Podcast Episode 3: Talking Halloween and Climate Change Denial

Peasants & Emperors is a podcast presenting topics related to democracy, science, culture, women’s issues, current events and critical thinking. A new podcast is produced and available for listening/download approximately every two weeks.

In episode three, join the cast as they discuss some issues surrounding Halloween and climate change denial. Also, this episode introduces two new segments to the show’s format.

Episode 3: Talking Halloween and Climate Change Denial

Click on the hyperlink above to download and listen to the podcast. Feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below. One of the cast members will respond.

Thanks in advance for listening and check back regularly for updates to the site and podcast.

Episode Corrections & Clarifications 
1. During the episode Alaine wondered what percentage of people currently alive have Genghis Khan’s DNA. According to this study cited on National Geographic Online (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html) the great Khan has at least 16 million living descendants based on this study.

2. During the “Big Question” segment, Rick cited the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Blue Report on the extinction situation confronting marine wildlife. He observed marine populations had declined by 50%; however, the study establishes this decline is only 49% from 1970 to 2012. Rick also oversimplified the situation confronting sea cucumbers; that being, he generalized saying 98% of sea cucumbers were gone (implying a global problem). In reality, this figure only applies to sea cucumbers in the Galapagos region. He also made an error when he said upwards of 50-70% of ocean life depended upon the coral reefs; this figure is actually much lower (in the 25% range). Please see http://www.wwf.org.uk/about_wwf/press_centre/?unewsid=7673.

3). We depend upon plankton for 70% of our oxygen; a question was posed during the program about how a changing ph balance might impact plankton. The following article covers the topic in technical detail (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12582/full). This article establishes a clear relationship between increasing ph and die off of corepods (plankton). The Wiley Online Library publishes articles in concert with various international and scholarly societies. The WOL is connected to a publishing company called John Wiley & Sons.

While looking for studies relevant to ocean acidification and plankton, Rick came across this webpage http://www.nipccreport.org/articles/2012/aug/28aug2012a3.html. The page belongs to the so-called Non-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The NIPCC site presents claims inconsistent with the predictions made by models reflecting the scientific consensus, i.e. the scientific consensus (as reflected in the Wiley article above) establishes a demonstrated and negative impact of increased ocean ph on plankton based on predicted levels of CO2 later in the 21st century. The NIPCC “study,” however, claims there’s no discernible impact on plankton if you increase ocean ph by the predicted levels.

Curious to a fault, Rick decided to find out who the NIPCC was exactly; it turns out the NIPCC is an arm of the Heartland Institute (HI). The HI is not a scientific institution but a conservative public policy think tank funded by energy companies like ExxonMobil in order to deny climate change. The HI has also worked for Philip Morris (and the tobacco industry) to lobby governments to not ban smoking and to deny that secondhand smoke is harmful. The Heartland Institute’s purpose is to confuse the public with respect to science for the express purpose of enabling corporations to maintain the status-quo, i.e. new regulatory regimes or laws potentially increase the cost of doing business (and this is the ultimate evil to a corporation and its stake-holders); therefore, corporations use organizations like Heartland as instruments of propaganda.

4). Rick observed a significant “die off” of jelly fish due to changes in temperature near Fiji. In reality the die off took place in waters around rocky islands which form part of Palau. Fiji and Palau are separated by 5,500 kms. Here’s a link to an article describing the 1998 die off of jellies near Palau (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jellyfish_Lake).

5. In the show it was observed Fred Singer worked on the Manhattan Project. This was incorrect. Scientist Fred Seitz, also a climate change denier, worked on the MP. Fred Singer actually worked with the American navy during World War II. After being discharged from the navy he began working on rockets after the war. Both Seitz and Singer were science deniers and both received money and funding from corporations to challenge the scientific consensus on the risks associated with tobacco, climate change, etc. For more please see Naomi Oreste’s book Merchants of Doubt or Kerryn Higss Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet.


6. In the show, Rick mentioned we surpassed the 400 ppm CO2 in 2014. This benchmark was surpassed in 2013. The graphic to the left shows the dramatic increase in CO2 levels with the advent of the coal fueled Industrial Revolution (beginning in England in the late 1700s). For some additional context please visit the NASA sanctioned web site: http://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/.

7. During the cultural appropriation segment, Jess mentioned that the cast was white and therefore couldn’t understand what it’s like to not be a part of the dominant culture or to see themselves misrepresented in a mocking way. Lea would like to clarify that she self-identifies as Metis, but due to family circumstances she grew up experiencing white privilege and fully acknowledges the advantages she’s had. However she would like to note that it does hurt her to see a culture that is her heritage misrepresented and appropriated.

So You Wanna Be a PocaHottie

With All Hallows’ Eve drawing near, newsfeeds everywhere have inevitably blown up with talk about racist costumes and those two words every carefree Halloween partygoer who just wants to get drunk hates to see: cultural appropriation.

So what is cultural appropriation, anyways?

In the most simplest sense it can be described as when someone adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own. But there’s a much deeper understanding of cultural appropriation and it refers to the power dynamic between a dominant culture and the group that has been systematically oppressed by the dominant culture.

Why is cultural appropriation bad?

First of all, it perpetuates racism and xenophobia by enabling people to embrace the culture but remain prejudiced against the members of that culture.

An example of this is enjoying authentic Indian food and patronizing Indian owned restaurants, but continuing to hold an attitude that reinforces stereotypes. Another example is how black hairstyles have been mocked and degraded but as soon as a white celebrity or model wears one, all of a sudden it’s “trendy” or “edgy”, or sometimes even “new”.

Secondly, cultural appropriation spreads misinformation about marginalized groups.

Let’s just take a look at Pocahontas, shall we? Pocahontas, otherwise known as Matoaka, was 17 when she was captured by the English and held for ransom. There are some historical discrepancies. She is said to have “converted” to Christianity during her time in captivity, changing her name to Rebecca and then later marrying tobacco planter, John Rolfe. However, Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan Nation claimed that Matoaka agreed to marry Rolfe as a condition of her release and it was then that she took the name Rebecca. In any case, it is known that her husband John Rolfe presented her to society as a “civilized savage” in hopes of stimulating investment in Jamestown. She died three years after her marriage. Correlation does not equal causation, but in my opinion that speaks for itself. So the romanticized Disney version of Pocahontas that everyone is familiar with – said to have happened in 1607, when Pocahontas would’ve been 10 – likely never even occurred, as John Smith made no mention of it in his 1608 account and first relates the story of “being saved from execution” 9 years after it supposedly happened.

Thirdly, it trivializes history.

It’s like when the NFL team, the Redskins, tried to defend their name by saying it “honoured Native Americans”. But the term “redskins” comes from the time colonial and government states paid white men to kill Native Americans and bring back their scalps for proof of their “kill”.

I guess I missed the part where that honours Native Americans.

You see, the people defending the name obviously think of a native warrior as a powerful symbol. But the fact remains that the dominant culture they’re a part of has committed horrible crimes against Native Americans and continues to marginalize them.

That’s cultural appropriation.

You may be thinking, “But I actually admire ______ culture and I don’t think dressing up like them for Halloween is offensive at all.”

In our culture there are restricted symbols which can’t be legitimately possessed without earning them, ex. educational degrees, military medals, awards representing achievement, etc., and if they are imitated (like in the case of a medical degree) can face criminal charges. There are also restricted symbols in other cultures that should be likewise respected.

An example of such is the headdress found in various Plains nations, and they are only worn by those who have earned them.

If one admires a culture, it’s reasonable to think they would respectfully learn more about it and in a meaningful way, too. It’s not always evident what is restricted and what isn’t, what with all the misinformation and stereotypes, but it’s okay to ask someone from that culture. If people from that culture tell you something is disrespectful though, dismissing their concerns because you don’t agree with them is not indicative of a genuine desire to learn about a culture one claims to admire.

Now let’s talk about some common costume themes we see out there every year:

Sexy Geisha, Sexy Gypsy, Sexy Señorita, and PocaHottie

I’m all for women expressing their sexuality in whatever way they wish, but I do take issue with the sexualization of minorities and I’ll tell you why:

  • It perpetuates the image that Asian women are submissive sexual objects and also perpetuates the consequences of that image – white men actually expect them to be an embodiment of that stereotype.
  • Harassment of Roma is well documented and ongoing.
  • There’s an epidemic of violence against women in Mexico, with occurrences like “pleasure kidnappings” and women leaving their homes, never to return.
  • First Nations women are in much the same situation; only now are we having a proper inquiry to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada.

So as sexy as it sometimes is to pretend to be something that you’re not, perpetuating stereotypes that victimize marginalized women by wearing a costume you can take off at the end of the night is not the best idea. They can’t take off the costume; the stigma stays.

Not to mention authentic traditional dress is so much more beautiful and alluring than the Westernized “sexy” versions, anyways.

Some of you may be wondering if it would be racist for someone to dress up as a “redneck” or “hillbilly”. Short answer, no.

Two rules of thumb keeps it easy this Halloween:

  1. It’s not racist or cultural appropriation to wear a costume from an extinct or dominant culture.
  2. It’s not okay to make a costume out of a culture that’s currently being oppressed. That’s kind of like pouring salt in the wound.


Check out Podcast Episode 3 for a lively and diversely opinionated discussion about cultural appropriation between all four cast members. We also introduce some fun new segments!

Also, please feel free to leave a comment. Respectful conversation is encouraged!

You’re All a Bunch of Jerks: The Art of the Ad Hominem Attack

What are the odds but a couple days ago I saw some propaganda on my Facebook news feed. A friend of mine apparently liked a post from a group called Oil Sands Action. (I’ve included a screen shot of the photograph and tagline of the post below.)


The picture is an obvious attempt to improve the public’s perception of tar sands development. I suspect many people working in the energy sector felt vindicated by the picture and by reading the article. I wouldn’t blame them; it’s nice to know you are doing such a bang up job, you know, not destroying the environment or changing the climate. Taking the photograph at face value, a person would be forgiven for thinking Mordor had been effectively replaced with a wondrous, green Rivendell restored.

Digging deeper (as I am prone to do) I’m thinking the elves aren’t about to “un-sunder” themselves and return. The fact of the matter is the photograph presents a simplistic image of a complex situation: the green grass diverts our attention from the significant damage that was done, and continues to be done, with tar sands development (a project James Hansen, arguably the world’s foremost climate scientist, says if developed fully will mean “game over” for the environment). Image, however, is everything. Not knowledge. Not critical thinking. Not a nuanced view. Actually, if you look at the comments made by the Oil Sands Group itself they make frequent use of images—not arguments—to sell/transmit their message.

I read some of the user comments to the Oil Sands post. People seemed pretty enthusiastic about the good news. I suspect most of the commentators were probably members of the page. To my thinking I felt there was a little too much patting of the back and self-congratulatory rhetoric. So I decided to contribute a few sobering words to the otherwise optimistic stream of comments: “All the oil extracted [from the tar sands] was still emitted (as CO2) in to the atmosphere with all the resident persistent effects. Planting some grass over former open pits doesn’t exactly mitigate the global impact of extraction, now does it?”

Several Facebook users responded to my comment; however, none of them dealt with my premise, i.e. the damage is done; the green fields hide the scene of an environmentally disastrous policy; we extracted the oil, we sent it to market, we burnt it, and emitted a significant amount of CO2 in to the atmosphere (and the oceans) in the process. Again, people who replied to my post didn’t deal with my premise, they attacked me personally. They criticized my lack of “oil business savvy”—not sure how my business sense was relevant to the science involved—or they discredited my position by pointing out my apparent socialist leanings—as though the 97% scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is some sort of leftist cabal. The few responses that weren’t personal attacks presented an overly-simplistic grade school scientific understanding of the carbon cycle, e.g. Plants need CO2, it makes them grow big!

Please follow this link for an explanation on the significance of the 97% consensus: http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/.

In reality, I wasn’t pushing some sort of leftist agenda. I was presenting a view in agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change as it exists—which is non-partisan and non-ideological—combined with an understanding of how the carbon cycle actually works: due to over a century of human industrial activity we passed a benchmark of 400 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere in 2013 (and as of 2019 we are consistently over the 450 mark). Climate models predict that if this number does not drop the planet will warm by 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century (and we could get a lot hotter than that). As I mentioned earlier, one of my interlocutors observed “plants like CO2, it makes them grow big!” Well, while this is true, we haven’t seen a concentration of CO2 like this for millions of years (and definitely not while modern humans or their Australopithecine ancestors have existed).

Animal life, including humankind, evolved to live under specific circumstances (we actually almost went extinct as a species around 70,000 BCE due to rapid climate changes). Further still, an environment in which “plants grow big” doesn’t necessarily translate in to an environment suitable for “sustaining human life.” Also, the problem isn’t CO2’s existence; the problem is the relative concentration of it in the atmosphere (along with other greenhouse gases like methane). If we have the right amount of CO2 (say around 250-350 ppm), good; if we have too much (400 ppm and growing), eco-systems as we know them change and collapse (and they are collapsing). We are living through the Sixth Great Extinction, i.e. the extinction rate is a 1000 times faster than “normal.” As the climate is changing we are ultimately embarking on a path some experts believe ends in our eventual extinction. Plants grow big, indeed.

Follow this link for a description of the Sixth Great Extinction: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150623-sixth-extinction-kolbert-animals-conservation-science-world/

I was a little vexed by the scientific illiteracy I encountered on Facebook (though not surprised). Yet, what I found more vexing was the fact people didn’t attack the ideas I was presenting from a point of knowledge but resorted to attacking me personally. When you attack the person, and not the idea, you are committing the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad hominem (“attack the man”). When you launch an ad hominem attack you don’t try to disprove the speaker’s idea instead you focus your attention on the speaker (thereby deflecting attention from the actual issue being discussed). In reality something is true—not because of who spoke it—but because it stands on its own and is valid on its own merits. In my case I wasn’t spouting rashly formed opinions. I was echoing the scientific consensus as it exists on the relationship between tar sands development and climate change.

So why do people content themselves with personally attacking the person instead of the idea? Lots of reasons: there’s some sort of advantage to be had; the attacker believes they know a lot more than they actually do (as per the Dunning-Kruger Effect); or they are just being defensive (motivated reasoning). The situation reminds me of something Upton Sinclair said regarding human nature, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, [especially] when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” The people who attacked me likely work in the oil fields (or they have family and friends who do). For this reason they have significant motivation to discredit critics of tar sands development because if they can vilify the critic they don’t have to change their corresponding behavior or beliefs; and just for the record, I never judged the people working in the oil fields; I benefit from their work and I appreciate it; moreover, they are just trying to make their way in the world and want to take care of their families. This is noble. Nonetheless, I am critical of people who are willfully blind because it is perhaps the worst form of intellectual dishonesty. As the African American poet and playwright James Baldwin once observed, “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of ignorance long after that innocence is dead turns himself in to a monster.”

Interestingly, the use of ad hominem attacks has been around a very long time. Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, the poet and politician Cicero penned a series of scathing criticisms of Mark Antony. Cicero accused Antony of being ambitious and mis-representing the final public will and testament of the murdered Caesar for personal gain. Antony didn’t address the charges leveled at him by the poet; rather, Antony used his own significant skills as an orator to convince the public Cicero was a traitor and enemy of Rome. Antony succeeded; and Cicero was not only attacked verbally, he was beheaded because he had the audacity to speak truth to power.

More recently in 2009 American President Barack Obama initiated a series of healthcare reforms known as the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Act’s most vocal opponents focused less on the relative merits of universal healthcare and instead focused the public’s attention on how the president was a, wait for it, a “socialist.”


Name calling is a surprisingly effective strategy in American politics. In particular, calling someone a socialist is especially effective due to decades of hysterical anti-communist propaganda; it would appear Americans are to a large degree conditioned to fear and hate the socialist; they hate socialists, they just don’t know what a socialist is—confused critics were calling Obama a socialist, communist and a fascist at one and the same time. Not everyone falls for this nonsense; however, more do than don’t. The funny thing is all Americans are socialists on some level, e.g. public fire protection, public schools, public roads, transit, police protection, etc. In reality a socialist is simply someone who believes in the wisdom of pooling the wealth of the community to secure all the individuals within it. However, to listen to critics who confuse Roosevelt with Stalin, you’d think a socialist was some sort of evil creature drawn from an Anne Rice novel who not only wanted to suck your blood but your bank account dry, as well.

So silly.

Israel provides an excellent example of a government resorting to using ad hominem attacks to deflect attention away from its repressive policies against Palestinians. The Palestinians are hardly saints; however, the recent surge in 2015 in violence involving the Palestinians and Israelis is a reflection (at least in part) of a historically dysfunctional relationship between the two peoples. Lord Durham would describe the situation as “two peoples fighting within the bosom of a single state.” The violence is also a reflection of Israel’s repeated refusal to compromise or reach an accommodation with the Palestinians; and this is no small issue, e.g. since 2003 the state of Israel has been condemned by the United Nations in 45 resolutions for its treatment of Palestine (more than the rest of the “offending nations” in the world combined…that includes Iraq, Iran and North Korea). If for no other reason than all of these resolutions, there might be something to the criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. However, if one criticizes Israel the critic is labeled an “anti-Semite” and silenced. Is it possible, at least in principle, for a person to level a valid criticism at Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians and not be an anti-Semite? I think so.

Yet, the name calling tactic works: former president of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, made frequent use of the ad hominem “anti-Semite” card to deflect attention from the criticism to the critic; consequently, many people in this ridiculously politically correct age are silenced because they do not want to appear to be racist. How foolish are we as a species for falling for such tactics? Swinging way over to the other side of the political spectrum, the Nazis of the 1930s used to discredit critics of the German regime like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill by calling them “Jews” (as though being a member, to quote J. R. R. Tolkien, of that “gifted people” was somehow something negative).

We naturally possess the ability to reason. Likewise we possess an equal and seemingly inexhaustible capacity to be influenced by both propaganda and logical fallacies, as well.

Therefore, I am compelled to simply conclude that you’re all a bunch of jerks.

Podcast Episode 2: Election Reaction & Some Playful Banter

Peasants & Emperors is a podcast presenting topics related to democracy, science, culture, women’s issues, current events and critical thinking. A new podcast is produced and available for listening/download approximately every two weeks.

In episode two, join the cast as they discuss the Canadian election results while introducing the audience to some new segments like the quote of the day and the hypothetical game.

Episode 2: Election Reaction & Some Playful Banter

Click on the hyperlink above to download and listen to the podcast. Feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below. One of the cast members will respond.

Thanks in advance for listening and check back regularly for updates to the site and podcast.

Episode Corrections & Clarifications 
1. During this podcast Rick in passing mentioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau planned on spending only ten billion dollars on infrastructure. To clarify the Liberals plan on running $10 billion dollar deficits for the first two fiscal years and another deficit before balancing the budget in 2019.

2. The possibility the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may have influenced Elections Canada was implied during the show. In principle this is unlikely since Elections Canada operates entirely independent of the PMO (or the government) reporting directly to the House of Commons, i.e. Parliament appoints the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada who in turn ensures the Canada Elections Act is enforced. The PMO has zero capacity to directly influence this agency whatsoever during an election. The missing ballots situation was not some strategic move by the government to thwart the First Nations’ vote. On the contrary, it is just a simple example of clerical oversight which is inevitable given the complexities of running a national election.

3. Jess observed people making $200,000 a year would be exempt from Prime Minister’s taxation reform. Just to clarify the Liberal plan proposes to cut taxes for people earning between 44 and 89 thousand a year; however, those making over $200,000 a year will be taxed at a new, higher rate of 33 per cent. This would apply to less than one per cent of the public.

4. During the election Doug Ford was publicly critical of Justin Trudeau’s position on making marijuana legal in Canada. In the podcast, Jess observed Doug Ford was perhaps being disingenuous because of Rob Ford’s (Doug’s brother) public troubles with drug addiction. This observation was, albeit inadvertent, an example of a soft ad hominem attack (or an “attack the person”) against Doug Ford. If we are intellectually honest, we should attack the idea and not the man espousing the idea; that being, the credibility of Doug’s criticism of Trudeau’s policy to legalize marijuana does not depend upon either Doug’s good character or his brother’s drug use. Instead, the validity of Doug’s position must be considered and weighed on its own completely independent from any consideration of the speaker’s personal circumstances.

5. The cast wasn’t entirely sure on the exact number of people who voted in the election. A total of 17,546,697 people voted out of the approximately 26,000,000 eligible voters.

6. During the committee stage in the law making process members of any party can and do sit on the various committees; moreover, although it does not happen too often there is nothing legally stopping Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from appointing the Green Party’s Elizabeth May to a cabinet position.

7. Rick observed “pump priming” or “Keynesian economic policy” doesn’t work in the long-term. For a detailed and technical explanation as to why this is the case please see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/business/06view.html?_r=0.

8. Lea described Cleopatra as “BA”; this means badass. Also, she would like to apologise for her horrible pronunciation of auf wiedersehen.

Iran’s Missile Test: Optics Are Everything

Context: under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its centrifuges for at least fifteen years. For the next fifteen years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build any new uranium-enriching or heavy-water facilities over the same period. Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for ten years. Other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation risks. To monitor and verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from U.S., European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related sanctions. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_Action.)

On October 10th Iran tested a nuclear capable missile called the Emad (or “pillar”). The Emad is an intermediate-range ballistic missile and is a huge leap forward for Iran’s military in terms of accuracy—the weapon can be guided to avoid anti-missile technologies right until it reaches its target. The test is controversial for a couple reasons: firstly, Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia rightly views the action as a threat; and secondly, the test’s timing is strange considering it could derail or jeopardize an agreement reached between Iran and the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany.

Iran-map-jpgThe agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), was a measure undertaken to end the nuclear threat posed by Iran; it was tentatively agreed to by all parties in July of 2015. The JCPA was not received well by certain segments of Iranian or American society (not surprising considering the tension between the two countries since the Iranian Revolution in 1979).

The agreement was not particularly well received by Iran’s Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei, Iran’s most powerful religious leader, felt the JCPA required Iran to give up too much sovereignty; from the Iranian point of view the agreement arguably makes the country look weak to its regional rivals; nonetheless, liberal elements in Iran—and they do exist—support the deal because of the benefits conferred upon the country if and when economic sanctions are lifted. In the United States, some critics of the JCPA argue the deal does not go far enough to end Iran as a possible nuclear threat. The funny thing is no agreement, no matter how strict, could entirely remove the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon; nonetheless, there’s a lot riding on this agreement, i.e. if it isn’t ratified by both Iran and the United States’ legislative assemblies it’s likely the Iranians will return to developing atomic energy for “peaceful purposes.”

So why would Iran potentially jeopardize the JCPA by conducting a missile test on October 10th? Mark Twain observed history doesn’t repeat but it sure does rhyme. As such the motivations of the Iranians aren’t so hard to understand when using history as our guide and combining it with one of science’s most powerful tools of discernment: logical conjecture.

A positive image is as important to a government as to any corporation. The image a government presents allows it to justify taking certain types of actions. No matter what a regime wants to accomplish, it is a priority—regardless if we’re talking dictatorships or democracies—for a regime to at least appear to be acting with the color of right. For example, one country might justify attacking another by insisting “we are simply making the world safe for democracy” or “fighting terrorism” while really they were just using these as excuses to “guarantee my country’s privileged access to your country’s oil.” In the case of Iran’s nuclear aspirations, they certainly wouldn’t come right out and say “we are developing atomic weapons to wipe Israel off the map.” Instead, they’ll claim they are just developing an energy program—in one of the most oil rich regions on the planet—for peaceful purposes. In order to justify its plan to invade Poland in 1939, Nazi Germany actually attacked itself: dressing up its own soldiers in Polish uniforms and attacking a radar station in Germany; the Germans even left dead “Polish” soldiers behind at the radar station as proof of the “invasion.” Cynical as it might sound, it’s a high priority for regimes not to appear imperialistic while being imperialistic or to appear like they’re doing right while doing wrong. Whether we are talking democratic governments or dictatorships, optics or appearances matter.

So, we can agree, optics—or perception (how an event appears)—frequently differs from reality (or what’s actually going on). As interesting as Iran’s nuclear program, American imperialism, and German theatrics are, we turn to Cuba for a better understanding of what might actually be behind Iran’s recent missile test.

In 1962, the Soviet Union began constructing a series of missile silos on the island nation of Cuba. Anmissile-launch-site-in-cuba American spy plane discovered the silos setting off a chain of events which threatened to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war. In order to prevent the silos from being completed, American President John F. Kennedy avoided open war with the Soviet Union by establishing a naval blockade of Cuba. For their part the Cubans hoped a nuclear deterrent would deter the United States from invading. This is, logically speaking, the same reason Iran established a nuclear program in 2003 (coincidentally the same year neighboring Iraq was invaded by an American-led coalition).

The pressure placed on both President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev by their respective militaries not to back down was significant. From a propaganda standpoint the stakes were enormous: neither side could back down without losing significant prestige with their allies. Khrushchev, in particular, was pressured by his generals to break the American blockade by force (see Vasili Arkhipov’s heroic action to countermand an order to fire a nuclear tipped torpedo against an American ship). In so far as Soviet leaders go Khrushchev was neither brutal like Stalin nor a militarist like Brezhnev; for this reason he bypassed the Soviet general staff by using secret diplomatic channels to communicate secretly with Kennedy. Through these secret messages Khrushchev asserted America must give him something in exchange for removal of Soviet weapons in Cuba.

The Kennedy administration did not like the optics of giving the Soviets something in exchange for removing the silos; it would set a terrible precedent and weaken the faith America’s allies had in them. Nonetheless, to de-escalate the situation and help Khrushchev save face with the Soviet general staff, Kennedy agreed to remove NATO’s Jupiter missiles in Turkey where were pointing at the Soviet Union. Kennedy, however, had one condition: the Soviets could not publicly state that the Americans removed the Jupiters in exchange for the Soviets dismantling the Cuban silos. This enabled the Americas to preserve their reputation among their NATO allies. According to McGeorge Bundy in his book Danger and Survival the Americans were planning on removing the Jupiter missiles anyways because they were obsolete. Khrushchev, likewise, was able to save face. However, the Russian premier only managed to hold on to power for one more year (removed by high ranking members of the Communist Party for weakness and “erratic” behavior).

So what does the Cuban Missile Crisis have to do with Iran’s controversial missile test on October 10th? Governments frequently make secret agreements with one another and/or use bluster and symbolic gestures to say “we cannot be bullied.” In 2007, for example, China blew up one of its own satellites. One nuke, strategically detonated in space, could send an EMP destroying billions of dollars worth of defense satellites. In terms of optics, the Chinese were telling the United States “your technological superiority does not make you invulnerable.”

In the case of Iran, consider what the Minister of Defense, General Hossein Dehqan, asserted immediately following the controversial test, “To follow our defense programs, we don’t ask permission from anyone.” On the one hand, Dehqan sounds as though he’s defying the international community; on the other hand, the test was likely undertaken less to impress the Americans and more to impress the Iranian people themselves, i.e. “We are equal partners in the agreement reached with the United States. We are still powerful, too.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s position, just like Khrushchev’s back in 1962, depends heavily upon his ability to convince powerful elements within Iran to accept the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the West. If the JCPA fails Rouhani’s resignation will not be far behind; ironically, for the JCPA to ultimately be ratified by Iran’s legislative assembly, the Rouhani administration has to appear strong; this is why they conducted the missile test when they did. In other words, Rouhani isn’t trying to jeopardize the JCPA with a test; he’s actually trying to salvage the deal; and the only way to do this was if Iran didn’t look like it was backing down to American pressure. Eight days after the “controversial” missile test Ayatollah Khamenei, and Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly, ratified the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

To be honest I really wouldn’t be surprised if the Iranians actually forewarned the Americans of the planned test on October 10. Timing is everything. If Iran tested the missile during the July negotiations they could not make the argument—which they continue to make—they were developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes; however, after the tentative agreement was reached, Iran’s negotiators were confronted with the job of actually getting the JCPA ratified. The best possible prospects for ratification of the JCPA was through one last symbolic act of defiance against the so-called “Great Satan” known as America; it would appear the missile test was to tell the Americans and perhaps the Saudi’s “we are not weak” but it is more likely the test, again, was a calculated move on the part of the Rouhani administration to bolster its position at home.

The biggest question is how the Congress will react. The JCPA doesn’t have universal support by any means; and now with the Iranian test the hawks in Washington can argue Iran is even less trustworthy than previously thought. Obama, however, can make the argument that the success of the JCPA doesn’t depend upon trust but upon verification, i.e. according to the agreement inspectors will ensure Iran complies with the details of the deal. Nonetheless, some American leaders continue to oppose the deal; Obama has promised to use his presidential veto if the Congress doesn’t ratify the plan; however, the presidential veto can be over-ridden by a super-majority in the Senate (if 67 senators, out of the available 100, reject the deal the agreement would be killed).

If the Iranian missile test has a lesson to impart it is this: we should be careful not to take a government’s or a leader’s actions at face value.

Three Girls & A Guy Election Night Facebook Chat

Read as the cast shares the contents of their Facebook chat conversation on the night of the election.


Rick: Liberal minority govt at least


Jess: if the projections hold, good chance of majority.


Alaine: I’m just obsessed with refreshing the results websites.


Lea: Nooooo, don’t give the Libs a majority……..Me too Alaine haha. Sitting here drinking some cider to take the nerves off the election haha.


Jess: I hate to say it sugar, but it’s looking very very very possible. Haha oh jesus of course Saskatchewan and Alberta are still mostly blue


Alaine: Lmao sooooo blue.


Jess: I still think that Saskatchewan doesn’t have enough ridings. I get why they’re huge chunks but I don’t think it allows for fair representation of the vote. Maybe that’s just because my vote, and all my NDP card carrying friends’ votes always seems to get buried.


Rick: Sask has gone almost entirely redneck


Jess: Has been for a long time. Which is quite a shift from a few decades ago where they were NDP to the max.


Rick: *cat banging head on desk repeatedly emoticon*


Alaine: I love when people say “Look at what NDP did tp Alberta.” Ummm hello they were in ruins BEFORE their provincial election that’s WHY they reached out to NDP.


Jess: No shit, hey? Now that I live here I can tell you, the NDP hate is VERY real.


Alaine: Ridiculous.


Jess: Mmhmm. It’s like people who turned on Obama for Obama care. ISN’T THIS WHAT YOU WANTED?!


Lea: Pft, people in SK hate NDP too. The way rig guys talk about them, yikes.

Although Tommy Douglas was the father of universal health care here was he not??? Short memories much????

I would really love to see the FN votes sweep some orange into the mix.


Jess: Haha exactly! And I’ve never quite understood that strong anti-NDP sentiment. I think it relates to that reductive form of political awareness we were talking about (memes reducing a party to an unfair reduced representation of their platform). People have this idea of what the NDP is that, I think is largely uninformed.


Lea: I agree.


Jess: Welp, my riding is Conservative. But he’s actually a decent dude.


Alaine: Tom Mulcair lost when he pulled out of the English debate. I honestly think that was the turning point.


Jess: I think so. He had momentum, and at the end it all went Liberal. Nice seeing orange on the west coast though!

No Greens anywhere frown emoticon le sigh


Alaine: CBC says Elizabeth May is going to win in her riding.


Jess: Oh good! GOOD. CBC just asked a question I can’t wait to have answered. They were asking what analysts think Harper is gonna do now that he lost to Trudeau, who he considers “below him” as a competitor. Fascinating, I honestly hadn’t even thought about it


Alaine: LOL I’m a terrible person. I’m definitely picturing Harper crying himself to sleep tonight in a fetal position.


Jess: I SOOOOOO hope that happens.


Jess: I hope he feels crushed. Cuz he’s so high on himself, he needs to come down about 8 million pegs.


Alaine: Lol a lesson in humility.




Alaine: Justin Trudeau was born during Pierre’s reign….meanwhile Harper was working in the mailroom for an oil company.



Jess: Interesting!


Alaine: At least we can all get legally high now. Maybe I can start up the first pot brownie coffee cafe in Saskatoon


Jess: I’m thinking for the pod, maybe for posterity sake we should do another rundown of Liberal platform/campaign promises. Maybe compare it with the Conservatives.


Alaine: Maybe a quick run down. I think people are getting sick of it tbh.


Lea: Yeah there’s that I guess Lol. Good idea Jess. And yup, Elizabeth May won in her riding.


Jess: Just a genuinely quick reminder. I can do it. I was one of 673 people to vote Green here. We had over 15000 voters in my riding


Alaine: 673 is a lot though!


Jess: I’m actually pretty happy. And happy with my vote, after the fact.


Alaine: Green will gain momentum.


Lea: hope so. My riding was overwhelmingly blue /blech


Jess: Oh my god, everyone, we interviewed our Conservative MP as part of our radio coverage tonight. He’s pretty f**king legit. It’s hard to admit, but he’s definitely the best candidate for this riding.


Alaine: Can we listen to it?


Jess: I don’t think so :S I don’t have access to the logger, or any of our newsroom content frown emoticon


Alaine: Dang


Jess: This is an interesting feeling. Oh my god Harper’s coming on the CBC soon!


Rick: I feel bad for Harper….


Alaine: He had a good run.


Rick: He did. Then he had to be put down.


Alaine: Lol. That’s what happens when you’re not winning races. Take him behind the old barn shed.


Jess: Haha! oh myyy


Rick: I keep playing the ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ song in my head….sort of fixated on it like Mozart was on the high E note.


Lea: I didn’t think I’d be excited as I was when Jack Layton was running but I didn’t expect I’d be this disappointed, either. I really thought the NDP had a better chance.. I really hope Justin isn’t as bad as my gut tells me..

BUT. Harper is gone. Which is the main thing.


Jess: Yeah I’m celebrating…and then waiting to see what Trueau will do


Lea: I don’t think /he’s/ bad, I just don’t think the Liberals are as big a change as everyone thinks. Which, like you and I have already noted and discussed, is exactly why so many votes went their way.


Jess: Yep. I’m hoping it’s a small step in the right direction. Although with a Conservative opposition, I think it will indeed be a small step.


Alaine: It was truly an amazing campaign. Trudeau rolled up his sleeves and worked really hard the entire time. Sometimes people who you would think would be entitled actually strive harder to prove that they are worth supporting. I hope this is the case


Lea: I think alaine, in particular, would enjoy this



Alaine: Bonus: he is easy on the eyes


Lea: Yeah he certainly is good looking.


Jess: Haha it’s true. Can’t deny it. I’m feeling fairly optimistic, too. I like his personal character. We’ll see if he holds up when it comes down to the tough stuff


Alaine: Love it.


Rick: NDP were never really in contention. People weren’t supporting them out of conviction so much as to bloc the Conservatives.


Alaine: I just don’t think Mulcair was a strong enough leader. He wasn’t inspiring.


Lea: They were in contention though, they were the opposition until Mulcair dropped out of the debate. And yeah.. I think it’s super hard to follow after someone like Jack Layton.

F**k I wish he would’ve lived and served this country. I truly believed in him.


Jess: That’s something else that I’m hoping comes up tomorrow. What do you think would have happen if he hadn’t died?

Cuz he had GENUINE momentum when he died.


Alaine: Layton was a leader you could love and believe in. Man I adored that guy.


Lea: Yeah he really did. Me too Alaine.


Jess: I think we’d be looking at a VERY different situation if he were here.


Rick: They were in contention due to circumstances. Circumstances changed and they disappeared.

However, Layton still around and we might have a different outcome. Layton certainly would have been seen as the better choice between he and Trudeau.


Alaine: I remember watching Layton on YTV when I was young, he was taking the time to play some silly games and just talking to kids about how important they are. It really made an impact on me.


Jess: I was late to the game in following Latyon. I think he could have inspired me to actually join the NDP party though with enough time. I kind of feel bad for Mulcair, cuz how do you step into that?!


Alaine: Lose weight. Shave.

My grandma always said “Never trust a fat politician. ”


Rick: He has no pupils.


Alaine: Hahaha


Rick: Mulcair has horse eyes.


Lea: I think we wouldn’t have embarrassed ourselves globally quite as much with Layton!


Rick: Ever seen Pinhead from Hell Raiser? That’s Mulcair.


Alaine: I read one attack ad “What’s he hiding behind that beard.” Lmao


Rick: Heh.


Jess: You’re right. Mulcair’s eyes are weird. And unnerving.


Rick: My wife thought he has the weirdest smile. He couldn’t smile–so wooden.


Alaine: I think they tried to make him look kind but I always thought he had “beady little eyes.”


Jess: Yep. It was weird. His lack of charisma sure didn’t help him.


Alaine: Oh he’s on now


Lea: Mulcair is way more normal looking than Harper. Like srsly.


Alaine: Hey he mentioned Saskatoon.


Jess: Cuz of that SINGLE NDP riding in the prairies


Rick: I am making eye contact with Mulcair….and I feel my soul being sucked into the television.


Jess: Haha not as much as it would if you were doing that with Harper. Mulcair makes me uneasy. Harper gives me the chills


Alaine: Mulcair could sell used cars to grandmothers.


Jess: Do you know what kinda sucks though. I find him well-spoken. Just the rhetoric is delivered from that weird face.


Rick: Harper is whiter than me. That’s saying something.


Jess: Bahaha!


Rick: Mulcair is a good man. Just is leading a party with a lot of historical baggage.


Jess: Mmhmm. I generally like him.


Alaine: Mulcair has a nice voice. If I had to give him a compliment.


Rick: Only girls text mmmhmmmm. I have noticed.

Why is that?


Jess: I donno. I kinda text like I talk. I use mmhmm. It’s a mild, appeasing form of agreement.


Rick: I think it is cool. More of a ‘socially’ conducive way of speaking compared to just text and emojis alone.

I am going to publish this conversation tonight to the blog with your permission. For context and content. Plus you guys are dorks…



Podcast Episode 1: Canada Election 2015

Peasants & Emperors is a podcast presenting topics related to democracy, science, culture, women’s issues, current events and critical thinking. A new podcast is produced and available for listening/download approximately every two weeks.

In episode one, join Alaine, Lea, Jessica and Rick as they introduce themselves to listeners while sharing their insights into the platforms of the various political parties running in Canada’s 2015 election.

Episode 1: Canada Election 2015

Click on the hyperlink above to download and listen to the podcast. Feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below. One of the cast members will respond.

Thanks in advance for listening and check back regularly for updates to the site and podcast.

Episode Corrections
1. During this podcast it was communicated Canada historically never turns refugees away. In reality Canada did turn away hundreds of Jews fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Jews, like Muslim refugees fleeing Syria today, were rejected or feared primarily because of the perceived negative impacts of allowing them in to Canada. Canada’s prime minister at the time, Mackenzie King, and his Minister of Immigration, Frederick Blair, were not sympathetic to the plight of the Jews. Approximately 200 of the Jewish refugees seeking asylum in Canada returned to Europe where they eventually perished in the Nazi death camps.

2. Rick referred to Canada’s Minister of Finance as John Oliver (a comedian); he meant to say Joe Oliver (a humorless individual).

3. Lea communicated that the Green Party seemed to have the best platform in regards to relations with First Nations but an article published Oct. 15, by CBC News, states otherwise. The Assembly of First Nations released its assessment of the four main parties’ platforms and it is actually the NDP who received full marks in all six categories for a “comprehensive response to First Nations priorities”. The Liberals are 5/6 and Greens 4/6, both having incompletes in support, and for the latter both support and funding, of indiginous languages. The Conservatives are 0/6 as they did not give a formal response to the priorities laid out by the AFN.