Friday 24 July 2009

not a blog II

Up, Down.

Kamayurá"To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism. If you can't say good and encouraging things, say nothing. Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say."

Will Durant, from 'A Commencement Address by Will Durant, delivered at the Webb School of Claremont, California, on June 7, 1958.'

“Us old monkeys can take the hunger, but the little ones suffer — they’re always asking for fish.”

Kotok, Kamayurá chief.

1. Eliminating an option too easy, Editorial, July 24 2009.
2. Mounties have no choice but to comply, Gary Mason, July 24 2009.
3. Unnecessary government spending is no accident , Neil Reynolds, July 24 2009.
4. Well-Behaved Street-Corner Sculpture, Ken Johnson, July 23 2009.
5. Why you never, ever get righteous on a street cop, Michael Mechanic, July 24 2009.
6. In the Loop (2008) War of Words, Misspoken and Spun, Movie Review by A. O. Scott, July 24 2009.
7. B.C. RCMP's statement in reponse to Braidwood recommendations, Tim Shields (RCMP), July 23 2009.
8. RCMP to adopt Braidwood recommendations in B.C., Ian Bailey, Friday July 24 2009.
9. No confusion on where oil price is headed, Brian Milner, Saturday July 25 2009.
10. An Amazon Culture Withers as Food Dries Up, Elizabeth Rosenthal, July 24 2009.
11. Henry Louis Gates: Déjà Vu All Over Again, Stanley Fish, July 24 2009.
12. Mercury and Power Plants, Editorial, July 24 2009.
13. Calgary's Nikiforuk wins Rachel Carson book prize, John Barber, Friday July 24 2009.
     13a. Andrew Nikiforuk website.
     13b. W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, Writers Guild of Alberta.
     13c. Society of Environmental Journalists Rachel Carson Award.
14. Guilty of unconscious racism, Margaret Wente, Tuesday July 28 2009.
Eliminating an option too easy, Editorial, July 24 2009.

The recommendations of former justice Thomas Braidwood to severely limit the use of tasers should be implemented immediately, not only by the RCMP, but by police forces in every province and municipality in the country

The recommendations of former justice Thomas Braidwood to severely limit taser use by police apply narrowly, to British Columbia, and not even to the RCMP who do much of the policing in that province. The B.C. government responded yesterday by accepting all 19 recommendations. The RCMP said they would not immediately do so, putting them at odds with the provincial solicitor-general. But Mr. Braidwood's finding that tasers can cause “serious injury or death,” and his call to dramatically raise the threshold for deployment of the 50,000-volt electric stun guns, mean the recommendations should be implemented immediately, not only by the RCMP, but by police forces in every province and municipality in the country.

After Mr. Braidwood's report, Canadian police can no longer pretend that tasers are a low-risk policing accoutrement, and therefore appropriate for use in low-risk situations. The recommendations will put an end to the ludicrous use of tasers by transit police, who in Vancouver have tasered “non-compliant” passengers. They will also put an end to the use of tasers by authorities to enforce municipal and provincial laws. They would only be used in response to truly criminal offences, and even then the bar has been raised to the point that some police forces may decide they are not worth the trouble. In which case, good riddance.

No longer can police hide behind soft, essentially meaningless terms like “active resistance” as a pretext for their use. Mr. Braidwood would have it that tasers can only be deployed either when someone is in the act of “causing bodily harm,” or will do so imminently. If the recommendations are adopted nationally, as they should be, that would mean Edmonton police could not taser a slumbering, drunken man who fails to get out of a vehicle when ordered. In B.C., police could not taser an 82-year-old patient waving a small knife in his hospital bed, as also happened.

Most significantly, it would mean that a disoriented newcomer like Robert Dziekanski would never again be brutalized by policemen wielding a stun gun. The Braidwood inquiry was prompted by an amateur video of the RCMP's fatal confrontation with the Polish immigrant in October, 2007. Four armed Mounties – Canada's finest – approached the unarmed, distressed man at Vancouver International Airport, and without making any serious effort to communicate, attacked him.

Those who watched that video, in Canada and around the world, widely saw it as an act of police brutality. This perception was compounded by the failure of the officers in question to provide a credible explanation for their behaviour. The officers could have seen a man who simply needed their help. But that would have required a little patience, and a little humanity. Instead the four officers chose the easy way out. It was an option available to them under existing taser use policy. Mr. Braidwood's recommendations should put an end to that option across Canada.

Mounties have no choice but to comply, Gary Mason, July 24 2009.

Time for the RCMP to surrender to public opinion

Thomas Braidwood's inquiry into taser use in B.C. was not supposed to have jurisdictional authority over the RCMP in the province. Thankfully, the highly respected retired judge decided to ignore his original terms of reference.

Mr. Braidwood knew it would be foolish, not to mention a waste of his time and taxpayers' dollars, to make recommendations that applied only to municipal police forces.

The Mounties police 70 per cent of the province, and RCMP officers in B.C. have the highest taser use of any provincial division in the country. What would be the point of writing a report that could be ignored by those who needed to hear its message most?

In his report, made public Thursday , Mr. Braidwood came down precisely where I thought he would: All police should be able to continue using tasers but under many more restrictions. And that makes sense. At the end of the day, tasering people who are a danger is often a better alternative to shooting them.

But Mr. Braidwood wants a new threshold established for when officers can pull out their conducted-energy weapons.

The RCMP recently instituted new guidelines that state an officer can use a stun gun only when someone is a “threat to officer or public safety” or is exhibiting “assaultive behaviour.” Those parameters are too broad and open to interpretation, according to Mr. Braidwood, whose recommendations stem from the RCMP taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski in October, 2007.

We heard the officers involved in the tasering of Mr. Dziekanski, for instance, defend their actions by saying they thought the unarmed Polish immigrant was a “threat to their personal safety.”

Mr. Braidwood wants new policies in place that insist the taser not be used unless a subject is “causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the subject's behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm.”

But the inquiry head goes further: “Even then, an officer should not deploy the weapon unless satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that no lesser force option would be effective, and de-escalation and/or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective.”

Using those principles, it would have been much harder for the officers involved in the Dziekanski incident to justify their actions.

But as Mr. Braidwood notes, the RCMP is a federal force and not subject to B.C. statutes. It is answerable to Ottawa only, even though B.C. residents pay the Mounties salaries here. In other words, the force doesn't have to listen to a thing Mr. Braidwood has to say if it doesn't want to.

But Mr. Braidwood, brilliant man that he is, has given the B.C. government a way around the problem. That is, if the RCMP doesn't voluntarily agree to implement the recommendations.

You see, the RCMP's contract with the province is up in 2012. Mr. Braidwood has suggested the government insist the Mounties agree to implement all of commission's recommendations regarding tasers as a condition of renewing its policing agreements with the province.

B.C. Solicitor-General Kash Heed said Thursday he has sent an order to the RCMP that it comply with the recommendations. Certainly a rare display of nerve by this government in its dealings with the force.

To his immense credit, the commissioner was pretty pointed about what he thought of the province's handling of the taser issue. Which is to say he feels the government abdicated its responsibility to establish province-wide standards for the weapon. And if I had been writing the report I might have added: This provincial government is entirely spineless when it comes to confronting the Mounties with regard to any number of problem cases in which it has been involved in B.C.

I guess we'll see what happens. RCMP management in B.C. told me they are going to take some time to digest the Braidwood report before commenting on the recommendations and deciding whether they'll adopt all of them in B.C. and/or across the country. Contrary to some reports, the RCMP has not promised to implement all the recommendations, ‘E' Division Commander Gary Bass told me Thursday.

But my feeling is the Mounties will because they really have no choice. There is a great swell of public opinion rising against them. And my guess is that public opinion will be solidly behind the many good suggestions made in Mr. Braidwood's report.

I think the RCMP should just surrender on this one.

Unnecessary government spending is no accident , Neil Reynolds, July 24 2009.

Canadian economists are engaged these days in a great argument of dubious importance - whether the federal government will return to budgetary surpluses in 2013-2014 (as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty insists) or whether it won't (as the Parliamentary Budget Office asserts). So, when will the government next balance its books? Economist Dale Orr, for one, says that Canadians shouldn't expect a balanced budget before 2019-2020 - a full decade from the recession that induced the deficits.

What's the problem here? It's not really the deficits. By Mr. Orr's calculations, for example, Canada's nominal debt-to-GDP ratio - even after a decade of expected deficits - will be modest by international standards and probably lower than it was before the recession. The national debt fell to 28 per cent of GDP in 2008, the lowest level since 1980. By 2010-2011, it will rise to 35 per cent. By 2019-2020, it will fall to 27 per cent. This decrease in the rate means only that debt will rise in the next 10 years at a slower rate than GDP.

The real problem now is precisely what it has been for 40 years or more, once succinctly described by Gordon Robertson, Clerk of the Privy Council under prime ministers Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau (and thereby in a position to know), as the utter disappearance of all sense of frugality from the federal government. As government spending increased in the 1960s and the 1970s, public-service thrift diminished. It remains a forgotten virtue. Aside from ritual references to waste in government, it is never discussed.

The real problem is that democratic governments never, ever, cut spending in absolute terms. They may occasionally reduce the anticipated rate of increase - from 6 per cent, say, to 5 per cent - and proclaim this apparent restraint the stuff of conscience and courage. But, in absolute terms, they never, ever, cut. It is an attribute now common to all modern democracies.

With no sense of frugality to restrain them, governments drift from one random instance of flamboyant waste to the next. A federal gun registry spends a billion dollars to produce chaos (Canada). An arts council spends $100,000 to send a team of artists to the North Pole to make a snowman (Britain). A federal cabinet minister spends $10,000 to take his chauffeur on a trip abroad (Canada). Assigned to find waste in government, a task force identifies a mere 0.3 per cent of expenditures as unnecessary - in a budget of $3.6-trillion (United States). In two years, a senior-level public servant spends $300,000 in "hospitality expenses" (Canada).

Earlier in the 20th century, governments treated public money with the same puritanical respect that people generally treated their own money in a famously frugal age. It wasn't that these governments never wasted public money, never misused it. It was that they did everything parsimoniously.

But government waste, though infuriating for taxpayers, is a small thing. The real tragedy lies in the inexorable rise in deliberate spending. In the exponential increases cited by Gordon Robertson, across two or three decades, the most unnecessary spending was entirely intentional, duly instigated by government and duly authorized by Parliament.

In Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability, Moncton political scientist Donald J. Savoie notes that in 1953, prior to the more free-spending years that the sixties heralded, 58 per cent of federal spending was approved by Commons votes on specific expenditures. By 2004, the percentage of expenditures approved in this manner had fallen to 35 per cent. He notes further that, in the six years between 1998 and 2004, the cost of administration in the federal public service increased by 40 per cent.

Think what a modest degree of restraint could contribute to the balancing of Canada's books. Had the government limited the increase in the cost of administration to the rate of inflation, it would have saved $6-billion - or one-third of the deficit ($17-billion) projected by the Parliamentary Budget Office for 2013-2014.

Inflation has always made it easier for governments to spend wildly. But we have now entered a period of official deflation. This period may well have lasted only for the month of June when (year over year) the cost of living fell by 0.3 per cent, the first official month of deflation in 15 years. Or it could persist. At any rate, we should take what we can get. It seems only fair that governments be required to reduce spending by the rate of deflation. Even with low-level deflation, the savings would add up. With deflation of 0.3 per cent for a year, for example, the federal government would be obliged to cut spending by $1-billion - and not lose a penny's worth of public services.

Economists scoff at the notion this country is descending into deflation (still referenced as "negative inflation"). But who knows? A year ago, many economists said that Canada would escape recession altogether; others argued that deflation was utterly improbable. Perhaps the deflationary hit is already over. But it remains an arguable proposition that what goes up must - or should - come down.

Well-Behaved Street-Corner Sculpture, Ken Johnson, July 23 2009.

Outdoor art isn’t what it used to be. Once it honored heroic individuals and upheld values that whole populations could embrace. Today, excepting memorials like the Vietnam veterans wall, outdoor art serves rather to divert, amuse and comfort.

A striking illustration of that old-new dichotomy straddles East 60th Street and the southeastern corner of Central Park. On the north side, temporarily installed in Doris C. Freedman Plaza by the Public Art Fund, is “The Ego and the Id,” a big, brightly colored sculpture by the Austrian artist Franz West. Its two parts, made of roughly welded-together pieces of aluminum, form lumpy, spindly loops rising 20 feet in the air. One is painted glossy bubblegum pink, while the other sports a coat of yellow, green, blue and orange patches. In places near the ground, the loops morph into round stools on which people can sit. Judging by the reactions of passers-by and their clambering children, this infectiously cheerful work is a popular attraction.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the street, on an elevated, neo-Classical stone pedestal, is a bigger-than-life gilded-bronze sculpture of the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. Riding on horseback, he follows a female figure in billowing robes, an allegory of Victory. The monument has been here since 1903. On a recent sunny day there were lots of people on the plaza in front of the sculpture, but most were watching a group of athletic young men performing gymnastic dance feats to loud hip-hop music. It seemed a safe bet that no one there knew or cared who the man on the horse was or who made the sculpture that honors him.

The creator of the Sherman monument, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), was the pre-eminent American sculptor of the 19th and early 20th centuries. His career is the subject of an indoor show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Including miniature cameo portraits, exquisitely sensitive relief portraits of upper-class women and children in marble and bronze and a monumental marble figure of Hiawatha, the exhibition of almost four dozen works from the museum’s collection displays a kind of traditional skill and idealism that practically no one possesses anymore.

The big problem for outdoor art is the absence of any consensus of values in our pluralistic, multicultural society. It’s hard to imagine a public sculpture of a hero today that would not be regarded by one faction or another as partisan. As an unscientific sampling of art in the public realm this summer confirms, contemporary outdoor art tends to offer unobjectionable, mildly decorative or entertaining and relatively empty experiences.

A few blocks south of the Sherman monument, placed by the New York City Parks Public Art Program on the Park Avenue median strip between 57th and 51st Streets, are seven bronze and stainless-steel sculptures by James Surls of giant, semi-abstract, fantasy flowers. Mr. Surls, who is based in Carbondale, Colo., is known for funky wooden indoor sculptures resembling the works of an eccentric backwoods visionary.

With petals inscribed with eyes and other petals in the form of crystals, the Park Avenue works hint at psychedelic experience. But that aspect is neutralized by the colorless metal and a stylistic decorum that turns them into innocuous garden sculptures.

In the same neighborhood is a more eye-grabbing sculpture by Tara Donovan, the artist known for spectacular accumulations of ordinary objects like plastic straws and disposable cups. Presented in the window of the Lever House Lobby, where it may be viewed from indoors as well as out, Ms. Donovan’s untitled piece consists of 2,500 pounds of plastic sheeting loosely folded into a wide box that is glassed in on the front and back and built into a freestanding white wall.

At first you notice the serpentine pattern formed by the edges of the plastic material. Then a remarkable optical effect kicks in. Light pouring through from either side reflects on the shiny surfaces of the plastic folds, producing a shimmering, kaleidoscopic effect. The transformation is magical and more hallucinogenic than anything suggested by Mr. Surls’s works.

(By the way, some art lovers will be relieved to discover that Damien Hirst’s colossal bronze sculpture of a partly dissected pregnant woman has been removed from the outdoor Lever House plaza. It has been replaced by a giant, white Hello Kitty figure by Tom Sachs. A painted bronze that looks as if it were patched together from pieces of foam core, it is not a great improvement, but it is at least not nearly as hideous.)

One kind of public sculpture practiced by people who want to change the world is the “intervention,” in which the artist subtly alters some existing structure to subvert perceived social complacency. At City Hall Park, under the auspices of the Public Art Fund, the British sculptor Richard Woods has intervened by cladding two octagonal guard booths in panels imprinted with red-on-white brick patterns, giving them the look of cheap amusement-park pavilions. Also, in an indoor lobby, he has covered an elaborately molded door with a flat, printed copy of the door.

The effect of Mr. Woods’s interventions, collectively titled “wall and door and roof,” is feeble. Had he covered the entire City Hall in the garish brick pattern it would have been something to see; but as it is, it seems unlikely that many people will realize they’re looking at art, much less attach any meaning to it.

Then there is the latest installment of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center’s Young Architects Program, which every summer for the last 10 years has had a team of designers create some sort of shelter for the center’s sun-baked front courtyard. Like previous projects this one, by a New Haven and Cambridge, Mass., firm, MOS, is a hybrid of sculpture and architecture — call it sculpitecture. (MOS’s principal partners are Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample.)

Titled “afterparty,” it consists of towering conical structures covered by woolly, dark brown Indonesian palm thatching and truncated at the top like volcanoes. The chimneylike cones are supposed to create breezy updrafts, while small valves at the top spray cooling mist on overheated visitors. The whole thing resembles the roofing of a South Pacific king’s palatial hut.

A treat for young, old, hip and square, it nicely exemplifies the inoffensive spirit of public art today. What Saint-Gaudens would make of MOS’s techno-primitive folly is anyone’s guess.

Why you never, ever get righteous on a street cop, Michael Mechanic, July 24 2009.

You don't talk back, because you will lose. Henry Gates (left, in police mug shot) should have known

Smiling triumphantly, I opened the front door only to stare straight down the barrel of a police 9mm. I don't think I said a word. Just slowly put my hands in the air. Let the officer cuff me and put me in the back seat of his cruiser.

The scene was Emeryville, Calif. It was 1993, and I'd just entered an unlocked upstairs window to gain entry to the residence where my companion was house-sitting. We'd accidentally locked the keys inside. The neighbours didn't know that, though. They just saw an unfamiliar white man trying to get in. Eventually, I was released, humiliated to be treated like a criminal, but I knew better than to get righteous on a police officer. As I'd learned the hard way four years earlier, that's a losing game.

Flashback to a Sunday in the summer of 1989, when police had reported to the West Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit station parking lot in response to noise complaints about an afternoon party across the street. Juke, my old punk-rock band, was playing at a run-down rental house along with Green Day (in its pre-stadium days) and a couple of others. After we finished our set, I wandered across the street with a friend. That's when an altercation of other partygoers broke out in the BART lot, not 100 feet from several Oakland police cruisers.

The cops did nothing to stop the fight, but we helped separate the brawling parties, and the cops detained them. Shortly after, with observers crowding around the lot, one officer walked a full circle around my friend, then told him to take a hike or get arrested. At the first word of protest out of his mouth, the officer grabbed and cuffed him.

This struck me as completely unjust, so I spoke up. “Why are you arresting him? He didn't do anything”

“Shut the f--- up,” said a couple other officers.

I wasn't finished. “I have a right to know why you're arresting my friend.”

They tackled me from behind, and twisted my arm painfully behind my back. Somebody kicked my head into the pavement, leaving a large welt on my forehead. I was cuffed - so tightly it hurt for weeks - and thrown in the back seat of a cruiser piloted by one Officer Jim Burns.

“Name?” he demanded. I had no wallet or ID on me.

“Michael Mechanic.”

“NAME” he repeated.

“Michael Mechanic.”

“I'll just put John Doe, then,” he said.

“It's my f------ name” I responded.

I proceeded, through tears, to taunt Officer Burns, equate him to a Nazi, question his education, upbringing and patriotism. In retrospect, I was lucky he didn't take me to some vacant lot and beat me to a pulp. Because he could have.

Long story short, I was transferred to a stinking police van and driven around the city for hours, with no bathroom breaks, until it was packed with crackheads. I then spent the night in the city jail and was charged with interfering with the police - a felony - and resisting arrest and public intoxication, which was entirely fabricated. Because they can. In the end, it cost $1,500 to hire a lawyer to convince the DA none of it was worth pursuing.

I was shell-shocked by the whole experience. It took me a long time to get over it, but it taught me an important lesson, one that many a poor black kid in Oakland learns from an early age: You don't talk back to the police. You don't question them. And you certainly don't call them racist, even if you think they're profiling you. (And they most likely are.)

Because you will lose. It doesn't matter whether you're a prominent black Harvard prof, a white kid on his way to attend graduate school or a Hispanic high-school dropout. I understand the indignation of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard prof arrested last week on disorderly conduct charges, which were dropped after an officer established that Mr. Gates had not broken into his own Cambridge, Mass., home. Mr. Gates, however, has clout in the Cambridge community, and he could have brought his complaints straight to the brass or to local politicians. (And speaking of clout, even Barack Obama weighed in on the Gates case during a White House news conference on Wednesday – he accused the police of acting “stupidly.”)

But get righteous on a street cop and you will lose every single time. Henry Gates should have known as much.

Michael Mechanic is a senior editor at Mother Jones magazine.

In the Loop (2008) War of Words, Misspoken and Spun, Movie Review by A. O. Scott, July 24 2009.

It is somehow fitting that the unruly plot of “In the Loop,” a sharply written, fast-talking, almost dementedly articulate satire on modern statecraft, should commence with a verbal slip-up. In an atmosphere of impending military action, as the governments of Britain and the United States gear up to invade an unspecified Middle Eastern country, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the British minister of international development, gives an interview to the BBC. Surprised by a question outside his area of expertise —whatever that might be — he declares that in his view “war is unforeseeable.”

This statement, which might sound either obvious or opaque to a casual listener, ignites a minor firestorm in and around 10 Downing Street, since Simon’s words seem to depart from the official line. Offered a chance to walk his gaffe back, the poor fellow only digs himself deeper. Winging it in front of the news cameras, he observes that, while peace is of course a desirable state of affairs, it is sometimes necessary to climb “the mountain of conflict.”

The genius of “In the Loop,” directed by Armando Iannucci and written by a crack team of British wits, is that it turns this mountain into a series of festering molehills. War is a deadly and consequential business. That much goes without saying, and when some of the motley technocrats and would-be statesmen who populate this film do say it, their words sound either embarrassingly tinny or patently self-serving. And that’s the point: Grave matters involving global power cannot finally be separated from the pettiness of democratic governance, which is impelled by careerism, vanity, moral compromise and, in London more than in prim Washington, by ear-singeing profanity.

If Anglo-Saxon epithets were armaments, Britannia would rule the waves, thanks to the uncivil tongue of Malcolm Tucker, a powerful press officer. Almost nothing he says can be quoted here. Loosely based on Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s press secretary, and played by Peter Capaldi as a wiry dervish of Scottish hostility, Malcolm is so completely cynical that he attains a kind of integrity and thus becomes both the film’s chief monster and the closest thing it has to a hero.

The American and British heads of state are never named or shown, and no rogue nation or political party is ever mentioned, but the real-world template for “In the Loop” is easy enough to identify. The British-American push to war involves dubious, possibly cooked intelligence, and voices of dissent inside both governments are silenced and suborned.

But though it all sounds very 2003, the film’s insights are less topical than procedural. It’s not about something that happened but rather about the way things work. Using a mock-vérité style familiar from television shows like “The Office” (and his own series, “The Thick of It,” in relation to which this film is somewhere between spinoff and stepchild), Mr. Iannucci maps the queasy interpersonal power games at the heart of any political endeavor. The inhabitants of his universe are in essence well-connected cubicle rats, or junior high school clique members with media access and large standing armies, or perhaps Renaissance courtiers with BlackBerrys and power suits.

They are all hellbent on humiliating, destroying or using one another. But of course all of them — the smooth-faced aides, the preening deputies, the ciphers and backstabbers and the snarling press secretaries who seem to run the whole show — are allies, colleagues and in a few cases, lovers. A journalist’s voice is sometimes heard squawking on the other end of a phone line, and a single significant member of the public at large materializes in the person of Steve Coogan, but otherwise the entire menagerie is, as the picture’s title implies, on the inside and on the same side.

Every house, needless to say, is divided against itself. The hapless Simon is pulled this way and that by two rival underlings, the sharp-tongued Judy (Gina McKee) and the deceptively guileless Toby (Chris Addison). Their boss is also sucked into a power struggle between two opposing state department honchos, Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), who wants to slow down the rush to war, and Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who wants to speed it up. Karen and Linton have a pair of antagonistic aides, Chad (Zach Woods) and Liza (Anna Chlumsky), eager young things already adept at smiling, collegial knife work.

The plot is as intricate and elegant as a computer circuit board, though at times it looks more like a tangle of crossed wires. The short summary is that everybody betrays everybody else, that opportunism trumps idealism and that telling the truth is a matter of tactical calculation rather than ethical imperative. The principal doves — Karen and a sensitive Pentagon general played by James Gandolfini — are as puffed up and shabby as the hawks. Nobody’s motives are pure, and when it’s all sorted out, the killing will start.

The audience, meanwhile, is likely to die laughing. While “In the Loop” is a highly disciplined inquiry into a very serious subject, it is also, line by filthy line, scene by chaotic scene, by far the funniest big-screen satire in recent memory. The hand-held camera work, the hectic jump-cuts and the grubby visuals may resemble television, but the restless pacing and drab appearance serve a clear aesthetic purpose. The film visits some of the world’s great monuments to liberty and order on both sides of the Atlantic — 10 Downing Street, the White House, the United Nations headquarters — and they’ve never looked worse, as if shot through a filter made of grime.

And at the end you may feel a little unclean, which is also evidence of Mr. Iannucci’s satirical rigor. The people in whose hands momentous decisions rest are shown — convincingly and in squirming detail — to be duplicitous, vindictive, small-minded and untrustworthy. But why should they be any different from the rest of us?


Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Armando Iannucci; written by Mr. Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche; music by Adam Ilhan; production designer, Christina Casali; produced by Kevin Loader and Adam Tandy; released by IFC Films. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Anna Chlumsky (Liza), Chris Addison (Toby), David Rasche (Linton), Gina McKee (Judy), James Gandolfini (General Miller), Mimi Kennedy (Karen), Olivia Poulet (Suzy), Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker), Steve Coogan (Paul Michaelson), Tom Hollander (Simon Foster) and Zach Woods (Chad).

B.C. RCMP's statement in reponse to Braidwood recommendations, Tim Shields (RCMP), July 23 2009.

At 1 p.m. today Commissioner Braidwood submitted his report on the first inquiry on the use of the conducted energy weapon in BC.

The RCMP welcomes the report from phase one of the Braidwood Inquiry.

The RCMP will review and assess the findings, conclusions and recommendations of this report.

As British Columbia's Provincial Police Force we are committed to working with our partners including the province of British Columbia and with others on any required adjustments to our policies procedures and training.

The RCMP believes that when properly used in appropriate situations, by officers who are well trained, the CEW is a useful tool, that contributes to officer and public safety.

The RCMP is committed to learning as much as possible about the CEW and its effect on those against whom it is used, to ensure that our policies and procedures continue to be appropriate.

We have already made a number of important changes to our CEW policies, training, practices and reporting requirements, including:

* Restricting the use of CEWs to incidents involving threats to officer or public safety;

* Requiring RCMP officers to be re-certified annually;

* Enhanced "use of force" reporting; and

* Quarterly and annual reports on CEW usage

Additionally, the RCMP has amended its Incident Management Intervention Model to align it with the model endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

The RCMP is working with our contract partners, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC), other police services, medical experts and others to further enhance our policies, training, practices and reporting requirements relating to use of force, including the CEW.

The RCMP has a long history of working in the Province of British Columbia to ensure we operate within or exceed provincial policing standards, such as our pursuit policy, domestic violence policy and policies relating to RCMP Auxiliary Constables.

As Canada's national police force the RCMP also works to ensure consistency in our policies and practices across the country.

Sgt. Tim Shields
NCO i/c Strategic Communications Section
"E" Div. Strategic Communications

RCMP to adopt Braidwood recommendations in B.C., Ian Bailey, Friday July 24 2009.

Announcement on taser use for officers will put the force in sync with other police forces in the province

VANCOUVER — The RCMP is adopting the recommendations of the Braidwood inquiry on tasers and applying them to their members in British Columbia.

The announcement, coming later today, will put the force in sync with other police forces in the province, who were ordered to adopt the Braidwood rules by Solicitor-General Kash Heed less than an hour after Thomas Braidwood laid them out as part of his ongoing study of police taser use and the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Assistant RCMP Commissioner Al Macintyre said that as of 5 p.m. Thursday he had issued an operational bulletin to the force's 6,500 members in B.C. outlining directives on adopting Braidwood rules issues by Mr. Heed.

He said he was “asking members to comply with same and consider the directive complimentary to our existing policy.”

The RCMP had initially said they would take some time to decide whether and how to follow the Braidwood recommendations, though Mr. Heed had said it was a given that the force, which polices about 70 per cent of B.C. residents under an agreement with the province, would adopt them.

Mr. Braidwood's 19 recommendations include a ban on the use of tasers unless a suspect is physically harming someone or about to commit a criminal act, and a limit of five seconds for discharging the weapons.

He said the province should make acceptance of his recommendations a condition for the renewal of a contract, set to expire in 2012, to continue policing the province.

No confusion on where oil price is headed, Brian Milner, Saturday July 25 2009.

‘The stuff that's put out there has no basis in reality' Henry Groppe

Anyone paying attention to the noisy talking heads who populate TV biz panels is bound to come away deeply confused when the subject turns to oil prices.

We keep hearing that demand is essentially flat in the developing world and shrinking everywhere else.

Production isn't moving much in any direction and inventories are piling up like so much Toronto garbage.

With the global economy deep in the doldrums, $20 (U.S.) crude must surely be just around the corner.

Yet crude prices have actually been on the rise again in recent days, climbing above $68 a barrel yesterday.

The bearish types insist this undoubtedly stems from misplaced faith in economic prospects in the United States and that the hike can't be justified by the commodity's fundamentals.

Others with more conspiratorial leanings, including the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, CNBC commentator Jim Cramer and more than a few policy makers, say the fault lies with financial speculators, who need to be reined in before they cause the fragile economic recovery to come crumbling down on our heads.

Yet at least one prominent energy analyst says the price is headed in the right direction, based on actual supply and demand.

He goes on to say that speculators have precious little to do with the recent runup, and that those insisting oil is wrongly priced are relying on lousy data.

That would be Henry Groppe, 83, who has been tracking the complex world of oil and gas production, consumption and pricing for more than half a century.

“I feel like I'm from Mars, because I know all the stuff that's put out there has no basis in reality,” says Mr. Groppe, who in fact hails from Houston. “Most perceptions of what's actually happened are totally wrong, because there are such errors with the energy statistics.”

The reason most numbers are wrong – including those used by the International Energy Agency – is that no one in the industry has any incentive to provide accurate statistics, Mr. Groppe said during a visit to the Toronto offices of fund manager Middlefield Capital Corp., which he serves as an adviser. “So nobody really knows how much oil is being used in the world today.”

Mr. Groppe and his associates spent years laboriously developing their own data to paint a reliable picture of oil flows. Relying heavily on oil import figures (which are more accurate than exports, because governments collect taxes on them), among other sources, they know who is shipping what to where and in what quantities.

Their findings: Actual imports have been as much as 1.25 million to two million barrels a day less than was claimed to have been exported in official stats.

Ignoring unreliable weekly inventory numbers and dismissing claims of oil-filled tankers sitting idle in the Caribbean as largely fanciful, he has concluded that much of what has transpired in the past two-and-a-half years “can be traced to specific changes to the supply-demand balance.”

During this period, prices soared from an average of $54 to a brief peak of $147.50 a year ago, and then plunged to $34 last December before coming back to the current level. Speculators climbed on the bandwagon, making the peak higher and the valley lower, but they didn't influence the direction, he said.

If policy makers want to hold anyone responsible, it ought to be the Saudis, who overreacted to fears of a global collapse by slashing production last summer and keeping it down ever since, says Mr. Groppe.

“Since the beginning of this year, we think there's been a significant, steady increase in oil consumption.”

So back in January, when Goldman Sachs forecast that oil would keep falling to $25 a barrel, he told clients that his data-mining showed just the opposite. His current forecast: Prices will hit $90 to $95 later this year, until the Saudis restore the missing output.

Speculation could take crude even higher by another $10 or $20 a barrel, and volatility will remain a fixture of the market.

“It will run up to a high enough price level so the Saudis will feel they must act. And I think they will overreact again. I would expect oil to approach $100 later this year and correct back to $50 or $60 the middle part of next year. And then do it again.”

An Amazon Culture Withers as Food Dries Up, Elizabeth Rosenthal, July 24 2009.

XINGU NATIONAL PARK, Brazil — As the naked, painted young men of the Kamayurá tribe prepare for the ritualized war games of a festival, they end their haunting fireside chant with a blowing sound — “whoosh, whoosh” — a symbolic attempt to eliminate the scent of fish so they will not be detected by enemies. For centuries, fish from jungle lakes and rivers have been a staple of the Kamayurá diet, the tribe’s primary source of protein.

But fish smells are not a problem for the warriors anymore. Deforestation and, some scientists contend, global climate change are making the Amazon region drier and hotter, decimating fish stocks in this area and imperiling the Kamayurá’s very existence. Like other small indigenous cultures around the world with little money or capacity to move, they are struggling to adapt to the changes.

“Us old monkeys can take the hunger, but the little ones suffer — they’re always asking for fish,” said Kotok, the tribe’s chief, who stood in front of a hut containing the tribe’s sacred flutes on a recent evening. He wore a white T-shirt over the tribe’s traditional dress, which is basically nothing.

Chief Kotok, who like all of the Kamayurá people goes by only one name, said that men can now fish all night without a bite in streams where fish used to be abundant; they safely swim in lakes previously teeming with piranhas.

Responsible for 3 wives, 24 children and hundreds of other tribe members, he said his once-idyllic existence had turned into a kind of bad dream.

“I’m stressed and anxious — this has all changed so quickly, and life has become very hard,” he said in Portuguese, speaking through an interpreter. “As a chief, I have to have vision and look down the road, but I don’t know what will happen to my children and grandchildren.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that up to 30 percent of animals and plants face an increased risk of extinction if global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in coming decades. But anthropologists also fear a wave of cultural extinction for dozens of small indigenous groups — the loss of their traditions, their arts, their languages.

“In some places, people will have to move to preserve their culture,” said Gonzalo Oviedo, a senior adviser on social policy at the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Gland, Switzerland. “But some of those that are small and marginal will assimilate and disappear.”

To make do without fish, Kamayurá children are eating ants on their traditional spongy flatbread, made from tropical cassava flour. “There aren’t as many around because the kids have eaten them,” Chief Kotok said of the ants. Sometimes members of the tribe kill monkeys for their meat, but, the chief said, “You have to eat 30 monkeys to fill your stomach.”

Living deep in the forest with no transportation and little money, he noted, “We don’t have a way to go to the grocery store for rice and beans to supplement what is missing.”

Tacuma, the tribe’s wizened senior shaman, said that the only threat he could remember rivaling climate change was a measles virus that arrived deep in the Amazon in 1954, killing more than 90 percent of the Kamayurá.

Cultures threatened by climate change span the globe. They include rainforest residents like the Kamayurá who face dwindling food supplies; remote Arctic communities where the only roads were frozen rivers that are now flowing most of the year; and residents of low-lying islands whose land is threatened by rising seas.

Many indigenous people depend intimately on the cycles of nature and have had to adapt to climate variations — a season of drought, for example, or a hurricane that kills animals.

But worldwide, the change is large, rapid and inexorable, heading in only one direction: warmer. Eskimo settlements like Kivalina and Shishmaref in Alaska are “literally being washed away,” said Thomas Thornton, an anthropologist who studies the region, because the sea ice that long protected their shores is melting and the seas around are rising. Without that hard ice, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to hunt for seals, a mainstay of the traditional diet.

Some Eskimo groups are suing polluters and developed nations, demanding compensation and help with adapting.

“As they see it, they didn’t cause the problem, and their lifestyle is being threatened by pollution from industrial nations,” said Dr. Thornton, who is a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. “The message is that this is about people, not just about polar bears and wildlife.”

At climate negotiations in December in Poznan, Poland, the United Nations created an “adaptation fund” through which rich nations could in theory help poor nations adjust to climate change. But some of the money was expected to come from voluntary contributions, and there have been none so far, said Yvo De Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “It would help if rich countries could make financial commitments,” he said.

Throughout history, the traditional final response for indigenous cultures threatened by untenable climate conditions or political strife was to move. But today, moving is often impossible. Land surrounding tribes is now usually occupied by an expanding global population, and once-nomadic groups have often settled down, building homes and schools and even declaring statehood.

The Kamayurá live in the middle of Xingu National Park, a vast territory that was once deep in the Amazon but is now surrounded by farms and ranches.

About 5,000 square miles of Amazon forest are being cut down annually in recent years, according to the Brazilian government. And with far less foliage, there is less moisture in the regional water cycle, lending unpredictability to seasonal rains and leaving the climate drier and hotter.

That has upended the cycles of nature that long regulated Kamayurá life. They wake with the sun and have no set meals, eating whenever they are hungry.

Fish stocks began to dwindle in the 1990s and “have just collapsed” since 2006, said Chief Kotok, who is considering the possibility of fish farming, in which fish would be fed in a penned area of a lake. With hotter temperatures as well as less rain and humidity in the region, water levels in rivers are extremely low. Fish cannot get to their spawning grounds.

Last year, for the first time, the beach on the lake that abuts the village was not covered by water in the rainy season, rendering useless the tribe’s method of catching turtles by putting food in holes that would fill up, luring the animals.

The tribe’s agriculture has suffered, too. For centuries, the Kamayurá planted their summer crops when a certain star appeared on the horizon. “When it appeared, everyone celebrated because it was the sign to start planting cassava since the rain and wind would come,” Chief Kotok recalled. But starting seven or eight seasons ago, the star’s appearance was no longer followed by rain, an ominous divergence, forcing the tribe to adjust its schedule.

It has been an ever-shifting game of trial and error since. Last year, families had to plant their cassava four times — it died in September, October and November because there was not enough moisture in the ground. It was not until December that the planting took. The corn also failed, said Mapulu, the chief’s sister. “It sprouted and withered away,” she said.

A specialist in medicinal plants, Ms. Mapulu said that a root she used to treat diarrhea and other ailments had become nearly impossible to find because the forest flora had changed. The grass they use to bound together the essential beams of their huts has also become difficult to find.

But perhaps the Kamayurá’s greatest fear are the new summer forest fires. Once too moist to ignite, the forest here is now flammable because of the drier weather. In 2007, Xingu National Park burned for the first time, and thousands of acres were destroyed.

“The whole Xingu was burning — it stung our lungs and our eyes,” Chief Kotok said. “We had nowhere to escape. We suffered along with the animals.”

Henry Louis Gates: Déjà Vu All Over Again, Stanley Fish, July 24 2009.

I’m Skip Gates’s friend, too. That’s probably the only thing I share with President Obama, so when he ended his press conference last Wednesday by answering a question about Gates’s arrest after he was seen trying to get into his own house, my ears perked up.

As the story unfolded in the press and on the Internet, I flashed back 20 years or so to the time when Gates arrived in Durham, N.C., to take up the position I had offered him in my capacity as chairman of the English department of Duke University. One of the first things Gates did was buy the grandest house in town (owned previously by a movie director) and renovate it. During the renovation workers would often take Gates for a servant and ask to be pointed to the house’s owner. The drivers of delivery trucks made the same mistake.

The message was unmistakable: What was a black man doing living in a place like this?

At the university (which in a past not distant at all did not admit African-Americans ), Gates’s reception was in some ways no different. Doubts were expressed in letters written by senior professors about his scholarly credentials, which were vastly superior to those of his detractors. (He was already a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, the so called “genius award.”) There were wild speculations (again in print) about his salary, which in fact was quite respectable but not inordinate; when a list of the highest-paid members of the Duke faculty was published, he was nowhere on it.

The unkindest cut of all was delivered by some members of the black faculty who had made their peace with Duke traditions and did not want an over-visible newcomer and upstart to trouble waters that had long been still. (The great historian John Hope Franklin was an exception.) When an offer came from Harvard, there wasn’t much I could do. Gates accepted it, and when he left he was pursued by false reports about his tenure at what he had come to call “the plantation.” (I became aware of his feelings when he and I and his father watched the N.C.A.A. championship game between Duke and U.N.L.V. at my house; they were rooting for U.N.L.V.)

Now, in 2009, it’s a version of the same story. Gates is once again regarded with suspicion because, as the cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson put it in an interview, he has committed the crime of being H.W.B., Housed While Black.

He isn’t the only one thought to be guilty of that crime. TV commentators, laboring to explain the unusual candor and vigor of Obama’s initial comments on the Gates incident, speculated that he had probably been the victim of racial profiling himself. Speculation was unnecessary, for they didn’t have to look any further than the story they were reporting in another segment, the story of the “birthers” — the “wing-nuts,” in Chris Matthews’s phrase — who insist that Obama was born in Kenya and cite as “proof” his failure to come up with an authenticated birth certificate. For several nights running, Matthews displayed a copy of the birth certificate and asked, What do you guys want? How can you keep saying these things in the face of all evidence?

He missed the point. No evidence would be sufficient, just as no evidence would have convinced some of my Duke colleagues that Gates was anything but a charlatan and a fraud. It isn’t the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate that’s the problem for the birthers. The problem is again the legitimacy of a black man living in a big house, especially when it’s the White House. Just as some in Durham and Cambridge couldn’t believe that Gates belonged in the neighborhood, so does a vocal minority find it hard to believe that an African-American could possibly be the real president of the United States.

Gates and Obama are not only friends; they are in the same position, suspected of occupying a majestic residence under false pretenses. And Obama is a double offender. Not only is he guilty of being Housed While Black; he is the first in American history guilty of being P.W.B., President While Black.

Mercury and Power Plants, Editorial, July 24 2009.

When it comes to the environment, Washington’s attention is fixed these days on the Congressional battle over legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions. But there are other pollutants — so-called ground level pollutants, as opposed to those that rise into the atmosphere — that also need urgent attention, starting with toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

For various reasons — mainly heavy industry lobbying — these emissions have escaped federal regulation, whereas mercury emissions from other sources like incinerators and cement kilns have not. But the prospects for regulating power plant emissions have greatly improved since President Obama came to town.

Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, has begun a rule-making process that could require some power plants to reduce mercury emissions by as much as 90 percent. The Government Accountability Office has just produced a report showing that such reductions are not only technologically possible but affordable — refuting industry’s longstanding claim that mercury controls would be too expensive.

This is good news for the environment and for consumers. Mercury is a toxin that has been found in increasingly high concentrations in fish and poses human health risks, including neurological disorders in children. The nation’s coal-fired power plants produce 48 tons of it a year, a little more than 40 percent of the total mercury emitted in the United States.

The Clinton administration talked about regulating mercury but failed to do it. The Bush administration issued a weak rule in 2006 that was struck down in federal court as not only inadequate but invalid.

The gist of the court’s argument was that the Clean Air Act clearly stipulates that power companies must install state-of-the-art, on-site pollution equipment at each plant to control toxic substances including mercury. The Bush plan would have allowed power companies to escape such controls by purchasing emissions “credits” from power plants in other parts of the country. A trading system can make very good sense for greenhouse gas emissions, which disperse widely into the atmosphere. But mercury tends to deposit locally, and the Bush approach would have done nothing to reduce the pollution of local lakes and streams.

Fortunately, 18 states have laws or regulations requiring mercury reductions at coal-fired power plants. And in four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware — a number of plants have already deployed new control technologies. The G.A.O., which studied 25 boilers at 14 plants with advanced technologies, found that, in some cases, mercury emissions had been reduced by as much as 90 percent at an average cost of $3.6 million, or pennies a month on consumers’ electric bills.

That is a mere fraction of the cost of the equipment necessary to control other ground-level pollutants like sulfur dioxide, the acid rain gas. Ms. Jackson should issue a tough rule to control mercury, knowing that it is essential to protect Americans and that the power companies can certainly afford to do what is needed.

Calgary's Nikiforuk wins Rachel Carson book prize, John Barber, Friday July 24 2009.

Calgary writer Andrew Nikiforuk's angry indictment of Canadian energy policy, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, continues to win international plaudits, most recently the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award from the U.S. Society of Environmental Journalists.

Nikiforuk is the first Canadian to win the award, which is named for the author of Silent Spring, a seminal text of the modern environmental movement.

A regional bestseller, Tar Sands was also cited for special merit in the University of Rhode Island's Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment earlier this month, winning $5,000 (U.S.).

The Rachel Carson Award includes a $10,000 cash award.

Guilty of unconscious racism, Margaret Wente, Tuesday July 28 2009.

Can't the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal just buy everyone a beer?

White cops and black men can be an unhappy mix. Last week, all hell broke loose when a white cop intercepted a black man trying to break into a big house near Harvard University. Unfortunately for the cop, the man was Henry Louis Gates, a prominent African-American scholar, and he lives there. Tempers flared. Accusations of racial profiling filled the air. Prof. Gates was promptly arrested for disorderly conduct, i.e., mouthing off. It turned out the cop was a race-relations trainer. Barack Obama got involved, declared them both fine men and invited them to the White House for a beer.

If only things worked that way in Canada, Instead, we have Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal. It has ruled that an individual can be convicted for racism, even when it's totally unconscious.

In March, 2005, Constable Michael Shaw was on patrol in the Bridle Path, an ultra-affluent Toronto neighbourhood he knew well. He was showing a female trainee the ropes. Down the street, he spotted an unfamiliar letter-carrier delivering the mail. He asked him for ID, ran his name through the computer, thanked him for his trouble and verified with a regular postie that the new guy was a fill-in. The letter-carrier was not insulted, detained or charged with any crime.

Innocuous? Not to Ronald Phipps, the fill-in letter-carrier. He is black. The cop is white. Mr. Phipps decided he'd been a victim of racial profiling, and took his case to the Human Rights Tribunal. In a ruling last month, the adjudicator agreed.

The decision makes for scary reading, because it says someone can be found guilty just for making someone else feel bad. “There is no need to establish an intention or motivation to discriminate,” it says. “[T]he focus of the enquiry is on the effect of the respondent's action on the complainant.”

According to the tribunal, “unconscious” discrimination is no different from “conscious” discrimination. And the onus is on the accused to prove he's innocent. “Once a prima facie case of discrimination has been established, the burden shifts to the respondent to provide a rational explanation which is not discriminatory. ... The respondent must offer an explanation which is credible on all the evidence.”

Community policing is a big deal in Toronto these days. Its essence is getting to know the people in the neighbourhood. Mr. Phipps was a stranger there. But the adjudicator didn't buy Constable Shaw's rationale. A white cop had stopped an African-Canadian in an affluent neighbourhood, and “on a balance of probabilities,” that made the cop guilty of discrimination.

No one can deny that black men continue to be unfairly singled out because of skin colour. According to one survey, two-thirds of African-American men say they've experienced racial profiling at some time. The only surprise is that the figure isn't higher.

But condemning a police officer as a racist for exercising judgment on the job is not how to improve race relations. As Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has pointed out, the tribunal has set a standard nobody, however fair-minded, can meet. “You can have the best of intentions and be totally without bias, but none of that matters if someone wants to believe you are biased.”

By his own account, Mr. Phipps has suffered grievously since the incident in 2005. He told the Toronto Star he has trouble sleeping, has lost weight and is “teased mercilessly” by co-workers. He wants financial compensation (unspecified) for his pain and suffering, and, for good measure, has also brought a discrimination claim over the same incident against the police chief and the entire force. (It will be heard in September.)

According to human-rights commissioner Barbara Hall, the case sends a message that “systemic discrimination ... requires hard work to get rid of.” But it sends another message: The tribunal is an easy mark.

Can't it just buy everyone a beer? That's what Mr. Obama would do.

No comments: