Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me

I watched this film the other week with my boys as they'd never seen a James Bond film and wanted to know what one was like. We didn't survive past the credit sequence, but for the few minutes I was watching I was struck in quick succession by these thoughts.

- How did they think they could get away with just remaking You Only Live Twice just by substituting nuclear submarines for space ships? I suppose Roald Dahl's 1967 script, with its gratuitously exotic location, outlandish plot to take over the world, random and bizarre assassination attempts on Bond and climatic battle in the baddie's lair, is what they've been remaking for the last 44 years, but this is a bit blatant.

- Barbara Bach is decent eye candy, but who told her she could act?

- On the other hand, how did an ugly git like Ringo Starr end up marrying her? (Yes, I do know the answer.)

- What does Roger Moore think he looks like in that yellow ski suit? It even has flares.

- The opening stunt though is really, really good. There had to be a reason we watched this rubbish, and Rick Sylverster's leap into the abyss is one of those reasons.

Even in these days of CGI wonders, it's still jaw dropping. In fact the way it is so obviously not CGI is what makes it so great. Sylvester actually does what James Bond does; ski off a sheer cliff and then wait an interminable age before deploying his parachute. The tracking shot as he falls in absolute silence is heart stoppingly good and makes the corny Union Jack parachute forgivable.

We switched off then, and from memory the only thing I missed of interest in the rest of the film was the gorgeous Caroline Munro, star of various seventies fantasy films, usually involving Doug McClure and a rubber dinosaur, who has a cameo as a baddie helicopter pilot.

Unfortunately this was her only Bond film, a pity because she's have acted the likes of Barbara Bach off the screen.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Botox Makes You A Psychopath: Proved (Sort Of)

We all know that people who use artificial means to augment their natural attributes are vain, shallow and self centred with very little regard for their less beautiful brethren. Well now there is some scientific evidence to back this up. Apparently it all comes down to something I thought that only married men did.

Some time ago I discovered that the secret to a happy marriage was to pretend to be listening even if you aren't. The trick is to copy your other half's body language; smiling when they smile, frowning when they smile and so on. Apparently though we all do it unconsciously whether we're married or not.

According to an article in the online journal Social, Psychological and Personality Science by doing this we gain empathy into what the other person is thinking.

It's a curious idea, that to know another's emotions you have to mimic their facial expressions, but it's real science so there must be something in it.

The problem with people who've been botoxed, facelifted or otherwise artificially beautified is that they can't. Their faces are stuck in a sort of bemused half smile and even if you are gurning away like Phil Cool sucking on a lemon, they can't even raise an eyebrow to reciprocate.

The result is that they are less likely to understand what you're thinking. 7% less likely according to the study, which is enough in my book to catagorise them all as sociopaths.

Of course, the fact that they've been botoxed probably means they're rich enough not to need to care what you think.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Don't Mention The War

According to Lisa Simpson all wars are wrong apart from the American War of Independence and the Second World War. As they didn't officially participate in either that causes a few problems when it comes to war memorials in Ireland.

The Queen today laid a wreath at Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, a memorial to "all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom". It was a tricky thing for a British Head of State to do, honouring those who fought against us, but as a significant proportion of the world has fought wars of liberation against us, she's had quite a lot of practise.

Remembering their war dead though is also a sensitive problem for the Irish.

The Garden of Remembrance is a moving place with a wonderful statue of The Children of Lir, dying at the moment of liberation.

The memorial is dedicated to those who died fighting the British occupation from 1798 to 1921. The second date shows the problem. 1921 was the date of the formation of the Irish Free State, and also the start of the Irish Civil War. If you were in the old IRA in 1921 and were killed by a Brit soldier you’re in the Garden of Remembrance. If you were killed by an Irish soldier with a British rifle, you're not.

Instead Irish have tended to remember not the end of their final struggle for freedom, but the beginning; the Easter Uprising.

Easter 1916 pushed almost all the right buttons; a glorious, romantic, decisive, failure. It was also a complete cock up, with 90% of the troops not turning up, and the survivors were pelted with rotten fruit afterwards by an ungrateful population. But the subsequent retribution by the authorities stirred up the latent republicanism in the Irish and, as W B Yeats put it, a terrible beauty was born.

The war of urban assassination and rural guerilla warfare then instigated by Michael Collins and Tom Barry was inglorious, unromantic, and indecisive. The most important battle of the war, the ambush at Crossbarry, although a significant victory for the IRA, is still highly contentious and the one fact everyone can agree on is that the last British soldiers killed were shot whilst waving a flag of truce.

Remembering all would therefore be rather tricky, even if it wasn't for the problem of deciding when it actually ended. Was it 1921 when the Treaty was signed? 1923 when the Civil War ended? 1926 when De Valera founded Fianna Foil and opted for the democratic route to a Republic? 1972 when the Official IRA declared a ceasefire in Northern Ireland? 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed? Etc etc. It's not surprising really they opt to remember 1916 instead.

Commemorations began seriously in 1966, with an event which, if you'd made it up, would have got you accused of stereotyping. The Garden of Remembrance was opened, which was great, but the march past by the Irish Army was somewhat spoilt by the empty VIP grandstand - someone had forgotten to sent out the invites.

The IRA also decided to play their part, neatly blowing up the column in the middle of O'Connell street on which a statue of Admiral Nelson stood. The Irish Army then turned up to blow poor Nelson up again so the bits could be carried away by lorry, but being somewhat less proficient with explosives than the RAs ended up taking out every window in the street in the process.

The spot on which old Nelson stood is now the impressively spikey Spire of Dublin, but before that it was occupied by a piece of modern art known locally as the "floozie in the Jacuzzi", and O'Connell street now only has statues of two famous adulterers (Thomas Parnell and O'Connell himself).

However there was another group of veterans who were feeling a bit left out. Irishmen who'd served in the British Army had been meeting on Remembrance Sunday at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens since it opened in 1948. By the 1980s though the place was virtually derelict, and with two groups meeting at different times to remember men who were effectively fighting on opposite sides in the same war the Irish government decided to try to do something promote some sort of national remembrance day.

The result was National Day of Commemoration, held on the nearest Sunday to July 11th. The idea was to remember the dead of the wars of liberation, both World Wars and modern Irish soldiers who've died serving as UN Peacekeepers.

A reasonable compromise, but as some have pointed out the rather woolly wording of what the day actually commemorates does mean that the Blue Shirts who fought for Franco also get remembered. Fair enough I suppose, they were soldiers too, and by all accounts they killed more fascists than republicans.

All told the Queen probably had the easier job, she just dumped the flowers and ran. Ireland meanwhile is getting ready for the centenary of the Easter Uprising in five years time. They hope that by then the chaps at the top of the page will be ancient history, but if not they might just be creating even more problems for themselves.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Victory in the Great Bear Rainforest - Ten Years On

(From the Lammas 2001 issue of Pentacle Magazine)

A Legend

According to the stories of the Kitasoo and Gitga’at people, when the great glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, The Creator proceeded to set aside an island on which every tenth Black Bear would be born white. On this island the Spirit Bears would “live in peace forever” to remind the people of the time when their green forest was once white.

And so even today, on Princess Royal Island, where grey wolves roam, eagles soar and wild salmon return the streams of their birth as part of an age old cycle, amidst one thousand-year-old Red and Yellow cedar and Sitka spruce trees, every tenth Black Bear cub is born white. They remind us still of how fragile our climate is.

An Action

May 13th 1998. Trafalgar Square. The Canadian Air Force Colonel was already having a bad day. It was late morning on a hot, late spring day. Tourists pressed behind the barriers sweltered in the heat, whilst laid back police officers in shirtsleeves looked on. Scarlet uniformed Royal Canadian Mounted Police formed a Guard of Honour next to the red carpet that ran up the steps of Canada House.

In a few minutes Her Majesty the Queen would arrive to formally open the refurbished embassy, and it was his job to make sure things ran smoothly. They were running anything but smoothly right now. Instead of ‘God Save the Queen’ the message the tourists were getting was ‘God Save Canada’s Rainforest’, spelt out on a banner 170 feet long hanging off Nelson’s Column.

The Queen was minutes away, surely nothing else could go wrong. Suddenly he spotted movement in the crowd. A gap had suddenly appeared in the barrier and from it emerged four more Mounties. This wasn’t part of the plan. The British police, thinking these were late arrivals from his party had already stopped the traffic and waved them across the road. Cursing the limey’s he rushed forwards, but the Mounties were already on the red carpet. Turning to the still applauding crowd of confused tourists they unrolled a scroll marked Greenpeace and began reading….

The Battle for the Trees

The area known as the Great Bear Rainforest is a lush, temperate rainforest, the size of Switzerland that links the mountains with the sea in British Columbia, on Canada’s West Coast. For thousands of years it has been the home to First Nation’s people who left their signs on the ancient trees, some twice the height of Nelson’s Column. For generations too the forest has been logged for timber, but with the arrival of the large multi-national corporations in the 1960’s the rate of logging increased rapidly. By the 1990’s an acre of forest was being lost every twelve seconds in massive ‘clearcuts’, up to 100 acres in size, in which all trees and bushes were removed.

By 1995 Vancouver Island to the south had been almost completely deforested, and the logging roads were driving into virgin forest. Amongst the areas under threat were the Spirit Bear’s home on Princess Royal Island and the valley of Ista, sacred to the Nuxalk tribe. It was here that The Creator, through The Great Spirit, set the first Nuxalk on the earth, and for ten thousand years the tribe lived in balance with Nature.

This was too much for the Nuxalk and they struck back. Hereditary chiefs blocked logging roads and ended up in jail, others visited Britain to raise awareness of the campaign. In Manchester they ‘confiscated’ cedar planks from a timber yard. The planks were handed into a police station as stolen property as the Nuxalk claimed the multi-nationals had not had permission to remove the wood from their land.

However the Indians were not the only people fighting these cowboys. The Forest Action Network (FAN) was formed in the summer of 1993 when the clearcuts threatened Clayoquot Sound, the last pristine area of Vancouver Island. With legal and political efforts to stop the clearcuts failing, FAN took direct action and an estimated 800 people were arrested for blocking roads. When resistance was still continuing in autumn the government decided to compromise and launched a scientific inquiry that would eventually recommend a ban on clearcutting. Meanwhile the battle had spread to other parts of the Great Bear Rainforest.

FAN formed an alliance with the Nuxalk nation, and in their little yacht the Starlet they set out from their base in the town of Bella Coola to stop the cuts. Their ‘bottom line’ was ‘no logging in pristine valleys’. Communications with the outside world were difficult, and usually involved activists having to dive overboard carrying bicycles, swim ashore, and pedal off in search of fishing parties who could carry messages and film back to Bella Coola.

By this time though the Great Bear Rainforest was an international campaign, and Greenpeace entered the fray. As well as joining the blockades, Greenpeace started a series of high profile actions across Europe. The aim was to cut off the main market for clearcut timber. The campaign started with a European tour for ‘Stumpy’, a 400 year old tree stump. After that Greenpeace lobbied DIY stores, timber yards, and furniture suppliers. They also occupied a ship bringing rainforest timber to Glasgow before carrying out the most high profile action of all in Trafalgar Square. At last the Canadian press took notice, and the action was carried in all the main papers.

The logging multi-nationals though had no intention of taking all this lying down. When slinging activists in jail for a month at a time showed no sign of stopping the blockades, they hired the leading anti-environmental PR agency Burson-Marstellar, as the embattled GM food industry was later to do. An industry funded front organisation, the Forest Alliance, was formed and Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore was hired to chair it. He was soon in Europe trying to keep the market for clearcut timber open.

The logging industry claimed that the clearcuts, once replanted, would return to their original state, that clearcuts were no more destructive to wildlife than natural events such as fires, and that it’s work was needed to preserve jobs. Unfortunately the truth was rather different, as any journalist that covered the actions in the forest could see. Replanted, second-growth forests are monocultures that could not compare with the rich wildlife habitats of old-growth forest, whilst even the most destructive forest fire could not clear an area of vegetation as completely as a clearcut. It was the issue of jobs though that would finally scupper the logging industry.

Trapped in the middle between environmentalists wanting to save the trees and the multi-nationals trying to save their profits were the loggers, the ‘silent majority’ in the campaign. Theirs was a ‘Catch 22’ situation. Whilst they relied on the multi-nationals for a living, they also knew that when the forest went, so would their jobs.

Sustainable Forestry

Such was the situation in the summer of 1998. But the events in Trafalgar Square market the beginning of the final act. By autumn no major company in Europe was admitting to importing timber from the Great Bear Rainforest. The focus of the campaign moved back to Canada, and the first of the multi-nationals agree to amend its ways.

The issue had always been about how to log the forest, not whether we should log the forest. Clearcutting, which uses large machinery, is very profitable, but small-scale, selective, logging creates more jobs, whilst having a minimal impact on the environment Saving the forest turned out to have other benefits as well. Amongst the 200 species found to have antibiotic, anti-viral and antifungal properties was taxol, which is now used to treat ovarian cancer.

The future of the forest looked bright.

Back to the Barricades

But this was a false dawn. The temptation to turn the trees into dollars turned out to be too much for logging giant Interfor, and last year they resumed clearcutting.

Once again, many brave Canadians came out to resist. None were braver than Betty Krawczyk, aged 72, who in October 2000 was sentenced to a year in prison for blockading a logging road. Her punishment contrasted with the sentences given to five Interfor workers convicted of assault after an incident in which a hundred people, who’d arrived in Interfor vehicles, attacked protestors, and hospitalised three. They were conditionally discharged and told to go to anger management classes! It would seem that in Canada they still fear the Crone.

Greenpeace sent the MV Arctic Sunrise to the area, and the campaign was back in full swing. But this time the government had no stomach for the fight. Betty Krawcyzk was released in January 2001 and at the end of March Greenpeace Canada’s Forests Campaigner Tamara Stark, with tears in her eyes, was able to Email with the news that a moratorium had been announced on logging pristine valley’s in the Great Bear Rainforest. For the Canadian government to even use the name was a major step forward, as previously the area had been known officially as the Mid Coast Timber Supply Region.

Global Forests Under Threat

With victory in British Columbia the campaign to save the world’s ancient forests moves elsewhere. In the Amazon the battle rages as you read this, and whilst the giant logging companies threaten to move on the Tiga, the giant coniferous forest that runs across northern Asia, environmentalists are preparing the campaign to save it.

The world’s ancient forests, as well as providing a spiritual and temporal home for tribal people, a source of employment for the future and a habitat for charismatic megafauna, are also a vital organ of Gaia – the earth’s self-regulating control system. The forests absorb some of the carbon dioxide produced by our addiction to fossil fuels, and produce rain that waters our crops and cools our globally warmed earth. They the earth’s air conditioning system.

To help save them you don’t need to travel to exotic parts of the world, the solution is near at hand; in your local supermarket, DIY store and timber yard. If you are buying a wood product, whether it’s charcoal for your incense burner or a new altar, check to see if it has a Forest Stewardship Council logo. FSC wood is a way that ensures the forests will be with us forever. If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.