Secretary of Ignorance and Blind Devotion

(The Senate has apparently confirmed DeVos as Secretary of Education: Hold onto your hats, this being like cherry-picking the worst traits of BC Ministers of Ed going back to Billy VDZ and rolling them into one Transformer-like incarnation of ignorant waste-laying)

 

Betsy DeVos is DJT’s nominee for Secretary of Education for the US. There are many objections to her confirmation, among them that she simply has no background in education, that she is a corporate shill for privatized education, a neanderthal on social issues, the sister of Erik Prince (Blackwater, Xe of mercenary fame) and part of the New Snopes group infecting the Washington swamp. The floor of the Senate has apparently been occupied overnight by a filibuster looking for time to scrounge up a couple more Republicans to deep-six Betty’s nomination because, in a tie game, Mike Pence casts the deciding vote and he just loves Betty and all that she stands for.

We might all fear, though, the prospect of Betty’s going down to defeat, not because any sane person would want such a nasty piece of work in charge of the indoctrination of the minds of the next generation or two of Deplorables, but because there seems not to be a shortage of plunderers and know-nothings willing to step up and do the bidding of the New Snopes Family (and their backers in the finance, pharma, fossil fuel and arms côteries), and do we have at our disposal the resources to fight every nominee to every cabinet post and every judicial vacancy?

There’s a little line or two from an old tune that I heard on a James Cotton album back in 1968 that intones:

Before I cut you loose, I know I wouldn’t shake that curse.

I’d fine me another little woman who’d be just as bad or worse.

We have the same phenomenon right here at home at various junior levels of government where successive mayors have continued the tradition of seeking to re-establish some of the industrial glory of the late 1970s, or have had to deal with a council that firmly blocked any initiative aimed at taking a different direction. Likewise, there was a time when it might have been thought that Gordon Campbell was the incarnation of all that was most exploitative, corrupt and vengeful, but lo! we have Christy Clark, who most deftly fills the rôle of that “other little woman” who is indeed, just as bad or worse.

Does anyone seriously think that getting rid of Clark would be the end of the corruption woes in BC? The first order of business of any new régime here has to be the legislative blocking, with the very sharp teeth of penalties and enforcement, of the kind of processes that allow money and privilege to magnify its voice at the expense of the common good and thereby, perhaps, decapitate the line-up to succeed Clark’s crowd at the trough.

 

 

 

(Apparently, the tune was written by Mel London and released by Ricky Allen in 1962)

Absurdities, Atrocities

 

As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities. 
 
—Voltaire
It would be no exaggeration to say that absurdities abound in our current social and political realm, and the atrocities, though perhaps somewhat distant and out of the sightlines of those who care to ignore them, are following suit nicely. Syria, Iraq, various South American countries and all over North America with drug wars, oil infrastructure, the sell-off of the commons, the financialization of everything and the rise of the New Selfishness should be enough to convince any sane person that we’ve stepped over a tipping point into something like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and your pick of Kafka’s novels. The responsibility is widespread and manifold: DJT and those who have blown into the Washington vortex as part of his backwash (or advanced guard, depending on your perception of which is the horse and which is the cart )may be more a product than cause, but Republicans of all stripes, as well as mainline Democrats, are very much on the hook for having pursued pretty much the same agenda in favour of the same constituency for decades, with the Dems getting extra credit for acute hypocrisy. The constant fawning over monied interests in pursuit of self-perpetuation in power seems common, even now, in the motivation of both “sides” of the political apparatus.
As Andrew Coyne pointed out in a recent piece about our own PMJT and his broken campaign promises, the fault is also ours for believing the absurdities (such as the idea that an elected politician might actually follow through on stump rhetoric, in this case relating to voting systems). Our behaviour that merits rebuke and reprobation is driven by our ignorance or our sloth, or both, as we don’t generally take the time to be active and informed on the nature of our own governance, sometimes because we just have more gratifying items on the agenda, sometimes because of the conflictual and unpleasant nature of much of the political activity in which we would be called to engage. Same onus for believing in anything but the hollowness of pretty-boy promises, though it must be said that the urgency of expediting an exit for the Harperites might have driven much of the (minority) of votes that JT garnered on his golden path to sunnier days and sunnier ways. Our failure to engage with others on issues of substance, combined with a tsunami of obfuscation and misdirection on the part of most “news” sources ensures that the options at the ballot are likely to be somewhat meaningless. Who knows what might have been better had we elected Angry Tom (anywhere there is Brian Topp, there is unlikely to be much of anything other than back room deals). Thus, we still have corrosive  trade deals, First Nations deprived of the basics of infrastructure that most of us take for granted, pipelines, tankers, fighter aircraft and overseas wars, expensive ancillary health care, rapacious financial institutions lining up at the infrastructure trough and a warped economy to accompany the petty bickering and corruption in legislative assemblies from coast to coast to coast.
Sadly, the time for deep and lengthy dialogue and reflection seems to shorten up constantly as scientific evidence piles up that our existential crises are converging and that their combined tipping points are approaching even more rapidly than we had been given to believe, or perhaps it was just vain hope. Doing nothing, or retreating back into the comfortable cocoon of self-interest are not options, neither does it look like a good option to engage in the kind of aggressive bullying, posturing, nastiness and violence that drives so much of what we call government. meaning that there is almost certain to be a degree of resignation present in any attempt to move people off positions defending a system that is patently in crisis, but that resignation mustn’t preclude steadfastness in whatever attempt is made to leave this place a little better than when it found us.
Valtaire also said, famously:
Il faut cultiver notre jardin. (We must cultivate our garden)
Now here’s what I wanted to contemplate before I go off to chase some of the sustainability, resilience and relocalization that seems so necessary as an antidote to our multilevel Washington-Concensus, Chicago School of Economics, Neo-Liberal, Neo-Conservative, Neo-Fascist way of doing business:
Several decades ago, I bought a used LP at Rohan’s Records on Fourth Avenue in Vancouver, a set by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, for which I paid the princely sum of $1.75, as still attested by the grease pen marking on the front of the jacket. I was initially drawn by the graphics and the name, but likely wouldn’t have bothered to buy it if I hadn’t noticed a couple of names in the liner notes, in particular Rick Schlossen, whom I had recently seen playing with Box Scaggs, and Rick Derringer. So I did buy it, partially because of the star power (my definition) and partly because I knew I could trade it in for most of its face value if it turned out to be a dog. It wasn’t everything I would have liked or anticipated, but it opened up some new doors and has turned out to be a long-time favourite of mine.
This month also brought out a new recording by Bill Kitchen, a twang-master alumnus of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, back in the depths of time. Kirchen’s somewhat virtuoso twanging combines with a sense of humour akin to Amos Garrett and Leo Kottke. I like this stuff a lot even if it’s not my main musical interest. Thing is, his new recording, Transatlanticana, also features keyboardist Austin de Lone, of whom I had never seen mention anywhere, but casting about, I did find a set of recordings he did back in 1991, so , with Kirchen’s de facto endorsement, I bought it: love at first listen and a great reward for following he connecting instinct.

Here’s some Thomas Jefferson Kaye with a little Derringer flash at the end:

Evoking Vietnam-Era Memes

In an article over on Common Dreams, we get to read the following:

New United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley arrived at U.N. headquarters in New York City for the first time Friday, and wasted no time in lashing out at the international community and U.S. allies.

 

“For Those That Don’t Have Our Back…We’ll Respond Accordingly,” she says, and goes on about “taking names”.

 

This reminds me of the Vietnam-era “My Country Right or Wrong” outlook which, ultimately ignores the founding idea of the U.S., a country forged to respond to a set of grievances relating to wrong-doing in the mother country.

It speaks to a very limited idea of what constitutes any notion of diplomacy and mature interaction with other nations and groups around the globe. Yes, a lot of traditional diplomacy is based on secrecy, subterfuge, dishonesty and backstabbing, but threats of this nature rarely produce constructive results, and the bluster that is here deployed speaks to a very unsubtle cowboy mentality which would only produce results via the unleashing of extraordinary force (move the Doomsday Clock even closer to midnight?)

It also reinforces the idea that we are dealing here with a pack of brats of varying ages and experience who make up in chutzpah what they lack in knowledge and wisdom and who are totally self-absorbed.

Cartoon by Clay Bennett Chattanooga Times-Free Press

 

Alternatively…

This was the end quote from yesterday’s edition of MIT Tech Review’s The Download mailing list:

The more voices of reason that the President hears, the better. Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks?”

— Elon Musk explains how he thinks people will have to approach negotiations with Donald Trump, in a conversation with Gizmodo about how useful climate change policies could yet be introduced under his administration.

 

As I have become older, a little more patient, a little more tolerant and more focused on outcomes than on personality, I would generally concur with Musk, but I find myself asking, in this case, a question slightly rephrased:

Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to logic?

 

Sound the Alarm!

It’s a banner day for headlines at the Globe and Mail.

 

It starts with this:

Canada’s media industry needs major federal cash injection: report

PPF President Edward Greenspon, who is a former editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail and a former senior executive at The Toronto Star and Bloomberg News, oversaw the production of the report that was based on consultations with 300 people and a public-opinion poll.

There are actually some interesting propositions in the report, but the flashing red light on the bullshit filter goes off every time there is a reference to the sorry state of the country’s news media, especially when there is a call for public investment in private (for-profit) “news” outlets. These folks have soiled their own nest and often taken sums of cash out of the enterprise through salaries and dividends and failed miserably at informing the public of the events that have, in many ways, beggared the bulk of the country. There is far too cozy a relationship between the organs of the press and the privateers who siphon off an inordinate share of the wealth of the commons. It’s all free market all the time until there is suffering on the part of Bay Street’s minions, at which point the socialism that is so deadly for the working classes is just about a good fit for the poor starving media moguls.

 

We also get a screed on:

Voting for Conservative leader: What would Stephen Harper do?

 

Look, it was hard enough putting up with his sneering countenance for the decade leading up to the election of October, 2015, but to have him consulted as a first-case consultant on the election of Donald Trump, or on who should be the long-term replacement for the man at the head of the FedCons is adding more than a bit of insult to the injury he has already inflicted on his poor long-suffering homeland. On top of that, does anyone else get the feeling that the FedCon leadership race is beginning to look a lot like the brewing storm of the Republican nominating process leading up to the Convention last August? Do we see mirror images of people like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jed Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the faces of Kellie Leitch, Lisa Raitt, Maxime Bernier and, for God’s sake, Kevin O’Leary? This would all be so laughable if the clown car in the US hadn’t driven up the sidewalk, running over common sense, fiscal responsibility, several and sundry peace processes, voter integrity and the outcome of the Civil War in the process. I fear that Harper is our GW Bush and has spawned a Hillary figure in the form of JT who makes a good case for anyone else without regard to the sanity of the policies behind the figurehead.

 

We are also treated to this:

Where high-net-worth investors are putting their money right now

Of course, we know where that might be: in shell companies and offshore accounts, as indicated by the latest from the Panama Papers saga, wherein it turns out that Canada is as opaque as any place in the world when requiring or providing information on corporations, and where Canada Revenue chooses not to prosecute the big players because those folks have effective teams of lawyers who can stand weak and ineffectual laws on their heads in the pursuit of shady deals, while the mistakes of small fish are jerked on a hook in a trice.

Aspect number two of this fine piece is that it indicates to whom the G&M panders, and incites the rest of the G&M-reading proletariat to think of themselves as being in the know and as potentially shifting sides in the epic class warfare when their less-than-one-paycheque reserves eventually grow to the point where they will be in the winners’ circle of the Elect of High Net Worth.

And we’re supposed to subsidize this media slag heap?

 

Food, Life, Profit

In an earlier post, the topic was the usurpation of control and decision-making via the magic of gadgetry, a phenomenon which, for many of us constitutes a step backward in the development of humanity and society. Often of late, so much of the vaunted innovation appears to be for the sake of innovation without a clear set of guiding principles regarding benefits and the recipients of those benefits. We do things because we can, often in the process neglecting more difficult and more pressing challenges, often those requiring sustained and/or concerted effort and little prospect of immediate profit.

The broad strokes of the division between those who would have mankind control all aspects of life on Earth and those who tend to work with and within the forces of Nature is summed up to a point in the following excerpt from an article in Quartz:

The modern food movement has brought us to a fork in the road. On one path are people who say it is enough to eat the fresh fruits and vegetables that spring from the earth, the milk from our cows, and the meat from farmed animals. Simplicity is the path to fulfillment, and sticking close to nature and whole foods is the safest bet for achieving nourishment.
The other vision prescribes that the best diet is one that is predetermined for us, collected by farmers and tinkered with by scientists to help us attain our maximum health and eventually prevent chronic illness. It is more obscure and decidedly high tech.
The argument on both sides of the dichotomy seems almost anodyne and relates to the quest for the ultimate scheme for human nourishment, and perhaps there are points to be made on both sides of the question, but it all falls apart when the underlying notion of the execution of the plan for measured, targeted and controlled nutrition turns out to be more in the interest of a small group than for the betterment of the lot of the majority of living creatures. At the root of the MTC clan is Nestlé, a corporation with a long track record of doing what is profitable, even when the profit is the only benefit and where the source of the profit may be deleterious to society as a whole, thinking of “interesting” recipes for baby formula, the promotion of sugary products and recent pronouncements, backed up by corporate actions, tending to reserve potable water use for the exclusive rights to bottle and sell by none other than Nestlé.
Whatever benefits are outlined in the Nestlé plan tend to induce some head-scratching simply because of the notion that something that might perhaps be for the overall benefit of society might be withheld from those unable to fill the coffers of Nestlé shareholders. It reminds me of a conversation I had with an acquaintance who returned from a retreat with an EST group, a person quite fired up about plumbing the depths and breadths of human consciousness and the attainment of enlightenment. These are laudable enough goals and it all sounded good until the question of “tuition” arose and it became clear that any achieved wisdom would be attained at the cost of a severely depleted bank account, and the sums in question were of a nature beyond keeping the enlighteners in reasonable comfort, and the whole issue sounded as though the enlightened were less concerned about the propagation of wisdom than they were about the accumulation of wealth. Such seems to be mostly the case with the “wisdom” of Nestlé, as well as other purveyors of exclusionary benefits.
It would seem especially and increasingly important that wisdom be shared freely as we approach the apocalyptic consequences of population and consumption overshoot and that we cease to allow the benefits generated by human endeavour to accumulate in the accounts of those who already benefit in outsize proportion to the contributions they make to the future of civilization.

Slapped on Someone Else’s Wrist

 

 

VSun reports that BC Hydro is facing large fines for environmental violations as part of the rush to get Site C beyond the point of no return, an event that must trouble Christy Clark and Jessica Macdonald no end. Firstly neither one seems overly troubled by the optics of blindly pursuing  a folly of pharaonic proportions, and, secondly, both are snickering that the paltry hundreds of thousands of dollars will be coming out of the hide of those same BC Hydro clients who will be forced to bear the burden of the cost of the dam, the cost of financing the dam and the cost of furnishing free electricity to the designated industrial beneficiaries, most of whom are found in listings of BC Liberal funders. It makes a person feel a little like a scapegoat tied up tightly with no recourse, especially for those who didn’t vote for the party of fiscal responsibility and business acumen. I know I prefer bungling to the downright nastiness and greed that seems to characterize out current régime.

Truth On The Loose

This article, as you can plainly see, is behind a paywall of Trumpian proportions, but we can let it engender a musing or two. Being a banking and fossil fuel insider, it’s likely that he will use a privileged pulpit to shill for development of fossil fuel resources. It just seems too blatant a shill for anyone to take it seriously. It’s rather like Global TV explaining that they should be the primary source of our questions about Why when they are a central pillar of the problem in the first place. But the gullible abound.

Look, Ma, Our Own Maginot Line

Part of the Maginot Line

Following the First World War, the French, thinking to forever ban the Hun from their fair soil, laid out and executed plans to build a line of fortifications that would keep them safe from the ravages of marauding spike helmets. There were voices who warned that this was fighting the last war, and that there was a good chance that their Maginot Line was an expensive folly that would solve nothing, especially since the French declined to wall themselves off from the Belgians, secure in the (?) knowledge that the Germans would never come into France through Belgium. We know how that worked out.

So here’s the latest plan from those in the Trudeau/Clark government bureau of Magical Maginot Musings, a great way to blow a big part of the loot allotted for protection from marauding Kinder Morgan tankers (the part being spend by Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, apparently not Trudeau’s $1.5 Bn-over ten years), a series of five oil-spill response bases, as outlined in this article from the Victoria Times-Colonist. These would be located at Ucluelet, Port Alberni, Beecher Bay, Saanich, Duncan, and Nanaimo, with an additional base on the Fraser River. These constitute a fabulous way of disbursing funds to Port Authorities, but there ought to be considerable skepticism about the effectiveness of these bases is redressing the effects of a middling to large dilbit spill along the tanker route through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Strait of Georgia before entering into a terminal on Burrard Inlet or some such place. It really looks as though this plan has about the same real value as a pat on the head and a “There! There!” in averting the inevitablility of a discharge. Responsible people don’t talk about cleaning up oil spills, they talk about avoiding them. Those who do talk about cleaning them up are generally working hard to get to the money represented by the shipping of tar and are notorious for letting the dollar signs floating through their field of fantasy cloud the reality of an accident and a subsequent spill.

Our mayor’s quoted response is puzzling: Yes, he says he’d rather not have the tankers, but actually, we could do school tours through the facility and that would bring in tourist traffic and dollars. We can do better. Ruttan was at the forefront of efforts to protect the airshed when BC Hydro wanted to put in a gas-fired generating station, and an active participant in the fight to keep the coal port out of our community and to shut down the idea of the Raven Coal operation. Why so wishy=washy on this? It gives a glimmer of a somewhat unhealthy relationship that exists between the City and the Port Authority, where the Port Authority, as a proponent of all things Harperite, exerts almost total control over the waterfront and the City seems at least to be a weak sister in capitulating, and at worst to be an enabler to the kind of lack of long-term vision that would have the sense to eliminate the risk of dilbit spills by eliminating the tankers, by not approving pipelines.

The aforementioned lack of vision and the haste to get things in place has cost us dearly through history and continues to characterize our political and economic dealings, a phenomenon that is likely to continue until such time as citizens become aware that they can, and must, delay the gratification of all the shiny baubles and tackle the long, hard decisions first by working in concert with others of like mind.

Old School?

While I’m no longer an early adopter of new technologies, I find that I can adapt to and learn whatever of the shiny new gadgets I choose to incorporate into my own processes. However, there are aspects of new developments that I find somewhat disturbing and which, on the whole, might be taking us down a path to a learned helplessness and a loss of whatever shreds of control we might have had over our actions at whatever point in time.  Wired reports that all the biggies in the tech sector are hopping on the Personal Home Assistant bandwagon, likely because no one company can let any other company stake out a dominant position in a field where there might be chests full of pirate gold awaiting those who meet with early success. Everywhere, there are blandishments to adopt gadgets that let you lock your front door from your desk at work, check all those security cameras for intruders or partying teens, ensure that your progeny aren’t exceeding any speed limits, check out where your cat has roamed, and likely scan the inside of the fridge to put together a list of things you need to pick up on the way home from work. This is naught but an extension of the smartphone enabled digital life and will fit well with the checkout-less market and the self-driving car. At what point does the human will become irrelevant?

We bought a new car in 1993 and switched manufacturers because the model we wanted couldn’t be ordered with a standard transmission. My wife and I both prefer a manual transmission, not that we can’t drive the automatic, but we both feel that we have a degree of control with the manual that the automatic doesn’t necessarily make available. All of our cars since that model have come with a cruise control. We’ve both tried it out and mostly don’t bother, partly because of the kind of roads we have hereabouts, but also because it appears to be another layer of removal of the driver from the process of driving. And now, it seems, an increasing number of cars come with systems to alert the driver to wandering out of lane, to  traffic approaching from behind, and even apply the brakes should the driver fail to respond to a collision warning. As I see advertising for these features, I can’t help but think that the people driving the cars are either letting distractions interfere with their most important and immediate task, or are incompetent and ought not to have permission to drive a motor vehicle in the first place. I keep hearing how self-driving cars will revolutionize urban transport, but given the propensity of our advanced technology to succumb to the workings of Murphy’s Law, I’m not expecting that this will be a smooth transition and that there won’t be some twisted metal and blood on the streets before it’s too far along. I’m put in mind of the sea trials of a guided missile ship of the US Navy a decade or so ago where they ran the whole thing through a series of Windows NT servers, producing an early incidence of unrecoverable crashes which left the vessel dead in the water in the Chesapeake Bay in need of a tow. Likewise, it seems, with the newest vessel, the USS Zumwalt, recently shut down in Gatun Lake while in transit through the Panama Canal. Especially combined with the propensity of governments of all stripes to enact electronic surveillance and controls, I shudder to think of the possibilities inherent in driverless vehicles.

 

I really prefer to drive less, to share vehicles with other drivers, to walk, to bicycle, to ride transit, to stay at home, and do degadgetize to a great extent, just keeping well-built, high quality repairable and upgradeable tools in the shop, the yard shed and the kitchen. A modicum of comfort is definitely desirable, but the laziness of surrender to technological toys is beyond countenance.