Saturday, June 4, 2011

June 4: How to seem to server two masters at that same time.

Today's Moncton Times&Transcript at last runs a major story on the practice of fracking to get the shale gas that lies under New Brunswick. This is a practice that is forbidden in some places, and controversial in others. It has been going on in New Brunswick for ten years. It has received attention in the T&T only in the last couple of weeks. Isn't that strange for a practice that has given rise to controversy in both North American and Europe?

No, it's not strange. The Moncton Times and its partners in the province all exist to serve their owners and the interests of large corproations in general. 

So why didn't the Liberal and Conservatives mention it in the recent provincial election? After all, if there is recoverable gas under this province, it would be a huge boost to the economy. As well, both parties seemed seriously short of anything intelligent to say in the campaign. One would think they would jump like spawning salmon for anything to feed on.  They didn't. Both parties, like The Times, exist to serve the same masters.

Fracking is now being covered because New Brunswickers, normally as passive as salmon at the end of spawning, have been sending up smoke signals of protest about what's going on. So we can now expect The Times, the Liberals and the Conservatives to spread their own smoke to hide the signals.

In this light, or lack of it, note the column by Brent Mazerolle on the op ed page. He discusses the issue of fracking, mentioning that he became aware of it years ago when he was working amid such operations in BC.

He was aware of the issue years ago? And he hasn't thought of mentioning it in any of the ten years it's been going on here? Apparently, he's also been a teacher. But it also never occured to him to say anything during The Times' vicious and ignorant campaign against the public schools.

 The report begins with a tired and silly old statement - that when two sides disagree, the truth must be in the middle. So, if one side says it's wrong to be durnk all the time, and the other side says it's not, then the truth must be that it's good to be half-corked all the time. I'll buy that.

So, to get at the truth, the paper consulted two scientists in this region. (Curiously, during their attacks on public education, they didn't consult any educators at all.)

As it turns out, both sides are in favour of fracking. so there wasn't much middle to search for. Quelle surprise! That means geologists in the Atlantic region must be a lot smarter than geologists in Quebec and France - whetre they have advised moritoriums pending further study.

The only study they refer to is the Duke University study. But scientists in general agree that the Duke study tells us little. Is that the only study of its type? And we're going ahead on the basis of one study and nobody knows what it means?

The attitude of both scientists is summed up in a head at the bottom of page D7. "Fracking should be namageable if regulations and codes are followed."

1. We live in a province which has not bothered much with regulations and codes on this issue for ten years.
2. No new Brunswick government is likely to impose codes and regulations its master don't like.
3. There have been serious problems, despite codes and regulations, caused by drilling for oil (spillage by tankers, including an oil barge belonging to a noted New Brunwicker in the oil business; the BP disaster in the Caribbean; the environmental mess that Alberta is.)

Both people in this special report say the riskes "should" be manageable. So we should go ahead.

Geologists are not experts in determining whether risks are acceptable or even "should be" acceptable. That is quite outside their field of training. The scientists who developed nuclear weapons had no qualification to decide whether that was a good idea. Nor would any sane person ask scientists when and where it is "acceptable" to use a nuclear weapon.

To use scientists as  sources, one has to bear several points in mind.
1. Scientists do not have full knowledge, even of their own specialties. You would not go back  to get the opinion of a scientist of 1900 on a current problem -  because a scientist of today would have far more information. Ditto for the scientist of tomorrow. There is nothing definite and final about scientific opinion.
2. Seeking advice in a controversy from two scientists who are, essentially, on the same side is not a very intelligent thing to do.
3. The available research seems pretty slim and vague for anyone to develop firm conclusions.
4. Scientists are no more equppied than we are to make judgements about when risks become acceptable. Nobody is. That judgement is one that we have to make for ourselves after intense discussion.  That's life. Few decisions we ever make, from marriage to the election of a leader, can be made with certainty and confidence. (For evidence of the latter, think back to the Peace Prize for Obama.)

So, what is the T&T doing here? Is it looking to spark debate and informed discussion?

Not a chance. This is the old times we know so well, putting up a smokescreen for the boss and his friends.

Two other points for the day.

I have known Gwynn  Dyer, have liked him, and have admired his kinowledge and insights for the  whole of both of our careers. His column of today on war crimes trials is terrible. The trial of Mladvic does not mean we are beginning to enforce international law. First, Maldvic is an East European and, secondly, he is a loser. We have enforced international law against such people for over sixty years.

Who we have never enforced it against, despite well-known cases of torture, illegal imprisonment, mass murder, genocide, mistreatment of child soldiers, theft, etc., is anybody on our side. In an exception, Lieutenant Calley of the US army deliberately murdered over a hundred innocent people, including babies. He served one month in jail. George Bush I suprevised the slaughter of 200,000 Guatemalans. It never even made the news.

Save the student commentaries in the Whatever section for the last. It's cheering to see that there are better journalists coming along. And you'll need all the cheering you can get after reading the rest of the paper.

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