Interview With Environmental Artist Franke James (part the 2nd)

/ Saturday, June 9, 2012 /

Here's the second part of my freewheeling interview with environmental artist and activist Franke James. We discuss the pro-active philosophy that guides her visual essays, including her most recent essay 'What's Harper Afraid Of?' Which has generated more that 5,300 letters to the PM, her workshops and the lack of ethics and common sense that drive Progressive Conservative policies. In conversation she's as spirited and fun as her visual essays.

This podcast is from my morning radio show and includes the audio from Naomi Klein's TED talk (posted below), some really great jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis) and some odds and ends. The interview with Franke starts at around the 51 minute mark and the brilliant Naomi Klein talk around the 14:30 mark, wherein she discusses what she politely calls our addiction to risk - addiction to stupidity and greed would be more apt.

Through Franke James' web site you can go sign in and send Mr. Harper a letter telling him you're tired of his war on Canada's environment.

Franke James beside her Dear Prime Minister Please Stop Blacklisting poster is holding a page from the government ATIP document

Al Jazeera Reports On The Enbridge Pipeline

/ Thursday, June 7, 2012 /
It would be great if we could get some in-depth reporting on the issues surrounding the Alberta tar/bitumen sands  from the Canadian media (from some place other than the completely terrific Tyee that is). For now however, we have to rely on organizations like Al Jazeera to provide us with the kind of quality reportage we rightly deserve.

This story is about the First Nations people, who along with many other communities in British Columbia and Alberta, find themselves caught in the middle:
...between Canada's expanding oil industry, home to the world's third-largest oil reserves; and the rapidly growing economies in East Asia, particularly China.
As per usual there's lots there to digest including a debunking of the idea that ordinary Canadians will benefit via job creation.
...the majority of jobs would be short-term employment in the pipeline's construction. Only a few hundred long-term jobs are expected, primarily at the marine terminal in Kitimat. Critics of Northern Gateway say far more jobs in fishing and tourism are at stake if there is a pipeline breach or oil spill.
There's an accompanying article by Kavitha Chekuru to go with the video that you should go read as well.

I do have one caveat about the reporting in this story and that is the interview with the Enbridge official, who when asked about what would happen if there were a spill, answers that their response in the event of this impossibility, would be "very robust." He of course never outlines what the heck that means and the reporter does not press him on the issue or the potential for catastrophic destruction to eco-systems and an entire way of life. Off-gassing of the bitumen after a spill is never mentioned either. No real complaints though, as it's unlikely there would have been a straight answer and besides, they're the best we've got!

In  case you'd like to learn more. I've posted Al Jazeera's documentary about the tar sands, "To The Last Drop," here.

What A Bitumen Spill In Vancouver Harbour Would Look Like

/ /
Mitchell Anderson over at The Tyee  has thoughtfully put together the scenario that would likely unfold in the event of a bitumen spill in Vancouver harbour. Something never mentioned in Canada's rapidly deteriorating media, but obviously important, is how such a spill would affect the residents of Vancouver:
The public health emergency and potential evacuation of large parts of the city might easily overshadow the more well known consequences of an oil spill as local authorities struggle to move hundreds of thousands of people out of harm's way.

Sadly, none of this is far-fetched:
Kinder Morgan is proposing to more than double the pipeline capacity from Alberta to Burnaby by 2017 to 750,000 barrels per day. This would result in up to 20 tankers per month moving through Vancouver harbour. Each of these ships must transit under the Second Narrows bridge during a 20-minute high tide window, with less than two metres of under-keel clearance.
If a loaded tanker became grounded in the channel, assist tugs would have little time to free the vessel before it became perched on a portion of the hull in a fast falling tide, as the 20-km long Indian Arm fjord drains towards the ocean.
A 20 minute high tide window? If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, check to see if you still have a pulse. It gets worse:
...when bitumen spilled into the Kalamazoo river these chemicals began off-gassing into the local area, acutely impacting the health of almost 60 per cent of residents living within a mile of the spill. People reported nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, headaches, coughing and dizziness from exposure to chemicals such as benzene and toluene, which are known carcinogens.
Sounds terrible huh? It actually gets worse as the description for one common variety of diluted bitumen reads as follows:
"High vapour concentrations are irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs; may cause headaches and dizziness; may be anesthetic and may cause other central nervous system effects, including death. Hydrogen sulphide gas may be released. Hydrogen sulphide may cause irritation, breathing failure, coma and death, without necessarily any warning odour being sensed. Avoid breathing vapours or mists."
So you'll be fine as long as you can avoid breathing. As far as those pipelines that are to carry the bitumen are concerned, Mitchell has the scoop on that too:
Bitumen is too thick to pump through a pipeline so it must be diluted with a variety of volatile and toxic chemicals imported from elsewhere around the world. This mixture is called "diluted bitumen" and is more abrasive, corrosive and acidic than conventional crude, and typically must be piped under higher temperatures and pressures -- raising the risk of pipeline failures.
Now put that all together and understand that a spill is an eventuality, a matter of when not if, as tar sands producers are shipping more and more unrefined bitumen to be refined elsewhere. Go read for yourself and then pass it on. We're nuts if we let any of this happen.

The Tyee has created a visual explanation of how this might unfold.

An Attack On Progress

/ Wednesday, June 6, 2012 /
Here in Quebec, amidst the nightly demonstrations against the tuition increases and Bill 78, the bill that gave the movement oxygen, we hear a constant drumbeat from media sources that the kids are "spoiled," or have a sense of "entitlement," and are perhaps communists. Seriously. It's tiresome.

Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)
Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)

Erica Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has written a terrific piece about this "scapegoating" of the kids involved and begins by asking a question that should be the starting point for any discussion about the issues at the center of the protests:
Why is it still, for some, a newsflash that reality for today’s youth is a solar system away from the world of just 25 or 30 years ago?
She then outlines what she calls the "toxic socioeconomic brew" that led here: Wages stagnating since the late '80's, the infamous 1995 Paul Martin budget which oversaw massive cuts to and restructuring of social programs, and the reduction of transfer payments which has reinforced the trend to greater income inequality.

Now, add to that...
...the fallout from declining levels of government support for higher education in Canada which has resulted in a number of new realities: over the past 30 years, government grants as a share of university operating revenue plummeted from 84% to 58%, and the share funded by tuition fees rose from 12% to 35%.
Suddenly a University education in Canada is a lot more expensive than people appreciate and students get saddled with more debt on the way out the door than their parents ever knew ($37,000 on average - somewhat less in Quebec), and there are less good employment opportunities. Remember, unpaid internships are all the rage.

More to the point, Ms. Shaker reminds us of the benefits of education to all of us:
We know the vast benefits of accessible higher education—and not just physical accessibility. Societies that make this a priority tend to be healthier, have a more politically-active citizenry, enjoy greater levels of community and family involvement, and have more social mobility. There are economic returns as well, all of which means that the demand for public education—or public health care, or public child care—is not a request for “free” anything, or even not wanting to pay one’s “fair share.”
For wanting more and easier access to education the student protestors have been vilified endlessly by the media. This of itself is simply sad but it illustrates the lack of understanding and the unwillingness of the supposed adults to engage in a constructive dialogue. But it's not the name calling she wants to bring our attention to in all of this:
To be clear, I don’t think what we’re experiencing is so much an attack on youth, though it often feels that way, as it is an attack on progress.
Attacks on progress are something we've seen far too much of in this transitional era - one that seems to be marked by greed and stupidity. It's time to try and put a stop to it by not giving in to media propaganda and opinion writers who regularly make a habit of not only being wrong but of always siding with the corporations, the banks and other arms of the establishment. Maybe we could all try and do what we're always telling our kids to do, think for yourselves.

Go read the entire piece here for yourself, form you own opinion and just try not to be that guy or gal yelling at the kids to get off your lawn!

Animated Version Of Franke James' Visual Essay "What's Harper Afraid Of?"

/ Tuesday, June 5, 2012 /
Enjoy the video and watch Franke James artfully connect the dots.

What is Harper Afraid Of? from Franke James on Vimeo.

After you've watched this remember that there are real "radicals" involving themselves in Canada's politics and they are not any of the environmental charities that the Harper government is spending $8 million dollars of Canadian taxpayers money to harass. Go over to the Globe and Mail and read about how Charles and David Koch (founders and funders of the fear and rage driven Tea Party) are enriching themselves on Canada's resources and spending huge amounts of money to influence government policy.

Naomi Klein's TED Talk: "Addicted To Risk"

/ Monday, June 4, 2012 /
Ms. Klein gives a thoughtful and timely talk about our oil addiction. A whole lot of information you won't find in your local fishwrap.

Interview with Franke James: Environmental Artist (part the first)

/ /

My conversation with artist Franke James, a unique and exciting voice in Canadian environmentalism who creates Visual Essays that are informative, spirited and fun! She combines playful and somewhat cheeky artwork with her photographs, well researched science to present her point of view in a series of Visual Essays that are notable for their surprising optimism.

For Franke environmental activism begins at home where she advocates 'doing the hard thing first.' This for her included giving up her SUV in Toronto, all newsprint, fighting City Hall to make her driveway a green space, searching for sustainable clothing and much more. For me, the best thing about her essays is her straightforward story telling style that always rises above the tendentious when dealing with controversial issues and leaves you to to make up your own mind - you really should go see and read them at

The interview is the last 25 minutes (somewhere around the 1:08:00 mark) of the podcast. Before that it's the regular morning broadcast which featured some jazz, punk music and mostly Canadian politics, not necessarily in that order.

More Hash April 11, 2012

/ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 /
So the real costs of the F-35 program continues to make news, while from the opposition we hear calls for the resignation and/or firing of the Defense Minister who is described by Liberal House leader Marc Garneau as being, "...either incompetent or not too bright!" I don't see why it's an either/or situation. It could be both. I'll admit it also could be neither. Perhaps the Minister simply lied. Those numbers are pretty much the same as the ones the PBO announced them back in March of 2012.

So where are the media at currently on the issue of the over-priced F-35 First Strike Fighter Jets replacing the soon to be mothballed CF-18's? Well, over at Canada's National Newspaper, J.L. Granastein makes a really poor argument that these jets aren't just shiny new toys for the military by... talking about all the neat gadgets we get if we buy the F-35: 
We might be involved in coalition air operations, and the F-35 could fill that role, both as a strike aircraft and as an interceptor. Its stealth technology – and a host of additional high-tech wonders – make it potentially the best fighter available anywhere for the next quarter-century, and that explains why so many countries want to purchase it. 
There's a lot wrong with his argument for procurement of these first strike weapons, number one of which is (aside from spending exorbitant amounts of Canadian taxpayers money) the idea of always being at the ready to join the Americans in bringing war and destruction to the Middle-East instead of doing something useful like say, peace-keeping. Also the Canadian press is doing its standard crappy job of informing Canadians about the Tory wish list of other toys for the military over the next 6 years. That's gonna' cost upwards of $115 Billion. Health care anyone?

                                                 Vroooom Baby, Vroooom!

So yesterday I'm having sport at the Tories expense about their lack of a jobs for youths strategy, which they've gone and made worse during the current economic downturn by cutting funding for Katimavik. So I open the morning's local fish-wrap and behold the Conservatives are announcing $27 million dollars worth of spending on... yeah, a youth jobs program. Well good, I think to myself. It's something anyhow. Right? Wrong!
The $26.7-million, a mix of previously committed and new money, is earmarked for eight projects. The biggest beneficiary is the YMCA of Greater Toronto, awarded 90 per cent of the money. Nearly $9-million of this will be used over the next three fiscal years to bankroll and administer the Y’s youth exchanges program.
So most of this money (90 %) is going to be spent in Toronto. Students looking for a leg up in finding a job in other parts of Canada are on their own.Canada's Tories are nothing if not short-sighted.

Speaking of which, guess what government department is getting hit hardest by Harper's budget cuts: ...the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture Canada will be among the hardest-hit departments as Ottawa rolls out where it will cut 19,200 jobs across the country. What could go wrong with that?

David Suzuki writes about the Gulf of St. Lawrence, its importance to our Canadian identity and the legislative changes made by the governing Tories that will have serious repercussions for the health of marine environments in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (i.e. '...gutting the Fisheries Act by stripping down habitat protection provisions, and it plans to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in a way that would make it easier for mining and oil companies, for example, to jump through regulatory hoops and get projects up and running faster than the time required to evaluate all their impacts on nature.')

And wrapping this up this wee post, here in Quebec, students are holding rolling protests today in their latest salvo against planned tuition hikes. They hope to finish the day having held 12 different demonstrations in various parts of Montreal. I wonder who blinks first, the premier or the students?


News Hash April 10, 2012

/ Tuesday, April 10, 2012 /
Figured I should drop by and post some... stuff. You know, for the fun of it!

Okay, let's start today with the difference between climate and weather, trends and vagaries...

How about the difference between people who put effort into thought and conservatives? No really. Here's a link to a study by an esteemed publication of original empirical papers in all areas of personality and social psychology (most of it hidden behind a subscription wall) but details of experiments and parameters are there as well as the conclusions, which are unmistakeable: "...when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases."  Being a conservative is a "no-brainer," as they say.

So if there's a modern day conservative traipsing by this blog it's a good bet he's/she's got a ready snarky retort to the study's conclusions. A lazy, unoriginal comeback. The other kind of riposte takes time and cognition. Maybe it's because they're in a rush to destroy the world or repeal the 20th century... whichever comes first.

Here in Canada, the Tories shamefully have no youth employment strategy in tough times and they are killing a program that had helped train 35,000 young participants in the Katimavik program over the years. This program helped to develop work, life and leadership skills, fostering community development and civic engagement. Those things are only important to Conservatives when they're blustering on the campaign trail apparently. If you want to learn more and maybe support Katimavik, go here, and here to sign the petition.

Peter McKay says the flap over the price of the Stealth F-35's is merely an "accounting issue." I'd call it bald-faced lying and politicking. Tom-ato, tom-ahto.

His position is far easier to understand than that of the Canadian media. I've been reporting on my little radio show for months now the figures the Auditor-General presented and they could be found on-line. The Americans are selling this jet world-wide to their allies and in a very public fashion the per-unit costs of the F-35's were increasing - this Globe and Mail story has them up at a brand new estimate of $166 million per jet - the tories you'll recall insisted the price would be $75 million per.

All you had to do was multiply to know that we were getting spin as opposed to the real price tag. It didn't take a lot of digging is what I'm saying and yet the Tories get away with claiming otherwise all through the May 2011 election? (If it doesn't cost you votes you got away with it!) Where was the media to hold their feet to the fire on the actual facts and figures? Back in March of 2011 the PBO reported the price tag would likely be $28.5 billion, so none of the Auditor-General's report should come as a surprise.

An important study that underlines the reason for the Occupy Movement,  according to a study published this month by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez, in 2010, 93% of income growth in the US went to the wealthiest 1% of American households, while everyone else gets to fight over the proverbial crumbs and table scraps that makes up the 7% that's left over. From Crooks and Liars here's Bernie Sanders talking about those ridiculous numbers  and what he and other progressives see as a misnamed Jobs Bill that represents yet more deregulation of Wall Street. And we know how well that always works out, right?

Over at Slate, a terrific explainer from Mathew Iglesias on why it's time to panic about the state of the Eurozone's finances again. The  sovereign debt crisis has returned and now, "...ground zero is Spain rather than Italy..." In short, it's a mess and the austerity measure implemented so far have made things worse.

And one last story to point you to because you can't really blog all the wankery going on and have a life, from a well-sourced diary over at a story about how Monsanto, "... the biotech behemoth has threatened to sue the state of Vermont if it presses ahead with the signing of the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (H. 722), a bill that would make Vermont the first of the United States to require labeling of genetically engineered food." They are not interested in letting the free market decide what it wants. That's Monsanto's job.

Marilyn McCoo live on Soul Train, singing holy heck out of a Bacharach/David tune. She is wonderful!




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