Showing posts from December, 2021

The Case For (and Against) Blue and Red State America Going Their Separate Ways

The Washington Post is wrapping up 2021 with a look at why Blue and Red State America may need to part company and all the obstacles that stand in their way.  The article focuses on two quasi-nation states, Texas and California. A survey published in September by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, for example, found that 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters at least “somewhat agree” that “the situation in America” makes them favor blue or red states “seceding from the union to form their own separate country.” Secession as an actual political program “is being normalized in an unwinding and degrading country,” Richard Kreitner told Antonia Hitchens for her recent Atlantic article about the secessionist movement in Oregon that proposes to make a large rural swath of the state part of Idaho. Kreitner, whose book about secession, “Break It Up,” was published last year, said the Oregon proposal should be taken as “a peace proposal, or a way to avoid war

I May Not Be a Believer But I Believe This


Betty White. Dead Just Weeks Short of 100.

  Betty White dead at 99 . I never met anyone who didn't like her.

More Good News on Omicron

  I think we've all seen the pictures of crowded ICU wards full of patients intubated on ventilators as doctors and nurses try to keep them alive. We saw that with the Alpha variant and the Delta variant. The Omicron variant, however, seems less lethal . Researchers think they have the answer. In studies on mice and hamsters, Omicron produced less damaging infections, often limited largely to the upper airway: the nose, throat and windpipe. The variant did much less harm to the lungs, where previous variants would often cause scarring and serious breathing difficulty. “It’s fair to say that the idea of a disease that manifests itself primarily in the upper respiratory system is emerging,” said Roland Eils, a computational biologist at the Berlin Institute of Health, who has studied how coronaviruses infect the airway.

Rolling Stone's New Years Eve Missive

  I never expected Rolling Stone magazine to close out 2021 with an "end is nigh" message but these are curious times. The headline couldn't be more dramatic: " The Fuse is Blown, and the Doomsday Glacier is Coming For Us All ."  A few weeks ago, scientists participating in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration , a $25 million five-year-long joint research program between the National Science Foundation in the U.S. and the Natural Environment Research Council in the U.K., presented their latest research. They described the discovery of cracks and fissures in the Thwaites eastern ice shelf, predicting that the ice shelf could fracture like a shattered car window in as little as five years. It's not the ice shelf that poses the threat. It's the Thwaites glacier behind it that would eventually slide into the ocean, taking with it the rest of the West Antarctic glaciers resulting in sea level rise upwards of six to ten feet. Given the ongoing war

All She Can Do Now Is Sing

  Sammy "the Bull" Gravano freely admits he personally murdered the better part of a dozen guys and participated in many other killings. Did he get the chair? No. Is he rotting away in some supermax dungeon? No. He's got a YouTube channel and book contracts and he's doing just fine. He's making money from having whacked other goons. Sammy only served a few years in a highly secure facility, part of the deal he negotiated for turning on John Gotti and the rest of the New York mob. He got a sweetheart deal because he was more useful to prosecutors as a rat than a guy rotting away in a prison. Do you think Ghyslaine Maxwell isn't looking for a deal, some way not to spend the rest of her life behind bars? She's small fry compared to Jeffrey Epstein's play pals, guys such as Bill Clinton, prince Andrew, Alan Dershowitz, billionaire Tom Barrack, Woody Allen, Clinton nemesis Ken Starr, and the man himself, Donald J. Trump. One thing that must weight heavily o

Dr. Henry's Happy New Year. "We Are Going to Get To That Place" or The Gift of Omicron

  British Columbia's medical officer of health, Dr. Bonnie Henry, thinks the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus could transform the contagion from pandemic to endemic . "The way the virus is changing with Omicron — that is leading us to that place sooner," she said. "The type of illness it's causing, with most of us being protected through vaccination, means that we are going to get to that place." Henry says the virus will eventually become endemic as the season shifts to spring, more children get vaccinated and the spread of infection slows, though she said there are still many unknowns ahead.   Dr. Henry does know a thing or two about viral plagues from her work in Asia battling ebola to working as part of the Toronto team that brought SARS, another corona virus, under control before it could become pandemic.

Did You Ever Get That Feeling?


An American Fears for His Country

CNN analyst, Bill Carter, like many of his countrymen, sees his United States broken , perhaps irreparably. Carter has seen America bruised and battered from the Kennedy assassination to the Viet Nam war, Watergate, the decades of school shootings, to the 9/11 attacks. Nothing can diminish the staggering impact of these events, and their ripple effects through the consciousness of Americans. But the moment we are at right now feels different, eerie almost, like the stillness that presages a coming storm of a magnitude we can't yet measure. ...Maybe only two events before my time, the Civil War and World War II, are legitimate rivals to our current crisis in terms of potential destructive impact. In both those earlier cases, our democracy also came under mortal threat, once from internal forces, once external. Both encompassed authoritarianism, violent threats to opponents, popular appeal based on rage and grievances, a cult following and very big lies. And, in both those past crise

Is America Turning Us Into Nervous Nellies?

  Let's face it, from Tea Partiers to QAnon to fundamentalist faux-Christians to heavily armed thugs who see nothing wrong with storming their nation's Capitol Building, a lot of our neighbours to the south are not right in the head.  I wonder if Canadians looking at the US in early 1861 had the same sense of unease that has gripped many of us today? In the Globe, Stephen Marche, author of The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future,  wonders if 2022 will be the year the US breaks . In the old Road Runner cartoons, the Coyote doesn’t immediately fall when he sprints off the edge of a cliff. He can keep going for quite a while with no solid ground beneath him. It’s only when he looks down that he plunges to the bottom. That’s America’s reality today. Its democracy ran off a cliff sometime in the middle of the past decade. And Americans are about to look down. ...For Canadians, the sudden, shocking vulnerability of the United States is unsettling on the deepest concei

Even For the Beebs, This Is Bizarre. Dershowitz and the BBC.

  What were they thinking? When the BBC was looking for an expert to provide a little colour commentary on the Gyslaine Maxwell trial, the very last name on their list ought to have been Alan Dershowitz . A long time acqaintance of sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, Dershowitz also stands accused of taking liberties with one of Epstein's underage Lolitas.  The BBC didn't even mention Dershowitz' connection to Epstein or his possible interest in the Maxwell trial and verdict. 

Left to Their Own Devices or Learning to Thrive Without America

Leaders of the Middle East may be rewriting their region's history and, in the process, busting the myths of the West as their benefactor. The decline of American influence in the region has the locals talking - to each other.  After years of looking abroad for answers, countries in the Middle East now appear to instead be talking to each other to find solutions following two decades defined by war and political upheaval. Much remains unsettled and this inward search may not provide the answers most want. There are no quick fixes to Lebanon’s unprecedented economic free-fall, the plight of Afghans desperate to flee the country’s new Taliban rulers and Iran’s increasingly hard-line stance over its nuclear program. But the diplomatic maneuvering signals a growing realization across the region that America’s interest is moving elsewhere and that now is the time for negotiations that were unthinkable just a year ago. The UAE, even the Saudis are suddenly talking with Iran. Problems ar

Karen - The Handmaiden of Decline

  Readers of this blog will be familiar with my outsize focus on social cohesion and its role in societal collapse.  A friend recently posted a video of an irate American woman on a jetliner who struck and spat on a crew member, all of it captured by other passengers on their cellphones. There's even a term for it, "air rage," and videos of these events regularly appear on YouTube.  I have read about bizarre behaviours manifested when once dominant societies enter decline. Britain, for example, turned pretty weird as the kingdom slipped from its prominent perch. Patrician (i.e. 'old school') Republican insider, Kevin Philips, compares and contrasts the decline of great states past with what is underway in his America.  His 2005 book, "American Theocracy", is a compelling read. Is this what we're witnessing today albeit without understanding what is underway?  Is this a process explored by great thinkers of the near past such as Toynbee, Eisenstadt, T

BC Closes Out the Year With Another Climate Blow

  It's been a tough year for British Columbians. Extremes of heat and cold, drought and floods. Heat so intense it killed off billions of sea creatures, the sort that anchor marine food chains. Heat so fierce it claimed hundreds of lives, killed off crops. Stuff that, in normal times we might call "once a century" catastrophes, even as we now understand them as our " new normal ".  The series of climate disasters has already affected the province's farm output in myriad ways — from fruit crops "cooking" on the branch during the heat wave to wildfire smoke tainting wine vintages . Now, the latest cold snap is adding even more uncertainty for farmers in the province, according to Stan Vander Waal, president of the B.C. Agriculture Council. "More and more ... the challenges we see as farmers today is dealing with the unknowns," he said. "How do you compensate for these extreme conditions?" How do you "compensate for these ext

Aaron Wherry in Search of a Silver Lining

  It's hard to imagine much good coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic but the CBC's Aaron Wherry sees a distant glimmer of hope . What, asks Wherry, if the pandemic embedded itself in the consciousness of our political caste? What if the ordeal paved the way for a new awareness of coping with crisis - er, crises - that are looming in our not distant future? A once-in-a-century pandemic certainly counts as a crisis ...but COVID-19 is not the only crisis MPs have identified in the last 12 months. The word also has been used to describe opioid addiction, inflation, the cost of housing, mental health, labour shortages, the fall of Afghanistan, the state of long-term care, sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces and, of course, climate change. ...Perhaps the pandemic — while exacerbating some pre-existing problems — has made us more attuned to the other problems around us. Perhaps it has lent new urgency to all sorts of things. In the case of climate change, the pandemic has offered

Okay, There's the Heat. It Had to be Somewhere.

  Nothing fuels skepticism about the climate emergency more than cold snaps of the sort now affecting western Canada. In previous years it's been the dreaded "polar vortex" that has plagued eastern Canada. One thing climate change has taught us is that, when it is unduly cold in one region, you will find some other region that is unduly warm, even hot. Currently that heat can be found across America's southern states and, wait for it, in Alaska . The South and Southeast remain under the influence of a system that will provide above-normal temperatures through midweek. "Record warm temperatures are expected for broad areas of the South," Mullinax said. "Parts of the South Central U.S. will soar into the 70s and 80s once again this afternoon, with temperatures becoming warmer across much of the Deep South by Tuesday." At the island community of Kodiak, the air temperature at a tidal gauge hit 19.4C (67F) degrees on Sunday, the highest December readi

Justin Didn't See This Coming When He Decriminalized Marijuana.

Unforeseen consequences.  

A Ray of Hope

  Some day we might think of Omicron as the friendly Covid variant . English experts confirm that it is both milder and shorter-lived than its predecessors, the Alpha and Delta variants. Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and the government’s life sciences adviser, said that although hospital admissions had increased in recent weeks as Omicron spreads through the population, the disease “appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital”. Fewer patients were needing high-flow oxygen and the average length of stay was down to three days, he said. The proof in the optimism pudding will be in the infection rates after the seasonal holidays. The NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said it was still unclear what would happen when infection rates in older people started to rise. “We’ve had a lot of intergenerational mixing over Christmas, so we all are still waiting to see, are we going to see a significant number of in

The Year in Climate. What We See and What We Don't See.

Deutsche Welle has a recap of the global climate emergency in 2021 .  The summary touches on what I would call the "big ticket" events, the ten most costly climate disasters. These are First World weighted numbers. They reflect cost in preference to value. A house in Louisiana and a corrugated metal shack occupied by a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh have vastly differing costs compared to their value to the occupants. This apples and oranges contrast makes developed world disasters far more important than Third World counterparts where all manner of other problems compound loss. Another problem with these year-enders is that they fail to capture the low to mid-grade changes underway, the really dangerous and costly shifts that are often erased from our conscience by humanity's ingrained memory block, " creeping normalcy ." Politicians use the term "creeping normalcy" to refer to slow trends concealed within noisy fluctations. If the economy, schools,

A Lot of Canada's Leaders are on Very Thin Ice.

  Let's put it this way. When called to rise to the occasion this year, Canada's political leadership - the premiers and the prime minister -  failed to distinguish themselves. First mistake was treating the Covid-19 pandemic as a political issue. Trying to balance the commercial interest against the public health issues is damn near impossible. It's in every politician's DNA to take a victory lap, even when it's not warranted. How many times can you sound the "all clear" only to go back into lockdown a few months later? There was always that sense that public health was never the front runner. Nobody dropped the ball as spectacularly as Jason Kenney. He was up and down like a toilet seat. Then there were the other disasters that came rampaging across the country. Again we were taken by surprise, unprepared. Here in British Columbia we were whipsawed. An unusually damp spring with early snowpack runoff. Wildfires as we've not known them before. Blanket

And a Very Merry, Extremely Rare, White Christmas from the Wet Coast

  I have exchanged greetings with friends and family from Ottawa, Stratford, Tottenham, Simcoe, Wheatley and Leamington today. They all painted the same story of dreary rain and damp cold.  Now, that's our  weather. It's what we are used to, accustomed, acclimated. It is one of the great challenges of living on the Wet Coast, one that sends some newcomers back to from whence they came. We mock them for their frailty. This time, however, the tables are turned.  When my wee hound awakened me this morning (@ 5:30) I opened my bedroom door to the back yard to discover somewhere between 5 and 6 inches of pristine snow.  I went to glimpse the view from my front door. Pristine. Not a tire track to be seen. Was this the Apocalypse? No.  What a year it has been.  An inordinately soggy spring giving way to a hellish summer of heatwaves, heat domes, and massive wildfires sending clouds of somewhat dangerous smoke to blanket the rest of Canada then, at summer's end,  yielding to the a

What a Year

  It's been a record-setting year in many places.  Here in British Columbia we've had our hottest year ever recorded, our wettest year on record and, now, it looks like we'll put 2021 in the books as our coldest year. It will also be the first full year under a pandemic. We might be in store for another. Well, I'd better cut this short. I need to get some firewood in.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

Is Omicron in Your Near Future?

  The headline in the National Post speaks for itself: " It looks like we're all going to catch Omicron ." Tristan Hopper's column begins with two facts: 1.  One in ten Canadians already have someone in their social circle who has contracted Omicron. 2.  In the span of just two weeks, the Omicron variant went from 19 per cent of cases to 28 per cent. It's spreading fast even in Canada where most of the population is already double vaccinated. Alberta’s United Conservative Party has invited criticism for asking residents to avoid Christmas parties … before immediately holding a massive Christmas party just steps from the provincial legislature . The Dec. 21 “Members Christmas Reception” promised “good food and good fellowship,” according to an invitation obtained by CTV , and it occurred just three hours after a press conference in which Health Minister Jason Copping urged Albertans to “ cancel any social gatherings,” even if socially distanced. Are we all destine

Story of the Year, Canada, 2021 - What's Your Pick?

  I think a poll would find the persistent Covid-19 pandemic would win as Canadian Story of the Year for 2021. It's been the most constantly disruptive event and it affects everyone, all genders, all ages. We've seen our governments tackle it head on and we've seen them stupidly sound the "all clear" only to have those assurances blow up in our faces. On Parliament Hill, the prime minister tried to score a majority win and flopped. If it wasn't for the weakness in the Opposition party, Mr. Trudeau might be in trouble. To my mind, the big story of 2021 is the climate emergency.  From atmospheric rivers to catastrophic flooding, record heatwaves, heat domes and wildfires, smoke blanketing Canada from BC to the Maritimes, persistent Prairie drought slashing agricultural production, we've all been impacted even if it's not as obvious as Covid-19. And these are "early onset" impacts.  Climate change is with us, not for five years, not for a decade

Did We Get Caught Unprepared - Again?

  Did  Canada's health authorities - federal and provincial - leave us yet again unprepared? Were they slow in rolling out the booster shot deemed essential to thwart the deadly effects of the Omicron Covid variant? While demand is high for third doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the supply can’t keep up, and experts say we can’t beat the Omicron variant wave through vaccination alone. “There isn’t time,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. “The fact of the matter is that we have millions of these to deliver and we need time to do that. And we also need time for them to take effect.” Meanwhile, as Canada plays "catch up" with booster shots we're hearing that 2+1 may not be enough. We may need a fourth shot to fight Omicron. Germany's health minister says it will take four shots . German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has said that a fourth vaccination will be necessary in the fight against the c

There's Good News and There's Bad News. Freedom House Ratings, 2021.

Democracy is in decline around the world. Where it was strong it remains strong - with one glaring exception.  Canada (98) again did very well in the ratings, no surprise there. Not as well as Finland (100) or Sweden (100) or Norway (100) and just a tad behind New Zealand (99) but well. Most of Western Europe scored well. So did Australia.  Then there's the behemoth on our border, our extremely long and undefended border. Over the last decade the United States has sustained an 11 point drop, from 94 to 83, putting it in the worst 25 nations in democratic decline.  The US is tied with Romania (83) but far behind Melania's Slovenia (95). The final weeks of the Trump presidency featured unprecedented attacks on one of the world’s most visible and influential democracies. After four years of condoning and indeed pardoning official malfeasance, ducking accountability for his own transgressions, and encouraging racist and right-wing extremists, the outgoing president openly strove

Use Every Tool At Your Disposal

  The Washington Post editorial board is urging president Joe Biden to take off the gloves in the fight against Covid-19 and, especially, the Omicron variant sweeping the nation. They want it all. Take some of the pressure off healthcare workers while that still might help. Get the vaccine mandate case to the Supreme Court - stat. No messing about. Free tests for everyone. Redouble efforts to promote vaccination, masks, social distancing - anything and everything.  One new idea and it makes sense - get high-quality masks into every home in America, free of charge. It's been reported that ordinary cloth masks, even surgical masks, are ineffective for Omicron. People are urged to use N95 respirator masks which, when properly worn, do provide protection. If the Phizer officials are right and the Covid pandemic will be with us until 2024, every country needs to go all in on taming this plague.

Before There Were Conservatives, There Were Medieval Conservatives.


An Old Soldier's Lament

  You could say the United States military has gone to the dogs. It's a top down problem. It's a contagion that doesn't stop at America's borders. In today's Tom Dispatch, veteran US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich , dissects " the Petraeus-era cohort of war-losing, the-buck-stops-somewhere-else, upwards-failing generals ." ...Somehow, the American people, our political establishment, and our military have all fallen into the habit of shrugging off or simply ignoring disappointing outcomes. A few years ago, a serving army officer of unusual courage published an essay — in Armed Forces Journal no less — in which he charged that “a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.” The charge stung because it was irrefutably true then and it remains so today. As American politics has become increasingly contentious, the range of issues on which citizens agree has narrowed to the point of invisibility.

A Nation Rotting from the Inside

 I have an American cousin. Poorly educated, profoundly ignorant, a real Trump guy. Like a vivisectionist's dog, he lovingly licks the hand wielding the scalpel.  Like many of his Facebook pals he is fueled by his perceived victimization, all of which he lays at the feet of the Democrats. I cut ties with this guy long ago because of his blatant racism. We saw his like when they stormed the Capitol Building on January 6th. I suppose we've all known that they're not done. An article in Newsweek  warns they'll be back, 2024 is the target date, and this time they won't leave the guns at home. ...Many rank-and-file Republicans who own guns in recent months have talked openly of the need to take down—by force if necessary—a federal government they see as illegitimate, overreaching and corrosive to American freedom. The phenomenon goes well beyond the growth of militias, which have been a feature of American life at least since the Ku Klux Klan rose to power after the Civ

The Faint Whiff of Change

  In the last two weeks I've been struck by a growing awareness that something serious is underway in Antarctica.  Three friends who have rarely, almost never, said much about the climate emergency wanted to talk about the South Pole.  What concerns them is the glacier, the Thwaites glacier. It's important to distinguish the Thwaites ice sheet from the Thwaites glacier.  The ice sheet, about the size of Manhattan, floats. It's breaking loose which may cause a variety of problems - in the future. For now it won't have much impact on sea levels because, hey, it's already floating. Think of the ice sheet as the cork in a bottle. Scientists warn that when the ice sheet goes that will probably speed up the loss of the Thwaites and nearby glaciers. As those slip off the land they will trigger a big rise in sea level. How much? Somewhere between 2 feet when the Thwaites glacier drops into the sea. Upwards of 10 feet if the surrounding glaciers also go. At the moment the fo

Polluter Pays. The Case for Taxing the Rich.

  The now standard narrative is that the developed countries are to blame for the climate catastrophe. Some think that's an unduly broad brush.  The case for taxing the rich wherever they're located. 10% of the world’s population are responsible for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom half of the world contributes just 12% of all emissions. This is not simply a rich versus poor countries divide: there are huge emitters in poor countries, and low emitters in rich countries. Consider the US, for instance. Every year, the poorest 50% of the US population emit about 10 tonnes of CO2 per person, while the richest 10% emit 75 tonnes per person. That is a gap of more than seven to one. Similarly, in Europe, the poorest half emits about five tonnes per person, while the richest 10% emit about 30 tonnes – a gap of six to one. (You can now view this data on the World Inequality Database .) Why do these inequalities matter? After all, shouldn’t we all reduce our