Canada Slim and the Greatest Villain

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 May 2017

I read the news and I feel sometimes that all the media seems to report is bad news – news that angers or saddens me.

To be fair, it’s not the media’s fault completely…

Bad things happen in the world.

It is a terrible thing to admit, but nothing encourages us to remember Life more than a sudden threat to it or its sudden ending.

Recently Chris Cornell, former lead singer of the rock groups Audioslave and Soundgarden, died.

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Suddenly I am reminded of two of his songs: Black Hole Sun and You Know My Name (the theme song of the Bond film Casino Royale), which play again and again like a skipping vinyl record in the jukebox of my mind.

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On 22 May, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena after a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

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The attacker was identified by police as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan ancestry, who detonated a homemade explosive device as concertgoers were leaving the Arena.

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23 people, including Abedi himself, were killed and approximately 120 were injured.

My ignorance of things Mancunian, Libyan and the music of Ariana Grande is made manifest and I find myself suddenly searching literature both hard copy and electronic to know more about these things in an attempt to understand an event that is incomprehensible.

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Increased hits on search engines like Google show that I am not alone in this regard.

I am saddened by the loss of those so young whose only desire was to celebrate life’s rhythms.

I am saddened by the insanity that would drive a young man to commit such an atrocity.

I am angered that the Right will use this incident as a justification for their Islamophobia, making a cowed and frightened populace accept the usurpation of their freedom in the name of “guaranteed” security and create further hate and violence against others whose only “crime” is being of a different faith.

I am angered by those who would use religion as a justification for violence.

I am saddened that the tendency to label entire groups of people by the actions of a few still remains a constant impulse.

I am saddened that only those who think and act upon their consciences seek justice and compassion, while too many of us crave bloody revenge for this carnage committed against innocents.

I am saddened that those who have been chosen to lead us failed to protect us and may have been partially responsible for the violence visited upon us.

The lines between black and white, villain and hero, remain blurred.

Only the victims seem untainted of blame.

I, like many others, ask what could possibly be gained by anyone committing such an act.

A fearful populace brought to its knees who will seek to appease their attackers?

A spotlight thrown upon our vulnerability?

A desperate attack made to show the consequences of the actions made against others by those who lead us?

Events like Manchester also bring out the conspiracy theorists, whom are much harder to dismiss after a tragedy such as this.

The identification of the villains that inspired such violence is not so clear.

The child within me wishes for an obvious hero to combat such villainy, to save us as we cannot save ourselves.

A hero obvious who tells us: You know my name.

A hero like Bond.

James Bond.

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A person with a license to kill, to mete out revenge disguised as justice.

But is Ian Fleming’s fictional creation, immortalised in literature and film, truly a hero?

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour and murder is a funny trick.

Bond’s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.”

(Yuri Zhukov, Pravda, 30 September 1965)

Harsh criticism, but was this journalist completely inaccurate?

“It was part of his profession to kill people.

He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it.

As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.

If it happened, it happened.

Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”

(Ian Fleming, Goldfinger)

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But, by this analysis, where do we draw the line between soldier and criminal?

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Is every act justifiable if it is done for Queen and country, or in the name of religion?

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Since 1953, Bond has been in the public consciousness from Fleming’s literature and since 1962 from a never-ending series of films.

We are reminded of Bond these days, not only for the death of Chris Connell, but for the death, the day after Manchester, of one of the seven actors who have played Bond in the 26 films starring this character (including the Woody Allen spoof of Casino Royale and the independent film Never Say Never Again), Roger Moore, who played the secret agent in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985.

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Above: Sir Roger Moore (1927 – 2017)

Roger Moore died on 23 May 2017, age 89, in his home in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

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It is easy to think of Bond as a hero, for his villains are easy to identify.

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And perhaps it is this dispatching of these villains that has somehow given the character its own immortality, regardless of the mortality of those who portray him on the silver screen.

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Those who portray Bond have a terrible time afterwards of being identified only for the role as Bond.

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Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any other actor, had this typecasting problem.

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But unlike the villains Bond dispatched or the victims of real-life villains that strike down civilians, Moore did not end his days violently.

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In his acting roles, Moore encountered his share of villains who would have delighted in his demise, yet, with the exception of one film, Moore’s character of the moment would survive any and all opposition.

(In the 1956 film Diane, Moore, in the role of French King Henri II, is killed in a jousting tournament.)

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Moore’s characters were survivors, whether he was a highwayman against the armed might of a Duke (The Lion’s Thief, 1955) or a soldier in the Battle of Salamanca (The Miracle, 1959).

Moore played more roles than he is remembered for.

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Moore played Sir William of Ivanhoe (1958 – 59), Silky Harris (The Alaskans, 1959 – 60), 14 Carat John (The Roaring Twenties, 1960 – 62), Beau Maverick (1960 – 61), Simon Templar (The Saint, 1962 – 69), Gary Fenn (Crossplot, 1969), Harold Pelham (The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970), Lord Brett Sinclair (The Persuaders, 1971), Rod Slater (Gold, 1974), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes in New York, 1976), Sebastian Oldsmith (Shout at the Devil, 1976), Shawn Fynn (The Wild Geese, 1978), Rufus Excalibar ffolkes (North Sea Hijack, 1979), Major Otto Hecht (Escape to Athena, 1979), Captain Gavin Stewart (The Sea Wolves, 1980),Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Cannonball Run, 1981), Inspector Clouseau (The Curse of the Pink Panther, 1983), “Adam” (Bed and Breakfast, 1992), Lord Edgar Dobbs (The Quest, 1996), “The Chief” (Spice World, 1997) and Lloyd Faversham (Boat Trip, 2002).

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These TV/movie roles, which can still be seen on websites like YouTube, are just some of the roles Moore played in a long and successful acting career.

Most of these roles had him play the hero.

Most of these roles had moments when the hero’s life was in grave danger.

As Ivanhoe, Moore suffered broken ribs and a battleaxe blow to his helmet.

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In The Man Who Haunted Himself, Moore’s character briefly suffered clinical death after a car accident, but the movie’s director Basil Dearden would die for real in a car accident shortly thereafter.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore, as Bond, would mourn the death of his wife, though in real life Moore would himself marry four times and was the father of three children.

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Moore acted the hero in more than his screen appearances:

He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (1991) and the voice of Father Christmas in a UNICEF cartoon (2004) and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras (2008).

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Moore’s greatest villain was poor health.

He nearly died from double pneumonia when he was five.

He was a long-term sufferer of kidney stones and needed to be hospitalised during the making of the Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and again during the production of Bond film Moonraker (1979).

In 1993, Moore was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent successful surgery for the disease.

He collapsed on stage while appearing on Broadway in 2003 and was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a potentially deadly slow heartbeat.

In 2012, Moore revealed he had been treated for skin cancer several times.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

His greatest villain, cancer, finally beat him on 23 May 2017.

Terrorism is a villainous act I shall never understand, because despite the headlines it garnishes it is only common to my own life indirectly in headlines.

Diseases, like cancer, on the other hand, are something I, like the common man, can relate to.

In my own life I have lost classmates, my mother and my two foster parents to this disease.

The obituary pages are filled with names of people whose lives were snuffed out by disease.

Still we tend to find death’s arrival after a long battle against a disease easier to cope with, for there is a sense of preparedness / readiness for the fatal end, as unwanted as it may be.

Deaths from accident or from incidents such as Manchester are much harder to accept, for we weren’t ready for our loved ones suddenly departing from our lives.

We are saddened by the deaths of entertainment legends, for we feel that their entertainment touched our lives, but their deaths remind us that, like us, they were mortal too.

But when we compare the death of Moore to the deaths of Manchester, we are left with a sense of unfairness.

Moore was 89 and had lived a full life.

The youngest victim of the Manchester bombing was 8.

Chris Cornell and Salman Abedi could be compared in that they both committed suicide because they were both psychologically unhealthy, but Cornell brought value to the world while Abedi took it away.

So, in these times living in the shadow of death, who or what is the greatest villain?

I believe the greatest villain is: apathy.

When someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it should matter to us.

And it shouldn’t take the death of someone for us to finally realise their value to us.

Don’t take your loved ones for granted.

Don’t take life and health for granted.

Manchester bothers me.

It was senseless and sad.

I refuse to hate.

Abedi was one man, but not all are cast in the same mold.

I refuse to be afraid.

I will live my life to the fullest, knowing that there is no way to predict when my final moment will arrive.

I hope I never forget to be grateful for the life I have and the people within it.

To those reading these words, please know that you are loved and have value.

And it is my hope, whether my life ends in tragic suddenness in some senseless attack or unexpected accident, or if I cling to life against the onslaught of age or disease, that I will be considered to have lived a life of value because I cared.

The greatest villain is apathy.

The best solution is love.

Sources:

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (Dorling Kindersley)

The James Bond Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley)

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

New York Times, 24 May 2017

Wikipedia

Fear Itself

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 March 2017

And the madness continues….

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London, England, 22 March 2017 (1440 hours)

Just another day, business as usual.

Tourists take selfies outside the Houses of Parliament while inside the politicians buzz about on the business of Brexit and schoolchildren view the spectacle of Prime Minister’s Questions.

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On Wednesday, exactly one year after the Brussels bombings, a London terrorist attack has left 5 people dead – including the attacker and a police officer – and 40 people injured.

Dozens of tourists and workers were struck down by a car on Westminster Bridge before the driver fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer outside the British Houses of Parliament.

The assailant, a man in his 40s wielding two large knives, was shot dead by other police.

The attack lasted five minutes, as the dark grey Hyundai Tucson hurtled across Westminster Bridge and jumped the curb.

Pedestrians on the Bridge thought that the driver must have collapsed and that the car would come to a halt.

Then the car changed direction.

The next sound was the revving of the engine.

This was a deliberate act.

The car barrelled along the pavement, hitting more than a dozen people, including a group of French schoolchildren, forces a woman to jump into the Thames to avoid being struck, before smashing into the railings by the Palace of Westminster near Westminster Tube Station.

“It was carnage.

There were bodies flying everywhere.

He (the driver) must have been going 70 mph.

There must have been dozens of people flying up into the air.

It was chaos.

There was mass hysteria.

Blood everywhere.

Bodies everywhere.”

(James Sheriff, witness)

Three shots were heard as the driver leapt out and rushed around the corner to Parliament’s Carriage Gates, stabbing a plainclothes policeman.

Constable Keith Palmer was standing near the entrance to Westminster Hall when the intruder, dressed in black, stabbed him in the back of the head and the back of the neck with an 8-inch long knife.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (centre) stands amongst the emergency services at the scene outside the Palace of Westminster, London, after policeman has been stabbed and his apparent attacker shot by officers in a major security incident at the Houses of Parliament

In the midst of the chaos of the attack, MP Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister rushed to the Constable’s side and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while trying to stem the flow of blood pouring from his body and splattering Ellwood’s face and clothes.

By Ellwood’s side was Tony Davis, a Team Great Britain boxing coach who hopped over the fence to assist.

Despite their efforts Constable Palmer was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

Two armed plainclothes police officers then shot the attacker three times.

It saddens me that no one seems shocked, because terrorist-type violence has become so prevalent as to almost have become passé, with the notable exception of violence`s impact on its victims and their loved ones.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Westminster had been targeted by those who rejected its values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

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The PM praised the bravery of police and said Parliament would continue to meet as normal.

“The location of this attack was no accident.

The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.

These streets of Westminster, home to the world’s oldest Parliament, are ingrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe.

And the values our Parliament represents _ democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law – command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.

That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.

But let me make it clear…

Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.

Tomorrow, Parliament will meet as normal.

We will come together as normal.

And Londoners and others from around the world who have come to visit this great city will go about their day as normal.

They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives.

We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

World leaders condemned the attack on Westminster as they reacted with horror and sympathy.

French President Francois Hollande issued a call to action:

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“We are all concerned with terrorism.

France, which has been struck so hard lately, knows what the British people are suffering today.

It is clear that it is at the European level, and even beyond that, that we must organise ourselves.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council:

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“My thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack.

Europe stands firm with the UK against the terror and ready to help.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her thoughts were “with our British friends and all the people of London.”

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“Although the background to these acts is not yet clear, I reaffirm that Germany and its citizens stand firmly and resolutely alongside Britons in the struggle against all forms of terrorism.”

In an Evening Standard article, from September 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that capital cities “have got to be prepared” for terrorist attacks.

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The article described how the Mayor ordered a complete review of the capital’s terrorist attack response.

Donald Trump Jr., the US President’s eldest son, tweeted (like father, like son):

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“You have to be kidding me?!

Terror attacks are part of living in a big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”

“Mini-Donald” has been accused of judging the Mayor and failing to read the full article.

Though one thing remains certain…

Somewhere, sometime, it is not a matter of if there is going to be another terrorist attack, but when that attack will come.

It is impossible to watch everyone and stop everything.

Terrorists cling to the knowledge that they only have to be lucky once.

“Since 2001, they have been lucky more than once….

The murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013, using a car and kitchen knives as weapons of terror, paved the way for the kind of crude atrocities we have since seen in Nice, Berlin and yesterday….

(H)owever…jihadists try more often than they succeed.

Since the Woolwich murder, 13 terrorist plots have been twarted while at any one time about 500 security investigations are taking place.

London….will defy the terrorists by returning to normal today, although it has had a sharp reminder to shrug off complacency.”

(Sean O’Neill, The Times, 23 March 2017)

Ellwood has felt the shock of terrorism before, having lost his brother Jonathan, a 39-year-old teacher, in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Above: List of the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings

Was the attacker inspired through the Internet?

In September 2014, ISIS chief spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani – killed last year in a Russian airstrike in Syria – issued a fatwa that spread rapidly around the world on jihadist forums.

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“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.

Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

Since then, there has been a series of attacks in the West that appear to have been inspired by Adnani, including the vehicle attacks on the Nice waterfront and the Berlin Christmas market, when lorries were used as weapons, and the assault on the Canadian Parliament by a lone gunman.

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Above: The Promenade des Anglais, site of the 2016 Nice attack

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Above: Aftermath of Berlin Christmas market attack

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Above: Ottawa’s Parliament Hill

London has seen it all before.

In the grim list of incidents in London that have been labelled as “terrorism”, as far back as 15 February 1894, when Greenwich Observatory was attacked with a bomb which killed only the French anarchist who mishandled it, London has been a target of groups and individuals who have intended to punish governments by attacking citizens.

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Above: Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England

London has survived Roman and Norman invasions, plague and fire, German bombardment and riots in the streets.

In the 21st century alone, a series of four coordinated suicide attacks in central London in which three bombs exploded on the Underground and aboard a double-decker bus killed 52 people and injured 700 people on 7 July 2005; in 2013, a British Army soldier was attacked and killed near his barracks in southeast London; in 2015, a man with a knife stabbed a number of people at the Leytonshire tube station, shouting “This is for Syria!”.

Worldwide there have been thousands of terrorist attacks since the mid-19th century, starting with the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in the US.

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In the year 2000, in just the first six months of the year, the world witnessed 91 separate acts of terrorism enacted on civilian populations.

And this was not an unusual year.

But many of these types of attacks go unnoticed the further away they occur from white Christian lands.

For example, every single day in January 2006 saw a terrorist incident somewhere in the world, but as these mostly occurred in the Middle East and Africa the media paid scant attention to them.

Does anyone remember on New Year’s Day last year ISIS executed 300 West African immigrants in Tripoli, Libya?

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Above: The flag of Libya

If you don’t, then you are not alone.

But we remember Paris, we remember Nice, we remember Brussels…

There was a terrorist incident every single day in January 2017.

We all remember Alexandre Bissonette killing six Muslims in a mosque in Quebec City.

Above: Memorial outside the ruins of the Eglise Sainte Foy next to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec which was targeted

Yet this same month also saw…

(I am only mentioning the double-digit casualities here.)

…17 killed in Cameroon, 30 killed in Pakistan, 77 killed in Mali, 94 killed in Somalia, 15 killed in Nigeria…

Don’t remember these?

First time reading about these?

Why am I not surprised?

President Trump has spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May, pledging the “full cooperation and support of the United States government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice.”

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Last month, 39 people were killed in terrorist incidents in Somalia, 45 people in Afghanistan, 93 people in Syria, 106 people in Pakistan and 185 people in Iraq.

We remember Olathe, Kansas, and one dead Indian computer programmer.

(For details about this shooting, please see Bleeding Beauty of this blog.)

This month alone, there have been 122 people in Afghanistan, 125 people in Syria, 53 people in Iraq, 13 people in Somalia, 12 people in India, 11 people in Mali…all killed in terrorist incidents.

Where is the world`s full cooperation and support?

Are Afghanis, Indians, Iraqis, Malians, Syrians and Somalians less noteworthy, less newsworthy, than others?

As we consider the events of the assault on Westminster on Wednesday, eight Nigerians were killed by a series of Boko Haram bombs detonated along a public highway on the same day.

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Above: The flag of Nigeria

You might read about Nigeria sometime, buried in the back pages of a newspaper, if it is mentioned at all.

The War on Terror?

How exactly is that working out for everybody?

Claiming down on civil liberties in the name of security is not the answer.

Opposing democracy and independent development in other countries because otherwise their products or their labour in our factories there will become more expensive is not the answer.

Supporting regimes and dictators regardless of their atrocities because this gives us access to resources at a lower cost is not the answer.

If we are attacked by terrorists, religion is not the reason, it is the excuse.

If the West wants to prevent further attacks in the future, it must realise that neither unleashing our militaries nor tightening domestic security  nor limiting discussion on supposedly patriotic grounds is the answer.

We see ourselves as decent, hardworking people who wish the rest of the world well and do more than our share to help.

We are proud of our freedom and prosperous way of life, but we need to have honest discussion about our conduct abroad.

Where is our conduct wise?

Where is our conduct not wise?

Does our conduct correspond to the values we say we believe in?

Outside of our homelands are our troops, our companies, our embassies practising the values we preach or only pretending to do so?

If we want a healthy relationship with the six billion people we share the planet with, we need to understand who these people are, how they live, what they think and why.

We need to care about the world beyond our borders, beyond our experience.

We need to think beyond our bank accounts and realise we are a planet of people interdependent upon one another for our mutual survival as a species.

We need to question ourselves and those who represent us and those who inform us and those who serve us.

This is not charity, this is for both our self-interest and self-preservation.

No nation is invulnerable.

We can no longer afford to ignore what the rest of the world thinks.

We are our brother`s keeper.

But when we bomb cities, allow dictators to crush their citizenry’s free spirit, finance and train revolutionary movements against democratically elected governments, disregard starvation, disease and starvation around the world while living such privileged wasteful lives, we should not be surprised when others might be upset with us.

As individuals we need to ask questions about what our governments are doing in our name and demand they practice the values they say they represent..

As individuals we need to demand a media that tells us the truth about ourselves and the world regardless of whether the truth is complimentary to ourselves or not.

The media should serve all its citizenry not just the business interests that fund it.

Remove the reasons for terrorism and remove the fear.

The only way to fight terrorism is to fight the causes of terrorism.

When people suffer injustice and oppression, when their lands are occupied, when they are endlessly humiliated, when they are beaten, imprisoned, raped or killed for expressing dissident political opinions, violence can seem their only alternative.

The best defence of democracy is the practice of democracy, both within and shown outside our lands.

London, Ottawa, Brussels, New York, Nice, Madrid have fallen victim to terrorist attacks.

So have Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.

Their lives are no less important, no less significant than our own.

When someone commits a crime and says he does it in the name of a religion, this is not a religious believer this is simply a criminal and should be treated as such, an individual who has committed a crime.

Those who truly follow a religion do not practice violence.

Practicing a religion does not mean regular attendance at a building designated as religious.

Practicing a religion does not mean discrimination against others who do not do as you do, believe as you believe, dress as you dress, think as you think.

Practicing a religion means acting as if the words of love and obedience to love actually matter.

Practicing a religion is to show that religion as something that truly makes you happy and shines through you to make that religion attractive to others through your exhibiting love for others.

If we act responsibly then we can, with clear conscience, expect others to respond accordingly.

If we have done so, and those that represent us and inform us have done so, then those who do commit violence against us will have shown themselves to be the criminals they truly are and should be dealt with as we would with any criminal.

Be vigilant, be ready to respond to emergencies, but be loving towards others.

Fear usually is the result of our being worried for receiving punishment for the things we did but shouldn´t have or for the things we didn’t do but should have.

If my government is causing harm to others and I have done nothing or said nothing to prevent them from causing harm, then I should not be surprised if those who have been harmed seek vengence against me.

We are responsible for others and this responsibility doesn’t only stop outside our homes, our borders or our beliefs.

Did the individuals struck down in Westminster deserve what happened to them?

As individuals, no.

But as representatives of powers and principalities that allow harm to happen to others, it should not be a surprise if those that strike us down feel we are deserving of such a terrible fate.

We need one another and until we learn that lesson we will continue to destroy one another.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Times, 23 March 2017 / The New York Times, 25 March 2017 / Noam Chomsky, Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews / Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

That which survives 2a: Teachers´ Travels 1 – Welcome

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 December 2016

They are beloved by everyone from misunderstood teens and fools for love to the serious-minded middle-aged and those of a critical bent.

Now the Bronte sisters are taking centre stage again as the bicentary of Charlotte´s birth (born 21 April 1814) brings a host of events at their Yorkshire home and elsewhere…

Above: Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, painted by their brother Branwell, 1834.

So why exactly do the Bronte sisters, these rural Curate´s daughters with only a handful of novels between them, continue to fascinate us?

From the moment Jane Eyre was published in 1847, the Bronte sisters have exerted an almost hynotic pull.

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Above: Poster for Jane Eyre (2011)

Where other literary sensations flash bright then fade to earth, the Brontes endure, their stories adapted again and again for both stage and screen.

“I think a lot of it is that we´re fascinated by the idea that these women living in a cold, cramped house in Yorkshire wrote about the most intense human experiences.

There´s something very appealing about the idea that they pushed back against the limits of their world.

There are lots of neater, better planned books, but the Brontes novels work because they´re open-ended.

We don´t know what Anne, Emily and Charlotte really wanted us to think and that means we take away something new each time….

It´s not just women who respond to their work.

I know lots of men who love the Brontes.

Yet whoever is reading them, they will always have one sister they think of as “theirs” definitely.

You are either Charlotte, Emily or Anne and you can tell a lot by which book someone claims as their own….

And that´s how it should be.

Your passions are your own.“(Samantha Ellis, author / playwright)

(Observer, 27 March 2016)

My favourite sister of the Brontes is Anne, for she seems to rally more against her situation and seems more determined to speak and act her mind than her siblings.

But what follows here is not her story, but rather Charlotte´s.

Charlotte´s story is herein combined with my own, for there are parallels which I cannot ignore.

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Above: Charlotte Bronte, 1850

The Chronicles of Charlotte (1)

In 1831, 14-year-old Charlotte was enrolled at Miss Wooler´s school in Roe Head.

Curate Patrick could have sent his daughter to a less costly school in Keighley nearer Haworth, but the Wooler sisters had a good reputation.

Patrick´s choice of school was excellent.

Charlotte was happy there and studied well, making many lifelong friends.

Charlotte left Roe Head in 1832, but three years later, Miss Wooler offered Charlotte a position as her assistant.

Charlotte taught and wrote about her students without much sympathy.

Through her father´s influence and her own intellectual curiosity, Charlotte was able to benefit from an education that placed her among knowledgeable people, but her options remained modest.

The Bronte family´s finances did not flourish, so Charlotte and Anne could not hesitate in finding work.

From April 1839 to December 1841 the two sisters held several posts as governesses.

Not staying long with each family, their employment would last for some months or for a single season.

From May to July 1839 Charlotte was employed by the Sidgwick family at their summer residence, Stone Gappe, in Lothersdale.

One of her charges was John Benson Sidgwick (1835 – 1927), an unruly child who on one occasion threw a Bible at Charlotte, which incident inspired part of the opening chapter of Jane Eyre in which John Reed throws a book at the young Jane.

Charlotte had an idea that would place all the advantages on her side.

On advice from her father and friends, Charlotte thought that she and her sisters had the intellectual capacity to create a school in the parsonage where their Sunday school classes took place.

It was agreed to offer future pupils the opportunity of correctly learning modern languages.

Preparation was needed and was felt should be done abroad.

Among the possibilities Paris and Lille were considered, but were rejected due to aversion to the French as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had not been forgotten by the Tory spirited and deeply conservative girls.

On the recommendation of Pastor Jenkins of the Episcopat of Brussels, Belgium was chosen, where the girls could also study German and music.

Aunt Branwell provided the funds for the Brussels project.

Charlotte was 26, Emily was 22, when they travelled to Brussels in February 1842 to enrol at the boarding school run by Constantin Héger (1809 – 1896) and his wife Claire (1804 – 1887).

In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music….

The Chronicles of Canada Slim (1)

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Like the Bronte sisters, Brussels had not been my first thought.

I had travelled extensively in both Canada and the States, but I had not yet had the pleasure nor privilege to visit Europe.

During my North American travels I had learned that my biological mother was American, her father English and her mother Irish, which knowledge persuaded me that finding my grandparents´ documents would allow me to work in Britain for a year through my grandfather and claim Irish / EU citizenship through my grandmother.

I had dreamed of Paris since I was a boy.

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I had pictures of Paris on my walls and it was those pictures that compelled me to choose Québec City (as old Europe – looking as a Canadian city can get) when it came time to pursue further education beyond high school.

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I bought an open-ended round-trip charter ticket, valid for a year, from Montréal to Paris.

Prior to my departure on Saturday 2 November 1996, I worked various jobs to finance my travels, the last being telemarketing for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

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Whilst there an Oxonian co-worker Jonathan suggested to me that should I ever find myself in Oxford that he would supply me with both a place to sleep and employment.

Prior to 11 September 1996, I was resident and part-time employee at the Ottawa International Hostel and though I would never win any prizes for my looks I found that hostels often led to romance.

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I met my ex-fiancée at a hostel in St. Louis.

I would later meet my wife at a hostel in Stratford upon Avon.

I met other girlfriends through the Ottawa, Kingston and Orillia hostels.

My last romantic hostel hook-up prior to Europe was with a Belgian girl whom we shall call “Zoé”.

Zoé was an extremely sensitive and intelligent Belgian girl, bilingual in both Flemish and French, who offered me bed and board and advice to finding work in Brussels.

Driven by the desire to first visit Paris, it wasn´t until 2200 hours on 5 November 1996 that I finally arrived in Brussels.

Though a year had passed since I had last seen Zoé back in Ottawa, our relationship had been intensely passionate and we had fond memories of the experience.

We were foolishly confident that upon my arrival in Brussels we could resume where we had left off and that I could build a new life in Brussels, perhaps never having to use the return-home portion of my flight ticket.

I imagined that I had the intellectual capacity and the courage to find work as an English-as-a-second-language teacher in Brussels.

We had both envisioned in our correspondence that love would conquer all difficulties and that problems were mere obstacles to be circumvented with relative ease.

We were wrong….

The Chronicles of Charlotte (2)

Brussels would dramatically change Charlotte´s life, where she would be forced to depart from the fantasy worlds of Gondal and Angria that she had created with her siblings using toy soldiers as the role players and face the harsh reality of the real world where one´s fondest wishes are not always realisable.

Charlotte was short of stature and red of face with many teeth gone.

(It is not that Charlotte did not look after her teeth but rather she like many folks of the 19th century had a tendency to take “the blue pill”.

“Blue pills” were prescribed for every ailment: minor and major, from syphilis to constipation.

Their active ingredient was: mercury.

There was, 19th century Britain and America, an epidemic of mercury poisoning as a result of this popular medication.

The long-term, overdose symptoms were depression, insomnia and fits of mental instability…and loose teeth.)

Charlotte also suffered from myopia (severe short-sightedness) and needed to wear spectacles otherwise she was bat-blind without them, but she didn´t like to be seen with her visual aids on.

Charlotte had folding tortoiseshell lorgnettes – easily put on and taken off – when she felt forced to use them.

And one of the features of the school environment was that spectacles were not considered disfiguring there, but rather indications of mental ability and academic distinction.

So in the classroom, Charlotte worn her glasses with pride.

Charlotte could not attract lines of male suitors, for nature and circumstance had left her somewhat ill-favoured in appearance and being the poor daughter of a poor Curate  she had no dowry to compensate for whatever abundance of beauty she lacked.

Constantin was the husband of the proprietress Claire of the Héger boarding school in Rue Isabelle, which catered for 100 girls in Brussels.

Charlotte and Emily had gone there, on very generous terms, to learn French and gain teaching experience.

Constantin Héger was born in Brussels in 1809 and moved to Paris in 1825 in search of employment.

For a period Héger worked as a legal secretary, but because of a shortage of funds he was unable to pursue a legal career himself.

In 1829, Constantin returned to Brussels, where he became a teacher of French and mathematics at the Athénée Royale.

In 1830, Constantin married his first wife, Marie-Josephine Noyer.

When the Belgian Revolution broke out in Brussels, Constantin fought on the barricades from 23 to 27 September 1830 on the side of the Belgian nationalists against the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Above: Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Wappers (1834)

In September 1833, Marie-Josephine died during a cholera epidemic.

Their son, Gustave, died in June 1834, only nine months old.

Constantin was appointed a teacher of languages, mathematics, geography and Belgian history at the veterinary college in Rue Terarken, while continuing to teach at the Athénée when it relocated to Rue des Douze Apôtres in 1839.

Constantin met Claire Parent, the directoress of the neighbouring girls´ school in Rue Isabelle, where he began teaching.

Claire and Constantin married in 1836 and would have six children.

Constantin was 33 years old when the Brontes arrived.

He was eight years younger than Claire and six years older than Charlotte.

According to Frederika Macdonald, another English Protestant pupil of the Hégers, Claire was a much more attractive woman than Charlotte in so far as her personal appearance was concerned.

According to Miss Wheelwright, another former pupil, Constantin had the intellect of a genius.

Constantin was passionate about his audiotorium, demanding many lectures, perspectives and structured analyses from his students.

He was a good looking man with masculine features, bushy hair, very black whiskers and wore an excited expression while sounding forth on great authors about whom he admired.

Charlotte´s instruction, especially Constantin´s lessons, were very much appreciated by Charlotte.

The Bronte sisters showed exceptional intelligence, but, unlike Charlotte, Emily didn´t like her teachers and was somewhat rebellious.

Emily learned German and to play the piano with natural brilliance and very quickly the Bronte sisters were writing literary and philosophical essays at an advanced level of French.

After six months of study Claire suggested the sisters stay at the boarding school free of charge in return for giving lessons.

After much hesitation, the sisters accepted.

Neither felt much attachment to their students.

The death of Aunt Branwell in October 1842 forced the sisters to return once more to Haworth.

Nevertheless the sisters were each asked to return to Brussels as they were regarded as competent and needed.

They were each offered teaching posts in the boarding school, but Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843.

Charlotte´s second stay was not a happy one.

Charlotte was lonely, homesick and deeply infatuated with Constantin…

The Chronicles of Canada Slim (2)

Brussels is a city with an undeserved reputation.

It is far more than just a dull, faceless centre of bureaucracy for the European Union.

Above: European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is a thriving, pulsing cosmopolitan premiere city, with highly modern architecture and many superb museums, yet maintaining in a state of pristine condition a well-preserved late 17th-century centre.

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Above: Grand Place, Brussels (City Hall on the left)

Restaurants seduce and the nightlife excites.

Brussels is raw, vital and irresistable and reminded me much of both Ottawa and Montréal, for its bilingualism (Ottawa) and its élan/style (Montréal).

Brussels, much like the EU over which it presides, is a divided, complicated community of communities.

Brussels has always been divided by classes – the rich live in the upper levels, the working class below (a kind of Upstairs Downstairs type city) – and linguistics: the Walloons (French-speaking) and the Flemish (Dutch-speaking).

Add to this a patchwork of people from all parts of the known world – the EU civil servants, the diplomats, and the immigrants…

Above: The official languages of the European Parliament

All living distinct, separate existences yet like sentient shards of coloured glass, they create an ever-changing kaleidoscopic pattern to rival any stained window within any majestic cathedral.

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Above: The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Giudula, Brussels

Brussels is a Wonderland with surprising contrasts around every corner – from shopping mall to bazaar, slums to sleek luxuries –  all captures the poetry of a populace uniquely its own.

Eurolines bus from Paris to Gare Bruxelles – Nord and Zoé waiting for me at the station.

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The embrace is warm and welcoming and we speed through the streets like a storm-tossed gust of wind, into her apartment and into her chambers.

Zoé is much like Brussels herself – rarely boastful, plenty to fascinate, every part wonderful, a feeling of…Home.

To be continued…

Flag of Brussels

Above: The flag of Brussels

Sources: Wikipedia / John Sutherland, The Brontesaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte

 

 

Oil and Blood in the Heartland 1: Hope and Despair

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 November 2016

King Solomon of Israel (970 – 932 BC) once wrote about life on Earth in his day:

“A generation goes and a generation comes…

All things are full of weariness. 

A man cannot utter it. 

The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be. 

What has been done is what will be done.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new.”?

It has been already in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be, among those who come after.”

(Ecclesiastes 1: 4 – 11, Holy Bible, New International Version)

This is especially true in the Information Age.

Every day we see an endless procession of visual images and listen to an endless stream of sounds.

Yet, after all our looking and listening, our eyes and ears are not satisfied.

We still want to see and hear more.

So we take in more of the endless procession of sounds and images.

Enough is never enough.

There is always one more show to watch, one more game to play, one more song to listen to.

We keep texting, webcasting, Facebooking, Twittering and Flickring.

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And it is all futile.

Life is more boring than modern man cares to admit.

Empires rise and fall.

War is followed by peace, then followed again by war.

As Yogi Berra said: “It´s déjà vu all over again.”

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What really changes?

The message or just the methods and speed?

Sickness or just the diagnostics and treatment?

Relationships?

Politics?

Morality?

The methods have changed, but the essence remains the same.

What was, is.

What is, will be.

Issues thought long past once again revisit.

The past unresolved meets the present moment, creating tensions for the future.

Again the winds of change blow across a familiar landscape.

Economics struggles against nature and tradition.

To be fair, there are moments of optimism.

“Eight miles off the coast of Long Beach, California, the oil rig Eureka, which has stood there for 40 years, looking like just another artifact of the modern industrial landscape, has beneath the waves a vast and thriving community of sea life – one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet.

The location of Eureka and other rigs like it in this area, where a cold current sweeps down from Canada, has become a perfect habitat for fish and other sea life settling around the massive concrete pylons.

Momentum is gathering to convert rigs into artificial reefs once the rigs are decommissioned.

Awareness is increasing of the value of rigs as permanent homes for sea life.

But leaving rigs in place is controversial and is seen as benefiting the oil industry.

The Eureka, owned by the Houston oil company Beta Offshore, is one of 27 oil rigs off the California coast.

Several major oil spills have occurred since they were built half a century ago, giving rise to a passionate environmental movement that has long advocated complete removal of the rigs.

An enormous oil spill in 1969 released 100,000 barrels of crude, leaving a slick over 40 miles of coastline and killing thousands of animals.

In 2015, a pipeline sprung a leak that released 3,400 barrels of crude into the ocean, fouling several just-created marine protected areas.

The process of removing a rig and cleaning the site, known as decommissioning, is complicated and expensive, and includes plugging and cementing wells to make them safe.

A total decommissioning means the removal of the entire structure.

In a typical rigs-to-reefs effort, only the top portion is removed, usually to a depth of 80 feet, so that they don´t pose any risk to ship hulls.

The rest of the rig remains in place as a haven for sea life and for recreational diving or fishing.

The potential savings to the oil industry from converting all the rigs off the coast of California to reefs could be more than $1,000,000,000, but under US law oil companies would be required to put at least half the money they save into state coffers to fund conservation programs.”

(Erik Olsen, “Oil rigs gushing with marine life”, New York Times, 7 March 2016)

Reading of nature quietly reclaiming places despoiled by man does give me hope that no matter how man wrecks our planet that over time nature will repair itself.

But mankind acts swifter than nature reacts.

“Among Scots and tourists alike, the bonny banks of Loch Lomond have long been renowned as a relaxing place to enjoy some of the country´s most beautiful scenery.

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The Australian company Scotgold Resources has spent most of the last decade developing a gold mine in the dramatic surroundings of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Local campaigners are voicing their concerns that the infrastructure and waste created by the operation could damage the national park.”

(The Independent, 25 February 2016)

“The juniper mesas and sunset-red canyons in a corner of southern Utah are so remote that even Republican Governor Gary Herbert says he has probably only seen them from the window of a plane.

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This is a paradise for hikers and campers, a revered retreat where generations of the Original Peoples have hunted, gathered ceremonial herbs and carved their stories onto the sandstone walls.

Today, the land known as Bears Ears – named for twin buttes that jut over the horizon – is a battleground in the fight over how much power Washington exerts over federally controlled Western landscapes.

The President has the power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create national monuments on federal lands.

A coalition of native tribes, with support from conservation groups, is pushing for a new monument in these red rock deserts, arguing it would protect 1.9 million acres of culturally significant land from new mining and drilling.

But Utah lawmakers are so angry with federal land policies that in 2012 they passed a law demanding that Washington hand over 31 million acres, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, to the state.

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The federal government – the landlord of 65% of Utah´s land – has not complied, so Utah is considering a $14,000,000 lawsuit to force a transfer.

Conservative lawmakers across the state have lined up to oppose any new monument.

Ranchers, county commissioners, business groups and even some local tribal members object to a monument as a land grab that would add crippling restrictions on animal grazing, oil and gas drilling and road building in a rural county that never saw its share of Utah´s economic growth.

For the coalition of tribes and nature advocates seeking preservation, a new national monument in Bears Ears would preserve a stretch of mountains, mesas and canyons six times the size of Los Angeles.

It could also create a new model for how public lands are managed.

The tribal coalition of Navajos, Zunis, Hopis, Utes and Ute Mountain Utes wants to jointly manage the land with the government.

“You can´t talk about who we are as a people without talking about the land.

The same kind of love that we have for relatives is no different than the love we have for the land.

Our traditional people know and understand these lands as living, breathing beings.” (Eric Descheenie, chairman of the intertribal coalition)

Utah´s Republican representatives in Salt Lake City and Washington overwhelmingly oppose President Obama and are pushing a bill that would conserve some stretches of land while allowing energy development in other parcels.

Environmental groups have largely denounced the plan, saying it would lead to more roads and traffic in the back country and open eastern Utah to tarsands extraction and new oil drilling.

Tribal groups pushing for a monument say they would have a far weaker voice in how the area was managed.

The Navajos have hunted and lived in the Bears Ears region long before Utah was called “Utah”.

People still go there to hunt elk or deer, gather wood for fence posts and herbs for ceremonies.”

(Jack Healy, “Remote Utah landscape becomes conservation battleground”, New York Times, 12 March 2016)

In a previous blog I wrote about how Oklahoma is being forced to put limits on oil and gas wells because the underground disposal of industrial wastes have triggered large earthquakes and how a health outreach initiative in Colorado is trying to dispel the notion that all tap water is harmful and how tourism operators are urging the Australian government to tackle climate change.

I spoke about how poachers have almost eliminated rhino species in Tanzania and how Australian company Mineral Commodities wishes to mine titanium on traditional South African land thus threatening social tradition and destruction of the local environment.

(See RIP Earth of this blog.)

Change challenges.

Economics versus tradition is a theme that never seems to fade.

Of course, there are voices that suggest there are other ways to satisfy our never-sated hunger for energy and profits, but these voices seem as distant from kind receptiveness as Bears Ears is from Salt Lake City…far away thus forgetable.

Yet some light does shine through the fog…

“In Britain, drivers of hydrogen fuel cell cars will soon be able to fill up at a network of stations that generate their fuel on site from renewable energy.

A ITM Power station in Teddington, southwest London, has opened with the capacity to produce hydrogen during periods when wind turbines are producing more power than the grid needs.

The station uses electrolysis to generate hydrogen from tap water.

The electrolyser takes power from the grid and can be switched on and off remotely to help the network remain in balance when there is excess supply of electricity.

Fuel cell cars combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which powers the motor.

The Teddington station, based at the National Physical Laboratory, can claim to provide genuinely zero emission fuel when its electrolyser is running on renewable power.

ITM Power is opening several more hydrogen fuelling stations this year.

Fifteen are already in operation and the government is helping to fund a further 40 by 2020.

The Teddington station is part of the HyFive Project, an EU scheme that is supporting clusters of fuel cell cars and stations in Britain, Denmark and Germany.”

(Ben Webster, “Eco-filling station hopes to fuel rise of green cars”, The Times, 10 May 2016)

A reduction in carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels is needed.

The average European emits around 12 tonnes of carbon a year into the atmosphere.

Carbon emissions are causing climate change.

But in some places like the US getting folks to reduce their carbon footprint is difficult.

SUVs (sport utility vehicles)(also known as 4 X 4s) are incredibly popular in the US, despite being dangerous both for pedestrians and the environment.

One in four vehicles sold in the US is an SUV.

SUVs are also gaining popularity in Europe.

SUVs are the most polluting form of passenger transport available.

Each gallon of petrol/gas burned emits more than 12 kilograms of CO2 and SUVs are gas guzzlers, doing as little as 13 miles per gallon.

I recall with bittersweet amusement the animated film Over the Hedge where RJ (a raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis) explains to the foraging animals he recently met how the world of humans operates:

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“THAT is an SUV. 

Humans ride around in it, because they are slowly losing their ability to walk.”

(Penny, the mother porcupine, voiced by Catherine O`Hara): Jeepers, it´s so big.

(Lou, the papa porcupine, voiced by Eugene Levy): How many humans fit in there?

(RJ): Usually? One.

The West is a car culture.

We love our cars, despite traffic noise, polluted air, dangerous driving, jam-packed streets and urban chaos.

We breathe in dangerous air pollutants and suffer from eye and throat irritation, cancer and damage to the body´s immune, neurological, reproductive and respiratory systems.

We destroy without compassion or concern our ponds, streams, fields and forests to produce electricity for our homes and to power our transportation.

When I read articles like the ITM Power hydrogen fuel station I feel a spark of optimism, but often I fear the world is heading madly towards becoming an environmental dystopia, as predicted by futurists like Thomas Malthus, Harry Harrison and George Orwell, or as feared in movies like Blade Runner, Elysium, No Blade of Grass, Silent Running, Soylent Green and WALL-E.

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“The world´s first international treaty that bans or phases out fossil fuels is being considered by leaders of developing Pacific island nations after a summit in the Solomon Islands in June.

The leaders of 14 countries agreed to consider a proposed Pacific climate treaty, which will bind signatories to targets for renewable energy and ban new or the expansion of existing coalmines, at the annual leadership summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF).

The treaty proposal was received very positively by the national leaders, who seemed convinced that the treaty is an avenue where the Pacific could again show or build on the moral and political leadership that they showed earlier in their efforts to tackle climate change.

The treaty will bind parties to not approve any new coal or fossil fuel mines and not provide any subsidies for fossil fuel mining or consumption.

The parties will ensure universal access to clean energy by 2030 and will establish a Pacific framework for renewable energy to achieve that goal.

The treaty, to be signed next year, will establish compensation for communities that have suffered climate change-related losses.

The treaty also has provisions on climate-related migration and adaptation.”

(Michael Slezak, “Pacific island nations consider world´s first treaty to ban fossil fuels”, The Guardian, 14 July 2016)

Even my part-time employer seems concerned about the environment…

“Starbucks is to try a fully recyclable cup as part of efforts to cut the amount of waste sent to landfills each year.

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The coffee shop chain will be the first retailer to test the Frugalpac, which, according to its manufacturer, is much easier to recycle.

More than 2.5 billion coffee cups are used in the UK every year, but only one in 400 is recyclable, with the rest sent to landfills or incinerated because they are made from paper laminated with plastic, making them hard to process.

Starbucks, which has 850 shops in the UK, has said that it will test the new cup in some of the shops “to see if the Frugalpac cup meets Starbucks standards for safety and quality.”

(Andrew Ellson, “Starbucks leads the way with fully recyclable coffee cup”, The Times, 22 July 2016)

But old habits and old attitudes die hard…

Let´s take a gander at my home and native land of Canada, a country which seems to be experiencing a love-in from many other countries and much of the media, like The Economist (“Liberty moves north: Canada´s example to the world”, 29 October 2016) or Monocle (“Canada calling: why it´s time to take a fresh look north”, November 2016).

Flag of Canada

According to The Economist, Canada is “a citadel of decency, tolerance and good sense” and says “the world owes Canada gratitude for reminding it of what many people are in danger of forgetting: that tolerance and openness are wellsprings of security and prosperity, not threats to them.”

Yet one does not get the sense that Canada is superior when it comes to deciding between profits and the environment.

“Fort McMurray, Alberta (or “Fort Make Money” as some Canadians nicknamed it) was the kind of place where second chances and fat paychecks beckoned.

Aerial view of Fort McMurray with Athabasca River

Those who settled there were trained engineers, refugees from wartorn countries and dreamers from across Canada and beyond, drawn to a dot on the map in northern Alberta, a city carved out of the boreal forest in a region gushing with oil riches.

Even after the price of crude began to collapse in late 2014, erasing thousands of jobs, many residents managed to hang on, tightening their belts while waiting for the good times to return.

Then on 1 May 2016, smoke and ash filled the sky, the first harbingers of a catastrophic wildfire sweeping around the city.

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The entire population of about 88,000 was forced to evacuate, most in a frantic rush.

The blaze consumed whole sections of Fort McMurray, ranking as one of the most devastating fires in Canada´s history.

The fire destroyed over 2,400 homes and buildings, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta history.

The inferno continued to spread across northern Alberta and into Saskatchewan, consuming forested areas and impacting the Athabasca oil sands operation 70 km north of Fort McMurray.

A quarter of Canada´s oil production, equal to one million barrels of oil a day, was halted as a result of the fire.

The fire spread across 1.5 million acres before it was declared to be under control on 5 July 2016.

It is estimated that the damage reached about $4 billion, making this the most expensive damge in Canadian history.

The cause of the fire is suspected to be human caused, starting in a remote area 15 km from Fort McMurray.

But even as displaced residents filed insurance claims and picked through piles of donated clothing, many remain adamant about rebuilding the city that gave them a financial lifeline as rare as the source of its prosperity, the largest oil sands reserve in the world.

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Until environmentalists challenged the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the city and the Alberta oil sands reserve were little known outside of Canada and the world´s oil companies.

(More on Keystone to follow…)

Attempts to convert its deposits of tarlike bitumen into fuel go back decades and Fort McMurray´s fortunes have risen and fallen with them.

(New York Times, “A Canadian oil boom town left in ashes”, 8 May 2016 / Wikipedia)

But not enough is said about the oil sands operation in respect to environmental impact or indigeous rights before the wildfire struck.

The Athabaska oil sands are large deposits of bitumen or extremely heavy crude oil.

They consist of a mixture of crude bitumen (a semi-solid rock-like form of crude oil), silica sand, clay minerals and water.

The Athabaska deposit is the largest known reservoir of crude bitumen in the world and the largest of three major oil deposits, along with the nearby Peace River and Cold Lake deposits.

Together, these oil sand deposits lie under 141,000  sq. km / 54,000 sq. mi. of boreal forest and peat bogs and contain about 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen in place, comparable in magnitude to the world´s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum.

Canada´s total proven reserves are the third largest in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

The Athabaska oil sands are named after the Athabaska River which cuts through the heart of the deposit.

Traces of the heavy oil are readily observed on the river banks.

The bitumen was used by the indigenous Cree and Dene First Nations to waterproof their canoes.

In the sands there are very large amounts of bitumen covered over by water-laden peat bog, clay and barren sand.

The oil sands themselves are typically 40 – 60 metres / 130 – 200 ft deep, sitting on top of flat limestone rock.

Bitumen is extracted from the oil sands by surface mining and in situ steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).

20% of the Athabaska sands are shallow enough to recover bitumen by surface mining, using the biggest power shovels (100 or more tons) and dump trucks (400 tons) in the world.

After the bitumen is excavated, hot water and caustic soda (NaOH) is added to the sand.

The resulting slurry is piped to the extraction plant where it is agitated and the oil skimmed from the top.

About two tons of oil sands are required to produce one barrel (1/8 of a ton) of oil.

SAGD is an advanced form of steam stimulation in which a pair of horizontal wells are drilled into the oil reservoir, one a few metres above the other.

High pressure steam is continously injected into the upper wellbore to heat the oil and reduce its viscosity, causing the heated oil to drain into the lower wellbore, where it is pumped out to a bitumen recovery facility.

Critics contend that government and industry measures taken to reduce environmental and health risks posed by these large-scale mining operations are inadequate, causing unacceptable damage to the natural environment and human welfare.

Mining destroys the boreal forest, which is clear cut to allow for mining excavation and bitumen extraction to occur.

Since the beginning of the oil sands development in 1967, there have been several leaks into the Athabaska River polluting it with oil and tailing pond water.

In 1997 Suncor admitted that their tailing ponds had been leaking 1,600 cubic metres of toxic water per day.

This water contains naphtenic acid, trace metals such as mercury and other pollutants.

The Athabaska River is the largest freshwater delta in the world, but with Suncor and Syncrude leaking tail ponds, the amount of polluted water will exceed 1 billion cubic metres by 2020.

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Natural toxicants derived from bitumen in northern Alberta pose potential ecological and human health risks to residents living in the area.

Oil sands development contributes arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and other metal elements toxic at low concentrations to the tributaries and rivers of the Athabaska.

A car filled with fuel from Canada´s oil sands emits 15% more carbon dioxide into the air than average crude oil.

Oil development activities bring an enormous number of people into a fragile ecosystem.

Water is easily polluted because the water table reaches the surface in most areas of muskeg (peat bog).

With the ever-increasing development and extraction of resources, wildlife are recipient to both direct and indirect effects of pollution.

Woodland caribou are particularly sensitive to human activities and as such are pushed away from their preferred habitat during the time of year when their caloric needs are greatest and food is the most scarce.

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Humanity´s effect on the caribou is compounded by road construction and habitat fragmentation that open up the area to deer and wolves.

Wildlife living near the Athabaska River have been greatly impacted due to pollutants entering the water system.

An unknown number of birds die each year.

Particularly visible and hard hit are migrating birds that stop to rest at tailing ponds.

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There have been numerous reports of large flocks of ducks landing in tailing ponds and perishing soon after.

There has also been a large impact on the fish that live and spawn in the area.

As toxins accumulate in the River due to the oil sands, bizarre mutations, tumors and deformed fish species have begun to appear.

First Nations communities that live around the River are becoming increasingly worried about how the animals they eat and their drinking water are being affected.

There is a higher rate of cancer in their communities caused by the contamination of the River and the oil sands as well as uranium mining.

The world´s largest production of uranium is also in this area.

In July 2015, one of the largest leaks in Canada´s history spilled 5,000 cubic metres of emulsion – about 5 million litres of bitumen, sand and wastewater – from a Nexen Energy pipeline at an oil sands facility.

In January 2016, an explosion left one worker dead and another seriously injured.

(Wikipedia)

So, let´s look at another oil boom region: North Dakota.

North Dakota´s big shale oil boom, which in its heyday produced 810,000 barrels a day, was described as being similar to the California gold rush but in North Dakota in the 21st century.

The Bakken Shale Formation boom was so large that it cut the number of US imports of crude oil and petroleum products in half.

The boom created thousands of jobs and generated millions in wealth, but at a cost…

It took a massive toll on the environment.

Since 2006, there has been more than 19 million gallons of oils and chemicals that have been spilled, leaked or misted.

(New York Times, “The downside of the boom”, 22 November 2014.)

Since 2006, at least 74 workers have died in the Bakken oilfields.

On average that means someone dies in the Bakken oilfields every six weeks.

Oil workers were hired on a 20/10 basis: 20 days working / 10 days off, with some working shifts of 69 hours straight.

And there are few incentives for the oil companies to care about their workers.

The US Department of Labor reported that “the current general industry standards inadequately address the unique hazards encountered on oil and gas wells.”

USDOL Seal circa 2015.svg

(Department of Labor´s Occupational Safety and Health Administration  (OSHA) report on oil and gas well drilling and servicing, The Federal Register, 28 December 1983)

There are fewer than 10 OSHA inspection officers for the entirety of both North and South Dakota.

It would take decades for OSHA to inspect every worksite in North Dakota.

US-OSHA-Logo.svg

On 14 September 2011, at an Oasis Petroleum site in western North Dakota near the town of Williston, an oil well explosion killed 21-year-old derrickman Brendon Wagner and injured three others.

Of the three injured men, one would later die from his injuries, another would have his legs amputated and the third would commit suicide.

OSHA found that the site had been missing many important safety features.

“None of the employees were provided flame retardant clothing…The servicing rig did not have a safety slide.”

(OSHA report, September 2011)

But Oasis was not liable for the damages their oil well caused because the workers had been subcontracted from Carlson Well Service and the “Oasis company supervisor” was contracted from Mitchell´s Oil Field Service.

Meaning that no one working on Oasis´ well that day was actually an Oasis worker.

In an Oasis service contract, dated 21 July 2010, it reads that Carlson had the authority to control and direct the performance and safety of the work and that Oasis was interested only in the results obtained.

Now, the subcontracting of workers is not unique to North Dakota, but what is special to North Dakota is how friendly regulatory authorities are to oil companies operating in the state.

“We have created a friendly business climate in North Dakota.

Taxes and insurance rates are low.

The regulatory environment is very reasonable.

North Dakotans are friendly towards business and will work hard to help their employers be successful.”

(North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, 2012)

Jack Dalrymple 2013.jpg

Governor Dalrymple heads up the three-person Industrial Commission which overseas the state´s oil and gas regulations and excises fines for the majority of spills.

One of the biggest oil producers in the state is Continental Resources, which has spilled a greater volume of spillage (1.6 million gallons) than any other operator in North Dakota.

Since 2006, Continental has been fined only $222,000, but has paid only $20,000 as the fines are reduced because the Industrial Commission typically settles for 10% of the assessed penalties.

Lynn Helms of the Commission claimed that this system works well due to the conditions which are attached to the penalties:

The penalised company agrees to cut a cheque, which is unappealable if the same or a repeat violation occurs in a one-to-five-year period after the penalised offence.

“In five years, no companies have had a repeat violation. 

It´s like Prohibition and really changes behavior.”

(Lynn Helms interview, Associated Press, 20 March 2012)

In 2014, Petro Hunt received a 90% discount on a $20,000 fine after an incident where they spilled 3,000 gallons of oil.

Five months later, in an oil spill one mile northwest of Keene, Petro Hunt had another incident where 600 barrels of oil leaked from a well and was not contained on site.

600 barrels of oil = 2,500 gallons of oil

North Dakota´s regulations extend to political campaign financing.

On 21 July 2014, the Center for Public Integrity reported that “the oil sector is the biggest single source of political contributions in the state of North Dakota”.

“When I first ran for office and was visiting with other candidates I always asked, “If you had any money left in the campaign account at the end of the campaign what do you do with it?”.

One of the most fascinating answers I received was: “What´s wrong?  Put it in your checking account.  It´s yours.  That´s income.”.”

Photo Corey Mock

(Utah Democrat Representative Corey Mack)

North Dakota does not have an Ethics Commission.

North Dakota also allows the oil industry to use “indemnification to avoid civil liability”.

A typical service contract, 21 July 2010:

“Contractor agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Company against all claims without limit and without regard to the cause or causes thereof or the negligence or fault with any party in connection herewith Contractor´s employees on account of bodily injury or death.”

Jobs and money shouldn´t come at the expense of land and lives.

(HBO Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 10 November 2015 broadcast)

Comfort and convenience, speed and progress, should not mean the sacrifice of lands and lives, the environment or our survival.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

RIP Earth (or how I started worrying and learned to love science)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 – 26 September 2016

As the few, but faithful, followers of my blog know, I am a freelance teacher of English as a second language here in Switzerland.

So this position often finds me, on a regular basis, in situations that can be quite challenging.

My latest challenge is an old foe I have wrestled with on a number of occasions in the past: institutions which insist their students learn what they aren´t enthusiastic about learning.

And, truth be told, this is a battle I haven´t always won, for one must somehow make seductive that which isn´t that seductive in the first place.

Think back to high school and the subjects you had that you were forced to take but you didn´t enjoy.

While I was excited by literature and history and geography, I was unmotivated by science, math or tech.

I couldn´t have cared less, and I often suspect that the only reason I passed those courses is that the teachers wanted me out of their courses and gave me marks I didn´t deserve!

Only years later by travelling and independent home study did there arise within me an abstract attraction to these subjects.

Now my latest challenge is that I have somehow talked a school into believing that I am competent enough to teach technical English to employees of a company that produces coffee machines.

The school that chose their textbooks seems unconcerned that the textbooks that the students use are not particularly related to the daily business of the employees.

So, for example, I have had to make relevant subjects like oil drilling and laser technology to people who have no interest in them, and, truth be told, are subjects I am not much motivated to teach.

Now, normally I would simply persevere and keep teaching these subjects to the best of my ability regardless of diminishing class attendance until the course had been completed.

But, yesterday, a conversation after class with one of my students has made me reconsider my approach and attitude to these courses.

Nicole told me that the firm Eugster Frismag AG once had “ordinary” English courses, but after a multitude of complaints from the students that the courses weren´t technical enough they asked my school to offer a curriculum of technical courses.

Now I have taught technical English courses before Eugster Frismag – at technical colleges and companies – so I was assumed to be a natural choice for this assignment.

But I would be speaking falsely if I claimed that teaching these courses came naturally to me.

I have felt like a fish on the shore teaching lobsters about the glory of mountains.

But when Nicole told me that she was unhappy with the technical aspects of the course but remained with the course in hopes of improving her English, I have become filled with a new resolve…

To make what I teach (and, by extension, what I write) both relevant and interesting to my audience.

Now before you, my gentle readers, grow fearful that I am going to now wax poetically about snake wells vs vertical wells, or explain in excruciating detail everything you didn´t want to know about Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, let me assure you that this is not my intention.

If it could be said that my blog possesses a style or a theme, the approach I try to take with my writing is to take my personal experiences as well as the events of the day and combine them to make writing that is both interesting and relevant to the reader.

I am not always sure that I am successful, but I always keep trying.

In my search for relevant materials that might capture the interest of others I again turn to headlines of the day:

“Something isn´t right with our Internet shopping habits.

With every new delivery…

Another cardboard box.

Scientists and policy makers are grappling with the long term environmental effects of an economy that runs increasingly on instant gratification.

We want what we want NOW and companies like Amazon and Google are eager to deliver.

Amazon.com-Logo.svg

Google 2015 logo.svg

The $350 billion e-commerce industry has doubled in the last five years.

The environmental cost includes 35.4 million tons of cardboard (2014) and the emissions of increasingly personalised freight services.

Consumers share as much responsibility for the environmental cost of the deliveries as the companies that provide the speedy services.

The Fibre Box Association – the trade group of the cardboard industry – estimates that the use of boxes for e-commerce is growing faster than most other market segments.

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, San Francisco´s main recycling processor, which collects 100 tons of cardboard every day, has a simple solution:

Recology Logo Official.jpg

Slow down consumption.” (NY Times, 16 February 2016)

“Facing a six-year barrage of increasingly large earthquakes, Oklahoma regulators are ordering the state´s powerful oil and gas industry to substantially cut back the underground disposal of industry wastes that have caused tremors across the state.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has asked well operators in central Oklahoma to reduce by 40% the amount of oil and gas wastes they are injecting deep into the earth.

Seal of Oklahoma.svg

The actions significantly increase the effort to rein in the earthquakes, which the Commission has long tried to reduce one well or a handful of wells at a time, but they are an equally notable challenge to the industry, which will most likely be able to make the cutbacks only by reducing oil and gas production.

The liquid wastes are a byproduct of pumping oil and gas.

The more that is drawn from the ground, the more wastes must be disposed.

Most of the oil and gas industry has cooperated with the Commission´s earthquake reduction efforts in the past, but a handful have complied only under pressure.

The new orders come after three of the largest quakes in Oklahoma´s history, 4.7, 4.8 and 5.1 magnitude shocks that rocked a major oil field this year.

In 2010, when the tremors began, Oklahoma recorded three earthquakes at or above a magnitude of 3.0.

Last year, Oklahoma had 907.

Although critics contend that earthquakes have caused millions of dollars of damage, Oklahoma´s political leaders have long been reluctant to impose restrictions on an industry that dominates the state´s economy.

Until last spring, Republican Governor Mary Fallin maintained that the cause of the tremors was unclear and the state legislature refused to consider legislation addressing the issue.

Mary Fallin.jpg

Governor Fallin abandoned her position as the number of quakes rapidly increased, but the political leadership was not jolted into action until January after a series of small earthquakes damaged homes and interrupted power in Edmond, an Oklahoma City suburb and home to many in the state´s political and financial elite.” (NY Times, 7 March 2016)

Pollution in America has gotten so bad that immigrants need to be persuaded to trust the tap water…

“At a time when water crises in communities like Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, have eroded confidence in public water systems – particularly in poor and minority communities – a health outreach initiative in Colorado is trying to dispel the notion that all tap water is harmful…”(New York Times, 31 March 2016)

The Flint River in Flint, Michigan, United States, in the late 1970s during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, Taken from approximately halfway between the Grand Traverse Street bridge and Beach-Garland Street bridge, looking east.

Above: Flint River, Flint, Michigan, in the 1970s

And environmental problems are not exclusively American…

“Queensland tourism operators have broken their silence about the worst crisis ever faced by the Great Barrier Reef, with more that 170 businesses and individuals pleading with the Australian government to take urgent action to tackle climate change and ensure the Reef survives.

Many tourism operators have previously been quiet about concerns for the Reef, fearful that speaking about the mass bleaching event would turn tourists away, lowering their incomes in the short term.

The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst bleaching event ever seen, with virtually the entire Reef affected.

Unusally warm water has killed as much as half the corals in the northern sections and scientists have found climate change will make those conditions normal in less than 20 years.” (Guardian, 6 May 2016)

And in the Great White North…

“Real life sightings of grolar bears (a hybrid breed of polar and grizzly bear) are becoming more common as the Arctic warms at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, driving the two species closer in the hunt for food.

In Hudson Bay there have been documented cases of polar bears and grizzlies feasting on a whale carcass together.

The hybrid may ultimately become a threat to the polar bear, as grizzlies are more numerous and their territory is expanding, meaning that they could dilute the polar bear population until it fades away altogether.” (Times, 25 May 2016)

Polar Bear - Alaska (cropped).jpg

Let´s look in at the wildlife of the Dark Continent…

More than 1,300 rhinos were killed by poachers in Africa last year, the highest number since a surge in their slaughter began a decade ago.

Diceros bicornis.jpg

Poachers target rhinos for their horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicines in the belief that they cure hangovers, fevers and even cancer.

Rhino horn can be worth more than gold on the black market.

Black rhinos are much rarer than white rhinos, with only 5,000 in the wild, compared with 70,000 in 1970.

Africa has fewer than 750 eastern black rhinos, the rarest of three subspecies.” (Times, 6 June 2016)

“The fight over a titanium mine near the South African village of Xolobeni is a symbol of the struggle between traditional industry and a sustainable future.

The dunes appear endless.

Behind them lie rolling grassy hills, banana trees, sweet potato fields and thatched huts.

There are horses, goats and dogs, but no roads, no towns.

The only constant sound is the crash of the breakers from the Indian Ocean.

This is Xolobeni, a remote village on the eastern shore of South Africa and the focus of a bitter dispute over a massive titanium mining project.

Photo of Xolobeni area

For activists, the story is simple:

An exploitative international mining company is set on uprooting a community and destroying the local environment to reach precious ore.

For supporters of the project, the opposite is true:

Much needed investors have come to help South Africa exploit a key resource and develop an impoverished region.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, 40, an activist against the project and who grew up in the area, claims that much of the coast and its hinterland would be destroyed by the mining project, with water sources drained, fish stocks undermined, farms razed and over 2,000 people displaced to rudimentary township settlements.

“Xolobeni will become a desert.

They (the Australia-based Mineral Commodities – MRC) will poison everything.

We are living with the plants and nature and we know that without the plants we cannot live.

The mine will poison our land.

Our way of life will die completely.” (Observer, 12 June 2016)

And as we take more from Earth, Earth is less able to meet our demands…

“An upsurge in the international and local demand for avacados has inspired widespread theft in New Zealand, creating a black market for the popular fruit.

Close-up picture of foliage and avocado fruit

So far this year there have been nearly 40 large scale thefts from avocado orchards on the North Island with as many as 350 avocados being stolen each time.

“We have reports of people driving utility vehicles into orchards and filling up the entire back tray.

Growers are finding blankets and duvets in their orchards with piles of avocados in them that thieves have picked before being interrupted.

There´s certainly a large scale theft going on and large numbers of it going on.”(Bevan Jelley, NZ Avocado Market manager)(Independent, 15 June 2016)

We need to learn to strike a balance with nature…

“The new airport on the island of St. Helena, in the south Atlantic 1,200 miles from the African coastline, where Napoleon spent his last days, may never open because of wind and turbulence risks.

First Comair Boeing 737-800 flight to Saint Helena Airport (191).jpg

The opening of the airport, built for about 250 million pounds, was indefinitely postponed last month after test flights showed that dangerous wind conditions made landings and take-offs unsafe.” (Times, 4 June 2016)

“As Louisiana floodwaters recede, the scope of the disaster comes into view.

Louisiana said that at least 11 people died and that about 30,000 people had been rescued.

In Louisiana, severe weather can often seem a trauma visited and revisited, but the disaster unfolding last month fits into a recent and staggering pattern in more than half a dozen states, where floods have rolled out at such a scale that scientists say they might be a once every 500 or 1,000 year occurrence.

The cumultative, increasingly grim toll, from Maryland to South Carolina to Louisiana to Texas, includes scores of lives and billions of dollars in economic losses.

Everywhere the same refrain – that it has never happened like this – has given rise to the same question:

How should communities and families plan for deluges that are theoretically uncommon but now seem to play out with appaling regularity?

As Louisiana faced its second catastrophic flood in about five months, climate scientists elsewhere cautioned that the state was unlikely to be the last to confront a disaster like this one.

“There is definitely an increase in heavy rainfall due to climate change.

The actual increase from place to place is going to be variable because of the randomness of the weather.

Some places will see a dramatic change.”(John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist)”(New York Times, 17 August 2016)

“The winter job of the RRS Ernest Shackleton is to support British research in the Antarctic into the effects of climate change.

RRS Ernest Shackleton BB.jpg

During the summer the ship supports a cruise liner, Crystal Serenity, whose passengers have a choice of eight restaurants, afternoon tea, golf tuition and an itinerary through the Arctic Northwest Passage possible only because of climate change.

Crystalserenity01.jpg

“There is something terribly ironic about taking advantage of climate change to see an ecosystem that is undergoing destruction.

This ship can only go because of climate change.

As sea ice disappears so will the ecosystem based around it.

This is extinction tourism.

They are going to see animals before they disappear.

I find that extremely problematic.”(Michael Byers, University of British Columbia)(Times, 18 June 2016)

We are destroying this planet, our home, in the name of comfort and convenience, in the name of progress and profit.

All of nature, including man, is part of one great whole interdependent ecosystem.

The destruction of any of its components means the decline and destruction of the whole.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in Earth´s atmosphere.

Its concentration in the air is rising in line with fossil fuel consumption.

Earth´s temperature is rising.

We are the cause of global warming.

“The demand for energy is certain to increase…as an ever larger population strives to improve its standard of living.“(Charles Keeling, author of Climate Change and Carbon Dioxide: An Introduction)

Charles David Keeling 2001.jpg

The more we demand products, the more products are produced.

The more products are produced, the more fuel is consumed –  both in these products´ production as well as their delivery.

So many of us are dependent upon technology for our daily lives yet despite this the country that uses these technologies the most – the United States – doubts science the most.

According to the National Geographic magazine of March 2015, a third of Americans believe that humans have existed in their present form, less than half of them believe in global warming, that the moon landing was fake, that vaccinations cause more harm than good and that genetically modified food is evil.

National Geographic March 2009.jpg

Perhaps it is a question of rejecting what isn’t understood.

Perhaps it is a fear that science has its own agenda.

Perhaps this fear is caused by the truth of science refuting “truths” we believe to be “self-evident“, truth we prefer to be true rather than what actually is.

Some folks believe that climate change is a fantasy meant to prevent industry from making a profit.

And even the nature of science that rarely claims absolute certainty as there remains gaps in knowledge causes folks to doubt its evidence for science does not pretend to be infallible.

But nature has its laws

And measurement of phenomena is usually reliable.

It never fails to astound me that it is easier for some folks to believe in God than it is for them to believe in scientific evidence….

To believe in technology but not in the science behind the technology…

To believe only the information that fits with our belief systems.

We believe what the Internet says if what we read conforms to our wishes.

It is an age of disbelief, despite all evidence justifying belief.

Climate change is real.

Climate change needs to be stopped.

We need to change our lifestyles, for our planet can no longer be sustained if we don´t.

I support the environment, because I live in one.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 lunar mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

 

 

 

Route 66 revisited

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 September 2016

Fifty years.

Half a century has gone by since the Sixties, the decade of my birth, a truly Dickensian “best of times”/”worst of times” decade.

What had been sowed, both good and evil, from the previous decade bore bittersweet harvest: apartheid produces the Sharpeville Massacre, Castro´s revolution leads to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, JFK becomes US President and plays nuclear roulette with the Russians, racial tensions explode with the assassination of Martin Luther King and Black Power is the response, the British government falls in the Profumo scandal, Nelson Mandela is jailed, the Greeks depose their King.

Above: Painting of the Sharpeville Massacre, 21 March 1960

Above: Che Guevara and Fidel Castro

JFK WHPO.tif

Above: US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Soviet-R-12-nuclear-ballistic missile.jpg

Above: Soviet missiles displayed in Red Square, Moscow

Above: Martin Luther King Jr.- organised March on Washington, 28 August 1963

Above: Black Power demonstration at Mexico City Olympics 1968

Above: Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was jailed

Good-bye Che Guevara, Adolf Eichmann, the villagers of My Lai, the miners of Aberfan, Jayne Mansfield, Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe), Judy Garland, JFK and brother Bobby…the day the music died.

Above: Jayne Mansfield

Monroe c. 1953

Above: Norma Jean Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe)

Rfk assassination.jpg

Above: Robert Kennedy just after he was shot 0n 5 June 1968

It was a time of Flower Power and peace, when “all you need is love” in the land of Camelot, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

It was a time of riots, protests and revolution, anarchy on campus and Reds scaring us everywhere.

The Berlin Wall goes up, the Apollo Mission ends in tragedy, Firenze flooded, Skopje wrecked by earthquake, the jumbo jet and the Concorde first fly, man in space and on the moon, Nureyev dances, Bob Dylan believes “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”, while women put all their faith in the Pill and US election campaigners tout Nixon with signs that read “I like Dick.”

Berlinermauer.jpg

Above: The Berlin Wall

Above: Apollo 11 moon landing, 20 July 1969

Dylan with his guitar onstage, laughing and looking downwards.

Above: Bob Dylan, 1963

Vietnam, a conflict which America couldn´t lose, but did.

Above: US tank convoy, Vietnam War

Algeria, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden and Nigeria struggle for freedom.

The casbah is rocked.

The Six Day War, a conflict which Israel couldn´t win, yet did.

Biafra: 2.5 year war, a million innocent people starve to death.

Hope and terror in Prague as Soviet tanks roll down the streets of spring.

10 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia - Flickr - The Central Intelligence Agency.jpg

The rise to stardom of Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot) causing male temperatures to rise to stellar heights.

Above: Brigitte Bardot, 1961

The age of the epic film: Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, The Sound of Music, 2001: A Space Odyssey (which everyone loved but no one understood), Psycho, The Birds, Planet of the Apes, La Dolce Vita.

Ben hur 1959 poster.jpg

Charles Manson commits unspeakable acts.

The Rat Pack sing, George Lazenby is unloved On Her Majesty´s Secret Service, prompting Sean Connery to remind movie goers that he´s still  “Bond. James Bond.”

Above: Sean Connery as James Bond 007

It is the rise of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, One Flew over the Cuckoo´s Nest, the high priests of hippiedom: Leary, Hoffman and Rubin, Arthur Miller and Norman Mailer, Samuel Becket and Dave Brubeck, Pavarotti and Edith Piaf, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

Above: “Wham!”, Roy Liechtenstein, 1963

Above: “Campbell´s Soup I”, Andy Warhol, 1968

And pop culture was pop music: Elvis, the Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Doors, the Supremes, the Bee Gees, the Who, the Everley Brothers, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker…the list goes on.

Presley, wearing a tight black leather jacket with Napoleonic standing collar, black leather wristbands, and black leather pants, holds a microphone with a long cord. His hair, which looks black as well, falls across his forehead. In front of him is an empty microphone stand. Behind, beginning below stage level and rising up, audience members watch him. A young woman with long black hair in the front row gazes up ecstatically.

Above: Elvis Presley, 28 June 1968

A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

Above: The Beatles, 1964

Above: The Rolling Stones, 1965

John and Yoko in beds in Amsterdam, Toronto and Montreal hotels and all they are saying is “give peace a chance” and uninhibitedly naked in a picture that remains shocking.

Above: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, 1969

Yves St-Laurent, Twiggy, “boots made for walking”, pork pie hats and mini macs, paper dresses and mini skirts, allowing the ladies to “twist again like we did last summer” to the Top of the Pops and pirate radio.

Above: Lesley Hornby, aka Twiggy, 1967

Squatters and “jacking up” and Woodstock.

Woodstock poster.jpg

The Greatest floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, whether his name is Cassius Clay or Muhammed Ali.

Muhammad Ali NYWTS.jpg

Above: Muhammad Ali, 1967

…and Adam West is Batman and Hugh Hefner redefines the word “bunny” and folks wonder if Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is psychedelic or was caused by something psychedelic…

All of this remembering makes me want to go to London…

“You Say You Want a Revolution?: Records and Rebels (1966 – 70)” is a new exhibition that started ten days ago and will continue to 26 February 2017 at the Victoria and Albert (V & A) Museum that explores how a flourishing counterculture of rebellion, expressed through music, fashion, art and political protest, challenged existing power structures in the late 1960s.

Acid test

Here one can find the suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover of Sgt. Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band, shards from a Jimi Hendrix guitar and copies of the underground magazines Oz and International Times.

The Beatles, holding marching band instruments and wearing colourful uniforms, stand near a grave covered with flowers that spell "Beatles". Standing behind the band are several dozen famous people.

Imagine looking at LSD as a positive influence – not just used for recreational purposes but used to push boundaries and open the doors of perception.

Experience Pink Floyd playing in a backdrop of dazzling lights and avant garde films and feel the impact of Hendrix´s solo performance at Woodstock of the Star Spangled Banner.

(Even Colin Kaepernick would stand up for this!).

A black and white photograph of a man playing an electric guitar.

Above: Jimi Hendrix, 1967

Get high with a little help from the V & A.

Dress

Sources: Wikipedia; The Independent, 27 February 2016; V & A Museum.

 

Shining through

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 August 2016

As those who read this blog regularly know, I enjoy hiking in nature: fresh air, surprising encounters with flora and fauna, the solitude that allows me the freedom to simultaneously think as well as forget about the problems of Life for a while.

But I have another addiction, another obsession, I enjoy: shopping for books.

And when moments present themselves when I can combine both these passions, when I can find books during one of my hikes, well, this is what I call a good day.

I have recently begun a small walking project – as part of a larger ambition to walk and explore Switzerland as much as I can…

After having seen the Linth River three times previous to this project – in Benken (See Yesterday’s Children of this blog.), in Glarus (See Glarus: Every person a genius of this blog.) and flowing into the Obersee of the Lake of Zürich (to be discussed in a future post) – I have decided to follow the length of the Linth from Linthal in Glarus back to the Zürichsee.

Linth Reichenburg.jpg

As my walks are done on days when I am not working or otherwise committed to some other activity, I find myself walking on odd days and in separate stages.

On Monday I walked from Linthal to Luchsingen, with a visit to Klausenpass and Braunwald.

Yesterday I walked from Luchsingen to Glarus.

I thoroughly enjoyed these hikes for they led me not only beside a majestic flowing river through forest and field, but as well they led me to book donation boxes and a second-hand thrift shop.

I love serendipitiously finding these sorts of book collections, for not only are the books free or inexpensive but often one can find books that are out of print and are no longer published.

In the Braunwald book donation basket I found Racing through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar, the autobiography of a professional cyclist and how he got into doping.

David millar london 2014.JPG

In the Schwanden Bröcki (a Swiss Salvation Army type thrift shop) I found Edmund White’s City Boy: My Life in New York during the 1960s and 1970s.

Also an autobiography, it is the story of a young LGBT writer who mingled with people like Bob Dylan, Susan Sontag and Mama Cass in a time when being LGBT was more hidden than celebrated.

Though not being LGBT myself, I can relate to the struggles White describes in trying to be successful while remaining true to himself.

I also found an 1908 Guide Joanne Suisse (Think of Baedeker but in French.), which fascinates me with a time travelling glimpse of the familiar a century ago.

David Millar’s story has made me think of substance use and abuse and what an athlete’s life is really like.

Houston hosted the world weightlifting championships last year.

The sport’s greatest athletes, many Olympians among them, hoisted staggering amounts of weight above their heads, their feats looking superhuman.

Seventeen of the weightlifters who competed in Houston – including many medal winners – tested positive for banned drugs, so what the fans saw wasn’t a credible sport at its best, but instead they saw a lot of cheating.

This applies to Olympic sports more broadly now, in the wake of extraordinary claims by the former director of Russia’s antidoping laboratory, who said that a state-run doping program assisted dozens of Russian athletes during the 2014 Sochi Games.

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These claims have driven antidoping officials to reexamine urine samples from previous Olympics and there have been 31 new positive tests from the 2008 Beijing Games so far.

The official logo for the 2008 Summer Olympics, featuring a depiction of the Chinese pictogram "Jing", representing a dancing human figure. Below are the words "Beijing 2008" in stylised print, and the Olympic rings.

We know this from experience.

The Olympics have survived scandals like this before: East Germany’s doping machine, Ben Johnson’s failed drug test, the Balco steroids case that ensnared some of the biggest names in track and field – including multiple Olympic gold medal winner Marion Jones.

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Cycling is one sport that shows lasting damage from doping.

Drug scandals over the past two decades have knocked the sport to its knees.

Nearly every top rider has been implicated, Tour de France jerseys stripped, sponsors fleeing, teams folding, the public’s confidence shaken.

In 2007, two German public TV networks pulled their broadcasts of the Tour de France because they didn’t want to televise a sport fueled by pharmacology.

In 2012, when Lance Armstrong was exposed as an unrepentant doper, even casual observers considered the sport to be a complete fraud.

Jonathan Vaughn, one of Armstrong’s teammates who helped reveal Armstrong’s sophisticated doping program, said he was exasperated.

The truth had come out about doping, which was good for clean athletes, but there was a painful downside.

“The first people you hurt if you stop watching a sport because of doping are the clean athletes in it.  You are literally pointing a gun at those athletes and are shooting them in the head, when they don’t deserve it.”

The Olympic sport hit hardest so far by investigations into Russia’s doping program is track and field, but it’s not alone.

Athletes in bobsledding, weightlifting and cross-country skiing have also been implicated.

The former Russian lab director said the entire women’s ice hockey team was part of the state-run doping program in Sochi.

The list goes on and on.

Jim Scherr, former chief executive of the US Olympic Committee, said the public must understand that most athletes are clean, and that the Olympics stand apart.

“We’re different than a league founded for entertainment, to make money.  The Olympics were founded to make the world a better place.”(New York Times, 19 May 2016)

Olympic Rings

So why do athletes dope?

Before discussing this we need to be clear about separating athletic performance-enhancing drugs from other drugs, and permissible drugs from banned drugs.

Do you, gentle reader, take drugs?

Chances are strong that you do, for even easily-purchased and easily-obtainable substances like sugar and coffee and variations on this theme are substances you consume to keep you awake or to give you more energy and so by the strictest of definitions could be considered drugs.

Alcohol and nicotine are also quite common in Western society and no one questions that these substances are not used as fuel to sustain our bodies but rather are used to affect our body chemistry.

And addiction is everywhere ever present.

Kingsport, Tennessee, where the Appalachian mountains cross into eastern Tennessee, this factory town of train lines and hills and shopping centres full of franchises, seen on a map listing drug overdoses, is the town with the most deaths in the United States.

A Fun Fest balloon floats over Kingsport, Tennessee

The area has become overrun by the demand for illegal drugs, tranquilisers and opoids, such as heroin, morphine and codeine.

Kingsport is a town overrun with pain, lives upturned, dying from addiction.

Drugs enter as hope exits.

A Hyperdermic needle

Appalachia is awash in despair and hopelessness.

With the closing of coal mines and management laying off many workers, folks have little to sustain them and simply wish to forget their emotional pain. (The Guardian, 10 May 2016)

So why do the folks of Kingsport do this damage to themselves?

Granted we are a society where self-image is often tied to our ability to work, living in a world filled with disposable goods and discouraging in its bland ordinariness.

But as well I think that, despite technology enabling us to communicate with others faster than ever before, we have over the past two generations lost our integration with our communities.

Many of us have lost the sense of a place’s uniqueness, of belonging to a place.

We have lost our enthusiasm for the future, expecting it simply to be an extension of an imperfect present and a repetition of an undesireable past, an endless highway of tears stretching out to a bleak horizon empty of promise.

Despair is everywhere, and no longer relegated to large urban cities and ghetto alleyways.

It can be found in a Kingsport bar or in a First Nations reservation.

Since last September, over 100 people in the Attawapiskat First Nation around James Bay, have attempted suicide.

Their culture eroded and belittled, living in poverty and lacking proper housing and proper health care or access to clean drinking water, men and women, young and old, have tried to kill themselves. (New York Times, 12 April 2016)

For some, religion, Karl Marx’s “opiate of the masses”, brings comfort.

And though the greatest proof of the existence of divinity is the inability to disprove its existence, faith sustains the believer.

But is it despair that drives an athlete to take banned performance-enhancing drugs?

Partially.

To train your body for so long, to discipline your life so intensely, all in the hopes that your efforts will be rewarded by victory over your competition and recognition by the many, and then not to receive reward and recognition for your regimen is a depth of discouragement that even non-athletes can understand.

And those few who do get the adulation and awards feel such an intense joy and excitement that they do not want this feeling to disappear.

Both the successful and the unsuccessful crave an edge, an advantage, something to sustain and improve their abilities.

And this pressure to excel not only comes from within, but as well from without.

For as the athlete has invested his time and energy in his quest for excellence, others have invested vast amounts of money and hope in the athlete as well.

The wonder is not that so few athletes seem clean these days.

The wonder is that there aren´t more that are dirty.

When I think of fallen heroes like Ben Johnson and Lance Armstrong, I do not feel angry.

White pills

I feel only sadness and pity, for they have lost everything that once gave them happiness.

Long gone are the days when athletes simply did a sport for its enjoyment, unconcerned with outcome, just playing for fun’s sake.

We, the non-athletic masses, idolize our sports figures, little knowing or caring how much our heroes have sacrificed for our adulation.

We view these mere mortals as more than mortals, as superhumans among us.

We think that their success as athletes means our superiority as nations.

We cannot fathom how it feels to have an entire nation’s hopes pinned on our achievements.

We have forgotten that athletes are prone to the same fears, doubts and pressure ordinary humans feel.

We tend to forget that athletes are often more frail than us, that their unique situation has made them not as human as us, but more human than us.

Super human.

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