aren’t going to cut it.

So for or against the pipeline? It’s out of our hands.  And either way, there is no reason to continue with the status quo.