Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Just had to be shared with you!

with 10 comments

Sent to me in the last hour by long-time friend Bob Derham.

 

The EU has just announced that with immediate effect all Euro notes will be printed on Greece proof paper.

Written by Paul Handover

July 7, 2015 at 13:22

Posted in Government, Humour, People, Politics

Tagged with ,

The winds of time.

with 2 comments

Time from two very different perspectives.

solstice

I started writing this post approaching midnight (UTC) on the afternoon of Tuesday, 26th May, 2015.  In other words, approaching 00:00 UTC 26/05/15 (or in American ‘speak’ 05/26/15 – a little thing that is taking me years to become accustomed to.)

At that time, it was fewer than four weeks to the June solstice. Now it was over a week ago and Christmas is just around the corner! (OK, I’ll admit a slight exaggeration!)

However, I thought the TomDispatch essay was just as valid on June 29th as it was on May 26th. So I will continue.

The planet Earth has been in orbit around the sun for a very long time!  Time beyond imagination. By comparison, in a very short time one species alone, namely homo sapiens, has altered the biosphere of Planet Earth. It’s almost beyond comprehension!

To expand on that shortage of time, let me republish an essay from TomDispatch from last September.  Republished with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.

ooOOoo

What to Do When You’re Running Out of Time

Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 8:09am, September 18, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

Just when no one needed more lousy news, the U.N.’s weather outfit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), issued its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It offered a shocking climate-change update: the concentrations of long-lasting greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) rose at a “record-shattering pace” from 2012 to 2013, including the largest increase in CO2 in 30 years — and there was a nasty twist to this news that made it even grimmer.

While such increases reflected the fact that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels at staggering rates, something else seems to be happening as well. Both the oceans and terrestrial plant life act as carbon sinks; that is, they absorb significant amounts of the carbon dioxide we release and store it away. Unfortunately, both may be reaching limits of some sort and seem to be absorbing less. This is genuinely bad news if you’re thinking about the future warming of the planet. (As it happens, in the same period, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, parts of the American public stopped absorbing information in no less striking fashion: the number of those who believe that global warming isn’t happening rose 7% to 23%.)

So consider this a propitious moment for a major climate-change demonstration, possibly the largest in history, in New York City this Sunday. [Ed: it turned out to be the largest climate march in history.] As the WMO’s Secretary-General Michel Jarraud pointed out, there is still time to make a difference. “We have the knowledge and we have the tools,” he said, “for action to try to keep temperature increases within 2°C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.” As TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the indie bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, points out, the pressure of mass movements can sometimes turn history upside down. Of course, the only way to find out if climate change is a candidate for this treatment is to get out in the streets. So, for those of you anywhere near New York, see you this Sunday! Tom

The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises

Change in a Time of Climate Change 
By Rebecca Solnit

There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.

Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.

As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising — almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.

The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.

But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine — in the short term and the most limited sense — for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.

The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to — John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier — and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.

Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.

As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.

It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, “We are running out of time.”

New and Renewable Energies

The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.

Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.

Renewable energy has become more efficient, technologically sophisticated, and cheaper — the price of solar power in relation to the energy it generates has plummeted astonishingly over the past three decades and wind technology keeps getting better. While Americans overall are not yet curtailing their fossil-fuel habits, many individuals and communities are choosing other options, and those options are becoming increasingly viable. A Stanford University scientist has proposed a plan to allow each of the 50 states to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Since, according to the latest report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil fuel reserves still in the ground are “at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level,” it couldn’t be more important to reach global agreements to do things differently on a planetary scale. Notably, most of those carbon reserves must be left untapped and the modest steps already taken locally and ad hoc show that such changes are indeed possible and that an encouraging number of us want to pursue them.

ooOOoo

In case you are wondering why this TomDispatch essay has been published some ten months after it first appeared, it is simply because I made a note to leave it for a few months to see if the benefit of some hindsight put the essay into context.

Here’s the context.

In the month of September, 2014, when this essay was published over on TomDispatch, the Atmospheric CO2 monthly average was 395.26 ppm. In April, 2015 it was 403.26 ppm. I can’t spell it out any better than what is written on the home page of CO2Now.org:

What the world needs to watch

Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2. Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.

What an interesting period in man’s history to be alive.

A future apocalypse?

with 6 comments

How many of us really, truly care about the future?

If you sense a heartfelt plea in my sub-heading then you will not be wrong.

What has happened to our instincts for our survival?

What strikes me as so tragic is that if I asked you to guess the topic of today’s post before you read on, the odds are that you would chose from any number of subjects that reveal a society hell-bent on self-extinction!

OK, let me get to the point.

A little over 10 days ago I republished a George Monbiot essay that spoke about the madness of chicken production in the UK. Mr. Monbiot’s essay was called Fowl Deeds and was within my post called We are what we eat!

Well George Monbiot has just published a sequel to Fowl Deeds that I am going to republish in this place tomorrow.

But what I am going to offer for today, as a prelude to tomorrow’s post, is a YouTube video of a BBC Panorama program that was screened earlier on in May. The program was called Antibiotic Apocalypse and was about the threat of increasing resistance to modern Antibiotics.

Why does this make such an important prelude?

Because as you will see when you watch the Panorama program much of our ‘factory’ food comes from animals that are fed antibiotics!

How to close?

All that comes to mind is a wonderful throwaway remark from a old boy, village resident, when supping a pint of bitter in The Church House Inn; what used to be my local pub in my home village of Harberton, Devon.  This is what he said:

All the world’s a little queer except thee and me, and I ha’ me doubts about thee!

church-house-inn

Interior of The Church House Inn, Harberton, Devon.

Indeed, all the world is more than a ‘little queer’!

The winds of time

with 4 comments

Time from two very different perspectives.

solstice

I’m writing this post approaching midnight (UTC) on the afternoon of Tuesday, 26th May, 2015.  In other words, approaching 00:00 UTC 27/05/15. (Or, in American speak 05/27/15.)

In fewer than four weeks it will be the moment of the Summer solstice, as in the Northern Hemisphere’s Mid-Summer’s Day. More precisely explained over on EarthSky.org together with a number of very interesting facts:

The solstice comes on June 21, 2015 at 16:38 UTC. For North American time zones, that places the solstice at 12:38 p.m. EDT, 11:38 a.m. CDT, 10:38 a.m. MDT and 9:38 a.m. PDT.

The planet Earth has been in orbit around the sun for a very long time!  Time beyond imagination. By comparison, in a very short time one species alone, namely homo sapiens, has altered the biosphere of Planet Earth. It’s almost beyond comprehension!

To expand on that notion, let me republish an essay from TomDispatch from last September.  Republished with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.

ooOOoo

Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, What to Do When You’re Running Out of Time

Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 8:09am, September 18, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

Just when no one needed more lousy news, the U.N.’s weather outfit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), issued its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It offered a shocking climate-change update: the concentrations of long-lasting greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) rose at a “record-shattering pace” from 2012 to 2013, including the largest increase in CO2 in 30 years — and there was a nasty twist to this news that made it even grimmer.

While such increases reflected the fact that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels at staggering rates, something else seems to be happening as well. Both the oceans and terrestrial plant life act as carbon sinks; that is, they absorb significant amounts of the carbon dioxide we release and store it away. Unfortunately, both may be reaching limits of some sort and seem to be absorbing less. This is genuinely bad news if you’re thinking about the future warming of the planet. (As it happens, in the same period, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, parts of the American public stopped absorbing information in no less striking fashion: the number of those who believe that global warming isn’t happening rose 7% to 23%.)

So consider this a propitious moment for a major climate-change demonstration, possibly the largest in history, in New York City this Sunday. [Ed: it turned out to be the largest climate march in history.] As the WMO’s Secretary-General Michel Jarraud pointed out, there is still time to make a difference. “We have the knowledge and we have the tools,” he said, “for action to try to keep temperature increases within 2°C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.” As TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the indie bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, points out, the pressure of mass movements can sometimes turn history upside down. Of course, the only way to find out if climate change is a candidate for this treatment is to get out in the streets. So, for those of you anywhere near New York, see you this Sunday! Tom

The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises

Change in a Time of Climate Change 
By Rebecca Solnit

There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.

Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.

As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising — almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.

The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.

But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine — in the short term and the most limited sense — for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.

The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to — John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier — and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.

Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.

As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.

It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, “We are running out of time.”

New and Renewable Energies

The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.

Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.

Renewable energy has become more efficient, technologically sophisticated, and cheaper — the price of solar power in relation to the energy it generates has plummeted astonishingly over the past three decades and wind technology keeps getting better. While Americans overall are not yet curtailing their fossil-fuel habits, many individuals and communities are choosing other options, and those options are becoming increasingly viable. A Stanford University scientist has proposed a plan to allow each of the 50 states to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Since, according to the latest report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil fuel reserves still in the ground are “at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level,” it couldn’t be more important to reach global agreements to do things differently on a planetary scale. Notably, most of those carbon reserves must be left untapped and the modest steps already taken locally and ad hoc show that such changes are indeed possible and that an encouraging number of us want to pursue them.

ooOOoo

In case you are wondering why this TomDispatch essay has been published in this place some ten months after it first appeared over at TD, it is simply because I made a note to leave it for a few months to see if the benefit of some hindsight put the essay into context.

Here’s the context.

In the month of September, 2014, when this essay was published over on TomDispatch, the Atmospheric CO2 monthly average was 395.26 ppm. In April, 2015 it was 403.26 ppm. I can’t spell it out any better than what is written on the home page of CO2Now.org:

What the world needs to watch

Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2. Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.

Written by Paul Handover

May 27, 2015 at 00:00

The great global tragedy.

with 5 comments

Reinforcing the need to move personhood beyond the human person.

Yesterday, I wrote about the moves to have the concept of personhood extended to chimpanzees. Here’s a small extract:

The order to show cause on the issue of habeas corpus is the first step in a process which Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) hope will secure Hercules and Leo’s bodily liberty and integrity. If the court were to find in their favour, the chimpanzees would no longer be kept for research and could be moved to a sanctuary in Florida.

Last Friday, George Monbiot published an essay that reinforced our need to regard our animals differently than hitherto; especially our larger animals. It is my pleasure to republish it with Mr. Monbiot’s permission.

ooOOoo

Megadeath

22nd May 2015

The destruction of some of the last of the huge animals that shaped us inflicts a great wound in our lives.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 22nd May 2015

When I read about the attacks on the world’s remaining elephants and rhinos, the first thought that enters my head is: “these creatures used to be everywhere”. Almost every area of land and sea, in every region of the world, had a megafauna. Elephants lived throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and America until very recently in ecological time (30,000 years ago in Europe, 14,000 years ago in the Americas). Rhinos lived across Africa, Asia and Europe. Temperate forest rhinos lived in Britain during previous interglacials, and woolly rhinos lived here in colder periods. Russia was haunted by two gigantic species: humpbacked rhinos the size of elephants, eight feet to the crest, weighing perhaps five tonnes.

Lions were everywhere except Australasia (that had a marsupial equivalent); tigers ranged to the borders of Europe; hippos wallowed in British rivers; hyaenas survived into the early Mesolithic in Britain and northern Europe. All this is easily forgotten in a world afflicted by Shifting Baseline Syndrome: our habit of conceptualising as natural and normal the ecosystems that prevailed in our own youth, unaware that they were, even then, in an extremely degraded state.

The places in which monsters remain are the last tiny redoubts of what was once a global population. Of the 42 species of terrestrial mammals weighing more than a tonne that existed on Earth when modern humans left Africa, just eight are left: the African and Asian elephants, the larger of the two hippopotamus species and the black, white, Indian, Javan and Sumatran rhinos. Seven of them are threatened and four are critically endangered.

Even in the relatively recent past, the area of land over which these animals roamed has drastically declined. Maps published in a new paper in the journal Science Advances show that elephants, hippos and black rhinos occupied most of sub-Saharan Africa when their populations were first encountered by modern Europeans, but are now confined to a few tiny specks of land.

From William J. Ripple et al, 1st May 2015. Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores. Science Advances. 2015;1:e1400103

From William J. Ripple et al, 1st May 2015. Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores. Science Advances. 2015;1:e1400103

Why do the very large animals prove most susceptible to destruction? It’s partly because they reproduce slowly and partly because they require plenty of land and food for their survival, so the destruction of wild places tends to hit them sooner than it affects smaller species. But it’s also, I believe, because we have a deep-rooted urge to assert our status by killing them and owning their body parts. Even when people don’t do the killing themselves, possessing their skins, heads, tusks or horns has long been a means of acquiring bragging rights.

From the exquisite sculpture of two reindeer migrating across a river, carved from a piece of mammoth ivory 13,000 years ago and now housed in the British Museum, to the tiger skin rugs and heads of exotic beasts exhibited in stately homes today, bigging ourselves up by displaying our mastery of great beasts seems to be a fundamental human trait. Today’s aristocrats, some of whom are descendants of tribal chiefs, hang their ancestors on the wall to establish their genealogy and the heads of the animals they have killed beside them, to establish their prowess. Not much has changed in thousands of years.

Many of the world’s great sagas, tales of Ulysses, Sinbad, Sigurd, Beowulf, Cú Chulainn, St George, Arjuna, Lạc Long Quân and Glooskap, tell of struggles with megafauna real or imagined. Doubtless at least some of these stories originated in real battles with beasts whose true nature has been forgotten, as a result of their extinction. Think of Sinbad and the roc, which might be a garbled version of encounters with the elephant bird of Madagascar.

Today, some very rich people try to recreate these battles in ways that seem to me grotesque. They bid on the internet for the right to shoot a particular animal, sometimes paying tens of thousands of dollars, arrange a date, a time and a place, then fly over, in some cases with their taxidermists in tow, to bag the creature they have bought.

The animal is waiting for them – sometimes in an enclosure, sometimes just after being released from one, sometimes in the wild but already located by guides. There is no question about the outcome; otherwise the money would have to be repaid. I have heard that in some cases these people fly to a country for just a couple of days, during which they have booked the killing of several spectacular animals. Their diary secretaries arrange their schedules so that they can fit them all in. Once they have posed triumphantly with a foot on the beast they have just killed, they leave it for the taxidermist to process and move on to the next appointment with death.

This looks to me as dry and joyless as it is brutal and unsporting. Though I would struggle nowadays to bring myself to shoot a mammal or a bird (in my youth I killed and ate a few rabbits, squirrels and pigeons), I can understand the attraction of doing so in difficult circumstances, stalking and crawling and lying in wait much as a wild predator would. Canned, predetermined hunting of this kind seems empty of challenge and romance, bought rather than won. But such is the drive to establish dominion over the largest and most magnificent of beasts, and such is the obsession with conspicuous outcomes, that, for some people, none of this appears to matter.

Others are satisfied to remove themselves even further from contingency, by purchasing pieces of animals that have already been killed. My guess is that the use of rhino horn, tiger bones and other such body parts in traditional Chinese medicine, which are of course clinically useless, might be another manifestation of this deep-rooted drive, to make ourselves feel better by association with creatures larger or fiercer than ourselves.

You might have imagined that there were now plenty of alternative means of asserting our status and persuading ourselves of our own value, but traits that resonate with our evolutionary past – our ghost psyche – die hard.

So this great global tragedy continues. I know I should write about it more often. But I find it too upsetting.

Until 2008, conservationists, in some places at least, appeared to be winning. But in that year the number of rhinos killed in South Africa rose (from 13 in 2007) to 83. By 2011, the horrible tally had risen to 448. It climbed to 668 in 2012, 1004 in 2013 and 1215 in 2014. In the first four months of this year, 393 rhinos have been killed there, which is 18% more than in the same period last year.

rhino-poaching-trend

The reasons for this acceleration in the Great Global Polishing are complex and not always easy to tease out. But they appear to be connected to rising prosperity in Vietnam, the exhaustion of illegal stocks held by Chinese doctors and, possibly, speculative investment in a scarce and tangible asset during the financial crisis. Corruption and judicial failure help to keep the trade alive.

Already, the western black rhino is extinct (the declaration was made in 2011). The northern white rhino has been reduced to five animals: a male at the end of its anticipated lifespan and four females, scattered between Kenya, the US and the Czech Republic.

Similar stories can be told about some populations of elephants – in particular the forest elephants of West and central Africa.

It’s not just these wonderful, enchanting creatures that are destroyed by poaching, but also many of the living processes of the places they inhabit. Elephants and rhinos are ecological engineers, creating conditions that hundreds of other species have evolved to exploit.

As the paper in Science Advances notes, the great beasts maintain a constantly shifting mosaic of habitats through a cycle of browsing and toppling and trampling, followed by the regrowth of the trees and the other plants they eat. They open up glades for other herbivores, and spaces in which predators can hunt. They spread the seeds of trees that have no other means of dispersal (other animals are too small to swallow the seeds whole, and grind them up). Many trees in Africa and Asia are distributed exclusively by megaherbivores.

They transport nutrients from rich places to poor ones and in some places reduce the likelihood of major bushfires, by creating firebreaks and eating twigs and leaves that would otherwise accumulate as potential fuel on the ground. Many animal species have co-evolved with them: the birds that eat their ectoparasites, the fish that feed on hippos’ fighting wounds (some of these species, I believe, are now used for fish pedicures), the wide range of life that depends on their dung for food and moisture, on their wallows for habitats, on the fissures they create in trees for nesting holes.

Who knows what ecological processes the world has already lost through the retreat of the megafauna? Everywhere on earth, living systems have been radically altered by the loss of the great beasts. (I’ll be discussing the impacts of the extinction of European elephants in next month’s edition of BBC Wildlife magazine).

The destruction of some of the last populations of the animals that shaped us, as well as the natural world, inflicts, I feel, a great wound in our lives, diminishing the wonderful planet on which we evolved, shrinking imagination, crushing experience. All of us should have an interest in supporting those who seek to save these wonderful creatures.

www.monbiot.com

ooOOoo

Dear Reader, I don’t intend to cast you in some dark mental place with the republication of this dark essay from Mr. Monbiot. Yet if you care about the world that we are leaving for the next generation, and I’m certain that the majority, the vast majority, of you readers do so care, then these terrible aspects of humanity must be highlighted. For if just one person is moved to make a difference then the mental pain is a necessary step on that journey of making a difference.

Always search for the rainbow – it’s there somewhere. If

you can’t find one, invent one.Anon.

Just a thought!

with 10 comments

A novel Nursing Home plan.

Sent to me by dear friend, Dan Gomez, as a light-hearted diversion for the weekend. (But it did fit rather nicely as a sequel to my Lies, Damn Lies, and … from yesterday!)

ooOOoo

Say you are an older senior citizen and can no longer take care of yourself and the government says there is no Nursing Home care available for you. So, what do you do? You opt for Medicare Part G.

The plan gives anyone 75 or older a gun (Part G) and one bullet. You are allowed to shoot one worthless politician.

This means you will be sent to prison for the rest of your life where you will receive three meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating and air conditioning, cable TV, a library, and all the Health Care you need. Need new teeth? No problem. Need glasses? That’s great. Need a hearing aid, new hip, knees, kidney, lungs, sex change, or heart? They are all covered!

As an added bonus, your kids can come and visit you at least as often as they do now! And who will be paying for all of this? The same government that just told you they can’t afford for you to go into a nursing home. And you will get rid of a useless politician while you are at it. And now, because you are a prisoner, you don’t have to pay any more income taxes!

Is this a great country or what? Now that you have solved your senior financial plan, enjoy the rest of your week!

ooOOoo

I’ll leave the closing words to Dan: “Crazy world but compelling plan.​”

Have a great weekend wherever you are.

Written by Paul Handover

May 23, 2015 at 00:00

Lies, Damn lies, and ….

with 6 comments

What is so terrible about integrity!

I don’t know if my title to today’s post is part of a saying that is well-known in the USA. But back in dear old England the expression is widely used; the full expression being, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Politicians“.

So what’s got my ‘knickers in a twist’ about the various hues of ‘truth’ that we find amongst our politicians?

Before answering that question, perhaps I should answer a more fundamental question that might be arising in the minds of those followers who are relatively new to this place. (And each and every one of you has to understand the very great privilege you offer me by being a follower.) That question being what have integrity and politicians got to do with a blog about dogs?

Easily answered in the words over at About this Blog:

The underlying theme of Learning from Dogs is about truth, integrity, honesty and trust in every way. We use the life of dogs as a metaphor.

I subscribe to the blogsite The Conversation (US arm). Back on May 18th, they published an item under the title of How many ways can politicians ‘lie’?

The article seemed to articulate, in a measured and responsible fashion, what huge numbers of us sense subjectively: truth is rare to see in the world of power and politics.

I’m not going to republish it in full, including the tables, but will offer the first half with a link to the rest of the article. The author of the article is Dr. Ellis Jones, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

How many ways can politicians ‘lie’? How a class led to a ‘truth’ report card for the 2016 election.

I regularly teach a course called The Sociology of Television & Media in which my students and I critically explore newscasts, entertainment programming and (both commercial and political) advertising. The theme that I use as a touchstone throughout the class is: What happens when, as a society, we begin to mix fantasy and reality together in mass media?

We discuss how a range of troubling outcomes emerge for a public that has difficulty telling truth from fiction. Max Horkheimer, a German-Jewish sociologist, argued that this is part of what led to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Once we lose our ability to detect lies, we become vulnerable to demagogues.

Six categories of rhetoric

About halfway through the semester, I have students deconstruct political ads, and we discuss practical resources for navigating the web of truths, half-truths and outright lies that proliferate unhindered during each election cycle.

One resource that I offer is Politifact.org’s Truth-o-Meter. Students fact-check politicians’ statements to determine how much, if any, truth is contained therein (they actually won a Pulitzer Prize for their work fact-checking the 2008 election).

The first, and perhaps most important, takeaway from their work is that modern political statements cannot accurately be rated as simply “true” or “false.” So sophisticated has the art of mixing truth and lies become that the scale Politifact currently uses includes six separate categories of political rhetoric: true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false and “pants on fire” (for statements that aren’t just false but also completely ludicrous – and yet still stated as truth).

In essence, while there is still but one way to tell the truth, there are now at least five times as many acceptable ways to lie.

For example, John Boehner’s May 3 2015 statement on Meet The Press that “we spend more money on antacids than we do on politics” is rated simply “false.” Fact-checking reveals that in the US, we spent somewhere between US$3 billion and US$7 billion on elections in 2014 (depending on what money streams you include), while we spent less than $2 billion on antacids in the same year.

Boehner’s team was apparently trying to compare global sales of antacids (including all seven billion people on the planet) to US spending on elections (about 320 million of us) – a false comparison.

On April 23 2015, Hillary Clinton provided a good illustration of a statement that rates as a “half truth.” When addressing the Women in the World Summit in New York City, Clinton asserted that the US ranks “65th out of 142 nations” when it comes to equal pay for women. The statistic comes from the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report.

However, the primary measure generated by this report ranks the US 20th in gender equity. The ranking of 65th is taken from a subcategory in the report that relies on a survey of perceptions of executives rather than hard numbers. So, while it is technically true, it may actually be overstating the severity of the gender pay gap comparison.

Whom can we trust?

The second takeaway, though it may not be much of a surprise, is that there are no politicians in this country that exclusively tell the truth. Every single one, to a greater or lesser extent, spins, bends, twists or breaks the truth.

Perhaps this is the price of power in our modern democracy, but we should find it at least a little troubling.

So where does this leave us? Well, knowing that every one of our politicians lies, the most important question, in my mind, becomes: Who is most often telling the truth and who is lying to us repeatedly in order to gain our support?

In other words, whom can and whom can’t we trust?

With this question in mind, I had my students add up the raw numbers for 25 major politicians (based on Politifact’s fact-checking over the past eight years) and write the results up on the board in rank order from most to least honest based on the data. The results were intriguing.

While the prototype point system was not particularly sophisticated (two points for each true statement, one point for each mostly true statement, zero for half-truths, etc.), the numbers revealed that many well-known politicians were abusing the truth far more than they were embracing it.

When I asked the class what they thought of the results, one student raised her hand and replied, “I’m not shocked.” Many of the others immediately nodded their heads in agreement.

I wondered if we’ve become so accustomed to the bending and breaking of the truth that we no longer expect truth from our leaders. Now we’re teaching the next generation not to expect it either.

After seeing these preliminary results, I was hooked.

Please do read the rest of this fascinating and hugely helpful report. It names names in terms of the ‘good, bad and ugly’!

However, the closing paragraphs of Dr. Jones’ article are so wonderful that I can’t resist republishing them!

As teachers, caught up in our own subject matter, we easily forget that our students are hungry to apply what they’re being taught in our classes to something meaningful in their own lives.

It is our obligation to offer each generation a sense of social responsibility, hope for the future and the practical tools that will allow them to build it for themselves.

Something like a yearly Honesty Report Card might serve us well at this point in our democracy’s evolution. At the very least, let’s use this idea as a starting point for some kind of political unity in this country.

Whether you are liberal or conservative, can’t we at least agree that our politicians should start telling us the truth?

At this point in preparing today’s post, I wanted, wanted so much, something to take me away into some dreamy corner of my mind. For just a few minutes to be distracted from the present day realities of life.

I chose to do it by listening to this track from Chris Rea.

Oh, nearly forgot to mention that dogs don’t lie!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,473 other followers

%d bloggers like this: