Buy, buy, bye

Stop shopping … or the planet will go pop

Hanson, Supermarket Shopper

Duane Hanson, Supermarket Shopper

In the week that saw Primark mania, Jonathon Porritt, the government’s green guru, says consumerism is now a lethal disease. David Smith reports

Sunday April 8, 2007
The Observer

‘Many big ideas have struggled over the centuries to dominate the planet,’ begins the argument by Jonathon Porritt, government adviser and all-round environmental guru.

‘Fascism. Communism. Democracy. Religion. But only one has achieved total supremacy. Its compulsive attractions rob its followers of reason and good sense. It has created unsustainable inequalities and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. More powerful than any cause or even religion, it has reached into every corner of the globe. It is consumerism.’

Duane Hanson sculpture

Duane Hanson sculpture

According to Porritt, the most senior adviser to the government on sustainability, we have become a generation of shopaholics. We are bombarded by advertising from every medium which persuades us that the more we consume, the better our lives will be. Shopping is equated with fun, fulfilment and self-identity. It is also, Porritt warns, killing the planet. He argues, in an interview with The Observer, that merely switching to ‘ethical’ shopping is not enough. We must shop less.

Read the rest here.

The Emperor

Is the American Empire on the Brink of Collapse?

By Mark Karlin, BuzzFlash. Posted March 24, 2007.

U.S. military expert Chalmers Johnson argues the catastrophe in Iraq and the staggering cost of running a military that stretches across 130 countries on 737 bases may finally cost America its empire.

“I believe that we’re close to a tipping point right now. What happened to the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 could easily be happening to us for essentially the same reasons. Imperial overreach, inability to reform, rigid economic ideology. … The world’s balance of power didn’t change one iota on September 11, 2001. The only way we could lose the power and influence we had at that time was through our own actions, and that’s what we did”. — Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic

Has our “leadership” traded democracy for empire? Have their over-bloated egos convinced them that they are the world’s newly crowned colonial kings? Author Chalmers Johnson is certainly not given to wearing rose-colored glasses. As he concludes in his newest book, Nemesis: “… my country is launched on a dangerous path that it must abandon or else face the consequences.”

Johnson’s well-argued, persuasive argument draws on the economic, military, and political lessons of the past, which may be just what’s needed to wake up Americans in time to change course. In this interview, he explained his hopes and fears for contemporary America.

Read more here.

Emperor Tarot

The Emperor tarot

The Emperor symbolizes the desire to rule over one’s surroundings, and its appearance in a reading often suggests that the subject needs to accept that some things may not be controllable, and others may not benefit from being controlled.

The Emperor is Key Four of the Major Arcana. Fours are stable numbers; four walls, four seasons, four corners. It takes a massive amount of energy, comparatively, to move them. The strength of The Emperor is the stability he brings. The weakness is the risk of stagnation.

The Emperor is connected to Key 13, Death, through its cross sum (the sum of the digits). Emperors maintain their power through death and through their relationship with the other 13 of the tarot; The Queens (who legitimate their rule and bear their heirs). He is also strongly associated with Life; his scepter is an ankh, the symbol of life. But he is in the mountains, separated from the pulse of life. The sign of the Emperor is associated with the sun sign of Aries. Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and is the leader. The Emperor, like Aries, is fiery, powerful, authoritative and very egotistical.

Emperor Tarot 2

King Minos is another aspect of this archetypal image. He was, mostly, a good king, (considered so wise he is, according to some, one of the judges of the dead), who increased and protected Crete for many years. But he took his kingdom by means of a trick. He and his brothers disputed who should rule, and he prayed to Poseidon to send a sign from the sea that he was the chosen of the gods, which he promised to immediately sacrifice to the god. Poseidon sent a magnificent bull, and Minos was proclaimed king. But he balked at fulfilling his promise to slay the animal, and substituted a bull from his own herds. In so doing, as Joseph Campbell put it he “converted a public event to personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as king had been that he was no longer a mere private person. The return of the bull should have symbolized his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces 15 (2nd ed. 1968)). And the consequences were catastrophic; Poseidon afflicted the Cretan queen, Pasiphae, with an unquenchable desire for the bull. Their coupling produced the Minotaur, who was fed on human flesh.


Slaying the Minotaur

The Emperor’s power and apparent stability bring great comfort, self worth, power. But the danger, as Minos discovered, is that we may gain a sense of personal entitlement beyond our actual rights. That way leads corruption, material or spiritual. It also, to quote an old television show, makes the people “cr[y] out for a hero.”

Generally, when the Emperor appears in a spread, he is something to be overcome. Some rigidity of thinking, some inflexibility of approach, some external force keeping us from our destiny. A comforting myth the Querant has outgrown. Sometimes, he represents the exterior forces we must accommodate. Sometimes, he is the superego. The two rams on each sides of his throne represent Aries presenting him as a powerful dictator for his time and showing his potent thirst for conquering in war. (Source: Wikipedia)

Emperor Tarot 3

Attack Dog

Ken Alexander
Editor, The Walrus

Insofar as we expect our prime ministers to reflect general societal values and Canadian identity, Stephen Harper represents a unique entry into the national political landscape. Watching him and gauging his moves, clichés come to mind – know no fear, take no prisoners, and so forth – but increasingly Harper appears more than a tactical, domineering pit bull determined to win at all costs, a man who looks across the floor at Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and says to himself, “I can take him out…He’s a mark as easy for me as Stockwell Day was for Jean Chrétien.”

There is a cerebral, if calculating, aspect to Harper’s current approach that represents a fundamental challenge to the quiet way Canada has been governed since the early 1980s. Not since Trudeau have we been presented with such a complete (and opposite) template for an altered country. Sudden environmental awareness, a partnership with the Bill Gates Foundation to find a vaccine for the hideous killer of aids, and other noteworthy strategic moves, do not mask the basic fact that Harper wants to undo what he perceives as Canada’s mixed blessings: a private-public economy, an independent and active judiciary, a federal state that is not a “headwaiter for the provinces.”
At a time when Canadians are adjusting to the next huge national challenge facing us – re-tooling the economy around sustainable development and shedding our near total dependence on fossil fuels – small programs and minor inducements to business aside, by ushering in a budget with significant tax reductions and solving the “fiscal imbalance” by dumping money into the regions, Harper is essentially saying there is little role for the federal state.

Beyond his “baseless” (as per John Ibbitson in the Globe & Mail) conflation of Liberal MP Navdeep Bains’ father-in-law and the Liberal Party’s internal debate about rolling back anti-terrorism statutes; or his stacking of judicial appointment committees; or his treatment of the Ottawa press gallery as unworthy of the time of day, when regional papers are less nosy; or, even, narrative advertisements celebrating life in the military that render “There’s no life like it” a wistful reminder of a bygone era; or attack ads that make the PR flaks for the US Republicans look like cub scouts; beyond all this, Harper has presented Canadians with a central and defining question – should Ottawa exist? – and a clear preference – it should not. Let the voting begin: the golden retriever vs. the pit bull.

Why Working Women Are Stuck in the 1950s

By Ruth Rosen, The Nation. Posted February 27, 2007.

A baby is born. A child develops a high fever. A spouse breaks a leg. A parent suffers a stroke. These are the events that throw a working woman’s delicate balance between work and family into chaos.

Although we read endless stories and reports about the problems faced by working women, we possess inadequate language for what most people view as a private rather than a political problem. “That’s life,” we tell each other, instead of trying to forge common solutions to these dilemmas.

Norman Rockwell

That’s exactly what housewives used to say when they felt unhappy and unfulfilled in the 1950s: “That’s life.” Although magazines often referred to housewives’ unexplained depressions, it took Betty Friedan’s 1963 bestseller to turn “the problem that has no name” into a household phrase, “the feminine mystique” — the belief that a woman should find identity and fulfillment exclusively through her family and home.

The great accomplishment of the modern women’s movement was to name such private experiences — domestic violence, sexual harassment, economic discrimination, date rape — and turn them into public problems that could be debated, changed by new laws and policies or altered by social customs. That is how the personal became political.

Although we have shelves full of books that address work/family problems, we still have not named the burdens that affect most of America’s working families.

Norman Rockwell 2

Call it the care crisis.

For four decades, American women have entered the paid workforce — on men’s terms, not their own — yet we have done precious little as a society to restructure the workplace or family life. The consequence of this “stalled revolution,” a term coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, is a profound “care deficit.” A broken healthcare system, which has left 47 million Americans without health coverage, means this care crisis is often a matter of life and death. Today the care crisis has replaced the feminine mystique as women’s “problem that has no name.” It is the elephant in the room — at home, at work and in national politics — gigantic but ignored. …

Read the rest here.

Is the Canadian situation any different?

After the Flood

Robert Polidori (Canadian, b. 1951), one of the world’s premier architectural photographers, has recorded the disasters of our time as well as the failures of contemporary society. Amid the scenes of destruction and chaos in New Orleans, as in his past projects in Havana, Versailles, and Chernobyl, Polidori finds a formal beauty that radiates stillness and compassion and invites contemplation.

Polidori, Orleans Street

2732 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans

The wrecked rooms, collapsed houses, and ravaged neighborhoods on view in “After the Flood” become metaphors for human fragility. Using a large-format camera, natural light, and unusually long exposures, Polidori records the destruction with a mastery of color, light, shadow, and texture that brings to life discarded mementos and mud-caked belongings. In each image, the artist seems to have captured the very air of New Orleans, weighted heavily with mold, humidity, and history.

Polidori, 5417 Marigny Street

5417 Marigny Street, New Orleans

Polidori, Wuerpel Street

6525 Wuerpel Street, New Orleans

Text and Images from the 2006 Metropolitan Museum exhibition in New York. For more information, click here.

Speaking of old …

Anguissola, Chess Game

Sofonisba Anguissola, Chess Game

Freedom 85?

Why working longer may be good for everyone but you

BY Ellen Russell

“Hi—my name is Lucky!!” I kid you not: “Lucky” was the name on the tag of the guy bagging my groceries. Lucky certainly appeared to be far past “Freedom 55.” “Servitude 70” is more like it.

Sure, some seniors want to work longer. But late retirement is not a “lifestyle choice” for Lucky. It’s a class issue. Lucky and workers like him find themselves working longer because they can’t afford to retire.

If you are worried about folks in Lucky’s predicament, check out Monica Townson’s new book Growing Older, Working Longer (published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a.k.a. my employer). She knows this stuff: she served on the Pension Commission of Ontario and the Canada Pension Plan Advisory Board.

Canadians rely heavily on public pensions (55 percent of the income of senior women and 41 percent of the income of senior men comes from government transfers). But the problem is that these plans don’t provide enough to live on.

Read more here.

Exploit the workers and pollute the seas

Burtynsky, Tailings 30

Burtynsky, Tailings 33 Sudbury, Ont

By Andrew Leonard

Source: Salon Magazine

“Waste dumping is not carried out by nations: it is carried out by corporations,” declares Tang Hao, a Guangzhou-based academic writing in ChinaDialogue.

Tang is referring to the practice in which Western nations export their waste to the developing world, a variety of “trade” that is coming under increasing attack. The easy reaction is to see the waste trade as evidence of a double standard reeking of colonial legacies: The West doesn’t want its own garbage but has no qualms about sending it to China. Tang makes a useful distinction in his interesting article, pinning the blame on independent corporations operating in an unregulated global environment, rather than on the historical power relations between developed and developing nations.

But the picture gets murkier when you start looking more closely at China’s own behavior.

Last week’s trip to Africa by China’s President, Hu Jintao, generated blanket coverage — a favorite media touchpoint was China’s mining adventures in Zambia, where China appears to be doing its best to live up to the example set by its colonial forebears. A similar, less publicized story is playing out in Papua New Guinea, where there is a growing political storm over the working conditions at Ramu, a huge nickel mine operated by the Chinese mining conglomerate Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC).

Burtynsky, Tailings 31

Burtynsky, Tailings 31 Sudbury, Ont

“Toilet facilities are so poor that PNG workers are using the nearby forest rather than suffer the indignity of squatting on logs over open latrines, Government officials claimed last week.

After paying the site a surprise visit, PNG’s Labour and Industrial Relations Secretary, David Tibu, said local workers were being paid for overtime with tinned fish rather than money and that the canteen provided for employees was “not fit for pigs or dogs”.”

But the labor conditions aren’t the only problem for MCC. The plan is to pump the mine waste — the “tailings” — via pipeline into the heart of Astrolabe Bay. Submarine tailings disposal is frowned upon by environmentalists and generally forbidden in the West. Some Papua New Guineans fear that a local tuna fishery will be harmed.

China’s demand for nickel is extraordinary. Most of its nickel imports are used for making stainless steel, which in turn feeds China’s automotive and petroleum sectors. You could argue, therefore, that China is exporting the waste associated with its own industrial development to the ocean surrounding Papua New Guinea, even if that waste did not actually originate in China. To further complicate matters, MCC is owned by the Chinese government, which means that this is all occuring with the tacit approval of the Chinese state.

Does this invalidate Tang Hao’s analysis?:

“Globalization benefits both developed and developing nations, but environmental laws and their enforcement are weaker in poorer countries. This gives richer nations a chance to export their waste and pollution. The economic and environmental differences are, in essence, the result of underdeveloped systems.

Burtynsky, Tailings 33

Burtynsky, Tailings 30 Sudbury, Ont

Globalization increases the interaction between different systems, and exposes the gaps between them. In the same way that less-developed systems attract unregulated and risky investments, they also attract waste.”

Not at all. It just requires that the same analysis be applied to China, as it takes advantage of globalization to commit upon others the same sins as have been committed upon itself. Except that given the strong coupling between the state and the corporate sector in China, one is tempted to claim that Chinese culpability in these matters is greater than the West’s.

Republic or Empire …

By Chalmers Johnson


The United States remains, for the moment, the most powerful nation in history, but it faces a violent contradiction between its long republican tradition and its more recent imperial ambitions.

Turner, Rise of the Carthaginian Empire 1817

Turner, The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire 1817

The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.

Several factors, however, indicate that this course will be a brief one, which most likely will end in economic and political collapse.

Read the rest here.

Turner, Decline of the Carthaginian Empire 1817

Turner, The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire 1817

Turner exhibited a pair of pictures on the theme of the rise and fall of Carthage soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

The subject of the Rise, inspired by Virgil’s epic Latin poem, the ‘Aeneid’, is the building of the North African city of Carthage, which Dido founded. The figure in white on the left is Dido, and on the right is the tomb erected for her dead husband, Sichaeus. In front of Dido is a figure who may be Aeneas: Virgil tells of their love affair, and of Dido’s suicide following his departure. Turner was attracted by the human contrast to the theme of empire building. Hints of doom contrast with the serene effects of sunlight.

These reflect both on the history of that doomed empire and on the current condition of Britain; the fading sunset grandeur of The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire was more a warning of the fate that might ultimately follow British complacency in victory than a comment on defeated France.

Source: Web Gallery of Art

Lords of Creation

Juvenal 15.69-71:

“For the human race was already going downhill when Homer was alive; now the earth brings forth bad and puny men. Therefore whatever god has set eyes on us laughs and despises us.”

nam genus hoc vivo iam decrescebat Homero,
terra malos homines nunc educat atque pusillos;
ergo deus, quicumque aspexit, ridet et odit.

Songs of Resistance … still protesting after all these years.

How long must we sing this song? 40 years of resistance music

Source: This Magazine

The struggle for social justice has always had a rousing soundtrack—from solidarity-inspiring union hymns to folk songs to hardcore anthems. To mark This’s 40th anniversary, we’ve put together a list of 40 essential “songs of resistance,” starting with 1966 and going right up to the present.

Click here for the list and the tunes. One of my favorites is Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, more relevant than ever after all these years.

Read more here.

Dark materials

Nuclear scientist Joseph Rotblat campaigned against the atom bomb he had helped unleash. Is it time for today’s cyber scientists to heed his legacy?

Essay by Martin Rees
Saturday June 10, 2006
The Guardian

Joseph (Jo) Rotblat was a nuclear scientist. He helped to make the first atomic bomb. But for decades he campaigned against what he had helped unleash. Until he died last year, aged 96, he pursued this aim with the dynamism of a man half his age, inspiring others to join the cause. He was born in Poland in 1908. His family suffered great hardship in the first world war but he was exceptionally intelligent and determined, and managed to become a nuclear physicist. After the invasion of Poland, he came as as a refugee to England to work with James Chadwick at Liverpool University. He then went to Los Alamos, New Mexico, as part of the British contingent involved in the Manhattan Project to make the first atom bomb.

In his mind there was only one justification for the bomb project: to ensure that Hitler did not get one first. As soon as this ceased to be a credible risk, Jo left Los Alamos – the only scientist then to do so. He returned to England and became a professor of medical physics, an expert on the effects of radiation on human health, and a compelling and outspoken campaigner.

In 1955, he met Bertrand Russell and encouraged him to prepare a manifesto stressing the extreme gravity of the nuclear peril. He secured Einstein’s signature too; this “Russell-Einstein manifesto” was then signed by 10 other eminent scientists.

Atom Bomb

The authors claimed to be “speaking on this occasion not as members of this or that nation, continent or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt”. This manifesto led to the initiation of thePugwash Conferences – so called after the village in Nova Scotia where the inaugural conference was held. There have been 300 meetings since then. Jo attended almost all of them.

When the achievements of these conferences were recognised by the 1995 Nobel peace prize, half the award went to the Pugwash organisation, and half to Jo Rotblat personally, as their “prime mover” and untiring inspiration. Particularly during the 1960s, the Pugwash Conferences offered crucial “back-door” contact between scientists from the US and the Soviet Union when there were few formal channels. These contacts eased the path for the partial test ban treaty of 1963, and the later anti-ballistic missile treaty.

But this catastrophic threat could be merely in abeyance. In the next 100 years, geopolitical realignments could lead to a nuclear standoff between new superpowers, which might be handled less well than the Cuba crisis was. Moreover, we are confronted by a proliferation of nuclear weapons (in North Korea and Iran for instance). There is now a growing risk of nuclear weapons going off in a localised conflict, and the Bulletin’s clock stands at seven minutes to midnight. The nuclear threat will always be with us.

But what are the promises and threats from 21st-century science? Science offers immense hope, and exciting prospects. There are genuine grounds for being a techno-optimist.

The technologies that fuel economic growth today – IT, miniaturisation and biotech – are environmentally and socially benign. They are sparing of energy and raw materials. They boost quality of life in the developing and the developed world, and have much further to go. That is surely good news. But opinion polls reveal public concern that science may be advancing too fast to be properly controlled. It is not only advancing faster than ever, it is opening up the prospects of new kinds of change.

Whatever else may have changed over preceding centuries, humans have not for thousands of years. But in this century, targeted drugs to enhance memory or change mood, genetic modification, and perhaps silicon implants into the brain, may alter human beings themselves. That is something qualitatively new in our history.

Our species could be transformed within a few centuries. And there are other disquieting prospects. Collective human actions are transforming, even ravaging, the biosphere – perhaps irreversibly – through global warming and loss of biodiversity. We have entered a new geological era, the anthropocene. We do not fully understand the consequences of rising populations and increasing energy consumption on the interwoven fabric of atmosphere, water, land and life.

We are collectively endangering our planet, but there is a potential threat from individuals too. “Bio” and “cyber” expertise will be accessible to millions. It does not require large, special-purpose facilities as do nuclear weapons. Even a single person will have the capability to cause widespread disruption through error or terror. There will always be disaffected loners, and the “leverage” each can exert is ever-growing. It would be hard to eliminate such risks, even with very intrusive surveillance.The global village will have its global village idiots.

Kruger, Your Manias Become Science 1980s

Kruger, Your Manias 1984

Some commentators on biotech, robotics and nanotech worry that when the genie is out of the bottle, the outcome may be impossible to control. They urge caution in “pushing the envelope”. But we cannot reap the benefits of science without accepting some risks. The best we can do is minimise them. The typical scientific discovery has many applications, some benign, others less so. Even nuclear physics has its upside: its medical uses have saved more people than nuclear weapons actually killed.

The uses of academic research generally cannot be foreseen. Ernest Rutherford, the leading nuclear physicist of his time, famously said in the mid-1930s that nuclear energy was “moonshine”; the inventors of lasers did not foresee that an early application of their work would be to eye surgery; and the discoverer of x-rays was not searching for ways to see through flesh.

Science in the 21st century will present new threats more diverse and more intractible than nuclear weapons did. It will pose ethical dilemmas. But a blanket prohibition on all risky experiments and innovations would paralyse science and deny us all its benefits.
Scientists sometimes abide by self-imposed moratoria on specific lines of research. A precedent for this was the so-called “Asilomar declaration” in 1975 whereby prominent molecular biologists refrained from some experiments involving the then new technique of gene-splicing. Just last month, experts in the more advanced techniques of “synthetic biology” proposed a similar ban.

Holzer, Protect Me 1980s

Jenny Holzer, Protect Me 1984

But a voluntary moratorium will be harder to achieve today: the academic community is larger, and competition (enhanced by commercial pressures) is more intense. To be effective, the consensus must be worldwide. If one country alone imposed regulations, the most dynamic researchers and companies would migrate to another that was more sympathetic or permissive. This is happening already in stem cell research.

How can we prioritise and regulate, to maximise the chance that applications are benign, and restrain their “dark side”? How can the best science be fed in to the political process?

There is an ever-widening gap between what science allows, and what we should actually do. There are many doors science can open that should be kept closed, on prudential or ethical grounds. Choices on how science is applied should not be made just by scientists. That is why everyone needs a “feel” for science and a realistic attitude to risk – otherwise public debate won’t get beyond sloganising. Jo Rotblat favoured a “Hippocratic oath” whereby scientists would pledge themselves to use their talents to human benefit.

Holzer, Abuse

Holzer, Abuse of Power 1980s

Scientists surely have a special responsibility. It is their ideas that form the basis of new technology. They should not be indifferent to the fruits of their ideas. They should forgo experiments that are risky or unethical. More than that, they should foster benign spin-offs, but resist dangerous or threatening applications. They should raise public consciousness of hazards to environment or health.

At the moment, scientific effort is deployed sub-optimally. This seems so whether we judge in purely intellectual terms, or take account of likely benefit to human welfare. Some subjects have had the inside track. Others, such as environmental research, renewable energy, biodiversity studies and so forth, deserve more effort. Within medical research the focus is disproportionately on ailments that loom largest in prosperous countries, rather than on the infections endemic in the tropics. The challenge of global warming should stimulate a whole raft of manifestly benign innovations – for conserving energy, and generating it by “clean” means (biofuels, innovative renewables, carbon sequestration, and nuclear fusion).

These scientific challenges deserve a priority and commitment from governments, akin to that accorded to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moon landing. They should appeal to the idealistic young. But to safeguard our future and channel our efforts optimally and ethically we shall need effective campaigners, not just physicists, but biologists, computer experts, and environmentalists as well; latter-day counterparts of Jo Rotblat, inspired by his vision and building on his legacy.

· Martin Rees is president of the Royal Society. This essay is based on a talk he gave at the Guardian Hay literary festival

Source: Guardian Online

For more information on Martin Rees, click here.