Sunday, August 26, 2012

Compliance - Why We Like to Follow the Leader

Film highlights the temptations and perils of blind obedience to authority

Indie film Compliance recalls notions that the past decade's worst events are explained by failures to oppose authority

by Glenn Greenwald
from, Sunday 26 August 2012

One can object to some of its particulars, but Frank Bruni has a quite interesting and incisive New York Times column today about a new independent film called Compliance, which explores the human desire to follow and obey authority.

Based on real-life events that took place in 2004 at a McDonalds in Kentucky, the film dramatizes a prank telephone call in which a man posing as a police officer manipulates a supervisor to abuse an employee with increasing amounts of cruelty and sadism, ultimately culminating in sexual assault – all by insisting that the abuse is necessary to aid an official police investigation into petty crimes.

That particular episode was but one of a series of similar and almost always-successful hoaxes over the course of at least 10 years, in which restaurant employees were manipulated into obeying warped directives from this same man, pretending on the telephone to be a police officer.

Bruni correctly notes the prime issue raised by all of this: "How much can people be talked into and how readily will they defer to an authority figure of sufficient craft and cunning?" That question was answered 50 years ago by the infamous experiment conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, in which an authority figure in a lab coat instructed participants to deliver what they were told were increasingly severe electric shocks to someone in another room whom they could hear but not see. Even as the screams became louder and more agonizing, two-thirds of the participants were induced fully to comply by delivering the increased electric shocks.

Most disturbingly, even as many expressed concerns and doubts, they continued to obey until the screams stopped – presumably due to death (subsequent experiments replicated those results). As the University of California's Gregorio Billikopf put it, the Milgram experiment "illustrates people's reluctance to confront those who abuse power", as they "obey either out of fear or out of a desire to appear co-operative – even when acting against their own better judgment and desires".

Bruni ties all of this into our current political culture, noting one significant factor driving this authoritarian behavior: that trusting authority is easier and more convenient than treating it with skepticism. He writes:
As Craig Zobel, the writer and director of 'Compliance,' said to me on the phone on Friday, 'We can't be on guard all the time. In order to have a pleasant life, you have to be able to trust that people are who they say they are. And if you questioned everything you heard, you'd never get anything done.' It's infinitely more efficient to follow a chosen leader and walk in lock step with a chosen tribe.
He suggests that this is the dynamic that drives unthinking partisan allegiance ("What's most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture [is] … how unconditionally so many partisans back their side's every edict, plaint and stratagem"), as well as numerous key political frauds, from Saddam's WMDs to Obama's fake birth certificate to Romney's failure to pay taxes for 10 years. People eagerly accept such evidence-free claims "because the alternative mean[s] confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt".

This authoritarian desire to pledge fealty to institutions and leaders is indeed the dynamic that resides at the core of so many of our political conflicts (the 2006 book by Canadian psychology professor Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, is a superb examination of how this manifests in the right-wing political context).

One of my first posts when I began writing about politics back in 2006 was an examination of the blindly loyal, cult-like veneration which the American Right had erected around George Bush; as Paul Krugman was one of the first to observe, that same disturbing thirst for leader-worship then drove followers of Barack Obama (Krugman in February, 2008: "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We've already had that from the Bush administration – remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don't want to go there again").

There is always much to say about this topic, as its centrality in shaping both individual and collective behavior is more or less universal. But I want to highlight two specific points about all of this which relate to several of the topics I wrote about in my first week here, as well as some of the resulting reaction to that:

First, there are multiple institutions that are intended to safeguard against this ease of inducing blind trust in and obedience to authorities. The most obvious one is journalism, which, at its best, serves as a check against political authority by subjecting its pronouncements to skepticism and scrutiny, and by acting in general as an adversarial force against it. But there are other institutions that can and should play a similar role.

One is academia, a realm where tenure is supposed to ensure that authority's most sacred orthodoxies are subjected to unrelenting, irreverent questioning. Another is the federal judiciary, whose officials are vested with life tenure so as to empower them, without regard to popular sentiment, to impose limits on the acts of political authorities and to protect the society's most scorned and marginalized.

But just observe how frequently these institutions side with power rather than against it, how eagerly they offer their professional and intellectual instruments to justify and glorify the acts of political authority rather than challenge or subvert them. They will occasionally quibble on the margins with official acts, but their energies are overwhelmingly devoted to endorsing the legitimacy of institutional authority and, correspondingly, scorning those who have been marginalized or targeted by it.

Their collective instinct on any issue is to rush to align themselves with the sentiment prevailing in elite power circles. Most denizens in these realms would be hard-pressed to identify any instances in which they embraced causes or people deeply unpopular within those circles. Indeed, they judge their own rightness – they derive vindication – by how often they find themselves on the side of elite institutions and how closely aligned they are with the orthodoxies that prevail within them, rather than by how often they challenge or oppose them.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of this authority-serving behavior from the very institutions designed to oppose authority. As Zobel, the writer and director of Compliance, notes, most people are too busy with their lives to find the time or energy to scrutinize prevailing orthodoxies and the authorities propagating them. When the institutions that are in a position to provide those checks fail to do that, those orthodoxies and authorities thrive without opposition or challenge, no matter how false and corrupted they may be.

As much as anything else, this is the institutional failure that explains the debacles of the last decade. There is virtually no counter-weight to the human desire to follow and obey authority because the institutions designed to provide that counter-weight – media outlets, academia, courts – do the opposite: they are the most faithful servants of those centers of authority.

Second, it is very easy to get people to see oppression and tyranny in faraway places, but very difficult to get them to see it in their own lives ("How dare you compare my country to Tyranny X; we're free and they aren't"). In part that is explained by the way in which desire shapes perception. One naturally wants to believe that oppression is only something that happens elsewhere because one then feels good about one's own situation ("I'm free, unlike those poor people in those other places"). Thinking that way also relieves one of the obligation to act: one who believes they are free of oppression will feel no pressure to take a difficult or risky stand against it.

But the more significant factor is that one can easily remain free of even the most intense political oppression simply by placing one's faith and trust in institutions of authority. People who get themselves to be satisfied with the behavior of their institutions of power, or who at least largely acquiesce to the legitimacy of prevailing authority, are almost never subjected to any oppression, even in the worst of tyrannies.

Why would they be? Oppression is designed to compel obedience and submission to authority. Those who voluntarily put themselves in that state – by believing that their institutions of authority are just and good and should be followed rather than subverted – render oppression redundant, unnecessary.

Of course people who think and behave this way encounter no oppression. That's their reward for good, submissive behavior. As Rosa Luxemburg put this: "Those who do not move, do not notice their chains." They are left alone by institutions of power because they comport with the desired behavior of complacency and obedience without further compulsion.

But the fact that good, obedient citizens do not themselves perceive oppression does not mean that oppression does not exist. Whether a society is free is determined not by the treatment of its complacent, acquiescent citizens – such people are always unmolested by authority – but rather by the treatment of its dissidents and its marginalized minorities.

In the US, those are the people who are detained at airports and have their laptops and notebooks seized with no warrants because of the films they make or the political activism they engage in; or who are subjected to mass, invasive state surveillance despite no evidence of wrongdoing; or who are prosecuted and imprisoned for decadesor even executed without due process – for expressing political and religious views deemed dangerous by the government.

People who resist the natural human tendency to follow, venerate and obey prevailing authority typically have a much different view about how oppressive a society is than those who submit to those impulses. The most valuable experiences for determining how free a society is are the experiences of society's most threatening dissidents, not its content and compliant citizens. It was those who marched against Mubarak who were detained, beaten, tortured and killed, not those who acquiesced to or supported the regime. That is the universal pattern of authoritarian oppression.

The temptation to submit to authority examined by Compliance bolsters an authoritarian culture by transforming its leading institutions into servants of power rather than checks on it. But worse, it conceals the presence of oppression by ensuring that most citizens, choosing to follow, trust and obey authority, do not personally experience oppression and thus do not believe – refuse to believe – that it really exists.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Howard Zinn - There are No "Good Wars"

howard zinn - historian, author, social activist - would have been 90 years old today. the following video is from democracy now! and features howard zinn in one of his last speeches on november 11, 2009 given at boston university. howard died on january 27, 2010 in santa monica, california. he was 87.

Three Holy Wars

HOWARD ZINN: Three Holy Wars. I only started recently talking about this. You know, very often, if you’re a speaker, there’s a topic you’ve been speaking on for twenty or thirty years, you know. And there are topics that I’ve been speaking on for twenty or thirty years, but it’s only in the past year that I decided I would speak on “Three Holy Wars.” And when I tell people the title, very often they’re a little puzzled, because they think I’m going to speak about religious wars. No. I’m speaking about three wars in American history that are sacrosanct, three wars that are untouchable, three wars that are uncriticizable.

And I think you’ll probably agree with me. I’m not always sure that people will agree with me, but I think you will agree with me that nobody criticizes the Revolutionary War. Right? Especially here in Boston. No, not at all. The Revolutionary War is holy. The war against England, here in Boston, wow! Paul Revere and Lexington and Concord and Sam Adams and all the Adamses. And all of that. No, the Revolutionary War, the great war, win independence from England, heroic battles, Bunker Hill. Oh, yeah, brings tears to my eyes. No, not only in Boston, but elsewhere. The Revolutionary War, you don’t criticize that. If you did, you’d be a Tory; they’d deport you to Canada. Which might be good.

And then there’s the Civil War. Notice the quiet? You don’t criticize the Civil War. And it’s understandable. Why would you criticize the Civil War? Slavery? Freedom? No. Civil War, slaves are freed. Abraham Lincoln! You can’t criticize the Civil War. It’s a good war, a just war. Emancipation.

And then there’s World War II. Again, “the Good War,” except if you read Studs Terkel’s oral history called “The Good War”, in which he interviews all sorts of people who participated in World War II — military, civilians. When he adopted the title of this oral history, “The Good War”, his wife suggested, after reading the book — reading the manuscript, reading the interviews — suggested he put quotation marks around “The Good War”, suggesting that, well, maybe there’s a little doubt about how good that war is. But very few people have doubt about “the Good War.” You turn on the History Channel, what is it all about? “The Good War.” World War II. Heroism. Iwo Jima. D-Day. The Greatest Generation. No, World War II is — it’s the best, the best of wars, you know. I was in it.

And now I’m going to subject all three of those “good wars” to a kind of examination, which is intended — yeah, I’ll tell you frankly what my intention is — to make us reexamine the idea of a good war, to make us reexamine the idea that there’s any such thing as a good war. Even the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, no. It’s not easy to do, because, as I said, these three wars are holy. And all three wars accomplished something. No one would doubt that. I mean, that’s why they’re considered holy. They all accomplished something: independence from England, freedom for the slaves, the end of fascism in Europe, right? So, so to criticize them is to — is to undertake a heroic task. I only undertake heroic tasks.

But the reason I think it’s important to subject them to criticism is that this idea of “good wars” helps justify other wars which are obviously awful, obviously evil. And though they’re obviously awful — I’m talking about Vietnam, I’m talking about Iraq, I’m talking about Afghanistan, I’m talking about Panama, I’m talking about Grenada, one of our most heroic of wars — the fact that you can have the historic experience of “good wars” creates a basis for believing, well, you know, there’s such a thing as a good war. And maybe you can find, oh, parallels between the good wars and this war, even though you don’t understand this war, but, oh, yeah, the parallels. Saddam Hussein is Hitler. Well, that makes it clear. We have to fight against him, because he — right? To not fight in the war means surrender, like Munich. There are all the analogies. I remember Lyndon Johnson. World War II is a perfect setup for analogies. You compare something to World War II, you immediately infuse it with goodness. And so, during the Vietnam War, I remember at one time Lyndon Johnson referred to the — to the head of South Vietnam, Ngo D├Čnh Diem, whom we had set up in power of South Vietnam, so independent was he — but Lyndon Johnson referred to Diem as “the Winston Churchill of Asia.” I really like that. So, yes, I think we ought to examine these wars.

Let’s start with the Revolutionary War. Let’s do it in chronological order, because, after all, I’m a historian. We do everything in chronological order. I eat in chronological order. All-Bran. We’ll start with All-Bran. We’ll end with Wheatena.

Anyway, the Revolutionary War. Balance sheet. I don’t want to make it too mathematical, you know, I’ll be falling in line with all these mathematical social scientists. You know, everything has become mathematical — political science and anthropology and even social work. You know, mathematical — no, I don’t want to get that strict. But a rough moral balance sheet, let’s say. Well, what’s good about the Revolutionary War? And — oh, there’s another side? Yes, there’s another side to the balance sheet. What’s dubious about the Revolutionary War? And let’s — yeah, and let’s look at both sides, because if you only look at, “Oh, we won independence from England,” well, that’s not enough to do that. You have to look at other things.

Well, let’s first look at the cost of the war, on one side of the balance sheet. The cost of the war. In lives, I mean. Twenty-five thousand. Hey, that’s nothing, right? Twenty-five thousand? We lost 58,000 in Vietnam. That’s — 25,000 — did you even know how many lives were lost in the Revolutionary War? It’s hardly worth talking about. In proportion to population — in proportion to the Revolutionary War population of the colonies, 25,000 would be equivalent today to two-and-a-half million. Two-and-a-half million. Let’s fight a war. We’re being oppressed by England. Let’s fight for independence. Two-and-a-half million people will die, but we’ll have independence. Would you have second thoughts? You might. In other words, I want to make that 25,000, which seems like an insignificant figure, I want to make it palpable and real and not to be minimized as a cost of the Revolutionary War, and to keep that in mind in the balance sheet as we look at whatever other factors there are. So, yes, we win independence against England. Great. And it only cost two-and-a-half million. OK?

Who did the Revolutionary War benefit? Who benefited from independence? It’s interesting that we just assume that everybody benefited from independence. No. Not everybody in the colonies benefited from independence. And there were people right from the outset who knew they wouldn’t benefit from independence. There were people from the outset who thought, you know, “I’m just a working stiff. I’m just a poor farmer. Am I going to benefit? What is it — what difference will it make to me if I’m oppressed by the English or oppressed by my local landlord?” You know, maybe one-third of the colonists — nobody knows, because they didn’t take Gallup polls in those days. Maybe one — various estimates, one-third of the colonists were opposed to the Revolutionary War. And only about maybe about one-third supported the Revolutionary War against England. And maybe one-third were neutral. I don’t know. I’m going by an estimate that John Adams once made. Just a very rough.

But there obviously were lots of people who were not for the Revolution. And that’s why they had a tough time recruiting people for the Revolution. It wasn’t that people rushed — “Wow! It’s a great crusade, independence against — from England. Join!” No, they had a tough time getting people. In the South, you know, they couldn’t find people to join the army. George Washington had to send a general and his troops down south to threaten people in order to get them into the military, into the war.

And in fact, in the war itself, the poor people, the working people, the farmers, the artisans, who were in the army, maybe some of them were there for patriotic reasons, independence against England, even if they weren’t sure what it meant for them. But some of them were there for that reason. Others were there — you know, some of them had actually listened to the Declaration of Independence, read from the town hall. And inspiring. You know, liberty, equality, equality. We all have an equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You know, it can make people — some people were inspired, and they joined.

Other people joined because they were promised land at — you know, they were promised at the end of the Revolution — you know, they were promised, you might say, a little GI Bill of Rights, just as today recruiting offices make promises to young guys that they want into the Army. They give them bonuses, and they promise them maybe a free education afterward. No, people don’t naturally rush to war. You have to seduce them. You have to bribe them or coerce them. Some people think it’s natural for people to go to war. Not at all. No.

Nations have to work hard to mobilize the citizens to go to war. And they had to work in the Revolutionary War, especially, well, when they found out that, although there was a draft, there was a kind of conscription that the rich could get out of the conscription by paying a certain amount of money. But the young, the farmers who went into the Revolutionary Army and who fought and who died and who were wounded in the war, they found that they, the privates, the ordinary soldier in the war, that they weren’t treated as well as the officers who came from the upper classes. The officers were given splendid uniforms and good food and were paid well. And the privates very often did not have shoes and clothes and were not paid. And when their time was supposed to be up, they were told, no, they had to stay. There was a class difference in the Revolutionary War.

You know, in this country, we’re not accustomed to the idea of class differences, because we’re all supposed to be one big, happy family. One nation, indivisible. We’re very divisible. No, we’re not one nation. No, there are working people, and there are rich people, and in between, yes, there are nervous people. So, yeah, the conditions of the ordinary farmer who went into the Revolution, the private, the conditions were such that they mutinied — mutinied against the officers, against George Washington and the other officers. And when I say “mutinied,” I mean thousands of them. Ever hear about this in your classrooms when you discuss — when you learn about the Revolutionary War? When you learn about Bunker Hill and Concord and the first shot heard around the world — right? — do you ever hear about the mutinies? I doubt it. I never learned about it. I didn’t learn about it in elementary school or high school or college or graduate school. You find very often that what you learn in graduate school is what you learned in elementary school, only with footnotes. You see. No, I never learned about the mutinies.

But there were mutinies. Thousands of soldiers mutinied, so many of them that George Washington was worried, you know, that he couldn’t put it down. He had to make concessions, make concessions to what was called the Pennsylvania Line, the thousands of mutineers. However, when shortly after he made those concessions and quieted down the mutiny by saying — promising them things, promising them he’d get them out of the army soon and give them pay and so on, soon after that, there was another mutiny in the New Jersey Line, which was smaller. And there, Washington put his foot down. He couldn’t handle the thousands in the Pennsylvania Line, but he could handle the hundreds in the New Jersey Line, and he said, “Find the leaders and execute them.” You hear about this in your classrooms about the Revolutionary War? You hear about the executions of mutineers? I doubt it. If I’m wrong in the question period, correct me. I’m willing to stand corrected. I don’t like to stand corrected, but I’m will to be stand corrected. And yeah, so they executed a number of the mutineers. Their fellow soldiers were ordered to execute the mutineers. So the Revolution — you know, not everybody was treated the same way in the Revolution.

And, in fact, when the Revolution was won, independence was won, and the soldiers came back to their homes — and some of them did get bits of land that were promised to them, so, yeah, many of them became small farmers again. And then they found that they were being taxed heavily by the rich, who controlled the legislatures. They couldn’t pay their taxes, and so their farms and their homes were being taken away from them, auctioned off. “Foreclosures” they call them today, right? It’s an old phenomenon.

So, there were rebellions. I think everybody learns about Shays’ Rebellion. They don’t learn much about Shays’ Rebellion, but they learn it enough to recognize it on a multiple choice test. Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts. Thousands of farmers gathered around courthouses in Springfield and Northampton and Amherst and Great Barrington around those courthouses. And they stopped the auctions from going on. They prevent the foreclosures. It’s a real rebellion that has to be put down by an army, paid for by the merchants of Boston. It’s put down. But it puts a scare into the Founding Fathers.

Now, there’s an interesting chronology there. Shays’ Rebellion takes place in 1786. The Founding Fathers get together in 1787, for the Constitutional Convention. Is there a connection between the two? I don’t remember ever learning that there was a connection between Shays’ Rebellion and the Constitution. What I learned is that, oh, they got together with the Constitution because the Articles of Confederation created a weak central government, that we need a strong central government. And everybody likes the idea of a strong central government, so it was a great thing to have a Constitutional Convention and draft the Constitution.
What you were not told, I don’t think — I wasn’t told — was that the Founding Fathers on the eve of the Constitutional Convention were writing to one another before the Constitutional Convention and saying, “Hey, this rebellion in western Massachusetts, we better do something about that. We better create a government strong enough to deal with rebellions like this.” That’s why we need a strong central government.

There was a general, General Henry Knox of Massachusetts, who had been in the army with George Washington, and he wrote to Washington at one point. And I don’t have his letter with me. I do have it somewhere, you know. I’ll paraphrase it. It won’t be as eloquent as him. You know, they were eloquent in those days. Take a look at the language used by the political leaders of that day and the language of the political leaders in our day. I mean, really, it’s, you know — yeah. So when Knox writes to Washington, it says something like this. It says, “You know, these people who fought in the Revolution, these people who are rebelling, who have rebelled in west Massachusetts” —- and other states, too, not just in Massachusetts -—


HOWARD ZINN: In Maine, too. Yeah, you know that, Roger. You were among the rebels, I’m sure. You were there, I know.

Knox says to Washington, says, “These people who have rebelled, you know, they think that because they fought in the Revolution, they fought in the war against England, that they deserve an equal share of the wealth of this country.” No. Those were the kinds of letters that went back and forth. “We’ve got to set up a government that will be strong enough to put down the rebellions of the poor, slave revolts, the Indians, who may resent our going into their territory.” That’s what a strong central government is for, not just because, oh, it’s nice to have a strong central government. The reason’s for that. The Constitution was a class document written to protect the interests of bondholders and slave owners and land expansionists. So the outcome of the Revolution was not exactly good for everybody, and it created all sorts of problems.

What about black people, the slaves? Did they benefit from the winning of the Revolution? Not at all. There was slavery before the Revolution; there was slavery after the Revolution. In fact, Washington would not enlist black people into his army. The South, Southern slave owners, they were the first with the — for the British, doing it for the British. The British enlisted blacks before Washington did. No, blacks didn’t benefit.

Hey, what about Indians? Should we even count the Indians? Should we even consider the Indians? Who are they? Well, they lived here. They owned all this land. We moved them out of here. Well, they should be considered. What was the outcome for them when we won the Revolution? It was bad, because the British had set a line called the Proclamation of 1763. They had set a line at the Appalachians, where they said, no, the colonists should not go beyond this line into Indian territory. I mean, they didn’t do it because they loved the Indians. They just didn’t want trouble. They set a line. The British are now gone, and the line is gone, and now you can move westward into Indian territory. And you’re going to move across the continent. And you’re going to create massacres. And you’re going to take that enormous land in the West away from the Indians who live there.

These are some of the consequences of the Revolution. But we did win independence from England. All I’m trying to suggest, that to simply leave it that way, that we won independence from England, doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this victory. And, you know, was it good that we — to be independent of England? Yes, it’s always good to be independent. But at what cost? And how real is the independence? And is it possible that we would have won independence without a war?

Hey, how about Canada? Canada is independent of England. They don’t have a bad society, Canada. There are some very attractive things about Canada. They’re independent of England. They did not fight a bloody war. It took longer. You know, sometimes it takes longer if you don’t want to kill. Violence is fast. War is fast. And that’s attractive — right? — when you do something fast. And if you don’t want killing, you may have to take more time in order to achieve your objective. And actually, when you achieve your objective, it might be achieved in a better way and with better results, and with a Canadian health system instead of American health system. You know, you know.

OK, all of this — I won’t say anything about the Revolutionary War. I just wanted to throw a few doubts in about it. That’s all. I don’t want to say anything revolutionary or radical. I don’t want to make trouble. You know, I just want to — no, I certainly don’t want to make trouble at BU. No. So — yet I just want to — I just want to think about these things. That’s all I’m trying to do, have us think again about things that we took for granted. “Oh, yes, Revolutionary War, great!” No. Let’s think about it.

And the Civil War. OK, well, Civil War is — Civil War is even tougher, even tougher to critically examine the Civil War. Slavery. Slavery, nothing worse. Slavery. And at the end of the Civil War, there’s no slavery. You can’t deny that. So, yeah, you have to put that on one side of the ledger, the end of slavery. On the other side, you have to put the human cost of the Civil War in lives: 600,000. I don’t know how many people know or learn or remember how many lives were lost in the Civil War, which was the bloodiest, most brutal, ugliest war in our history, from the point of view of dead and wounded and mutilated and blinded and crippled. Six hundred thousand dead in a country of 830 million. Think about that in relation today’s population; it’s as if we fought a civil war today, and five or six million people died in this civil war. Well, you might say, well, maybe that’s worth it, to end slavery. Maybe. Well, OK, I won’t argue that. Maybe. But at least you know what the cost is.

One of the great things about the book by the president of Harvard, which she — you know, recently a book she wrote about the Civil War, she brings home, in very graphic detail — Drew Gilpin Faust, President Faust of Harvard, wrote a remarkable book about the Civil War. And what she concentrates on is the human consequences of the Civil War, the dead, the wounded. I mean, you know, that was a war in which enormous number of amputations took place, without anesthetic. You know, I mean, so it’s not just the 600,000 dead; it was all those who came home without a leg or an arm.

I’m trying to make the cost of the war more than a statistic, because we have gotten used to just dealing with statistics. And the statistics are dead. The statistics are — you know, become meaningless. They’re just numbers. Six hundred thousand — just read it and go quickly past it. But no, I don’t want to go past the cost of these wars. I want to consider them very, very, very closely and rack it up and don’t forget about it, even as you consider the benefits of the war, the freedom of the slaves.

But you also have to think, the slaves were freed, and what happened after that? Were they really freed? Well, they were, actually — there was no more slavery — but the slaves, who had been given promises — you know, forty acres and a mule — they were promised, you know, a little land and some wherewithal so they could be independent, so they needn’t be slaves anymore. Well, they weren’t given anything. They were left without resources. And the result was they were still in the thrall, still under the control of the plantation owner. They were free, but they were not free. There have been a number of studies made of that, you know, in the last decade. Free, but not free. They were not slaves now. They were serfs. They were like serfs on a feudal estate. They were tenant farmers. They were sharecroppers. They couldn’t go anywhere. They didn’t have control of their lives. And they were in the thrall of the white plantation owners. The same white plantation owners who had been their masters when they were slaves were now their masters when they were serfs.

OK, I don’t want to minimize the fact that it’s still not slavery in the old sense. No, it’s not. It’s better. It’s a better situation. So, I want to be cautious about what I say about that, and I want to be clear. But I want to say it’s more complicated than simply "Oh, the slaves were freed." They were freed, and they were betrayed. Promises made to them were betrayed, as promises made during wartime are always betrayed. The veterans are betrayed. The civilians are betrayed. The people who expected war to produce great results and freedom and liberty, they are betrayed after every war.

So I just want us, you know, to consider that and to ask the question, which is a very difficult question to answer, but it’s worth asking: is it possible that slavery might have ended without 600,000 dead? Without a nation of amputees and blinded people? Is it possible? Because, after all, we do want to end slavery. It’s not that we’re saying, well, we shouldn’t have a bloody war because — "Just let people remain slaves." No, we want to end slavery, but is it possible to end slavery without a bloody civil war?

After all, when the war started, it wasn’t Lincoln’s intention to free the slaves. You know that. That was not his purpose in fighting the war. His purpose in fighting the war was to keep Southern territory within the grasp of the central government. You could almost say it was an imperial aim. It was a terrible thing to say, I know. But yeah, I mean, that’s what the war was fought for. Oh, it’s put in a nice way. We say we fought for the Union. You know, we don’t want anybody to secede. Yeah. Why no? What if they want to secede? We’re not going to let them secede. No, we want all that territory.

No, Lincoln’s objective was not to free the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation came. And by the way, it didn’t free slaves where they were enslaved. It freed the slaves that the national government was not able to free. It declared free the slaves who were in the states — in the Confederate states that were still fighting against the Union. In other words, it declared free the slaves that we couldn’t free, and it left as slaves the slaves that were in the states that were fighting with the Union. In other words, if you fought — if you were a state that was a slave state, but you were fighting on the side of the Union, "We’ll let you keep your slaves." That was the Emancipation Proclamation. I never learned that when I learned it. I thought, "Oh, the Emancipation Proclamation is great!"

But then, yes — no, slavery was — and, yes, Congress passed the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendments. Thirteenth Amendment ends slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment declares equal rights, you can’t deny people equal protection of the law. Fifteenth Amendment, you can’t prevent people from voting because of their color, their race, no. These are — however, these promises of equality in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments — the promise, a right to vote — they were honored for a few years when there were federal troops in the South who enforced them, and then they were set aside. And black people in the South were left at the mercy of the white plantation owners. So there was a great betrayal that took place, a betrayal that lasted a hundred years, those hundred years of segregation and the lynching and of the national government looking the other way as the Constitution was violated a thousand times by the white power structure in the South.

And, you know, it took a hundred — and, you know, the Congress passed those amendments. Why? Not because Lincoln or Congress itself initiated them. They passed those amendments because a great movement against slavery had grown up in the country from the 1830s to the 1860s, powerful anti-slavery movement which pushed Congress into the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Very important thing to keep in mind, that when justice comes and when injustices are remedied, they’re not remedied by the initiative of the national government or the politicians. They only respond to the power of social movements. And that’s what happened with the relationship between anti-slavery movement and the passage of those amendments.

And, of course, then those amendments, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, had no meaning for the next hundred years. The blacks were not allowed to vote in the South. Blacks did not get an equal protection of the laws. Every president of the United States for a hundred years, every president, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, every president violated his oath of office. Every president, because the oath of office says you will see to it that the laws are faithfully executed. And every president did not enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, collaborated with Southern racism and segregation and lynching and all that happened.

So, the Civil War and its aftermath, you know, have to be looked at in a longer perspective. And yes, the question needs to be asked also: yeah, is it possible if slavery could have been ended without 600,000 dead? We don’t know for sure. And when I mention these possibilities, you know, it’s very hard to imagine how it might have ended, except that we do know that slavery was ended in every other country in the western hemisphere. Slavery was ended in all these others places in the western hemisphere without a bloody civil war. Well, that doesn’t prove that it could have been ended, and, you know, every situation is different, but it makes you think. If you begin to think, "Oh, the only way it could have been done is with a bloody civil war," maybe not. I mean, maybe it would have taken longer. You know, maybe there could have been slave rebellions which hammered away at the Southern slave structure, hammered away at them in a war of attrition, not a big bloody mass war, but a war of attrition and guerrilla warfare, and John Brown-type raids.

Remember John Brown, who wanted to organize raids and a slave rebellion? Yeah, a little guerrilla action, not totally peaceful, no. But not massive slaughter. Well, John Brown was executed by the state of Virginia and the national government. He was executed in 1859 for wanting to lead slave revolts. And the next year, the government goes to war in a war that cost 600,000 lives and then, presumably, as people came to believe, to end slavery. There’s a kind of tragic irony in that juxtaposition of facts. So it’s worth thinking about, about the Civil War, and not to simply say, “Well, Civil War ended slavery, therefore whatever the human cost was, it was worth it.” It’s worth rethinking.

Now we come to World War II. Looking at my watch, I don’t mean it.

TIME KEEPER: You’re on a roll tonight. You’re good.

HOWARD ZINN: No, I don’t mean it.

Well, World War II, “the Good War,” the best. Fascism. I mean, that’s why I enlisted in the Air Force: fight against fascism. It’s a good war, it’s a just war. What could be, you know, more obvious? They are evil; we are good.

And so, I became a bombardier in the Air Force. I dropped bombs on Germany, on Hungary, on Czechoslovakia — even on a little town in France three weeks before the war was to end, when everybody knew the war was to end and we didn’t need to drop any more bombs, but we dropped bombs. On a little town in France, we were trying out napalm, the first use of napalm in the European theater. I think by now you all know what napalm is. One of the ugliest little weapons. But trying it out, and adding metals. And who knows what reason, what complex of reasons, led us to bomb a little town in France, when everybody knew the war was ending? And yes, there were German soldiers there, hanging around. They weren’t doing anything, weren’t bothering anybody, but they’re there, and gives us a good excuse to bomb. We’ll kill the Germans, we’ll kill some Frenchmen, too. What does it matter? It’s a good war. We’re the good guys.

One thing — and I didn’t think about any of this while I was bombing. I didn’t examine: oh, who are we bombing, and why are we bombing, and what’s going on here, and who is dying? I didn’t know who was dying, because when you bomb from 30,000 feet, well, this is modern warfare; you do things at a distance. It’s very impersonal. You just press a button, you know, and somebody dies. But you don’t see them. So I dropped bombs from 30,000 feet. I didn’t see any human beings. I didn’t see what’s happening below. I didn’t hear children screaming. I didn’t see arms being ripped off people. No, just dropped bombs. You see little flashes of light down below as the bombs hit. That’s it. And you don’t think. It’s hard to think when you’re in the military. Really, it’s hard to sit back and examine, ask what you’re doing. No, you’ve been trained to do a job, and you do your job.

So I didn’t think about any of this until after the war, when I began to think about that raid on France. And then I began to think about the raid on Dresden, where 100,000 people were killed in one night, day of bombing. Read Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse Five. He was there. He was a prisoner of war and there in the basement, you know, a kind of meat locker, a slaughterhouse. And then I became aware of the other bombings that had taken place. But, you know, when you’re in a war, you don’t see the big picture, and you don’t — you really don’t — I didn’t know until afterward, 600,000 German civilians were killed by our bombing. They weren’t Nazis. Well, yeah, you might say they were passive supporters and that they didn’t rebel. Well, a few rebelled. But how many Americans rebel against American wars? Are we all complicit for what we did in Vietnam, killing several million people? Well, maybe we are, but there was a kind of stupid, ignorant innocence about us. And the same thing was true of the Germans. And we killed 600,000. If some great power, while we were dropping bombs on Vietnam, had come over here and dropped bombs on American cities in retaliation, it would’ve been — and they say, “Well, these are imperialists, we’ll kill them all" — no, the American people were not themselves imperialists, but they were passive bystanders, until they woke up, yeah.

So I began to think about it, as I began to think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I had welcomed the bombing of Hiroshima when it took place, because I didn’t know. I didn’t know what it really meant. We had finished our bombing missions in Europe, we had won the war in Europe, and my crew and I, we flew our plane, the same plane we had flown missions on, we flew that same plane back across the Atlantic, and we were given a thirty-day furlough. And then the idea was we were going to go on to the Pacific, because the war against Japan was still going on. And during this thirty-day furlough in early August, my wife and I decided, because we had been married just before I went overseas — my wife and I decided we’d take a little vacation in the country. And we took a bus to go into the country. And at the bus stop, there was a newsstand, and there was a newspaper and the big headline "Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima." Well, oh, great! Didn’t really know what an atomic bomb was, but it was sort of obvious from the headlines, oh, and it was a big bomb. Well, I had dropped bombs. This was just a bigger bomb.

But I had no idea what it meant until I read John Hersey’s book on Hiroshima. John Hersey had gone into Hiroshima after the bombing, and he had talked to survivors. Survivors? You can imagine what those survivors looked like. They were kids and old people and women and all sorts of Japanese people. And they were without arms or legs, or they were blinded, or their skin could not be looked at. John Hersey interviewed them and got some idea and reported — he was a great journalist — he reported what the bombing of Hiroshima was like to the people who were there. And when I read his account, for the first time, I understood. This is what bombing does to human beings. This is what my bombs had done to people.

And I began to rethink the idea of a "good war," of our world war against fascism. "Oh, well, it’s OK, because we did defeat Hitler.” That’s just it, just like we did get independence from England, we did end slavery. But wait a while. A lot of other — it’s not that simple. And World War II is not that simple. “Oh, we defeated Hitler, therefore eveything is OK. We were the good guys; they were the bad guys." But what I realized then was that once you decide — and this is what we decided at the beginning of the war, this is what, you know, I decided — they were the bad guys, we were the good guys, what I didn’t realize was that in the course of the war, the good guys become the bad guys. War poisons everybody. War corrupts everybody. And so, the so-called good guys begin behaving like the bad guys. The Nazis dropped bombs and killed civilians in Coventry, in London, in Rotterdam. And we drop bombs and kill civilians, and we commit atrocities, and we go over Tokyo several months before Hiroshima.

And I’ll bet you 90 percent of the American people do not know about the raid of Tokyo. Everybody has heard about Hiroshima. I’ll bet 90 percent of the American people — I don’t you know if you have — know that several months before Hiroshima, we sent planes over Tokyo to set Tokyo afire with firebombs, and 100,000 people died in one night of bombing in Tokyo. Altogether we killed over half a million people in Japan, civilians. And some people said, “Well, they bombed Pearl Harbor.” That’s really something. These people did not bomb Pearl Harbor. Those children did not bomb Pearl Harbor. But this notion of violent revenge and retaliation is something we’ve got to get rid of.

So I began, yeah, reconsidering all of that, rethinking all of that, investigated the bombing of Hiroshima, investigated the excuse that was made — “Oh, you know, if we don’t bomb Hiroshima, well, we have to invade Japan, and a million people will die.” And I investigated all of that, found it was all nonsense. We didn’t have to invade Japan in order for Japan to surrender. Our own official investigative team, the Strategic Bombing Survey, which went into Japan right after the war, interviewed all the high Japanese military, civilian officials, and their conclusion was Japan was ready to end the war. Maybe not the next week, maybe in two months, maybe in three months. "Oh, no, we can’t wait. We don’t want to wait. We’ve got these bombs. We’ve got to see what they look like." Do you know how many people die because of experimentation with weapons? We were experimenting. We were experimenting on the children of Hiroshima. “Let’s see what this does. Hey, and also, let’s show the Russians. Let’s show the Russians we have this bomb.” A British Scientist who was an adviser to Churchill called the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima "the first step of the Cold War." Soviet Union was in the mind of the people around Harry Truman — James Burns, Forrestal and others.

So, yes, I began thinking about "the good war" and how it corrupts and poisons. And then I looked at the world after the war. Oh, yeah, what were the results? Yeah, I said bad things about the war. I’m sorry, all those casualties, but it ended — it stopped fascism. Now wait a while. Let’s look closely at that. Yeah, it got rid of Hitler, got rid of Mussolini. Did it get rid of fascism in the world? Did it get rid of racism in the world? Did it get rid of militarism in the world? No, you had two superpowers now arming themselves with nuclear weapons, enough nuclear weapons that if they were used, they would make Hitler’s Holocaust look puny. And there were times, in fact, in the decades that followed when we came very, very close to using those nuclear weapons.

So the world after World War II — and this is so important — you don’t just look at, “Oh, we won.” No, what happens after that? What happens five years after that? What happens ten years after that? What happens to the GIs who came back alive, five or ten years later? And maybe one of them will go berserk at Fort Hood. Think about that. Think about all the superficial comments made of “Oh, let’s examine this guy psychologically and his religious [inaudible], and let’s not go deeper into that and say these are war casualties.” Those people he killed were war casualties; he was a war casualty. That’s what war does. War poisons people’s minds. So we got rid of Hitler. But what was the world like?

When I was discharged from the Army, from the Air Force, I got a letter from General Marshall. He was the general of generals. He was sending a letter, not a personal letter to me — "Dear Howie..." No. A letter that was sent to 16 million men who had served in the Armed Forces, some women, too. And the letter was something like this: “We’ve won the war. Congratulations for your service. It will be a new world.” It wasn’t a new world. And we know it hasn’t been a new world since World War II. War after war after war after war, and 50 million people were dead in that war to end all wars, to end fascism and dictatorship and militarism. No.

So, yes, I came to a conclusion that war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told. And if we think that there are good wars and that, therefore, well, maybe this is a good war, I wanted to examine the so-called good wars, the holy wars, and — yeah, and take a good look at them and think again about the phenomenon of war and come to the conclusion, well, yes, war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place. It’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we’ll find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have, because war is inevitably — inevitably — the indiscriminant massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children.

So it’s not just getting rid of Saddam Hussein, if we think about it. Well, we got rid of Saddam Hussein. In the course of it, we killed huge numbers of people who had been victims of Saddam Hussein. When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant. Anyway, all this — all this was simply to make us think again about war and to think, you know, we’re at war now, right? In Iraq, in Afghanistan and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. And so, we should not accept that.

We should look for a peace movement to join. Really, look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things.

That’s all I want to say. Thank you.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's Time For Tim's...To Clean Up Their Mess

most consumers are idiots. in fact, most people in general are quite ignorant and apathetic about issues that are critically important to the preservation of a healthy environment and the well-being of everyone. hence the problem with democracy and why we get the kind of political representation we have. "garbage in, garbage out," as the late comedian george carlin famously observed regarding our electoral process. when for example 79% of albertans do not believe humans play a role in climate change, or when people believe the best way to deal with summertime mosquitoes is to spray toxic chemicals into our environment, how is that going to translate when they go into the voting booth to cast their ballots?

when people choose to turn a blind eye to scientific facts and not find out the truth for themselves, or when they just outright deny evidence because it would run counter to the way they already think, the decisions they make will be uniformed and imbecilic at best, or dangerous and deadly at worst.

these prevailing attitudes of gullibility and stupidity seem to guide many people's actions in their day to day lives as consumers. if there is something to use, they will use it without thinking twice about what went into its production, or where it goes after they are finished using it. and in many cases the thing is only meant for a single one-time use.

take for instance a tim hortons disposable cup. canadians flock like flies to shit to get their daily fix of tim hortons coffee in a throw away cup. often a person will place his cup of coffee into another cup, so he doesn't burn his delicate little fingers when he raises the beverage to his ravenous maw. what ever happened to people putting their coffee in a reusable thermos? when did we get so addicted to these one-use containers? and what's so shit hot about tim hortons coffee anyway? what, are they putting heroin in it or something? it's all part of the culture of consumerism, to keep people hopped up on caffeine and alert so they move, move, move and work, work, work to stimulate the precious economy until it blows its destructive load all over the face of the earth. everybody just needs to take a step back, consider what they're doing, and calm the fuck down!

canadians use 1.6 billion disposable coffee cups every year or nearly 4.5 million each day. think about that. if the average height of a cup is 12 cm (about the size of a can of pop), 1.6 billion stacked end to end would reach halfway to the moon! that's fucked up. if i were lloyd braun from seinfeld i might ask, "am i crazy, or is that a lot of cups?" to which any sane person would respond, "it's a lot of cups!"

but like i say, most people are idiots. if something is available for use, they will use it and assume that it's okay because it's in the marketplace and advertised on billboards, on tv, and everywhere else you look - and advertising wouldn't lie to you now, would it? companies know this, and they externalize the costs of doing business onto the environment in the form of disposable packaging. then they will put the anus on us and tell us not to litter. yet tim hortons has the audacity to litterally encourage people to continue using their disposable cups because of their roll up the fucking rim to win bullshit. people love to win shit, don't they? it's the canadian dream.

when is tim hortons going to take responsibility for the garbage that they are creating and peddling in the first place? sure, the junkie has a problem, but goddamn the pusher man. in annie leonard's book the story of stuff, she writes,
In 1991, the German government adopted a packaging ordinance, the foundation of which is the belief that the companies that design, produce, use, and profit from packaging should be held financially responsible for it—an idea known as extended producer responsibility.
hear that tim hortons? this is your garbage. you made it. it has your name on it. it belongs to you. stop making stuff that is designed to be thrown away. whether it's here or there, on the street or in a garbage can makes little difference. it's more waste that's being added into a world already overflowing with trash. or perhaps they view their cups and bags lying around not as garbage at all, but as mini billboards scattered hither and yon advertising their business. maybe if the financial burden was placed squarely onto the shoulders of tim hortons to deal with all of their disposable property, they would create less waste and encourage people to use their own reusable cups instead.

yes, people need to take responsibility for what they buy and what they throw away. but certainly companies need to take equal, or in my opinion greater responsibility for the disposable packaging they hand out to customers on a daily basis. and the only way that companies will change and stop with their dispensing of disposables is not voluntarily, but when people demand it through boycotts and through government regulation and enforcement with strong penalties for those who do not comply.

1.6 billion disposable cups every year in canada is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of waste generated in this country. we have all got to reconsider and question the economic capitalist monster we have manufactured that allows for such rampant disregard of our environment and the well-being of our communities. we are being smothered by garbage created by irresponsible companies like tim hortons, who continue to ignore the real costs of getting rid of and storing their trash, while they are laughing all the way to the bailed out banks.

enough is enough. so sing along with the jingle, "it's time for tim' clean up their mess!"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Canadians - Waste Producing Machines

in annie leonard's book the story of stuff, which she wrote in response to her enormously popular youtube video, there is a section where she discusses the amount of municipal solid waste (msw) produced by each country. msw is defined as,
Everything we commonly think of as garbage—from packaging and yard waste to broken Stuff, rotten food, or recyclables; everything we put in the bins that we set out on the curb—collectively makes up what’s known as the municipal solid waste stream, or MSW.
listed are the figures of various countries for their per capita garbage production for 2007. the united states comes in at 4.6 pounds (2.1 kg) per person/day while canada's numbers are listed at 1.79 lbs (0.8 kg). knowing what i know about the selfishness and wastefulness of canadians, that figure seemed a bit off to me.

after doing a little probing (which can sometimes get messy after you discover things you weren't expecting) i came across the conference board of canada's website, where they list canada's municipal waste generation at 894 kg per capita each year. that's 2.5 kg per person/day or 5.4 lbs!

5.4 pounds (time for a spit take)? dang, that's even more than the united states. so what's up with these dirty thoughtless hosers?

from my own personal experience i can say that in general most canadians don't give a shit about the environment or the negative impact that their actions have on others. take a walk in any canadian city and see how much trash you see strewn about, with the vast majority of it being fast food garbage. canadians fill their fat bellies with garbage food and then fill the streets with garbage packaging when they're done.

and if you happen to have the misfortune of living in the prairie provinces, you are well aware of the amount of huge gas guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs on the road befouling the air. usually, but not always, driven by some ignorant redneck who believes owning such a monstrosity makes him appear more manly. where in fact, more appropriately, to quote cornelius from planet of the apes,
somehow, it makes you look less intelligent.
but whether the trash that these heads-far-up-their-own-ass-jingo-bell-ringing canadians generate is on the street or in the dump, they do indeed excel at being wasteful. in fact, of the 17 countries listed on the conference board of canada's site for the amount of garbage each one produces, guess where the canucks rank? that's right...dead last! and this time they can't blame the officiating. crybabies. although knowing how in the dark most people here are about living ethically, they're probably proud of this dubious distinction.

once these asbestos-exporting, seal-clubbing, ecosystem-destroying, trash creating stinkbags come to realize that their own actions are not only having detrimental effects on their surroundings, but by extension on themselves as well, perhaps then they will finally clue in to the fact that it's time to live a bit more responsibly in this world and clean up their fucking act! after all, there are many others we share the planet with so let's not be total dicks. okay?

now go watch your reruns of supermarket sweep and leave me alone!

45 grave - consumers - from the 1987 album, autopsy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

West Nile Hits Southern Alberta

there was a story on cfrn news today about a woman in southern alberta who has contracted the west nile virus. in the report, a spokesperson from alberta health services said he does not believe the situation will be as bad as it is in texas, where so far this year 16 people have lost their lives due to the virus, because as he put it, west nile is "temperature dependent".

you don't say. well thanks to industrial operations like the tar sands in the northeastern section of the province, ripping up over 600 square kilometers of boreal forest so far (nearly the size of edmonton), and continuing to dump massive amounts of co2 and methane into the atmosphere, playing a significant role in contributing to a warming climate, is it not possible, alberta health services, that this province could see more cases of west nile in the not too distant future?

author and environmentalist bill mckibben told an audience in vancouver recently,
if an alien were to view human activity from afar and take a guess at what we were trying to do with the planet, creating the perfect conditions for a worldwide mosquito ranch would be a viable hypothesis.
will alberta's answer to an increased number of mosquitoes, brought on by humans negatively impacting the delicate ecosystem balance that sustains our species, simply be to spray more insecticides like dursban and poison our environment even more? or will we take this as a warning sign and stop our ecologically damaging activities that pollute the air, water and soil that all creatures rely on, and begin to take steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and finally learn to live more in harmony with our natural world?

i wager 100 quatloos that alberta responds with the former.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blue-Green Algae in Alberta Lakes - "We Are Over Fertilizing Our Lakes"

from cbc edmonton am with rick harp - 07/26/2012

university of alberta professor of ecology dr. david schindler says nutrients are going up in alberta lakes. there is 2 to 3 times more phosphorus present than 100 years ago due to human activity that includes pastures and feedlots, lakeshore development, and human sewage.

there are much stricter controls in europe where phosphorus levels have been reduced by cutting back on pastures and animal feedlots, and by putting restrictions on the kinds of development that you can do surrounding lakeshores.

will appropriate steps be taken in alberta? dr. schindler says, as long as "weak willed municipalities looking for tax grabs and developers looking to make money discount these problems and go ahead and develop, our lakes will continue to look like green paint". but then in a province where the cattle industry reigns supreme, and where the most ecologically destructive project on the planet, the tar sands, continues to rip up the boreal forest, pollute the air and poison river systems, what do you expect?

if there's money to made destroying our environment, alberta will be at the front of the line collecting the cheque.

even if this province did implement measures to alleviate the problem of over-fertilized lakes caused by human activity, it would take some 30-40 years for lakes to recover.

here is an article from the edmonton sun dated july 23, 2012 entitled, Scientist warns Pigeon Lake problems will continue.

i just love the last line. here is the piece:
A University of Alberta scientist says problems at Pigeon Lake will continue to worsen if development in the area grows — this after a slew of dead fish washed up on the sand along Ma-Me-O Beach Sunday.

Lake residents said Sunday that "thousands" of fish had washed up on shore, which they were concerned could turn visitors away.

While not uncommon, it is alarming, says David Schindler, a renowned University of Alberta water doc.

Schindler says warm temperatures raises the temperature of shallow bodies of water, like Pigeon Lake.

White fish are particularly susceptible to the warmer temperatures, because they are a cool-water species that are unable to adjust to the warmer water.

They get squeezed between temperatures above, and low oxygen below, Schindler said.

"It's a problem that is getting worse on Pigeon and other lakes around here because with more development, there are more algae blooms, and then more algae going to the bottom to decompose, and therefore less oxygen," he said.

"The zone that they occupy between the thermocline and the oxygen gets smaller and smaller."

Harriet Shugarman was looking forward to soaking up the sand and surf of Pigeon Lake at Ma-Me-O Beach like she did as a child growing up in the area.

Instead, the New Jersey resident joined a small brigade of volunteers armed with pitch forks and shovels to help remove what some say thousands of dead, rotting fish, which have washed ashore at the popular beach area, west of Wetaskiwin.

"I grew up in Edmonton, and live in New Jersey, and I'd come and spend my summers out at Pigeon Lake cause I love Pigeon Lake," said Shugarman taking a break from manning a pitch fork.

"And I want my children to experience how wonderful Ma-Me-O (Beach) and Pigeon Lake is."

Shugarman said her mother, who is in her 70s, said the fish kills have been happening on this kind of scale only during the past few years.

"There has to be some relation to something that is happening."

"Whether it's our warming climate combined with what we are doing with sewage and nitrogen from runoff from the shores."

The province said they had sent researchers out to the lake to investigate, but said the higher temperatures are likely the root of the kill.

David Ealey, with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, also agreed that nutrients coming in from surrounding cabins and agricultural activities could have played a role.

But he stopped short of saying surrounding developments were to blame.

Schindler says the likelihood of the problem worsening over time is "almost inevitable."

"(They need to) stop developing the lake shore. But no one is willing to do that," he said.

"So they're going to have lakes like green paint and dead fish in the summer."

The province says because the fish died of a natural occurrence, it's up to beach residents to clean it up.
wow! natural occurrence eh? this is precisely the excuse the province uses for toxins in the air and water surrounding the tar sands. unbelievable!

it should also be noted that the leader of the popular right-wing wildrose party in alberta, danielle smith, is a climate change denier. she is just an example of the kind of scientific savvy we're getting from our political representatives here, who are nothing more than puppets and mouthpieces for big oil and the meat and dairy industry.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's Wrong with Albertans?

the results of a recent poll show that in canada,
32 per cent said they believe climate change is happening because of human activity, while 54 per cent said they believe it's because of human activity and partially due to natural climate variation.
these numbers seem startlingly low to me, but at the same time it really should come as no surprise. afterall, the leader of the conservative government in canada is the son of an oil executive, and the country is home to the most environmentally detrimental project on the face of the earth, the tar sands of alberta.

let's not forget also that canada thinks nothing of exporting asbestos to developing countries, or continuing with unethical practices like the seal hunt, even though the european union has demonstrated that they no longer want canada's bloody fur.

but as if canadians as a whole weren't in the dark enough about global warming, only 21% of albertans believe climate change is occurring due to human activities. and it is these very same uninformed alberta imbeciles who don't give a damn about nature, as they buy their huge gas guzzling pickup trucks and thoughtlessly leave them idling for lengthy periods of time, without considering the impact it has on the environment or the people who have to breathe that shit in.

if alberta were its own country, it would have the highest carbon footprint of any other country on the planet at 69 tonnes of co2 spewed out per person per year, due largely to the tar sands, and in no small part to the harmful lifestyle choices of so many albertans.

yet 79% of these weirdo hicks do not believe that people play a role in altering the very chemical makeup of our atmosphere putting life as we know it at risk. what facts are they basing their beliefs on and where are they getting their information? is it from the local media, who seem more concerned about a new "cool looking" arena in downtown edmonton or the amount of pesky mosquitoes in summer, than in asking the tough questions and speaking truth to power; or is it from their right-wing government, who time and again side with corporate interests over the health and well-being of people and wildlife; or is it from the oil and gas industry, whose only concern is raking in millions more in profits?

it would seem it's much easier for people to believe that something is not happening so they can continue with business as usual. but the truth still exists, despite what they may "believe". in her book breaking the sound barrier, democracy now's amy goodman writes,
truth matters..."you're entitled to your own opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts," the late senator daniel patrick moynihan famously observed.
if your beliefs are not based on factual evidence, they are worthless. actually, they are worse than worthless, in many cases, they are downright harmful and destructive.

meanwhile, the clueless redneck in his pickup at the end of the street has been sitting in his idling truck for over 1/2 hour now and counting.

what's wrong with albertans?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sean & Yoko on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Sing "Don't Frack My Mother"

from 07/13/2012

Sean Lennon's op-ed in the New York Times 08-27-2012, Destroying Precious Land for Gas

Imagine - John Lennon - Olympics Closing Ceremony - London 2012

it was a beautiful rendition of imagine, exclusively remastered by yoko ono for the olympics closing ceremony in london. yet when yoko uploaded the video of her husband singing his song to her youtube channel so she could share that moment with the world...

the fucking International Olympic Committee blocked it!

it's all about property and profit, corporate sponsorship and advertising, isn't it IOC? imagine no possessions. i wonder if you can, y'cunts! come on now IOC, gimme some truth!
glimpse the truth behind the veil and watch Olympic Goodwill Image Belied by Arrests, Censorship and Corporate Ties Behind London Games, from Democracy Now! 07-31-2012

below is yoko's husband singing his song imagine, that she uploaded to vimeo for all to see. right on yoko! fuck the IOC and the plutocratic corporatists! imagine all the people sharing all the world. the days of ayn rand's selfish individualism and milton friedman's disaster capitalism are numbered. a new era is dawning, and the world will live as one.

Friday, August 03, 2012

No Mosquitoes For Heritage Days or the Edmonton Folk Festival - How About Cancer?

heritage days is upon us in edmonton and cancer is in the air...but at least the mosquitoes won't be.

according to the city of edmonton mosquito control program,
Over a typical spring and summer season, our control methods achieve over 90% reduction of nuisance Aedes [ey-ee-deez - the genus to which mosquitoes belong] which develop in the breeding sites we are able to treat. Proper treatment of Aedes breeding sites with the conventional insecticide Dursban® reliably causes 100% larval mortality under all known habitat conditions.
there was a story on cfrn today, one of the local news stations here, about mosquito spraying, and not a word was mentioned about the safety of the chemicals used. the only message conveyed to the viewer was that we need to keep the buzzing little buggers away for heritage days.

and why? well let me guess, so people will spend lots of money? come on media, do your job! how safe are these chemicals?

well let's find out.

what exactly is dursban?

Dursban (also marketed as Lorsban) is the brand name for an organophosphate pesticide with the active ingredient chlorpyrifos (chlor- [Chlorine] + pyridine [A colorless volatile liquid, C5H5N, with an unpleasant odor, present in coal tar and used chiefly as a solvent] + -fos [alteration of phosphorus]) that kills by attacking the nervous system. Organophosphates were first developed by Nazi scientists as chemical warfare agents in the 1930s. Dow sells US $500 million worth of Dursban every year worldwide. It is used for killing termites, cockroaches, ants, fleas, and of course mosquitoes.

is it safe? 

Dursban is extremely dangerous:
• Dursban is a nerve toxin and suspected endocrine disruptor with the potential to alter and interfere with the hormonal systems of insects, wildlife, and people.
• Dursban causes neurological damage to children and can result in blurred vision, fatigue, muscle weakness, memory loss and depression.
• Dursban has been associated with carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and acute toxicity.
• Dursban can cause multiple chemical sensitivity, neurobehavioral problems and peripheral neuropathy.
• Exposure to Dursban during the first trimester of pregnancy has been associated with birth defects.
• Dursban accounted for 7,000 accidental pesticide exposures reported to US Poison Control Centers in 1996 (the most recent year for which data is available).
• On June 8, 2000 the U.S Environmental Protection Agency recommended a ban on virtually all uses of Dursban in residential and commercial buildings in the U.S. The ban was based on the reported chronic effects of Dursban and especially effects on the brains of growing children.

it is children who will be most at risk to the harmful effects of pesticides like dursban. after spraying this chemical on the grass at hawrelak park, who is going to be closest to the ground, playing and rolling around over this heritage day long weekend? the kids!

parents, aren't you more concerned about the dangers these chemicals pose to your children than about some annoying mosquitoes? there are non-toxic, eco-friendly sprays you can buy to keep the bugs away, such as Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent or Great Outdoors Citronella Spray, which are safe and not tested on animals. why would you allow your children to be poisoned by toxic sprays?

in a story from bloomberg news dated april 30, 2012, Pesticide Exposure in Utero Linked to Brain Concerns, it was reported that a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed,
prenatal exposure to the chemical, included in Dow Chemical Co. (DOW)’s pesticide Dursban, is linked to structural changes in the brain 5 to 10 years after exposure, said Virginia Rauh, the lead author.
Areas of the brain related to attention, language, reward systems, emotions and control may be affected by the chemical, the researchers found. The study also showed that high-exposure children didn’t have expected sex differences in their brains, which may affect their hormones and behavior as they get older, Rauh said .
Dursban and its Chlorpyrifos residues can remain in the environment for 5-10 years after use. a report by the Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment stated that,
studies have shown that the common degradation pathway for chlorpyrifos involved the formation of TCP (1,2,3-Trichloropropane, a chemical compound that is commonly used as an industrial solvent. Although it is not currently labeled as a contaminant by the United States federal government, new research shows that it could have severe health effects. Currently, only California has significant regulation on this compound). TCP has a half-life ranging from 65 days to 360 days in the soil, so it is relatively stable in various soils after formation. It was reported that TCP is more toxic than chlorpyrifos, and TCP is more polar than its parent compound chlorpyrifos, so TCP moves through the soil to ground and surface water more easily than chlorpyrifos.
but health canada says it's safe.

yea well, health canada says a lot of things. on the city of edmonton website it states,
All products used for the City's mosquito control program are approved by Health Canada and deemed safe for their intended use.
safe? so safe that mosquito control staff must wear respirators and full-body protective clothing when spraying. here are some of the safety precautions from the dursban label,
a city worker spraying harmful toxins into the environment
  • use suitable protective gloves when handling the concentrate 
  • wear suitable protective clothing
  • when using do not eat, drink or smoke
  • do not breathe spray
  • wash hands and exposed skin before meals and after work
  • keep livestock out of treated areas for at least 14 days after treatment
  • dangerous to bees. do not apply to crops in flower or to those in which bees are actively foraging. do not apply when flowering weeds are present
  • do not allow direct spray from broadcast air-assisted sprayers to fall within 18 meters of the top of the bank of a static or flowing water body. aim spray away from water
  • do not allow direct spray from horizontal boom sprayers to fall within 5 meters of the top of the bank of a static or flowing water body or within one meter of the top of a ditch which is dry at the time of application
  • do not allow direct spray from hand-held sprayers to fall within 1 meter of the top of the bank of a static or flowing body of water. aim spray away from water
here is some of the risk and safety information,
two poor saps unwittingly get ready to poison themselves & others
  • marine pollutant
  • harmful
  • dangerous for the environment
  • flammable
  • harmful by inhalation and if swallowed
  • irritating to eyes respiratory system and skin
  • harmful: may cause lung damage if swallowed
  • very toxic to aquatic organisms. may cause long term adverse effects in the aquatic environment
  • keep away from food, drink and animal feeding stuffs
  • use appropriate containment to avoid environmental contamination
i don't know about you, but to me this doesn't sound like a very safe product. the city's website for mosquito control also boasts that,
The City of Edmonton is one of the few major cities in Canada to have a mosquito control program.
ooh, what vanguards! in fact, many other cities in canada and the united states used to have mosquito control programs, but their citizens realized that the dangers far outweighed any benefits and demanded chemical spraying be halted. in the bloomberg article mentioned above, it also stated that while the pesticide is still used in agricultural settings, it was banned for use in residential areas 12 years ago. not in edmonton however,  where a good number of people still choose to remain in ignorance and in fact believe we need to spray more dursban because, "this mosquito season is ridiculous". good grief!

but let me give you just one illustration of why health canada can't be trusted to be an unbiased party when it comes to the health of canadians versus the well being of powerful corporations, like the oil and gas industry for example. according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information there are more than 1,400 known pollutants emitted by oil sands operations. yet,
...the Royal Society of Canada panel’s conclusion of no serious current health problems caused by oil sands operations, is [because of] the inadequacy of some current health standards, says Dr. Kevin Timoney, an ecologist and principal investigator with Alberta-based Treeline Ecological Research. For instance, he says Health Canada’s guideline for mercury in fish is much higher than that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and there are no guidelines for important pollutants such as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in sediment that can get into fish and drinking water. In addition, he says that “standards and guidelines are only useful if they are followed and enforced. Enforcement is the exception rather than the rule.”
do your own investigative research into the safety of something before taking the government's word on it. you may just discover that your elected officials are not being entirely forthright with you.

and further, what are the effects when dangerous chemicals like chlorpyrifos are combined with other harmful substances, for example vehicle exhaust or cigarette smoke? one study entitled Cancer Incidence Among Pesticide Applicators Exposed to Chlorpyrifos and published in the oxford journal of medicine found that,
In all cases, the rate ratios [for lung cancer] associated with combined exposure were higher than the rate ratios for each individual agent. 
seems like an important factor to consider.
should edmonton continue to spray this harmful chemical?

no! but in a city located in a province with the biggest environmental disaster on the planet, the tar sands, spewing toxins into the air and athabasca river system every day; or in a city that refuses to implement a no idling bylaw for vehicles because according to the mayor it may "annoy people"; or in a city that has a perpetual pall of smog around refinery row choking those who live nearby with the stench of oil and gas; or in a city where huge gas guzzling pickup trucks seem to be the transportation of choice...
i hardly think they will stop spraying a harmful chemical that can keep mosquitoes at bay for a while.

don't we have a right to know exactly what is being sprayed into the air we breathe, when and where and in what quantities? show us the independent peer reviewed studies that have been done illustrating that these chemicals are not harmful to people or the environment. and i'm not talking about those done by monsanto or dow chemicals who clearly have a vested interest in keeping these products in use.

the makers of these dangerous pesticides rely on our continued ignorance and apathy to keep their products on the market and to keep individuals and municipalities using them. their concern is not for the safety of people or the health of the ecosystem. their concern is for one thing and one thing only, to make a profit for themselves and their shareholders.

sure dursban kills mosquitoes, but once the truth is revealed through hard facts and scientific evidence about the detrimental effects to the environment and people's health, it's time to put an end to it and say, "no more."

in addition, when it comes to pesticide and herbicide usage, we discount natural selection at our peril. there will always be a few stragglers left behind at one point or another who have an immunity and pass those genes along to the next generation. soon we find that harsher and harsher chemicals are required to kill these critters. and so it goes. it's the same with antibiotics and bacteria...but that's a story for another time.

when we learned the truth about the harmful effects of DDT, we stopped using it. when we learned the danger CFCs posed to the integrity of earth's ozone layer, we took steps to phase them out. we have got to stop poisoning our planet with noxious chemicals that are killing wildlife and killing us in the name of convenience or protecting ourselves. because what we are doing is not protecting ourselves at all, we are destroying ourselves and many other living creatures besides.

the public needs to be kept informed and safe. yes, it's important that an individual take responsibility for his own welfare and that of his family, but one's own health and safety is often only as good as the information he is presented with. we need a media that is willing to speak truth to power, and hold political representatives and companies accountable for actions that negatively impact the well-being of people, wildlife and natural ecosystems.

is that too much to ask, cfrn?

i hope all the people who go to the folk festival this year in gallagher park like the taste of dursban, because the ground will be covered in it as the city sprays the area. everyone can sing along as the carcinogenic chemical will be blowin' in the wind and breathed into their lungs...and into the wombs of all the expectant mothers, welcoming the next generation into our toxic-filled world.

that's a fine how-do-you-do.

in her book The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health - and a Vision for Change, author and environmental activist annie leonard writes,
In a study of umbilical cords, the Environmental Working Group found they contained an average of 287 agricultural and industrial chemicals each. And, in a shocking violation of the sanctity of human life, breast milk, which is at the top of the food chain, now has alarmingly high levels of toxic contamination.
ladies (and gentlemen) do you really want to add dursban to that list of deleterious substances poisoning you and your child?

contact the city of edmonton and let them know that you and your friends, family and neighbors no longer want to be put at risk by these noxious chemicals contaminating our air, water and soil.

Chrystal Coleman, Corporate Communication
Telephone: 780-868-7176
or dial 311

or email
fax: 780-496-4978

there are far safer methods to keep annoying summertime mosquitoes away than spraying harmful neurotoxins into our surroundings that last for years to come.

if we poison our environment, we poison ourselves.