UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says

Felicity Carus

Wednesday 2 June 2010

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.

Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: “Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products – livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides.”

Both energy and agriculture need to be “decoupled” from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.

Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: “Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation.”

The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.

Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, says the report, which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on Saturday.

Last year the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth.

Prof Hertwich, who is also the director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western world’s pattern of increasing consumption: “Developing countries should not follow our model. But it’s up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods.”

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[VIDEO] RSA ANIMATE: we are Homo Empathicus — author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society.

This lecture was given at the Royal Society of Arts in London (The RSA) and was commissioned by them as part of their “RSAnimation” series of videos.

“Your sense of being a separate entity from the rest of the universe is just an illusion. You were born from the fundamental laws of the universe, time, space, particles, atoms, molecules and cells. You are nothing more or nothing less than the universe itself. Your brain is merely observing and unfolding the universe using your physical body as the vantage point. Think of yourself as nothing more than a complex subprogram within the game “Universe 1.0″.”

–Anon from Helsinki

Jeremy Rifkin

Author of ‘The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis

January 11, 2010

‘The Empathic Civilization’: Rethinking Human Nature in the Biosphere Era

Two spectacular failures, separated by only 18 months, marked the end of the modern era. In July 2008, the price of oil on world markets peaked at $147/ barrel, inflation soared, the price of everything from food to gasoline skyrocketed, and the global economic engine shut off. Growing demand in the developed nations, as well as in China, India, and other emerging economies, for diminishing fossil fuels precipitated the crisis. Purchasing power plummeted and the global economy collapsed. That was the earthquake that tore asunder the industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels. The failure of the financial markets two months later was merely the aftershock. The fossil fuel energies that make up the industrial way of life are sunsetting and the industrial infrastructure is now on life support.

In December 2009, world leaders from 192 countries assembled in Copenhagen to address the question of how to handle the accumulated entropy bill of the fossil fuel based industrial revolution-the spent C0₂ that is heating up the planet and careening the earth into a catastrophic shift in climate. After years of preparation, the negotiations broke down and world leaders were unable to reach a formal accord.

Neither the world’s political or business leaders anticipated the economic debacle of July 2008, nor were they able to cobble together a sufficient plan for economic recovery in the months since. They were equally inept at addressing the issue of climate change, despite the fact that the scientific community warns that is poses the greatest threat to our species in its history, that we are running out of time, and that we may even be facing the prospect of our own extinction.

The problem runs deeper than the issue of finding new ways to regulate the market or imposing legally binding global green house gas emission reduction targets. The real crisis lies in the set of assumptions about human nature that governs the behavior of world leaders–assumptions that were spawned during the Enlightenment more than 200 years ago at the dawn of the modern market economy and the emergence of the nation state era.

The Enlightenment thinkers–John Locke, Adam Smith, Marquis de Condorcet et. al.–took umbrage with the Medieval Christian world view that saw human nature as fallen and depraved and that looked to salvation in the next world through God’s grace. They preferred to cast their lot with the idea that human beings’ essential nature is rational, detached, autonomous, acquisitive and utilitarian and argued that individual salvation lies in unlimited material progress here on Earth.

The Enlightenment notions about human nature were reflected in the newly minted nation-state whose raison d’être was to protect private property relations and stimulate market forces as well as act as a surrogate of the collective self-interest of the citizenry in the international arena. Like individuals, nation-states were considered to be autonomous agents embroiled in a relentless battle with other sovereign nations in the pursuit of material gains.

It was these very assumptions that provided the philosophical underpinnings for a geopolitical frame of reference that accompanied the first and second industrial revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. These beliefs about human nature came to the fore in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown and in the boisterous and acrimonious confrontations in the meeting rooms in Copenhagen, with potentially disastrous consequences for the future of humanity and the planet.

If human nature is as the Enlightenment philosophers claimed, then we are likely doomed. It is impossible to imagine how we might create a sustainable global economy and restore the biosphere to health if each and every one of us is, at the core of our biology, an autonomous agent and a self-centered and materialistic being.

Recent discoveries in brain science and child development, however, are forcing us to rethink these long-held shibboleths about human nature. Biologists and cognitive neuroscientists are discovering mirror-neurons–the so-called empathy neurons–that allow human beings and other species to feel and experience another’s situation as if it were one’s own. We are, it appears, the most social of animals and seek intimate participation and companionship with our fellows.

Social scientists, in turn, are beginning to reexamine human history from an empathic lens and, in the process, discovering previously hidden strands of the human narrative which suggests that human evolution is measured not only by the expansion of power over nature, but also by the intensification and extension of empathy to more diverse others across broader temporal and spatial domains. The growing scientific evidence that we are a fundamentally empathic species has profound and far-reaching consequences for society, and may well determine our fate as a species.

What is required now is nothing less than a leap to global empathic consciousness and in less than a generation if we are to resurrect the global economy and revitalize the biosphere. The question becomes this: what is the mechanism that allows empathic sensitivity to mature and consciousness to expand through history?

The pivotal turning points in human consciousness occur when new energy regimes converge with new communications revolutions, creating new economic eras. The new communications revolutions become the command and control mechanisms for structuring, organizing and managing more complex civilizations that the new energy regimes make possible. For example, in the early modern age, print communication became the means to organize and manage the technologies, organizations, and infrastructure of the coal, steam, and rail revolution. It would have been impossible to administer the first industrial revolution using script and codex.

Communication revolutions not only manage new, more complex energy regimes, but also change human consciousness in the process. Forager/hunter societies relied on oral communications and their consciousness was mythologically constructed. The great hydraulic agricultural civilizations were, for the most part, organized around script communication and steeped in theological consciousness. The first industrial revolution of the 19th century was managed by print communication and ushered in ideological consciousness. Electronic communication became the command and control mechanism for arranging the second industrial revolution in the 20th century and spawned psychological consciousness.

Each more sophisticated communication revolution brings together more diverse people in increasingly more expansive and varied social networks. Oral communication has only limited temporal and spatial reach while script, print and electronic communications each extend the range and depth of human social interaction.

By extending the central nervous system of each individual and the society as a whole, communication revolutions provide an evermore inclusive playing field for empathy to mature and consciousness to expand. For example, during the period of the great hydraulic agricultural civilizations characterized by script and theological consciousness, empathic sensitivity broadened from tribal blood ties to associational ties based on common religious affiliation. Jews came to empathize with Jews, Christians with Christians, Muslims with Muslims, etc. In the first industrial revolution characterized by print and ideological consciousness, empathic sensibility extended to national borders, with Americans empathizing with Americans, Germans with Germans, Japanese with Japanese and so on. In the second industrial revolution, characterized by electronic communication and psychological consciousness, individuals began to identify with like-minded others.

Today, we are on the cusp of another historic convergence of energy and communication–a third industrial revolution–that could extend empathic sensibility to the biosphere itself and all of life on Earth. The distributed Internet revolution is coming together with distributed renewable energies, making possible a sustainable, post-carbon economy that is both globally connected and locally managed.

In the 21st century, hundreds of millions–and eventually billions–of human beings will transform their buildings into power plants to harvest renewable energies on site, store those energies in the form of hydrogen and share electricity, peer-to-peer, across local, regional, national and continental inter-grids that act much like the Internet. The open source sharing of energy, like open source sharing of information, will give rise to collaborative energy spaces–not unlike the collaborative social spaces that currently exist on the Internet.

When every family and business comes to take responsibility for its own small swath of the biosphere by harnessing renewable energy and sharing it with millions of others on smart power grids that stretch across continents, we become intimately interconnected at the most basic level of earthly existence by jointly stewarding the energy that bathes the planet and sustains all of life.

The new distributed communication revolution not only organizes distributed renewable energies, but also changes human consciousness. The information communication technologies (ICT) revolution is quickly extending the central nervous system of billions of human beings and connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathy to flourish on a global scale, for the first time in history.

Whether in fact we will begin to empathize as a species will depend on how we use the new distributed communication medium. While distributed communications technologies-and, soon, distributed renewable energies – are connecting the human race, what is so shocking is that no one has offered much of a reason as to why we ought to be connected. We talk breathlessly about access and inclusion in a global communications network but speak little of exactly why we want to communicate with one another on such a planetary scale. What’s sorely missing is an overarching reason that billions of human beings should be increasingly connected. Toward what end? The only feeble explanations thus far offered are to share information, be entertained, advance commercial exchange and speed the globalization of the economy. All the above, while relevant, nonetheless seem insufficient to justify why nearly seven billion human beings should be connected and mutually embedded in a globalized society. The idea of even billion individual connections, absent any overall unifying purpose, seems a colossal waste of human energy. More important, making global connections without any real transcendent purpose risks a narrowing rather than an expanding of human consciousness. But what if our distributed global communication networks were put to the task of helping us re-participate in deep communion with the common biosphere that sustains all of our lives?

The biosphere is the narrow band that extends some forty miles from the ocean floor to outer space where living creatures and the Earth’s geochemical processes interact to sustain each other. We are learning that the biosphere functions like an indivisible organism. It is the continuous symbiotic relationships between every living creature and between living creatures and the geochemical processes that ensure the survival of the planetary organism and the individual species that live within its biospheric envelope. If every human life, the species as a whole, and all other life-forms are entwined with one another and with the geochemistry of the planet in a rich and complex choreography that sustains life itself, then we are all dependent on and responsible for the health of the whole organism. Carrying out that responsibility means living out our individual lives in our neighborhoods and communities in ways that promote the general well-being of the larger biosphere within which we dwell. The Third Industrial Revolution offers just such an opportunity.

If we can harness our empathic sensibility to establish a new global ethic that recognizes and acts to harmonize the many relationships that make up the life-sustaining forces of the planet, we will have moved beyond the detached, self-interested and utilitarian philosophical assumptions that accompanied national markets and nation state governance and into a new era of biosphere consciousness. We leave the old world of geopolitics behind and enter into a new world of biosphere politics, with new forms of governance emerging to accompany our new biosphere awareness.

The Third Industrial Revolution and the new era of distributed capitalism allow us to sculpt a new approach to globalization, this time emphasizing continentalization from the bottom up. Because renewable energies are more or less equally distributed around the world, every region is potentially amply endowed with the power it needs to be relatively self-sufficient and sustainable in its lifestyle, while at the same time interconnected via smart grids to other regions across countries and continents.

When every community is locally empowered, both figuratively and literally, it can engage directly in regional, transnational, continental, and limited global trade without the severe restrictions that are imposed by the geopolitics that oversee elite fossil fuels and uranium energy distribution.

Continentalization is already bringing with it a new form of governance. The nation-state, which grew up alongside the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, and provided the regulatory mechanism for managing an energy regime whose reach was the geosphere, is ill suited for a Third Industrial Revolution whose domain is the biosphere. Distributed renewable energies generated locally and regionally and shared openly–peer to peer–across vast contiguous land masses connected by intelligent utility networks and smart logistics and supply chains favor a seamless network of governing institutions that span entire continents.

The European Union is the first continental governing institution of the Third Industrial Revolution era. The EU is already beginning to put in place the infrastructure for a European-wide energy regime, along with the codes, regulations, and standards to effectively operate a seamless transport, communications, and energy grid that will stretch from the Irish Sea to the doorsteps of Russia by midcentury. Asian, African, and Latin American continental political unions are also in the making and will likely be the premier governing institutions on their respective continents by 2050.

In this new era of distributed energy, governing institutions will more resemble the workings of the ecosystems they manage. Just as habitats function within ecosystems, and ecosystems within the biosphere in a web of interrelationships, governing institutions will similarly function in a collaborative network of relationships with localities, regions, and nations all embedded within the continent as a whole. This new complex political organism operates like the biosphere it attends, synergistically and reciprocally. This is biosphere politics.

The new biosphere politics transcends traditional right/left distinctions so characteristic of the geopolitics of the modern market economy and nation-state era. The new divide is generational and contrasts the traditional top-down model of structuring family life, education, commerce, and governance with a younger generation whose thinking is more relational and distributed, whose nature is more collaborative and cosmopolitan, and whose work and social spaces favor open-source commons. For the Internet generation, “quality of life” becomes as important as individual opportunity in fashioning a new dream for the 21st century.

The transition to biosphere consciousness has already begun. All over the world, a younger generation is beginning to realize that one’s daily consumption of energy and other resources ultimately affects the lives of every other human being and every other creature that inhabits the Earth.

The Empathic Civilization is emerging. A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?

This blog post has been adapted from Jeremy Rifkin’s new book ‘The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis’ (Tarcher/Penguin; January 2010)

Jeremy Rifkin (born 1945Denver, Colorado), founder and president of the Foundation On Economic Trends, is an American economist, writer, public speaker and activist. Rifkin’s work explores the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment.

Jeremy Rifkin was born in Denver, Colorado in 1945, to Vivette Ravel Rifkin and Milton Rifkin, a plastic-bag manufacturer. He grew up on the southwest side of Chicago.

He earned a BS in economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1967. He was a self-described, “party animal”, and also class president. He had an epiphany when one day in 1966 he walked past a group of students picketing the administration building and was amazed to see, as he recalls, that “my frat friends were beating the living daylights out of them. I got very upset.” He organized a freedom-of-speech rally the next day. From then on, Rifkin quickly became an active member of the peace movement.

He went on to obtain his masters degree in international affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1969.

Rifkin pursued anti-war activities at Fletcher, and avoided the Vietnam War by joining VISTA, although he jokingly claimed that he instead “saw action” as an unpaid tutor in the Brooklyn and East Harlem ghetto neighborhoods of New York City.

In 1977, with Ted Howard, he founded the Foundation on Economic Trends. He works out of an office in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.[1]

Since 1994, Rifkin has been a senior lecturer at The Wharton School’s executive education program at the University of Pennsylvania, where he instructs CEOs and senior corporate management from around the world on new trends in science and technology.[2]

He is married to Carol Grunewald.

Scientists Cite Fastest Case of Human Evolution

New York Times

By NICHOLAS WADE
July 1, 2010

Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40 percent less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.

Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science.

If confirmed, this would be the most recent known example of human evolutionary change. Until now, the most recent such change was the spread of lactose tolerance — the ability to digest milk in adulthood — among northern Europeans about 7,500 years ago. But archaeologists say that the Tibetan plateau was inhabited much earlier than 3,000 years ago and that the geneticists’ date is incorrect.

When lowlanders try to live at high altitudes, their blood thickens as the body tries to counteract the low oxygen levels by churning out more red blood cells. This overproduction of red blood cells leads to chronic mountain sickness and to lesser fertility — Han Chinese living in Tibet have three times the infant mortality of Tibetans.

The Beijing team analyzed the 3 percent of the human genome in which known genes lie in 50 Tibetans from two villages at an altitude of 14,000 feet and in 40 Han Chinese from Beijing, which is 160 feet above sea level. Many genes exist in a population in alternative versions. The biologists found about 30 genes in which a version rare among the Han had become common among the Tibetans. The most striking instance was a version of a gene possessed by 9 percent of Han but 87 percent of Tibetans.

Such an enormous difference indicates that the version typical among Tibetans is being strongly favored by natural selection. In other words, its owners are evidently leaving more children than those with different versions of the gene.

The gene in question is known as hypoxia-inducible factor 2-alpha, or HIF2a, and the Tibetans with the favored version have fewer red blood cells and hence less hemoglobin in their blood.

The finding explains why Tibetans do not get mountain sickness but raises the question of how they compensate for the lack of oxygen if not by making extra red blood cells.

Two other studies of Tibetans’ adaptation to high altitude have also identified this gene as a target of selection. A team led by Tatum S. Simonson of the University of Utah and RiLi Ge of Qinghai University in China scanned the genomes of 31 Tibetans and reported in Science in May that HIF2a and other genes involved in red blood cell production bore the stamp of natural selection.

Independently, a group led by Cynthia M. Beall, an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University, and Yong-Tang Zheng of the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China has detected a genetic change in the same gene in Tibetans and found that it correlated with having less hemoglobin in the blood. Their report was published in the June 22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Human adaptation to high altitude is a field of obvious interest, but another reason for the appearance of three studies on the same subject in matter of a few weeks may be that the technology to assess which parts of the genome are under selection has only recently become available.

The three new reports agree in finding the Tibetans’ version of the gene has been favored by natural selection. But the Beijing Genome Institute’s calculation that the Tibetan and Han populations split apart only 3,000 years ago is less likely to be accepted. Archaeologists say they believe that the Tibetan plateau has been inhabited for at least 7,000 years and maybe for as long as 21,000 years.

“The separation of Tibetans and Hans at 3,000 years ago is simply not tenable by anything we know from the historical, archaeological or linguistic record,” said Mark Aldenderfer, a Tibetan expert at the University of California, Merced.

Dr. Aldenderfer said that there had probably been many migrations onto the Tibetan plateau, and that there was indirect evidence that pastoralists had entered the plateau from the north-northeast around 6,000 years ago. Earlier genetic studies have found that Tibetans are more similar to northern Han than to those from southern China, and have some admixture of genes from Central Asia, he said.

Geneticists have a more elastic view of dates than do archaeologists, and the estimate of a Han-Tibetan population split at 3,000 years ago could probably have been adjusted to 6,000 if the geneticists had taken any account of any other kind of evidence.

Rasmus Nielsen, a Danish researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, did the statistical calculations for the Beijing study. “We feel fairly confident that something on the order of 3,000 years is correct,” he said. But in a later e-mail message, Dr. Nielsen said, “I cannot with confidence rule out that the divergence time is 6,000 instead of 3,000.”

There is similar flexibility in the estimates of population sizes. The Beijing team calculates that at the time of divergence there were only 288 Han Chinese and 22,642 Tibetans. These estimates have bewildered archaeologists, given that rice cultivation in southern China started 10,000 years ago and that there was an extensive civilization by 3,000 years ago. Dr. Nielsen said that the figure of 288 people was meant simply to indicate a bottleneck in the Han population, meaning a time when it was very small, and that this bottleneck could just as easily have occurred 10,000 years ago.

Genetic differences between Tibetans and Chinese are a potentially delicate issue, given Tibetan aspirations for political autonomy. Dr. Nielsen said he hoped that the Beijing team’s results would carry no political implications, given that it is cultural history and language, not genetics, that constitute a people. There is not much genetic difference between Danes and Swedes, he added, but Denmark and Sweden are separate countries.

When scholars get to feeling expansive, they call today’s migration networks a challenge to the order set by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which established the territorial sovereignty of the nation-state. Judging by the wall rising along the Mexican border, nation-states do not appear to be going away. Their people, increasingly, do.

The New York Times

Jason DeParle

June 25, 2010

GORDON BROWN’S rant about a “bigoted” voter sped his exit from the British prime minister’s post. What punctured his cool? Her complaint about immigrants. When an earthquake shattered Haiti, Dominicans sent soldiers and Americans sent ships — to discourage potential immigrants. The congressman who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama was upset about immigrants. “Birthers” think Mr. Obama is an immigrant.

There was also the Hamas rocket that landed in Israel this spring, killing a farmworker. Not so unusual, except that the worker was Thai.

Perhaps no force in modern life is as omnipresent yet overlooked as global migration, that vehicle of creative destruction that is reordering ever more of the world. Overlooked? A skeptic may well question the statement, given how often the topic makes news and how divisive the news can be. After all, Arizona’s campaign against illegal immigrants, codified in an April law, set off high-decibel debates from Melbourne to Madrid. But migration also shapes the landscape beneath the seemingly unrelated events of the headlines. It is a story-behind-the-story, a complicating tide, in issues as diverse as school bond fights and efforts to isolate Iran. (Seeking allies in Latin America this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had to emphasize the dangers of a nuclear-armed Tehran while fending off complaints about the Arizona law.)

Even people who study migration for a living struggle to fully grasp its effects. “Politically, socially, economically, culturally — migration bubbles up everywhere,” James F. Hollifield, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said. “We often don’t recognize it.”

What prompted Google to close an office in China, rather than accept government censorship? Many factors, no doubt. But among those cited by Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, was the repression his family suffered during his childhood in the Soviet Union before they immigrated to the United States.

One realm where migration has particularly powerful if largely unstated effects is school financePolitical scientists have found that white voters are more likely to oppose spending plans when they perceive the main beneficiaries to be children of immigrants (especially illegal immigrants). The outcome, of course, affects all children, immigrant or 10th generation.

“When you get increased diversity, you weaken support for the common good,” said Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.

Professor Myers studied Proposition 55, a 2004 ballot initiative in California that sought $12.3 billion in bond sales to relieve overcrowding and upgrade older schools. Publicly, most opponents framed their concerns in economic terms, saying the government wasted money and ran unsustainable debts. Still, anger about illegal immigration was, as one opponent put it, the “elephant in the living room.” School crowding, he wrote in a letter to The Riverside Press Enterprise, was “solely caused by America’s foolish open-borders policy.”

Holding all else equal (like other political views), Professor Myers found, voters who saw immigration as a burden were nearly 9 percentage points more likely to oppose the measure than those who called immigration a benefit. “That’s a big effect — it was almost enough to take it down,” he said. The measure squeaked through, with barely 50 percent of the vote.

Immigration also quickened the bitter split in the American labor movement. In 2005, a half dozen unions left the venerable A.F.L.-C.I.O. to form a rival federation, Change to Win. (The dissident unions included the Service Employees International Union and UniteHere.)

On the surface, the fight was mostly about the pace of organizing, with the breakaway group pledging more aggressive moves to enlist members. But the dissidents also counted more low-wage immigrants in their membership.

As Daniel B. Cornfield, a labor scholar at Vanderbilt University, said, the immigrants’ marginal (and sometimes illegal) status created a constituency for a more aggressive approach. “I don’t think it was a split about immigration, but immigration shaped the split,” he said.

The split, in turn, has had repercussions beyond the labor movement. Janice Fine, a political scientist at Rutgers University, noted that the Change to Win unions played an important (some have argued decisive) role in the early stages of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.

“If they were inside the larger bureaucracy, it would have been harder for them to make an early endorsement and move money his way,” Professor Fine said.

Theorists sometimes call the movement of people the third wave of globalization, after the movement of goods (trade) and the movement of money (finance) that began in the previous century. But trade and finance follow global norms and are governed by global institutions: the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. There is no parallel group with “migration” in its name. The most personal and perilous form of movement is the most unregulated. States make (and often ignore) their own rules, deciding who can come, how long they stay, and what rights they enjoy.

While global trade and finance are disruptive — some would argue as much as migration — they are disruptive in less visible ways. A shirt made in Mexico can cost an American worker his job. A worker from Mexico might move next door, send his children to public school and need to be spoken to in Spanish.

One reason migration seems so potent is that it arose unexpectedly. As recently as the 1970s, immigration seemed of such little importance that the United States Census Bureau decided to stop asking people where their parents were born. Now, a quarter of the residents of the United States under 18 are immigrants or immigrants’ children.

The United Nations estimates that there are 214 million migrants across the globe, an increase of about 37 percent in two decades. Their ranks grew by 41 percent in Europe and 80 percent in North America. “There’s more mobility at this moment than at any time in world history,” said Gary P. Freeman, a political scientist at the University of Texas.

The most famous source countries in Europe — Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain — are suddenly migrant destinations, with Ireland electing a Nigerian-born man as its first black mayor in 2007.

As heirs to an immigrant past, Americans may have an edge in a migrants’ age. As contentious as the issue is here, the Americans’ capacity to absorb immigrants remains the envy of many Europeans (including those not inclined to envy Americans). Still, today’s challenges differ from those of the (mythologized) past. At least five differences set this age apart and amplify migration’s effects.

First is migration’s global reach. The movements of the 19th century were mostly trans-Atlantic. Now, Nepalis staff Korean factories and Mongolians do scut work in Prague. Persian Gulf economies would collapse without armies of guest workers. Even within the United States, immigrants are spread across dozens of “new gateways” unaccustomed to them, from Orlando to Salt Lake City.

A second distinguishing trait is the money involved, which not only sustains the families left behind but props up national economies. Migrants sent home $317 billion last year — three times the world’s total foreign aid. In at least seven countries, remittances account for more than a quarter of the gross domestic product.

A third factor that increases migration’s impact is its feminization: Nearly half of the world’s migrants are now women, and many have left children behind. Their emergence as breadwinners is altering family dynamics across the developing world. Migration empowers some, but imperils others, with sex trafficking now a global concern.

Technology introduces a fourth break from the past: The huddled masses reached Ellis Island without cellphones or Webcams. Now a nanny in Manhattan can talk to her child in Zacatecas, vote in Mexican elections and watch Mexican television shows.

“Transnationalism” is a comfort but also a concern for those who think it impedes integration. In the age of global jihad, it may also be a security threat. The Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty last week to the attempted bombing of Times Square said that jihadi lectures reached him from Yemen, via the Internet.

At least one other trait amplifies the impact of modern migration: The expectation that governments will control it. In America for most of the 19th century, there was no legal barrier to entry. The issue was contentious, but the government attracted little blame. Now Western governments are expected to keep trade and tourism flowing and respect ethnic rights while sealing borders as vast as the Arizona desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Their failures — glaring if perhaps inevitable — weaken the broader faith in federal competence.

“It basically tells people that government cannot do its job,” said Demetri Papademetriou, a co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research group. “It creates the anti-government rhetoric we see, and the anger people are feeling.”

Still, rich, aging countries need workers. People in poor countries need jobs. And the rise in global inequality means that migrants have more than ever to gain by landing work abroad. Migration networks are hard to shut down. Even the worst economy in 70 years has only slowed, not stopped, the growth in migration. And it is likely to grow, in numbers and consequence.

When scholars get to feeling expansive, they call today’s migration networks a challenge to the order set by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which established the territorial sovereignty of the nation-state. Judging by the wall rising along the Mexican border, nation-states do not appear to be going away. Their people, increasingly, do.

Africa poised to give birth to new nation, South Sudan

Globe and Mail

All day, the tanker trucks rumble up to the White Nile. Young men pump filthy water into the tanks, add a dash of chlorine, and then the trucks rumble off to deliver the tainted water to the mud huts of southern Sudan’s biggest city. As soon as they leave, more trucks take their place.

With water sloshing out of their tanks, the trucks roar past a pipe that was installed years ago to fill the tankers with treated water from the municipal system. The pipe is broken and abandoned.

An estimated 80 to 90 per cent of Juba’s household water is taken from the polluted waters of the White Nile, not far from places where foul waste is dumped into the river. As a result, this fast-growing city of a million people is left vulnerable to cholera and other diseases. Cholera outbreaks have erupted almost every year since 2006.

Southern Sudan is one of the poorest and hungriest places in the world, racked by tribal violence, with rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality that rank among the worst on the planet. Yet a year from now, this desperate region is likely to become the world’s newest sovereign country.

Half a century after the colonial era ended, the imminent birth of a new nation in South Sudan is the first real challenge to Africa’s artificial colonial borders. Those borders, drawn up in the 19th century by European officials with no knowledge of Africa’s realities, are still fuelling the wars and conflicts of today. They shape Africa’s future, too, by hampering trade and economic growth.

But by acting as midwife to the birth of a new nation, is the world repeating the same mistakes that it made 50 years ago? Will this “baby nation” be able to swim in the seas of independence?

New borders will not fix Africa’s problems. The splitting of Sudan, promoted for strategic reasons by Washington, will fuel a fresh set of conflicts along the new border. It will create a fragile new country, landlocked and impoverished, with a heavy dependence on foreign aid – just like many of the fledgling countries of half a century ago.

Much of modern Africa is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Seventeen nations, a third of the continent, became independent in 1960. But there is an equally significant anniversary this year: the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Conference, which carved up Africa among the European powers. The decisions of that meeting – the climax of the notorious “Scramble for Africa” – continue to distort Africa to this day.

As the historian Martin Meredith has documented, the colonial boundaries cut randomly through 190 cultural or ethnic groups that had existed for centuries. Nearly half of these borders were geometric lines that were easy to draw, yet had no connection to reality on the ground. Hundreds of diverse ethnic groups were lumped together or torn apart. Some 250 ethnic groups were thrown together in Nigeria alone. Around 10,000 polities – including monarchies, chiefdoms, empires and other societies – were suddenly amalgamated into 40 European colonies or protectorates.

“We have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were,” British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury admitted as the colonial powers grabbed as much as they could.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, these colonial inventions were abruptly given their independence. Ethnic groups, often hand-picked by European powers to administer their colonies, were soon battling for dominance. “Those arbitrary boundaries carried the seeds of much subsequent destruction, notably the terrible national/ethnic wars that have plagued Africa,” said Gerald Caplan, the Canadian activist and author of The Betrayal of Africa. “Sudan is a perfect example, Nigeria another.”

The colonial legacy also paralyzed the economic development of these nations. Because of the colonial borders, 15 of the new nations were landlocked – a heavy barrier to their growth. Most of the new African nations were still oriented to their former colonial masters in Europe, which continued to extract their resources. Even today, only 8 per cent of their trade is within Africa.

The borders have ensured that Africans are still too disconnected from each other. “We have 53 little countries and we are intentionally determined not to communicate and trade and move goods between each other,” said Mo Ibrahim, the billionaire mobile-phone entrepreneur who has become one of Africa’s most influential business leaders.

Sudan was a classic example of the illogical colonial borders. Its two halves had been administered separately, yet they were joined together at independence in 1956. The north was largely Arabic-speaking and Islamic, while the southerners were black tribes of diverse languages who followed traditional religions and Christianity. The northerners, who had often raided the south for slaves, dominated the government of the new country and aggressively promoted Islam in the south. The resentments soon erupted into rebellions and wars that killed millions of people until a peace agreement was finally reached in 2005.

The new nation of South Sudan, almost certain to be born after a referendum on independence in January, would be only the second created in Africa since the end of colonialism (the first was Eritrea). It will become yet another landlocked aid-dependent African nation.

In some of its villages, nearly half of all children are malnourished – the highest rate in the world. An estimated 85 per cent of all health and education services are provided by foreign aid agencies, not by the government. Clashes between tribes and clans killed about 2,500 people last year, and hundreds more have been killed this year. Nearly 400,000 people were forced to flee their homes because of violence last year – twice as many as the year before.

“Simply declaring southern Sudan an independent state will not bring peace and stability,” Mr. Caplan said. “This will be a frail new state indeed. The south is left with deep ethnic divisions and divisive borders that are a recipe for big future trouble.”

Southern Sudan has received $7-billion in oil revenue since the 2005 peace agreement. But corruption has siphoned off much of this money, and the government has given the largest part of its budget to its military and security forces. “The armed forces are way bigger than they should be, and way bigger than anticipated,” said Peter Crowley, director of Unicef’s program in southern Sudan.

In the capital, Juba, there is no electricity grid, no industry, and scarcely any water treatment. Most people live in mud huts, shacks, tents or other temporary dwellings. When the contaminated water from the White Nile is pumped into the tanker trucks, the workers add a bit of chlorine from a jug, but they admit they’re not sure how much to add. Families must pay up to $4 for a barrel of this tainted water. International agencies such as Unicef have been obliged to provide emergency water supplies to prevent more cholera outbreaks.

The independence of southern Sudan will create a new military ally for the United States, but it won’t end the illiteracy, malnutrition, maternal deaths, or disease outbreaks. If the impoverished people of southern Sudan don’t see improvement in their lives, the peace pledges could be jeopardized and the tribal violence could escalate.

“Unless people are able to feel the benefits of peace … the potential of a return to conflict is going to be greater,” Mr. Crowley said. “Why fight to preserve a peace that’s not bringing you any benefit?”

Africa’s deadly backroom abortions

Globe and Mail

An abortion advertisement along a busy street in Soweto, South Africa. Abortion is legal in government-approved clinics in South Africa, but this advertisement is an example of the growing number of unapproved abortion practitioners that are flourishing in the country, often at fly-by-night locations.

In a continent with little access to safe, legal abortion, charlatans prey on those desperate for the procedure, resulting in the deaths of 25,000 women and many more injuries each year

Abortion is strictly outlawed in Tanzania in virtually all circumstances. The word itself is taboo, rarely spoken in polite society. Yet it takes only a few minutes to find a man in the backroom of a slum neighbourhood pharmacy who is quite willing to perform an illegal abortion.

His shabby dispensary is on a dusty street in Manzese, the biggest squatter community in Tanzania’s biggest city. It’s become known as a place for desperate women to go.

The Globe and Mail asked a Tanzanian man to pose as the boyfriend of a young woman wanting an abortion. He was referred to a man in a white coat, in a backroom, who appeared to be a doctor. After a brief warning that the procedure was illegal, the white-coated man began haggling over the price, agreeing eventually to do it for the equivalent of about $18. “It should be done before one o’clock because inspectors pass by in the afternoon,” he told his customer. “The government doesn’t allow it, so don’t tell anyone. It has to be a secret.”

Unsafe abortions, especially those done covertly or illegally, are one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in Africa, killing at least 25,000 women annually and injuring a staggering 1.7 million every year. Many are maimed or killed by horrific “home remedies” that include catheters, roots or herbs placed in their vaginas to induce bleeding.

One-seventh of African deaths in pregnancy and childbirth, and nearly one-fifth in Tanzania, are caused by complications from unsafe abortions. Yet governments in Africa – and Canada – are reluctant to discuss the problem, even as Ottawa puts maternal health on top of the agenda for the G8 summit next month.

For decades, Africa’s crisis of maternal deaths has remained stubbornly intractable, even as the death rate has declined sharply in most Asian countries. More than half of the world’s maternal deaths are now occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with fewer than a quarter in 1980, according to a new study in this month’s Lancet, the British-based medical journal. Of the 20 most dangerous countries for women to give birth in, all but one (Afghanistan) are in Africa.

The failure to reduce Africa’s maternal death rate is partly due to the political and cultural sensitivity of some of the leading causes: abortion, AIDS, early marriage, genital mutilation and the unequal status of women. Many African countries are so culturally conservative that their politicians are unwilling to consider any liberalization of abortion laws – despite strong evidence that illegal abortions are killing and maiming thousands of women.

In Kenya, for example, the country’s new constitution would prohibit abortions in any circumstance except when a woman’s life is in danger. This is essentially the same as Kenya’s current laws. But anti-abortion church groups have lobbied against the constitution, perceiving it as a loosening of the abortion laws, and Kenya’s politicians have been forced to promise that abortions won’t become any easier under the new constitution.

In Tanzania, there’s little discussion of changing the abortion ban. Yet hospitals often see the ghastly results of botched abortions by untrained practitioners. “Very sharp objects are inserted into the vagina to disturb the pregnancy,” said John Bosco Baso, a spokesman for Marie Stopes Tanzania, which runs a network of health clinics here. “The women get infections, they get fever, and some die. Many of them hide it. We only see them at the critical stage, when there’s infection.”

More than 90 per cent of Africans live in countries where abortion is restricted. Abortion is completely prohibited in 14 African countries, and in most others it is permitted only to preserve the life or physical health of the woman. As a result, virtually all of the estimated 5.6 million abortions performed annually in Africa are unsafe. Only about 100,000 are done by properly trained professionals in a safe environment, according to a report last year by the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy organization for sexual and reproductive health.

“In urban areas, people know where to find illegal abortions, and in rural areas they go to quacks,” said Catherine Slater, an official with Marie Stopes South Africa, which provides abortions at 29 government-approved clinics. “I’ve seen gruesome backrooms doing backstreet abortions in Sierra Leone. You wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

Legalizing abortion would be a simple way to reduce the maternal death rate. In South Africa, the number of abortion-related deaths fell by 91 per cent after the procedure was legalized in 1997, according to a Lancet study.

“Making abortion legal, safe and accessible does not appreciably increase demand,” the Lancet study concluded. “Instead, the principal effect is shifting previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones.”

A recent editorial in The Lancet said Canada and the other G8 countries should be challenging the ban on abortion in many developing countries, rather than tacitly supporting it.

Even in South Africa, charlatans and quacks still take advantage of the desperation of uneducated or low-income women who cannot afford to travel to a legal clinic. Advertising leaflets and posters for fly-by-night abortion services are littered across South Africa’s poorest communities, even plastered on the walls of police stations and government offices. In most cases, only a mobile phone number is provided in the advertisements, making it easy for those who offer illegal abortions to escape justice.

“The unsafe abortion market is huge,” said Laila Abbas, a spokeswoman for Marie Stopes. She estimates that hundreds of people are performing illegal abortions in South Africa, and the number keeps rising, even though her organization frequently reports them to the police.

Often the abortionists provide a pill that simply opens the woman’s cervix, she said. “The fetus literally falls out, causing great danger and extensive bleeding, often resulting in death. The unsafe service providers tell the women to go to the nearest public toilet and flush the fetus.”

[VIDEO] BILL HICKS: The Tupac Shakur of Comedy

William Melvin “Bill” Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994) was an American stand-up comedian and satirist. His humor challenged mainstream beliefs, aiming to “enlighten people to think for themselves.”[1] Hicks used a ribald approach to express his material, describing himself as “Chomsky with dick jokes.”[1] His jokes included general discussions about society, religion, politics, philosophy and personal issues. Hicks’ material was often deliberately controversial and steeped in dark comedy. In both his stand-up performances, and during interviews, he often criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity and banality within the media and popular culture, describing them as oppressive tools of the ruling class, meant to “keep people stupid and apathetic.”[2]

Hicks died of pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his liver, in 1994 at the age of 32. In the years after his death, his work and legacy achieved significant admiration and acclaim, of numerous comedians, writers, actors and musicians alike. He was listed as the 19th greatest stand-up comedian of all time by Comedy Central in 2004, and 6th greatest in 2007 and 4th greatest in 2010 by Channel 4.

Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Bill Hicks was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks, and had two elder siblings, Steve and Lynn. The family lived in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey, before settling in Houston, Texas, when Hicks was seven. He was raised in the Southern Baptist faith, where he first began performing as a comedian to other children at Sunday School.[3]

He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about his behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17 but, according to Hicks, after one session the psychoanalyst informed him that “…it’s them, not you.”[3]

In 1978, Hicks, along with friends Slade, Ben Dunn, John S. and Kevin Booth, began performing at the Comedy Workshop in Houston. At first, Hicks was unable to drive to venues independently and was so young that he needed a special work permit to perform. By the autumn of 1978 he had worked his way up to performing once every Tuesday night, while still attending Stratford High School. He was well-received and started developing his improvisational skills, although his act at the time was limited.

In 1986, Hicks found himself broke, but his career received another upturn as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield’s Young Comedians Special, in 1987. The same year, he moved to New York City, and for the next five years he did about 300 performances a year. On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using drugs because “once you’ve been taken aboard a UFO, it’s kind of hard to top that”, although in his performances, he continued to extol the virtues of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms.[4] He fell back to chain-smoking,[5] a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on.

In 1988 Hicks signed on with his first professional business manager, Jack Mondrus. Throughout 1989, Mondrus worked to convince many clubs to book Hicks, promising that the wild drug- and alcohol-induced behavior was behind him. Among the club managers hiring the newly sober Hicks was Colleen McGarr, who would become his girlfriend and fiancée in later years.

In 1989 he released his first video, Sane Man.[6] It was reissued in 2006.

In 1990, Hicks released his first album, Dangerous, performed on the HBO special One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival.[7] He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London’s West End in November (or December[8]). Hicks was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there throughout 1991. That year, he returned to the Just for Laughs festival and recorded his second album, Relentless.

Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marble Head Johnson album in 1992. In November (or December[8]), he toured the UK, where he recorded the Revelations video for Channel 4. He closed the show with “It’s Just a Ride”, one of his most famous and life-affirming philosophies. Also in that tour he recorded the stand-up performance released in its entirety on a double CD titled Salvation. Hicks was voted “Hot Standup Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine. He moved to Los Angeles in early 1993.

Censorship and aftermath

Hicks was constantly facing problems with censorship. In 1984, Hicks was invited to appear on Late Night with David Letterman for the first time. He had a joke that he used frequently in comedy clubs about how he accidentally caused a fellow class-mate to become wheelchair bound. NBC had a policy that no handicapped jokes could be aired on the show, making his stand-up routine difficult to perform without mentioning words such as “wheelchair”. Hicks was disappointed that the TV audience didn’t get to experience the uncensored Bill Hicks that people saw in clubs.[9]

On October 1, 1993, about five months before his death, Hicks was scheduled to appear on Late Show with David Letterman, his twelfth appearance on a Letterman late night show but his entire performance was removed from the broadcast — then the only occasion where a comedian’s entire routine was cut after taping. Hicks’ stand-up routine was removed from the show allegedly because Letterman and his producer were nervous about Hicks’ religious jokes. Hicks said he believed it was due to a pro-life commercial aired during a commercial break.[10] Both the show’s producers and CBS denied responsibility. Hicks expressed his feelings of betrayal in a letter to John Lahr of The New Yorker.[11][12] Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again. The full account of this incident was featured in a New Yorker profile by Lahr[11], which was later published as a chapter in Lahr’s book, Light Fantastic.[13]

Hicks’ mother, Mary, appeared on the January 30, 2009, episode of Late Show. Letterman played Hicks’ routine in its entirety. Letterman took full responsibility for the original censorship and apologized to Mrs. Hicks. Letterman also declared he did not know what he was thinking when he pulled the routine from the original show in 1993. Letterman said, “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill because there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

Cancer diagnosis and death

In April 1993, while touring in Australia, Hicks started complaining of pains in his side, and on June 16 of that year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver.[16] He started receiving weekly chemotherapy, while still touring and also recording his album, Arizona Bay, with Kevin Booth. He was also working with comedian Fallon Woodland on a pilot episode of a new talk show, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and concept had been approved, and a pilot was filmed. The Counts of the Netherworld pilot was shown at the various Tenth Anniversary Tribute Night events around the world on February 26, 2004.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Hicks would often joke openly at performances exclaiming it would be his last. Hicks performed the actual final show of his career at Caroline’s in New York on January 6, 1994. He moved back to his parents’ house in Little Rock, Arkansas, shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye, before he stopped speaking on February 14[citation needed], and re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.[17] He spent time with his parents, playing them the music he loved and showing them documentaries about his interests. He died of cancer in the presence of his parents at 11:20 p.m. on February 26, 1994. He was 32 years old.[18] Hicks was buried in the family plot in Leakesville, Mississippi.

On February 7, 1994, after his diagnosis with cancer, Hicks authored a short statement on his perspective, wishes and thanks of his of life, to be released after his death as his “last word”,[16] ending with the words:

“I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

Comic style

Hicks’s style was a play on his audience’s emotions. He expressed anger, disgust and apathy while addressing the audience in a casual and personal manner, which he likened to merely conversing with his friends, often making eye contact with individual audience members in smaller venues.

Hicks’s material was less focused on the everyday banalities of life and placed greater emphasis on philosophical themes of existence. He would invite his audiences to challenge authority and the existential nature of “accepted truth.” One such message, which he often used in his shows, was delivered in the style of a news report:

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration — that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death; life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves… Here’s Tom with the weather! [19]

Another of Hicks’s most famous quotes was delivered during a gig in Chicago in 1989 (later released as the bootleg I’m Sorry, Folks). After a heckler repeatedly shouted “Free Bird”, Hicks screamed that “Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever!” Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity.[20]

Much of Hicks’s routine involved direct attacks on mainstream society, religion, politics, and consumerism. Asked in a BBC interview why he cannot do a routine that appeals “to everyone”, he said that such an act was impossible. He responded by repeating a comment an audience member once made to him, “We don’t come to comedy to think!”, to which he replied, “Gee! Where do you go to think? I’ll meet you there!” In the same interview, he also said: “My way is half-way between: this is a night-club, and these are adults.” [21]

Hicks often discussed conspiracy theories in his performances, most notably the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He mocked the Warren Report and the official version of Lee Harvey Oswald as a “lone nut assassin.” He also questioned the guilt of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound during the Waco Siege.

Hicks would end some of his shows — and especially those being recorded in front of larger audiences as albums — with a mock “assassination” of himself on stage, making gunshot sound effects into the microphone and falling to the ground.

Legacy

Arizona Bay and Rant in E-Minor were released posthumously in 1997 on the Voices imprint of the Rykodisc label. Dangerous and Relentless were also re-released by Rykodisc on the same date.

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks #13 on their list of “The Top 20 Greatest Comedy Acts Ever”. Likewise, in “Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time” (2004), Hicks was ranked at #19. In March 2007, Channel 4 ran a poll, “The Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of All Time,” in which Hicks was voted #6. Channel 4 renewed this list in April 2010, which saw Hicks move up 2 places to #4.[36]

Devotees of Hicks have incorporated his words, image, and attitude into their own creations. Because of audio sampling, fragments of Hicks’ rants, diatribes, social criticisms, and philosophies have found their way into many musical works, such as the live version of Super Furry Animals’ “Man Don’t Give A Fuck”. His influence on Tool is well documented; he “appears” on the Fila Brazillia album Maim That Tune (1996) and on SPA’s self titled album SPA (1997), which are both dedicated to Hicks; the British band Radiohead’s second album The Bends (1995) is also dedicated to his memory. Singer/songwriter Tom Waits listed Rant in E Minor as one of his 20 most cherished albums of all time.[37] The UK band Shack released an album in August 2003 quoting a Bill Hicks routine in the title: Here’s Tom With the Weather. The album also included other Bill Hicks quotes in the liner notes. English breakbeat artist Adam Freeland sampled Revelations for his track “We Want Your Soul.” Welsh punk rock band Mclusky reference a Hicks routine in the lyrics to their song “To Hell With Good Intentions”. Punk cabaret musician Amanda Palmer says, “I have my new Bill Hicks CD” in the song “Another Year” on her 2008 album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The Swedish indie pop singer/songwriter Jens Lekman has written a song called “People who Hate People Come Together” after the same Hicks quote. The last track of The Kleptones album Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots, Last Words (A Tribute), includes his “It’s just a ride” in its entirety.[citation needed]

Hamell on Trial’s 1999 album Choochtown includes the song “Bill Hicks,” featuring the lyric “I wish Billl Hicks was alive/I wish Bill Hicks had survived,” as well at the instrumental tribute “Bill Hicks (Ascension).”

Rappers Adil Omar and Vinnie Paz have also cited Hicks as an influence to their work; contemporary comedians David Cross and Russell Brand have stated that they were inspired by Hicks.[38][39] Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty is also a great admirer of Hicks.

On their 2009 album There Is No Enemy, Built To Spill released the song “Planting Seeds” with the lyrics “I’ve heard that they’ll sell anything and I think they might…I think Bill Hicks was right…about what they should do.” referring to his stand up routine which asks marketers to kill themselves. The song title refers to a bit in the same routine when Bill explains, “Just planting seeds here, folks.”.

The British film Human Traffic referred to him as the “late prophet Bill Hicks,” and portrays the main character, Jip, watching Hicks’ stand-up before going out to “remind me not to take life too seriously”. Hicks even appears in the comic book Preacher, in which he is an important influence on the protagonist, Rev. Jesse Custer. His opening voice-over to the 1991 Revelations live show is also quoted in Preacher‘s last issue.[citation needed]

The British actor Chas Early portrayed Hicks in the one-man stage show Bill Hicks: Slight Return, which premiered in 2005.

On February 25, 2004, British MP Stephen Pound tabled an early day motion titled “Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks” (EDM 678 of the 2003-04 session), the text of which was as follows:

That this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worth [sic] of inclusion with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.[40]

Film and documentary

A film about Hicks’ life and career, rumored to be directed by Ron Howard, is said to be in pre-production. Russell Crowe has been mentioned as one of the producers and may portray Hicks as well.[41]

A documentary entitled American: The Bill Hicks Story, based on interviews with his family and friends, premiered on March 12, 2010, at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.[42] The film has gone on to screen at multiple festivals including SxSW, London Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest.