Sunday 25 July 2010

testy? cranky? or is it mere rage?

Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.

Ballard Streetand the crazy old fuck is still smilin' :-)a very old and dear friend says to me after a silence of ... years, "I never dumped you. I just backed away from your rage." what can I respond to that? rage? I dunno ... hell! I can't remember back that far? what did I do? what did I say? I guess I could wish she had taken it up with me at the time but maybe she did? this Alzhiemer's thing is embraceable alright, in a Buddhist kinda' way, everything is ever and always new ... but it has a definite down side,

but respond or not - she is not the only one who turns away, God too!

made me cranky and I began giving up on capital 'G' god altogether, even invented a term 'de-morphing' for the recycling of it from 'God' to 'god' and thought about publishing this nonsense on Mondays instead of Sundays, didn't, discovered no good reason to use the word with a capital letter in public anyway unless you've got something to prove ... all quite silly, obviously just a nit-wit, easily captured and obsessed with the trivial, simple enough to be convinced by the argument of the Watchmaker, that turned out to be some kind of heresy, ok, I found other arguments, not a waste of time at all, highly entertaining, eventually turned to reasons instead of arguments, be that as it may - God has about gone silent on me, the voice is mostly gone, delivered over the shoulder, and not just the voice either, the vision is dimmer too, either sunset or I guess I've gone crazy!

(zen take him to ze headshrinker! which is what they do with Riff in West Side Story , what comes to mind is whoever it was that fell through the hole in the flag in Hair? Berger was it?)

but still (revealing vestigial issues), I'm irritated by certain ... facile criticisms? ... I read Christopher Hitchen's God Is Not Great recently, slagging the Bible seems like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I will post a few excerpts if I can get the scanner going again ... even my favourite, André Dahmer, seems to have stepped off the edge with his latest:
We don't need weapons, we can transform people with books.
What will change a man more? Pablo Neruda or a shot in the balls?
But maybe it's possible to castrate a man with a book ...
Read the Bible.

okokok, the kiddie diddling priests with a trail leading all the way down to the pope himself (he definitely does not get a capital 'P' anymore!), the refusal to endorse or distribute condoms, the priests who conspired in the Rwandan genocide, the obvious failure of the christian church to live up to any sort of christian ideal (nope, no capital on christian anymore either), nevermind 'live up to' they are not even trying (beyond a certain kind of biblical castration maybe :-) blah blah blah and moslems are no better blah blah blah ... but it sure enough adds up - is this what they made of their Jesus Christ? is this what they made of the Good Samaritan? wankers!

here's a theory for you: it has to be transcendence one way or the other, nothing else will do, some kind of physiological imperative in action maybe demanding it? who cares what? and if you transcend the flatland via Shakespeare ("love is not love which alters when it alteration finds") or fuzzy-logic concepts & paradigms and what-not makes no difference either, meditation, flagellation, or even drugs I suppose, you can get liminal somehow, God whispers something completely incomprehensible, not to mention at the very threshold of audibility, you get a flash or a flicker, probably just incipient retinal detachment but who can say? but it's yours and yours alone and the mavens of correctitude can hate you for it and life can go on, all good.

Peter CareyPeter CareyPeter CareyPeter CareyPeter CareyI did follow up on Peter Carey, the speech I mentioned closing the Sydney Writers' Festival, even his stumbling mumbling & choking is eloquent, and with a minimum of twisting & distortion you can make it fit in with transcendence, you do have to actually watch the video of course, and I looked at Wim Wenders' awful film Until the end of the world which Carey co-wrote, you can download it here if you want, Wenders is fascinated with computer transformations, not only in this film but Land of plenty as well, sorry Wim but that's just not transcendence :-)

Stephen Haffin Carey's speech he mentions Stephen Haff, who brings himself, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to Still Waters in a Storm, I think they need donations & I think they deserve 'em too :-)

of course I'm going to mention Dylan Thomas and quote his
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
the poem was written in 1951, a few years before his death, after Hiroshima & Nagasaki but before the days of JFK & hard rain, even so he was not quite looking extinction full in the face was he? it was still a metaphor wasn't it? it is still a metaphor isn't it?

I know a little girl she lives upstairs tryin' to make a livin' by puttin' on airs :-)so ... yeah ... rage. only one worse than me is probably, dunno ... James Inhofe? but what I do know is we missed a chance, does it really matter if it was through rage or forbearance? more like we didn't really want the chance, here, hum a few bars of this, Step It Up And Go,

I know a little girl she lives upstairs
Tryin' to make a livin' by puttin' on airs.

Front door shut, back door too,
Blinds pulled down, what'cha gonna do?

ArizonaI am working on it ok? digging and delving, big head breech birth & forceps, mother badly broken up, head-shrinker says I was blamed for existing, undt zat iss where ze neurotic incontinence comes from yah! but maybe he exaggerates, maybe it is just ADD & smoking? and a bruised arm which still aches 65 years later, on the other hand I met a Brasilian kid whose collar-bone, clavícula, was broken by forceps about the same way, no one noticed until it was too late, his arm permanently gimped, and he has turned out ok so far, better than ok, and on the symmetry side maybe naming hurt and anger as two sides of a coin (which is a useful insight) needs to name guilt as the reeded edge ... work in progress,

I can't say it any better than this, "we must love one another or die."

you ARE fucking crazy! amphetamines!? :-)it is very slow work, not speeded up by failing memory, not entirely stopped by it either though, slow but sort of steady, like writing on amphetamines :-)

and ... humm ... this Internet is maybe not the best place to do it I am wondering, you have to be all the time thinking about not saying too much, sure there is a kind of honesty about speaking in public, but there are two kinds (at least) of care and here, the negative kind tends to take over ...

Fumo sim.Divine Wrath Aheadand anyway you know, so what? rage you say? is it being acted out then? is that it? does it figure somewhere on the scale between Hiroshima, Auschwitz, & Rwanda? is it a transmogrification to Viking Berserker fury? to Werewolf? is murder being committed? is it the turning of of the humble mathematician in Straw Dogs? rape? assault? property damage? are windows being smashed? doors slammed? are feelings being hurt? is that it? are feelings being hurt in an ideological mangle where hurt feelings come from being intentionally misunderstood? or the 'intention' was imagined maybe? from being misunderstood period? from not being listened to because you are stupid or inarticulate or crazy? is that it?

Honey Barbara crucifix in the swarm of bees.wrath is one of the Seven Deadly alright & figures in the Four Horsemen and all'a that, and with good reason I suppose ... oh my ... but maybe there is comfort in the notion that in all this secular flatness courage is still a virtue, at least according to Charles Taylor, the odd person finds a way through, not an acceptable or comfortable way necessarily (thinking of Ivan Illich) but a way nonetheless, a Tao let's say ... look at this girl, Honey Barbara/Helen Jones, one boob covered in bees, standing like a cross, how crazy is that? The Vision Splendid, but crazy doesn't figgure into it really except maybe for the aforementioned mavens, the struggle takes place somewhere else entirely, could be somewhere like Bob's "hollow place where martyrs weep and angels play with sin."

MordredMordredwhatever was slouching towards Bethlehem in Yeats' poem has gotten there already and been born, has grown up and taken control of most of the reins and levers and switches of political power, Kurt Vonnegut's PPs, his Pathological Personalities are firmly in the driver's seat,

so, taking flac on rage? well, could I please have a little Yin with that Yang? to stir into my Wuji? ... it didn't have to be this way did it? there were insights, warnings and warnings and warnings starting well before I was born (Yeats' The Second Coming was published in 1920), so what if much later on science checked in to confirm? science is cold comfort eh? and ... yeah, it seems natural to be ... angry?

its OK, calm down, Obama's gonna' save us :-)tell you what - at this point what utterly confuses me (all to fuck!) is that so few are raging?

Pierre Trudeau once dismissed tribalism as 'mere' and Yeats did the same with anarchy in this poem, I was younger then and took these judgements up too easily, it was a mistake, Trudeau was subtly wrong about tribalism and Yeats is subtly wrong about anarchy ... comes out in the details.

We cold people have heated up this planet.the distinguished Senators of the k-k-Canadian Senate, the silly dinosaurs, have let Bill C-311 fall through a crack so they could get away on vacation, doh?!

I posted a list of their names & email addresses here, send 'em a note and tell 'em they're FIRED!

a note on procedure that I was not aware of, best to send individual emails rather than a single one with a list of copies, apparently the latter method is open to spam detection, didn't know that ...


the billboard is by an outfit called Corporate Ethics International who have picked up Ed Stelmach's gauntlet with a campaign to Rethink Alberta, and from the looks of the pooh-poohs here and there in the press maybe they are having an effect, here's their video: Rethink Alberta ... this is interesting, the Financial Post published a factual descriptive piece (U.S. environmental group warns tourists to avoid Alberta) without value judgements, while the Gazette, the only English-language liberal paper left in Quebec published this whingeing shite,
but the knife cuts both ways, we have Andrew Nikiforuk indulging (it seems to me) his rage and not informing the policy/economic dabate much if at all, so shrill ... and like Naomi Klein he 'praises with faint damning' which is a veritable vaccine against meaningful thought on the issue, he's now got himself a position at Tyee I understand, another gaggle of incompetent west-coast leftards à la NORML Marijuana Lobby, don't get me wrong, I love hippies, love to see 'em on the street, strung out and murmuring "help the poor" as they hold out a cup, but as I have quoted here once or twice before, "I seen pretty people disappear like smoke" ...

Robert SemrauRobert SemrauRobert SemrauRobert SemrauRobert SemrauLouis-Vincent d'AuteuilMunir SheikhMunir SheikhMunir Sheikh
a-and finally, I am pleased to discover some Canadian men with balls, compassion, integrity, and a modicum of fairness: Captain Robert Semrau, Munir A. Sheikh, and (maybe even) Judge Lieutenant-Colonel Louis-Vincent d'Auteuil, here's Munir's letter ... oops! it has since been explained to me that the good judge may have had little to do with it - it was a panel of five who determined the verdict, oh well, maybe d'Auteuil set the tone at least.

Shirley SherrodShirley SherrodCharles SherrodCharles SherrodRoger SpoonerEloise Spoonerokokok, one more, here's a bit of a bio of Shirley Sherrod and here she is speaking truth to the NAACP, she says, "I might say a little bit more to the young people, it's good to have you all here," and she says a lot more too,

she may say "you know" too much and she may not have the big picture on 100% mortgages, she may even brag a bit on herself, she may even be one of those bourgeois mavens of correctitude I was talking about, but in this story there is a change for the better and a willingness to change more still and to tell it like you flat-out see it, and that's good, even through the "blood-dimmed tide" I can see that much,

be well.

passage de la décroissancepassage de la décroissancepassage de la décroissance
(love those spirals!)

The Situation in Zinigistan:
Malvados Xoxotas
You only think about shooting? Why not fuck some cunts.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
I didn't say shoot and fuck cunts at the same time, you monster!

1. It’s all about love, art and schools of fish, Stephen Haff, April 21 2010.
2-1. U.S. environmental group warns tourists to avoid Alberta, John Shmuel, July 14 2010.
2-2. Oil patch reeling from unfair attacks, L. Ian MacDonald, July 18 2010.
2-3. Washington Post Paid Advertisement, Ed Stelmach, July 1 2010.
2-4. Canada: The Saudi Arabia of the North?, Andrew Nikiforuk, July 7 2010.
3. Media advisory: 2011 Census, Munir A. Sheikh, July 21 2010.
4. Shirley Sherrod shaped by father's slaying, Rhonda Cook & Marcus Garner, July 22 2010.

It’s all about love, art and schools of fish, Stephen Haff, April 21 2010.

Innovative educator Stephen Haff gave the keynote at today’s Arts/Business/Education Consortium Awards, and it proved to be inspiring, ruthlessly honest and self-critical and beyond all expectation. Here’s a transcript:

“We get to listen” by Stephen Haff

Thank you for including me.

This speech is based on my personal experiences. Whenever I assert a universal truth, please take it with a grain of salt.

You may have seen a flock of birds, maybe starlings, thousands of them, flying wing-to-wing in breathtaking formations, folding in on themselves, then flowering, blossoming out, like a rose opening layer after layer; they swirl like a tornado, then spread into a long skinny string and alight along a power line. The flock is a being, a being that makes decisions without a leader. How do they know when to go this way or that way, up or down, spin or fly straight, land or take off?

You may also have seen a school of fish, say mackerel, doing the same kind of thing, forming, disbanding, reforming, hundreds of silver flashes moving swiftly as one, finding food, avoiding predators; no one’s crashing into anyone, and no one’s giving orders. How can this be?

My understanding is that the individual starling or mackerel responds to the movements of neighbors left, right, above, below and in front; according to their movements, a basic algorithm or function in the brain of the starling or mackerel processes what to do, and it’s instantaneous–there’s no real thinking going on, apart from the algorithm doing its work. They’re just BEING–in relation to their neighbors.

Over the years of my career as a teacher, in classrooms and rehearsals and now in the meetings of Still Waters in a Storm, I have preached compassion. When schools generated oppressive lists of rules and standards, and mind-crushing rubrics for grading everything children do, I threw those charts and lists in the garbage and asked young people to follow only one rule: LOVE EACH OTHER. I believe that if we respond to our neighbors according to this rule, everything’s going to be all right.

But what does it mean to love each other?

I don’t know.

I do think that part of love is respect–not in the typical school sense of obedience to institutional authority, but in the sense of making room for our neighbors to be who they are.

I also believe that trust is a big part of love. If we’re to become who we really are, our best beautiful self, we need to trust each other, to know that we’re allowed to be us.

In my experience, the single most important part of love is listening. Real listening, with patience, requires compassion, builds trust, and demonstrates respect.

The group I started two years ago in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn is called Still Waters in a Storm, and we operate on this algorithm: everyone hears everyone. That’s it. We meet, no more than 12 people at a given meeting, ages 6 to 52, with most in their teens and 20s, we eat pizza, and we write, about anything, in any style or genre, any number of words. Then, we take turns reading our writing out loud and listening to each other. After each reading, the group responds, not by judging or grading or liking or disliking, but by saying what we noticed, what we felt, what we related to, and by asking questions that encourage fullness and precision of expression. These responses say that we are listening with care.

We are practicing love.

During a recent meeting, a 16-year old girl passed me a note on a folded piece of paper. It said, “Can I call you Dad?”

Models for this group include Alcoholics Anonymous, Quaker meetings, the one-room schoolhouse, our pre-agricultural tribes, the wolf pack, group therapy and all-night conversations with good friends.

In public school classrooms, where I worked for 10 years, I would often go bananas trying to make students “listen.” Now, having left the big system, the New York Department of Education, I understand that this was a struggle because the school system values control, and the silence of students is evidence of their being under control. So of course the kids rebelled. It’s cruel and inhuman to put a group of highly social primates in an enclosed space, elbow to elbow, and forbid their free communication. It hurts them.

The title of this speech, “We get to listen,” quotes a statement by the youngest member of the group, 6-year old Angie. “We GET to listen.” What in school was oppression here is privilege. “We GET to listen.” We’re LUCKY.

Why lucky? Because if we think of ourselves as the Stone-Age beings we are when we’re born–we haven’t evolved since the Stone Age; same body, same brain–we’re wired for interdependent life in a village or extended tribe, and we naturally want and NEED to know what’s going on inside those around us, so that we can all be synchronized.

We need to need each other.

Children want to know what grown-ups are up to, and grown-ups have a real responsibility to guide and take care of the youngins. This is what we are, even now, despite the many separations that have unraveled our tribes.

It’s unnatural to segregate children by age, robbing them of the full range of perspectives in their village, as unnatural as it is to put away our elders in “homes.”

No wonder depression and other mental illnesses are rising and swallowing us like a dark tide. We’re separated from each other and from our own true nature.

Schools, offices, hospitals, nursing homes, iPods and television all keep us from being together and listening to each other. Even if we don’t know this consciously, our brain stem knows, our primal intuition knows, and we suffer.

Art, be it painting, music, writing, acting, photography, sculpture, dance or architecture, makes room for us to know each other. Our imaginations meet. And no matter how much personal pain we carry inside us for reference, compassion always requires an effort of imagination. Art trains us in imagining each other’s inner life. We get to listen, we get to see, we get to feel.

What does this have to do with learning?

In my personal experience, deep learning happens in the context of loving relationships.

My grandfather, who passed away at age 95 eight years ago, told me a story about love and learning. At age 10, in 1917, he had won a bamboo fishing pole in a small-town raffle, way up in the mountains of northern Idaho. His father told him he would need to wrap the pole in thread, an intricate procedure. His father also told him that he, my great-grandfather, needed to rewrap his own pole, too. They sat side-by-side on the porch and wound thread around bamboo. My grandfather added, at the end of the story, that, looking back, he suspected that his father didn’t really need to rewrap his own fishing pole.

Love isn’t something that happens to you, like falling asleep in a hammock on a lazy summer afternoon. It’s day labor. Every morning, before you’re ready, you wake up in the dark and you’re an immigrant, lining up for a day’s work, with no guarantee that the job will be there for you when the sun comes up.

A recent study of monkeys revealed that a given monkey will exhibit loyalty not necessarily to blood relatives but to those monkeys who reliably groom him or her. Reciprocal altruism is a powerful bond, and I think it’s the key to sustainable learning.

I say “sustainable” because I’ve put an awful lot of time and energy into curricula and lesson plans and the latest magical program with its mandatory buzz words–“accountable talk,” “text rich environment,” “literacy across the curriculum,” “activating schema,” “the new continuum,” and on and on–the third magical program in one year that will fix everything. But one condition abides: almost none of the students want to be in school, and those who do are often seeking refuge from unhealthy homes. It’s so familiar that it feels normal: kids. hate. school.

For years I made a spectacular effort in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Bushwick, at the infamous Bushwick High School, a grand old six-storey red brick tower that looks like a prison or an antiquated mental hospital, where students would set hallway bulletin boards on fire and once threw a dog out of a 5th floor window. On the way down, the dog struck a flag pole that was sticking out the side of the building, broke his back, then fell to his gut-spilling death on the sidewalk below.

In addition to my classroom teaching, I ran a collective called Real People Theater, or RPT, a group of neighborhood youth who rewrote Shakespeare, Milton and other classics, remixing the original text with Spanish and Street. The success, by every measure, was astonishing. Kids who otherwise refused to read or write were choosing to master Shakespeare. We received a lot of acclaim in the press and among renowned theater artists. The VILLAGE VOICE called us “Nothing less than a revolution,” and THE BROOKLYN RAIL said we were “One of the most respected theater collectives in New York City.” Graciela Daniele, a Broadway director and choreographer, thanked us for “bringing theater back to life.” We were even adopted as the official apprentice company of the Wooster Group. We traveled the world. Kids who had been barely literate attended elite colleges.

Then, all of us had to live the next day.

And the day after that.

Now, taking inventory of that group today, a few have started families, work decent jobs, or are continuing their formal education. One young woman has lost her mind, two young men are drug dealers, one is a coke addict who has beaten at least one woman after sex, and another young man is locked up for a couple of years for riding around with a loaded gun.

Ours was a story that Hollywood loves–the ghetto kids rise up, overcome, and are happy. Except, well, no.

I had several successive major breakdowns and fell into suicidal depression when the youngins I had given my heart to turned on me, tried to take over and call the shots. Having lived powerless their whole lives, they were drunk on all the praise and their own surging confidence, and acted according to the ethos of the street, which told them to gun for the big dog, which was me.

You could also just say that I had unrealistic expectations.

Following about three years of recuperation in my native Canada, including lots of cognitive therapy training and Taoist meditation, I needed to go back to Brooklyn and make things right somehow.

After several teaching jobs in Bronx and Brooklyn schools, I finally left the system, burning bridges as I just walked away, admitting that my being did not belong there, as an agent of control.

I started something then that is growing now, a group designed to accommodate comings and goings, to be patient, a voluntary one-room schoolhouse, a neighborhood within the neighborhood, where people listen to each other. It’s simple, deep and therapeutic, for all of us. The students say that this is what gets them through the week. But it’s not easy.

Power struggles rise up, usually as challenges to my authority–natural authority, based on experience and expertise, but authority nonetheless–challenges from young men who argue that they should be allowed to do whatever they want. They call this “freedom,” not considering how their unlimited freedom might affect the freedom of people around them, and that total license, like an asteroid heedless of what lies in its path, will collide with the planet of someone else’s desires or needs.

For humans who’ve been trained away from reciprocal love, there needs to be a retraining before they can fly like starlings or swim like mackerel, simultaneously free and together, making decisions collectively.

I guess that many kids are sick of being bossed around by teachers and parents, and they’re desperate to do as they wish. But that’s not freedom–although television advertising tells them that doing as they please is their birthright and even their patriotic duty–it’s not freedom any more than being “responsible” means doing your homework. Perhaps this is counter-intuitive, but I believe that real freedom is achieved by taking real responsibility for each other, that real freedom is a result of interdependence, of relationships, of love. I’ve kicked out three young men from the group already, for being narcissistic and having no conscience.

I used to take my 9th graders down the street every week to work with 1st graders; they would read and write stories together, and answer each other’s questions. Grumpy teenagers who wanted to be home in bed and balked at mentoring small children were visibly happy when they saw the little ones waving at them and smiling, as they, the teenagers, awkwardly entered a room whose furniture they had long outgrown. The little ones helped the big ones belong somewhere, be needed by a real person, set them free from a life of abstraction, free from segregation, free from a donkey’s burden of textbooks, free from competition with their peers, free from measurement, free from lovelessness.

Reminding myself daily to carry no agenda but love, I see my job as defending the sanctity of listening, against laziness and carelessness and a whole buncha things that fall under the heading of “B.S.,” and asking myself and my students to keep asking ourselves what it means to love each other. If we can keep the asking alive, petal after petal of the rose of our relationship opens. By caring for this flower, we make beauty, we make living art.

I believe that art is a human effort to re-enter paradise, to recreate universal understanding and universal interdependence. Artists are trying to get us back to the Garden, where the grace of being was installed in the gallery of nature, and everything was everything.

Maybe if we can see our relationships themselves as art, we might begin to treat each other with gratitude and reverence, begin to heal from the cutting of the umbilical cord that made us individuals and left us longing to be lost again in someone else, and begin to be not as lonely, after all.

The last words I leave to a student from my 9th grade English class at Bushwick High School eight years ago. She belonged to a gang called the Crips, so she wore all blue clothing and had her name tattooed on her neck in blue ink.

I had recently returned from visiting my 95-year old grandfather as he was dying in a San Francisco hospital, and I guess my grief was apparent.

The girl handed me a piece of paper folded in four, as it is here and now. All I want to say before reading it to you is, THIS is what I’m talking about:

“Dear Mr. Haff,

Please try to be happy because you are my happiness in school. Even though you always smiling I can see. I know what is like to lose someone. One day they there, then they not. My aunt comes back at night to bother me but it’s okay.

Love, Lydia
p.s. Eat more fruits!”

Thank you.

FP Marketing: U.S. environmental group warns tourists to avoid Alberta, John Shmuel, July 14 2010.

Planning a trip to see pristine wildlife in Alberta this summer? Well, you should probably reconsider, according to an American environmental group.

San Francisco-based Corporate Ethics International launched a new ad campaign Wednesday, urging tourists to avoid the province due to the destructive oil sands.

The ad campaign features a minute-and-a-half long video that begins by showing images of Alberta’s landscapes and wildlife. It then becomes more sinister when the focus switches to scenes of oil-covered birds, massive tailing ponds and barren fields. The video concludes with the words, “Think of visiting Alberta? Think again.”

Corporate Ethics also has billboards going up as part of the campaign. They’ll be featured in American cities that produce a large number of tourists to Canada, including Seattle, Portland, Denver and Minneapolis. In two weeks, the campaign will expand to the U.K.

“There is another oil disaster going on in Alberta every day and as more Americans become aware of it we believe they’ll be less willing to support the province with their tourist dollars,” said Michael Marx, executive director of Corporate Ethics, in a statement.

The campaign will also have an aggressive online presence. Corporate Ethics has paid for Google sponsored links, and will feature ads prominently on travel websites. The online component of the campaign compares Alberta’s oil sands to BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, with the tagline: “Alberta: the Other Oil Disaster.”

This isn’t the first time Corporate Ethics has launched a large scale attack on the oil sands. Last year, the group was behind an ad calling for an Oscar to be given to director James Cameron for his movie, Avatar. The ad compared the plundering of the fictional planet in the film, Pandora, to the exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands.

Oil patch reeling from unfair attacks, L. Ian MacDonald, July 18 2010.

Alberta is being slagged by anti-oilsands ads and criticized by eastern premiers and politicians

A San Francisco public advocacy group called Corporate Ethics International launched a video and billboard campaign to "rethink" visiting Alberta and Canada because of the "tarsands." Alberta and the oil industry have spent a decade rebranding the resource as the oilsands, precisely to avoid the suggestion of tar sticking on ducks.

"Think of visiting Canada?" the ad asks. "Think again."

Remember those ducks? Billboards are going up in several major markets with the headline: "Alberta: the Other Oil Disaster" over two images of birds soaked in oil. One bird image is captioned "Gulf Oil Spill Disaster," and the other is labelled "Alberta Tar Sands Oil Disaster."

So the oilsands, ominously labelled the tarsands, is compared to the worst environmental disaster in American history, which has for three months been spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, posing a major threat to the economy and environment of five states from Texas to Florida. And the companies extracting oil outof bitumeninFortMcMurray are compared to BP.

Everyone likes ducks. But more of them apparently die from flying into wind power turbines than from being soaked in tailing ponds in the oilsands.

Enough already, say Albertans. They are still shaking their heads at the performance of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Toronto Mayor David Miller, trashing the oilsands on the world stage at the Copenhagen conference on climate change last December.

Since then, Albertans have started pointing out that Ontario and Quebec are beneficiary provinces of equalization, paid for by four donor provinces led by Alberta. Cheap tuition at universities, private high schools half-funded by Quebec, $7-a-day child care and now, in-vitro fertilization treatments in public health care, are all partly supported by Alberta tax dollars. This is what happens when politicians play a short game for easy headlines, rather than the long game that serves everyone's interests.

And it wasn't a good day for Michael Ignatieff when the Liberal leader said he wouldn't permit trans-Pacific shipment of oil on tankers from the coast of northern British Columbia. The next time Iggy goes to China, they'll want to talk to him about that, because they'll buy as much product from the oilsands as Alberta is not shipping to the United States. In the oilpatch and pipeline industry, they're simply gob-smacked by the stupidity of Ignatieff being in favour of the oilsands on the one hand, but against building a northern pipeline and shipping it overseas on the other.

There's no doubt that there are significant environmental and reputational issues to be managed around the oilsands. But they also have to be kept in perspective. Canada produces two per cent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, and the oilsands account for about five per cent of that. The problem is the visuals of oilsands production -smokestacks, water use, tailing ponds, and those darn birds.

But the economic benefits of the oilsands are compelling. As a paper by University of Calgary's Canada School of Energy and Environment points out: "The Canadian Energy Research Institute estimates that the oilsands industry alone will add three per cent to Canada's GDP during the period to 2020, 5.4-million person years of employment, 44 per cent of which will be outside Alberta."

Three per cent of GDP in today's terms is $50 billion a year, and with normal growth would come in at $75 billion in a decade's time.

Underlying all this is the importance of Canada's energy trade with the United States. Oil and gas are now by far Canada's largest export to the U.S. As David Mc-Laughlin and Bob Page of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy pointed out in a piece for Policy Options magazine last month, oil and gas exports to the U.S. in 2008 totalled nearly $70 billion in 2008, compared with $36 billion in auto exports.

In other words, energy exports from Alberta are now nearly twice the level of auto exports from Ontario.

But the other significant bullet point is that nearly half the industrial and employments of the oilsands go to manufacturers and suppliers in provinces like Ontario and Quebec. SNC-Lavalin, for instance, is a huge supplier of engineering services to the oilpatch, in the order of $1 billion a year.

Alberta and the energy industry both need to do a better job of telling this story, both in terms of the messenger and the message. But bottom line, what's good for Alberta is good for Canada.

Washington Post Paid Advertisement, Ed Stelmach, July 1 2010.

A good neighbour lends you a cup of sugar. A great neighbour supplies you with 1.4 million barrels of oil per day.

Yesterday was Canada Day, and my province, along with the rest of our country, celebrated the 143rd anniversary of our nation. It serves as a reminder of our shared values and the bonds of friendship and co-operation we enjoy with the U.S. The Government of Alberta considers our friends to the south to be a strong ally, and sustaining this relationship is very important to Albertans.

It is with great interest that the province of Alberta has been following the development of the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. Though the pipeline could carry oil from various sources in Canada and the U.S., a lot of the debate during the permitting process seems to be centered specifically on the transportation of oil from Alberta’s oil sands.

The oil sands have been developed because there is an ongoing demand for oil. We can all agree that alternative energy sources are part of the supply equation that will power our future. But until those alternatives are developed commercially, and readily available at a price consumers can afford, we still require oil and gas to power our everyday lives.

Continuing to develop Alberta’s oil sands has many tangible benefits to the U.S. The obvious benefit is that it provides the U.S. with access to a secure and reliable supply of energy. In 2009, Alberta was the largest supplier of crude to the U.S. When considered in the context of other leading suppliers of crude, including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Angola and Algeria, the energy security benefits of oil from Alberta are clear.

Today’s economic and security realities make the U.S. the natural market for the majority of Alberta oil exports. Improved access via projects like the Keystone XL pipeline will benefit the U.S. economically and allow your country to continue to receive oil from a country whose environmental and social goals are similar to yours.

There are also economic benefits to Americans. As the Council on Foreign Relations has noted, oil purchased from Canada delivers far more economic benefits to the U.S. than oil purchased from overseas sources. As recently forecast by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, over the next five years, oil sands development will result in an additional 343,000 jobs in the U.S. and, over the next 15 years, an average annual increase in U.S. GDP of over $30 billion.

Allow me to clarify a few misconceptions around Alberta’s oil sands.

Alberta is — and continues to be — a safe, reliable and responsible energy producer. We stand virtually alone in North America with respect to the regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large industrial facilities. Only in Alberta will you find mandatory GHG reporting requirements, legislation requiring mandatory GHG reductions, and a price on carbon emissions. We reinvest the carbon revenue into clean energy research and technology development, which one day can be used all over the world, including the United States.

Technological developments continue to reduce the carbon-intensity of the oil sands, while “conventional”
crudes are getting more carbon intensive. In fact, between 1990 and 2008, the oil sands industry has reduced average per barrel GHG emissions from production by 39 per cent. In the final analysis, total greenhouse gas emissions from all Alberta’s oil sands projects account for less than one-tenth of one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The most recent and comprehensive studies on the subject of oil sands-related GHG emissions have found that average oil sands lifecycle carbon intensity is comparable to numerous other U.S. crude sources, both domestically produced and imported. The Cambridge Energy Research Associates’ report Growth in the Canadian Oil Sands: Finding the New Balance concluded that the United States consumes crude oils with a wide range of lifecycle GHG emissions, some with emissions higher than those from the oil sands. The report also found that when measuring GHG emissions in a wells-to-wheels or lifecycle basis, total GHG emissions from oil sands are comparable to other imported and domestic crude oil sources used in the United States and are, in fact, superior to some of these sources.

Alberta has accomplished a lot through innovation and technology, but we recognize that much work still lies ahead. We want to make responsible energy choices, just as you do. I believe my province and your country are on the same team when it comes to responsible development, energy security and jobs. Let’s work together to develop a North American energy solution that is realistic and secure, now and into the future.

Ed Stelmach
Premier of the Province of Alberta

Canada: The Saudi Arabia of the North?, Andrew Nikiforuk, July 7 2010.

Canada's road to becoming a petro-state is lined with lies, greed, and pollution.

Canada now suffers from an advanced state of “petromania,” a condition of rank moral dishonesty compounded by visions of oily grandeur.

When a nation becomes the number one supplier of petroleum to the United States as well as a gleeful addict of its associated trade revenue ($40 billion), it can’t do so without carbonizing its political and economic character.

According to Stanford political scientist Terry Karl any country that relies on “an unsustainable development trajectory” for oil routinely degenerates into a petro-state defined by cancerous networks of complicity between public sector and private oil companies. We’re now living that peril with the tar sands.

The resource curse, a topic verboten in the national media, probably explains why Canada’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice and the Alberta government, a northern Saudi kingdom, have become gleeful marketing representatives for the world’s riskiest energy project.

In recent speeches and newspaper advertisements that could have been written by the Canadian Association for Petroleum Producers, Canada’s oil bullies declare that the tar sands are safe, secure and responsible. The claims might even cause BP's Tony Hayward to blanche.

For starters the resource's dirty character mocks such open deceit. Chemical engineers typically describe bitumen as a “difficult” and “extreme” hydrocarbon trapped in sand and clay that requires brute force to extract. It is not oil floating on sand. Unlike conventional crude, bitumen is so damn impure and carbon-rich that an ugly processing system vomits up a mountain of five million tonnes of petroleum coke a year or more than the coal industry. Bitumen reminds us that the era of cheap oil is over and that business as usual is a mirage.

Next come the bogus safety claims. Approximately six billion barrels of toxic mining waste now sit in more than 20 dams covering 170 square kilometers of forest along the Athabasca River. That’s enough waste to fill a 10-by-10 metre canal stretching across the Canada-U.S. border from sea to sea. Just to separate the water from this sludge will cost between $20 to $40 billion dollars. Reclamation of the dams will cost billions more. A breach in one of these insecure impoundments by an earthquake, extreme weather, or engineering failure would have catastrophic Deepwater Horizon consequences downstream. Does this sound safe?

Security is another myth. How can a resource that costs between $60-80 a barrel to produce, or twenty times more than conventional oil, engender anything but insecurity in an economy? In addition it takes one barrel of energy to extract five barrels of bitumen while conventional oil enjoys profitable returns of one to 20. Civilizations that increasingly rely on complicated and capital draining projects that offer diminishing energy returns have invested in the petroleum equivalent of toxic derivatives. They will not remain civilized for long.

Perhaps the most preposterous lie is that Alberta and Canada magically belong to an exclusive club known as the “responsible energy producer.” In fact the whole saga of rapid tar sands development reeks of BP-style irresponsibility. The project has become a carbon-making nation within Canada and will soon foul the atmosphere with more ocean acidifying emissions than Canada’s transportation sector or industrial European nations with 10 million people. When a doctor raises concerns about documented increases in rare cancers downstream from the bitumen complex, Health Canada attacks him. When scientists raise concerns about rising levels of pollution on the Athabasca River (a slow spill of 5,000 barrels of bitumen every year), Alberta Environment calls them liars. And just how responsible is it for Alberta’s Environment Minister Rob Renner to tour the United States and belittle low carbon fuel standards?

By their very crude nature, petro-states invariably come to represent and defend the devil’s excrement because it fills government coffers with easy loot. In the process these same governments actively disenfranchise their citizens.

Until Canada recognizes and addresses the peril of the resource curse, we will lie to U.S. consumers and to ourselves. But by calling what is dirty “clean”; what is difficult “safe”; and what is extreme “secure,” we have already imperiled the future of our children.

Media advisory: 2011 Census, Munir A. Sheikh, July 21 2010.

OTTAWA — There has been considerable discussion in the media regarding the 2011 Census of Population.

There has also been commentary on the advice that Statistics Canada and I gave the government on this subject.

I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes.

I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act.

I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.

It can not.

Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.

I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity of serving him as the Chief Statistician of Canada, heading an agency that is a symbol of pride for our country.

To you, the men and women of Statistics Canada – thank you for giving me your full support and your dedication in serving Canadians. Without your contribution, day in and day out, in producing data of the highest quality, Canada would not have this institution that is our pride.

I also want to thank Canadians. We do remember, every single day, that it is because of you providing us with your information, we can function as a statistical agency. I am attaching an earlier message that I sent to Canadians in this regard.

In closing, I wish the best to my successor. I promise not to comment on how he/she should do the job. I do sincerely hope that my successor’s professionalism will help run this great organization while defending its reputation.

Munir A. Sheikh.

Message from the Chief Statistician of Canada [the 'earlier message'he refers to above]

At Statistics Canada, our goal is to provide the best and most reliable information possible on our society, our economy, our environment and other dimensions of our country.

We follow the highest technical standards in collecting information from you as individuals, businesses and institutions and in reporting it back to you. In addition, we work neutrally and objectively, without interference or influence from any groups or individuals. Finally, we place a very high value on the confidentiality of the information we collect and on the privacy of those who provide it. For these reasons, we are rated as the best statistical agency in the world.

Our data serve a very useful role in the functioning of our country, allowing Canadians to make informed decisions and governments of all levels to develop appropriate policies. We take this role very seriously indeed.

As always, our focus at Statistics Canada is on data quality—which includes key features such as relevance, accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, interpretability and coherence.

And, finally, I take this opportunity to thank all those who give us their data. It is because of them that we can produce statistics that benefit all Canadians.

Munir A. Sheikh
Chief Statistician of Canada

Shirley Sherrod shaped by father's slaying, Rhonda Cook & Marcus Garner, July 22 2010.

Shirley Sherrod’s 17th year probably did more to mold her personality and set her on a path that traveled through the dangerous, volatile world of race.

That year, 1965, her father was shot and killed by a white man in a dispute over cows, the family says.

That year, she was one of the first black students to integrate the high school in Baker County in rural southwest Georgia.

That year, she decided to become involved in the civil rights movement in that area of the state.

And in later years, like some of the farmers she helped when she worked for a non-profit, Sherrod and her husband lost a group farm to bankruptcy.

Now the former Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is fending off allegations that she is racist because of something she said during a speech before the NAACP last spring. It was a few sentences in a story she told about an epiphany that changed her way of thinking two dozen years ago; the problems of farmers were not defined as black vs. white but “poor vs. those who have.”

She was asked to resign her job with the Obama administration earlier this week when a conservative blogger posted some of her comments. Her boss, the secretary of agriculture, said he would look at the situation again once complaints were raised that those sentences needed to be considered in the context of her 43-minute talk to an NAACP meeting in Douglas, in far south Georgia. Wednesday afternoon, the White House said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod, but stopped short of saying whether she will get her job back.

“Things would be in her favor, even if she didn’t get her job back. She will always have a place in the movement for justice," said Jerry Pennick, head of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, based in East Point. Sherrod was the director of the Georgia field office for that organization before she was appointed to work with the USDA.

Pennick said Sherrod helped thousands of farmers, not only in Georgia, but around the country.

He said he talked to Sherrod after she was forced out.

“She was hurt in the beginning and surprised at the reaction to it," he said. "But she’s a strong person. We had no doubt that she would get through it and she would come out a better person. And it seems like that’s what going to happen.”

Grace Miller, Sherrod’s mother, said she remembers the night that most likely nudged her daughter into public service. Until then, Sherrod has said several times, she was determined to move out of the South and away from farming.

She changed her mind a few days after her father was killed, an event Sherrod often includes in her talks.

Sherrod’s father, Jose Miller, had a dispute with a man over cows that had come into his pasture. The neighbor insisted that three of Miller’s cows were his. Miller said he would call the “law” to settle the dispute. As Jose Miller was closing the gate, he was shot in the back, the family says.

Grace Miller said that the neighbor was not held accountable.

After the shooting, “Shirley would be off by herself,” Grace Miller said about her daughter, the oldest of four girls and a son.

“One night she was outside," Miller said. "The moon was shining. And it was going through her mind, what would she do? She decided she would stay [in south Georgia] and make a difference.”

She enrolled in Fort Valley State College. She later went on to receive a B.A. in sociology from Albany State University and an M.A. in community development from Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

“She was not able to go to jail like the rest of them [protesters],” Grace Miller said. “She was off at school. She really wanted to go [to jail].”

While she was at Fort Valley, one night about 40 white men burned a cross in her family’s yard, Miller said, and that added to her daughter's distress over race relations in her home county of Baker.

After graduation, Sherrod married a minister and immersed herself more in the civil rights movement, according to her son, Kenyatta.

“She was a little more strict on us because of the calls they got … from people saying they were going to snatch us [Kenyatta Sherrod and his older sister] because of what my father was doing.”

Sherrod also took a position working with farmers in trouble.

“I want to do all I can to help rural communities be what they can,” Sherrod said in the videotaped talk last March. “When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people and to black people only. ... But you know God will show you things and he’ll put things in your path that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people.”

Kenyatta Sherrod remembers when his family’s farm was in foreclosure in the early 1980s. It was huge -- 6,000 acres -- and several people lived on it, raising vegetables and livestock that they would share with each other. Though several people had a stake in it, the property was in the Sherrods' names.

“They lost the farm,” Kenyatta Sherrod said. “Life was different after that. We didn’t have a lot after that.”

He remembers his parents having trouble paying for utilities.

“Early on, sometime after we lost our farm, I caught her crying over the bills," he said. "We had a real low time after we lost the farm.”

Now Sherrod is a grandmother to four girls, her son's children.

“Her granddaughters are her world. They do nothing wrong,” Kenyatta Sherrod said of his children’s relationship with their grandmother.

When the controversy started over Sherrod’s comments, she was more concerned with the reaction the children -- ages 11, 7, 5 and 16 months -- would have.

“She was worried about what my daughters would think when they heard it,” Kenyatta Sherrod said.

The biggest concern for three of the girls was that they wanted to continue coming to Athens to visit their grandmother, who kept an apartment there for work.

“So I [explained] she’s deciding to come back, so well have fun with her here [in Albany],” Kenyatta Sherrod said.

No comments: