Top 10 Beatles Songs

Classic Album Review posted the video The Beatles: Ten Greatest Songs. His top ten:

  1. Strawberry Fields Forever
  2. A Day in the Life
  3. Eleanor Rigby
  4. Penny Lane
  5. Let it Be
  6. Hey Jude
  7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  8. Ticket to Ride
  9. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
  10. We Can Work it Out

This is far from my own Beatles top ten. As a child, I listened to the three albums in my father’s collection, Beatlemania, Beatles 65, and Help, but really fell in love with the White Album, Sergeant Pepper, Yellow Submarine, Magical Mystery Tour, and Wings Over America. My top ten:

  1. Across the Universe
  2. Something
  3. Here Comes the Sun
  4. Yesterday
  5. Let it Be
  6. Golden Slumbers Medley
  7. All You Need is Love
  8. Helter Skelter
  9. Come Together
  10. Happiness is a Warm Gun

Here are my honourable mentions:

  1. Blackbird
  2. I’ve Just Seen a Face
  3. The Long and Winding Road
  4. Penny Lane
  5. With a Little Help From My Friends
  6. Fixing a Hole

Only one of my top ten, Let it Be, overlaps with Classic Album Review. While I like a lot of his picks, Ticket to Ride and We Can Work it Out are duds, in my opinion. There’s very little I really like from the earlier Beatlemania era Beatles.

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The Oscars are Dead to Me

The last time I saw an Oscar best picture was the 2010 film “The King’s Speech”, which was an OK film. Shutter Island and Inception were both far, far better.

Since The King’s Speech, the only Oscar best picture that’s interested me is The Secret of Water (2017). It’s by Guillermo del Toro, who made the masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, along with the two Hell Boy films and Blade 2. However, because of the Oscar buzz around it, I never did see the film.

Here are the other winners since 2010:

  • The Artist (2011), about a movie star.
  • Argo (2012), about a CIA operation using a Hollywood movie production as a cover
  • 12 Years a Slave (2013), about slavery.
  • Birdman (2014), about a washed up actor.
  • Spotlight (2015), about a newspaper investigating child molestation in the Catholic church.
  • Moonlight (2016), about a gay black man.
  • Green Book (2018), about a black musician in the ’60s.
  • Parasite (2019), a Korean language film about class discrimination.
  • Nomadland (2020), about a homeless woman.
  • CODA (2021), about a deaf family.

None of these interest me in the slightest, except perhaps Argo. In its case, the Hollywood movie angle was the factor that led me to shun it. Meanwhile, the same years had some great and fun films:

  • 2011: Source Code, In Time, Limitless, The Adjustment Bureau, Thor
  • 2012: The Avengers, The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Skyfall, Dredd
  • 2013: Oblivion, The Host, The Conjuring, Pacific Rim
  • 2014: John Wick, Kingsman, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Divergent, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • 2015: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, The Martian, Spectre
  • 2016: Split, Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Doctor Strange
  • 2017: Wonder Woman, It, Logan
  • 2018: Avengers: Infinity War, Venom
  • 2019: Avengers: End Game
  • 2020: Love and Monsters, Extraction
  • 2021: Dune, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Free Guy

The last great Oscar best picture winner was The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003. The Departed in 2006 was a fine film, but Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece, and I also prefer Zack Snyder’s over the top epic 300, the fantastic Casino Royale, and even the creepy horror film Silent Hill.

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Gareth and Lynette – Chapter I

Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory is a collection of English versions of Arthurian legends written in the 1400’s. Many of them are based on the French Vulgate Lancelot cycle. Being in middle English, it is not an easy read for modern readers. Here is my rendering of the first chapter, where we are introduced to the youth “Beaumains”. I attempt as usual to stay faithful to the original while making it easy to read.

Chapter I – Sir Beaumains

When Arthur held his Round Table most fully, it happened that he commanded that the high feast of Pentecost would be held at a city and a castle that in those days was called Kink Kenadon, upon the sands on the border of Wales. The king always had a custom that at the feast of Pentecost, unlike all other feasts in the year, he would not eat until he had heard of or seen a great marvel. And due to that custom, all manner of strange adventures came before Arthur at that feast before all other feasts.

Sir Gawain, a little before noon of the day of Pentecost, saw from a window three men upon horseback, and a dwarf on foot. The three men dismounted and the dwarf kept their horses. One of the three men was taller than the other two by a foot and a half. Sir Gawain went to the king.

“Sir, go to dinner,” he said, “for strange adventures are at hand.”

So Arthur went to the feast with many other kings. All the knights of the Round Table were there, except those that were prisoners or slain in battle. At that high feast they would finally reach a hundred and fifty in number, and the Round Table would be fully complete.

Two richly provisioned men came into the hall, and upon their shoulders leaned the largest young man that they all had ever seen. He was tall and broad in the shoulders, and handsome. Though he was the fairest and the largest handed that any man ever saw, he went as though he could not carry himself unless he leaned on the other men’s shoulders.

When Arthur saw the youth, he quieted the hall, and all made room. His men went with him unto the high dais, without saying a word. Then young man pulled back, and easily stood up straight.

“King Arthur, God bless you,” he said, “and all your fair fellowship, and especially the fellowship of the Round Table. I have come here to ask you to give me three gifts. They will not be unreasonable, but ones that you may easily grant to me at no great hurt nor loss to yourself. The first gift I will ask for now, and the other two gifts I will ask a year from this this day, wherever you hold your high feast.”

“Ask,” said Arthur, “and you shall have your gift.”

“Sir, this is my request for this feast,” said the young man, “That you will give me sufficient food and drink for this year, and, when it is up, I will ask for my other two gifts.”

“My fair boy,” said Arthur, “I would counsel you to ask for more, for this is a simple request. My heart tells me that surely you come from men of renown, and my wits fail me greatly if you will not prove a man worthy of great praise.”

“Sir,” said the youth, “that may be, but I have asked for all that I will ask.”

“Well, said the king, “you shall have meat and drink enough. I never denied that, to either my friend or my foe. But what is your name?”

“I cannot tell you,” said the youth.

“It is amazing,” said the king, “that you do not know not your name, when you are the most admirable young man that I have ever seen.”

Then the king turned to Sir Kay, the steward.

“Give him of all manner of the best meats and drinks of the best, as though he were a lord’s son,” said Arthur.

“There’s little need,” said Sir Kay, “to expend such cost upon him. I dare claim he is a born villain, and will never be a man, for he had come of nobility, he would have asked for a horse and armour from you. But such as he is, so he asks. And since he has no name, I shall give him the name Beaumains, meaning “fair hands”, and I will send him to the kitchens. There, he will have tallow gruel every day, and be as fat by the year’s end as a pork hog.”

Right then, the youth’s two companions departed, leaving him to Sir Kay, who had scorned and mocked him.

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Recipe: Fajita Spice

I’m going to try making my own fajita spice, using the following recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 0.5 teaspoon pepper

This should make enough to cover about 8 chicken breasts. Any left over spice can be stored in an air tight spice container.

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A Liberal Projects onto Conservatives (again)

According to Adam Serwer of the Atlantic, Elon Musk Isn’t Buying Twitter to Defend Free Speech. Does Serwer have a close personal relationship with Musk? How does he know that Musk is lying about his motivation?

Conservatives on Twitter have greeted Elon Musk as a liberator. The mega-billionaire is in the process of purchasing the social-media platform and reorienting it toward what he calls “free speech.” The conservative columnist Ben Shapiro celebrated the news of the new free-speech era by insisting that Musk engage in politically motivated mass firings of Twitter workers based on their perceived political leanings.

While Shapiro’s framing of all those who will need to be fired to change Twitter’s culture as “woke progressives” does show his political biases, he is not wrong in saying there are people currently employed by Twitter who will impede the kinds of changes Musk has talked about, and will likely need to be shown the door.

For those who are not terminally online, a little explanation is in order. Compared to the big social media giants, Twitter is a relatively small but influential social network because it is used by many people who are relatively important to political discourse. Although the moderation policies of a private company don’t implicate traditional questions of free speech—that is, state restriction of speech—Twitter’s policies have played a prominent role in arguments about “free speech” online, that is, how platforms decide what they want to host.

One of the few redeeming things that Twitter is used for is journalism (though some may find even this debatable). There is a lot of useless opinion, political propaganda, and faux outrage. Overall, it has little to redeem it. Musk’s claim that Twitter is the modern day public square exaggerates it’s importance, in my view.

When people talk about free speech in this more colloquial context, what they mean is that certain entities may be so powerful that their coercive potential mimics or approaches that of the state. The problem is that when private actors are involved, there’s no clear line between one person’s free speech and another’s: A private platform can also decide not to host you if it wants, and that is also an exercise of speech. Right-wing demands for a political purge of Twitter employees indicate just how sincerely conservatives take this secondary understanding as a matter of principle rather than rhetoric.

Freedom of association (a business person’s right to associate with (or not) whoever they want to does not extend to services that are offered to the public. Companies do not have the right to exclude access to their products under the laws of many countries and states. Like laws preventing the state from curtailing individuals freedom of speech, these are legal frameworks. Freedom of speech is a principle and a fundamental human right. Confusing the laws that attempt to uphold them with rights themselves is either foolish or maliciously deceitful.

The fight over Twitter’s future is not really about free speech, but the political agenda the platform may end up serving. As Americans are more and more reliant on a shrinking number of wealthy individuals and companies for services, conservatives believe having a sympathetic billionaire acquire Twitter means one less large or influential corporation the Republican Party needs to strongarm into serving its purposes. Whatever Musk ends up doing, this possibility is what the right is actually celebrating. “Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored.

Elon Musk is not a conservative. Conservatives want a level playing field. You are a liar.

Conservatives maintain they have been subject to “censorship” by social-media companies for years, either by the imposition of terms of service they complain are unfairly punitive to the right or by bans imposed on particular users. There is ample evidence though, that social-media networks consistently exempt conservative outlets from their own rules to avoid political backlash, a fear seldom displayed when it comes to throttling left-wing content. And despite the right-wing perception of liberal bias on Twitter, an internal audit found that the site’s algorithms “amplify right-leaning political content more than left-leaning content.” The evidence suggests that for all their outrage, conservatives consistently receive preferential treatment from social-media platforms, but are so cavalier about disregarding the terms of service that sometimes they get banned anyway.

More lies. Conservatives are banned: Alex Jones, Milo Yianmopolous, Donald Trump. The Babylon Bee was banned over a joke. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter are allowed to advocate for violence against the police with impunity. Being neither a conservative, a liberal, or a progressive, I have no stake in the argument over which side Twitter favours, but it seems very clear to me that radical progressives are not banned the way conservative provocateurs are.

Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be surprising that many conservatives still complain that they are being censored even as these platforms’ algorithms continue to favor right-wing content. Indeed, the success of these complaints explains their persistence—if conservatives stopped complaining, the favorable treatment might cease. Musk is a sympathetic audience, even if that does not necessarily determine the direction Twitter will take under his ownership.

While it’s true that companies fear conservative backlash (hence Disney initially refusing to take a stand on the Florida parental rights in education bill), they clearly fear progressives more (e.g. Disney turning about and going all in against the bill after criticism). I’m glad Musk is a sympathetic audience. All companies should listen to their customers.

Liberal users on Twitter have greeted the news of Musk’s pending acquisition of the platform with everything from indifference to despair, while conservative reactions run the gamut from optimistic to worshipful, with some right-wing praise of Musk echoing the unending North Korean style flattery of the Trump years. For his part, Musk has said his priority is “freedom of speech,” a framing that some mainstream media outlets have credulously repeated.

What evidence is there that his statement is not credible? Until Musk takes the company private and starts making changes, I see nothing to contradict his stated goal.

Musk’s subsequent tweets, stating that Twitter should ban only “illegal” content and that “If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect,” suggest that he has not thought all that much about the issue. The state broadly banning certain forms of expression is a much greater infringement on free speech than the moderation policies on a private platform, which anyone can choose not to use.

Wrong. What he is saying is that if the state doesn’t make something illegal, Twitter should not ban it. He is not asking for the state to ban anything.

Every major right-wing Twitter alternative has imposed moderation policies while presenting itself as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter; most comically, posting disparaging comments about Trump originally violated the terms of service of Trump’s own app, Truth Social, which itself continues to ban “filthy” content, harassment, language that is “abusive or racist,” and “profanity.” The moderation of privately owned platforms is itself a form of protected speech; Musk’s ownership of Twitter simply means he will get to decide what those policies are.

True. Particularly disappointing was Gab’s banning of some content, including discussion of Marxism. However, Gab’s policies are much more open that Twitter’s.

And that’s precisely the point. Users on both the left and the right assume that during Musk’s tenure, Twitter’s policies will amplify conservative content and throttle left-leaning content. Both sides suspect that Twitter’s moderation policies regarding harassment will be altered to allow users to more frequently employ disparaging language about religious and ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. The extent of these changes depends on the balance between Musk’s financial concerns and his ideological ones.

If Musk had financial concerns, he wouldn’t be buying a money losing website. If he follows through with allowing pretty much any speech that doesn’t break the law, users will be free to say anything that doesn’t violate libel laws. Twitter users have always been able to block other users that they don’t want to deal with.

Right-wing alternatives to Twitter have failed to take off because conservatives want to make liberals miserable, not build a community in which there are no libs left to own. If conservatives successfully drive their targets off Twitter, or if the network becomes an unusable cesspool, it will become similarly worthless, both financially and politically. Social media platforms’ attempts to deal with harassment and disinformation have less to do with liberal political influence than making their platforms useful to advertisers.

Absolute nonsense. Conservatives don’t want to drive anyone off Twitter, but they do want to be free to criticize bullshit on Twitter. If Musk moves Twitter away from it’s dependence on advertizers, as he has suggested he will, he can tell advertizers who don’t like it to take a hike.

The fact that conservative concerns about Big Tech vanish the second a sympathetic billionaire buys a social-media platform, however, illustrates the shallowness of their complaints about the power of Silicon Valley. Conservatives are not registering their concern over the consolidation of corporate power so much as they are trying to ensure that consolidation serves their interests. Put simply, conservatives hope that Twitter will now become a more willing vehicle for right-wing propaganda.

Conservatives seem pretty wary to me. Why wouldn’t they want a site that gives them more of a voice?

Even if the platform tilts further in their direction, they will be motivated to continue to insist they are being censored—their criticisms likely exempting Musk himself in favor of attacking Twitter’s white-collar workers, whom conservatives paradoxically perceive as the “elite” while praising their billionaire bosses as populist heroes. The insincerity of right-wing populism is represented by the fact that such “populists” find it preferable to be ruled by ideologically sympathetic barons than share a democracy with people who might put their pronouns in their email signatures.

Conservatives are being censored. If Musk changes Twitter so that they are no longer being censored, why would they still insist that they were? Progressives are the ones who find it preferable to be ruled by ideologically sympathetic technology companies. Next, you’ll be saying white is black.

In Republican-controlled Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis boasts of punishing Disney for its opposition to recent legislation forcing LGBTQ teachers to remain in the closet on the job.

Only teachers of children 5 to 8 years old are affected, and they are merely required to tell parents if they intend to teach these young children about these topics. Whether you agree with this policy or not, it has been completely misrepresented by the media.

Last year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned of “serious consequences” if the party’s corporate benefactors continued to issue anodyne statements in opposition to GOP legislation aimed at disenfranchising Democratic constituencies. The Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates to unlimited corporate cash in American elections bears McConnell’s name, but apparently money qualifies as constitutionally protected speech only when that money can be relied upon to serve the Republican Party. As concerned as they might be about social-media moderation, conservatives are currently engaged, along with this kind of strong-arming, in the largest campaign of state censorship since the second Red Scare.

McConnell is a neo-Conservative scumbag. The Democrats are just as guilty of accepting massive donations from Pharmaceutical, Defence, and Agriculture industries as his Republicans. All government that is censorious is to be opposed.

Conservative propagandists have represented their demand that corporate America advance the interests of the Republican Party as a populist “break” with Big Business, when it is simply an ultimatum: Serve us, or suffer. The current ideological vanguard of the conservative movement isn’t breaking with business, but with democracy, seeking to keep labor weak, the state captive, and corporate power and religious institutions subservient to its demands. Money is speech, as long as you fund our interests. You have the right to vote, as long as you vote Republican. You have freedom of speech, as long as you say what the party would like you to say.

Everything you say here applies to both parties. Biden’s new Ministry of Truth is a perfect example of the state directly defying its own constitution.

Corporate consolidation has made the Republican Party’s turn to authoritarianism much easier. Liberals focusing on how Musk’s acquisition of Twitter might affect their experience on the platform should look at the bigger picture. Corporate America has filled the void in civil society left by the weakness of organized labor, leaving a tiny number of extremely wealthy people with outside influence. All the right-wing “populist” rhetoric in America is geared not toward weakening this influence but toward harnessing it.

Democratic mask and vaccine mandates, however well intentioned you might believe them to be, are authoritarian. You are projecting your own flaws onto those who you oppose.

Many media outlets have curiously described Musk as a “free-speech defender,” a term Musk enthusiasts have interpreted as a euphemism for someone with a high tolerance for bigotry against historically marginalized communities.

What? No they haven’t.

But Musk has been perfectly willing to countenance the punishment of those engaging in speech he opposes. Tesla, for example, was disciplined by the National Labor Relations Board for firing a worker who was attempting to organize a union. Similarly, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but his commitment to free speech falters when it comes to unionizing the warehouse workers who are essential to his business.

Musk is not Tesla. Tesla is a for profit business whose board is legally bound to act in the best interests of its shareholders. Similarly, Bezos is not Amazon. Given that the Washington Post is a newspaper, which is responsible for the content it produces, whereas Twitter is a carrier, and is protected from legal liability for statements made by its users, these are hardly comparable.

Business moguls tend to be big on “freedom of speech” in this more colloquial sense, when it comes to the kind of speech that doesn’t hurt their bottom line. When it comes to organizing their workforces, however, a form of speech that could act as a check against their power and influence, that tolerance for free speech melts away. Workers fearful of how their wealthy bosses intend to use that power should take that reality into consideration.

Some people actually have principles. Believing in free speech in the public commons while wanting to control speech in their private endeavours is not a contradiction. We will see if your cynicism is warranted in the case of Musk in due time.

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Review of “The King’s Man”

* D

The King’s Man is a prequel to the Kingsman movies, the first of which was good fun, and the sequel entertaining, but mediocre. Unfortunately, the prequel is terrible. It serves as an origin for the Kingsman organization, and is set in the era of the first World War, in the second decade of the twentieth century. The film fails as a compelling origin story, fails as a historical romance, and worst of all, fails to be fun.

In the first act Ralph “Voldemort” Fiennes, Lord Oxford, coddles his son Conrad while a mysterious Scotsman manipulates world figures to start the war and keep the Russians and the Americans out of it. The pace is glacial, but finally, Oxford and Conrad set of to Russia to stop the evil Rasputen (well played by an unrecognizable Rhys Ifans).

The second act has Conrad joining the army against Oxford’s wishes, retrieving intelligence from a British spy, and being killed by his own men when he gives them the name of the man who he swapped places with to enlist. After moping around for a while, Oxford sets out to foil the enemy’s plot to blackmail the US president. He, his servant Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) lay siege on their enemy’s mountain fortress, save the day, and, in the denouement, found the Kingsman organization.

The film spends far too much time on the dull relationship between Oxford and Conrad. I might have cared more had Harris Dickinson, who played Conrad, had a tenth of the charisma of Terence Edgerton, and not been killed before the final act. This left Oxford, who was a lame old man until Rasputin cured his limp at the end of the first act (how?) to be the action lead. Fiennes does an adequate job, but there is nothing like Colin Firth’s church scene to let him really shine.

Shola is a serviceable sidekick, but Polly in an insufferable mary sue. She is not only an amazing cook (fair enough), but also a brilliant cryptographer and an incredible marksman. Please. Another very annoying aspect of the film is its attempt to weave the royal families of Europe into one with the ridiculous claim that King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas were all cousins.

If you want to watch a Kingsman film, just rewatch the first one.

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Review of “The Eternals” (spoilers)

* D

Marvel’s third film of 2021, The Eternals, has just been released on Disney+. I went into it with low expectations, and it managed to fail spectacularly to meet them. This is certainly the worst Marvel film in the MCU, and I’d say it’s also worse than Fant4stic, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Blade 3.

The film is long and slow. After a quick introductory act where the concept of the Eternals is introduced, a massive second act spends what feels like hours jumping back and forth between present day and the distant past, introducing the interminable list of characters. None of them are interesting. Their leader (Selma Hyack), who has the power to regenerate, is found dead at the end of the first act. The remaining Eternals are bland, and their abilities are things we’ve seen before.

Gilgamesh and Thena (Angelina Jolie) are fighters. Thena is mildly interesting because she has memories of a previous life the others don’t have. Circe, the main protagonist, can transform inanimate things. Her sidekick Sprite can create illusions. Her love interest, Icarus, is Superman: he can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes. Other characters are a technology expert, a Flash clone, a mind controller like Professor X, and a Pyro clone.

The villains are the deviants, who are mostly mindless beasts. Their leader has the ability to absorb the powers of the Eternals he kills, like Siler in Heroes, but is a completely dull character, unlike Siler. This whole subplot is then thrown away as a mere accident, and the real villain is revealed. The final act ensues, and the world is saved in a big set-piece battle between the villain and the Eternals, which is muddled by the reappearance of the leader of the Deviants.

Nothing of interest happens in this film. The minor references to events and other characters in the MCU seem incidental, as if they were mandated to make the film an MCU movie. The tone is neither fun, like Guardians or Thor Ragnarok, nor exciting, like the best of the Avengers films or Doctor Strange. Instead, we get dull characters, turgid pacing, and a messy ending that left me hoping that the Eternals never return.

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Turning Climate Change into a Losing Battle

‘Climate journalist’ Amy Westervelt claims that telling people to ‘follow the science’ won’t save the planet, but they will fight for justice. She goes on to say that the climate emergency has clear themes with heroes and villains and that describing it this way is how to build a movement. While that may be true, it is also a great way to build your opposition.

The biggest success of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign to push doubt about climate science is that it forced the conversation about the climate crisis to centre on science.

Come again? Just like the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry was as quiet as a mouse. It wasn’t until people like Al Gore started spreading knowledge of global warming to the masses that oil companies began their propaganda campaign. Yes, they are very biased, presenting only what will support their own profits. Then again, the environmental movement are highly partisan as well.

It’s not that we didn’t need scientific research into climate change, or that we don’t need plenty more of it. Or even that we don’t need to do a better job of explaining basic science to people, across the board (hello, Covid). But at this moment, “believe science” is too high a bar for something that demands urgent action. Believing science requires understanding it in the first place.

“Believe science” is pure propaganda. Science is about understanding. It is not handed down on high from an ivory tower. The “believe science” crowd have a long history of hurting science, from germ theory to the heliocentric solar system. Even Einstein poo pooed quantum mechanics because he couldn’t believe that God would play dice with the universe, and turned out to be wrong.

In the US, the world’s second biggest carbon polluter, fewer than 40% of the population are college educated and in many states, schools in the public system don’t have climate science on the curriculum. So where should this belief – strong enough to push for large-scale social and behavioural change – be rooted exactly?

Elitist snobbery at its finest. The college educated do not have a monopoly on understanding science. In fact, most college educations do not include STEM. Most tradesmen (e.g. plumbers, electricians, mechanics) know more science than many college graduates. Social change must be rooted in the people, assuming one wants to avoid tyranny. This means that change must be in their interest.

People don’t need to know anything at all about climate science to know that a profound injustice has occurred here that needs to be righted. It’s not a scientific story, it’s a story of fairness: people with more power and money than you used information about climate change to shore up their own prospects and told you not to worry about it.

We all benefited (and continue to benefit) from the cheap energy provided by fossil fuels. There is nothing unjust about radically improving quality of life of nearly all of mankind. That the benefits were not evenly distributed is a symptom of reality. Life is not fair.

That story is backed up by not only the internal memos of various oil companies, and the discrepancies between those internal communications and what they were telling the public, but also by their patents. In 1973, Exxon secured a patent for an oil tanker that could easily navigate a melting Arctic. In 1974, Texaco was granted a patent for a mobile drilling platform in a melting Arctic. Chevron got a patent for its version of a melting-Arctic-ready drilling platform that same year. Shell was a bit behind; it got its melting-Arctic drilling platform design patented in 1983.

Why wouldn’t fossil fuel companies promote themselves and take advantage of the changes our consumption of their products were leading to?

When she was shown this evidence of oil companies’ preparations for a warming world, Lori French was shocked. French’s… family and several other crabbers had signed on to support a lawsuit by their trade association against the 30 largest oil companies in the world for their role in delaying action on climate. Not because of science, but because of fairness. They were shown various documents detailing how the fossil fuel industry had been preparing to not just weather climate impacts but continue to profit as the glaciers melted.

I hold governments responsible for managing the commons, including international waters via treaties, for the benefit of all. If companies are breaking laws, governments should be punishing them. Instead, governments are still subsidizing these industries.

Meanwhile, in the same decade during which scientists’ warnings about climate change have grown more dire, social science researchers have discovered that there is almost no correlation between public understanding of climate science and risk perception, and thus little to no relationship between grasping the science of climate change, believing the scientists’ warnings, and doing anything at all about it.

This makes sense. The average person doesn’t care about climate science; the average person who does doesn’t understand it; and those of those few that do, many have no interest in change, because they are not personally being affected by climate change. Science alone is not a powerful lever.

There is a relationship, though, between Americans’ awareness of inequality or injustice and their willingness to support social change. A Norwegian study surveying the impact of various climate stories found that those with heroes and villains had “a large persuasive impact” on readers. A study of students in six countries found that a justice framework spurred young people to act on the climate.

Making propaganda more effective will motivate people. But just as those who feel heroic are moved to act, those who are demonized will be motivated to resist. A movement not based on fact is easy to resist.

For more evidence that a righteous sense of indignation, rather than a scientific understanding of problems, drives social change, you need only look at history. The US entering the second world war (the war effort people most like to compare with what’s needed to address climate change)? Check. The civil rights, consumer protection, women’s rights, anti-war and gay rights movements? Check again. All driven by moral outrage at the power being wielded by the few over the many.

The American decision to enter WWII was enabled by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, not moral outrage against American elites. Consumer protection and anti-war movements have largely failed in America. The equal rights movements succeeded because they didn’t affect the elite’s ability to profit from their positions. Making climate change a moral issue will fail if the one’s who are demonized are the ones with power.

Climate crisis is not a scientific or technical problem, it is an issue of justice and political will. Acting on it calls into question not just our energy source, but our power structures, catalysing widespread social change. The only thing that’s ever really succeeded in doing that are justice movements – public outcries over blatant injustice and a demand for change. If progressives and climate activists want to have any hope of spurring the kind of movement necessary to shift political and economic interests away from fossil fuels, it’s time to put aside “believe science” and instead embrace a broad fight for justice.

Justice for who? For farmers, who rely on fossil fuels to make their livings? For construction workers, who rely on cement, steel, and heavy equipment? For those who must commute to work, and can’t afford to replace their gasoline powered vehicles? For those who live in cold climates, and rely on natural gas to cost effectively heat their homes? A “justice” movement that places unjust penalties on all these people and more is doomed to fail.

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A Deranged Communist’s Climate Solution

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams writes At last I have good news on the climate crisis: all of us really can do something about it. What does she prescribe?

People across the political spectrum broadly agree on the fundamentals and the urgency of the climate crisis, and yet we probably won’t do what we need to do because we’re just too useless. Society is too fractured for people to make altruistic choices.

While there may be broad agreement that human CO2 emissions are one of the causes of global warming, the urgency of the problem and what we need to do are far from agreed on.

Poverty is too endemic for many to be in a position to make changes.

This I agree with.

Financialisation has subverted democracy, so even if the demos was able to make a good, collective decision, it would be thwarted. Even if, by some miracle, the UK managed to overcome these obstacles to make good on its net-zero pledges, the same problems would play out on a global scale to prevent other nations from doing the same.

Pure democracies can be very evil via the Tyranny of the Majority. This is why systems like the American republic and Canadian confederation are not pure democracies. If the majority of Canadians (who live in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver) could directly control policy, Alberta would secede. If the majority of Americans (who live in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle) could directly control policy, Texas would secede. Direct democracy does not work for a large heterogeneous country. My government, which was elected by a minority, makes commitments that have dire consequences for the people, I hope that they fail to overcome the obstacles to meeting them.

The first two components of reaching net zero are basically in the hands of the government: cleaning up the energy supply, and becoming more efficient in the energy we use. Throughout the 2010s, we assumed that both the major parties were equally committed to tackling the climate emergency and merely differed on whether the state or the market should pay for it. This seemed like a reasonable assumption – the Conservatives in opposition, after all, were behind the Climate Change Act, an inspiringly strong piece of legislation – except for the fact that it was plainly not true.

The government can’t clean up the energy supply. They can try to use regulation to incentivize industry to change and for consumers to favour more energy efficiency. The incentives use to promote electric vehicles currently subsidize the rich in their purchase of new vehicles that, even with discounts paid for by all of us, are unaffordable to most.

Conservatives committed to arresting the climate crisis wouldn’t have talked about “green crap”. Nor would they have wasted five years on Brexit, or wanted to leave the EU in the first place.

A lot of the so called “green agenda” is crap that has nothing to do with the environment. Needing to support the globalist EU’s labyrinthine bureaucratic policies is likely to make government less able to influence the energy industry and consumers, so I would guess Brexit could be a huge benefit to a government wanting to take action.

The price of entry to the grownups’ conversation was to pretend that all politicians wanted broadly the same thing, by a different route. This was a peculiarly low point for common sense, and it squandered time, fostering a sense that even when those in power wanted to tackle the climate crisis, still nothing constructive could be achieved. Even as recently as September, when Rachel Reeves described at her party’s conference the state spending a Labour government’s green new deal would entail, it was still normal in climate policy circles for people to describe the parties as equally committed to constructive, large-scale change.

Politicians are mostly committed to their reelection to power. Tackling climate change is only a means to that end. As soon as people start realizing the damage that Labour’s green new deal will do to them, they will drop their support for it like a rock.

But it is no longer necessary to pretend that the Conservative government means well, keeps promises or has any long-term plan for tackling the climate crisis. Removing it from power has become more urgent than ever. Accepting these facts is now, paradoxically, less daunting than the effort of papering over reality.

Long term plans are useless. If large scale nuclear fusion were achieved, pretty much anything else the government is doing would become a waste of time and money. We would have cheap electricity to power homes, industry, and electric cars. With the cheap green hydrogen, which we could generate via electrolysis, we could replace oil and natural gas for heating, and power hydrogen fuel cells in long range electric vehicles. But if we don’t achieve fusion, we might be better to invest in more efficient heat exchangers, better battery technologies, kinetic energy storage, and safer nuclear fission. It’s important to be agile, and quickly adapt to changes in technology. This is were industry excels, and government fails.

The third plank towards net zero has always been behavioural – are people prepared to stop flying and eating meat, and change to bikes and electric cars? And even if you are personally committed to these things, what about those who don’t care, or can’t afford to make adjustments, and what about young people and their fast fashion, and didn’t Greta Thunberg once buy a salad wrapped in plastic? There is a tendency to respond to every climate aspiration with a darting list of the insufficiencies of humankind.

Videoconferencing has finally become common and inexpensive enough to help make business travel much less important than it was. Expecting people to stop eating meat when there is no cost effective alternative is foolish. I know plenty of people who stopped being vegetarian because it was too expensive. Bikes are useless for anyone who doesn’t live within a short distance of their place of work, which is most people who aren’t rich enough to afford to live in the city. Electric cars are not affordable. As long as being green requires being rich, it’s not going to be mainstream.

Yet the granular work done by the Climate Change Committee shows the lifestyle changes this crisis will ask of us are in fact pretty manageable. The most demanding will probably be the switch to battery-powered cars (60% of vehicles by 2035). Otherwise, the number of miles per driver will need to reduce by 4%; plane kilometres per person by 6%; meat and dairy consumption by 20%. Arguably, this is the time to start new conversations – is net zero, in this time frame, ambitious enough?

The mass transition to electric vehicles may happen, but it won’t until they are cost effective and charging infrastructure is ubiquitous. Reducing travel via telecommuting and videoconferencing seems feasible. Here is one area where government can help, by funding public rapid transit projects for those unable to telecommute. Meat and dairy will be consumed until there are cost effective substitutes. As Beyond Meat and other companies continue to ramp up, this may soon be a reality.

Can the disproportionate carbon usage of the affluent somehow be reflected in redistributive policy, so everyone has an allocation of plane miles and those who can’t afford to use theirs can sell them instead? Would it make sense to subsidise meat and dairy alternatives in the same way renewables were initially supported? Is it feasible to make a carbon budget, as a nation, that doesn’t take into account the footprint of your imports? (Not really.)

Who would enforce redistribution? Big government? No thanks. I would rather my taxes were not used to subsidize yet another product that only the wealthy can afford. I wouldn’t be against imposing tariffs based on the CO2 emissions required to produce imported goods. This might help convince India and China to start moving away from coal, on which they currently rely heavily.

What is now unarguable is that all this is within our grasp. Radicals and progressives may maintain the longterm goal of bringing down capitalism and re-evaluating what life is for, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing constructive that we can do in the short term. I’m not sure that I would make a different or more certain prediction of what life will look like in 30 years’ time. But the idea that the changes required are too radical or the people who need to make them too timid, I’ve completely put aside.

I’m arguing. Elimination of fossil fuels is not currently within our grasp. Currently, returning to net zero emissions would require a massive genocide. If that’s what you mean by “in our grasp”, you will be fought. Bringing down free market capitalism is just another way of saying “implementing communism”. If that’s your idea of being constructive, you need to be locked up.

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COP26 Was a Blow to Globalism, Hopefully

Columbia history professor Adam Tooze, writing it the Guardian, declares The Cop26 message? We are trusting big business, not states, to fix the climate crisis. Not trusting the state is sound advice. If what you want aligns with their profit motives, trusting big business makes sense, but otherwise, it too if foolish.

Cop26 delivered no big climate deal. Nor, in truth, was there any reason to expect one.

Agreed. Politicians know they can’t get away with making big commitments that go against the best interests of the voters.

The drastic measures that might – at a stroke – open a path to climate stability are not viable in political or diplomatic terms.

There are no drastic measures that government can take that will stabilize the climate, short of actions that would starve millions.

Like climate breakdown itself, this is a fact to be reckoned with, a fact not just about “politicians”, but about the polities of which we are all, like it or not, a part. The step from the scientific recognition of a climate emergency to societal agreement on radical action is still too great. All that the negotiators at Cop26 could manage was makeshift.

There is no good plan for radical action, so I’m glad that we are not rushing into it.

When it comes to climate finance, the gap between what is needed and what is on the table is dizzying. The talk at the conference was all about the annual $100bn (£75bn) that rich countries had promised to poorer nations back in 2009. The rich countries have now apologised for falling short. The new resolution is to make up the difference by 2022 and then negotiate a new framework. It is symbolically important and of some practical help.

As long as we have homeless people in our own country, I would rather the government didn’t waste the money they take from me on poor people in other countries.

But, as everyone knows, it falls laughably short of what is necessary. John Kerry, America’s chief negotiator, said so himself in a speech to the CBI. It isn’t billions we need, it is trillions. Somewhere between $2.6tn and $4.6tn every year in funding for low-income countries to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. Those are figures, Kerry went on to say, no government in the world is going to match. Not America. Not China.

How the hell can they say this, when they have no idea how to actually divert that much money from the economy without making things worse?

We should take the hint. There isn’t going to be a big green Marshall plan. Nor are Europe or Japan going to come up with trillions in government money either. The solution, if there is to be one, is not going to come from rich governments shouldering the global burden on national balance sheets.

Solutions don’t come from governments.

So, how does Kerry propose to close the gap? As far as he is concerned, the solution is private business. Hence the excitement about the $130tn that Mark Carney claims to have rallied in the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a coalition of banks, asset managers, pension and insurance funds.

If financial institutions want to invest their customers’ money in this way, they’re more than welcome to. I have my doubts whether they’ll find investments that pay off if their focus is on net zero rather than getting the best returns, but that’s their customers’ problem.

Lending by that group will not be concessional. The trillions, Kerry insisted to his Glasgow audience, will earn a proper rate of return. But how then will they flow to low-income countries? After all, if there was a decent chance of making profit by wiring west Africa for solar power, the trillions would already be at work. For that, Larry Fink of BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, has a ready answer. He can direct trillions towards the energy transition in low-income countries, if the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are there to “derisk” the lending, by absorbing the first loss on projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Of course industry will invest in questionable endeavours if governments agree to take their risks for them. Then, when they fail, the people pay the price, with either austerity or currency devaluation.

Even more money will flow if there is a carbon price that gives clean energy a competitive advantage.

Money that will be paid for by the poor in higher costs. Wealth always flows in one direction.

It is a neat solution, the same neat neoliberal solution that has been proffered repeatedly since the 1990s. The same solution that has not been delivered.

Neoliberal ‘solutions’ always help their donors.

Talk of carbon pricing evokes the bitter memory of shock therapy in eastern Europe and the developing world. BlackRock’s backstop idea is the logic of the 2008 bank bailouts expanded to the global level – socialise the risks, privatise the profits.

The 2008 bank bailouts where one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich of all time. BlackRock is evil.

At this point those promising trillions in private funding to fight the climate crisis reveal themselves to be the true utopians, just utopians of a neoliberal variety. Carbon pricing – a fee placed on emissions – may be the economists’ favourite. The one place where it may work, ironically, is in Europe, where energy is already heavily taxed and the most sophisticated welfare states in the world can cushion the impact. China is experimenting with the largest carbon market yet. But as a global proposition, a single minimum carbon price is a non-starter, first and foremost in the US, whose economists invented the idea.

Good. Carbon taxes are not solutions. When the government puts its thumb on the scale, the results are generally minimal, but the cost to the people is great.

Nor is Congress or any European parliament about to vote in favour of hundreds of billions of dollars to backstop BlackRock. Western states carried out bailouts in 2008 and again in 2020. But those were desperate efforts, faute de mieux, to save the status quo at home. And that was toxic enough. Stretched to a global scale, it has zero political appeal.

The 2020 bailouts, which consisted of the US federal reserve and other central banks printing trillions to give to corporations, were an even more massive wealth transfer to the rich than the 2008 bailouts. Central banks steal our money by creating “new money”, which is really just a way of devaluing our money, allowing government to take it from us without having to raise taxes.

However, the risk is not that Cop26 opens the door to some gigantic neoliberal climate stitch-up, but instead that we remain locked in our current impasse, careening towards catastrophe.

I’d rather we remain as we are. The neoliberals are globalists who are in league with communist China. They are evil.

Faced with that prospect, both the US and the EU seem less preoccupied with grand schemes of carbon pricing and blended finance, than with pushing a case-by-case approach. Four separate initiatives show the direction of travel.

Good. Carbon pricing and blended finance are crap.

The deal on aluminium and steel announced by the EU and the US ends one of Trump’s more absurd trade wars and turns it into a process for agreeing on accounting rules for carbon. What seems to be envisioned is a hi-tech, clean-steel trade zone, with tariffs imposed on high-carbon imports from China, Russia and Ukraine. It isn’t a global carbon price, but a sectoral rich-country buyers’ club.

This will increase costs. The current process for making steel without coal requires hydrogen, which we currently can’t generate cost effectively without emitting CO2. Here in Canada, where my province, “green” British Columbia, exports the coal used to make steel in Asia, I’d guess we’d be unlikely to impose tariffs on our customers.

On coal, though the final declaration was disappointing, the US is working with India to promote the rollout of renewables. This involves a three-way partnership with the UAE to provide technical assistance and finance to speed up the move away from coal. India is not the only emerging market with a coal problem.

China is a massive consumer of thermal coal.

One of the best pieces of news out of Cop26 was the multinational $8.5bn package to support the winding down of coal burning by Eskom, South Africa’s bankrupt and dysfunctional power utility.

In South Africa, after being take over by the communist ANC, government has become bankrupt and dysfunctional. What a surprise. I’m glad Canada is not involved.

To accelerate the pace of industrial change, history tells us that the key is to incentivise first movers – leading firms that adopt new technologies and thus send the message to their competitors: innovate or be left behind. In unleashing a race to the top, the announcement of the First Movers Coalition in November, backed by the US and the World Economic Forum and involving firms like shipping giant Maersk and Cemex and Holcim, two of the world’s leading cement makers, is potentially a significant step.

Ah, the World Economic Forum. Globalism incarnate. The same forum who predicted the end of property rights. No thanks.

Finally, there is the deal to cut emissions of methane, the long-neglected but deadly greenhouse gas, by 30% by 2030. That will involve a technological push across the oil and gas industry worldwide.

Methane is only deadly if it explodes. In Canada, where cold weather makes heat exchangers impractical, we heat our houses with methane (AKA natural gas), which is much cheaper than electric heating. While methane can be replaced with hydrogen, we currently don’t have sufficient electricity to generate hydrogen by electrolysis. Hydrogen can be separated from methane, but that process produces CO2, which defeats the purpose of replacing methane.

Advocates of the Green New Deal have long urged big government-led industrial policy. The approach of Kerry and his team seems to follow a more low-key, pragmatic script. As Danny Cullenward and David Victor write in their book, Making Climate Policy Work, rather than attempting a contentious grand bargain, the key is to find coalitions of the willing and drive change sector by sector, raising ambition through repeated rounds of bargaining.

Big government is bad. The Green New Deal in the US was full of communist ideals like wealth equalization that have nothing to do with the environment. Government is not competent to lead industry. Those willing to change in a sector (for example, the automotive industry, who seem to be committed to electric vehicles, though they haven’t gone “all in” yet), will do so because they see advantage in it. In the case of electric vehicles, they are cheaper to run, and because they are far simpler mechanically, they should be cheaper manufacture and to maintain, assuming their batteries are cost effective and reliable.

Like the Paris agreement of 2015, which first demonstrated this pragmatic approach in action, the Kerry initiatives face two big questions. Will a series of ad hoc measures add up to an adequate overall solution? Furthermore, not every deal can be win-win. How will the tough trade-offs be fought out? Whose interests will be served? The reply by the pragmatists is that no general answer can be given in advance. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is not much of an answer. But, as Cop26 attests, it may be the only realistic one.

The Paris accord allowed China and India to massively increase their emissions, until the two countries account for more than a third of the world’s emissions. There is no general answer that can be given in advance. If fusion power is demonstrated tomorrow, it could change everything, making clean electricity and hydrogen from electrolysis possible. Without such a breakthrough, we need to keep trying new things, figuring out what works, and stop doing things that don’t.

If that is the case, then the response of the climate movement should be to keep up the pressure. In political terms, pragmatic ad hocery may be realistic, but there is no negotiating with the dwindling carbon budget. Given how deeply entrenched the status quo is, the temptation to conservative wishful thinking is everywhere. Someone has to pound the message home. The biggest risk is not to change.

There is no “carbon budget”. There is no magic number on one side of which everything is peachy, and on the other, the world becomes a fiery inferno. Technologies that can replace fossil fuels will be developed, but it will take time. Until then, we need to burn fuel to heat our homes, grow our crops, and, for at least the short term, to commute to work and transport goods.

Moving to hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear power should be prioritized by government, along with supporting telecommuting and public transit. Encouraging retrofitting of homes with better insulation and double glazed windows is a good way to reduce fuel consumption, though such subsidies (like the subsidies offered on electric vehicles) tend to benefit the wealthy, and not the poor.

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