Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Toronto Streets

originally uploaded by mountainman1975.
I love the Red Rocket.

This photo posted in honour of the recently released Toronto Streets Report which attempted to find out why pedestrian concerns are so lacking in our city street design and planning.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Non-Violent resistance in Israel and the Occupied territories

Despite what is an increasingly violent and militaristic culture in Israel, there are so many individuals and groups who are standing up and saying no more.

There are the extremely courageous Israeli conscientious objectors, who face imprisonment for refusing to fight and kill.

There's Yehuda Shaul, who wants Israelis and the world to know what is being perpetrated upon the Palestinian people. As he puts it, he is trying to break the silence, because "what's going on in the Occupied Territories is like the biggest secret in Israeli society. It's like the taboo. You never talk about it." (Listen/Read/Watch the Interview)

There is also so much non-violent resistance among Palestinians that is overshadowed by violent acts and underreported by the media.

I am particularly hopeful, however, about the solidarity movements and women's groups that are coalitions of both Israeli and Palestinian Women (like Coalition of Women for Peace and Bereaved Families Circle).

Here is an interesting podcast describing some of the Israelis and Palestinians who are using non-violent resistance to oppose the occupation. (listen/download mp3 - about 20 minutes long, and definitely worth a listen).

UPDATE DEC 18, 2006 - Yesterday there was a related article in The Star: Ex-soldiers break 'silence' on Israeli excesses: Yehuda Shaul tells Haroon Siddiqui 'something rotten' is going on in Gaza and the West Bank.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Who Needs Greenwashing? Try Greenbombing!

No, I'm not joking. Arms manufacturer British Aerospace (BAE) is designing green weapons. Yes, as in environmentally-friendly death machines. Will this spawn a new category... Eco-murder? Envirokilling? Greenbombing?

Says Deborah Allen of BAE: "We all have a duty of care to ensure that from cradle to grave products are being used appropriately and do not do lasting harm". Newsflash, Deb, you make weapons for killing people. Usually, death is considered to fall into the category of "lasting harm". More at BBC and The Times. Via Gristmill.

File this one under how to not save the world.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Environmentalists need to get on the Social Justice Bus"

This weekend I've been fortunate enough to have been able to go to the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California. I thought I was going to an environmental conference, and had mixed feelings about this, because in some sense I feel that environmentalism is a movement of privilege.

Any regular readers of my blog probably have an idea that one of the themes that comes up a lot is the need for broad coalitions between diverse kinds of movements. I believe the suffering caused by the destruction of the enviroment is unfairly visited upon the most marginalized in society (a diverse group indeed). The marginalized groups are also often excluded from large-scale environmental movements, in particular consumer-based movements like organics, or "shopping for sustainability" as I like to (derogatorily) call it.

I have been pleasantly surprised, thrilled, even, to find out that at this conference, these underlying values of social and economic justice are actually a shared assumption, one which if mentioned would provoke a great chorus of: "duh!".

To paraphrase Paul Hawken's very inspiring talk: Instead of environmentalists inviting other movements to get on their bus, environmentalists have to get on the social justice bus.

I will have much more to write about as I continue to digest all I have learned and experienced this weekend.

More Reflection on the Environment and Solidarity

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sad News Tempered by Small Victories for Women

Good News: Zainab Fornah (originally refused asylum in 2003, based on her fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation if she were to return to Sierra Leone, a country where women have few rights) was finally granted asylum in Britain.

Sad: The Information Minister of Sierra Leone, Septimus Kaikai, expressed his disapproval, claiming what Fornah was doing was an example of a "deliberate and conscious and premeditated attempt by individuals to malign and besmear the reputation, integrity and character of a government and its people."

I guess having your clitoris brutally and painfully cut off is nothing compared to maybe, possibly being subjected to real or imagined, potential, or implied criticism.

Sad: Lebanon would like Israel to comply with the terms of the ceasefire and, please and thank you, to withdraw completely. In other news from the Middle East, mysterious and deadly wounds in people from Gaza might have been caused an experimental weapon, Dime (Dense Inert Metal Explosive), a charge which Israel denies.

A possible victory: it appears there is hope for Sawsan Salameh. Sawsan Salameh is the Palestinian woman who was barred from going to University in Israel for her doctorate in theoretical chemistry, despite receiving a scholarship to the Hebrew University. She is a brave woman from a traditional Arab Muslim society, who hopes to be a role model to other women and young girst. She who took her fight to the supreme court, and was also supported by University officials: "How can we send Israeli students to universities abroad while we act this way when Israeli academics have been boycotted in countries like England and Canada? How can we appeal to those countries if we are doing the exact same thing?"

Also good news: I'm going to this conference this weekend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Toronto City Elections

Although our local municipal elections are possibly our greatest opportunity to make a difference with our little slice of democracy, the Toronto elections draw a woefully small proportion of Torontonians out to vote. Usually there seems to be a fairly high profile mayoral race, but in the ridings the incumbents are shoe-ins, often simply because theirs are the only names voters actually recognize.

Toronto is not a corporation, but if we are too busy and self-absorbed to be active and engaged citizens (voting in elections is a very small part of this responsibility) then we end up with elected officials functioning as business managers. The CEO of Toronto (oops, I mean the Mayor) and the middle managers (er, councillors) need to be accountable for their decisions.

Descisions around issues like transportation, housing, urban planning and development, health and safety are fundamental to the way we live our daily lives. They affect all of us. Involvement in city politics offers one of our best chances at being heard. There are lots of fresh new faces running this year, and some hotly debated issues are at stake.

If you live in Toronto, here's some helpful resources, mostly via Who Runs this Town:

EDIT: Also check out this elections page from the Ontario Tenants site.
and from the good old TPSC, possibly one of the most informative election sites dealing with public space issues

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Authoritarianism in America

I, personally, don't like to use the word "Fascism" because it is an inflammatory term, with a tendency to be misused as a knee-jerk reaction ("Islamo-fascists" anyone?), but this article by Stan Goff makes an excellently argued case that American Fascism is on the rise. Fascism is both an economic & political system, involving centrally planned capitalist corporate rule for the benefit of the elite, as well as a culture. One dominant aspect of American culture, is indeed militaristic, patriarchal, and racist.
Fascism traditionally employs either a master-race or master-culture narrative. This narrative is reinforced for troops on the ground in Iraq by the circumstances. The role of occupier is the role of dominator, and as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved dramatically, this dominator role very quickly translates into the dehumanization and objectification of the dominated. On the ground, at the infantry level, wars of domination in every instance become race wars.
What is especially interesting is his demonstration that many forms of oppression are intimately linked. He shows how economic insecurity helps to promote the sort of white supremicist, anti-feminist, and frankly racist reactions that are becoming more and more acceptable these days. It is "safe" for people to fire off vicious anti-Muslim and anti-Arab epithets, for example, or to put down feminist women (In fact, the comments on the article were peppered with statements like this one blaming anti-feminsm on "the weary perception that no matter how much you give women what they want, they won't be satisfied.")

I think it is so important for all of us on the Left to show, and to experience, solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters who are fighting against the many forms of oppression. One of my pet peeves is the term "identity politics", a phrase used only in a derogatory manner to delegitimize real struggles as if they are squabbles or rivalries.

Women and children everywhere are disproportionately bearing the brunt of war and poverty; the most devastating impacts of environmental destruction are borne by poor third world countries; immigrants and/or aboriginal populations form an underclass in many Western countries; racist societal structures cause disproportionate AIDS rates among black people ... I could go on. The point is that each of our little struggles is part of the great striving for a just world, against a domination-based society that enriches the few with wealth and power.

More reflection, solidarity

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Real Estate Deal of the Day: $20 per Acre

Wow, $20 an acre? At that price almost everyone can afford their own small piece of earth. Well... not Earth, actually. Lunar Real Estate is apparently the hottest new thing.

Filed under: General Fun

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

War Preparations for Impending Iran-US Conflict: Canadian Participation?

I want to be proud of being Canadian.

Right now it's kinda hard. I'm not proud of what we are doing (and not doing) in Afghanistan. I'm not proud of our role in destabilizing Haiti. I'm really not proud of our current participation in war preparations clearly targeting Iran, including the naval militarization of the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean.

What's this? Canada is preparing for war with Iran and the government didn't even tell Canadian citizens? Well, we are sending a warship as "part of Canada's campaign against terrorism in the Persian Gulf" (source)


The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is actively collaborating in this military endeavor.

Canadian foreign policy has been steadily and successively militarized by two successive governments.

The government of Prime Minister Paul Martin (Liberal) implemented the “three-dimensional policy” of the “3-Ds” (“Diplomacy”, “Development,” and “Defense"), adding a military component to Canadian foreign aid and development assistance.

The 3-Ds brought Canada into performing as more active role in U.S.-led operations in NATO garrisoned Afghanistan. Despite the public protest, Canada has become an integral member of the Anglo-American military alliance.

Canada's involvement is not limited to Afghanistan as suggested by the press reports and official statements.

The H.M.C.S. Ottawa has been dispatched to the Persian Gulf, leaving in September, from British Columbia. Officially the H.M.C.S. Ottawa is being deployed as part of Canada's contribution to fighting the “War on Terrorism.” The Canadian vessel is the first publicly known ship to be deployed to the waters of the Middle East in about a year.5 The Canadian vessel is slated to be fully integrated into "Expeditionary Strike Group 5 (ESG 5), which will be seafaring in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, off the Iranian coast.

From Read even more here.

There are a lot of questions about a potential Iranian conflict, chief of which is, will it actually happen? I don't think anyone knows for sure, but as predicted (and I briefly covered here) the aircraft carrier Eisenhower has been deployed, making war "probable".

More on war in the Middle East

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Connecting Movements = Solidarity

You might be asking what women's reproductive rights have to do with environmentalism. Well, the answer to that is: pretty much everything. The root causes of our environmental ills are the wants, needs, and desires of unimaginably huge numbers of people. Family planning is also one of the keys in helping to relieve poverty, which in turn helps to further reduce fertility rates as people climb the economic ladder. Poverty reduction and family planning go hand in hand, one begetting the other in a closed loop.
From Gristmill

Naturally, populations start to decline as a society becomes more egalitarian, industrialized, urbanized, wealthier.

Why? Give women more choices and they won't have as many babies - they may work outside the home, delay marriage, and use contraception. Children are expensive and less of an asset in industrial, urban societies as opposed to agricultural societies. Wealthier populations tend to also be healthier, which means less infant mortality (which generally correlates with having fewer babies). More info here and here.

Environmentalists can't afford to ignore structural poverty, racism, social injustice, women's rights... because these things are really several sides of the same coin. The debate should never be framed as economics vs. environment. The most vulnerable in our world have the least to lose - they will be (in fact, they are already) affected by ecological changes that we see in abstract terms.

More on women's rights, class issues, environment, solidarity

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cars are Killing Us

People love their cars. Why? I guess it must be because cars are:

  • Dangerous: In the U.S.A. during the first two weeks of September 2001, more people were killed by automobiles, than by terrorism and AIDS combined!
  • Unhealthy: Polluting, resource guzzling, carbon distasters that encourage inactivity
  • Unsustainable: "Widening roads to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity." -- Walter Kulash, a traffic engineer, Orlando, Fla.
  • Inefficient: 95% of the energy goes towards moving the CAR -- not the cargo/passengers.
  • Expensive: A light rail line can move the same number of people at peak travel time as a 12 lane highway, in a right of way 20% as wide at 30% of the cost. So why do we pay fares for transit when almost all roads are toll-free?
  • Isolating: "Enclosing ourselves in little bubbles, utterly separated from the rest of the world while we drive to our isolated house cut out of a forest so we can pretend we are alone in the world and not have to deal with anything that might be unpleasant, even reality."
    - Mostly taken from

This is not new information. We have known the problems with cars for a long time. This, for example, was written in 1977:

The fact that cars are large is, in the end, the most serious aspect of a transportation system based on the use of cars, since it is inherent in the very nature of cars. Let us stats this problem in its most pungent form. A man occupies about 5 square feet of space when he is standing still, and perhaps 10 square feet when he is walking. A car occupies about 350 square feet when it is standing still (if we include access), and at 30 miles an hour, when cars are 3 car lengths apart, it occupies about 1000 square feet. As we know, most of the time cars have a single occupant. This means that when people use cars, each person occupies almost 100 times as much space as he does when he is a pedestrian.

If each person driving occupies an area 100 times as large as he does when he is on his feet, this means that people are 10 times as far apart. In other words, the use of cars has the overall effect of spreading people out, and keeping them apart.
- A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander, et al. (read the book or get more info)

It is almost 30 years later, and public transit is still underfunded, and sprawl continues unabated. Unfortunately, unless pedestrian-friendly cities become the rule rather than the exception, people will remain car-dependent.

Cars are killing us, but we are supposed to fear terrorist evil-doers, Anthrax, West Nile Virus, wedded gay people, Mexicans...

More on the Environment & Urban Issues.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Go on a Low-Carbon Diet?

How low can an individual go? Seth Zuckerman goes on a Low-Carbon Diet to help answer that question.

I decided to try three carbon dioxide diets. First, that of the typical American. I would see how my consumption measures up to the national average and attempt (briefly) to burn as much fuel as my fellow citizens. Next, I'd investigate what it would take to bring my emissions down to the world average, the level of countries such as Jamaica and Romania. Finally, I'd try to produce no more than my share of what Earth's natural systems can handle.

He finds that as an individual he does not have control over his full share of carbon emissions. Industry's carbon emissions, the source of the electricity we use, poor public transportation and lack of affordable fuel efficient vehicles are all out of one person's control.

Interesting, in light of the debate after this week's Big Picture on CBC: Can We Save Planet Earth? Putting all the onus on individuals won't work when the consequences of our actions are distant and intangible. For every Prius one person buys, another buys a Hummer. Industry will make whatever people will buy, and people will buy what industry advertises. It's a circle that needs to be stopped, and voluntary self-regulation just isn't working.

People, we can't shop our way to sustainability.