Endeavour II – Gliese 581d

Final Spacewalk mission for the Shuttle Atlantis - clearly not the work of the author; I thank NASA & Kennedy for making this possible

So it’s confirmed. A mere 20 light-years away is a planet orbiting the Red Dwarf star Gliese 581. It is situated within the so-called ‘Goldilocks Zone’ and thus can likely support life as we know it, being the perfect distance from the star so as to be just warm enough. France’s CRNS has developed computer models which suggest a habitable temperature zone with a dense and stable carbon dioxide atmosphere, likely with rain, clouds and vast oceans. This planet may be in an early stage of development, but the discovery is extremely encouraging.

And unfortunately, the number of people who fully comprehend the implications of such a discovery seem to be quite small to me. You don’t have to look very far either; consider how many Americans believe the Theory of Evolution to be utter nonsense, or better still the number of Americans who believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, or that the Earth is flat. Consider the Obama administration’s decision to cut funding to NASA while straight-facing the ‘don’t worry, corporations can handle this’ response to the incredulous scientific community.

I personally doubt any consortium of private interests will be able to throw the full weight of the State behind a ballsy project like trying to confirm life can exist elsewhere in the universe. It takes charismatic leaders with a lot of coin and resources to put man on the Moon (which we haven’t done since Apollo 17 and have only done 6 times in total. In other words, no one has set foot on another planetary body since the early-1970s, under Nixon, the same guy who authorized the Space Shuttle project, the Clean Air Act and founded the Environmental Protection Agency – just sayin’).

If the Apollo program had been continued to accomplish the third and fourth phases (planned in the mid-1960s), man would have established moon bases in the late 1970s and would have further completed several manned fly-pasts of Venus. Accomplishing these additional tasks (more info on cancelled Apollo missions here, and more info about the Apollo Applications Program can be found here. Imagine how much more we might have accomplished had this been the case. Instead, it seems that we’re retreating away from the vast ocean of space, retreating into our caves, scared by the brilliance of the potential of human achievement. Sometimes I feel we’ve become a species of cowards, afraid to try and commit to the innovative and to understanding the mystery of our existence. If you can’t be amazed and thrilled by the limitless possibilities inherent in staring up at the night sky, what will it take to make you dream?

Have we forgotten how? Or are we just too lazy?

You couldn’t make this shit up…

Not the work of the author

The following anecdote is real – it is not the result of the author’s extensive imagination.

The other day I had to go to Dorval to pick up some mail from my Aunt’s place. Returning to Lionel-Groulx around 3pm I decided to take the Metro to Atwater, and thus went with the crowd exiting the 211, coming down the stretch bordered by benches. A very old woman, I’d say in here late 80s and not looking very healthy, sat in a wheelchair alongside the last bench. She made eyes with me – they were alarmed. Figuring she might be in distress I ventured over. In a thick St-Henri patois she asked me if I she could borrow two minutes of my time. She launched into a pre-scripted rant about how she worked for an NGO which aimed to assist poor Columbian agriculturalists develop sustainable methods and make ecologically sound decisions. She then says that for a small fee I can help these poor, downtrodden individuals – at this point she whips out a baggie filled with white powder. For fifteen dollars, she’d sell me what she called ‘fairtrade cocaine’.

I took me a while for my jaw to wind itself back up towards the rest of my head. Beyond weird, it as a solid what the fuck.

By the way, found this.

Crise de confiance/ Crise de conscience

Notice the 'low-visibility' cruiser; is the SPVM out to protect us or wage war against Al-Qaeda?

This article was originally posted to Forget the Box, an independent Montreal-based media collective, which gave me an amazing opportunity to write for them. Check it out.

Last Monday two people were shot and killed by Montreal police. One was intermittently homeless and severely psychologically disturbed. The other was going to work, killed by the ricochet of one of 3-4 bullets fired by an SPVM constable. News updates pertinent to this story have been spotty and unfortunately eclipsed by F-1 weekend, and the key spokesperson for the SQ has been tight-lipped about how the investigation is proceeding. This week it came out that the constables involved were interviewed, albeit several days after the fact. The SQ had returned to the scene, indicating it was both unusual and not unusual simultaneously (I couldn’t help but think this was a ploy to use on the Anglo media, but I digress). Those involved, much like the deceased, were brought to CHUM St-Luc, where they were sequestered from the public. CCTV footage from UQAM is said to exonerate the constables as the mentally unstable Mario Hamel is said to have charged the constables with a knife, though this footage hasn’t been made public. And at the end of the day, the SPVM is once again embroiled in a scandal, the people of Montreal have a little less faith in law enforcement, and whatever seems obvious and factual in this case is muddled by collusion and potential conflicts of interest. Once again, the SPVM is investigated by the SQ, previously well known for the aborted siege of Kanehsatake and their propensity to send ‘agents-provocateurs’ into the fray at various anti-Capitalist demonstrations. Such is life in Montreal, and the regularity of this scenario has doubtless numbed the populace to the continuing problem of police brutality and excessive force. I’d like to think this was our quaint provincial problem, another element of badassery for a city high on street-cred; “don’t fuck with Montrealers, cuz they’ve been schooled by the Montreal fuzz” – that sort of thing – but there’s something about this particular case which stands out and has started affecting the way I think.

The word ‘tragedy’ has been artlessly applied by the few people available to speak openly about the case, such as the seemingly mal-informed Sureté public-relations hack. I suppose it is somewhat tragic, though in PR parlance ‘tragedy’ implies ‘accident’, and there’s nothing accidental about pulling the trigger of a ‘quick-action’ service pistol whilst aiming it at a man’s torso. Moreover, it can hardly be accidental when three or four shots are fired.

I can’t believe that there’s anything accidental about this shooting, when there are so many potential alternatives to using deadly force. I don’t mean to play armchair police-officer, and I still believe that the majority of law-enforcement in this country are regular people who work hard at their jobs and take themselves and their work with utmost seriousness. That being said, it increasingly looks to me as though we may have a law-enforcement problem in this country, one which is beginning to mimic the established law-enforcement problems south of forty-nine in terms of excessive force, though fortunately not yet in terms of frequency. For one, a security guard at the St-Luc hospital, which has its fair share of mentally and psychologically impaired visitors, told a local reporter they handle violent psychopaths and delusional schizophrenics with muscle, numbers, latex gloves and ‘talk-down techniques’. Hamel was well known in his circles, and had made some progress dealing with his mental health issues. That being said, when police approached him that fateful day, he was ripping open garbage bags and tossing their contents into the street. I can’t imagine how one could be a good cop and not know the curbside insane intimately, but apparently the constables involved in this fatal shooting saw him as a lethal threat and used, as they would describe it, appropriate force. Beyond the lethal threat, a maintenance man, Patrick Limoges, on his way to start an early morning shift. As he fell, nearby construction workers rushed to his aid, only to be dissuaded by gun-toting constables who warned them away from assisting the stricken man. It’s either for reasons of crime-scene control or because those involved weren’t sure which one was the threat. And either way I’m unimpressed.

We don’t need to dig up the growing list of innocent citizens killed by the SPVM for one reason or another over the years – it’s long and there’s a fairly accurate list online here at Flics Assassins. Nor do we need to contextualize this incident within the scope of post-9/11 public security planning, or even our country’s own sordid history of police brutality and misconduct – you can do your own research, and I know it will be worth your time. That said, what we ought to be focused on are some of the more basic elements of law-enforcement in this city, this province and country. For starters, are guns necessary in the first place? Could Mario Hamel have been stopped with a taser, a baton or pepper spray? If so, why were these weapons not employed instead? A few days after Hamel and Limoges were killed, SPVM constables responded to a distressed woman in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve similarly armed with a large knife; they tased her and that was that. Second, would regular neighbourhood foot patrols have helped police identify Hamel as fundamentally innocent, given his psychological problems? Would Hamel have felt as threatened if he recognized the intervening constables? Third, and this can go on for a while yet, is this an example of a good reaction time or of exceptionally bad judgement? Depends on who’s asking, and who cares to know. I hate to think someone breathed a sigh of relief when they discovered the victims of this ‘tragedy’ were homeless and a janitor, respectively.

I don’t want to fault the people who did the shooting as much as the system which put a gun in their hand in the first place. I want to blame the system that has flooded our city streets with poor unfortunates who require counseling and medication, but instead will die as anonymous corpses frozen to sidewalks. I want to know what changed our perspective; at what point did a cop go from being a civil-service employee, like a teacher, social-worker or mail-carrier, to someone who exists above and beyond the realm of normalcy – an individual who enforces laws, ostensibly for the public’s benefit, and yet doesn’t have to play by the same rules as the rest of us. Where’s my Police Brotherhood when I fuck up at work? Why can’t I take people’s cameras without reason? Why can’t I push people off the street with impunity? Why am I paying the salary, however indirectly, of the people who may one day kill or abuse me, perhaps tragically?

But the most disturbing question, after all that has been written about recent incidents of police brutality and misconduct, here in the 514 or elsewhere in Canada, is that the public is as paralyzed collectively as they are individually. We’ve become numb. We’ve become tolerant of yet another excess, but unlike apathy or deep-fried food, the excesses of law-enforcement, culminating in abuse and brutality as we’ve witnessed over the course of the last decade, will undoubtedly compromise our individual sovereignty. The people must act now before it’s too late, and though this nightmare scenario has ‘been done’ insofar as we’ve seen it manifest itself across the silver screen, it doesn’t mean we aren’t already in the process of losing our collective assurance to individual freedom. And freedom from needless death is pretty crucial – it’s one of the ‘pillars of difference’ that distinguishes our society from the dictatorships we precision-bomb.

And yet, here we are; on my short walk back from work the other day I passed five banks and a synagogue. Each had a security guard out front.

Montr̩al M̩tro Extensions РHow to get around an impasse.

2009 AMT proposal for Métro extensions - not the work of the author

There’s been a fair bit of talk about extending the Montréal Métro of late in the English Press. Typical; now removed from the halls of power the English media spends its time twiddling their thumbs and dreaming about what could be, while Angryphones come out of the woodwork to demand Métro access to the West Island. I’ve said it before and I’ll say a million more times – no West Island residents should expect Métro extensions until there’s a West Island city, one with a tax-base as large as the cities of Laval or Longueuil. That or the West Island communities seek voluntary annexation from the City of Montréal. Then, and only then would the citizens out there be in a position to demand Métro access. I personally think a Highway 40 corridor Métro line from De la Savanne station to Fairview (and possibly as far as Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue) would be an excellent way to cut back significantly on vehicular traffic on our major highways. However, such a new line should be mirrored on the eastern side of the island, such as with the recommended Blue Line extension to Anjou. That said, residential development on the eastern side is oriented on a more North-South axis than on the West Island, and thus the proposed Pie-IX line (running from Laval or Montréal-North south to the Centre-Sud/HoMa district) would likely handle more passengers than any West Island extension (but only if it in turn were connected to East-West lines at multiple points).

While an unfortunate number of people have complained the 2009 MTQ proposal (above) is ‘too focused on the East End’, I look at it as focused primarily on where the population density seems to be high and increasing. There are more than 400,000 people living in Laval and another 700,000 people living on the South Shore (spread out over several municipalities, with an estimated 230,000 people living in Longueuil alone). Moreover, there are 85,000 people living in Saint-Laurent borough and another 125,000 people living in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough. In total, the proposed extensions as demonstrated above could potentially serve almost 1 million people directly and indirectly.

So while it is nice to dream about ideal systems that serve the entire metropolitan region, or at least serve the City better, we need to consider what the government is proposing seriously.

What’s unfortunate is that this plan now seems to be in jeopardy, given that the respective mayors of Longueuil, Laval and Montréal had to take out full page advertisements in the local press some months ago announcing why their city should benefit from expansion. I’ve said it before – sicking the mayors against each other isn’t going to achieve much. The entire system needs to be expanded until the whole region is eventually covered. In essence, we need to follow the same planning philosophy used to design the Paris, New York, London or Moscow subway systems, wherein the project is considered incomplete until near-total coverage is achieved. We won’t grow nearly as quickly unless the Métro develops in such a fashion so as to increase transit efficiency within the region. Montréal’s successful urban communities wouldn’t be nearly as successful as they are if it weren’t for the fact that they have Métro access. It is crucial for expansion and development.

In sum, we need to start planning as a unified metropolitan region wherein the interests of all citizens are considered simultaneously. Métro line development cannot be a reward for political loyalty. We’ve come a long way from the nepotism of the dark ages under Maurice Duplessis, so when the provincial government finks out and pits the suburbs of Montréal against the City for an individual line extension, the citizens of all communities must demand an end to such ridiculous partisanship. We can’t continue on like this. This is why our city is broken.

And just a reminder – completing the project illustrated above is pegged at 4 billion dollars. Cost of the new Champlain Bridge has been estimated at 5 billion dollars. Is it me or would it not be smarter to use that money to complete the proposed Métro expansion, and then spend a billion dollars renovating and improving the existing Champlain Bridge? A new Champlain Bridge will accommodate about 156,000 vehicle crossings per day. With this expansion, the Métro would be able to accommodate over 1.5 million passengers per day, which in turn will free up space on the highways, bridges, tunnels, buses and commuter trains, possibly even allowing some buses to be re-purposed to new routes, further improving the public transit system here in Montréal. To me it’s a no-brainer. What do you think?