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Politics: down with brown

SCOTT HARRIS / scott@vueweekly.com he great thing about looking at politics with a mind to calling bullshit is that in any given week there is more of the brown stuff flying around than one can possibly shovel—a point driven home on Aug 26.

At the provincial level, Finance Minister Iris Evans announced yet another “sur- prise” surplus in her first-quarter update, making a $7-billion upward adjustment to the predicted surplus, bringing it to a staggering $8.5 billion for the fiscal year.

But despite the policy put in place by Premier Ed Stelmach to devote one-third of unbudgeted monies to savings, one-third to capital projects and one-third to the maintenance of existing infrastructure, Evans committed a paltry $525 million to the Heritage Savings Trust Fund—leaving $2.5 billion unallocated and ripe for the political picking—and dedicated almost nothing to maintenance.

The layers of bullshit run deep; first, there is the continuation of the insulting annual tradition of intentionally underestimating revenues. Then there is the quizzical ignoring of even the government's own insufficient plan for savings at a time when practically everyone is saying we need to sock away far more of our windfall resource revenues for the future. And let's not even get into the confir- mation of a $2 billion handout to industry for carbon capture and storage.

At the federal level, Prime Minister Stephen Harper all but confirmed that Canadians will be going to the polls in October when he announced he had asked Governor-General Michaélle Jean to cancel next week's scheduled trip to the Paralympic Games, presumably so she'll be around to dissolve Parliament

For weeks Harper has been talking tough to opposition leaders and piling the bullshit to the rafters to give himself an at-least-moderately plausible excuse to ignore his own fixed-election-date law. Despite his rhetoric of an increasingly “dysfunctional” minority Parliament and the need for a new mandate to imple- ment his agenda, the reality is that Harper has simply come to the same conclu- sion as have past prime ministers: the ability to choose when to head to the polls is a great advantage, especially when heading a minority government with dwin- dling support numbers in a country with a looming recession.

The biggest load of bullshit: the forthcoming navel-gazing about why the country has such abysmally low voter turnout. v

Issue No 671 / Aug 28 - Sep 3, 2008 / Available at over 1400 locations

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EDITOR AND PUBLISHER RON GARTH / ron@vueweekdy.com News c01T0R SOOTT HARRIS / seatt@vueweekly.com ants / Alm coror DAVID BERRY / david@vueweekly.com music eproR EDEN MUNRO / eden@vueweekty.com Dish Enon DAVID BERRY / david@vueweskly.com OUTDOOR ADVENTURE EDITOR JEREMY DERKSEN / snowzone@vueweekly.com 783783 Alberta Lid, and

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THIS WILL HELP YOU THI but NY PR

= LETTERS

INQUISITION INSPIRATION

| enjoyed Bryan Birtles’s inquisition ("How Fringe is Fringe?,” Aug 14 - Aug 20, 2008) and feel inspired by it.

| am a modern dancer by trade and have been swept into this wild band of Fringe gypsies this summer, and we are here in Edmonton to perform in the festival. The work is a collabora- tion with acting, live music and dance, and | have had many revela- tions in this process.

As | have worked with this talented live musician, physically talented actors and collaborators, | was intro- duced to more humour than | would have ever chosen to put in my own work, but something magical hap- pened. Perhaps balanced by our diver- sity as a group, humour became more thoughtful and poignant and actually a gateway to things that | think are difficult to digest—maybe not politi- cally difficult and not mentally chal- lenging, but more emotionally and intuitively. The humour in this show feels like it is not simply to get a good laugh, but more to develop character and to add dynamic to tragedy. A very rich kind of humor—not dark, and not simply standup either.

What is challenging about this is

-_NUEPOINT: J

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that the hardcore storyline dra- maturges feel like we are missing a linear story and the more abstract artists either think it is a bit too lin- ear or they love where it guides you while leaving room for you to unfold for yourself.

| diverge ... it's so easy with this topic! In relation to the article, | won- der if often people are diving full force into a particular type of work— like. comedy—because it is trendy at the time.

But my hope is that if people go deeply into whatever it is they are doing, then they will have that infor- mation for future work that will then have the capability of including many layers of style while still holding the integrity of each individual style at the same time.

| have been involved in art on

such a different end of the spec--

trum with modern dance and now seeing the work at the Fringe fes- tivals (the newbie that | am) | can see the kind of work that would both challenge and treat audi- ences. | hope to add that kind of work to this particular festival someday, but now | think that not only can that type of challenging work be done, it can also be lay- ered with comedy and spectacle Much gratitude for giving me the inspiration to try to write about it all and get a little clearer on it all! TAMARA OBER

Vue Weekly welcomes reader response, whether critical or complimentary. Send your opinion by mail(Vue Weekly, 10303 - 108 Street, Edmonton AB T5J 1L7), by fax (780.426.2889) or by email (let- ters@vueweekly.com). Preference is given to feedback about articles in Vue Weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

CORRECTION

In an article on art show Oil, Science and Soil ("End of An Era,” Aug 21 - Aug 27, 2008) Mary Christa 0’Keefe stated the show was not “receiving funding,” incorrectly implying that the show was unsupported. Artists Sherri Chaba and Lyndal Osborne wish to clarify their support from their host venue, Capital Arts Building Arts Branch, home to the Alberta Founda- tion of the Arts (AFA). .

“In working with the staff of the Arts Branch we found tremendous support throughout the process. [The Arts Branch covered] technical and design assistance [and] insurance of the work and fully fund[ed] the publicity and pro- motion as well as the opening reception costs for 200 visitors. We appreciated their generosity and willingness to give us an early opportunity to bring our work to public attention in their new gallery.” (Lyndal Osborne via email)

Vue regrets the error and apolo- gizes for any confusion it may have caused. =

RIS / scott@vueweekly.com

re live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production,” writes Laura

to open her 2005 bestseller Your ; is Important to Us: The Truth About _ Bullshit. “Never in history have so _ many people uttered statements that _ they know to be untrue ... saying not what they actually believe, but what they want others to believe—not what is, but what worl _ The sheer volume of falsehoods which barrage us all on a daily basis has spawned something of a protec- tive adaptation, a savvy, knowing ‘cynicism through which we view and ' filter the myriad messages aimed our way. We have become, in many ways, bullshit detectors.

As voters, we have developed a distrust for the rehearsed lines and the inevitably empty pledges of politi- cians, As consumers, we have learned that the promises offered by compa- nies in their advertising—while they may still persuade us to buy—are at best half-truths.

But while we may be suspicious, we're not universally distrustful. Stud- ies show that what we believe depends to a great extent on who we hear it from—doctors, scientists, aca- demics and our fellow citizens can be trusted; lawyers, salesmen, politicians and corporations cannot.

If McDonald's says that we should all eat more hamburgers, we call bull- shit without hesitation. But if the same message comes to us from, say, a non-profit group called Nutritionists for Food Options? Well ...

“One term that’s sometimes used in the public relations trade to describe this is what they call the ‘third-party technique,’ which is to put your client’s message in someone else's mouth,” explains Sheldon Rampton, the research director with the Center for Media and Democracy, a US-based watchdog group focused on the activ- ities of the multi-billion-dollar-a-year public relations industry.

“One way to do that is to get your client's message in the news so that it looks like a news story. Another com- monly used technique is the third-party expert—someone who is presented to the public as an independent expert on some issue, such as tobacco and health or global warming or food safe-

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these efforts have come to dominate the media we consume.

“In terms of how pervasive that is in society, well, studies have been done of newspapers and their con- tents that typically find that approxi- mately half of the content of the daily newspaper originated with some PR firm in some fashion or another— through news releases or other forms. It’s really a strikingly high percentage of the information that the public gets as news that’s actually something that started from someone deciding that

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PUBLIC RELATIONS

they wanted to push that. message out to the public.”

OVER THE PAST CENTURY, the public

relations industry has grown from a small number of individuals offering consulting services to clients to help them get their message out to become an industry that operates largely out of public view to shape everything from the cars we buy to the politicians we elect to the opinions we hold.

While public relations has roots in the colourful publicity stunts of travel- ling carnival hawkers and circus pro- moters, Rampton says the industry as we know it really began in the United States in 1917.

“During the First World War, Woodrow Wilson set up something called the Committee for Public Infor-

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mation to mobilize support for the war effort. And they invented a lot of the techniques that later got taken up by the PR industry,” he explains. “A num- ber of the people who went on to become founders of the public relations industry worked for the Committee for Public Information, and after the war ended they realized that there was a market and money to be made by pro- viding similar services to companies.” The man often credited as being the “father of PR,” Edward Bernays, opened his first office in 1919. One of his early

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clients was American Tobacco, which was eager to increase demand for its cigarettes by reaching the largely untapped market of female smokers. Bernays staged an event which has become lore in the history of PR: send- ing a group of smoking models down Fifth Avenue challenging the patriarchy of the era with their “torches of free- dom.” By 1930; Lucky Strike, American Tobacco’s main brand, had become the number one brand of cigarettes.

Over the next 40 years, Bernays worked for an estimated 400 clients, including General Motors, Proctor & Gamble and General Electric, pioneer- ing and refining techniques such as product placement, direct marketing, product tie-ins and public opinion polling, while integrating elements of sociology and psychology into what he unapologetically called propaganda.

Bernays early involvement with American Tobacco also began a long relationship between the PR industiy and big tobacco. In the 1980s and ‘90s, American PR giant Burson- Marsteller helped Philip Morris and

osing the bullshit industry

h groups shine the light on the public relations spin

other tobacco companies delay the introduction of public smoking bans and other restrictions on smoking and cigarettes by helping form industry front-groups like the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition and fake grassroots citizens groups (termed Astroturf groups) such as the National Smokers Alliance.

While the tide eventually turned against the tobacco industry and restrictions on smoking are now widespread in North America, success in delaying the introduction of legisla- tion by years through the covert use of third-parties has become a main- stay of the PR industry.

SIMILAR TECHNIQUES have beeh used to

great effect for two decades by indus- tries opposed to action on climate change through measures such as a reduction in the use of fossil fuels and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Kevin Grandia is the project man- ager of DeSmogBlog.com, a PR-watch organization formed in 2005 by Jim Hoggan—himself a PR professional for over 35 years who became frustrated with what he calls “one of the boldest and most extensive PR campaigns in history, primarily financed by the energy industry and executed by some of the best PR talent in the world’—to “clear the PR pollution that clouds the science of climate change.”

He says the aim of the “climate denial” industry hasn't been to change people's behaviour so much as to pro- mote a false debate, first questioning the scientific consensus about anthro- pomorphic climate change and more recently about solutions.

“In this case all they were trying to

» do—and they still do—is try to create

seeds of doubt,” he says. “The goal is not to persuade. Persuasion is much more difficult—to actually make peo- ple change the way they think or change the way they do things is much harder than just giving people a reason not to do something, like be concerned about an issue.

“And doubt is very easy to create by creating a debate in the media around the science of climate change,” he continues, “which 10 years ago may haye been somewhat legitimate, but now we're seeing not only the effect that the climate scientists were pre- dicting, we're also seeing certainty levels higher than ever before-and still the only ‘scientific argument’—and I wouldn't even call it that, I'd call it an argument—is being played out against

climate change in the media, notin .

the scientific literature.”

In the late-2002 lead up to Cana- da‘s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, Burson-Marsteller's Canadian PR affil- jate, National Public Relations, spear- headed the creation of the short-lived and unsuccessful industry front-group Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions to try to

scuttle ratification by pressing for a |

"made in Canada” solution.

Grandia says that groups in Canada like the Calgary-based Friends of Sci- ence and the Natural Resources Stew- ardship Council, along with similar groups in the US like the Cooler Heads Coalition, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and the Competi- tive Enterprise Institute, are continuing industry efforts to delay action on cli- mate change, but have largely moved on from denying the problem exists.

"It's really started to move away from the denial of the climate science That has changed now to ‘Oh, well it’s happening, but it’s natural.’ They don’t actually have any science, but they have their own opinions of that. Outside of that kind of argument that’s really fringe—just a few strange people who just can’t let go or have been convinced by people who can't let go—the argument is really moving towards the solution-side of things and you're seeing industry and gov- ernment coming in on that,” he says

“So you're seeing arguments around the carbon tax, of course. [Stephen Harper has] been saying it's going to kill the economy, but he has no proof of that. You're seeing argu- ments around why we shouldn't be doing renewable energy. You're see- ing dirty energy sources, like the tar sands, being spun to be environmen- tally friendly.”

Rampton says that efforts by indus- try and PR firms to promote and push concepts like “clean coal” are another important part of PR.

“Language is something that, of course, is very important in framing issues for people. And that’s a term that a lot of PR people use in talking about how they use language: fram- ing. Quite a bit of effort goes into fig- uring out the right terminology to talk about issues.”

He points to similar examples such as the rebranding of sewage sludge as “biosolids” and the Bush Administra- tion's “no child left behind” program.

“Who can be against the idea of not leaving a child behind? The very names of things become advertisements for them instead of descriptions as a result of these kinds of things,” he says. “That's, of course, something George Orwell talked about quite a bit in his book /984—that if you can control the vocabulary people use to talk about things then you can control the way they think about them as well.”

WHILE RAMPTON believes many of the activities PR firms undertake on behalf of their clients—things like cri- sis management, publicity for product launches and providing information about their clients’ activities to the public—are legitimate, he believes that more covert efforts deserve far more public scrutiny.

“Where I have a problem with it is

CONTINUES ON PAGE 12

Ending the CEMA sham

RICARDO ACUNA / ualberta.ca/parkland

Before you can assess the effectiveness of an organization, you must have a very clear understanding of its purpose. That can be difficult in Alberta because the stated purpose behind agencies and organizations is so often the exact oppo- site of their actual political purpose.

In 2000, Alberta Environment led the creation of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA). CEMA was set up as a non-profit, non-govern- mental organization to “study the cumula- tive environmental effects of industrial development in the region and produce guidelines and management frameworks.”

The organization was composed of, and managed by, some 50 members rep- resenting “all levels of government, industry, regulatory bodies, environmental groups, Aboriginal groups, and the local health authority, which have an interest in protecting the environment in the Wood Buffalo region.”

The idea was simple: there was a boom of investment coming to Alberta's tar sands, and it would be necessary to establish guidelines to protect the envi- ronment inthe Wood Buffalo region from

the cumulative impacts of that much development happening that quickly.

Eight years later, the CEMA website boasts that the organization has produced hundreds of reports and seven manage- ment frameworks. The reality, however, is that not a single enforceable guideline or regulation has been implemented as a result of CEMA\s work.

The cumulative effects of tar sands developments are still not being consid- ered in the granting of new tar sands leases and approvals, and the govern- ment has yet to clearly articulate what the carrying capacity of the local environ- ment is in terms of development. In other words, after eight years, hundreds of reports and seven management frame- works, we still don’t know at what point the level of tar sands development will begin doing irreversible damage to the environment.

For all we know, we may have passed that critical point five years ago, yet gov- ernment and regulatory bodies continue to issue new leases and approve new projects. How does this make sense?

It doesn't. For a government that is very concerned with the environmental

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impacts of development in the north and genuinely wants to ensure environmental sustainability in the area, it makes no sense to continue issuing approvals with- out knowing the limits.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that gov- ernment, What we have is a government which is very concerned with getting as Many tar sands projects approved and off the ground as quickly as possible while paying lip service to the environment and the well-being of First Nations communi- ties in the area.

ONCE WE GET BEYOND the-thetoric and acknowledge that as the provincial gov- ernment’s real motivation, then it becomes clear that CEMA has been a tremendous success.

This conclusion is reinforced by a dynamic that has developed in the last couple of years at joint federal-provincial regulatory panels considering applica- tions for new tar sands projects. These panels, which are required to look at the environmental impacts of the proposed projects, have simply begun referring to CEMA and then approving the projects.

In other words, despite the fact that

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AUG 28 - SEP 3, 2008

FRONT

CEMA has accomplished virtually noth- ing, and no clear limits have been set, regulatory bodies are now saying that environmental impacts are being dealt with by CEMA so the project can be approved. In the recent hearings on Impe- tial's Kearl Oil Sands Project, for example, the panel went so far as to acknowledge that no limits had been set, and that CEMA had not done its work, but the project was approved anyway. Apparently, the mere existence of CEMA is now enough for government and industry to jump through the requisite environmental hoops and get projects approved. And up until recently, the gov- ernment could claim further legitimacy to this process by pointing out the participa- tion of high-profile environmental groups and the affected First Nations in CEMA. At the recent Keepers of the Water con- ference in Fort Chipewyan, however, some of that perceived legitimacy was finally taken away from this incredibly effective smokescreen. First, a group of First Nations leaders reminded delegates that they had already ended their participation in CEMA and announced they would now be challenging the government in court for

failure to consult on tar sands develop- ment. Then, three of CEMAs high-profile environmental groups (Pembina Institute, Toxics Watch and the Fort McMurray Environmental Association) announced that they would no longer be a party to legitimizing a flawed process, and that they were also leaving CEMA effective immediately.

At last, someone on the “inside” has stood up and called CEMA and the entire consultation process what they are—a sham. The ball is now in the government's court. Will they continue to pretend that CEMA—now made up almost entirely of industry and govern- ment—is actually making a difference, or will they take the steps necessary to reform the system and deal with the environmental impacts of the tar sands? Time will tell, but history suggests that Albertans should keep their eyes open for yet another high-profile, well-funded public relations smokescreen. w

Ricardo Acuna is executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta.

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The missile defence scam

Nobody involved believes ABM bullshit, but playing the game benefits everyone

& | DYER STRAIGHT

FS GWYNNE DYER gwynne@vueweekly.com

Cynicism and hypocrisy are always part of interna- tional politics, but in the case of Poland and the anti- ballistic missile (ABM) missiles everybody Is over-fulfilling their norm. Nobody involved in the controversy, Polish, Russ- ian or American, believes a single word they are saying about this misbe- gotten missile defence system, whose principal characteristic is that it doesn’t work—never has, and probably never will. And yet.we're all expect- ed to report what they say as if it mattered, Washington insists that the ABM missiles are being put into Poland to protect the United States and its allies from |ran’s long-range ballistic missiles (which do not exist) tipped with nuclear warheads (which Iran doesn’t have either). Yet after months when US-

diplomatic confrontation over Georgia is clear to everybody, and Moscow is reacting to that. Even so, to threaten a nuclear strike against Poland sounds a bit extreme—except that in reality it doesn’t mean a thing, and everybody knows that, too,

Poland is already a target for nuclear strikes in the most improbable event of a Russian-American nuclear war. Everybody in the American-led NATO alliance is. Yet they don’t lose much sleep over it, because such a war is so very unlikely. General Nogovitsyn did- n't announce a new poli- cy; he just spoke more frankly than usual about a permanent reality, in the hope of intimidating the more naive sections of the Polish population.

1 WOULD MAKE about as much sense militarily if this mini-crisis were about the basing of a crack American team of kung fu dancers in Poland. The new Ameri- can missile defence base in Poland gives all the interested parties a way to make their politi- cal points, while having no serious strategic importance whatever

Polish talks on the sub- ject were stalled, suddenly on Aug 20 Warsaw agreed to provide a base for the “missile defence system’—because it would infuriate the Russians.

The Poles, who are anxious about Russia's inten- tions in the light of recent events in Georgia, want to send a signal of defiance to Moscow and get a per- manent American military base of some kind on their soil. They‘re not worried about non-existent Iranian missiles—and if they do occasionally worry about very real Russian missiles, they are not so foolish as to believe that this American missile defence system would actually protect them. It doesn’t work.

So why are the Russians so upset about all this? Why did General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, publicly warn Poland last week that hosting the American interceptors could make it the target for a nuclear strike? Don’t the Rus- sians know they don’t work?

Of course they do, but the Russian military, like any professional military force, need a dramatic for- eign threat to justify their demands on Russia's resources, and for that purely political purpose the American missiles work fine. Russian strategists claim that this system is actually intended to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles, and so undermine Russia's ability to deter an American attack by destroying its ability to strike back.

It's nonsense, of course. Even if the American ABM missiles did work as advertised, 10 launchers on Poland's Baltic coast are not going to make much difference given Russia’s 848 long-range ballistic missiles, including hundreds that can be launched from’submarines that are much closer to the US than the interceptors in Poland. The Russians are only pretending to be worried about the ABM missiles in Poland, although they are seriously annoyed by US military bases there.

The symbolic importance of the US opening a new military base so close to Russia in the midst of the

But why has the United States spent between $120 billion and $150 billion on this ludicrous white elephant of a system since then-president Ronald Reagan first launched the “Star Wars” project in 1983?

Precisely because ever since 1983 the missile defence project has provided American senators, congressmen and presidents with the opportunity to pour enormous amounts of money into the pockets of defence industry, in return for much smaller but politically vital campaign contributions by those same companies. The technology can never be made cost-effective, but the project is impossible to kill because so many politicians benefit from it.

How can we know that the technology will never be cost-effective? Because-even if the technology could finally be made to work to specifications, the whole notion of ballistic missile defence is ridicu- lous. It will always be 10 to 100 times cheaper to evade the ABM defences by adding decoys and other “penetration aids” to the incoming warheads, making them manoeuvrable, ete. than it is to upgrade the performance of the interceptors.

That performance, after a quarter-century’s work, is so poor that only two out of the last five tests worked. And those tests are rigged in the ABM system's favour, with the defenders knowing the incoming mis- sile's type, trajectory and destination. In more recent tests, they have used no decoys at-all in an attempt to get the hit rate up. And yet they have deployed the system anyway, first in Alaska and now in Poland.

This is fantasy strategy in the service of the mili- tary-industrial complex, and no strategist in the know takes it seriously. But it does allow the owner to make quite impressive symbolic gestures, albeit rather expensive ones. w

Gwynne yer is a London-based independent jour- nalist whuse articles are published in 45 countries. His column appears each week in Vue Weekly.

Y AUG 28 - SEP 3, 2008

FRONT

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ih MOUALLEM / omar@yueweekly.com ‘JX 1987, a distinctive man looking like a suited Charles Darwin—or Santa—sat in The Tonight Show r next to Johnny Carson to pre-

nlere a video clip. Usually such a setup is reserved for an actor on press tour, but paranormal investigator and world-famous magician James Randi, “The Amazing Randi,” was a guest _ promoting only truth. That is, the truth

about TV faith healer Peter Popoff.

The clip shown was of a typical Popoff stunt: God divinely tells him the name of an audience member, their ail- ment and their address, and Popoff palms their foreheads and they‘re healed. But after the segment finished, Carson and Randi played it again with one small addition: an audio recording picked up in the church with a radio receiver by Randi’s informant. The evi- dence clearly showed that through Popoff’s unassuming earpiece, he was being read the information of sick peo- ple sitting before him.

“It turns out that... Godisa woman,” said Randi to Carson, “and sounds exactly like Popoff’s wife.”

“We exposed him very definitively. We showed exactly how he worked, what he was doing, how he was doing it, and how callous and cruel the whole operation was,” recalls Randi, 21 years after he exposed Popoff on The Tonight Show. “Well the evidence is in even fur- ther—and I'm glad Johnny didn't live to see this—the latest reports are that Peter Popoff made $10 million dollars last year—more than he did in the year we exposed him.”

Earlier this month, shortly after his 80th birthday, the Canadian expat announced that he was stepping down

as president of the James Randi Educa- _

tional Foundation, “an educational resource on the paranormal, pseudosci- entific, and the supernatural,” and pass- ing the crown onto Phil Plait, author of the book and blog Bad Astronomy.

In Randi’s 30-plus years of paranor-

=ISKEPTICS

mal investigations, debunking fraudu- lent claims has been an uphill battle brimming with countless lawsuits and struggles to get backing for his books amongst a paranormal-loving market. He has, though, also enjoyed numer- ous triumphs by exposing faith healers, mentalists, psychic surgeons and other contemporary snake oil salespeople.

There are few people like Randi, who choose to make a career out of challenging charlatans, but to show just how serious he was about it, Randi famously started walking around with a $10 000 cheque in his pocket, ready for the first person able to prove a paranormal claim “to an independent panel.” Over time, the $10 000 ballooned into The One Mil- lion Dollar Paranormal Challenge.

Everyone from mentalist Uri Geller to spiritualist-cum-psychic Sylvia Brown have been challenged to take his million dollars, but nobody serious seemed to want his money, and over the years he only attracted the atten- tion of inexperienced loons.

“Sylvia Brown did agree to take the challenge eight years ago ... on the Larry King show, but she then said that she couldn't. She said she didn’t know how to contact me. Shé talked to the dead but she can’t contact me— and I'm in the phonebook.”

The money has stayed safe in an account, where it will until March of 2010, when the challenge will be dis- continued to free up the money for bet- ter causes such as college scholarships.

But why dedicate a legacy to suffo- cating the fancies of so many people desperate looking for an alternative reality? What's the harm in believing someone can mentally bend spoons or we can contact our dead loved ones through a medium, anyway?

“Well, what’s the harm of putting

someone on heroin and supplying them for the rest of their lives?” Randi counters.

Randi readily admits that he can’t relate very much to believers.

“Since I was a very tiny child in Sunday school, | started to ask ques- tions about what they were claiming to be true,” he recalls. “And I was told not to ask questions ... They threw me out of Sunday school.”

Randi wishes that he did have the personal experience of having to shed some sort of paranormal belief, because he says it would provide him a useful insight.

"I consider it an advantage because then you can understand why people believe in strange things.”

DR MICHAEL SHERMER knows why peo- ple believe in strange things. In fact, he wrote a book on it, entitled Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience,

Superstition, and Other Confusions of

Our Time, which de-mythed everything from alien abductions to creationism to Jewish holocaust denialism

Unlike Randi, Shermer does have the advantage of once having been a

aking a living of bullshit detecting

et the professional Skeptics who call it when they smell it

true believer. In his youth, he was an evangelical Christian, and, in his adult years as a marathon bicyclist, he experienced an alien abduction “Decause of sleep depravation.” Shermer would later go on to publish Skeptic magazine and found thé Skep- tics Society, of which there are now approximately 55 000 members, includ- ing subscribing newsstands and book- stores. Shermer can be found more recently as one of several scientists coaxed into interviews for the anti-evo- lution documentary Expelled: No Intelli- gence Allowed, only to be portrayed as an uninformed, arrogant know-it-alls. Shermer has been a long-time enemy of creationists. His book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intel- ligent Design, a point-by-point break- down of the logical fallacies in intelligent design, is one of his great- est triumphs, along with his work debunking “the holocaust deniers.” More recently, his enemies have risen from the ashes of the World Trade Center in the form of 9/11