Lately, there’s been a lot of controversy over the boom in condominium development downtown. Concerns about height, neighbourhood character and shady land deals have dogged the Tivoli Condos, planned for James North. Others have raised concerns about affordable housing and the risk of repeating past generations of “disastrous” downtown redevelopment policies.

While these might be valid concerns, I prefer to look on the lighter side. The real estate boom Hamilton is witnessing right now represents one of the fastest-growing markets in Canada. The “renewal” people talked about for so many years is finally happening, and it’s transforming the city before our eyes. Streets which used to be clogged with sad and hungry faces are now populated by cheerful and trendy young professionals. The old and dirty shops and restaurants of “little Portugal” are being replaced with the same upscale delights you might find on Queen West in Toronto. Our city has finally become hip.

Looking out at the many cranes which now hover over our downtown, I can’t help but ponder where this new renaissance is heading. Might we, too, be able to erect a sea of glass towers like Toronto and Vancouver? Line King, Main and Barton with upscale clothing shops and trendy ‘gastro-pubs’? What could we make of the waterfront, once all that “Setting Sail” nonsense is shredded and the last steel mills close up shop?

The massive influx of capital we’re seeing will spread far beyond the shadows cast by these towers. It will buoy house prices, increase tax revenues, create jobs and provide an opportunity to finally fix up some of the lower city’s vast tracks of slum housing. This rising tide really will lift all boats, so what if a few people get evicted? Recent history has shown that real estate speculation is the safest, most stable investment we can make, and our town’s history has shown that we never really can go wrong with cranes and bulldozers. Our city simply cannot affort to miss this opportunity.

Condos are our future. Glass is the new steel. However rapid or scary these changes might be, we might as well embrace them, because you can’t fight progress, right?

*The Illuminati approve of this message.

When one reads about the state of our world and the crises it faces, one tends to get a sense that “it’s getting better all the time”. Sure, we face crises, but that’s nothing new. Almost daily now we’re presented with news about “solutions” to the environmental crisis, whether that means international climate summits or DIY off-grid living tips on social media. “Green” and “ethical” products are everywhere, and it seems like every business, politician and government official is getting with the program. Anyone who suggests we aren’t doing enough is branded an “alarmist”, “extremist” or “luddite” and with the help of a few “good news” stories we’re all encouraged to assume that everything is going to be ok.

This is a comforting view, but it isn’t accurate. The real numbers tell a very different story.

Greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, are still increasing. As of the end of this year, it’s estimated that we’ll be emitting a full 65% more than we did in 1990, the year used as a benchmark by the Kyoto Protocol. Worse yet, the rate at which these emissions are increasing doubled in the first decade of the new millennium (compared to the previous three) and emissions this year are showing growing at the fastest rate seen in 30 years. World oil consumption, too, just set another record, thanks largely to the shale oil (“fracking”) boom in the United States. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund, following animal populations globally over four decades, has found a roughly 40% decline across the board, including a 52% loss of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) as well as a 76% decline in freshwater species. Another study, earlier this year, calculated the current global rate of species extinction around 1000 times higher than the natural “background” rate. Last UN researchers found 168 countries suffering from desertification, up from 110 in the 1990s. Then there’s the 40% drop in coral reef growth rates since the 1970s, a troubling indicator of ocean acidification (as well as a potential tipping point). Other worrying trends, especially to those of us who rely on food to live, include vanishing pollinators, collapsing fish stocks and persistence of record-setting droughts in places like California and Brazil.

These numbers paint a very ugly picture. Simply put, there is every reason to believe that our planet is headed for a catastrophic collapse. We can hold on to hope and faith that technology or politics will reverse this trend, but we cannot pretend that those views are backed up by hard evidence. Humanity is heading for a wall, and we show no signs of slowing down.

Admittedly, we’ve made great strides – we’ve pulled a few species back from the brink of extinction, and greatly slowed the rate of deforestation in places like the Amazon (though it’s up 30% this year…). Entire continents, like Europe, have actually managed to lower their carbon emissions and solar power is entering a renaissance. Still, there’s an unavoidable feeling that we’re taking two steps backward for every step forward. Try as we might, it’s not easy to fight the tide of exponential growth. With growing populations enjoying growing per-person consumption, a growing impact on our planet’s ecology is going to be nearly impossible to avoid.

What can we do? First, and foremost, we can stop deluding ourselves. Not only can we write off the likes of Bjorn Lomberg who would downplay the crisis, but also the business-as-usual solutions which promise to save the world without any effort, sacrifice or critical thinking on our part. Bumper stickers and “buying green” aren’t going to cut it anymore. This milquetoast environmentalism is doing more harm than good – both by wasting the time and effort of dedicated people and presenting the illusion that something’s really being accomplished. Only once we’ve abandoned the easy answers can we really look for solutions.

Dear readers, I have something to confess: I’m not really an anarchist. For years now I’ve been operating undercover amongst political groups and social movements, one of many agents tasked with steering discussion away from more dangerous topics. As far as I can tell, many if not most of my “comrades” are similarly employed. I’m making this statement today, with the knowledge that it may put me at extreme personal risk, because I can no longer abide the lies and distortions I’ve become a part of.

“Activism”, as the Canadian public knows it, is a lie. Designed to introduce establishment ideas under the guise of radical opposition, it might be the most devious social engineering strategy mankind has ever known. Under names like “socialism”, “feminism” and “environmentalism”, they’ve used the people themselves to steer history in an ugly, authoritarian direction. In my time working for this organization, I’ve helped to limit people’s mobility, fertility and curtail their freedom of speech in every possible way. Worse yet, I got people to do it voluntarily.

Who do I work for? None of us really knows. The term ‘Illuminati” is thrown around a lot, though it’s hard to tell whether that’s an official name or just a tongue-in-cheek reference. Their ranks include names like Rothschild and Soros along with a whole host of bureaucrats and powerbrokers you’ve probably never heard of. This cabal, we’re told, played a crucial role in nearly ever major world event since the French Revolution. For obvious reasons, employees like me aren’t given many details, except a very stern warning that they are everywhere.

I don’t expect I’ll be around long, but I no longer care. They can disappear me, kill me, even scour every record of me from history, but at least I’ll go with a clean conscience. Words may come easily to me, but simply cannot express the guilt I’ve experienced using my talents in this way. Death by honesty will always be preferable to living a lie.

As a final act, though, if I’m able to post this before the inevitable knock at my door, I need to come clean and tell what I know of the truth. There’s a great many topics I’ve never been allowed to cover on this blog, topics which I’ve been paid quite handsomely not to cover – chemicals sprayed into our air and added to our water supply, the illusory nature of fiat currencies or the fraud that is global warming “science”. If you seek the truth, these would be a good place to start. For more, look into institutions like the United Nations and Federal Reserve, which I was repeatedly instructed to avoid criticizing at all costs. I realise this isn’t much, but it should at least get you started, if you’re willing to take that leap. Beyond that I can only tell you to be very careful, to trust nobody and always to read between the lines.

I doubt that this post will stay up for long, so copy, paste and share before it disappears like so many others.

So colossally sorry,

If you’ve been following the news in Canada over the last year or so, there should be nothing too surprising about our Prime Minister’s “war on science”. World-class labs and experiments have been shut down, libraries destroyed, scientists “muzzled” and mandates have been re-written along unabashedly ideological lines. The disregard for any science which might contradict his political interests has provoked indignation throughout Canada’s intellectual and academic communities, leading to protests at Capitol Hill by many notable scientists. At issue isn’t just information which might damage his political chances or the petrochemical industry he represents but the notion of “science” itself.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of very good critiques of science, academia and “rationality” out there. Since taking the reigns of “established truth” from religion, science has often found itself in the same authoritarian roles, defining dark-skinned people as less-than-human, homosexuality as a “mental illness” and generally facilitating the spread of empire. That being said, I must ask, if not science, then what? Emotion? Rhetoric? Dogma? If and when a better system comes along I’ll gladly adopt it, as will, I suspect, every intellectually honest academic, but only after demonstrating a superior ability to predict and explain the unknown, something the alternatives have all (so far) been unable or unwilling to do. Science, as an institution, has shown the nearly unique ability to admit wrong-doing and learn from its misktakes. That evidence-based evolution, rather than any one claim, defines “science” and sets it apart from its peers.

In spite of all the economic and institutional incentives for science to parrot the views of government, it often doesn’t, and that’s the problem here. Over the past century honest self-criticism and better methodologies have demolished many of the cherished ‘truths’ it once upheld, making life a lot harder for those who based their reactionary politics on them. This has provoked some understandable resentment and suspicion, especially among those unable to understand or evaluate the science in question. In more ignorant and hardline groups, this often leads to a wholesale rejection and allegations that all of science and academia are aligned against them in a giant liberal/communist/Jewish* conspiracy, which is now sadly something of a mainstream political view.

Even in a perfect world, science will never be “neutral”. It may assume neutrality as a starting point, but sticking with it means never reaching any conclusions, or at the very best permanently agreeing to disagree (as we have with philosophy, religion and musical preference). The sad fact is that we can’t all be right. We may be entitled to our own opinions, but reality is not obliged to indulge our egos. Believe, if you wish, that global warming isn’t real, that the Tar Sands and fracking are sustainable, that austerity, tax cuts or the gold standard are likely to fix the economy or that putting more people in prison will lower crime rates, but that’s not what the evidence says. That may be a result of Illuminati agents distorting the data, but there’s a far simpler explanation: you might just be wrong.

What we don’t know can hurt us. Not looking to see if there are cars coming doesn’t make crossing a street any safer. Nor will avoiding tests for diseases stop them from making you sick. In the face of danger, ignorance is among the worst choices one can make. Sadly, in this case, the choice is being made for us.

The rejection of science leads us down a dark path. If conclusions are decided ahead of time, there’s little point to doing experiments or writing papers at all. If evidence isn’t valued, then what sets serious debate apart from a karaoke competition? This policy threatens to stifle a world-class scientific community which took generations to build. Worse, it sets a precedent by which knowledge and truth are decided directly by the government of the day and evidence tailored to fit their views. If replacing science with ignorance is to be the new official position of our government, the only thing we’ll be able to know for sure is that our country is run by a bunch of idiots.

This week’s “movie” is actually the most recent episode of the CBC’s Fifth Estate, “Silence of the Labs”. I don’t usually use this space to promote current broadcast programming, but given the dire nature of this subject matter as well as the CBC’s willingness to post the whole thing online, I’m willing to make an exception. If you haven’t already seen it, I’d definitely recommend making time for this one, if only to see yet another glaring example of how twisted this nation is becoming.

Silence of the Labs (Official CBC Link)
YouTube Link (for those outside Canada)

*This is not hyperbole, there is a long history of association between fascism and anti-intellectualism. The Nazis adopted the ultra-nationalist “Deutsche Physik” movement which rejected “Jewish Science”, especially Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Similar views are common among religious fundamentalists, Holocaust deniers and John-Birchers for obvious reasons, as well as most of the nastier authoritarian leftist regimes.

Winter is here, and this year it struck with a vengeance. New snowfalls nearly every day, bone-chilling double-digit cold and pipes bursting everywhere you look. After the last few years of warm and mostly snowless (Canadian!) winters, I was beginning to wonder if weather like this would ever return. In many ways, this is the kind of winter I remember from childhood. In others, though, it’s starting to get a lot colder than that. As severe winter storms and record-setting low temperatures continue to shut down entire regions from the Midwestern US through to the Maritimes, we’re now being told that in some areas, nobody under 40 remembers weather like this.

I can think of no better example to illustrate why “climate change” is a far more appropriate term than “global warming”. Increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses don’t always mean a slow and constant ratcheting up of temperatures. Instead, they often throw complex systems out of balance leading to a loss of stability and predictability, causing more extreme temperatures at both ends of the thermometer. This latest cold spell is being attributed to the influence of an unusually warm Arctic, causing the “Polar vortex” (cold air currents which circulates around the Arctic in winter) to move south and dump freezing temperatures south across the continent.

Did climate change have anything to do with this, or any of the past few week’s snow and ice storms? That’s certainly been suggested. As usual, it may be impossible to tell for sure. What climate scientists can tell us us is that current carbon levels make weather like this all but inevitable, though far less predictable, and that extreme weather already on the increase.

This science, unfortunately, seems to be receding from public debate. The rhetoric of climate denial is taking hold with an increasingly bold, self-assured and vitriolic tone, as well as quickly descending into crazed discussions of “warmist” conspiracies. Their most recent targets are the Prof. Chris Turney and his research crew, recently rescued when their ship became trapped in arctic ice during a research mission. Pundits like Terrance Corcoran have capitalized on their misfortune, asking (rhetorically) if Prof. Turney is “a guinea pig trapped in the folly of global warming science, his ship still mired in ice that should not be there?”. This is a low blow. Being stranded in the least hospitable environment on earth is nothing to joke about, and proves absolutely nothing about global trends in temperature or ice coverage.

As for this year’s “rebound” in Arctic ice volumes, another favorite topic of deniers at the moment, it’s still one of the lowest volumes on record. The much-touted “50% increase” comes after decades in decline and the single worst year on record – meaning that even small variations now show up as double-digit percentages (when these measurements began it would have been more like 15%). Watch any stock market for a few days and you’ll see the same kind of saw-tooth graph patterns – attempt to make money on those markets and you’ll soon learn how little a single uptick can mean. For those who put more faith in markets than science, I have only one question: how much of your own money would you bet on the “recovery” of an increasingly volatile stock, against the advice of every credible expert, following three decades of 4% annual losses?

The above are examples of relying on cherry-picked data to come to big, sweeping conclusions, and it’s one of many reasons I just can’t take deniers’ arguments seriously. Declaring global warming “over” every time cold weather hits the news doesn’t fill me with confidence either. If record shattering droughts and the flooding of New York and New Orleans don’t prove anything, then I hardly see how a year of ice growth at the North Pole or a ship becoming icebound in Antarctic waters count for much. Climate science may not be perfect and there’s still plenty it doesn’t understand, but there is no longer any credible debate about whether or not climate change is happening, nor has there been for many years now.

It seems every few months we’re facing another kind of unprecedented, weather-related disaster, from heat-waves to hurricanes to ice storms, each with their own region-wrecking potential. Climate change isn’t going away, and from all indications, things will get a lot worse before they get better. Recent projections from ExxonMobil, mirroring those made over the past few years by BP and the IEA show us on track for around four degrees of warming by 2050 if “unconventional” petrochemical sources like fracking and tar-sands extraction continue at their present rates of growth. The general consensus right now suggests that much warming would provoke catastrophe on a global scale, a view backed even by the IMF and World Bank. Undaunted, governments and corporations are hard at work ensuring the expansion of drilling, pipelines and refining in the name of economic growth. As you dig out from this latest blast of crazy weather, ask yourself: is that something you really want to be a part of?

First, an apology: it’s been roughly three months since I’ve posted any updates, and for that I’m very sorry. Due to a combination of family chaos and disaster at work, I found myself without the time or emotional energy to devote my usual few dozen hours per week toward this blog, and in all honesty, after three years and almost 400 posts, I really needed the break. When I did find time to write or research, I found myself getting into far too much depth on topics far too strange to post here. That, too, was something I badly needed, as ‘unstructured play’ never really loses its importance for intellectual development. At the same time, though, I found I really missed the simple act of writing regularly for others and the structure it brought to my thoughts and ideas. As the issues I followed continued to rage and worsen, it became increasingly difficult to sit on the sidelines, and while this blog has never had a large following by any measure, it’s still better than nothing.

If the year’s last week is a time for reflection and resolution, then I can think of no better time to return to this ten-year-old laptop and twenty-year-old keyboard to once again menace the local blogosphere. If I had to make a specific resolution, it would be to return to writing, but not in quite the same way as before. As anybody who knows me can attest, this project has, at times, consumed far too much of my time and attention. This, in turn, didn’t help my tendency to ruminate endlessly on the same topics, or to write an average of two posts I never quite finish for each one which does get posted. The second part of this resolution would have to include words like “frequency”, “regularity” and most importantly, “brevity”. Finally, as a broader project over the next year, I’m going to start working my way through the archives in an attempt to clean up some of the many typos and broken links, and to collect some of the better and more popular pieces into a book-length collection for print.

In terms of content, I hope to distil at least some of the last few months’ flights of fancy into a series that takes an in-depth look at the ideology and practice of fascism as well as continued coverage of the creeping surveillance state, resistance to petrochemical development and some good old-fashioned anarchist theory. I’m also going to do everything I can to keep providing on-the-ground coverage of local events, reflections on local issues and of course Sunday Night Movies. As always, if you’ve got questions, comments, ideas or contributions, get in touch.

On a final note, I’d like to wish every regular visitor (even the spammers and cops) a Happy New Year, and offer a profound “thank you” to everyone who kept fighting ‘the good fight’ over these past months. To those in Romania, the Ukraine, Hamburg, Istanbul and Elsipogtog, to the hunger-strikers in prisons and those only now escaping Putin’s new gulags, to those fighting for their lives and freedom in places like Syria and Nigeria, and of course everybody who’s daily struggles will never make the mainstream media. I may not have been writing, but I was watching and so were millions of others. Your sacrifices have not been forgotten, and you will never be alone.

In the next few days everybody’s expecting an attack on Syria to begin, likely led by Obama. After last week’s devastating chemical weapons attack, many now feel they now have the justification they need to enter the civil war which has now claimed somewhere in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand lives. So far, both Canada and the UK have bowed out (among many others), and Russia and China are issuing stern warnings, prompting fears that this might kick-off a third World War.

Admittedly, intervention, at this point, is pretty tempting. The Syrian situation has become a bloodbath, and whichever side one wants to blame, there’s pretty universal agreement that it needs to end. The question is: will “intervention” improve the situation? After the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, it’s become hard to take the optimists seriously in these matters – while such an intervention sounds wonderful in theory, it’s never quite so simple in practice.

At times like this, much of the West starts to think of itself as a sort of superhero. Possessing both a “superior” moral philosophy and weapons technology, we imagine ourselves as having a responsibility to help regions who aren’t as “developed”. Unfortunately, in these situations, the lines between hero and villain are never quite as clear as in the cartoons. It wasn’t so long ago that Assad and his torture chambers were a vital part of the “War on Terror”, especially the “rendition” program, which abducted, imprisoned and tortured individuals like Maher Arar. As for the dreaded Al Qaeda, they’ve been fighting Assad’s forces in Syria for quite a while now as a well-acknowledged part of the rebel forces. This pattern of shifting alliances has been a characteristic part of America’s foreign policy blunders since at least the Second World War. From their support for insurgents like Ho Chi Minh in their war with the Japanese to the now-legendary support for the Afghani Mujahadeen, these friends have an uncanny knack of coming back a generation later as enemies.

The Lybian conflict showed how quickly these tables can turn in the post-Arab Spring terrain. No sooner had Gaddafi (himself, armed by the West) fallen than stories started flooding out about the brutality of rebel forces. Worse, the rebels themselves, many with strong Islamic beliefs, began to leaving the country as well, and took with them many of the weapons which the West generously supplied (either to them or Gaddafi). This led to attacks and insurgencies in countries like Nigeria, Mali and Syria, and at least one more intervention (not counting Syria). There’s every reason to expect a very similar result from the fall of Assad, made all the more terrifying by the fact that this might be the first of these conflicts where WMDs are actually present.

As far as who let off the sarin gas cloud on August 22, that’s still not entirely clear. It may well have been Assad, or somebody from his side – so far they’ve shown little regard for mass civilian casualties and a steady appetite for escalation using increasingly powerful military hardware. On the other hand, claims that rebels had managed to get their hands on chemical weapons go back months before the attack, coming both from rebels themselves and others. There were even a few attacks last winter in which rebels allegedly struck with (low-quality) gas. Tying these all together is the obvious question of motive, for which Assad had very little (his side has been doing pretty well with conventional weapons) and the rebels had plenty.

America’s Evidence
Allegations against rebels/Saudis

Whoever used these weapons, their introduction only goes to show how desperate the situation has become, and this is something for which Assad can’t escape responsibility. Like Saddam and Gaddafi, I will shed no tears when he meets his inevitable bad end. That doesn’t mean, however, that I support an intervention – just that I have very little time for tyrants of any stripe. There’s a tendency in situations like this to ‘take a side’ and blame the other for every atrocity. The peace movement, in particular, has long been notorious for apologist depiction of leaders like Milosovic and Saddam – a natural reaction to their demonization in propaganda, perhaps, but also a fairly shameful public display. The choice between Obama and Assad, like Bush and Saddam, is a false dichotomy. It makes no more sense than stating that “if you don’t like the Bloods, you must support the Crips” – sometimes “neither” is a very valid option.

In the months leading up to the Iraq War, what little debate there was centered largely around this question. What makes the debate over Syria so fascinating (aside from the fact that it’s actually happening) is that people seem to be catching onto this ploy. Some of the most high-profile cautions have come from figures like Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as large numbers of America’s soldiers and veterans. After more than a decade of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody’s eager to get into the same kind of “quagmire” (clusterfuck) again. The exceptions, of course, being Obama and France (oh, the irony).

That so many veteran ‘hawks’ oppose this action highlights the hopeless naivety implicit in the notion of humanitarian bombings. You can’t blow up a social relationship, even with Tomahawks and Predator Drones. No matter how advanced the weapons, things will escalate and Obama will be forced to choose between “boots on the ground” and watching the situation deteriorate from afar, or essentially, the choice between repeating their misadventures in Iraq or Libya. A ground invasion would unseat Assad but as Iraq proved, three weeks of “combat operations” can easily become ten years of bitter occupation. On the other hand, sticking (primarily) to aerial bombardment meant that much of Libya fell into the hands of incredibly brutal rebel factions, and flooded the region with heavy weapons and wandering insurgents. Given Syria’s location and substantial military capability, this is a terrifying possibility. What would happen if Al Quaeda veterans, armed with military-grade chemical weapons capabilities, were let loose in the heart of the Middle East?

Afghanistan was a failed state and Iraq had been under blockade for a decade and at war for a decade before that – as brutal and large as their armies were, they weren’t a lot more sophisticated than some drug cartels. Syria has a relatively modern air force, navy and extensive air-defence system (including, allegedly, a “worrying” number of MANPADS). America’s forces are tired and stretched. Actual intelligence is sorely lacking. This will not be an “easy” war, and if they think it’s hard to avoid civilians with airstrikes in the Afghan/Pakistan borderlands, just wait till they get to Damascus.

Barack: do yourself a favour and don’t. Just don’t. Find another way. You’re already sitting at your lowest approval ratings ever and this ain’t gonna bring them back up. It didn’t work for George W. and it won’t work for you. If you go to Syria, you will burn what little is left of your empire’s credibility and unleash destructive forces in ways we can’t possibly predict. The War on Terror is a failure, let it go before you start WW3.

copscourtToday marked the second court appearance by those arrested at the Swamp Line 9 blockade in Westover, and the first in which the majority of defendants (trespassing) had to show up. To celebrate the occasion, a rally and march were organized before-hand, bringing out a sizeable crowd to show support. Following the (tense) morning rally, a large number returned for the afternoon proceedings, and that’s where things got a bit…disorderly.

While I didn’t see any of what went on inside the courthouse, I did catch some of the assembly beforehand, and spoke with quite a few afterward. Immediately, the tension was clear, mainly due to the arrival of Sun Media’s Ezra Levant and his cameramen, aggressively attempting to interview demonstrators, most of whom clearly wanted nothing to do with him. As Ezra and his cameramen harassed and even assaulted protesters, they stood by and did nothing but chuckle and refuse to intervene. As marching got underway, I’m told, tensions with the police themselves began to mount, especially as the march paused at King and James and then later on the steps of the courthouse. As people disbursed from there, some were followed and approached, at least two received tickets for obstructing traffic, and others were issued thinly veiled threats.

This, along with the circumstances surrounding the arrests themselves, set the tone for the afternoon’s events. During the blockade, police had assured those present that they’d give a warning before moving in to make arrests (standard for civil disobedience actions of the type). When the time came, however, they gave no such announcement, and instead grabbed everybody they could, even those who’d already walked off the property. This seemed to confirm everybody’s worst suspicions about recent Enbridge donations to the police department, as well as leaving most feeling more than a little bit deceived.

When the proceedings themselves began, supporters and defendants crowded in to the courtroom, with police taking names as they entered (a rare practice). Inside, a young woman was scolded by the judge for snapping her fingers and escorted out of the room. When a few people followed to make sure she was ok and saw her taken into a small room behind a closed door, they began making something of a fuss, which led many more to follow out of the courtroom and begin chanting, while refusing to leave the hallway. Within minutes, it seemed that every cop downtown had been called in to deal with the disturbance (I’ve been told around 30-50), eventually managing to herd everybody onto the elevators and out of the building with the help of the infamous “Public Works Protection Act”, and apparently no small amount of brutality. Word is that six or seven others were arrested in the “scuffle”, and none have yet been released. A contingent of supporters stuck around on the steps for a few hours, and has now moved to the Central Police Station, anybody who wishes to support should head on down, especially for the rally which is planned for 7:30 tonight.

There’s been a lot of news lately about police which specifically references the need for de-escalation tactics. If those are, indeed, finally being implemented, they certainly weren’t present today. Everything I saw and heard indicated a textbook case of antagonistic crowd control. In an attempt to intimidate and bully demonstrators, they managed, instead, to provoke them. After months of escalated hostilities against protests in the city and nearby, as well as far too many officer-involved-deaths, people got fed up. And what better place for a protest against the justice system than the courthouse itself?

Swamp Line Nine – Official Updates
CBC Hamilton Coverage
Spec Coverage

PS: Ezra left early and missed all the fun. Ha!

Disclaimer: I wasn’t present for most of these events, so many of these reports are second or third-hand and I’m sure I’ve made an error or two. If so, let me know, and I’ll make a point to post a link to the official group statement when it comes out. As usual, I do not speak for this group, these groups, or any group other group – the above-stated opinions are mine alone, so take them with the usual grain of salt.

Can psychologists root out the causes and triggers of “evil”? One psychologist claims he’s done just that. In “The Lucifer Effect“, Philip Zimbardo describes the mechanisms by which seemingly “ordinary people” can be driven to inflict horrors on other, and claims he’s been able to replicate it in experiments.

At this point, I expect, I’ve almost lost you. Far too much junk science gets printed by “psychologists” under similar, cheesy titles, and this claim, philosophically speaking, is incredibly bold. Zimbardo, though, doesn’t just have an impressive, Ivy League resume, including a stint as President of the American Psychological Association, he’s also the man behind one of the most fascinating experiments of all time: the Stanford Prison Expeiment.

And with that, if you’ve ever heard of it, I suspect I’ve got your attention back.

For those who haven’t, it’s a grisly tale. Back in 1971, a group of student volunteers were gathered for a two-week roleplaying exercise which would simulate a prison in a Stanford University basement. After screening to ensure they were “normal” (psychologically speaking), the 24 volunteers were divided into guards and inmates. Almost as soon as the simulation began, “guards” began to inflict sadistic and abusive punishments on the “inmates”, who began to break down emotionally, and even, at one point, organized a rebellion. Researchers cut the experiment short, in horror, after only six days.

The experiment was a testament to the ability of power to transform human relations and even people themselves. Other experiments conducted by Zimbardo and his colleagues over the years showed similar results, too. Making use of actors and “electric shocks”, most volunteers proved more than willing to keep pressing the button and delivering “shocks” at increasing voltage long after the actor had started screaming about a heart condition, flopped around on the floor and stopped moving. These results were easily influenced one way or the other – simple acts like giving the victim a name meant people would stop far sooner, while refusing to let them leave easily swayed them in the other direction. Through it all, themes emerged, such as authority, ideology and identity, which seemed key to bringing out the worst in people.

Zimbardo admits this subject of research had its origins with Jewish colleagues seeking answers in the wake of the Holocaust – how could so many “normal people” willingly participate? What’s frightening is that he may have found a piece in that puzzle – the use of authority and hierarchy to enforce obedience while reducing the sense of personal responsibility. Every aspect of their environment played a role, from the rules to the uniforms and propaganda which assured everybody what they were doing was “right”.

To add an extra, chilling dimension, Zimbardo also bases his conclusions on the conditions within Abu Ghraib. After notorious pictures of prisoner abuse surfaced, Zimbardo ended up working with the defence teams in the ensuing trials. The picture presented by his investigations is dark, but not surprising, and stands as an indictment of the prison itself. The abuse, as he demonstrates, was inevitable, especially as most of it was on approved lists of interrogation techniques. Much of the rest had to be predictable – understaffed and unsupervised night shifts of largely untrained reservists were watching an overcrowded dungeon – what did the Pentagon think was going to happen?

As far as “the Lucifer Effect” goes, I’ll stop short of saying that “evil” can be so easily explained. I will say, however, that his conclusions have some obvious relevance for questions of politics and violence. Long before the subject was studied by psychologists, the same lessons were learned easily enough, though simple trial and error. Since the first states, empires and warlords, competition between them has been driving a steady evolution in techniques for mass manipulation toward violent ends. Philip Zimbardo gives us a glimpse at the mechanics of this process, where psychology seemingly meets black magic. In time, I can only hope this will help us develop the tools to identify and counteract these methods, wherever they appear, and start the long process of breaking this odious spell.

PS: I don’t know that I can find a “legal” version, but there’s also German film, “Das Experiment“, based on the Stanford project. More of a thriller/horror flick than a documentary, but I really can’t recommend it enough.

Living through a heatwave without air conditioning isn’t easy. I’m sure I could get one, if I so desired, but I still stubbornly refuse – a position which requires equal parts principle and masochism. As someone who’s worked outside in all seasons for over a decade, I’m not usually one to let weather take me out of commission, but the human body has its limits. The week-long heat advisory Hamilton is currently enduring has reached painful levels, even for friends of mine who’ve lived in places far, far south of here.

Welcome to the paradox presented by global warming – anything you do to make temperatures better for yourself in the short term will probably make things worse for everybody over the long run. Cranking the A/C, driving everywhere, drinking lots of refrigerated fluids with ice cubes and turning on every fan in sight all fit this bill, belching ever more CO2 into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, as temperatures start to reach levels people literally die from, “sweating it out” isn’t always an option.

This heatwave extends from Ottawa and Montreal to the Texas/Oklahoma border and is said to be visible from space. This supercharged weather system brought with it a severe thunderstorm that just knocked out power to 9000 in Montreal, with similar warnings issued over large parts of Ontario. Other power grids are taxed purely from the heat, Guelph Hydro, for instance, may have beaten their all-time record twice already this week. This heat will be with us for days to come, and there’s already talk that a couple of recent deaths may have been related. On a related note, according to NASA, Earth just experienced the second warmest June on record, and I shudder to think how many records will be set this month.

Even without global warming, there are many ways in which our cities ratchet up the temperature. Concrete stores and radiates heat, while trees absorb sunlight and seed rainclouds. Air conditioners and refrigerators only move heat, usually dumping it nearby. And of course, all the energy we use, whether as electricity or petrochemicals, ultimately ends up as heat (basic thermodynamics). Add to this buildings designed without a thought for things like “solar gain” and “thermal mass“, which pump out heat when they function but become ovens or iceboxes when their climate-control breaks down. As far as this kind of heat is concerned, being in a city isn’t all that different from a desert covered in mid-day campfires.

This state of affairs might be forgivable if it wasn’t for the trajectory. In almost every respect, what we build has been getting steadily worse for most of a century. Victorian-era homebuilders and city-planners manage to build walkable, energy-efficient buildings, as had their ancestors for at least a millennia. By the 1950s, we’d largely given up, and still haven’t yet managed to begin again in any large-scale fashion.

There is no easy or immediate way out of this mess. Decades of short-sighted planning and architectural decisions have been effectively set into stone and can’t be replaced overnight. Our city continues to demolish buildings and cut trees over 80 years old with reckless abandon, while leaving drywall-and-stucco boxes in their place. We’re pissing away the legacy of generations past, all the while building a new legacy with which our children will have to cope.

If this week’s heat proves one thing, though, it’s that something has to change. Even if it takes decades (and it will), there’s no better time to start than the present (or perhaps once it cools down a bit…). As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The easiest way to begin, of course, is by planting trees. A tall leafy tree just south of a house can do wonders to block incoming solar energy, but lets almost all of it through once the weather turns cold. Trees with needles placed to the east and west will shelter buildings from prevailing winds year-round. They also help to shade and mulch soils, helping them to maintain vital moisture at this time of year and sink deep roots into the ground to draw upon (and transpire) otherwise unaccessable groundwater.

Failing that, we could adopt a far easier approach, and simply let them grow. This latter approach isn’t just easier and cheaper, it also brings a lot of biological advantages. It offers trees which are already adapted to local microclimates, soils and pests. The seemingly random placement means that only those suited to thrive in an area will survive for more than a year or two. Where land is particularly degraded, we see the same kind of fast-growing “weed” trees which begin recovery and “natural succession” after forest fires, which in turn create shade and shelter for others.

We could also stop cutting them down, something we’re likely to witness a lot of in coming years as the City of Hamilton ramps up plans to fight the Emerald Ash Borer with their beloved chainsaws, with tens of thousands of trees on the chopping block. We could also stop chipping the trees we do cut and turn it over, instead, to be milled. With heat like this, drying the boards in solar kilns (which also kills any insects) should be a snap, something that doesn’t really require much more than plastic sheeting and a thermometer. This would cut down our dependence on logging and provide a wealth of woods which are otherwise now considered almost “exotic”. Try to buy some maple, ash or chestnut at Rona or Home Depot, and you’ll find yourself referred to “Exotic Woods” in Burlington (and shortly thereafter, broke). On your way home, you’ll likely see at least one of the above being fed into an oversized shredder.

In terms of what we build, we need to start thinking about ways to keep buildings cool without massive energy bills. While LEEDS certification is a bit of a joke, others, like the German “Passivhaus” standard aren’t. They’re far cheaper to implement (and world’s cheaper to certify) and cut down ~90% of a standard building’s energy consumption with simple measures like heat exchangers. There’s also a lot which could be done in terms of decriminalizing (real) green building techniques as far as the City’s building codes are concerned, to allow the use of materials like strawbale and cob which offer better, cheaper insulation. We could cover our roofs with plants instead of asphalt, which has a lifespan not unlike thatch in some parts of the world. We could avoid the temptation to build glass skyscrapers and instead focus on building and preserving high-density low-rise development, as is seen in so much of the rest of the world.

The current construction boom Hamilton is witnessing shows that this kind of transformation is possible. What if the resources currently being put into hotels and condominiums were instead “invested” to make all of our homes a little more efficient? Given how volatile energy prices are getting, it’s gotta be at least as likely to bring in a reasonable “return”. We have the knowledge, the know-how and the resources to accomplish all of this and more, so why not start now?

This won’t happen, of course, because “we” aren’t the ones making these decisions. From the design of new buildings to the care and maintenance of old ones, this power is held by a tiny fraction of Hamilton’s people who benefit directly from the current state of affairs. The development, automobile, energy and financial industries depend directly on such choices for their incomes, and to them, every penny we save is one they Heatwaves and climate change are a direct result of the way our society functions, and it’s going to continue until we see some serious social change.

Truck routes (red hill, desantis), train yards closing etc

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