In the closing days of his administration, President Obama has chosen to commute the 35-year sentence of army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who will now be released in May.

Late-term commutations are always controversial, and this one is sure to be at least doubly so.



Judo term 2


in Daily updates

On Tuesday evening, I am starting the intermediate Judo class with the Hart House Judo Club, which will run every Tuesday and Saturday through the winter term.

I found the beginner class very satisfying and have enjoyed the extra classes for all skill levels between terms. Still, I am nervous about the higher level class. I am a very slow learner at this sort of thing (just try to teach me any kind of dance step!) and I have some bad habits which the instructors regularly remind me of. Also, I am a lot less fit than the average person in even the beginner class, where almost everyone else seems to deal with the warmup push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises a lot more easily than I do.

That said, my motivations are mostly psychological and it’s undeniable that a Judo class produces a better workout than I would create for myself in a two-hour span. I would be perfectly fine in a scenario where I never (or only extremely slowly) progress beyond the yellow belt, hopefully incrementally shedding bad habits along the way.


My family in Vermont sent me Bill McKibben’s 2005 book (updated in 2014) as a Christmas gift. In it, he recounts a meandering trek through the Lake Champlain region of the Adirondacks. It’s part nature writing, partly an account of the history of the region and the ways his neighbours are tying to earn a living, and partly a meditation on the nature of wilderness and how it relates to human life.

McKibben talks about small-scale farmers and winemakers trying to compete against giant agribusiness corporations by securing premium prices for local food; students keen to establish major vegetable gardens at local colleges; debates about what to think and do about invasive species; strategies for social change; park rangers burning down the illegal cabins of hunters; and the ruin and ruckus caused by all-terrain vehicles and Jet Skis.

The book fits into a theme of environmentally-minded people finding ways to undertake major wilderness excursions, which I also saw among friends before leaving Facebook. I can see the plausibility in how time invested this way can help control the adverse emotions which accompany environmental activism in the face of a public wedded to consumerism and corporations and politicians vigorous in their defence of the status quo. At the same time, it’s hard to undertake when I am always behind on PhD requirements and never really financially secure enough for vacations.

In any event, the book is another good demonstration of McKibben’s eloquence and constant focus on the big questions facing humanity. I hope one day I will get to visit some of the landscape he describes.

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A five page Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles has been released for the forthcoming Women’s March on Washington.

It takes an inclusive “everything is connected” point of view, of the sort you often see in environmental declarations.

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The Current recently ran a segment with Dr. Danielle Martin, talking about ways to improve Canadian healthcare. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of family doctors with a broad overall knowledge of patients’ health histories, and the importance of avoiding costly and damaging unnecessary tests and procedures.

It sounds like her book, Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians, would be well worth reading.


Eggs, cheese, and hot sauce


The New York Times reports this as a section from President Obama’s farewell address:

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve doubled our renewable energy, we’ve led the world to an agreement that (at) the promise to save this planet.


But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects. More environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary. Now we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders.

Going right from “the challenge of climate change” to “halved our dependence on foreign oil” draws our attention to the weird dynamics of climate change politics.

U.S. oil and gas production has exploded because of fracking during the Obama years, but it’s dubious to claim that this is good from a climate change perspective. Huge new fossil fuel production is not good news.


redacted at the subject's request




in Photo of the day



The battle for the future is precisely between those who are willing to engineer every organism for our convenience , who will countenance the radical change of our climate rather than risk any damage to our cosseted and swaddled Economy, and those who are willing to say there is something other than us that counts. Wilderness and Gandhian nonviolence were the two most potentially revolutionary ideas of the twentieth century, precisely because they were the most humble: they imagine a whole different possibility for people.

McKibben, Bill. Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscape. St. Martin’s Press; New York. 2005, 2014. p. 103 (paperback)