Archive for January, 2011

The Nature of Masochism

I don’t know why I did it, but I caught David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” tonight in their very special episode on Canada’s oil sands and the insatiable demonic satyrs people developing them. I will not go into too much detail on my thoughts of Suzuki’s program as I watch it—I’m not a cruel man—but I’ll offer a few snippets.

First, as with most of Suzuki’s oeuvre, the show is heavy on the emotional anecdotes and laughable conjecture, and light on, you know, actual science. Considering that this is ostensibly a science program, one might find this a bit odd, but for those who have faithfully watched CBC for the past two decades, both of them could tell you that this is par for the course for Herr Suzuki.

You got your standard Erin Brockovich effect: cancer clusters, big industry nearby, ergo big industry to blame. You got your evil scientists—funded by industry, natch—who have been studying the local environment for decades, but of course they cannot be trusted. You got your “noble savage” spouting “prophecies” of man’s demise. You also got the government screwing over the little guy (with whom I can usually sympathize). You got your lone rogue scientist, fighting the Man. You got your international climate conference, complete with Suzuki’s beloved protesters chanting Suzuki’s beloved chants. You got long, aerial shots of industrial activity, presumably taken from a flying carpet and not from a fossil fuel-guzzling helicopter. And, of course, you got your dastardly Americans and their puppet Harper.

But there was one piece of science that Suzuki highlighted, not once but thrice. I presume this is because he’s light on monitoring data supporting his cause. The study is by one Dr. David Schindler, who is about as objective and apolitical as Dr. Suzuki himself.

Here’s one scene: At an open forum meeting Dr. Schindler is asked how sure he is that there is underground seepage from the oil sand tailings ponds into the Athabasca River, he replies, “Scientists never deal in certainties, but I believe it’s 99% positive”. Of course, there’s no scientific proof of this. He just knows.

What he found in his study, which is under review and has not yet been replicated, is that during the snow-laden winter season, bitumen and other elements associated with the oil sand industry—and naturally occurring deposits—had accumulated over a four-month period.

A federal panel that came out of the publicity surrounding the support recommended that the monitoring program needs to be revamped. Fair enough, but this still does not prove that oil production is significantly affecting the health of people in the region. What the study suggests is we may not have enough information.

So the whole episode, which takes us from the small communities of the Athabasca to the global climate debate to the ‘merkins love of oil and money, hinges on Dr. Schindler’s one, solitary study. I watched two hours of Suzuki for this? It’s like watching a M. Night Shamalyan movie and finding there’s no twist. Bummer, man.

Maybe Suzuki’s right. Maybe the benefits of the oil sands simply aren’t worth their impact on the environment and society. But he could be wrong too. If so, would he offer a two-hour retraction on his sliming of a hugely vital industry, one that has enriched the lives of far more people than Suzuki could imagine?

Suzuki has made a tidy living as playing David to the world’s Goliaths. Who cares if the people he demonizes might actually be decent, honourable, ethical individuals? What matters is that he’s right and anyone who disagrees is condemned to hell.

Where we’d likely be subjected to repeated episodes of The Nature of Things.

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Versus Us vs. Them

Gruen’s mission, however, is to unpack the contrary story, far less told: “that Greeks, Romans, and Jews (who provide us with almost all the relevant extant texts) had far more mixed, nuanced, and complex opinions about other peoples.” In the main text and many useful footnotes of this info-packed but never boring study, Gruen accomplishes that. He shows how the ancients “could also visualize themselves as part of a broader cultural heritage, could discover or invent links with other societies, and could couch their own historical memories in terms of a borrowed or appropriated past.”

h/t A&L Daily

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Barney’s Version

The Better Third and I ventured out last Friday evening to see the long-anticipated (for me) theatrical release of Mordecai Richler’s Barney Version. As the movie was set 14 years into the future with respect to the original story, which in itself would have been difficult enough to faithfully reproduce, I had tempered my expectations for some time before even film production began. Some books are never meant to be shown on the big screen, and while I can appreciate the efforts of film makers who attempt to prove otherwise, disappointment is almost always a result to the books’ biggest fans.

Like me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Julia Roberts as Green Party Leader

Yet another example of the Erin Brockovich Effect can be found in this podcast from John Gormley Live today. The show discussed the potential for nuclear power plants in Saskatchewan, as mused by Brad Wall. First up was Jeremy Whitlock, the former president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, who provided insight to mini-nuke technology. Whitlock was informative, interesting and added real value to the show.

Then Gormley gave us the exact opposite of Whitlock in the person of Larissa Shasko, the leader of Saskatchewan’s Green Party. Among her dubious assertions was her linking of uranium mining with the strong prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis in the province.

That’s right: according to the leader of the provincial Green Party, uranium mining  might cause MS. And cancers too, for good measure.

Listen to the podcast. Shasko’s comments come at about 00:15:45.

So we have (a) a higher-than average incidence of MS, (b) an authority looking for someone to blame, resulting in (c) blaming a large, controversial industry in the area. (I used “area” loosely, as the nearest uranium mine is over 500 kilometres from Saskatoon.)

Now, anyone is within their rights to make sure that industrial activity minimizes their impact to people and the environment, and anyone is allowed to “ask questions”, as many activists put it. But “asking questions” is not the same thing as “making innuendo on a group using unsubstantiated information while preying on the ignorance of the general public,” and any leader of a political party, no matter how minor, must take responsibility for these accusations.

That means, be a grown-up and defend your accusations with evidence instead of petty little smears.

Silly. She’s a silly woman making silly comments, and deserves nothing more than ridicule.

Furthermore, Julia Roberts should return her Oscar.

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Nomination Excitation

Earlier this evening, I had the privilege of attending the nomination of Corey O’Soup as the Sask Party candidate for Saskatoon-Riversdale. Corey made a terrific run for the seat in a 2009 byelection against the NDP’s Danielle Chartier in a traditionally orange riding, so hopes are high for him in November.

Personally, having had a few chats with him in recent months, I’ve come to see him as a man of character, faith and principle, qualities that seem to be in short supply in politics nowadays. He gave a very good speech tonight about why he’s running, and I damn near called the Better Third to tell her I wanted to run in my own riding. He’s that good,  and he could be considered the future of the SK Party.

It will be a great riding to watch.

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Baby Beluga Gone Batty

Who doesn’t love Raffi? Remember him? The kids’ singer? You had an album when you were a tot. Yeah, Raffi.

I loved Raffi. He had cute little songs,  his voice was so charming and comforting. As a children’s entertainer, he wasn’t creepy like Captain Kangaroo or John Wayne Gacy. Instead, he seemed very lovely. When you’re a kid.

When you’re a grown-up, however, the act wears out significantly, especially when he sets down the guitar and pens an incredibly naive piece for a far-left digital rag. Read the rest of this entry »

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Julia Roberts visits Saskatchewan

Further to my previous post, a classic example of the Erin Brockovich Effect can be found here.

To re-cap: (a) farmer believes something wrong with his land; (b) farmer hires specialist who deems this an anomalous event; and (c) local industrial activity is blamed.

Furthermore, Julia Roberts should return her Oscar.

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