Monthly Archives: August 2007

AT&T, Leave This Signal Alone

At the start of the month I took a roadtrip down to Chicago (four of us crammed into a Pontiac Sunfire, which remarkably only used about one tank of gas each way) for Lollapalooza, a 3-day music festival. The bands are only part of the reason we went; it’s also a great excuse to see a city that Torontonians sometimes idolize. One of Chicago’s greatest achievements is a giant waterfront park (Grant Park) right downtown which is where the concert takes place, using the impressive windy city skyline as a backdrop.

The headliner of this year’s festival was Pearl Jam, one of the only rock bands to have survived the Seattle grunge movement. They put on an amazing show, and were a great way to end the weekend. During the song Daughter, frontman Eddie Vedder started singing Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part II, “teacher leave those kids alone,” then changed the lyrics to “George Bush leave this world alone / George Bush leave this world alone / George Bush find yourself another home.” For those of us there in the moment it was just the right amount of politics and inspired cheers from the mostly-American crowd, fed-up with the crimes being committed in their name.

Those who weren’t there, however–who were instead watching the concert via web-stream–didn’t hear those lyrics. I found this entry on the Pearl Jam website yesterday:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast…

…This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of “NetNeutrality…” Most telecommunications companies oppose “net neutrality” and argue that the public can trust them not to censor.

Even the ex-head of AT&T, CEO Edward Whitacre, whose company sponsored our troubled webcast, stated just last March that fears his company and other big network providers would block traffic on their networks are overblown..

“Any provider that blocks access to content is inviting customers to find another provider.” (Marguerite Reardon, Staff Writer, CNET Published: March 21, 2006, 2:23 PM PST).

But what if there is only one provider from which to choose?

If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations – fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it’s about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

The full, uncensored performance of Daughter can be watched here. A comparison of the censored and uncensored versions is here.

I See Dots

I see dots. Let’s try to connect them.

Yesterday morning’s news contained an alarm bell from a widespread coalition of groups (including Cancer Care Ontario, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Federation of Labour, multiple public health units, and more) that we “are living in a toxic soup that’s increasing our risk of getting cancer and it’s high time the government takes steps to obliterate this environmental threat.” Specifically, they released a study that identifies “150 toxins and carcinogens in the air we breathe, the food we eat and products we use every day.” It also says that “59,500 Ontarians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2007 out of 159,900 in Canada. It is projected that by 2020, 91,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed.”

These are not just statistics. Yesterday afternoon I bumped into a friend of mine who I haven’t seen since she was diagnosed with what she describes as “a wee case of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” She’s already been through chemotherapy, and is about halfway done her radiation treatment. She must be exhausted, but she hid it well. She seemed as energetic and positive as ever, and there’s a good chance she’ll be OK. As someone in my twenties who’s already lost two friends to cancer, I welcome that good news.

In other good news, Canadians are starting to realize that environmental and health policies are related. On the other hand, that’s driven by the fact that “27 per cent of Canadians believe they have environment-related illnesses.”

In a new book called Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products (via this review), author Mark Schapiro “reveals the grim fact that some companies, whether American or international, often have two production lines: one that manufactures hazard-free products for the European Union and another that produces toxin-filled versions of the same items for [North] America and developing countries.” Because, you see, European governments have made it illegal for companies to poison their populations with known carcinogens, while our governments have not.

And here, we come to the final dot. Today and yesterday, Stephen Harper, George Bush (who each have approval ratings in the 30’s) and president Felipe Calderón of Mexico are engaged in closed-door talks to further North American deep integration via the Security and Prosperity Partnership, or SPP. One of the objectives (or, at least, as far as we can tell, since the government’s position on these negotiations according to Stockwell Day is that they’re “private meetings” and “journalists should understand” they cannot be commented upon) is to unify environmental and health regulations, which could result in the US government deciding which toxins and carcinogens are allowed to go into our breakfast cereal.

I’d really rather we make that decision. And that the answer be “none.”

What They Knew Could Hurt Them

The line from the Conservatives is that taking enough action on the climate crisis to avert catastrophe would damage the economy (as if that’s a real choice). Then, two months ago, we found out that their own experts told them that the Green Party’s climate plan would have a negligible effect on the economy, and that they tried to keep that report secret. Today, we find out that their own experts were also telling them that their plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through tax rebates/feebates for new car purchases would be extremely inefficient with taxpayer dollars.

The Globe and Mail reports that a September 2006 report informed the government of the following:

The key findings from the working group are that the cost per tonne of GHGs reduced is high for all options; ranging from $150 per tonne for a permanent incentive that rewards very fuel-efficient vehicles without distinguishing between technology or class; to $2,350 per tonne, for example, for an incentive that differentiates between passenger vehicles and light trucks and expires after four years.

The second option–at a cost of $2,350 per tonne–is more or less what the government introduced in the last budget, and has since been a resounding failure. So, not only did they know that our plan (which, remember, is a tax shift of only $50 per tonne) would succeed in reducing emissions while not harming the economy, they also knew that their plan would be shockingly wasteful and produce mediocre results at best.

At first, I’m tempted to conclude that this government is trying to create economic damage with their climate inaction plan in order to prove themselves right, or even that they’re somewhat sociopathic. But then I’m reminded that I should never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.