You don't need to tell me that some people out there take film rather seriously. Sometimes ridiculously seriously – "film for film's sake, art for art's sake!" Fortunately, and as far as I'm aware, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis only fall into the former category. Nonetheless, in a conversation with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! that followed the release of the Leap Manifesto and the documentary This Changes Everything, Klein, Lewis and Gonzalez pretty much trip over each other while extolling the amazing things that film can (supposedly) do:
Klein: I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements... And, you know, it's one thing to read about it – "Oh, these movements are rising up" – but it's something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements.
Lewis: There's another... thing that film can do that books just can't: The look on Naomi's face in the cutaway in the climate deniers' conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.
Gonzalez: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can't, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization.
Ask around and you'll eventually come across somebody that will tell you that (in certain respects) film schools are a waste of time and money. Frankly, you can count me as one of those people, although I don't say that as somebody who attended the Film Studies program at Ryerson University in Toronto for four years (which last I heard was the most competitive of all university programs in Canada to get into, although perhaps that was just an urban rumour). I say that as somebody who prior to attending university figured that although practice is generally a very useful thing to partake in, there are some things that to a large degree you've either got or you don't, and which practice can only help iron out a few kinks. As far as I've always seen it, and much like being a top-notch 100-meter dash sprinter (which most of us can never be), filmmaking – directing in particular – is one of those things. That being said, as far as I've noticed there is actually one "film school" out there that truly is above and beyond the rest, and which I inadvertently had the "fortunate privilege" of "attending."
That started at the age of 4-years-old or so when I was bought another one of those random toys that parents purchase for their children, this gift consisting of the Fisher Price Movie Viewer and Movie Viewer Theater, as well as several cartridges. To my "benefit" my parents never paid much attention to my utter fascination with them, probably because they were just glad that they'd found something that could reliably get their kid to sit down and avoid landing himself in the hospital for the umpteenth time. (When I was 6-years old and my family moved houses my mother chose the town that had the hospital in it.)
Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Michele Landsberg & Naomi Klein at the This Changes Everything premiere at the Ryerson Theatre / Toronto International Film Festival (Ryerson, the university where I decided to not graduate from the film studies program)
Much as it came as a surprise to me, it's probably not very well known that Naomi Klein comes from a rather politically active family, and that she ended up marrying into a very politically active family. While Klein had a "very public feminist mother" who was notable for her anti-pornography work, her husband Avi Lewis' mother, Michele Landsberg, was not only a well-known feminist columnist for the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail for many years, but also managed to write three bestselling books. Moreover, Lewis' father, Stephen Lewis, was the leader of Ontario's (socialist) New Democratic Party (NDP) for several years in the 1970s (to go along with later stints with the United Nations), which coincided with the period when his father, David Lewis, was leader of Canada's federal NDP. (For those who aren't aware, the NDP is one of Canada's three major political parties, and whose leader that preceded David Lewis, Tommy Douglas, helped usher in Canada's health care system.) But although Avi Lewis shares many of his father's and grandfather's leanings, he chose not to follow in their footsteps. As he put it many years ago,
As far as making the arena of politics the main stage, I could do it, but I don't feel a compulsion to. As far as I'm concerned, winning has replaced change as the goal of the party and that's wrong.
So not to shirk Klein's own accomplishments in the slightest, but she most certainly has some rather accomplished families to draw upon. Having said that, I do kind of wonder if having such a strong political background and leaning can somewhat muddy one's perceptions a bit when it comes to interpreting the effects and implications of fossil fuel depletion. As Klein put it a few days ago,
It has been one year and one week since a coalition of dozens of organizations and artists launched The Leap Manifesto, a short vision statement about how to transition to a post-carbon economy while battling social and economic injustice. A lot has changed: a new federal government, a new international reputation, a new tone... But when it comes to concrete action on lowering emissions... much remains the same. Our new government has adopted the utterly inadequate targets of the last government.
In other words, one year on and the issue is that (the) government – a new government at that! – is still the problem. But to look at this a bit differently, and to quote George Mobus (author of the book Principles of Systems Science) from his blog Question Everything,
People have gotten used to thinking that solutions come from politics – having the right officials in place means that they will solve the problems.
Over the years I've had the pleasure of chatting with Naomi Klein on a few different occasions; there was that first Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Kansas that we both happened to attend in 2010, that second Prairie Festival which she spoke at in 2011, and the opening night talk she gave at the Toronto Reference Library the day before her latest book (This Changes Everything) was released – not to mention all those other times I've seen her speaking in Toronto (where we both used to live for several years). And although I've only very briefly spoken once to Klein's filmmaker-husband Avi Lewis (at that second Prairie Festival), there was that time in Toronto that Lewis and I stood next to each other for about half an hour and managed to say not a single word to each other. But I'll get to that in part 2.
While Lewis is known for his work hosting various television programs on MuchMusic, CityTV, CBC, and Al Jazeera English, as well as for directing a few documentaries, it is Klein that is the more well known of the two, mostly due to her books No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything. That being said, one year ago this week – and at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – the Lewis-directed documentary This Changes Everything had its world-premiere, an event that coincided with the release of the Leap Manifesto.
The Leap Manifesto, which received much media coverage upon its release, is a 15-point plan for tackling the climate change dilemma we're currently faced with, particularly in respect to Canada. However, with the Leap Manifesto's one-year anniversary being today, and with it now appearing that there isn't going to be some kind of Leap Manifesto Redux in association with this year's TIFF, I'd say it's time to declare that the Leap Manifesto was in fact a colossal letdown. To explain, I'll start by conveying a little chat I had with a fellow attendee at the 2014 Age of Limits (AoL) conference.
Things continue to be heating up in Turkey as you may have heard (Turkey has now entered the Syrian war for the first time), and much of it, I think, is explainable by way of the recent one-day meeting that Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had with Russia's president Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on August 9th, the first foreign visit Erdoğan had made since the failed Turkish coup on July 15th. The stated purpose of the talks was to return to pre-crisis relations, that being before Turkey had one of Russia's fighter jets shot down in November of 2015. This rapprochement included all the niceties of Russia allowing charter flights and tourists to resume their trips to Turkey, Russia allowing Turkish construction companies access to Russia, and Turkey lifting its firewall against Russia's online news portal Sputnik. But those were by no means cover for the meat of the meeting, of which Putin and Erdoğan made no efforts of hiding from. According to Putin, "The most important point here will be our joint energy projects." And according to Erdoğan, "I must say at the beginning that Turkey will grant a strategic investment status to the Akkuyu nuclear power plant."
Said nuclear power plant in Akkuyu was planned as the first of four 1,200 MW reactors under a $20 billion agreement made between the parties in May of 2010, but whose construction was shelved by Russia after last year's jet crisis. However, it should go without saying that Turkey needs its "juice" if it wants to extend its ultimately futile grasp on industrial civilization just a little bit longer, and if doing so means it has to reluctantly capitulate (apologize) to mother Russia (for downing its fighter jet), it capitulates.
So where did I leave off in part 1? Oh yeah. Erdoğan and Putin are now BFF-FAW (Best Friends Forever For A While), Erdoğan's Turkey has quite possibly been helping ISIS unload its oil, the United States / Europe / NATO has purportedly been turning a blind eye to it all, and Turkey is trying to avoid joining its western neighbour for as long as it can before embarking on its journey to the endarkenment. But before I continue from where I left off and address whether or not a local supply of fossil fuels from the north could be enough to sway Erdoğan "from the bad guys to the bad guys," a little bit of Turkish history is in order. And fortunately, having introduced my Turkish confidant to the Turkish (falafel) joint I frequent, in return I was introduced by him to the work of Turkish writer Efe Aydal, whose writings went a long way in clearing things up for me.
As Aydal explained it in May of 2016, when the AKP first came into power "The American media was calling Erdoğan 'second Atatürk.'" Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in case you aren't aware, is sometimes described as Turkey's George Washington. In the 1920s he became the first president of the country, and upon putting through various political, economic and cultural reforms meant to transform Turkey's religiously-oriented Ottoman caliphate into a secular, democratic, and modern nation-state, he also went out of his way to make sure that the military would not be answerable to the government. The purpose behind the latter move was to ensure that above all else the military would uphold its mandate of protecting Turkey's new constitutional principles of secularism. This is why Turkey has had six coups/attempted coups since 1960, the military moving in when it believes that civilian governments are violating its secular principles (although it's possible that outside interests played some roles in those coups).
On top of that, Atatürk had thousands of new schools built, primary education was made free, taxation on peasants was reduced, the use of Western attire was promoted, and women were given equal civil and political rights. And contrary to what I initially thought, none of this is to say that Atatürk was some kind of Western stooge. Unbeknownst to me, and as my Turkish confidant filled me in, the ANZAC holiday which many Australians and Kiwis celebrate every year was originally in reference to Australia's and New Zealand's failed invasion of Constantinople (in what is now Turkey) back in World War I – and which Kiwi mates of mine see as a ridiculous thing to celebrate since ANZAC Day is essentially about glorifying the (attempted) invasion of another country and of sending our young men to needlessly fight and die in a banker's war. But regardless of all that, it just so happens that the commander of the Turkish army that held back the Aussie and Kiwi minions of British bankers was none other than Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
So following the three weeks of "who was it that tried to steal the cookie from the cookie jar" showdown in Turkey, it turns out that the first head of state that Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be meeting post-coup is occurring today in St. Petersburg, and with none other than his newest BFF-FAW (Best Friend Forever For A While), Vladimir Putin. This might come as a bit of a surprise to some, seeing how in November of 2015 Turkey shot down one of Russia's warplanes, Putin describing it as a "stab in the back." However, a slightly underreported fact is that in late-June, a mere two and a half weeks before the attempted coup, Erdoğan issued an apology to Russia/Putin for downing its aircraft and professed that Russia is Turkey's "friend and strategic partner." A couple of days later the ban on flights to Turkey via Russian airline Aeroflot was lifted, and the two leaders set aside August the 9th for a meeting in which they could discuss "normalization." Two and a half weeks after that, an attempt was made to overthrow the government in Turkey.
The timing of all that may be coincidental, but a look at what Erdoğan and Putin may be chatting about suggests there may be more to this than meets the eye. As The Guardianput it,
Putin is likely to show up at his meeting with Erdoğan with a goody basket, such as promises of boosting tourism, trade, construction and pipeline deals.
Pipeline deals? Now we're talking. But I've gotten way ahead of myself, so let me back up a bit.
While New Zealand is well known for its exports of kiwi fruit and mutton, a similarly well-known agricultural product of Kiwi-land is the honey made from the nectar of the manuka tree – manuka honey. While the manuka tree has long been known by the Maori for its medicinal properties, it wasn't until the 1990s that scientists at Waikato University in Hamilton discovered manuka honey's unique properties.
Honey in general has a long history across many cultures for its medicinal and healing abilities, ranging from assisting in the healing of cuts and burns to the soothing of sore throats. But while honey has long been revered for its various uses, it is solely manuka honey that has been noted for having rather extraordinary antibacterial properties. Coinciding with the increasing ineffectiveness of various antibiotics, it's recently been discovered that thanks to the level of what is called its Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating, the non-peroxide characteristics of manuka honey possesses the ability to eradicate many strains of bacteria, including the antibiotic resistant Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) super bug. Unfortunately, and much how these things generally go, the bread and circuses crowds have giddily done their part in turning manuka honey into yet another faddish superfood, contributing to the bastardization of this unique honey and to what has come to be known as "Manuka Madness."
For starters, people such as singer Katherine Jenkins, actress Scarlett Johansson, model Elizabeth Jagger, and tennis player Novak Djokovik, have publiclyproclaimed to use manuka honey – and nothing but manuka honey – to (respectively) soothe the throat, soften facial skin, protect one's gums from germs (!?), and revitalize oneself between sets. Thanks to all this snake oil salesman-type hype, what has resulted is not only a manuka honey sham, but also a manuka honey scam.
With the United States' federal election on the horizon – a horizon that drags on for almost two years! – the media's seemingly insatiable appetite for its catnip of political polarization seems to be ramping up like clockwork, with one of the latest and oh-so-ungreatest issues getting bandied about being whether or not transgendered people should have the right to use the restroom they feel most comfortable using, or, whether they must use the restroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificate.
For lack of a more appropriate word, let's get one thing straight: when God created public restrooms He didn't first create the man's wing, pull some pipes out from the walls, use those to create the female's wing, and then with his indomitable breath imbue the toilets with the spirit of His holy and flushable water. Put a bit less ridiculously, and contrary to what goes for common sense, there is absolutely nothing "natural" about restrooms separated based on a person's biological sex, nor with porcelain maws that like to gobble down our refuses.
If you know of the name Dan Chiras, then you've probably heard it in reference to the multitude of books he's written on alternative energy sources, alternative building methods, and more. But as important as his previous works have been, his latest book, on an alternative food source, is probably his most important yet. Yes, for those who already know what his latest book is about (and/or just saw the cover shot accompanying this post), I did just say "alternative food source." For Chiras' indispensable latest book is called The Scoop on Poop: Safely Capturing and Recycling the Nutrients in Greywater, Humanure and Urine.
As Chiras states in the book's first few pages,
As I remind my ecology students, all life is built on the dead remains of the past... It's for this reason that in this book I don't refer to urine and feces as "waste" without using quotation marks, signaling to you what "waste" really is – nutrient-rich material we must recycle in order to ensure the continuation of life on planet Earth. The only time that calling human excretions "waste" is appropriate... is when it refers to the fact that we waste so much of it.
That I would call our urine and feces an "alternative food source" is due to the simple fact that what is one organism's "waste" is another organism's food. And since, as Chiras points out, our "waste" is currently wasted, that means that something out there isn't getting its just deserts. And that something is our soils.
Living in highly technological civilizations that generally place the greatest importance and value upon the material gadgetry and inventiveness of our societies, it should come as little surprise that the luminaries and household names that we can readily conjure and associate with are those related to the technological aspects of our lives. For example, when one mentions the telephone, the light bulb, the automobile, the airplane, or nuclear bombs, it's likely that many a grade-schooler can rhyme off the names Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, and, perhaps, Albert Einstein.
But segue into more ecological matters and the fathers and mothers of these vocations are certainly not household names the way the aforementioned are. For what comes to mind when we think of organic farming, climate change, the environmental movement, or limits to growth? For most of those who flick light switches on and off as much as they eat food and depend on stable planetary ecological balances, the answers are probably little more than a shrug. While children can quite easily conjure up the aforementioned names, you'd be hard pressed to find even an adult who could easily slip off of their tongues the names Sir Albert Howard, Svante Arrhenius, Rachel Carson, and the team of Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jørgen Randers.
But while the topics of organic farming, climate change, and the environmental movement can certainly elicit recognition in the average citizen, the reality of peak oil quite often does not, with even less of a recognition expected in reference to the person that initially brought it to our attention. That largely unknown individual would be M. King Hubbert, the subject of Mason Inman's timely new biography, The Oracle of Oil: A Maverick Geologist's Quest for a Sustainable Future.
No doubt you've heard of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's infamous wall, the one ostensibly meant to keep out all those alleged Mexican "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.," as well as to keep all those 8.1 million undocumented workers Trump intends to (somehow) deport from getting back in. On top of all that, while 3,200 km walls don't just pay for themselves, Trump had nonetheless promised to (again, somehow) make sure that the Mexican government ends up footing the bill for said wall.
After months of the now routine mockery and scorn laid upon Trump, Trump finally came clean with the method of how it was that he was supposedly going to force Mexico to cover the $8 billion tab for his pet wall – by halting money transfers from the nearly $25 billion that (underpaid, overworked) Mexican labourers send back home as remittances every year (a total that actually equates to about 2% of Mexico's GDP). As should go without saying, the vast majority of those 8.1 million undocumented workers are employed in the service industry as maids, cooks, and groundskeepers, as well as in the farming and construction sectors, earning some of the lowest wages in the country to send home to family members in need. In other words, Trump plans on paying for his infamous wall by extorting money from the Mexican government under the threat of confiscating money from the poorest of the poor. As would come as little surprise to many, that Trump "love[s] the poorly educated" was, and is, of course, nothing but a ruse.