Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar & Natural News

Here's someone who really liked Avatar. This is a review by Mike Adams from Natural News.

James Cameron's Avatar delivers a powerful message of connectedness with Mother Nature

Saturday, December 26, 2009

$10 Billion?

Over at Alt Film Guide, there's an interesting look at what this year's $10 billion box office really means. Is it a record year for film views, or is it a figure that simply hides the decline of the film industry as a cultural force?
While notes that there was a rise in ticket sales this year over last--a five percent actual rise--but that there was also a rise in ticket prices that helps mask any fall-off in sales. Box Office Mojo breaks it down into numbers of tickets sold; 1,403 billion tickets in 2009. But, to keep that in perspective, 2002 saw sales of 1,575 billion tickets. But (and this is a big but) back in 1947 when the population of the US was only 144 million, an estimated 90 million people went to the movies every week. That would translate into ticket sales of 4,680 billion, or three times the ticket sales of 2009. And that in a world without blockbuster or tentpole movies costing close to a half-billion to make (Variety reported that Avatar cost ~460 billion).

From, the top 10 films of 1947:

  1. Welcome Stranger
  2. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
  3. The Egg and I
  4. Unconquered
  5. Life With Father
  6. Forever Amber
  7. Road to Rio
  8. Green Dolphin Street
  9. Mother Wore Tights
  10. Cass Timberlane
I'm actually surprised at how few of these films I've seen.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What They Won't Tell You

It won't matter. Nothing I say will make the slightest bit of difference--but, hell, that's never stopped me before. Avatar is not a good movie. It's a crap re-make of a second-rate Dances With Wolves. It didn't matter that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was a bloated, incoherent, ego-driven piece-of-crap film, and it won't matter with Avatar either. Millions of us will still spend our money on it. Hell, it might even make a buck or two, even with its absurd price tag (something around a quarter billion dollars!). A lot will be written about how good a movie it is, about how it "invents a new kind of film-making," but it will all be crap. Contrary to the hype, Cameron is not an innovative film-maker. He is a film-maker with a real talent for action sequences, and we'd all probably be better off if Hollywood took on the Hong Kong idea of letting one director make the film, with a second director given the action sequences. That way Cameron could play to his strengths, and the rest of us could watch decent films with wow passages. But instead we are suffering under the auteur theory of film-making, and we are often the poorer for it.
Cameron has a talent (or maybe only a knack) for taking existing film-making techniques and pushing it to its limit, while marrying it to a decent story with some kick-ass action sequences. Take a look at his (actually small and limited) canon of film. Terminator, where he takes blue-screen and stop motion and pushes it, smartly using the stop motion to animate a robot, so that any flaws in the technique will be hidden in the character. In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, he takes a new piece of software and uses it as a visual metaphor for the mutability of evil (as opposed to the mechanical implacability nature of it in the first film). But in all his earlier work (Titanic excepted), he is kept in check by producers, money, and limitations of the medium.
Almost none of this applies to Avatar. This is Cameron's return to feature films after the blockbuster success (even in the world of event films) of Titanic. But unlike Titanic, ninety minutes into Avatar, I was offering to leave. Don't get me wrong, the action sequences left me twitching like a brook trout on a fly, and that's what the action sequences were supposed to do. But in terms of story and character, I was bored. Seriously bored. And an hour later I was praying for a planet-killing strike from space that would take out both sides of this over-wrought and pointless tale. "Kill them all and release me from this hell," I whispered, but it was not to be.
3-D has been around since forever, and like having seen Ray Harryhausen's work before seeing Terminator, I've seen a fair bit of it. Up, last summer, was a lovely little film. And the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon is still, I think, a superlative film.

The Creature--still rockin' the house since 1954

Cameron, as is usual, ramps it up, pushing the new 3-D as far as its been pushed in modern film. But that doesn't, in and of itself, make the film any better. In fact, I found that the 3-D actually interfered with my ability to watch the film some of the time, getting in the way of what story there was. The CGI? Well, its the logical next step, the next phase as long as you have the $$$$$$$ to do it. Impressive, but doesn't replace the need for characterization. Or story. Or coherence or complexity. And while the luminous nature of the world on Pandora (the planet Avatar takes place upon) is interesting, it too becomes a distraction. And yes, I got the double meaning of Avatar; both the representation of a person in a virtual world and the embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life. Or even the incarnation of a deity (after all, the central character was blessed by the tree/deity of the Pandorans not once, but a couple of times). Doesn't make the film the least bit better, though.
So go--you know you're going to--and spend your money and you can even talk about how good it was afterwards (but really, isn't it more like The Dark Crystal? High concept, beautifully realized world, but the script really sucked?). But seriously, you'd be better off with the old cellophane and cardboard glasses and a copy of Creature. 'Cause there's a lot more going on there than in Avatar.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Telus sacks system access fee

CBC News - Technology & Science - Telus sacks system access fee

CBC got it wrong. I have received my new Telus 2 year contract invoice and I'm being charged access fees.

I had a 3 year contract which expired, and Telus tried to tell me by texting me and charging me for the text. They reversed the charge. They didn't bother to tell me when I phoned about the charge that my contract was up. When I did find out and said my partner used Fido for a much better rate, Telus began phoning me. Phoning me at work and at home and inbetween to get my business. At the beginning of December 2009 I dropped into Tom Harris Cellular in Tillicum Mall to renew the contract or discuss options as Telus had offered me a $15.00 monthly rate.

I paid Tom Harris Cellular $39.20 for Service and Support and got a new phone.

My invoice from Telus arrived today and is $52.85. I used to pay $31.30 per month.

My invoice breakdown:

Super Talk 15 (Dec 10 to Jan 09) $15.00
Super Talk 15 (Dec 7 to Dec 09) $1.50
Talk $20 my old plan gives me a $2.00 credit

Equipment Exchange $25.00 (I'll get back to this charge)
Rate Plan Change $10.00
Rate Plan Change credit $10.00

Enhanced 911 Access Charge $0.05
Enhanced 911 Access Charge $0.50
Enchanced 911 Access Charge credit $0.05
System Access Fee $0.70
System Access Fee $6.95
Systems Access Fee credit $0.46
Total $7.69

I'm being charged an access fee that the CBC reported in October 2009 Telus was no longer charging. But wait.....they are charging it. Technically if I was month to month and now have a NEW contract should I be paying access charges??? Very confusing.

I phoned Telus Customer Service and got a $25.00 credit on my bill. I was then told my monthly bill next month would be $30.00. My old bill was $31.30

Wow Telus has saved me a whopping $1.30 per month. I've signed a 2 year contract which will cost me $400 to cancel.

I feel Telus reps who phoned me and made me an offer of a $15.00 plan to reduce my monthly bill were not upfront about all the extra charges. They made it sound as if they were offering me the plan my partner has with Fido, where he pays about $15.00 a month for his cell phone service, no access fee.

When my 2 year contract is up I will never ever use Telus again. Unfortunately our land phone and internet is with them. Maybe we should be changing those to Shaw.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Now, For Something a Little Different

So, Tiger Woods has "tarnished his brand," committed "transgressions," crashed his car, and has apparently been sleeping with some cocktail waitress and (it seems) a host of other women. There are questions about whether his sponsors will pull their money, whether he'll "be able to recover" from the scandal, and if he'll be okay once he gets back on the golf course. And, of course, the endless self-reflecting chattering-class noise over whether his privacy has been violated, or whether or not he gave up the right to privacy when he began dropping a ball into a cup with mechanical regularity.
Honestly, I don't care. About any of it, really. The man is a golf machine, and as meaningless as I find golf, I admire his skill in playing the game. But I would like to offer an alternative take on his alleged indiscretions; good!
Seriously, take a look at the guy. He's handsome, focused, and intensely athletic. I hope he sleeps with lots of women, and I hope that he knocks more than a few of them up. I sincerely hope that he leaves a bunch of babies behind (although I hope he acknowledges them and supports them both financially and otherwise). My fondest dream is that he have an affair with the Williams sisters and leaves both of them with a couple of kids each. It wouldn't be bad if he did the same with Nicole Kidman and Meg Ryan.
These are people of extraordinary beauty and no little bit of talent. They are, love them or hate them, at the top of our current food chain. They are, in social evolutionary terms, the fittest, and I really think that ensuring their genes are spread as widely as possible through the genetic pool is a good thing.
And this is not just my belief that more people having more and better sex is of benefit to society. It's that "The Marching Morons" isn't the only way this works; it can be the marching intelligentsia as well. There is a drive to spread one's genes, just as there's a drive to nurture and nest. And neither is better or worse, more or less "moral." Both drives are necessary to the continuation of the species. It's only when society gets in the way (as in Islamist countries, or Christian fundamentalist Amerika) that hysteria develops; its because genes don't give a damn about society or culture or morality. They only care about perpetuation (and even that is anthropomorphizing). The genetic stew of humanity occasionally throws up extraordinary combinations, and its only to our benefit when they are spread widely.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

The International Editorial

Copenhagen climate change conference: 'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation'

This editorial calling for action from world leaders on climate change is published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages
Copenhagen climate change summit - opening day liveblog

Editorial logo

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

This editorial is free to reproduce under Creative Commons

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'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation' by The Guardian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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(please note this Creative Commons license is valid until 18 December 2009)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Biggest Threat to the World: Canada

George Monbiot's latest column from the Guardian, which focuses on Canada and the tar sands, deserves to be reprinted in full. We must do better than this, and that starts with politicians with vision and purpose, unlike what we have now on either side of The House.

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world's peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country's government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee's tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I've broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

In 2006 the new Canadian government announced it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%.

It is now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation. Never mind special measures; it won't accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren't worth the paper they're written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void.

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world's 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.

In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada's obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.

In Copenhagen next week, this country will do everything in its power to wreck the talks. The rest of the world must do everything in its power to stop it. But such is the fragile nature of climate agreements that one rich nation – especially a member of the G8, the Commonwealth and the Kyoto group of industrialised countries – could scupper the treaty. Canada now threatens the wellbeing of the world.

Why? There's a simple answer: Canada is developing the world's second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It's actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, comprising pristine forests and marshes, will be be dug up – unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.

To extract oil from this mess, it needs to be heated and washed. Three barrels of water are used to process one barrel of oil. The contaminated water is held in vast tailings ponds, some so toxic that the tar companies employ people to scoop dead birds off the surface. Most are unlined. They leak organic poisons, arsenic and mercury into the rivers. The First Nations people living downstream have developed a range of exotic cancers and auto-immune diseases.

Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta's tar sands operation is the world's biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions. By 2020, if the current growth continues, it will produce more greenhouse gases than Ireland or Denmark. Already, thanks in part to the tar mining, Canadians have almost the highest per capita emissions on earth, and the stripping of Alberta has scarcely begun.

Canada hasn't acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell, a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment. The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it. The British bank RBS, 70% of which belongs to you and me (the government's share will soon rise to 84%), has lent or underwritten £8bn for mining the tar sands.

The purpose of Canada's assault on the international talks is to protect this industry. This is not a poor nation. It does not depend for its economic survival on exploiting this resource. But the tar barons of Alberta have been able to hold the whole country to ransom. They have captured Canada's politics and are turning this lovely country into a cruel and thuggish place.

Canada is a cultured, peaceful nation, which every so often allows a band of Neanderthals to trample over it. Timber firms were licensed to log the old-growth forest in Clayaquot Sound; fishing companies were permitted to destroy the Grand Banks: in both cases these get-rich-quick schemes impoverished Canada and its reputation. But this is much worse, as it affects the whole world. The government's scheming at the climate talks is doing for its national image what whaling has done for Japan.

I will not pretend that this country is the only obstacle to an agreement at Copenhagen. But it is the major one. It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?