The final photo update from my spring travels comes courtesy of the Kola Peninsula, also known as the Murmansk Region of the Russian Federation. This was my fourth time bringing the Arctic Studies students on the Kola Excursion, and we had a great adventure as always. Of course, the views start to repeat themselves once you've done this trip half-a-dozen times, but who gets tired of looking at industrial deforestation? See the whole set here.
Only a few pics this time from the 'middle' trip to Akureyri, although it was actually the longest. I was invited to teach in the University of Akureyri's social sciences faculty, and gave lectures on community based research, Q method, socio-economic development in the North, and circumpolar international relations. I also gave a public lecture using an overview of some of the definitional issues around indigenous peoples in international relations and international law, based on my PhD research. Quite fun, although I had a nasty cold for most of the time. Hope I get to go back again soon.
A quick read through a news story about al-Zarqawi's successor tells us that he a) "is an explosives expert trained in Afghanistan", and b) "has been a terrorist since about 1982...". Nowhere does it mention exactly when he received his training in Afghanistan, or more importantly,from whom. If he was trained by the Taleban, wouldn't the "U.S. military spokesman" have mentioned that? So let's take a guess who else was training terrorists freedom fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980's. The International Herald Tribune offers more clues:
One hint was that the word "mujahir" usually refers to an Islamic militant who has traveled beyond his own country in service of religious conviction, commonly, among insurgents, a man who went to Afghanistan to join the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
Almost everything I do at work involves taking information from disparate sources, and going through various thought processes to generate finished written pieces, whether they be reports, course outlines, research articles (or even blog entries). Recently, I've been looking for software that can help me with this process. The needs are essentially twofold: storing and collecting the raw material (notes, ideas, emails, information from articles and the web, etc), and developing a structure in which to fit this information. At first I thought that the Google Desktop Scratch Pad might be a good place to start. I've become used to always having a spot on the right side of my desktop to note down random bits of information. Unfortunately, the Scratch Pad is just too limited for what I need. I'm now testing out two products that aim to address these needs. OneNote is a Microsoft product (but I'm trying not to let that prejudice me) originally developed for Tablet PCs as a kind of virtual notepad. It works with both keyboard and pen input, and you can drop pretty much anything onto a page and rearrange and organize these notes any way you want. It has a broad range of uses, and I'm really starting to like it. To get an idea of what OneNote is all about, check out Chris Pratley's OneNote Blog and his entry on how he uses it.
For brainstorming and developing outlines, MindJet's MindManager is absolutely brilliant. It has a simple but powerful user interface that makes it a snap to create relationships between ideas. It uses the mind map approach, and I'm finding it really useful for creating the structure for my next research article. Like OneNote, you can attach various snippets of information or link whole documents to the structure that you develop.
I'll continue testing these programs as I write reports, take notes in meetings, and do my thesis research. Hopefully, I'll be able to give a more in-depth review of their strengths and weaknesses after using them more.
I've been playing around a bit with Google Maps and decided to mark up some points of interests on the Kola Peninsula for my students to explore before our excursion there in October. You can make out the piers of the naval bases of the Northern Fleet, and environmental damage from the nickel smelters in Nikel and Monchegorsk. Probably the coolest site are the secret early warning radar station and the huge surface-to-air missile base on the way to Lovozero. You can see my marked-up Google Map either here at NorthSpace, or the "official" version at the Arctic Centre. Let me know if you find any mistakes, or new interesting features.
The comments of TV evangelist and presdintial candiadate Pat Robertson proposing the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez would be amusing if they didn't skirt so close to the real dark side of ongoing US imperialism in Latin America. The key figure behind the current adminstration's manoeuvers in the region is Otto Reich, whose shadowy legacy dates back to the Reagan era and Oliver North and strong links to the CIA. The role of the Bush administration and Otto Reich in particular in the 2002 coup against Chavez is an open secret seemingly everywhere but in the mainstream US news media. Chavez and Castro are pals, mostly bound together by their opposition to US influence in the region. The US tries to demonize Chavez, but he's done little more than be a popular socialist, wear military fatigues, and refuse to toe the US line in regional diplomacy. Venezuela has lots of oil, which makes it harder for the US to push around (indeed, their opposition to Chavez hasn't stopped them from importing about 8% of their total oil supply from Venezuela). The White House is busy distancing itself from Robertson's comments, but their own history of dirty tricks (including assasssination) in the region will make it hard for their opponents in Latin America to distinguish the rantings of a bigoted religious zealot from official foreign policy.
US biologists wish to create a 'Pleistocene Park' of large mammals long extinct in North America on the Great Plains (from New Scientist)
Did ancient Japanese voyagers travel across the Pacific and intermix with the Zuni indians of New Mexico in the 14th century?
Some interesting new findings about the archaeological record of Australia are raising some interesting questions about one of my favourite little controversies: the perception of indigenous peoples as natural environmental conservationists. In my academic research with indigenous peoples of the Arctic, one of the most common generalizations I come across is that indigenous peoples are more 'in touch' with nature and have always had sustainable environmental practices. An article on Local Knowledge in Canada and the World Backgrounder, typifies this view dichotomizing indigenous and Western views of nature and the environment:
- "indigenous and other traditional peoples have long associations with nature and a deep understanding of it..."
- "Western society has used technology to tame and overcome Nature. Most urban people feel no connection to the land, while for Indigenous people the land is the source of life that nourishes, supports, and teaches."
The real danger of such perceptions, is that they quickly take on the power of idealized myth. The widespread perception of indigenous peoples as the ultimate environmentalists has caught on because it plays on Western guilt and alienation, and allows us to romanticize a mythological past and the 'noble savage.' Indigenous peoples, particularly the Inuit through the Inuit Circumpolar Conferencehave wisely used this perception in their political dealings with national governments to reach breakthrough international agreements on pollutants, and are highly visible in the Arctic climate change campaign.
So while this may be seen as positive stereotype of indigenous peoples, it is a stereotype nonetheless. Holding to such beliefs can often get in the way of understanding the broad complexity of the history of human societies, and our relationship with one another, and our environment.
In The Pristine Myth William M. Denevan challenges this perception by examining archaeological evidence from the Americas, and makes a good argument about why this myth first arose in the 18th century. Abstract:
The myth persists that in 1492 the Americas were a sparsely populated wilderness, -a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.- There is substantial evidence, however, that the Native American landscape of the early sixteenth century was a humanized landscape almost everywhere. Populations were large. Forest composition had been modified, grasslands had been created, wildlife disrupted, and erosion was severe in places. Earthworks, roads, fields, and settlements were ubiquitous. With Indian depopulation in the wake of Old World disease, the environment recovered in many areas. A good argument can be made that the human presence was less visible in 1750 than it was in 1492.
Now there are new findings from Australia that indicate the first humans on the continent may have precipitated a mass extinction of the megafauna on that continent through their practice of using fires to clear land. Denevan's article notes similar evidence of the use of fires in the Americas. It is possible that both the deserts of Australia and the Great Plains of the US were the result of anthropogenic (human caused) landscape change. The Biology Refugia blog has a nice summary of the state of the current scientific debate.
While it is true that indigenous peoples around the world have developed cultures that are highly respective and integrated into their natural environments, we must be careful not to let romantic notions and political discourse prevent us from digging deeper into our past and revealing the messy complexity that invariably lies there. As to whether it was human made fires, overhunting, or climate change that led to the mass megafauna extintion, the answer is most likely a rather unsatisfactory (for the non-scientist), "a bit of everything."
I hope Jay still thinks this is as cool as I do. I spent last week on a tour of the Kola Peninsula, leading a group of international students. While we were in Murmansk we somehow managed to get access to the very-off-limits Atomflot base to take a tour of a nuclear icebreaker. As we arrived at the base, I suddenly saw the Admiral Kuznyetsov, Russia's only remaining aircraft carrier loom into view. I snapped a quick photo from the bus, but we were strictly forbidden from taking photos inside the base where we were barely 50 meters from the behemoth.
Nevertheless, I took a spyshot out the window of the window of the icebreaker towards the Lotta, a floating base for spent nuclear fuel from submarines and icebreakers, and the surrounding storage area. You can check out all the photos from the trip in PhotoSpace.
I've registered a new personal web domain, ScottForrest.name, which I'm going to use for my academic/professional profile. Basically, it's a page I can link to in my conference publications, and from the Arctic Centre page, so that my colleagues in the scientific community don't find out what a raging freak and geek I am (well, at least not right away). For those of you who frequent this site, you already know what a head case I am, and there's really nothing that interesting on the new site. Very boring. Don't go there. Really.
I returned this week from an excursion to the Kola Peninsula with the Northern Resources masters program. I was the excursion's "academic coordinator," which basically amounted to me giving short background information on the various environmental disasters they would be seeing each day. And believe me, the Kola region has plenty to offer in that area. Nevermind the 200+ nuclear reactors, most of which are in out of service submarines, some in various states of being decommissioned. Or the Pechenganikel and Severonikel smelting operations that collectively pump something like 450,000 tons of SO2 plus assorted heavy metals annually into the air, resulting in massive forest devastation in the surrounding areas. Or the Kola Nuclear Power Plant, for which Bellona claims a 25% chance of meltdown on the two oldest reactors over their 23-year lifespan (these reactors are now 30 years old, and we heard had just been licenced for a further 5 years). Despite all this, I saw many signs of improvement in Murmansk and the rest of the Kola region, at least socially and economically. Living standards have visibly improved, (at least in Murmansk) and much of the Soviet-era service style has been replaced with western-style shops and restaurants. I'm not saying Russia's entry into the world of globalized western capitalism is inherently a good thing, but it is a demonstration of improvements in some areas. There are still huge economic disparities, and I know the Columbia Sportswear and MEXX shops in downtown Murmansk are beyond the budgets of most of its citizens, but they were but the top end of a general trend throughout the city that indicates a growing middle-class. This situation, however, was tempered by towns like Lovozero and Umba where there is literally no main industry (save for Lovozero's Swedish-owned reindeer slaughter house, which operates less than half the year) and most people survive by basic subsistence.
My old friend Jane George wrote a story in the Nunatsiaq News about the panel where I presented my paper at the Northern Research Forum a little over a week ago. As she says, "The discussion was intended to focus on broader security issues, but speakers ended up talking more about the threat of terrorism and what this means to the circumpolar world." No one seemed too interested in discussing my take on cultural security and how it applied to indigenous peoples struggles for rights and recognition. Instead, the discussion got completely sidetracked on talking about the threat of terrorism. Actually, it wasn't so much the speakers that got sidetracked as the audience (at least Oran Young tried to get things back on track). The panel, including Ron Huebert, generally pointed out that there really wasn't much of a terrorism threat because there aren't many real targets in the North, not many people, and the region doesn't really have high visibility. But Huebert did point out that it could become an issue because the Arctic could be perceived as an easy point of access for terrorists. Really, I think it's all much ado about nothing. But maybe I'm just grumbling because no one asked a question about my presentation, and I didn't get mentioned in the newspaper. :-(
While much of the press here in Finland seems suspicious that Bush's recent warning of a terrorist threat to US financial targets is an election stunt, most of the American and British press seems to be taking it seriously [Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | After many cries of wolf, is this the real thing?]. Since 9/11 it seems that a primary Bush strategy is to keep the country in a constant state of fear and paranoia, which keeps normal folk from paying attention to his major political and economic failings, and justifies his rather iron-fisted (but ham handed) restrictions on civil liberties. One interesting idea that came to mind in reading about the latest "threat" (which by many accounts is based on information that is at least three years old) is how much it resembles the plot of Fight Club. Nevermind the secret army with independent cells springing up all over the US. Remember Tyler's big plan to collapse western civilization by wreaking havoc on the US financial institutions? Specifically he targeted the head offices credit card companies. "If you erase the debt record, we all go back to zero. It'll create total chaos." It just struck my attention that two of the specific targets mentioned are Citibank and Prudential headquarters.
I wonder then if al-Qaida are reading Chuck Palahniuk and trying to bomb us back to the stone age. Or if I were truly paranoid, maybe Bush's strategists are getting their plots from Hollywood movies again.