Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sympathy for the devil

Halloween seems appropriate to my theme today.

I think we're going to make this a regular feature at Dawg's, so henceforward I'll dispense with the numbers and do the Kate McMillan thing ("The Sound of Settled Science," etc.) The emerging influence of explicit neo-Nazi thinking on the starboard side of the blogosphere, as previously mentioned here, has even made notable right-wingers like Charles Johnson twitchy. And its sticky tentacles are long and numerous.

Today's sympathy award goes to Kathy Shaidle. The Richard Warman website that she cites is of somewhat dubious provenance, but appears to be well-known on Stormfront, a well-known neo-Nazi website that shall get no link from me.

Here are some of the folks who have ended up on the wrong side of the law for promoting hatred, the "victims" of activist lawyer Richard Warman. Please try to hold back your tears.

Fred Kyburz

Alexan Kulbashian

Tomasz Winnicki

Jessica Beaumont

Marc Lemire

Paul Fromm

Bobby Wilkinson/Canadian Nazi Party

Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team

World Church of the Creator

One might expect, if one believed their rhetoric, that conservatives wouldn't be prepared to lose a lot of sleep over this sorry lot, much less utter ear-shattering blogwhines about their alleged ill-treatment. Most if not all of those listed here are Holocaust-denying anti-Semites, for example. But the cranky Right, which loves to label progressives "anti-Semites" for being the least bit critical of Israel, suddenly have nothing but concern and sympathy when the real thing shows up.

Supporters of peace and non-violence are refused entry to Canada; no problem. Desmond Tutu banned from a university campus? Yawn. A university student Tasered by cops for asking a question at a campus meeting? He was asking for it. Cops trying to start a riot in Montebello? Not a peep--after the story turned out to be true. But then these same freedom-loving folks get all sniffly and weepy when Nazis find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and they start lighting candles to the gods of Freedom of Speech. Why am I not convinced of their devotion to principle? Am I just being--cynical? You tell me.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

UPDATE: (November 1)

The conservative Shire Network News has split internally over the podcasting of an interview with neo-Nazi Filip DeWinter, signaling the widening of a schism precipitated by Little Green Footballs owner Charles Johnson who had the moral courage--or good common sense--to repudiate neo-Nazis in conservative ranks. This didn't sit well with a lot of his erstwhile allies.

Listen to the podcast and decide for yourselves what manner of political animal is Filip DeWinter. I liked the part where, confronted with a statement in which he defended "white Europe," he earnestly explained that he meant "white" as a metaphor.

H/t Mark Collins. And see what Damian Penny, of the conservative blog Daimnation, has to say about all this.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sympathy for the devil (2)

A while back I posted an article about a certain well-known conservative's sudden interest in defending neo-Nazis. She wasn't alone: the latter have jumped on the anti-Islamic bandwagon, and a lot of "conservatives" don't have a problem with that.

A "counter-jihad" rally in Europe was attended by prominent neo-Nazis, including Vlaams Belang's Filip Dewinter. (Note White Power flag in a recent Vlaams Belang demonstration, pictured above, h/t.)
Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch addressed that rally. He's a mite defensive about this:

I know very little about Dewinter and virtually nothing about Ekeroth [a Swedish neo-Nazi, also present], and I am not going to be held responsible for all the ideas and associations of people with whom I shared a platform, any more than they should be held responsible for mine. It is noteworthy that the New York Times, in a profile of Dewinter, found no grounds to call him a neo-Nazi, which they surely would have if they could have.

The link is worth following: the NYT points out that Vlaams Belang's "founders included men who sympathized and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II." Spencer's "Nazi-Schmazi" shtick isn't exactly convincing.

But a split has occurred: no less a site than Little Green Footballs has broken ranks. And its owner is getting a drubbing from some of his erstwhile "conservative" allies for showing a little moral courage, or maybe just good common sense. Here is "Conservative Swede":

We who were at the conference know that THIS IS IT. Charles [of LGF] will have to decide if he's going to be with us, or stay on the wrong side.

One doesn't have to be a conspiracy theorist to realize that something smells here, and it isn't roses. Why all this sympathy, in fact this open dalliance, with the devil?

H/t Chet Scoville.

UPDATE: (October 28) Those links with Satan grow ever stronger. And the hand-wringing at LGF continues...while the real conservatives tell it like it is about LGF--"
pro-Muslim, left-wing, politically correct, and basically a front for neoconservative foreign policy" (well, one out of four ain't bad). "LGF and Al Qaeda both have something in common: they hate Western civilization and those who stand up for it." Hell, this keeps up and Little Green Footballs is going up on my blogroll. In the meantime, count me in as another "Lazy Olbermannesque 'Larger Truths'" kind of guy. The right-wing happy-face mask is slipping, folks, make no mistake about it.

H/t Red Tory.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

US activist "not welcome in Canada"

Well-known civil rights activist M.L.King was detained at the Ottawa airport and hustled back to the U.S. on Thursday by Canadian immigration officials, after his name turned up on an FBI watch list. He had been invited to address a peace rally today.

"The man has a rap sheet as long as your arm," said a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "He's simply not welcome in Canada."

DawgNews has learned that King has indeed been charged with and convicted of numerous offences in several American states:

  • September 4, 1958: convicted for not obeying a police officer, in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • February 27, 1962: convicted of leading a march in Albany, Georgia.

  • July 27, 1962: convicted of obstructing a sidewalk, failure to obey a police officer, and disorderly conduct, again in Albany.
  • April 1963: arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting segregation. His sentence was upheld by the US Supreme Court on October 30, 1967.
  • May-June 1964: jailed for demonstrating for integration of public accommodation in St. Augustine, Florida.
"Canadians can sleep more easily tonight," an Immigration spokesperson said. "If it hadn't been for the FBI sharing their list with us, this guy might have just entered Canada as he pleased."

Diane Finley, Minister of Immigration, under heavy criticism from peace and civil rights groups, defended her front-line officers. "We don't need no outside agitators here rilin' up our folks," she said. "Our boys know how to take care of that, and I'm right proud of 'em."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Spot the difference

First, what do these men have in common? Randy Hillier blockaded the 401 to protest what he saw as unfair treatment of Eastern Ontario farmers.

Aboriginal rights activist Shawn Brant shut down Highway 2 near Deseronto, and blockaded a railway line, to protest the treatment of Native people across this great land.

But at this point, the stories diverge. Hillier ran for John Tory's Conservatives in Ontario, and is now an MPP. And the Crown is seeking twelve years in prison for Shawn Brant, presently out on bail under onerous bail conditions that include the abrogation of his Charter right to protest.

The Liberals sure got upset about Randy Hillier during the Ontario election campaign. Well, they're partisan. But they played "spot the difference" on highway blockades and the men who do 'em, and found one. Can readers find another one?

H/t Big City Lib

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Al-Qaeda firebugs burn California!

The latest from Faux News, I kid you not. Good grief. No wonder satire is a dying art. Although not entirely.

H/t Alec.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Newsflash: Global warming alert!

The good burghers of Hérouxville aren't buying into global warming denial. That's the good news.


Herouxville, population 1,300, is the town that adopted a code of conduct for immigrants earlier this year -- even though scant few minorities choose to settle in region halfway between Quebec City and Montreal.

The code declares certain practices such as stoning, burning with acid, and genital mutilation as contrary to Quebec values.

"We're pretty far from stoning here,'' commission head Gerard Bouchard told Drouin.

Drouin replied that global warming will bring a flood of immigrants to Canada, including many from Muslim countries.

"It doesn't matter in what country the stoning is taking place,'' Drouin told Bouchard and co-chair Charles Taylor.

"Stoning takes place, and some of those people will want to come here. It's important to be preventive.''

An idea whose time has come...

Anticipatory memorials.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ka tīmata te tohenga i te Aotearoa...

...the resistance begins in New Zealand. (Sounds better in te reo Māori, doesn't it?)

A lot of kids turned out for the hikoi. One of the troubling aspects of the police raids was the armed boarding of a schoolbus.

Meanwhile, in Auckland... (H/t Ana)

[Background here. H/t Candace for the prompt in the comments.]

UPDATE: (October 20) "A "highly-placed source" and "well-placed insiders" reveal a "multi-pronged plot" by, well, the entire New Zealand Left, by the sound of it:

You would have had Tuhoe carrying out attacks on their selected targets, animal rights groups targeting their lot and the so-called `peace freaks' carrying out their acts.

Funny how the anonymous sources leaked this stuff to a garish "National Enquirer" type tabloid.

Hitler's willing executioners

Yet another reason to read Heather Mallick.

Life in Ottawa...

Now that the Thrown Speech* has bored everyone sufficiently, and Dion's dignified retreat from the brink has been suitably catalogued, and a shoe store will, for the time being, not be retrofitted as a prison-house for the Fourth Estate, time for a change o' pace. Life in my hometown. Ottawa.

They drained the Rideau Canal a few days ago. That, and only that, signifies that the summer is over. We have grown used to signs and markers to help us negotiate time and space here. We have a festival to tell us that it's spring, and a Mayor to tell us that we're foolish. The Peace Tower is there to ensure that we don't get lost. With our road system, we're only a few minutes away from everything, unless it's rush hour. We have two of those: 7:30am-10:00 am and 3:30pm-7:00pm.

In Ottawa, where buses cost almost as much as taxis, it's probably just as well to stay close to home. But our neighbourhoods are not always quiet refuges. Large, ungainly structures are appearing. Intensification, it's called. Spoilsports like me prefer the term "develovandalism." A four-storey, six-unit condo for the very rich is going up just two doors away, amid acres of bungalows including mine. "Country living in the city," the developer proclaims. But we've just heard that the adjacent greenspace, the "country living" bit, is being sold. To developers. Hah!

The City Planners told us in a letter that the planned blockhouse, minus several 150-year-old trees that must go in the name of progress, is going to be harmonious and pleasing and fit in well with the neighbourhood. They live in tree houses themselves, or possibly burrows. Their notion of est'etics was hatched in a cauldron somewhere. I can see them circling the thing, dressed in black robes, muttering about eyes of newt and fillets of fenny snakes. "What about Ottawa's Official Plan?" I asked one of them. "It says that new structures should blend in." He laughed at me.

Meanwhile, there's a rape epidemic going on, something to cheer the Harperite "war on crime" folks. A fellow with bright orange hair, various other identifying marks and a car that was described to a T, kidnapped a teenager in broad daylight near the downtown Chateau Laurier
, drove off with her and sexually assaulted her. That was weeks ago. The Ottawa cops haven't been able to track him down. Perhaps he needed a sign around his neck saying "Rapist" as well. If more criminals would be considerate like that, the cops might be able to do something about their abysmal "crime solved" stats. Better than beating up drunks and keeping non-whites and alien cultures in their place.

The streets are clean, though, for now. The kids are back at school. Only a few shopping days until Christmas. No need for a lot of folks to put up lights--they just don't take them down anymore. Everybody recycles. Just as well, because new limitations to garbage disposal have just been announced. Orange peelings must be less than 4cm long. Eggshells must be pre-crushed. One bag per house, weighing no more than 11kg. Garbage collection seems to take all week now, as each bag is meticulously weighed and searched by the garbagepersons, with a guy in a suit taking notes. At least, that's what happens outside my house.

A row of vertical pipes has appeared in a nearby park--large metal ones. We don't raise questions, hardly even notice the things. Must be there for some reason. But apparently it's to permit methane to escape. Don't ask. Me, I'm just glad that stuff's gone, whatever it is.

Time to do yardwork, which in my case means pulling up the squash vines that yielded two-inch fruit and bringing in a ton of green tomatoes. Ottawa. Gotta love the place. I know I do. When I'm not fending off the pig bats.
*A term describing the Caribbean practice of talking about someone loudly in his or her presence.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The anthropology of blogging (1)

Kate McMillan has sent off her rabid pack again, this time to savage Maclean's Magazine writer Kady O'Malley. O'Malley's sin was to write an article decrying Stephen Harper's plans to establish a media centre in a renovated shoestore on Sparks Street, where the Dear Leader could dole out access to his hagiographers. (Cost to the taxpayer: around $2 million. Thanks to premature publicity afforded us through the Access to Information Act, this plan now appears to be on hold.)

The comments on this post, charmingly entitled "A kitten spits," are genuinely worth looking at, as a window onto a certain political subculture that forms much of Harper's original base. That subculture was not slow to respond.

As usual, McMillan frames the discussion and sets the tone: "You seem to be suffering some confusion as to your professional role. Allow me to clarify - you work on behalf of the media. Before you may claim 'behalf of the people' status, you'll need our permission. Run for office." As in a previous post about Native people ("
Mark my words - the moment is approaching when a bandana [sic] prowling these police protected barricades will end up in the crosshairs of someone's high powered rifle"), McMillan pushes the buttons and the machine warms up.

Here the buttons are "kitten," "media" and "our permission." The first is a means of mobilizing the abundant sexism of the subculture. The second is a favourite construction of McMillan's clientele, and signifies "the Other's narratives." The third is an empowering phrase: "our," while ostensibly referring to all of the people of Canada, or at least all of the people in one riding, is assumed as a synechdoche, precisely as intended, referring instead to regular readers of her blog.

The comments bear very little relation to the actual issue that O'Malley introduces. The notion of "permission" establishes a prior power relationship between commenters and O'Malley that short-circuits discussion and moves directly to admonishment, almost entirely of a personal nature. Hence O'Malley is described, sometimes in the second person, as a prostitute, a drunk suffering from a personal relationship gone wrong, an idiot, an "asshat" who is a product of privilege, a nobody, unattractive, a propagandist, a "little kitten," an "Eyes-Wide-Shut" reporter who can't write and whose real job is "sales hack," a "
pretentious, brainwashed twenty-something kid," an "affirmative action hired" woman who probably sleeps with her boss, a person without a real job, for whom a "Want fries with that" McJob would be an appropriate lateral move, a person who prefers sounding clever to making sense, a "reporter" (in shudder quotes), a "gossip columnist...posing as a 'reporter,'" an "ego-tripping gasbag" with a "bloated head," a reporter who "cherry-pick[s] facts" to promote "Stalinist policies," a "fifth columnist" whose work amounts to "small scribblings," "unprofessional," "Buffoonette Kady," someone with a "puffed up sense of self-importance," "Kady, dear," "dear Kady," a "leftard," a "teenybopper," a "bleached blonde" who lives in "Mommy's basement," who writes "untalented but stylized drivel," a "drama queen," a "champagne clinker who could care less how many white males lose jobs each year because of affirmative action," and a "useful idiot" who "appeared to have a runny nose the first time I saw her and ...appeared very low maintenance."

Sometimes commenters run into serious contradiction:

If I had my way, those MSM idiots would have zero access, and I would force them to go do their job. You know, investigate and report.

Infantilizing the opposition often goes hand in hand with sexism:

Someone should axe her some hard questions.

Kady's just so damn cute when she's pretending to be all righteous.

Just what do you do with teenaqers [sic] these days?

In some venues, of course, much of this would appear as delirious, psychotic raving. Within the frame that McMillan establishes, however, the comments do possess a consistent logic of their own. It should be remembered that political engagement is not the purpose, either of McMillan's award-winning blog, or of the majority of commenters who post on it. Nor, to any great extent, is analysis the aim. Rather, the blog exists (to use McMillan's own words) to allow "ordinary" Canadians to "[yell] back at the radio." It is a virtual place, in other words, where largely anonymous commentators can react, can vent, can literally make a scene. For the commenters, with McMillan artfully directing, do perform their emotional reaction to the Other in an almost choreographed fashion.

The virtual space provided by McMillan for the performance becomes a place of refuge from the discourses of the "mainstream media," or "MSM." Although it is obvious that, without "MSM" sources, McMillan would have little to blog about and her commenters have little to react to, we have observations such as the following:

Kady is the reason why we go to the blogs, because the msm DOESN'T speak for us!

[There is a] mass exodus away from MSM to blogs.

Long live the blogosphere - an ecosystem of information and opinion.

The problem articulated in one way or another by most commenters is that the media mediate; they believe that they can read between the lines, but their reading is so at odds with the "lines" that they feel and express immense frustration. Yet this "correct" reading against the bias of the "MSM" arrives bundled, as it were, with the mediated message. And the commenters just above would prefer that a further mediation take place, by McMillan and other like-minded bloggers. Any reflection of "reality" would thus pass through two distorting lenses instead of one. But because the expressed values of the bloggers are consistent with those of the commenters, the bloggers' messages are seen as a decoding of the bias, instead of a further recoding of information that originally derives almost entirely from the "MSM" themselves.

It will not be lost on readers that there are cultish elements in the subculture being described here. It is, for one thing, a closed system. Occasional commenters with opposing points of view are inevitably harassed and insulted until they go away. Those who remain serve as an on-going negative reference group for the regulars. The formation of this group around McMillan herself is not in itself surprising, of course, since she provides the space for them, but the fierce loyalty to her that her commenters express, their intolerance of dissent, their evident sense of mission, and the expressed wish (seen above) that she and other like-minded bloggers should become their sole source of information, is characteristic of the classic cult group.

Kady O'Malley, I think it's fair to say, sees herself as having a role, not simply
a job. I am not in agreement, let me stress, with her declaration that "We are not typists. We work on behalf of the people, not government." I think that's naive, given the role that the corporate media have in manufacturing assent. A quick glance at their lock-step positioning on the recent Mixed Member Proportional referendum in Ontario should send that one to the compost forthwith. But I cannot challenge her commitment, and that of many other reporters, to digging up information and being personally honest about presenting it to the public. A few head-bangings from editors may harden her, make her more cynical and less forthright, but until then we hear something like a real voice and point of view.

Standing up to cyber-bullies is easy, Ms. O'Malley.
Don't sweat the small stuff. Standing up to the relentless groupthink of the corporate media machine is far more challenging and, I suspect, ultimately soul-destroying--for anyone with a soul. Until that day comes, though, I for one wish you well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Terrorized in New Zealand

Under an anti-terrorism law passed in 2002 (let no one think that New Zealand is behind the times),
Māori, environmentalist and peace groups across the country have been raided or "visited" by black-uniformed police. 17 people have been arrested so far, allegedly for taking part in "terrorist training camps." By no coincidence, the raids took place at the same time as the New Zealand government is actively considering strengthening the Terrorism Suppression Act. The best-known of those rounded up is veteran Māori activist Tame Iti, shown in the picture.

Reaction has been swift. "It's not the first time that Māori have been targeted as terrorists," said Māori Party co-leader Tariana Turia. "We know some years ago when Māori people went to Cuba they were accused of terrorism then, nobody's blown up since then."

A number of other commentators have raised serious concerns. Barry Wilson, from the Council for Civil Liberties, noted the suspiciously broad scope of the police action: "[P]eace groups, community groups, anti-mining protesters, the Save Happy Valley coalition"
were targeted, he said.

Union officials have pointed to the suspicious timing of the raids. "The police have raised the spectre that there is terrorism involved here... I'm willing to predict now, that that will quietly disappear because they will not have evidence of terrorist activity. In the meantime, they've created this climate of fear in the community, as a way to push forward the latest anti-terrorist legislation," said union organizer John Minto.

A counter-terrorism expert at the University of Canterbury, David Small, put it best: "They say now the public has nothing to fear because they've nipped this in the bud, but raising this whole spectre does create a climate of fear... and this is a way to use and to increase the resources [and] the powers police and the surveillance agencies have got."

Stay tuned: this is going to get interesting. Kia kaha, e Tame.

UPDATE: (October 17) Tame Iti denied bail. Here is part of the backstory: Iti's Tuhoe iwi.


A demonstration against the raids:

Another counter-terrorism expert weighs in.

The criminalization of indigenous protest:

C. The criminalization of indigenous protest activities.

44. One of the more serious human rights protection deficiencies in recent years is the trend towards the use of laws and the justice system to penalize and criminalize social protest activities and legitimate demands made by indigenous organizations and movements in defence of their rights. Reports indicate that these tendencies appear in two guises: the application of emergency legislation such as anti-terrorist laws, and accusing social protesters of common misdemeanors(such as trespassing) to punish social protests. Examples from various parts of the world have come to the attention of the Special Rapporteur.

Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people (E/CN.4/2004/80), COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, Sixtieth session, Item 15 of the provisional agenda, 26 January 2004, para. 44.

And why the new anti-terrorist measures are bad for New Zealand.
(H/t Ana from the tino-rangatiratanga listserv)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Don't Tase me, Bro!

Don't taze me bro - Rap Remix
Uploaded by DoobieMusic

Since Tasers are once again in the news...

There's plenty of merchandise and money being made from University of Florida student Andrew Meyer's adventures with the First Amendment a few weeks back, when he tried to ask questions at a public meeting. Anything and everything is a commodity these days, but that's nothing new: that's just capitalism.

Nevertheless, this rap song has its moments.

Political depravity, II

Nothing I can say or write will sum up what passes for U.S. Republican "politics" better than these two.

H/t Cathie from Canada.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Devil in the flesh

Move over, Larry Craig, you of the wide stance: a Vatican official, caught on a hidden TV camera making advances to a young man and telling him that gay sex wasn't really a sin, says he was only pretending to be gay.

Monsignor Tommaso Stenico apparently hung around gay chatrooms and gay men a fair bit, but now says that he was gathering information
about "those who damage the image of the Church with homosexual activity." It was unclear what he was going to do with the information, but he is a psychoanalyst by profession. "It's all false; it was a trap," he said. "I was a victim of my own attempts to contribute to cleaning up the Church with my psychoanalyst work."

He was suspended by the Vatican this past Saturday, but spoke up vigorously in his own defence in an interview with La Repubblica. He is reported as saying that he had met with the young man and pretended to talk about homosexuality "to better understand this mysterious and faraway world which, by the fault of a few people — among them some priests — is doing so much harm to the Church."

I'm tempted to ask how one pretends to talk about anything, but no matter. Hearing the tortuous verbal twists and turns deployed by both Father Stenico and Senator Larry Craig, both of them denouncers of all things gay, and both caught, at least figuratively, with their pants down, one has to ask a more pertinent question: wouldn't it have been a lot less trouble in the long run just to come out?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Judicial lynching in Jena

No point mincing words here, and I won't: a cracker judge in the town of Jena, Louisiana, has just sent Mychal Bell, one of the Jena Six, to jail for eighteen months for an alleged "breach of probation." I'm amazed that a white mob hasn't taken the cue and shown up to bust the kid out of jail to give him a "nigger necktie." A caricature? These people caricature themselves. Welcome to the Red State of Louisiana. In 2007.

State District Judge J.P. Mauffrey, Jr., whose decision to try Bell as an adult was overturned recently by a Louisiana appeals court, had another kick at the cat Thursday, and he kicked hard. Bell had been on probation, it seems, for an unrelated juvenile matter. The judge, whose removal from the case had been requested earlier by Bell's attorneys, seized on this opportunity for vengeance, claiming that the charges against Bell, for which a new trial had been ordered by the appeals court, constituted a breach of probation. This 21st century version of Judge William Callaghan (the unlettered hillbilly who sentenced the Scottsboro boys to death in a celebrated miscarriage of justice in the 1930s) also assessed court costs against Bell's struggling parents, who are now facing bankruptcy as a result.

My gut reaction, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this: the demonstrators who went to Jena scant weeks ago to show their disgust at peckerwood justice should have seized and occupied the town until real justice was done. Maybe next time they show up they'll stick around. And may that day come soon.

H/t Mattbastard.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Al Gore's crimes

Al Gore wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Aieee! It burns! The shrieks of pain from the starboard side of the blogosphere have been making me feel as tingly-warm as a sadist with a riding crop. You can almost hear the simultaneous stamping of armies of tiny feet as the Right shifts its attentions away from 12-year-old Graeme Frost (except for Stalkin' Malkin, who just can't let go) and at least picks on someone its own size for a change.

Several simultaneous lines of attack are already in evidence:

1) Gore has been found to have exaggerated in the past;
2) The Nobel Peace Prize is meaningless anyway (and so, for good measure, is the Literature Prize: who reads William Faulkner and Seamus Heaney? Never heard of them);
3) A British judge has found errors and inaccuracies in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth. Give back that Oscar,!

I'm not going to touch (1) and (2). I'm not certain what relevance they have to serious discussion of Gore's achievement or of the quality of his environmental work. But (3) merits a closer look.

Here's the judgement, helpfully posted by a grungy
front site for Big Oil and Big Tobacco. (H/t Bruce Rheinstein.)

And here is what has been reported. Variations of this may be found all over the internet, and enshrined in various jeering posts on the right side of the blogosphere.

So let's have a close peek at the judgement, arising from an action by a right-wing party operative who brought the case under the 1996 Education Act (Sections 406 and 407). The point at issue was whether An Inconvenient Truth, distributed to all UK secondary schools by the government, constituted "political indoctrination" under the law.

Much has been made of the guidance notes that the judge was reported to have insisted be created to accompany the film. It turns out that there were always guidance notes, on a website to which the teachers showing the film were directed. The judge conceded that this had led to appropriate in-school discussions of global warming, but he was of the opinion that these notes should accompany the course pack in hard copy. And he agreed with the plaintiff that these notes should include reference to nine "errors" (the quotation marks are the judge's, not mine) that had been identified in the course of the film.

Before getting into the substance of these errors, however, we should note two matters of interest. First, the judge found that the film "is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact...." He quotes the lawyer for the defence, Mr. Chamberlain:

"The Film advances four main scientific hypotheses, each
of which is very well supported by research published in
respected, peer-reviewed journals and accords with the
latest conclusions of the IPCC:

(1) global average temperatures have been rising
significantly over the past half century and are likely to
continue to rise (“climate change”);
(2) climate change is mainly attributable to man-made
emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide
(“greenhouse gases”);
(3) climate change will, if unchecked, have significant
adverse effects on the world and its populations; and
(4) there are measures which individuals and
governments can take which will help to reduce climate
change or mitigate its effects."

These propositions, Mr Chamberlain submits (and I accept), are supported by a vast quantity of research published in peer-reviewed journals worldwide and by the great majority of the world’s climate scientists. [emphasis mine--DD]

And the judge notes further on that the lawyer for the plaintiff, Mr. Downes, "was prepared to accept that the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report represented the present scientific consensus." Indeed, where Gore comes in for criticism is in his alleged departures from that scientific consensus. As for global warming deniers, the judge cites an earlier court judgment: "[T]he High Court has made clear the law does not require teaching staff to adopt a position of neutrality between views which accord with the great majority of scientific opinion and those which do not."

So far, then, there is not a lot of aid or comfort here for the deniers, to put it mildly. But little of this has filtered into the media, and none has made it into the right-wing cheering section of the blogosphere. The focus instead has been upon the nine "errors." So let's have a look at them:

"Error" 1: "Sea level rise of up to 20 feet (7 metres) will be caused by melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland in the near future."

But the passage from the film to which he refers says absolutely nothing about "the near future." It simply refers to what the results of the melting of these ice-masses would be. So the judge's statement that this constitutes "alarmism" is not founded. It is the judge's inference that Gore "suggests" this will happen in "the near future," but nowhere in the film is this stated.

"Error 2": "Low lying inhabited Pacific atolls are being inundated because of anthropogenic global warming."

The judge takes issue with the following: "In scene 20, Mr. Gore states 'that’s why the citizens of these Pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand.' There is no evidence of any such evacuation having yet happened."

Well, not so fast. The citizens of Tuvalu are already beginning to emigrate to New Zealand as their island sinks into the Pacific. Resettlement of the entire population is envisioned by the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. (The Maldives are also under threat, although, unlike the Tuvaluans, the population has no immediate place to flee.) The Tech Central Station deniers, of course, claim that the sea level isn't rising at all, and that misuse of the land is responsible for the Tuvaluans' troubles. They quote a Tuvaluan official:

An environmental official of Tuvalu, Elisala Pita, is concerned with the alarmism of western eco-imperialists. In an interview in the Canadian Globe and Mail on November 24, Pita says that, "This [coastal] erosion is caused by man-made infrastructure. Tuvalu is being used for the issue of climate change. People are telling all these lies, just using Tuvalu to prove their point. No island is sinking. Tuvalu is not sinking. It is still floating."

How very odd. At almost exactly the same time, the government of Tuvalu announced its intention to sue the US and Australia because of their contributions to global warming.

In other words, Gore was not entirely accurate--but not all that inaccurate either.

"Error" 3: "Shutting down of the 'Ocean Conveyor.'"

This is the Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is actually slowing down significantly--by 30%
between 1957 and 2004. The judge is right to state that the IPCC does not predict a complete shut-down in this century. But Gore doesn't actually say that it will happen either: he does suggest that the melting of the Greenland ice-cap is something to worry about. This is hardly political indoctrination.

"Error 4": "Direct coincidence between rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and in temperature, by reference to two graphs."

Gore makes this claim, the judge says, by means of ridiculing those who are sceptical of a correlation between increasing levels of CO2 and rising temperatures. "Although there is general scientific agreement that there is a connection," says the judge, "the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts."

In other words, Gore was wrong to assert (if he did so, indirectly) that the connection is an exact fit, but
right to assert that a connection exists.

"Error 5": "The snows of Kilimanjaro."

The judge says there is insufficient evidence that the retreating of the snow on this mountain is due to androgenic global warming. He may, indeed, be correct: two researchers who do support the notion that global warming is causing glacier melt-offs believe that the Kilimanjaro snow cap is melting for other reasons. But this would appear to be anything but a settled question, as reported in the Christian Science Monitor:
"Regardless of what may have triggered the glacier's shrinkage, researchers say global warming is a plausible, if not fully verified, reason for its accelerating disappearance."

So Gore is overstating the case, but there is indeed a case.

"Error 6": "Lake Chad etc."

The drying up of Lake Chad, once the sixth-largest lake in the world, is quite probably due to factors other than global warming. This is a bona fide error on Gore's part.

"Error 7": "Hurricane Katrina."

The judge says that there is insufficient evidence to blame Hurricane Katrina on global warming. He is right: this is only one event. However, there is strong evidence that a a rise in greenhouse gases leads to an increase in ocean temperatures, and that the latter increases the destructiveness of hurricanes.

Gore, therefore, is wrong on the particular point, but, on the evidence, right on the implied general one.

"Error 8": "Death of polar bears."

The judge is sceptical of the claim that global warming causes the drowning of polar bears, as the film asserts. The only deaths of polar bears before him was a report of four drownings after a storm. But there is more to it. The Wall Street Journal reports that the population of polar bears in western Hudson's Bay
dropped by 22%, from 1,194 in 1987 to 935 in 2004. An unusually large number of bears has congregated along the Beaufort Sea beaches between Alaska and the Canadian border due to melting ice, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Again, if Gore is wrong about observed drownings [and he is on pretty firm ground here--DD], he is clearly correct that polar bears are suffering the effects of global warming. The judge is simply quibbling here.

"Error 9": "Coral reefs."

The judge is sceptical that coral reefs are bleaching due to global warming, but
he doesn't actually say Gore is wrong on this matter at all. He cites the IPCC to the effect that separating climate change from other factors such as overfishing and pollution is "difficult." But that's not the same thing. In fact in this instance it is the judge himself who is plainly wrong, if he is actually suggesting that other factors could be responsible for the bleaching all by themselves. The bleaching of coral reefs due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming is undisputed. One for Mr. Gore.

So let's sum up. The judgement, trumpeted by the "climate sceptics," is unfriendly to their position. The IPCC, ridiculed by the sceptics, serves as the judge's point of reference. His criticisms of the film, when examined, amount to mere nit-picking, and are not always right. An Inconvenient Truth remains standing, barely a scratch on it.

So keep the Oscar, Al, and congratulations on the Nobel. Your film will continue to raise popular consciousness about global warming. And for the petrochemical industry and its flat-earther political shills, this is all too damned inconvenient. Hence the screaming: try not to enjoy it.

UPDATE: (October 14) More discussion of Gore's "errors" here. H/t Chet Scoville. And of dim-witted journalistic hackery here.

UPPERDATE: (October 14) And who funded the UK court battle against the distribution of Gore's film? Why...I'm shocked, I tell you!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Democracy and our broken system

"If you like the Senate, you’ll love this," Mike Duffy chuckled on CTV last night about proposed electoral reform in Ontario. MMP is dead. Nearly two-thirds of the less than 47% of the electorate who actually took part in the referendum voted against it. Long live first-past-the-post. Hey, that's what they've got in…Zimbabwe, right?

Go back to sleep, Ontario, those of you who didn't snore through yesterday's election. Nearly half of you didn't bother showing up to the polls. 42% of the ones who did gave us a majority Liberal government. It was a thumping win—66% of the seats. Liberal majority rule, mandated by less than 22% of the electorate.

Today, as longtime Fair Vote Canada activist Peter Black put it, the press is calling the 37% vote for MMP a crushing defeat, and a 42% vote for the Liberals a massive victory. First-past-the-post. Whoopee! Sorry, didn't mean to wake you.

But the under-35s supported reform by more than two-thirds. They don't take the Mike Duffys of the world very seriously. Anything is better than what we have, which is frankly boring. It's rock versus minuet. They'll take the chance. There is, therefore, some hope. But do we have to wait until Duffy's generation dies off, taking its mouldering ideas with it?

Democracy is in trouble, but too few care, least of all the corporate media, whose lock-step opposition to electoral reform was possibly a deciding factor—but very far from the only one—in the outcome of the referendum. Duffy (wouldn't you like to push that guy off the wall and watch the king's horses and men do their thing?) was typical of the media "pundits" whose groupthink was so evident in the weeks leading up to the referendum. The system's fine as it is. Don't change a thing. God's in his heaven and all's right with the world. Tra-la-bloody-la.

But it would be wrong to blame everything on the scribes, those unreflective, unthinking mouthpieces of the status quo whose job it is to anaesthetize the public. There are also the Pharisees, the high priests of politics who did whatever they could, in the front rooms and the back, to ensure that their privileged access to power remained unimpeded. The Ontario Citizens' Assembly report was never given much play, little or no public education was done, and as a result, six short days ago, only a quarter of the electorate knew very much about MMP.

Now, the tough part. Let's put a chunk of the blame where it really lies: on our own campaign. Yup, I know we worked hard. People strove tirelessly and thanklessly for electoral reform. Letters to the editor were written, signs were put up, meetings held, leaflets distributed, blog-posts crafted. Kudos to everyone who busied themselves heart and soul to make democratic change a reality. We did everything—except involve, at the outset, the very people who made the final decision.

I shall have more to say on this in an article that is to appear in the next issue of the CCPA Monitor. But let me just note a couple of things for now: the mandate of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly was very broad. We had the opportunity to look at comprehensive, across-the-board democratic renewal. We could have organized community workshops across Ontario where people could have been encouraged to develop their own ideas about democracy. Ordinary citizens, not activists, could have contributed input that might have been as startlingly original as MMP or STV or even FPTP once were.

Instead, we used the same-old, same-old campaigning tricks. We were looking for substantial change, but we couldn't drill down to communicate the need for it. People don't vote for serious change unless they personally feel that they have a stake in the outcome. But we didn't ask them for their opinions. We were just another in a chorus of voices telling them what we thought was best for them. We had a new system that they were really gonna like. Only a few could hear us in the general clamour, and other voices opposing us told them that everything was just fine.

Democracy is more than choosing between expert voices. At its most fundamental, it's having your own voice, and seeing something of yourself in the outcome of a process of which you were personally a part. If we really want to remedy the yawning democratic deficit, and by "we" I mean we democratic activists, then it's time to look at new ways of organizing. Because the old tried and true methods, as we have just seen, are as defunct as first-past-the post.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Political depravity

If federal funds were required [the Frost children] could die for all I care. Let the parents get second jobs, let their state foot the bill or let them seek help from private charities. ... I would hire a team of PIs and find out exactly how much their parents made and where they spent every nickel. Then I'd do everything possible to destroy their lives with that info. --Red State conservative

Hang ‘em. Publically. Let ‘em twist in the wind and be eaten by ravens. Then maybe the bunch of socialist patsies will think twice. --Another one

A new benchmark has now been set by the American far Right--attacking a brain-damaged 12-year-old child and stalking his family. The usual suspects--Mark Steyn (who said the kid was "fair game"), stalker Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Free Republic (which published the family's home and work addresses) and other extremists--are positively slobbering venom about the Frosts, who dared stand up for a bipartisan effort in Congress to expand public medicare benefits for children, after the measure was vetoed by George W. Bush.

Don't take my word for it. Check out the comments of these vicious political psychopaths for yourselves, and I'm sorry to have to link to them. It's all been too much for at least one conservative blogger, who's leaving the Republican Party because of it. Read this blogpost to get the facts. And this one. And then be thankful that you live in Canada, where these wingnuts are a small, drooling minority--for now.

H/t Canadian Cynic

UPDATE: (October 11) TIME Magazine weighs in on the side of political morality. CNN gets it wrong. And Digby predicts blowback.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The power of the people

With literally minutes to go, the London Metropolitan police called off their ban of an anti-war march at the British Parliament set to coincide with the start of a new parliamentary session. The police, in fact, proved to be capable organizers: their ban attracted crowds of new protesters incensed at this blatant attack on democratic rights. Faced with force majeure, and not wanting pictures of a police attack on peaceful protesters to be flashed world-wide, the cops caved. Or, rather, the Home Office officials who had been pulling their strings caved.

A number of similar demonstrations had come off without incident in the past. Indeed, as is usual, the Stop the War Coalition had been working with the police for some time to plan the march. But suddenly, in a meeting a few days ago, the police said the march would not be possible--not within a mile of Parliament. Plans for the march continued anyway, and the march took place.

Meanwhile, in quite a different part of the world, it looks as though the Burmese (Myanmarian?) kleptocrats have won this round. But nothing can stop people, vulnerable though they be to laws, police and the military, from demanding and winning the right to self-determination in that word's most fundamental sense. Even the tinpots of Burma seem to be dimly aware of this. Whether it's victory for freedom of assembly in England, or a fiercer, long-term struggle for democratic rights in Burma, no popular protest is ever unsuccessful in the long run.

H/t The Whiskey Priest.

UPDATE: (October 10) I'm starting to have second thoughts about posting the picture above, given the Right's current propensity for stalking children. H/t Canadian Cynic.

UPDATE: (October 11) And here is mana tangata whenua, the power of the Maori struggles for tino-rangatiratanga ("self-determination" being the imperfect translation). Police violence will not stop them. Police violence will not stop us. Ka whawhai tonu matou ki a koutou, ake, ake, ake! (We shall fight on against you, forever!) The clip was banned by the Bebo Network. Pokokohua!

H/t Mike Smith.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Government by journalist: MMP vs. the press

Randall Denley wasn't overjoyed with my recent post refuting his new-found "expertise" on Mixed-Member Proportional. "Every dog will have his blog," he grumbled to me. And now yet another from the Ottawa Citizen's stable of instant experts weighs in: Mark Sutcliffe, with "10 reasons to say no to MMP." So it's time for another bit of heel-nipping.

But first, a general frustrated word. There have been a few columnists and editorialists here and there who have actually endorsed the proposal for electoral change in Ontario. But the vast majority of the ink-stained wretches have retailed the same tired old arguments for the status quo, again and again and again, to the point that one almost begins to believe in cabals. If we were to have government by journalist, we would never change a thing. We could let them do all our thinking for us, dispensing their spontaneous expertise in every field, and never strain a brain cell.

Uh...wait a minute. That's what's happening right now.

Sutcliffe, in fact, makes this point admirably in his very first "reason." Ontarians, he says, aren't "clamouring for change." A lot of them don't seem to be paying attention to the referendum. Hence (he concludes) they don't have problems with the current system.

Now, that's a bit of a leap in logic. There has been little outreach, little public education, little grassroots organizing other than the usual well-worn tactics of holding a few meetings, sending letters to the editor and putting up signs. Most Ontarians have not been involved in the debates from the start, and they remain that way. Many of them will stay away from the polls on October 10 in any case, as they always do. It's not that they don't think the first-past-the-post system is fundamentally flawed. They're casualties of it. Their vote very often doesn't count; the government of the day invariably reflects minority opinion, which statistically isn't likely to be theirs. This sort of thing breeds cynicism. It breeds apathy. And so the journos jump into the breach, molding public opinion in their own image, which is to say, injecting more anesthetic into the body politic.

Sutcliffe likens elections to the hiring of an employee. You have three candidates for the job; you can't hire them all. But the analogy is a silly one. We aren't hiring candidates when we go to the polls. We are voting for a government. And we are not one employer, but many, with widely divergent opinions about the candidates before us. Why not elect a legislature that honestly reflects this division of opinion, so that everyone's vote matters? First-past-the-post doesn't do that. MMP does.

"We want local representation," Sutcliffe says, but "MMP would make the popular vote paramount." Has he even bothered to read the MMP proposal? MMP preserves local representation--in fact, such local representatives would fill two-thirds of the legislature. But the popular vote, last I heard, was what democracy is supposed to be based on.

"You shouldn't get two votes," he says, disapprovingly. Under MMP, you get a vote for your local representative, and another vote for your party of choice. "That's not a decision," he sniffs. Well, it's actually two decisions. But for some reason, electors should not be given new opportunities to exercise their freedom of political choice. Denley said that a few days ago; his colleague Sutcliffe is saying the same thing now. Why not? Personally, I'm a little leery of "authorities" telling us that we shouldn't have more political freedom.

The 3% threshold, he says, is too low. I actually agree with him on this point; I think it should be more like 5%. But that's just tinkering. Let's try the proposal as it stands, not toss the whole thing out because of a minor nuts-and-bolts issue that can be quickly fixed without another referendum if the proposed threshold needs to be raised.

The spectre of "more politicians" is raised once again. What convenient memories these people have! We had 130 MPPs in Ontario before 1996, when Mike Harris lowered the number with his Fewer Politicians Act. But this isn't about politicians--it's about the proper representation of our varying political views in Ontario. The list MPPs, he says, would be like senators, without constituencies, accountable only to their parties. But that's not how it works in Germany, which has had MMP for decades, and where list legislators do as much constituency work as any other legislator. List MMPs would be accountable to the people who voted them in. That's us.

MMP will promote division, Sutcliffe claims, forgetting perhaps that first-past-the -post encourages narrow regionalism as parties need to concentrate their votes in a few constituencies, knowing that even significant appeal across ridings can leave them with no seats. There will be more parties, he says, based on single issues. We'll have a series of minority governments. In other words, we can't have democracy--it's scary. We need majority government at all costs, even when a majority of electors vote the other way. Such arguments have been raised in the past to justify one-man rule. They're being raised now to justify the near-permanent rule of minorities, which is what first-past-the-post gets us. In both cases, democracy itself is rejected as inefficient and unstable.

Small parties will hold disproportionate power under MMP, he says. Well, no: their MPPs will hold the same power as any other MPPs. When it comes time to build coalitions, either before or after an election, no major party will want to make deals with extremists or fringe groups, which will cost them dearly in the next election; far more likely (and Germany is again an example) coalitions are made between larger, more mainstream parties. Parties campaign on platforms, and compromise will mean that those platforms are altered somewhat if coalitions are formed after an election. But when was the last time anyone saw a party implement its platform after an election? No tax increases, McGuinty said. No NAFTA, the Chrétien Liberals said. No wage and price controls, Trudeau said. These were priority campaign issues. Come on, Mark, pull the other one.

Sutcliffe's solution to the utterly inadequate and undemocratic first-past-the-post system is a runoff system. You get to mark a ballot with your first, second, etc., preferences. Names at the bottom of the ballot are eliminated until someone at the top has 50%. Liberals love this idea. If you aren't a Liberal, you're likely to consider them second-best no matter where you're located on the political spectrum. It's a great recipe for Liberal governments until the end of time. But it's not democracy. Democracy means that your first preference counts. And it's democracy that's up for grabs on October 10.

Friday, October 05, 2007

And in other news... looks as though the Vatican may shortly be absolving the Knights Templar of 700-year-old charges of heresy.

Check out the Google references on this group of warrior monks. Among other things, they are, or were, the guardians of the Holy Grail. And now, darn it, they're about to go mainstream. They were just misunderstood Catholics, after all, creditors of Philip The Fair, king of France at the time, who hunted them down to wipe out his debts. Their mythos becomes mere history.

The effects on conspiracy theorizing world-wide could well be catastrophic. On the other hand, the "discovery" of a mis-filed document absolving the Templars of heresy could be seen as an attempt to throw us all off the scent. Ah, that's better.

The Templar mentality, if so it can be called, lives on in the conspiracy theorizing with which we are all familiar: 9/11 was an inside job! The world is controlled by a) the Jews; b) the Illuminati; c) the Freemasons; d) [insert your favourite cabal here.] And the Templars themselves persist, in various closed delusional systems.

Author Umberto Eco ("Foucault's Pendulum") sums up:

The lunatic is all idee fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.

Who will now fill this much-needed gap? (Solecism intentional.)
Incidentally, Truthers, et al., tinfoil doesn't work. Indeed, it attracts and focuses the rays. The rumour that it acts as a protection was put about by the...well, I'm not at liberty to tell you.