Friday, April 29, 2016

Four Days In A Wild Weather Week

I admit I am a bit of a weather geek. To witness nature's fury and our powerlessness in its face is truly humbling. However, the other reason for my fascination with our increasingly volatile and destructive weather is the rueful recognition of our collective refusal to make any changes that might mitigate the worst effects of climate change. If given the option of sacrifice (losing some convenience, changing our lifestyle, taming our bloodlust for beef, paying higher prices for energy, etc.) or enduring the destructive force of climate change, it seems that for almost everyone, both leaders and the led, the choice is lamentably clear.

We get what we deserve:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Rich Businessman's Humility

Far too many employers see their employees as disposable, fungible, or, even worse, targets to exploit. I am happy to report that the CEO of Chobani yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, is not one of them. He is giving his people a 10% share in his company, shares that they will be able to sell, once the company goes public. The money that these workers will soon receive means a lot, they say, but being appreciated means even more.

Watching this report, I couldn't help but wonder how different our world would be if more owners felt the same way about the people who make their success possible.

Should you want to read more about this remarkable gesture, click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Truth Is Not Out There - It's Right Here

Fox Mulder of the X-Files got it wrong. He believed that the truth was 'out there;' in fact, it is right here, but as the Mound of Sound said in a recent post, we live in "a world full of fact-resistant humans."

Our capacity for denial seems almost limitless, perhaps most tragically attested to by our ongoing nonchalance about climate change. Despite increasingly severe weather events, melting arctic ice and rising sea levels, we insist on whistling past the graveyard. The time is growing very late.

Consider what Gwynne Dyer had to say recently:
We cannot count on the average global temperature rising steadily but slowly as we pump more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It may do that -- but there may also be a sudden jump in the average global temperature that lands you in a world of hurt. That may be happening now.

"We are moving into uncharted territory with frightening speed," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, last November. He was referring to the fact that the warming is accelerating in an unprecedented way.

2014 was the hottest year ever, until 2015 beat it by a wide margin. 2016 may beat that record by an even wider margin. It was the hottest January ever and the average global temperature in February was a full fifth of a Celcius degree higher than January.
To take solace by blaming recent event on El Niño is folly:
As for the frightening acceleration in the warming in the past three months, that has no precedent in any El Niño year, or indeed in any previous year. It could be some random short-term fluctuation in average global temperature, but coming on top of the record warming of 2014 and 2015 it feels a lot more like part of a trend.

Could this be non-linear change, an abrupt and irreversible change in the climate? Yes. And if it is, how far will it go before it stabilizes again at some higher average global temperature? Nobody knows.
What was once thought to be many decades, if not centuries off, is now starting to materialize. Watch the following two videos to consider what may very well be in store for us, perhaps in the lifetime of some alive today, but almost certainly in that of our children and grandchildren:

Such scenarios are no longer in the realm of science fiction, but we continue to treat them as such, and it doesn't appear that anything will shake us and our 'leaders' from this state of denial. It therefore seems appropriate to end this post with Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower, a song that I have always interpreted as depicting impending doom:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Guest Post: A Manitoban Reflects On His Province's Choice of Brian Pallister's Conservatives

I have a friend in Winnipeg with whom I regularly speak and correspond. Although he does not work in the field, he is possessed of a keen mind and a journalist's instincts and methodology that enable him to frequently uncover an array of misbehaviour on the part of public officials and organizations. I have urged him to devote himself to these pursuits when he retires, perhaps in a blog or some other forum.

He has given me permission to publish a missive he sent me about the recent Pallister victory in his province. For very good reasons he wishes anonymity, so he will remain unnamed, but here is, slightly edited, what he had to say:

Montreal Simon is a well-informed man and also knows the importance of history. If only people remembered things, especially political history.

The point that bothers me the most regarding the conservative victory here is that it is so large. I was hoping for a miracle such as a minority government but the unwashed have spoken. It will take more than one term to extinguish this government just because there are so many ridings held by it. Back in 1977 I remember when the Lyon government came to power. As a political rube at the time (I was a wet behind the ears high school student in grade 12) I had no idea how partisan politics could become. Manitoba was perhaps a more ‘balanced’ place at that time as Lyon only lasted one term before the electorate threw him out. Now no one seems to remember the legacy of the Filmon government.

In the late eighties came the Filmon government. Thanks to the spread of neo-liberal thought Gary was able to win three elections in a row. I remember his puckish grin during a news interview for the latest triumph. He called his third mandate a ‘threepeat’, echoing his competitive jock background (was a big basketball star at Sisler High). Nobody now remembers his lies (‘We have no plans to sell MTS”), bureaucratization of health care (creation of regional health authorities with resident bean counters who ‘manage’ care), big investments in casinos (great jobs, right) and cutting funding in education and healthcare (16-20 million for each department); also a bald attempt to privatize segments of provincial healthcare.

Meanwhile as cuts and austerity were implemented in the public sector no one paid much attention to the money showered on the private sector. Let’s see; 16 million gift to the Winnipeg Jets pro hockey team, increase in funding to private schools, subsidies for international companies: an American phone centre company called Fanueil and a Korean computer outfit call Wang. Both folded their tents within a couple years and quietly left the province with who knows how much government cash. I think the crowning financial toilet flush of public money occurred in the late nineties when the government was preparing to host the Pan American Games. The final price tag was never really pegged but of course to ask the total cost would cast a pall over the festivities enjoyed by Manitoba’s class conscious elite. They wanted this so bad that I remember one of the province’s leading plutocrats actually coming out into the public light of day and demanding that the Filmon government spend more money on the games (or else he would quit the organizing committee).

Ahh Lorne, memory is such a curse. Why do I torture myself? Guess I will be living through ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese say.

To cap it off the news brings word of more victory for the dark forces; Duffy acquitted, no one in the PMO even charged. The CBC continuing to ignore stories of importance and merit. Here is a link to the Huffington Post. It published an AP story on South Korea. Maybe CBC avoided publication because it might affect its bid for broadcast rights for the 2018 games?

P.S.: John Ralston Saul was right in that we are an ‘unconscious civilization.’

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Words, Words, Words

Talk, as they say, is indeed cheap.

During his New York trip, the prime minister touted an all-of-the-above approach where additional oil production can coexist with cleaner technology, and more wealth gets spent on energy innovation.
Not so sure that passes the smell test.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rationalizations: The Slippery Slope To Hell?*

In response to a recent post on the Liberals' refusal to re-examine the $15 billion arms deal originally struck by the Harper regime with the repressive human-rights violator Saudi Arabia, an anonymous commentator wrote:

Who will tell the 5,000 workers and their families that they are going to lose their jobs? Will you contribute money from your fatty pensions to put food on their table so their children don't go hungry? Or don't you care?

I responded:

What you are arguing here, Anon, is that jobs are more important than people's lives. It is an argument that likely holds sway during a time when the neoliberal agenda prevails, but it is, at bottom, a totally amoral position, in my view. If followed to its natural conclusion, perhaps we should be attempting to offer incentives for handgun manufacturers to set up shop here as well. They would certainly provide jobs, but at what social and moral cost? As well, should we stop all efforts at mitigating global warming since they will inevitably lead to unemployment in the oil patch and all the industries that supply it?

Short-term gain for long-term misery is a devil's bargain.

In a similar vein, Scott Vrooman recently asked Canadians this question: "Are jobs worth killing for?"

Clearly, many would like to equivocate and take the issue outside of the arena of morality. Are such rationalizations the slippery road to hell?

* For the literalists out there, I am using hell in a metaphorical, not a literal sense.