Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why I Study History

When I was younger (19 or so) I had an.. um... let's just call it a mind-expanding experience. It became so clear to me all of a sudden just how far we as a society are from our roots, or from our foundations. I mean this in a pretty concrete way. From a handful of extended family tribes living close to the earth, we built up these incredibly complex civilizations - technology, religion, bureaucracy, global transportation, trade, electronics, communications. We take it all for granted: cities, highrises, airplanes, universities, supermarkets. But most of it is pretty new.

Catastrophe is always lurking around the corner, as a potentiality. Climate change is one likely trigger for many potential catastrophes, and it is possible that our civilization will end with it. Think about Rome. It was around for a thousand years, and it fell. In post-Roman Britain, for instance, with nobody to maintain the infrastructure in the cities there was hunger and plague. People pretty much abandoned the cities and went back to barely scratching out a living, with small scale subsistence farming. These were what we know as the Dark Ages. If it could happen then, it can happen now. And eventually it will. That is certain; the time frame and causes are less so.

Humans have found and continue to find many solutions to the problems of survival. We must fulfill our needs for shelter, food, companionship, etc. But we have a lot of flexibility in exactly how we do this. The incredible variety and creativity of solutions that people have found become apparent when studying in a field like history (and probably anthropology, too). I love learning how different peoples have organized their societies: the religions and culture and social structures, the ethics and cuisine and mythologies.

In addition, if there are so many different ways we have organized our societies, than that tells me that this particular one is not the immutable reality. That means there is also hope for change. We can do things differently, because we have already done them differently in the past. I wrote a whole theoretical paper going into this in more detail - if anyone is interested, I can post it here (here, actually).

As some of you know, I'm currently working on an MA in History (and International Relations) and considering applying to do a PhD. Problem is, I am interested in everything and have such trouble deciding what to focus on. But I'm pretty sure at least that I want to stay in the field of history.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"War on Terror" turns into war on charities

NGO "Blacklist" Unfair and Arbitrary, Groups Say
After the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Congress gave the government sweeping new powers to crack down on not-for-profit organisations that were using their charitable status as cover for funneling funds to terrorist groups.

These powers include the authority to designate any charity as a material supporter of terrorism. This action demands virtually no due process from the government, denies the target to see the evidence against it, and can result in freezing of a charity's assets, effectively shutting it down. Since 9/11, the government has shut down dozens of charitable groups, but only three have ever been charged and brought to trial for supporting terrorist causes. None has been convicted.

It seems the government can designate any organization as terrorist without proof, and can freeze assets without showing ties to terrorism or illegal acts. A report Collateral Damage: How the War on Terror Hurts Charities, Foundations, and the People They Serve estimates that since 9/11 it is estimated that over $6 Billion in assets, from charities and foundations labeled as terrorist organizations, have been frozen. A charity without access to its funds is often effectively shut down.

It also asserts that the government has used its surveillance powers against charitable groups for political purposes. It charges, "In addition to providing aid and services to people in need, charitable and religious organisations help to facilitate a free exchange of information and ideas, fostering debate about public policy issues. The government has treated some of these activities as a terrorist threat. Since 9/11, there have been disturbing revelations about the use of counterterrorism resources to track and sometimes interfere with groups that publicly and vocally dissent from administration policies."

In 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched its Spy Files Project and uncovered an intricate system of domestic spying on U.S. non-profits largely condoned by expanded counterterrorism powers within the USA PATRIOT Act.

Many legitimate and effective organisations have suffered because of the undemocratic and heavy-handed application of these powers.

The report finds that "U.S. counterterrorism laws have made it increasingly difficult for U.S.-based organisations to operate overseas. For example, after the 2004 tsunami, U.S. organisations operating in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers, a designated terrorist organisation, risked violating prohibitions against 'material support' when creating displaced persons' camps and hospitals, traveling, or distributing food and water."

For aid organisations like the International Red Cross, compliance with U.S. counterterrorism laws can force NGOs to violate standards of neutrality in their work. The Principles of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes state, "The humanitarian imperative comes first. Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone."

In some cases, the report declares, counterterrorism laws have caused nonprofits to pull out of programmes.

So, right-wingers are always promoting charity as the alternative to public programmes and social services... how can they be effective when they have to face these kinds of problems?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

He Really is Quite Savage

Who said this?
[W]hy was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I'll tell you why: The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket. Everyone went in and was told [fake cough], "When the nurse looks at you, you go [fake cough], "I don't know, the dust got me." See, everyone had asthma from the minority community.

The same guy who said autism is a
fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot.'

I'd say I'm shocked, but sadly, I'm not.

From Media Matters

See for yourself:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Walkable is Your Neighbourhood?

To answer that question, you could go outside and try walking around and see how well it goes, or for those who prefer the virtual to the physical, go to and type in your address. Based on things like density and proximity to shops and services, the software will give a ranking. It works for the US, Canada and the UK.

Of course, the really cool thing is seeing how walkable other cities and neighbourhoods are - you know, the ones you can't access by stepping outside your door. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco and New York City and Boston are the most walkable cities in the USA.

They don't have rankings of the most walkable cities in Canada, but you can search for addresses to get a score. Toronto didn't fare too badly, but it depends on where you live, really.

What does this all mean? They explain:
Picture a walkable neighborhood. You lose weight each time you walk to the grocery store. You stumble home from last call without waiting for a cab. You spend less money on your car—or you don't own a car. When you shop, you support your local economy. You talk to your neighbors.
(Screenshot found here)

Walk Score admits there are many features currently overlooked by the software - like weather, design, safety, or topography, but it is still a pretty cool tool. Via Grist.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Zen Moments in the City

This evening, eating ice cream outside near Mel Lastman square, there was a baby falcon sitting on a telephone wire. There were a couple of people taking photos, and one guy told us that this baby had just flown for the first time yesterday. The family of three live atop a highrise at Elmwood (on the small green roof that we could see from the ground). Apparently there are only 74 of these falcons in Ontario, so these three are extremely important. There are all kinds concerned citizens watching out for their well-being. I was too awed to even think of taking a photo of the baby - who was really close - but I did snap a pic of the poppa falcon flying. Please excuse the poor quality as I took it with my cell phone cam.

I feel so lucky to have experienced this!

Interested in becoming more self-sufficient

but live in an apartment? or don't have time to make that commitment? How about trying self-sufficientish living?
The idea behind self-sufficientish-ism is although many of us would love to live on a farm, grow all our own food, brew pea pod wine, live the 'Good-Life'. Not all of us have the means the space or are perhaps unwilling to give it all up and suffer the highs and lows of going it alone on a smallholding.

Although total self-sufficiency is appealing the thought of giving up the little luxuries in life may not be. I grow a lot of my own food eat wild foods and when I have the money buy organic fruit and vegetables but I still enjoy beer in a pub and like to go to the cinema or eat out occasionally.

Self Sufficientish-ism was created for these reasons. It is for all those who have limited time, space or money but would like to have a go at growing their own food or brewing their own alcohol or want to know which wild foods are good to eat. We also aim to offer advice on a whole host of other subjects from a low-ecological impact perspective.

Benefits include saving money, sustainability, good healthy eating, a chance to play farmer in the city, and it's kinda fun!

You'll find tips like 66 uses for a bread bag, natural pest control, flat dwellers guide to being self-sufficientish, lots of recipes, and how to brew. I want to try making sage and seed bread. mmmm

Via eco worrier

Friday, July 11, 2008

Post #503

This is my five-hundred-and-third post on this blog. I started it in early 2005. Boy I have a lotta crap to say!

Nobody ever celebrates 503. Poor left out number. Let's have a toast to #503!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Uprising to Movement: Five Ideas

This is a pretty good, simple, article pointing out some of the problems and potentials with the left right now, and offering 5 important suggestions for change.

1. "Think Global, Demand Local" - He suggests working with state/province and local powers for progressive change. (I think the local level has a lot of potential for progressive action, with all the fantastic grassroots community organizations. I find it odd how few people pay attention to municipal elections.)

2. "End the Oxymoron of Autocratic Progressivism" - By which he means undemocratic, top-down organizations, like many leftist think-tanks. We need to practice the values we preach! This means, I think, really coming to terms with compromise. We won't all have the same vision of the progressive future, but we need to let go a little and try not to impose our own little utopian fantasy on others.

3. "It's the Economic Issues, Too" - Social issues are important, but they tend be more divisive. We must support gay marriage and choice and other social issues, but we shouldn't let them crowd out other important basic issues like jobs and poverty and health care. Why the heck has the Right captured the populist imagination, when their policies do the most to harm the little guy/gal?

4. "Elections Are Means, Not Ends" and wasting too much energy on them is counterproductive. As he puts it: "we believe that the messianic politicians will just hand down change from Mount Olympus, that all we have to do is make sure the right messiah is on top of the mountain"

5. "Remember That Thing Called Direct Action" instead of spending so much energy on elections, shift our focus outside the electoral arena. He says:
The Establishment wants us to focus all of our energy on elections because elections are the controlled space whereby popular ferment can be contained by rules, regulations, etc. And without direct action, republican democracy is truly disempowering: our only means of influence are to beg the Very Serious And Important Intermediary —the congressman, the governor, the president, etc. —to do something on our behalf. But there are many different methods of direct action —i.e. taking matters into our own hands—that can wield a tremendous amount of power.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Flat screen TVs really really bad for the environment

...not to mention our brains...

If you came and you found a strange man... teaching your kids to punch each other, or trying to sell them all kinds of products, you'd kick him right out of the house, but here you are; you come in and the TV is on, and you don't think twice about it. ~Jerome Singer
The rising demand for flat-screen televisions could have a greater impact on global warming than the world's largest coal-fired power stations, a leading environmental scientist warned yesterday.

Manufacturers use a greenhouse gas called nitrogen trifluoride to make the televisions, and as the sets have become more popular, annual production of the gas has risen to about 4,000 tonnes.<Guardian>

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. ~Ray Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun

The gas, nitrogen trifluoride, is 17,000 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
If all this year's production was released into the atmosphere it would have a warming effect equivalent to 67 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - roughly equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of Austria. <TPA>

Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover. ~Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

TV makes us fat, stupid, selfish, unhappy, asocial, mindless consumers... and destroys our climate (not to mention fuels the class war)... but, well, there's just so many darn good shows on.

Via Grist

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The latest from our crazy world

Did you know the "latest data and research" shows:
* Liberals are more self-centered than conservatives.
* Conservatives are more generous and charitable than liberals.
* Liberals are more envious and less hardworking than conservatives.
* Conservatives value truth more than liberals, and are less prone to cheating and lying.
* Liberals are more angry than conservatives.
* Conservatives are actually more knowledgeable than liberals.
* Liberals are more dissatisfied and unhappy than conservatives.

It's true. Or at least, it is according to Peter Schweizer's generously titled Makers and Takers: Why conservatives work harder, feel happier, have closer families, take fewer drugs, give more generously, value honesty more, are less materialistic and envious, whine less … and even hug their children more than liberals

Speaking of valuing honesty and whining less, Bill O'Reilly has defended Fox's photoshopping of reporters to make them look subtly (or not so subtly) more menacing. Since The Times has previously run caricatures and illustrations of him (like the one on the right), O'Reilly calls this "the most hypocritical situation we have ever seen." Apparently he can't see the difference between what is clearly an illustration and (in Matt Bors' words) "to manipulate photographs of enemies, make them look ugly and pass them off as real on a 'news' show".

Price of gas got you down? Forget choosing a more efficient vehicle, lobbying for improved public transportation, or driving less. Just... pray. And if that doesn't work, just say "please sir, can we have some more" to Saudi Arabia. From Carfree USA:
The Pray at the Pump Movement, founded by Rocky Twyman, has been holding prayer vigils at gas stations across the country. On Monday, Twyman decided to take his movement from Exxon and Shell stations straight to the steps of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., hoping to encourage the oil-rich country to raise the amount of barrels they release each day from 200,000 to 1.2 million.

And finally, via Wired, a human-like race is going extinct
Orangutan numbers have declined sharply on the only two islands where they still live in the wild and they could become the first great ape species to go extinct if urgent action isn't taken, a new study says.
Of course, animal rights activists, rescue workers and scientists who work tirelessly to prevent such a tragedy probably just whine too much and don't hug their kids enough.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

They didn't even do a good job

If you're going to Photoshop someone, so as to play on your witless viewers' prejudices, at least a) start with an original photo that isn't published anywhere, and b) hire a decent graphic artist so the picture looks halfway believable.


Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters

During a segment in which Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade labeled New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe "attack dogs," Fox News featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered -- the journalists' teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe's hair moved further back on his head.

Through the toobz from Media Matters to Tiny Little Dots to Crooks & Liars to The Galloping beaver to me and then straight to you!