Je Suis Tout

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The world is once again reeling form a series of terrorist attacks: Ivory Coast, Turkey (both Ankara and Istanbul) and now Brussels. That doesn’t even count the numerous slaughters carried out in the half dozen countries that bear the brunt of these atrocities – Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq – which John Kerry, in typical American hyperbole, has called genocide.

Some have noted that the attacks in Europe generate headlines in North America while attacks elsewhere are barely covered. I guess it depends on which news sources you rely on. I don’t seek these things out but I certainly see them on the front pages of the papers I read and on the radio stations I listen to. I don’t regularly watch TV news so I can’t speak to that. Whether you see it in social media, I think, probably is a reflection of who is in your circle of contacts.

To the extent that we do focus more on Europe, there is undoubtedly a lot of factors at play. Racism may be involved: it has long been noted that the news seems to consider one American (or Canadian) death to be twenty times as important as the death of a foreigner. Anytime there is a plane crash, they always lead with the number of local citizens who died. This may be more a case of nativism – I expect in China, they report Chinese deaths ahead of anyone else.

It may be that we focus on Europe both because they are more like us – mostly, though hardly exclusively, white with shared cultures and languages – but also because they are close to us physically. Lots of North Americans have been to Europe; lots of us have friends and family there. You can’t say the same for Africa, the Middle East or even South America – though obviously it’s true for those of our citizens whose families came from there. I suspect – though I never want to find out – that a terrorist attack in Mexico would generate massive news coverage in the United States.

And another factor is surveillance. Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America, is rife with CTV cameras. They are everywhere and watching everything. Whether they actually are effective in stopping crime is an open question, but they are excellent at reporting it. So much of the footage on the Brussels attacks came from those cameras or from the ubiquitous cell phone cameras that almost everyone in the west now has available. And it is not simply the availability of those cameras; it is the ease with which we can upload those images and videos to hundreds of web-sites. In other countries – where governments actually block such uploads and others have limited connectivity – those images are not available.

No images, no panicked faces, no ready access to tears equals diminished coverage. As they say: if it bleeds, it leads. When we do get coverage of attacks elsewhere, the predominant image is of bleeding bodies.

There is a certain irony I suppose. Our fear leads to surveillance; our freedom leads to the ready dispersal of news – both contribute to the impression that we only care about our own. And maybe that impression is true but even if it is not, it is hurtful. So, for today, I will try to think of all the people, on all sides of every conflict, who have been and will be innocent victims of senseless war.

#jesuistout.

And that’s ten minutes.

Spies!

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Do you remember the scene near the start of Casablanca, where a man is warning an elderly couple to be very careful because there are thieves everywhere? In the meantime he is slipping the gentleman’s wallet out of his jacket pocket. These days the warning would be that there are spies everywhere, told to you by people who are busily invading your privacy.

Of course, we are being spied on relentlessly – by corporations, by governments, both domestic and foreign and, most of all, by our friends and acquaintances.

Yesterday, the new Canadian government declared a moratorium on supplying communications meta-data to our allies because it illegally contained personal information about Canadian citizens – rather than simply visitors or perceived foreign threats. They won’t start up again until they are sure that the Canadian spy agency is obeying the law. Of course, in the United States, there would be no such problem because the law apparently lets – even encourages – the security apparatus spy on presumably innocent citizens. If you don’t believe me ask Edward Snowden.

Spying has a long tradition – it’s been going on ever since formal states were created. States have spied on their enemies and often on their own citizens. In communist China, grannies were the primary recruits, combining their natural inclination to gossip and judge their neighbours with a small state stipend.

Soon, everyone got in on the game, and spies were dispatched far and wide. If they were caught, their governments disavowed any knowledge of their actions – yes, just like in Mission Impossible. The Canadians who were just arrested in China were no more guilty of spying than the Chinese diplomats Canada expelled a couple of years ago.

And so it goes. Spying is big business. Most corporate security firms have branches that carry out industrial espionage. Knowledge is power and information – which may want to be free – is worth big bucks.

But of course, it is not only the big bad corporations and the security apparatus of out of control governments that engage in spying. Increasingly, we spy on each other. We even spy on ourselves. In the age of social media and cellphone cameras, everything gets recorded and then posted on-line for others to see. Take the guy in the Oregon occupation who thought it was a brilliant idea to film his fellow freedom fighters committing illegal – or just stupid – acts and post them on YouTube. Those clips will undoubtedly be very useful to the prosecutors.

For myself I have nothing to hide – well nothing I’m going to reveal here. I’ll probably continue to post pictures of my vacations and Christmas trees, my meals and my garden, for everyone to see. Why not? What’s the worst that can happen? Wait a second, someone is banging on my door and yelling for me to come out with my hands up. It’s…

But that’s ten minutes.

Prognostications

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The best things about predicting what will happen in the coming year are, one, by this time next year no one will remember that you did it and, two, if they do, all you need to do is to get a couple right and you look brilliant. Statistically you need to get more than 50% right for your predictions to be more than random chance, but most people aren’t really that good at math. So here goes. I’ll start with a couple that I’m pretty confident about.

Despite the continued outrage of Conservatives from coast to coast, both Kathleen Wynne and Rachel Notley will still be the Premiers of their respective provinces. And Justin Trudeau will still be Prime Minister. There is nothing anyone can legally do about that.

The federal conservatives will still be led on an interim basis by Rona Ambrose but here’s the important part: people will realize that she is just Stephen Harper with better hair. Her shrill single note attacks on the government will wear thin everywhere but in the Globe and Mail and various Postmedia publications – all of which will see their readership continue to decline. See, three predictions all in one.

Now for the tough stuff. Senator Mike Duffy will be acquitted on most of the 31 charges laid against him. And he will serve no jail time for any of the ones they do make stick. He will return to the Senate and serve out his term – health willing. Charges against Patrick Brazeau will be stayed by a humbled prosecution and Pamela Wallin and Mac Harb will never see a day in court.

Donald Trump will not be the GOP nominee despite his continued lead in the polls. An alternative, either Ted Cruz or Mark Rubio, will be chosen at a brokered convention. The nominee will subsequently lose to Hilary Clinton who will easily secure her own party’s nomination despite Bernie’s loyal cadre of fans.

The economy will continue to be shaky but will not be as bad as the Bears suggest. Moderate growth in the USA and a mild recovery in China will raise most boats.  In Canada, Ontario will become the major driver of a weak economic recovery.

The war in Syria will be resolved – probably with some sort of coalition between Assad and the moderate opposition. ISIS/Daesh will be in retreat and its reclusive leader will be killed. Another leader will spring up but the movement itself will decline. This will not reduce the fear of terrorism, just the threat.

People will still be talking about climate change – mostly without effect. However, progress will be made by the major emitters and technological solutions that separate economic growth from energy consumption will begin to emerge. The price of oil will not significantly recover but, for many economies, this will not be a bad thing.

A new movie will break all box office records. Writers will still fight over self-publishing vs traditional publishing while their incomes – on average – continue to fall.

Some people close to you will die; other people will bring great joy to your life. In a few unfortunate cases, these will be the same people.

I will try to quite writing 10 minutes of words but will fail utterly.

And that’s ten minutes.

Coming Home

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Over the course of sixty years I’ve lived in 8 towns or cities covering four provinces and two territories. I’ve visited, sometimes for extended periods, every other province and territory in Canada, about 15 American states and parts of 9 other countries. I’ve been around – not as much as some but enough to know what it’s like to try to figure your way around someplace new. Enough to know what it’s like to finally come home.

My trips have always been my choice – moving for school or work or because I wanted to live someplace new, visit someplace different. I’ve relished the difference, the smells and flavours of new places, the sound of new languages, the different landscapes and the line of buildings that mark one culture from another. There have been surprises and occasional shocks. I’ve witnessed almost everything the human race has to offer – joy, generosity, fear, violence, happiness, grief, riches and poverty. More than anything I’ve witnessed the desire we all seem to share for normalcy, peace and a better life for ourselves and our children.

Not that I have children but I understand the concept.

I’ve lived a fortunate life to see all that and still be walking around, mostly whole and unharmed. I’ve had my moments when I feared my luck would end – but so far, so good.

Not everyone has been so lucky. People who have faced natural disaster, economic and social collapse, war and the grinding life of poverty have seldom seen much more than the doom that hovers over them, that threatens to end their lives and their children’s’ future in a flash. They do not move by choice, do not visit to experience something new; they do not even migrate with the expectation of a better life. They run, they hide and then they run some more.

When they arrive at our doorstep we can choose to react in one of two ways – with fear or with generosity. In the drudgery of our own hard – but incredibly privileged – lives we may forget what it is like to lose everything – home, community, friends, family, children – may have forgotten how desperate we might be to cling to a dying parent or a job we loved. Our losses pale in comparison, but it is in our loss of memory that we risk losing the most important thing we have – our humanity.

These days, it makes me so proud to be a Canadian, to watch my Prime Minister personally greet refuges from Syria, to watch my fellow citizens open their arms and their pocketbooks to help people who can no longer help themselves. I know that we will be better because of what we are doing right now. This is a lesson we have learned in the past but it is a lesson others seem to have forgotten.

Fear is a terrible thing. The people fleeing war and terror know it full well. They have looked fear in its face and understood what it promises them. But they persevere. Who are we – so comfortable in our perceived First World insecurity — to do less? What does it really cost to say: Welcome Home?

But that’s ten minutes.

 

 

Climate Certainty

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We are almost certainly going to see a two degree Celsius rise in global temperatures – we are already about half way there. The tipping point for two degrees is about 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. This year we will likely pass 400 and since we add about 2 ppm every year, the math is easy. We are on track to hit 450 by the year 2040, give or take a couple of years.

Carbon stays in the atmosphere for a very long time and even if we were to stop emitting greenhouse gases next year – an impossible task – we would still see another half degree rise. They say 1.5 is unpleasant but manageable. Given that we are unlikely to stop emitting carbon; the question is no longer if we will hit two degrees but when.

Most scientists are saying that even with an aggressive plan we are probably looking at 2.5 to 3 degree rise in temperatures; with the proposals on the table in Paris, it may be a degree above that. This may not seem like a lot but we’ve already seen an increase in droughts and massive storms so it is more than you think. And it may be enough to trigger feedback loops over which we will have little or no control. Runaway climate change won’t end life on earth – life is resilient. But it will probably end human life or at least human civilization. And those of us who are left will live lives that are truly nasty brutish and short.

But not all is doom and gloom. One thing we can do is buy time. Reducing our emissions by half over the next decade – something that we can do – would delay the arrival of 450ppm by 20 or even 40 years. Which would give us time to get down to zero by say 2060 or 2070. It will be too little to stop us from crossing the 2 degree barrier but it may save us from 3.5.

But the models tell us that this is still too much for our current economies and much of our infrastructure to survive. Certainly sea level rise itself will destroy many countries and cities and put a massive strain on economies struggling to adapt. And if we get feedback loops kicking in, we’re all doomed anyway.

So what are the options? On the one hand we could be even more aggressive in reducing emissions – get down to zero by 2040, for example. It won’t be cheap but neither is building a dike around New York City. Sadly we would have been there already if we had listened to Al Gore in 2000 and not spent trillions of dollars fighting wars in the Middle East over oil – the thing that ironically is going to kill us now. Still, humans eventually wake up – I hope – and zero by 2040 is something we could shoot for.

And, on the other hand, there is always technology. Nobody really wants to go there but geo-engineering is an option. Which I’ll explore tomorrow. But in the meantime ask yourself this: do you really want to experiment on the only planet we know we can survive on?

And that’s ten minutes.

Climate Insecurity

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In 2007, in the dying days of the Bush administration, generals in the Pentagon had already identified climate change as a major security risk. They didn’t talk much about it – climate change wasn’t exactly a popular topic with POTUS at that time. Times have changed.

All over the world, military planners and defense strategists not only accept that climate change is happening (and many acknowledge it is manmade as well) but are factoring it into their security and defense considerations. While the evidence that climate change has directly led to conflict remains slim – though not non-existent – the military considers it a major factor in exacerbating and multiplying risk levels, as well as actual conflicts.

Clearly, as climate change causes disruptions to weather patterns – increasing both droughts and floods, depending on where you live – people will seek to move to someplace more stable. At least, they will while such places continue to exist.

Low-lying island nations and places like Bangladesh will be the first to be hit as rising sea levels – brought on by melting ice and the expansion of water as temperatures rise –wash away their land, leaving them no choice but to sail away to someplace with higher ground. Sea level rises will hit the developed world, but those economies are better able to cope with lost coastline – at least for a while.

The tropics will be the next to fall into crisis as higher temperatures reduce the ability of Africa and South America to produce food – perhaps by as much as 25%. When people are hungry and afraid, they have little choice but to move. If the West thinks a few million refugees moving away from war zones is hard to handle, wait until they face  a few hundred million climate fugitives.

The military isn’t merely planning for climate change; they are trying to do something to mitigate it. Many European nations have adopted green defense strategies, trying to find ways to reduce energy consumption in notoriously gas guzzling operations. What they can do is limited in a world where high performance is a necessity to meet combat responsibilities but nonetheless, they are greening their buildings and bases, finding fuel efficiency where they can and integrating alternative energy into their operations. In France they are even turning training grounds into ecological preserves.

In Gabon they are going one step farther and using the army to plant heat hardy trees to replace those being damaged by changing weather (and lousy industrial practices). One might envision the day when those same forces will go after those who caused the devastation in the first place. Indonesia might be a good place to start.

This is all well and good but the military can’t get at the root of the problem, only their host states and the politicians that run them can do that. Scientists already say we are looking at a 2.7C temperature rise by the end of the century – when 2C is where we lose control. The upcoming meeting in Paris is unlikely to stop that from going even higher but they need to at least get a start on it – before the real climate wars start.

And that’s ten minutes.

Home Grown Terrorism

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It is increasingly certain that  nearly all of the people involved in the Paris attacks were citizens of France or Belgium; only one may have entered as refugee — though he didn’t come from the refugee camps but directly from Syria through Greece. Or maybe not at all. There is logic to that. It is far easier to recruit disaffected young men and women in Europe or Canada or America than it is to plant them in camps in Turkey and Lebanon in the vague hope that they will somehow make their way into another country – while still retaining the indoctrination they received.

In fact home grown terrorism is and always has been the greatest threat to the safety of western citizens. Those who want to deny entrance to Syrian refugees are the same ones who refuse to do the hard work of preventing radicalization at home. They don’t want to practice ‘sociology’ when that is exactly what is needed.

To some extent of course they are willing to accuse Muslim citizens of harbouring potentially dangerous thoughts; they support greater surveillance of Islamic communities, as well as arbitrary arrest.

But at the same time they ignore the larger world around them. The majority of home-grown terrorists in the west have never been Muslim; they have been white men with a grudge against society. We could go back to Patty Hearst, millionaire heiress, kidnapped, indoctrinated and turned into a bank robber by the SLA or Tim McVeigh or David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, or all those men’s rights guys who gun down women who won’t have sex with them. Some of these homegrown terrorists act alone like Anders Breivik in Norway, who claimed to be a Christian defending his country from immigrants. Others cling to anarchist ideas – but act in groups – like the shooters at Columbine. Then there were the four Canadians from Halifax who planned to carry out a mass shooting, inspired by neo-Nazi and white supremacist philosophies.

I could go on but those who are open to these arguments already know the countless examples I could list; those who won’t be persuaded will refuse to acknowledge white terrorists – dismissing them as criminals or crazies. Which, of course, they all are. Just as crazy and criminal as those Daesh recruits in Europe. The same crazies and criminals that refugees are running away from.

But why stop there? Weren’t the people who firebombed a mosque in Peterborough terrorists? What about the thugs who attacked a Muslim woman trying to pick up her children from school. She and her children were born in Canada – but what about their attackers? Maybe they slipped over the border from Wisconsin.

Home grown terrorism. Here’s a question for you. If you’ve recently called for a halt to the refugee program in order to advance your political career (I’m looking at you Wall. You, too, Kenny) or merely expressed a fear of the ‘barbaric cultural practices’ of your neighbours and co-workers, ask yourself this: Do I know where my children were last night?

Because if you don’t, maybe they were out putting your words into action.

In the meantime, the rest of us have to figure out a better way to fight violence than with more violence and to stop reacting to terrorism by being terrorized.

And that’s ten minutes.