Friday, May 29, 2009

'After a while, your mind is so open your brains fall out.'

"It is not only in academia and on the remnants of the Left that you encounter the argument that to prefer democracy to tyranny in other cultures, or the rights of women to the demands of misogynist clerics, is to announce yourself as insensitive brute or interfering imperialist. Across the West, you find the incoherent feeling that only dogmatists think they have the right to assert that medicines which have passed double-blind trials are superior to homeopathic remedies or that one woman's theories on the death of Diana or the dangers of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are better than another's. . ."

- Nick Cohen, in
Standpoint, on the Golden Age of Conspiracy, here.

Clincher: "Sensible societies throw cordons sanitaires around dangerous ideas, because they know that 'usually sane and responsible people' cannot be counted on to see their flaws. After the Second World War, the ideas of Nazism became taboo in Europe — get too close to them and you were denounced. To my exasperation, my comrades on the Left have worked hardest to pull down the barriers by providing platforms for Islamist radicals they would denounce as 'fascists' if they had white skins. Predictably, the far-right British National Party has broken out of its cage. It can now announce that its version of neo-fascism is not as extreme as ideas tolerated without objection in polite society. As culpable as the pseudo-Left are all the clueless journalists and civil servants in the mainstream who think it is virtuous rather than cowardly to be non-judgmental about ideas that demand to be judged."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Power, Global Warming, And Deep Contradictions Within Environmentalism

With billions of people said to be facing the global warming prospect of dislocation, crop failure, desertification and famine, you’d think the only thing to worry about was polar bears on shrinking ice floes. Why is that?

If environmentalists really believe what they say about the implications of climate change, why is it that they're fighting green power development plans with dubious arguments about the “privatization” of rivers,
the protection of endangered "wilderness," the plight of the marbled murrelets and the splendour of grizzly bears? Fair play to people who are focused on these things, but these are old reflexes for old rituals. Are we serious about any of this, or not?

I'm just asking, in this month's Canadian Geographic. A taste of it here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

With The Swilers: Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean

RANKIN INLET, Nunavut - On the first day of her trip to the Arctic Michaelle Jean gutted a freshly slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it.

Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered around as the Governor General made a gesture of solidarity with the country's beleaguered seal hunters.

Background here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tell The Tyrants In Tehran: "The World Is Watching."

Four global union organisations representing over 170 million workers have formed a coalition to focus the world's attention on the ongoing persecution of trade unionists in Iran. The coalition is calling on unions to mobilize their members on June 26 for rallies outside Iranian embassies and consulates around the world.

Backed by Amnesty International, the coalition consists of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)), Education International, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF).

Its immediate demands are for the unconditional release of all jailed trade unionists in Iran, including Mansour Osanloo, Ebrahim Madadi, Farzad Kamangar and leadership of the Haft Tapeh Sugarworkers’ Union, as well as the trade unionists arrested in Tehran on May Day.

Says Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary: "We have exhausted all avenues of reasonable dialogue to persuade the government of Iran to allow basic human and trade union rights. Their answer has been repression and arrests. Given this failure we must take to the streets to demonstrate that the world is watching what they are doing and what is happening to our colleagues within the country."

The ITF and ITUC are also leading the movement to rebuild bridges between Palestinian and Israeli workers, through Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP).

More background: 1. Support the Iranian People; Oppose Tehran's Clerical Fascism. 2. What We Want for Ourselves, We Demand for All. 3. May Day Arrests in Iran. 4. What Iranian Dissidents Need.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Peter Tatchell Among 20 Gay Rights Activists Arrested In Moscow

Since the 1970s, the journalist and human-rights activist Peter Tatchell has been a singularly brave and principled voice for justice and human decency. It would be hard to name anyone in left-activist circles, anywhere in the English-speaking world, whose aim has been so true.

When duty calls the Left, whether it's to stand up to Ken Livingstone, to stand against apologetics for terror, or to stand with with the people of Zimbabwe or the people of Iran, Peter stands out from the crowd. He's not one for waivering. If it's brave and loyal friends you'll be needing, you can be certain that no matter how few they turn out to be, Peter will be among them.

Thanks in no small part to Peter's efforts this weekend, European attention is now focussed on the oppression of Russia's gay minority. The ruckus Peter and his friends have caused should focus our attention on the fact that some things are simply non-negotiable. On gay equality, no compromise, but don't think for a moment that this is just about gay rights. It's about freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and liberty for everyone.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Tory Attack Ad: "His policies seem reasonable enough, but take a look at his head."

The Conservative Party's "attack ads" on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff are pretty slick, and underneath all the rhetorical graffiti there might even be more than a valid point or two. But it seems unlikely that many Canadians who don't already vote Conservative or NDP will be swayed by the notion that Ignatieff is too smart, too arrogant, too French, too cosmopolitian, too aloof, too American, too - you know - foreign, to be up to the prime minister's job.

How to make sense of it? 1. "It's this whole Tim Horton's type thing." 2. His Iggishness declares that the advertisments are intended as a distraction, and the Conservatives are unserious. 3. Chantal Hebert is of the view that the advertisements are not fair play in Quebec, where they amount to something new and nasty.

All I have to say is if you're going to do attack ads, do them properly: "L is for Labour. L is for Lice."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Food Riots in Haiti, Janjaweed Raids in Chad, Vanishing Frogs and a Death In Alaska

This essay, From Campbell River to Barcelona and Back, is the basis of the keynote I delivered last summer at the Roderick Haig-Brown Symposium on Sustaining Wild Salmon. The proceedings are now available here.

In the kind of company that Simon Fraser University's Continuing Studies in Science department tends to bring together to talk about salmon, it is no small challenge for me to find something useful to say. Surrounded by so many people who know salmon better than I do, it's impossible not to feel as though, at best, I would be telling people things that they already know, and know much better than I do. And I don't think that I could simply read from something I have written about salmon, because on the centenary of the birth of Roderick Haig-Brown, and to be in Campbell River, his beloved home town, I could only feel as though I were trespassing upon the work of a truly great writer, on his home ground.

What I thought I would do is to talk a bit about Haig-Brown's conservation concerns in their contemporary, global context, and the global relevance of the effort that has been at the centre of attention – the implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy – and why, especially as Canadians and British Columbians, it matters that we get it right.

It matters, not just to answer to the question that Brian Riddell, who is here with us tonight, asked directly and forthrightly in his seminal 1993 paper: Spatial Organization of Pacific Salmonids: What to conserve? It matters, for starters, because of Canada's international commitments under a variety of international covenants, not least the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. It matters because the world matters, and the question, "What to Conserve?" is a global challenge that humanity faces now as never before.

And so I thought that if I was going to make some use of myself, I would address some major trends in the way that question is being confronted globally, and the way Canadians, and British Columbians, are involved in that difficult and necessary work.

Everything Is Connected. We Are All Related.

Since this is all about the interconnectedness of things, I thought I'd start with some recent events that are directly implicated in these emerging approaches to the question - "What to Conserve?" These events will appear to be not only unrelated to one another, but also unrelated to that question, when in fact they are indeed closely related, and they raise the question directly, and the work of fulfilling the promise of the Wild Salmon Policy is also related to these events:

• This past January, at an especially solemn funeral at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. She was 89.

• In May, 2007, a cavalry of the Janjaweed - the notorious Sudanese militia that has subjected the indigenous people of Darfur to a "slow genocide" in recent years – made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. This time, they weren't after people. They were after the contents of a locked storeroom in Zakouma National Park.

• Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists from Australia to Central America showed up in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

• A year later, in the Haitian capital of Port-Au- Prince, a United Nations soldier was shot and killed during a food riot.

Here's how these events are connected. They are outbreaks, you could say, of an epidemic that is sweeping the world. It has no name. There has never been anything like it in human history. It carries away an entire human language every two weeks. It destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours. Every few minutes, it kills off a whole species.

For all its virtues, environmentalism hasn't made much of a noticeable contribution to its containment, or even to task of adequately describing the phenomenon. On May 16, the Zoological Society of London released an analysis suggesting that since contemporary environmentalism emerged with the declaration of the first Earth Day in 1970, close to one third of all the wild species on earth have disappeared.

Whatever name we might want to give the epidemic, it is a destroyer of worlds. Wherever its shadow falls, it leaves everything monochromatic, monocultural, standardized, and increasingly vulnerable to collapse and disorder. It is bleeding away the wealth and diversity of the human experience, in the same way we have seen the wealth and diversity of the west coast's salmon runs, and salmon fisheries, bleeding away.

It is eroding the resilience of human and ecological systems, and obliterating their capacity to sustain shocks and disruptions. It is causing vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge to vanish into thin air.

Here are the specific elements that connect these seemingly unrelated events.

In her casket in Anchorage, Marie Smith Jones was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. Of the world's roughly 6,800 languages, fully half – some say more like 90 per cent – should be expected to disappear before the end of the century.

As globalized trade expands across horizons, local cultures are undermined and uprooted, and an array of threats present themselves to vulnerable species of animals and plants. If it's not the trade in rare birds, tiger bones or bracelets made from the shells of endangered turtles, it's the trafficking in such exotic commodities as elephant tusks. That's what those Janjaweed horsemen were after in that cross-border raid into Chad. They were after 1.5 tons of ivory worth nearly $1.5 million that park rangers had confiscated from poachers over the years.

In just one of globalization's side-effects, about half of all the endangered species in the United States are in peril because of other species, recently arrived from afar. Some have come as unwanted passengers in the holds of ships. Others came hundreds of years ago, in the form of herds of cattle. Many of these world travelers are microscopic.

The culprit behind the vanishing of so many of the world's frog populations is a fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, native to southern Africa. Frogs that have evolved alongside it can handle its ravages, but frogs elsewhere are not so lucky. Over the years, the fungus has found its way, via such routes as the overseas trade in frog's legs, to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States.

The food riot in Haiti, meanwhile, was just one of several such incidents that erupted around the same time in Yemen, West Bengal, Egypt, Senegal, and elsewhere.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, three-quarters of the world's critically-important food crop varieties disappeared during the 20th century. Hundreds of locally-adapted livestock breeds are also on the brink of extinction. Addressing the world's worst food crisis in a generation, on May 19, in Rome, Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, warned that most of the world's food supply had narrowed to just a dozen crops and fourteen animal species.

Globalization, like environmentalism, is not without its own virtues. It is only because of the rapid expansion of globalized trade that we have seen nearly 400 million people rise out of abject poverty in recent years. But what it has also meant is rapid human population growth and the even more rapid overharvesting of natural resources. It has meant crop failure and desertification, and a worldwide food system that demands ever-greater standardization and uniformity.

The work at the heart of the Wild Salmon Policy – the work of answering the question, "What to Conserve?" in the face of globalization – now involves scientists and practitioners from a wide range of academic disciplines and policy areas who have been very busy, connecting the dots, and tracing the myriad relationships between the ethnosphere and the biosphere.

Beyond Mere Globalization, Beyond Mere Environmentalism.

A new kind of conversation has been emerging from this transdisciplinary work, and it is approaching a new paradigm, revolving around the notion of "biocultural diversity." It's showing up in ethnolingustics, cultural anthropology, ethnoecology, and so on, and it has outgrown environmentalism, precisely because it cuts across nature and culture, natural selection and artificial selection, language and landscape.

Last October's Global Outlook 4 report, published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), reflects the new thinking that is arising from observations of the global crisis in biological diversity. The report reiterated the consensus that humans are ultimately to blame for the current global extinction event, but UNEP made an explicit connection between the ongoing collapse of biological diversity and the rapid, global-scale withering of cultural and linguistic diversity, noting that "cultural diversity is being rapidly lost, in parallel to biological diversity, and largely in response to the same drivers."

For countless millennia, culture has determined nature, nature has determined culture, and the dialectic engages wild and domesticated plants and animals, languages, "traditional ecological knowledge," and systems of resource use that adapt and evolve over time. But globalization is causing these patterns to change rapidly, and to break down. The Global Outlook report notes: "Global social and economic change is driving the loss of biodiversity and disrupting local ways of life by promoting cultural assimilation and homogenization." Further, "loss of cultural and spiritual values, languages, and traditional knowledge and practices, is a driver that can cause increasing pressures on biodiversity. . . In turn, these pressures impact human well-being."

Just one reason these perturbations tend to be so intimately related is evident from just one glance at global map developed in 2003 by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It shows that the world's deepest reservoirs of linguistic diversity almost always occupy exactly the same spaces as the world's centres of biological diversity. And a map of the world's deepest reservoirs of biodiversity looks eerily similar to a world atlas showing the centres of domesticated food-crop diversity.

As British Columbians, we don't have to look far, in space or in time, to see the "drivers" behind system collapse.

In 1995, Ecotrust and Conservation International produced a map showing the loss, over time, of the North America's great northwest temperate rain forests, with Campbell River almost at its centre. The map also displayed the status of tribal languages in those forests, over the same period. What the two data sets produce is exactly the same map. But it's important to remember that cause-and-effect lines don't always run in the same direction. It is not always so simple a matter of deforestation leading to species extinction and language death.

Another close-to-home case demonstrates these intimate connections, with the cause-and-effect line running in the other direction, and that's the case of the mountain pine beetle - the most catastrophic insect infestation in the history of North American forests. We've lost about seven million hectares of British Columbia's interior pine forests to the beetle over the past ten years or so, but that story really begins with smallpox, a virus that decimated the interior tribes about 150 years ago. In this case, the people were felled first, leading to the vanishing of healthy forests.

Without Its Forest, A People Dies; Without Its People, A Forest Dies.

It happened this way: Tribal communities practiced a sort of management, thinning the forests by regular burning, which produces more abundant berry crops and mule deer habitat. With the people gone, the eventual result was a landscape of bug-prone, dense forest, and even-aged stands of pine. Exacerbated by modern fire suppression policy, all it took was a minor shift in the climate regime to produce a catastrophic perturbation: fewer winter cold-snaps kept the beetles under control, and the pine forests ended up prey to killing insect infestations.

Making these connections, and the emergence of a deeper understanding of the relationships between biological diversity and cultural diversity (as evidenced by the UNEP Global Outlook Report) should be expected to have significant implications in the way the world answers the question "What To Conserve?"

This new thinking concerns itself with the triangular relationships between linguistic, cultural and biological diversity, which anyone familiar with the history of human beings and salmon on this coast will deeply appreciate. The idea is finally starting to catch on: Language, culture and living things are intimately related, they're each threatened by the same forces, and the contest poses dramatic implications for the future of all life on earth.

Recognizing this, more than 300 leading thinkers in nature conservation, linguistics, anthropology, and biology gathered this past spring at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation hosted a four-day symposium, titled "Sustaining Cultural and Biological Diversity in a Rapidly Changing World: Lessons for Global Policy." The symposium concluded with a resolution to be put before the upcoming world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature - the world’s major environmental network, with more than 1,000 government and non-government member organizations in more than 160 countries.

The motion calls on the IUCN to get with UNEP's Global Outlook program and proceed to integrate culture and cultural diversity in the IUCN's policies and work programs. This is a very big deal. The IUCN has concentrated almost exclusively on ecological health, serving as the world's primary source of data on the status of animal and plant species. Whether or not the symposium resolution is adopted, the fact that it will be debated at all indicates a huge change in the way the world approaches the "What to Conserve?" question.

So that's one of the major trends I wanted to address.

Another involves the challenge of understanding what UNEP calls the "drivers" behind the loss of cultural and biological diversity – the processes that cause things to fall apart, and the forces that put them back together again. This is a primary concern of another new transdisciplinary field, commonly called resilience science. This is a highly theoretical realm of ideas, and while it involves different terminologies than you'll hear in the "biocultural diversity" conversation, the participants are sometimes the same people.

The Unity In Diversity Comes From Structural Resilience.

Resilience theory emphasizes the adaptive capacity of what it calls social-ecological systems, and it applies itself to everything from sheep rangeland management in Australia to Caribbean coral reefs. Resilience theory has its own global network - the Resilience Alliance - and it brings together academics from disciplines as diverse as biology, physics, and economics. It publishes its own scientific journal, Ecology and Society.

The Resilience Alliance is changing paradigms all by itself, and it's also been attracting a lot of attention lately. Just two weeks before the symposium in New York this year, more than 600 scientists, policy makers, and artists, even, were attending the Resilience Alliance conference in Stockholm.

It is worthwhile noting the contribution that Canada and Canadians, and British Columbians, are making in these emerging fields.

Resilience theory is most closely associated with the renowned ecologist Crawford "Buzz" Holling, the 2008 recipient of the prestigious $250,000 Volvo Environment Prize, who lives just down the highway, in Nanaimo. One of the pioneers in the study of "biocultural diversity" is also a British Columbian. Luisa Maffi, a key contributor to the biodiversity sections of last year's UNEP Global Outlook report, is an Italian-born linguist and anthropologist who lives on Saltspring Island.

Further, Canada played a key role in an important milestone in the growing acceptance of the global importance of protecting cultural diversity in December, 2006, with the UNESCO-brokered international treaty on cultural rights (British Columbians played a key role in that effort, too, perhaps most notably the publisher Scott McIntyre).

UNESCO specifically describes the purpose of the treaty as an effort to protect the diversity of cultural expressions from "the dangers of globalization." The treaty keeps national cultural policies free from the usual anti-protectionist prohibitions contained in free-trade deals.

Another milestone in which Canada played a crucial role was the UN General Assembly's 2007 confirmation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canadian diplomats fought long and hard for that declaration, over a dozen years, and while Canada strangely ended up voting against it at the UN Human Rights Council level, at least it was ultimately adopted.

One thing I think is important to acknowledge in these developments is that environmentalists have also taken a long time to wake up to the importance of making the connections between nature and culture. Environmentalists have tended to see only pristine wilderness in ecosystems that we now understand to have been in fact transformed, and in some cases radically reshaped, by New World peoples.

This is especially important to consider in the matter of salmon ecosystems and the ancient peoples of this coast. One would be hard pressed to identify a single significant population of salmon - or a "conservation unit," to borrow the terminology of the Wild Salmon Policy – that has not been subjected to major human harvest (and perhaps the term "management" would not go too far) since the Early Holocene.

We are only now coming to appreciate the implications of that smallpox-induced collapse in the relationship between aboriginal societies and pine forests. What implications remain unconsidered in the ancient relationships between aboriginal societies and salmon? We know the extent to which salmon gave shape and form to aboriginal civilization. But what do we know of the degree to which aboriginal people gave shape and form to the abundance and diversity of salmon?

And what are the implications of allowing habitat loss, overfishing and other anthropogenic effects to sever the ancient relationship between the diverse aboriginal cultures of this province and the astonishingly diverse salmon populations that sustained their cultures from time out of mind?

This is not to say that there are no implications for British Columbia's settler cultures that are at stake. There are, and we are most fortunate in this respect, in that there is a deep and abiding affection for salmon among Canadians, and among British Columbians, especially.

Time and again, we have shown that, despite our political leadership, as individuals and as communities we are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to conserve salmon, to share the landscape with salmon. Because this is what we want, as a people, then flourishing salmon runs that we may then bequeath to those that come after us constitute an entitlement, as people of a free and democratic society.

"Freedom To Live Fully The Life That Is Before Them."

There are also global implications that arise in the extent to which Canada, one of the most resource-rich and sparsely-populated countries in the world, adequately protects the abundance of diversity of the salmon runs of this coast. Everything really is connected. If we can't live up to our international obligations, we are in no position to hector such nation states as China, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia – where some of the deepest reservoirs of biological and cultural diversity on earth are found – about living up to their obligations.

That is just one reason why all of us must work so diligently to fulfill the promise of the Wild Salmon Policy. And here, I will leave it to Roderick Haig Brown to make the point, more eloquently than I could, from his beautiful collection of essays called Measure of the Year, first published in 1950:

Again it is a matter for the voices and thoughts of families and individuals, breaking through somehow, anyhow, to express that only wish of decent men everywhere: freedom to live fully the life that is before them, according to their individual consciences, and without hurt to others. If the wisdom of small nations can be spoken with weight that matches the power of the great nations, there will be some hope.

"Sick of smug prosperous safe comfortable pale men, urinating all over progress. . ."

Ophelia Benson, on the likes of Terry Eagleton and Stanley Fish:

"On and on it goes - sneers at progress, liberalism and enlightenment, sneers at cures for diseases, sneers at technology, much use of the word 'Ditchkins,' and finishing up with a triumphant blast at 'the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins.'

"It is so hard not to wish both of them suddenly transported to a place bereft of progress, liberalism and enlightenment - the Swat valley would be just the ticket - and see how they like it.

"That's not a nice thing to say, it's even a bit schoolyardy, but I am so sick of smug prosperous safe comfortable pale men urinating all over progress, liberalism and enlightenment while desperate threatened terrified women would weep scalding tears of joy and deliverance to get just a taste of some. I am so sick of safe prosperous men who are never, ever going to be grabbed on the street and whipped, or shot in the back, or locked up in their houses, or married off to some abusive bully, going on and on and on and on about how much they hate progress, liberalism and enlightenment."

I noticed that via the Aussie writer Russell Blackford, who is a bit mean about Bill McKibben but nevermind:

"Here's the deal: among our friends on the political Left - which is where I have my roots - there are people, not just a few but many, who despise everything I hold dear. These are supposed to be my allies, but they despise liberalism, reason, science, progress, and the Enlightenment. They hate the so-called "New Atheism", not so much because they think the doctrines of Christianity or some other religion are actually true, but because they see people like Richard Dawkins as providing a rallying point for. . . yes, liberalism, reason, science, progress, and the Enlightenment."

Or maybe I noticed it via Max Dunbar:

"It’s at this point that I share Blackford’s disquiet, like a man looking around a crowded room to find that everyone he knows has vanished. What kind of person stands on the cusp of the twenty-first century at a time of economic and social change, a time when freemarket capitalism has taken a massive dent, when all that is solid is melting into air, and says: ‘No thanks – there is no potential for good here’?

"And why on earth would a Marxist think that?"

I cite these three approvingly, but I'm liking Ophelia's wee essay the best. When she's on about Fish and Eagleton and that crowd it's just like Noreen from the Emerald Bile giving out about Freegans.

In favour.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Without Awareness, There Is Moral and Mental Death."

This film is Charles Laird's 2004 Through These Eyes. It's 55 minutes, and well worth it. It speaks directly to the Great Euroidiocy of the Moment, the proper response to which would be massive trade retaliation, but this is not a proper world.

An American elementary school program from the 1970s, Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), looked to the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic to help students see their own society in a new way. At its core was The Netsilik Film Series, an acclaimed benchmark of visual anthropology from the National Film Board that captured a year in the life of an Inuit family, reconstructing an ancient culture on the cusp of contact with the outside world. But the graphic images of the Netsilik people created a clash of values that tore rifts in communities across the U.S. and revealed a fragile relationship between politics and education. A fiery national debate ensued between academic and conservative forces.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ecological Sustainability Is Now As Good As Dead. Europeans Are The Reason Why.

Unless somebody pulls the "do not resuscitate" sign from above its death bed and there is some miraculous last-minute intervention, the United Nations' historic 1987 Brundtland Commission on the Environment and Development is dead. It could take at least a year to complete the final autopsy report, but we already know that there were lethal and crippling toxins coursing through Brundtland's system for some time, and yesterday's European ban on Canadian seal products contained a fatal concentration of these same toxins.

Africa will notice how the vote went in the European Parliament. China will notice. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species will be the next victim. You just watch.

If "animal rights" eccentricites and other cultural peculiarities are allowed to trump universal principles that are supposed to govern sustainable wildlife management, then there is no reason to expect African countries to save all the lovely elephants that Europeans find so precious. If Brundtland means nothing, there's no reason not to liquidate the bothersome, crop-stomping elephant herds. The profits from all those spectacularly valuable tusks could be reinvested in things that earn higher rates of return than the annual tourist income derived from German hobbyist photographers.

And on and on it will go like this, and you won't have Brundtland or any other UN covenants to stop it from happening.

The Brundtland Commission was a historic victory in the global campaign to establish the universal, enforceable principle that harvests of renewable-resource surpluses should be sustainable. It rested on the necessary basis of a simple and straightforward idea, which is that humanity's interest in the integrity and health of natural resources should be held above and beyond narrow national economic, national or cultural concerns.

But ever since 1987, the international environmental movement has been looking the other way while Canada’s humane and eminently sustainable harp seal hunt has been villified and lied about by animal-rights activists, slowly but surely undermining everything that Brundtland stood for. And now it's come to this.

Gro Harlem Brundtland herself saw it coming years ago.

In 1993, the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission was overrruled by a decision forced on the IWC by its European member states. The IWC listed the North Atlantic's huge, healthy and growing minke whale populations as endangered, which was a lie. The IWC was already a circus, but what little credibility it had was in the work of its scientists. By 1993, its credibility was gone for good. But the damage didn't end there.

The toxin spread to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species when CITES scientists were then instructed to place unambiguously non-endangered cetacean species on CITES' red-alert Appendix I. Like the IWC, CITES was by then already enfeebled by weird European ideas about the ways "aboriginal" people are supposed to behave, and those same weird ideas now show up in full bloom in the European "exemption" on Inuit seal products. The Inuit quite understandably find the exemption insulting, and don't even want it, and these same toxins now threaten even the international General Agreement on Tarriffs and Trade.

In 1997, Brundtland wrote: "We have to base resource management on science and knowledge, not on myths that some specifically designated animals are different and should not be hunted, regardless of the ecological justification for doing so. There is no alternative to the principle of sustainable development. This is necessary and logical. People haven't understood how important this is."

At the moment, it certainly looks like Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn't understood how important this is, either. He is proceeding with free trade talks with the Europeans, despite the harm their idiocies have done not only to Brundtland's international sustainability principles, but also the harm they've done to our swilers. International Trade Minister Stockwell Day says he won't raise the seal ban in the trade talks, and that if push comes to shove, the toxins can always be stopped by some sort of appeal to the World Trade Organization.

This is dreaming. This is not good enough. Not by half.

Stand With The Swilers.

Monday, May 04, 2009

To All My Friends In The Liberal Party: If You've Got A Blacklist, I Want To Be On It.

A hearty congratulations to my Liberal friends for having just concluded their national convention in Vancouver. Delegates seem to have busied themselves with mostly sensible enthusiasms, but for one bimbo eruption that cannot pass without notice here.

Party conventioneers approved an otherwise reasonable motion that would make the Canadian Human Rights Commission accountable to the House of Commons, but would grant the CHRC the power to clamp down on discrimination based on socio-economic class. Should I burn all my Billy Bragg albums now, or can I at least wait until Mike moves into Sussex Drive?

It could have been worse. Fortunately, there's not much evidence that Canada's Liberals are succumbing to the moral leprosy espoused by the bossman at Liberal International, the Ulsterman and smarm-exuder Lord Alderdice, who was on hand at the Vancouver convention to give a speech. A slippery character, he.

Alderdice is fond of jaw-jaw-not-war-war pieites, the too-liberal application of which is always the sort of fate that the Sikhs of Orakzai are now being made to suffer at the hands of the Taliban. And since the mere act of admitting that I have Liberal Party friends will ensure that I remain on the blacklist of certain Conservative Party enthusiasts, I will now affirm my usual place on the New Democratic Party's pacifist blacklist by noticing something else.

I'm happy to see that Max Dunbar has now joined Anne Applebaum, William Grimes, Adam Kirsch and others in helpfully rubbishing Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke for being an ahistorical apologia for pacifism. Baker's efforts at redeeming pacifism's ill-deserved reputation in the context of the Second World War appear to follow exactly the same lines as Mark Kurlansky's Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea, which I was happy to rubbish a while back.

George Orwell was there, of course, long before us, when he noticed that pacifism is "a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security." Will I still be able to refer approvingly to Orwell's many expressions of contempt for the bourgeoisie if the Liberal Party proceeds with granting the CHRC its greater powers?

Well, probably, if truth be told. There is a tendency, especially among Canadian free-speech bloggers - from whom I confess I have learned a thing or two - to make rather overmuch of government threats to free speech in this country, while ignoring the growing threats to free speech elsewhere. Not a few of those free-speech bloggers might wince when I say I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew Potter's take on "tax freedom day" as well.

So say it I will, and use it too as a handy opportunity to observe that yesterday was World Press Freedom Day. Here's a list of the ten most dangerous countries to live if you're a blogger, with some profiles of persecuted bloggers in those countries. Not surprisingly, the regime in Tehran is an especially vicious enemy of mainline journalists and bloggers.

I've been giving out about the persecution of trade unionists in Iran lately, and last Friday I used the opportunity of May Day to point out the inexcusably milquetoast responses to these tyrannies that have come from the trade-union aristocracy and the Left establishment in this country. As a consequence, I would be remiss if I did not also notice the brutal violence visited upon May Day protesters in the workers' paradise of Venezuela: Venezuelan police using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons broke up a march by unions and political parties opposed to President Hugo Chavez on Friday in the latest clash between the government and critics.

Don't for a moment think I notice these kinds of things just to make enemies. Besides, I've found that for every enemy I make when I do, I usually make three friends. This is reality. Give us some room:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Black Day In Tehran

An eyewitness said she saw five police vans full of arrested people: “Without warning, two vans parked and plain-clothes agents came out of them and started to arrest people. Suddenly, I heard the call, ‘Long live the labor movement!’ Two more vans came, and agents attacked and arrested people. As people resisted, they were beaten with batons and punched and kicked. The attack took 15 minutes after which people walked away because the park was full of security agents who would arrest anyone near the fountain.”

Among the better known labour activists detained are Jafar Azimzadeh, Shahpour Ehsanirad, Maryam Mohseni and Behrouz Khabazzadeh. Other eyewitnesses say seven members of the Association to Defend Child Workers were arrested as well.

In Amireh, meanwhile, five labour rights activists have been arrested on charges related to helping organize a May Day rally there: Sedigh Karimi, Sharif Saedpanah, Majid Mohammadi, Seyed Khaled Hosseini and Zhyan Sobhani. At the rally, workers were attacked and severely beaten by the security forces, and at least 10 were arrested. Ghayegh Key Khosravi is also among the detainees.

These comrades join an uncounted number of trade unionists now behind bars in Iran, the better-known of whom include Mansour Osanloo, Ebrahim Maddadi, Farzad Kamangar and Ghaleb Hosseini.

What we want for ourselves, we should demand for all.

Do not forget them.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Fighting Spirit Of May Day: What We Want For Ourselves We Demand For All.

Today is May Day, the holiday most of the world marks as international workers' day. North Americans call it Labour Day and celebrate it on the first Monday in September, usually without much of a thought about its meaning, but it's the same holiday.

Long tarnished by Stalinist appropriation and armoured parades in Moscow and Beijing, and lately fashionable with earnestly dyspeptic anti-globalization protesters, May Day is nonetheless a traditional, official workers' holiday in such noticeably non-totalitarian countries as India, Sweden, Brazil, and New Zealand. In Los Angeles last year, the Chamber of Commerce joined May Day marchers in the common cause of immigration reform.

May Day was first intended to commemorate a bloody labour war in Chicago in May, 1886, but Labour Day actually began in Canada. It came out of an historic printers' strike in Toronto, in 1872. There's a circuitous history involved in all this, but May Day and Labour Day arose from the same uncomplicated basis of working-class unity. A fair day's pay for an honest day's work. What we want for ourselves we demand for all. Any saboteur of this common purpose is a scab.

This is raw, unambiguous and unsophisticated language, but its moral clarity is the basis of progressive internationalism. It is universal in purpose and global in ambition, and it is the bedrock beneath the fight for free trade unions, the eight-hour day, safe working conditions and proper labour law. This isn't just the dusty antiquarian stuff of maudlin labour ballads. These are still life-and-death struggles in much of the world today.

If this means nothing to you, it could be that you're just too busy enjoying the fruits of victories won by people who fought these battles for you a long time ago. But if you thought that it's still the old bedrock principles of international workers' solidarity that rally the Canadian labour movement to the cause of, say, Palestinian, Israeli, Iranian or Afghan workers, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Dig as deep as you want, you’ll be lucky to find much of it.

Nowadays, Canada's union officials are just as likely to be engaged in highbrow apologetics for the worst enemies of the world's bravest workers. It's commonplace now to happen upon union officials at rallies where everyone's shouting slogans that give courage and comfort to despotic regimes that distinguish themselves by busting unions, jailing union organizers and lynching strikers.

It should come as no surprise that in North America, May Day is now more commonly known as the distress call that goes out from the bridge of a sinking ship. Several recent events have brought this sad irony into rather sharp focus for me.

Just the other day, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and several other worldwide labour federations issued an alert to unions around the world, warning that the approach of May Day in Iran meant the country's trade unionists were facing especially grave peril. After last year’s May Day protests, scores of Iranian union leaders were fired from their jobs, sentenced to lengthy jail terms and publicly flogged. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's police thugs have begun yet another wave of arrests in recent weeks.

You'd think that Canadian trade unionists would have been at the vanguard of a massive response to ITUC's appeal. After all, the historic 1872 Toronto printers' strike was waged against laws that banned free trade unions, and these are precisely the kinds of laws the Tehran regime is using right now to persecute trade unionists in that country. These are laws that even the Tory Prime Minister John A. Macdonald called "barbarous" when he agreed to the Toronto strikers' demands for their full repeal.

I can’t say I’ve noticed any great throngs of CLC-affiliated union members massing down Granville Street in Vancouver or Danforth Avenue in Toronto to show the world they stand in solidarity with their Iranian brothers and sisters.

The ITUC appeal came just a couple of days after I'd had a rather nasty personal encounter with Zahra Jamal, a Vancouver journalist who works for Tehran's government-run Press TV. I'd refused to consent to an interview, recalling the brave Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi who was beaten to death by government thugs after taking photographs of a student protest in Tehran in 2003.

Press TV is a holocaust-denial broadcasting service. It's as slick as the CBC. After I expressed the view that Press TV's bosses should rot in hell for eternity, Jamal threatened to report my sauciness to the faculty where I'm engaged as an adjunct at the University of British Columbia. This is just funny.

What is not so funny is that Press TV is the direct function of a Khomeinist crackdown that involved the firing of hundreds of Iranian journalists and the shuttering of dozens of Iranian newspapers and magazines. Last year, the Association of Iranian Journalists was arbitrarily dissolved by Ahmadinejad’s officials. By any proper standard, Press TV is a nasty little racket and a masquerade, and its journalists are scabs. . .

That's from the bow of my Tyee column today. It cheers up towards the stern (I've been thinking about Tommy McGrath the last couple of days)

We should speak with One Voice, and what we want for ourselves we should demand for all. Shoulder to shoulder, the people will win.

UPDATE: Seems I'm red all over today. Here, and here. Thanks, Jonathon. Muchos gracias, Poumistas, and Blazer. Prairie listeners can tune into CHQR's World Tonight program, 7:35 p.m. Calgary time, when I'll be in conversation with the good Rob Breakenridge. (Podcast here).

UPDATE II: Security and police forces violently attacked Iranian workers as they gathered in Laleh Park in Tehran to observe May Day. The demonstration had been called by ten independent labor organizations. More than 100 persons were arrested, and citizens not participating in the attempted May Day observance were among those beaten. If you think Iran's workers will be defeated by this kind of repression, think again.