December 31, 2012

Using the term “Mother Gaia” unironically

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:07

In the Globe and Mail, Gordon Gibson discusses the “Church of Green”:

Religions have certain characteristics. They consist of a body of belief based on faith (as, for example, in God). This faith is not to be challenged, distinguishing religions from other belief sets. Scientific theories, for a counterexample, must always be questioned. Not so with religion. Unwavering faith is the hallmark.

Religions of the sort decried by Mr. Bouchard have high priests who can speak ex cathedra and gain immediate belief. David Suzuki, Al Gore and Amory Lovins, among others, have this otherworldly gravitas. They have their religious orders. Just as there are Jesuits and Benedictines, there are Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

Religion has an enormous usefulness to many individuals. But there’s more. Religion is, by its nature, absolutist. Because it embodies the Truth, one should not deviate. Of course we all sin, but deliberate tradeoffs are not permissible. It’s not allowed to do a little bit of evil to become a little bit rich, and especially not great evil for great wealth.

Such absolute rules can work fine for individuals. They can do as they wish and take the consequences. It’s where religion is imported to govern the doings of the collective — of a society — that the trouble begins.

[. . .]

Now, no one could argue against the need for great weight to the natural environment. The difficulty comes in agreeing — or not — to tradeoffs. If we take an absolutist position, we humans are rather bad for the planet, so we should all do the decent thing and stop having children.

This was Mr. Bouchard’s point. His issue in Quebec was “fracking” to produce natural gas. The current “religion” in Quebec is that fracking is bad, just as in B.C. pipelines are bad. Among true believers in both cases, absolutism reigns. The badness is self-evident; the projects must not proceed. You can’t trade a little evil for a little wealth — there must be zero chance of harm.

Railroads see traffic boom as pipelines are delayed

Filed under: Business, Economics, Railways, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:53

The increase in railroad traffic from handling shipments of shale oil is having a very positive effect on the rail companies’ bottom lines:

Energy companies behind the oil boom on the Northern Plains are increasingly turning to an industrial-age workhorse — the locomotive — to move their crude to refineries across the U.S., as plans for new pipelines stall and existing lines can’t keep up with demand.

Delivering oil thousands of miles by rail from the heartland to refineries on the East, West and Gulf coasts costs more, but it can mean increased profits — up to $10 or more a barrel — because of higher oil prices on the coasts. That works out to roughly $700,000 per train.

The parade of mile-long trains carrying hazardous material out of North Dakota and Montana and across the country has experts and federal regulators concerned. Rail transport is less safe than pipelines, they say, and the proliferation of oil trains raises the risk of a major derailment and spill.

Since 2009, the number of train cars carrying crude hauled by major railroads has jumped from about 10,000 a year to a projected 200,000 in 2012. Much of it has been in the Northern Plains’ Bakken crude patch, but companies say oil trains are rolling or will be soon from Texas, Colorado and western Canada.

The Spartathlon, a long distance run for true masochists

Filed under: Europe, History, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:16

In The Economist, a look at a running event in Greece that attracts only the most obsessive of long distance runners:

This year’s Spartathlon, which took place in late September, was the 30th. Its heritage goes back much further. The most famous ultra-marathon in history was that run by Pheidippides, an Athenian who made the journey to Sparta in 490BC. His mission was to ask the Spartans for their help in fighting the invading Persians; Herodotus, a historian, records that he reached Sparta on the day after he left Athens. (The Spartans were celebrating a religious festival, so could not offer help until after the Athenians had dispatched the Persians at the battle of Marathon.)

Herodotus did not appear particularly taken by Pheidippides’s feat of endurance. Since his “Histories” also includes tales of ants bigger than foxes, it probably seemed rather unimpressive. But in 1982 his terse description sparked the interest of a British air-force officer and long-distance runner called John Foden, who wondered if it really was possible to run from Athens to Sparta and arrive the next day. With four other officers, Mr Foden decided to see for himself; after 36 hours’ slog they arrived in Sparti, as the town is now called.

Racing through history

That achievement inspired the organisation of the first Spartathlon a year later; the race now ranks as one of the world’s classic ultra-marathons. The Spartathlon’s allure has two sources. The first is the difficulty of finishing it. Any race that is longer than a marathon can call itself an ultra-marathon, but no self-respecting ultrarunner gets excited about finishing, say, a 48km course. The most talked-about events in the calendar are the ones that look most incomprehensible to the average person.

Take the Barkley. This 161km trail race in Tennessee forces runners to makes climbs and descents of 18,000 metres each inside 60 hours. The Barkley has been going since 1986, and in that period only 13 people have managed to finish the course within the cut-off time. Badwater is another race that derives kudos from insanity. The 217km course in California runs from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in temperatures of 50°C and above. (“Nudity is specifically not allowed,” say the rules.)

The Spartathlon cannot claim such extremes. It is not the hilliest race, nor the hottest. But it combines lots of different tests. There is the heat of the Greek day, then the plunge in temperatures when darkness falls. There are climbs, too: the route includes a series of ascents, among them a 1,200-metre mountain pass negotiated in the dead of night. Above all, there is the relentless pressure of the clock.

Vikings beat Packers, earn rematch in first playoff game

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:48

I’d craftily planned our entertainment arrangements so that our guests would be arriving just about at the end of the game … and then the league changed the game time so that our guests would be arriving at kickoff instead. So I didn’t get to watch the game yesterday (and tried to not obsessively check my iPhone every minute for updates…)

After jumping out to an early lead, the Vikings hung on to win by a final score of 37-34, on a last-second field goal from rookie Pro Bowler Blair Walsh. The injury bug which had stayed away from the Vikings most of the season made an unwelcome appearance with Antoine Winfield and Harrison Smith both having to leave the game due to injury.

Adrian Peterson nearly broke the NFL’s season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984, finishing just 8 yards short at 2,097 (he broke the 2,000 yard barrier in the second quarter of the game). All that, and he’ll still probably be snubbed for the MVP award because that is informally confined to quarterbacks only (it’s a very rare year that a non-quarterback wins, and Peyton Manning is having a fantastic season…)


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