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Showing posts from February, 2021

They Call It #1 For a Reason

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  I've been riding motorcycles since I was 15. You may have heard the phrase "ride it like you stole it." I did and I did.  That will make this year my 57th and, I expect, final year of two wheel adventuring. I've probably had (owned, that is) more bikes than I've had girlfriends. Japanese bikes. Brit bikes. Late night street racing from the Ace and other motorcycle cafes around London. American bikes. German bikes. I always wanted a Ducatti or Moto Guzzi. Just never got around to it. I've ridden the UK and Western Europe, the northwest bits of Africa; Canada, the US and Mexico - north to south, east to west, and a few Pacific island states. There is Zen in long-haul motorcycling but you have to ride alone. It's liberating when your mind focuses on just one thing, the road. Your Monkey Brain goes still, stops the endless chattering. It's soothing to be intensely alert to only one thing, the road. By long haul I mean consecutive days of riding, each day

Has a Riot Bloomed Into an Insurrection?

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Before volcanoes erupt there's normally plenty of warning. The volcano goes from dormant to active in stages. Precursors include an increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes, steaming or "fumarolic" activity, swelling of the ground surface, that sort of thing. It can go on for days and doesn't always culminate in an eruption but, when that occurs, it follows warning signs. Civil unrest can follow a similar pattern of escalation. The riot that led to the storming of the Capitol building on January 6th may have signaled worse things to come. The riot may be turning into an insurrection . Militia groups involved in the 6 January insurrection want to stage another attack around Joe Biden’s upcoming address to Congress, aiming to “blow up” the complex and kill lawmakers, the acting chief of the US Capitol police, [Yogananda Pittman] has warned. “We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan 6 have stated their desires that they want to bl

"The Hole We've Already Dug For Ourselves."

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  Jason Kenney must be kicking himself for not just hanging around Ottawa to succeed Stephen Harper. His trip to take the reins as premier of Alberta has become a succession of non-stop setbacks and blunders. Kenney's star is fading. Hey, did you hear? Oil prices are back up. I can't claim any expertise in the vagaries of oil markets. I have, however, observed that the slightest glitch - something like the severe winter storm that just hammered the US southwest - can be felt almost overnight at gas pumps in British Columbia. In this case that's an extra 20 cents per litre. These are hard times. Covid-19 has taken its toll on national economies. Demand for oil is down. That's a one-two punch right there. Add to it Kenney's decision to roll the dice on the Keystone XL pipeline expansion and it's a mess. Kenney's promised fiscal restraint has been thrown to the winds. The province is facing record deficits, more to come, and there's precious little the prem

Climate Change - AMOC goes Amuck?

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  There's a current known as the Atlantic Ocean circulation that is responsible for the Gulf Stream that, in turn, regulates the weather in Europe and North America. Scientists have worried about the future of the Gulf Stream for years. New research finds that the Atlantic Circulation is weaker than it has been in a millennium and climate change is the likely culprit .  Further weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) could result in more storms battering the UK, and  more intense winters  and an increase in damaging heatwaves and droughts across Europe. Scientists predict that the AMOC will weaken further if global heating continues, and could reduce by about 34% to 45% by the end of this century, which could bring us close to a  “tipping point”  at which the system could become irrevocably unstable. A weakened Gulf Stream would also raise sea levels on the Atlantic coast of the US, with potentially disastrous consequences. Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsd

Global Food Security - This Time It's America's Corn Belt

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  It is not easy to keep up with change undermining global food security. Soils degradation is a prime culprit. Some countries, such as large areas of India, have literally worked their soil to death through intensive agriculture propped up by heavy applications of agricultural chemicals - fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Crop yields have taken a further hit from the steady loss of groundwater reserves, aquifers that are starting to run on empty. No country is immune to soils degradation, not even our own. The United States has a serious problem. More than a third of farmland in the U.S. Corn Belt — nearly 100 million acres — has completely lost its carbon-rich topsoil due to erosion, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . The study, led by scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that the greatest loss of carbon-rich topsoil was on hilltops and ridgelines — indicating that tillage , or the repeate

The Leaders' Dilemma

  In most countries, governments and their leaders are facing a worsening dilemma that could, if unresolved, devastate national economies, perhaps for decades. We're all familiar with the metaphor about the straw that broke the camel's back, the feather that broke the horse's back, the last drop that makes the cup run over but now it's become more than a literary device. Look no further than Texas. Last week's deep freeze revealed the breaking point of the Lone Star state's inadequate infrastructure. Wind farms, never properly winterized, failed. So too did natural gas generating plants. The electrical grid failed. Hundreds of thousands of Texans suffered from power outages, an inability to heat their homes, frozen and ruptured pipes.  According to The New York Times, Texas became the poster child for a coast-to-coast crisis waiting to happen . As climate change brings more frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme events, it i

But What About Me?

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Reading newspapers used to be a lot more enjoyable back before they had to pack existential and quasi-existential crises four or six to a page.  If it's not dysfunctional governance, corruption , graft and grifters, mass idiocy, bio-terror and bio-error , nuclear proliferation, terrorism, civil war, mass migration, crimes against the person ranging from slavery to torture , genocide , the collapse of biodiversity , viruses and plagues, overpopulation abetted by rampant over-consumption, high anxiety and the spreading appetite for conspiracy theories , and the entire cornucopia of maladies associated with the climate emergency, present and predicted, far too many to list here, the message is powerful - our state of the art, ultra-high tech, over-clocked, just in time House of Cards is beginning to wobble. What's a girl to do? Calamities positively compete for our attention. What about Me? Every day, it seems, brings something new. Did you know that the race is on to save bats

A Party Beyond Redemption

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  The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin is an 'old school' or conservative Republican. George Will and David Frum are her fellow travelers. Think of them as "Anybody But Trump" Republicans. In her column today, Rubin writes that polls show the moderates have no hope , zero chance, of rescuing their party. “By double digits, 46%-27%, [of Republican voters] say they would abandon the GOP and join the Trump party if the former president decided to create one,” USA Today reports. Additionally, they are under the ludicrous and false impression that the Jan. 6 insurrection was the doing of antifa (58 percent) rather than the disgraced former president’s followers (28 percent). It comes as no surprise that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the MAGA Republican Party think that President Biden was not legitimately elected. A few observations are in order. First , these people have been thoroughly brainwashed by right-wing media. Second , the cult is self-reinforcing. (T

Unraveling the Menace

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  He's no longer in the White House but, like Napoleon on Elba, Donald Trump remains a menace to the Republican Party, to America and potentially even to the world. Trump has retreated to his redoubt, Mar-a-Lardo, his Floridian Berghof, from which he pumps up the Trumpian faction of the GOP and attacks the shrinking conservative Republican opposition. In this Trump is aided by his loyalists, Lindsey Graham, Devin Nunes, Stephen Miller and others including his personal Rasputin and fellow sneak thief, the man who refuses to die, freshly pardoned Steve Bannon. It is said that a civil war is underway that pits Trump's radical right faction against the slightly less radical right, old school conservatives. Judging from news reports, the Trump faction is more than holding its own. Like Herpes, Trump is not going away. This is lunacy writ large. Bannon has been floating ideas for a Trump comeback. One scheme is for Trump to run for the House in the mid-terms with a view to ousting th

Spreading Like Wildfire

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It's an old phrase that has taken on a new meaning in the Anthropocene epoch. Wildfires that sweep vast regions, year after year, sometimes spreading at such speed that they overtake people desperately making for safety they never find. Whether through mostly natural causes or through land clearing, wildfires have become a dire problem across western North America, southern Europe, Siberia, the Amazon, Southeast Asia and Australia. A study conducted by The Guardian finds that not only are these wildfires worsening but they're shifting from grassland fires that dominated the past to woodland or forest fires that impact us today. Climate heating is a major contributory cause of this chaos. In recent years, fires have devastated areas of California, Australia, Siberia and the Pantanal that used to be relatively unaffected. In Africa, by contrast, there has been a reduction of savannah fires. Experts believe the changing fire patterns are driven by human factors: global heating, w

We're In a Pandemic, the Worst In a Century. People Are Hurting. Governments Struggle to Help. Even Our Banks are Struggling...

If you're a small business owner, you're probably in trouble. If you work for that small business owner or the hundreds of thousands of others, your job may be gone or in peril. But, hey, do we ever give a thought for the banks? Do we even care about their troubles? Or are we so selfish we can only think of ourselves? Some analysts expect banks’ earnings per share to be 5 per cent to 8 per cent lower in the three months ended Jan. 31, compared with the same period a year ago – before the pandemic arrived in Canada. But profits are likely to stabilize at levels similar to those of the last fiscal quarter of 2020, which ended Oct. 31. Many investors are ready to look past those numbers and are eager to parse bank executives’ comments regarding the prospects for economic recovery in the United States and Canada – specifically, how soon the banks’ lending activities and fees will rebound. They also want to know how banks plan to deploy billions of dollars of excess capital built up

This is Our New Normal and, No, We're Not Prepared For It.

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  While all eyes are on Texas, the foibles of Ted Cruz, etc. there's scant mention of the heatwave over Greenland in the 24 hr. darkness of the Arctic winter. Greenland is about 20C above normal in the pitch black. The same unseasonal heating is happening in other Arctic regions. It's the very same anomaly that brought the deep freeze to the US south. Greece and Turkey are also enduring freezing conditions. It's the same deal - Hadley Cells and Rossby Waves. Whenever some place gets hit by abnormal freezing conditions the first question should be, okay, so where's the heat? You'll find it but it's in the far north, sometimes well inside the Arctic Circle. It's the "conservation of energy" thing, the First Law of Thermodynamics .  Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can, however, move around and it often catches us unprepared when it shows up on our doorsteps unannounced.   A few years ago, in late January/early February, road and highway tran

Jamal Khashoggi's Ghost Returns to Haunt Mohammed bin Salman

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  President Biden is expected to release the US intelligence report fingering Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal killing and dismemberment of then Washington Post correspondent, Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in 2018. The report, an unclassified summary of findings across the intelligence community produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), will be made public as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter. Plans for the release come as U.S.-Saudi relations have tumbled to a new low in recent weeks, with the administration canceling arms sales, criticizing human rights abuses and the harassment of dissidents, and pledging to “recalibrate” ties with the kingdom. In what was widely seen as a snub, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Biden, who has not yet communicated directly with Saudi rulers, would not be speaking with the crown prince, known as MBS, the country’s d

Even Pfizer/Moderna Vaccines No Match for Covid Variant

  They're the gold standard for Covid vaccines but that laurel may be fleeting.  A laboratory study suggests that the South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, and it is not clear if the shot will be effective against the mutation, the companies have said. The study found the vaccine was still able to neutralise the virus and there is not yet evidence from trials in people that the variant reduces vaccine protection , the companies said. Still, they are making investments and talking to regulators about developing an updated version of their mRNA vaccine, or a booster shot, if needed. The leading vaccines remain quite effective against the UK variant that is spreading through Canada. The two coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna appear to be highly effective against the more transmissible variant of the virus first detected in Britain, according to newly published studies in th

Ted, Ted, Wherefore Art Thou, Ted?

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  While his home state was in a frozen crisis, senator Ted Cruz headed for the sun and warmth of Cancun. Big problem. Cruz has a face as recognizable as a dog turd on the livingroom carpet. Photos that rapidly circulated on social media overnight showed a man who could be the senator at an airport and on an airplane. In some photos, a gray face mask was visible that appeared to be similar to one that Cruz was wearing at Biden’s inauguration. According to the social media postings, Cruz appeared to be in the Houston airport, preparing to board a United Airlines flight from Houston to Fort Lauderdale with continuing service to Cancun. While outrage at Cruz was mounting online, his former opponent, O’Rourke, highlighted his own efforts to assist Texans during the crisis. “We made over 151,000 calls to senior citizens in Texas tonight,” O’Rourke said in a Wednesday night tweet. “One of our [volunteers] talked to a man stranded at home w/out power in Killeen, hadn’t eaten in 2 days, got h

The Path We're On is Suicidal.

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James Lovelock once depicted human beings as parasites that grow to numbers that overwhelm their host, Earth, sending the host into a powerful fever that, in turn, kills off the parasites. Uncontrolled growth, he argued, was self-defeating, ultimately suicidal. The "S" word came up again this week , this time from the UN secretary general, Antonio Gutteres. Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said. Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year. Carbon emissions need to be taxed , and trillions of dollars of “perverse” subsidies for fossil fuels and destructive farming must be diverted to g

Japan - Still Sexist as Hell

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  The Japanese government has been catching hell from the International Olympic Committee over its sexist policies. Former Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, headed Tokyo's Olympic Organizing Committee until it came out that he said meetings attended by "talkative women" tended to "drag on." Mori resigned. The secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Toshihiro Nikai, moved quickly to address the gender gap by adding a few women to the cabinet. Then this happened : Nikai’s attempt to address the yawning gender gap in his party quickly unravelled when it became clear that the small groups of women attending the meetings were expected to be seen but not heard. The LDP, which has governed Japan almost unchallenged since 1955, had proposed allowing groups of about five women to attend meetings of its 12-member board, 10 of whom are men, on condition they remained silent observers. The secretary general decided women "observers" should

The Times in Which We Live - If You Can't Govern, Lie

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  Don't Mess With Texas - at least not while it's neck deep in a mess of its own making. But when you're the government,  go for the easy out - lie your arse off . Incompetence is not the purview of one party. But when you view politics as theater and grievance-mongering, chances are you are going to shortchange governance. Elect a president with no public-sector experience, no interest in learning, no desire to hire competent people and no ability to accept responsibility, and you get something like the covid-19 debacle. Moreover, if your party is hostile to government and exercising regulatory power because it is beholden to a donor class and right-wing ideologues, you will not be prepared for disasters when they strike . And that brings us to Texas. The Post reports, “As millions of people across Texas struggled to stay warm Tuesday amid massive cold-weather power outages, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) directed his ire at one particular failure in the state’s independent energy

Did I Hear This Right? Montreal Lifts Covid Restrictions. Third Wave Weeks Away?

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  It's not easy to stay current with Covid developments in Canada, province by province, and yet it's at the provincial level that many of the boneheaded decisions are taken. In Alberta, Jason "Wrong Way" Kenney is catching hell for ignoring a Covid outbreak at a packing plant for three weeks while 300 people became infected. Kenney didn't even try to respond to reporters, referring them instead to Alberta's medical officer of health. In Ontario, Toronto had to implore Doug Ford to keep the city under lockdown for another two weeks. I'm not sure quite what that says about the premier but I can't imagine it's good. Then we come to Montreal. The Quebec government is planning to lift the lockdown. Provincial modelling says the province can withstand an anticipated wave of Covid variants if Quebeckers "follow the rules."   The Gazette reports the province faces an outbreak of the UK variant that could send infections in Greater Montreal to s

Adios, Rush.

Rush Limbaugh has departed this mortal coil. Lung cancer. Age 70.  Trump bid adieu, calling Limbaugh "a true American legend." “In theory, he could have been gone four months ago, really. He was fighting to the end. He was a fighter," Trump said. "He was just a great gentleman.” If Limbaugh has taught us anything, it's that hate pays. The provocateur's net worth is said to be slightly north of a billion dollars and his last contract was for $80 million a year. Of course Rush, like any ex-mortal won't be able to take it with him.

When Grids Fail

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  Climate change is the mortal enemy of public infrastructure - the highways, railways, ports and electrical grids we (i.e. our parents and grandparents) built to facilitate our modern economies. The engineers of the day stayed busy with their slide rules as they looked for that sweet spot where affordability met dependability. Among other things they had to factor in existing and future demand, leaving plenty of room for growth, and the conditions that the infrastructure would have to withstand over the coming decades. One thing those engineers rarely took into account was climate change. They designed to meet the relatively gentle climate of the Holocene. They did not, nor could they, anticipate the more destructive, more challenging demands of the energized climate of the Anthropocene. When it comes to failing infrastructure the electrical grid is the miners' canary. Around the world, the local grid must meet increasing demands for cooling in the heatwaves of summer and for heat

The Cognoscenti Syndrome

  There is a group of people I think of as the Cognoscenti, people who are well educated, very informed and of rapidly diminishing relevance. Their ranks include writers such as Chris Hedges and Glen Greenwald. These are people who have honed an almost Puritanical value system, readily finding fault in any direction. They are scathing in their attacks on Republicans and Democrats alike to the point where they become nihilists. They don't endorse. They prescribe. This is where they fail. They're unable to advocate for anything that might resonate with the public whose interests they argue are being trammeled. Donald Trump was bad but Joe Biden is scarcely better. This is where their elitism comes in.  74 million may have voted for Trump but, hey, they didn't know any better. The mob that stormed the Capitol. They were just victims of the system venting their frustrations. All the racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, white nationalism - inevitable side effects of their oppr

Andrew Bacevich, "When Poisons Curdle."

There's something that's poisoning democracy in the United States. Retired US army commander turned historian and author, Andrew J. Bacevich, writes that it's the toxin Martin Luther King identified as the blend of racism, materialism and militarism .   The predicament in which we find ourselves today stems from our reluctance to admit to the crippling interaction among the components of the giant triplets he described in that speech. True, racism, extreme materialism, and militarism each deserve — and separately sometimes receive — condemnation. But it’s the way that the three of them sustain one another that accounts for our nation’s present parlous condition. Let me suggest that King’s prescription remains as valid today as when he issued it more than half a century ago. Sadly, however, neither the American people nor the American ruling class seem any more inclined to take that prescription seriously today than I was in 1967. We persist in rejecting Dr. King’s message.

Surprise. Senate Refuses to Convict Trump.

  As expected, the Senate has refused to convict Donald Trump. Seven Republicans voted to convict, short of the 17 that would have been needed. The evidence of Trump's impeachable offences was abundant and manifest but the hearing was a political farce from the outset. It's obvious that Trump is more feared within Republican ranks than anywhere else.

Square This Circle.

Canada is a member in good standing of the G7, the world's leading powerhouses. Yet, when it comes to Covid-19, we're a lowly 37th or 38th in terms of percentage of population vaccinated. Screwed up as the United States has been, they're light years ahead of Canada. Justin's fan club are in overdrive trying to put lipstick on this pig.  It's just a glitch. No one's to blame, certainly not Justin Trudeau and his government, so we're told. Really?

A Little Late, Nikki Haley Tries to Grow a Pair

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  Former Trump acolyte, Nikki Haley, has had an epiphany , a truly religious-grade conversion. Haley now says it was a mistake for Republicans to have backed Donald Trump and his presidency. "We need to acknowledge he let us down," Haley, who served in her ambassador role under Trump, said. "He went down a path he shouldn't have, and we shouldn't have followed him, and we shouldn't have listened to him. And we can't let that ever happen again." The former South Carolina governor told Politico that she has not spoken with Trump since the mob attack, further expressing her disappointment with remarks Trump gave at a rally ahead of the riot condemning his own vice president, Mike Pence. "When I tell you I'm angry, it's an understatement," Haley told Politico. "I am so disappointed in the fact that [despite] the loyalty and friendship he had with Mike Pence, that he would do that to him. Like, I'm disgusted by it."

Is This the First Rumble? A Revolt in Republican Ranks.

  It struck me while watching the impeachment trial underway in the Senate that, for Democrats, this was about far more than putting the boots to Donald J. Trump.  This was about the mid-terms and showing Americans why business as usual is over in the age of radical politics and conspiracy theory. The  GOP is in a war for the heart and soul of the party that pits old school or conservative Republicans against the Treason Caucus and Trump's Gullibillies.   Some conservative Republicans, David Frum et al, have said that the only way to save their party is to burn it to the ground and start over. Now Reuters is reporting that dozens of GOP stalwarts are meeting to discuss setting up an anti-Trump centre-right party . The early stage discussions include former elected Republicans, former officials in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Trump, ex-Republican ambassadors and Republican strategists, the people involved say. More than 120 of

How the Internet Re-Wired Our Brains and the Man Who Warned It Was Coming

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  20 years ago Michael Goldhaber warned us about the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus. We didn't listen. Most of this came to him in the mid-1980s, when Mr. Goldhaber, a former theoretical physicist, had a revelation. He was obsessed at the time with what he felt was an information glut — that there was simply more access to news, opinion and forms of entertainment than one could handle. His epiphany was this: One of the most finite resources in the world is human attention. To describe its scarcity, he latched onto what was then an obscure term, coined by a psychologist, Herbert A. Simon: “the attention economy.” These days, the term is a catch-all for the internet and the broader landscape of information and entertainment. Advertis