Lascaux

September 12, 2018

On this day in 1940, the Lascaux caves in central France were discovered by four teenagers. As they entered the long shaft down into the cavern, the boys saw vivid pictures of animals on the walls.

 

When the site was made available in the later 1940s, this cave art was wildly popular with the public. More importantly, it allowed everyone, both public and scientists, to understand more clearly that the so-called “cave men” were far more than the mindless brutes of previous imagination.

At about 17,000 years old, the Lascaux images are far from being the earliest known cave art today — several caves in Europe and Indonesia have art from about 40,000 years ago, and a recent “sketch” on a rock in South Africa may be much older.  However, the enormous trove of images (more than 900 animals identified) at Lascaux combined with the encouragement of tourist traffic to the location has allowed this cave complex to become the best known of all cave art.

Today marks an important anniversary in our understanding of who we are and where we came from.

Advertisements

Important Consultations On Substance Abuse

September 5, 2018

The Feds are looking for input to improve the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy.  The details are here on the Health Canada site.  They are looking to hear from:

  • people with lived and living experience with substance use, including those in recovery
  • Indigenous peoples, organizations, communities and leadership
  • substance use healthcare professionals and service providers
  • experts in substance use prevention, treatment, harm reduction and drug regulation/enforcement
  • civil society and community groups working in areas related substance use, or social determinants of substance use
  • substance use researchers and academics

The consultation time period started today and goes on to 4th December.

Thanks to Dorothy for letting me know about this.

 


Reason #232 NOT to use Facebook

April 4, 2018

After all the scandal and revelation over the last couple of weeks of bad governance at Facebook, I am shocked and amazed that anyone still has an account there.

I truly believe that people are mindlessly surrendering themselves to the corporation for a quick buzz and constant contact. It is sad. Sad mostly because these chickens WILL come home to roost for everyone concerned. This may all seem a little like some titanic battle over how elections are run and won (correct at one level), but it has very important aspects much closer to home to do with your personal identity, your ability to freely choose, and your possible futures.

I would have hoped that the shenanigans revealed this week would make these series of posts irrelevant.  But I haven’t seen the kind of mass move to leave FB that reasonably should have happened by now.  So, I guess, I’ll just keep count of the staggeringly large number reasons NOT to use Facebook.

 

Previous Reasons NOT to use Facebook


Reason #231 NOT to use Facebook

February 15, 2018

Facebook’s latest “data protection” gizmo actually tracks everything you do online, might store it forever, and definitely feeds all the information to the company for its own use. An article in WIRED explains that Onavo

“falls far short of the privacy protections that VPN users reasonably expect … Onavo is more pervasive than standard VPNs, and attempts to be on all the time instead of just when you want a little extra protection. This seems like a way for the app, and by extension Facebook, to track your browsing all the time, not just when you’re on the social network …

‘Onavo collects your mobile data traffic,’ reads the App Store description. ‘This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data. Because we’re part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.’ If you’re looking for the privacy benefits of a VPN, this is not what you want to hear …

‘Unlike other providers, Onavo Protect tries to keep the VPN connected all the time, and channel all internet traffic,’ says Ankur Banerjee, a technology architecture delivery team lead at the management consulting firm Accenture. ‘Even turning the VPN off is buried deep inside the settings of the app rather than making it front-and-center on the app home page. They could spin this as saying they’re trying to keep the customer protected all the time, but the obvious thing they are perhaps trying to do here is ensure that the user forgets Onavo even exists’.”

Sounds like business as usual for Facebook.

Previous Reasons NOT to use Facebook


The Scythe, Modernity, and the Crash To Come

February 4, 2018

For those of you who are keen on fighting back against the tyranny of modern technology, you could do a lot worse than read Dark Ecology” by Paul Kingsnorth.  It is a fairly long piece (by internet standards) but worth every minute you spend with it.

Each summer, Kingsnorth teaches the use of scythes in England and Scotland and in this article he uses the scythe as a surrogate for other simple tools when compared to modern machinery.  He explains the delight one gets in using a scythe, but remarks that most people use brushcutters these days:

“Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”

He really hits the nail on the head when he confronts critics who claim that he and those like him are simple-minded back-to-the-earth idealist dreamers:

“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress…

Critics confuse “a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined ‘golden age.’ It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a ‘crank’ by saying, ‘A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions’.”

Kingsnorth looks closely at the “green movement” of the last century, noting how badly it failed:

“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing.”

Worse, he says, we now have neo-environmentalism, often described as simple “ecopragmatism” but which is “something rather different” as described by the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, one of the movement’s canonical texts

For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.

Or, as Peter Kareiva, says:

“Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment, and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?”

Kingsnorth responds:

“If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politician might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.”

Kingsnorth argues that these neo-conservatives are misunderstanding the problem, probably deliberately:

“What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.”

“The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:

Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.

There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should.”

He looks at the future through the eyes of the past:

“Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.

It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around.”

“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.”

This is a sad pass we have come to.  Humanity has been too clever by half.


Reason #230 NOT to Use Facebook

January 22, 2018

According to a fascinating piece by Cory Doctorow, the dictatorship in Cambodia has been using Facebook to undermine the opposition in that country, by suppression, false news, and violence.

“The Cambodian government has cultivated a deep expertise in Facebook’s baroque acceptable conduct rules, and they use this expertise to paint opposition speech as in violation of Facebook’s policies, using the company’s anti-abuse systems to purge their rivals from the platform. Offline, the government has targeted the independent press with raids and arrests, shutting down most of the media it does not control.”

And they seem to have been directly aided by Facebook itself.

“[L]ast October, Facebook used Cambodia in an experiment to de-emphasize news sources in peoples’ feeds — a change it will now roll out worldwide — and hid those remaining independent reporters from the nation’s view.

Opposition figures have worked with independent researchers to show that the government is buying Facebook likes from clickfarms in the Philippines and India, racking up thousands of likes for Khmer-language posts in territories where Khmer isn’t spoken. They reported these abuses to Facebook, hoping to get government posts downranked, but Facebook executives gave them the runaround or refused to talk to them. No action was taken on these violations of Facebook’s rules …

[T]he decisions made by Facebook can seem mysterious and arbitrary. But for the Cambodian government, that process has been streamlined by Facebook. Duong said every couple of months, his team would email an employee they work with at Facebook to request a set of accounts be taken down, either based on language they used or because their accounts did not appear to be registered to their real names, a practice Facebook’s rules forbid. Facebook often complies, he said.”

The Cambodian regime is anti-democratic and is well-known for suppressing human rights and for its corruption. Facebook obviously doesn’t care.

 

Other reasons NOT to use Facebook.


Revisiting Les Sapeurs Du Congo

January 8, 2018

The other day I was crawling through the series of connected tubes (according to ex-Senator Ted Stevens) that George Bush called “the nets” when I came across an extraordinary group of people, dressed as 1930s French gangsters, in the heart of a poverty-stricken and war-ravaged African jungle.

sape1

I thought that was interesting enough, but then I discovered they were part of a recognizable social group in Congo Brazzaville.  They are known as the Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (SAPE).

sape3

Sape is French slang for “dressing with class”. The French often use the expression “il est bien sape” to talk about a sharp dressed man. The term “sapeur” is a new African word that refers to someone that is dressed with great elegance.   La sape has emerged directly from a specifically Congolese history.  George Aponsah says that

The Sape emerged from the chaos that was the Congo during the reign of Mobutu. It was really one way of coping with a society that had broken down. For a young person growing up at that time, there wasn’t much to grasp hold of to help you feel better about yourself. Politics was out, so you found a lot of cargo cult religions in the Congo. The Sape is essentially one of these. The distinctive look of the sapeurs was also a rebellion against one of Mobutu’s dictatorial decrees, which was that everyone was expected to dress in a very traditional, standard African costume – the abacost.

Hector Mediavilla casts its origin much further back:

The arrival of the French to the Congo, at the beginning of the 20th Century, brought along the myth of Parisian elegance among the Congolese youth working for the colonialists. Many considered the white man to be superior because of their technology, sophistication and elegance. In 1922, G.A. Matsoua was the first–ever Congolese to return from Paris fully clad as an authentic French gentleman, which caused great uproar and much admiration amongst his fellow countrymen. He was the first Grand Sapeur.

third version has it that

It is the result of the admiration which followed the return of african soldiers who helped France fights the First World War. As they returned clad in european style garnments, they aroused the curiosity and admiration of their fellow countrymen who in turn sought to dress the same way to look good , far from the idea of imitating the colonial master, or seeing him as superior being.

Whatever its background, la sape has taken hold among a certain group.  In an album dedicated to la sape, Papa Wemba, one of Zaire’s top singers, sang: ”Don’t give up the clothes. It’s our religion.”  A 2006 piece by Edmund Sanders has the following description of the cult-like hold sape can have on its adherents (what George Amponsah calls “the cult of cloth, the cult of elegance”):

sape4He struts down the muddy, trash-strewn alley like a model on a catwalk, relishing the stares and double-takes from passersby.  In a country where many survive on 30 cents a day, Papy Mosengo is flashing $1,000 worth of designer clothing on his back, from the Dolce & Gabbana cap and Versace stretch shirt to his spotless white Gucci loafers.   “It makes me feel so good to dress this way,” the 30-year-old said when asked about such conspicuous consumption in a city beset by unemployment, crime and homelessness. “It makes me feel special.”

But Mosengo can scarcely afford this passion for fashion. He worked eight months at his part-time job at a money-exchange shop to earn enough for the single outfit, one of 30 he owns, so he’ll never have to wear the same one twice in a month.  He doesn’t own a car. He lets an ex-girlfriend support their 5-year-old son and still lives with his parents, sleeping in a dingy, blue-walled bedroom that is more aptly described as a closet with a mattress.  Friends, family and his new girlfriend implore Mosengo to stop pouring all his money into clothes and liquidate the closet.  “Man, we could buy a house with the money,” said Dirango Mubiala, his clothing dealer, estimating that Mosengo spends $400 a month.

Mosengo won’t budge. “This is just what I am,” he said from behind a pair of oversized white Gucci sunglasses. “I’m a Sape.”

New York Times report from 1988 noted that:

With outfits easily costing three times the average monthly salary here of $300, sapeurs resort to renting, or ”mining,” out their clothes to friends for a night. A 24-hour rental for a designer suit is about $25.

I can’t possibly do justice to this fascinating culture in a post ike this.   Luckily there are resources out there to find out much more, most of which have galleries of images.   My first encounter was through the wonderful “The Congolese Sape” essay and gallery by Hector Mediavilla.  But see also an article by James Brook in 1988, and the Interview with George Amponsah and Cosima Spender in 2004.  Papy Mosengo’s story is from the 2006 article by Edmund Sanders.

 

[first published here in November 2008]