What?!! We’ve Been At War All This Time?

 

Recently, Canada and Denmark settled an outstanding dispute over the sovereignty of Hans Island, pictured above. The two countries decided to draw a line down the middle and split the island into Danish and Canadian zones. Until this settlement, there was apparently a rotation of visits by the respective navies of the two countries to substitute flags and leave a bottle of spirits for the other guys when they inevitably came on the same errand. Much was made of the peaceful nature of the conflict and the fact that it was finally settled through diplomatic channels rather than through the ruinous discharge of ordinance as is so often the case when international conflict arises, and not the least bit of irony seemed to leak into the announcements and the minor jubilation that accompanied the settlement.

The dispute and its settlement beg a few questions, the first of which is, who cares? I suppose the importance of the “territory” might touch on questions of control of navigation in Arctic waters, or of two hundred mile fishing boundaries, in which case there might be some question as to whether anything is truly settled. The second is enforcement: will there be customs and immigration stations set up to keep the Danes and Canadians on their own side of the island? Will Canadian mining interests begin drilling in such a way that it impedes the enjoyment of the Danes on the other side of the island?

Part of the charm of reading about the whiskey war was the patent and acknowledged absurdity of the affair, but the charm of the international farce is gone and we’re left with a feeling that a resolution better suited to our time of crises might have been an agreement that the island and the sea around it might have come under mutual protection and that people might actually stay the hell off it, leaving it to wildlife and protecting this and other areas from the predations of shipping, tourist and military traffic.

By Any Other Name

BC Liberals meeting in Penticton have accepted a motion to explore a name change, reminding me of how Arthur Andersen Accounting emerged from the Enron scandal as Accenture, and has been a burden on the public purse in that guise ever since. We must recall that the BC Liberals emerged under Gordon Wilson from the 1991 election that finally drove a stake through the heart of the Social Credit party, but the mantel of Liberal was soon cast aside in a palace revolt that brought Gordon Campbell to the leadership of the party, a man whose star rose with the advent of rampant crony capitalism and kleptocracy that will hobble the public treasury for decades to come.

It’s quite laughable to listen to the BC Libs in opposition as they not only switched sides of the house in 2017, but they now decry the same practices they instituted under Clark and Campbell, things like freedom of information, government advertising, and vanity projects requiring exorbitant spending. They’re sometimes right, because the New Dippers have turned out to be very much like the former governments in their disdain for the vast majority of the public and for the environment.

Rebranding is basically inferring that the zebra has changed his stripes and is substantially something other than what he used to be. I’m betting that the newly-named party will be very much the spitting image of the old in all manner of policy and execution, continuing the duopoly in BC politics, where the duality is mostly a matter of name and where good governance is hiding in the furthest corners of the back benches. Makes Furstenau and Olson look really good, but for their narrowest base of support.

 

Thanks to Anna Pavlin for posting this image at Unsplash.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  –William Shakespeare

“Beauty’s only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone.”   —Alberto Gianquinto

 

Two Possible Paths

I live in a funny household. My wife is a devout Christian, I have no particular faith, and yet we live quite harmoniously.

She grew up in a Mennonite community and still has strong feelings of community relating to that crowd.

I was raised as a Catholic with decreasing strength of dogma as we all got older and the cognitive dissonance between the pulpit and reality became increasingly glaring.

Where appropriate, we support each others’ practices in search of making society a little better than it was when we first got here. We discuss, mostly in abstract terms, both religion and politics, but there never has been any proselytizing.

My wife is actively involved in several initiatives aimed at palliating the rampant poverty both at home and abroad. I pitch in occasionally, but I’ve long had the sense that charity is an excuse to continue with the outsized disproportion in economic benefit that characterizes our global economic and social system.

To that end, I have, for some decades now, been involved with groups whose aim is to build a more peaceable, caring and sharing system of distribution of goods and services, along with incorporating all people into the business of society with dignity and sense of belonging.

Both causes have, thus far, proven to be exercises in futility, giving rise to questions of the usefulness of both charitable work, and of efforts to eliminate the need for charity.

No answers, thus far, but we can let each other know when we find evidence of a better path.

Confronting A Dark Past

Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

One of the gravest defects of religion is that it can be used to keep the poor contented with their lot, which is very convenient for the rich.

—Bertrand Russell

This morning, according to a Globe and Mail headline, Prince Charles pointed out that Canada must confront ‘darker’ aspects of its past, just the sort of gratuitously obvious statement one would expect from a royal speaking to the colonials about indigenous relations, and, in particular, the history of residential schools.

Yes, we Canadians need to confront and redress the harm done, and I wouldn’t presume to say how that needs to come about, given that more august personages than I have already chimed in on the subject, and in full knowledge that there is a long and likely painful path for all of us to get to a point where First Nations feel that they have achieved their rightful place in the life of this land. The process is complicated by the presence of a slice of the population who would just as soon ignore the issue and continue with business as usual, particularly in those instances where major adjustments might need to be made in the way we do business and in the way that the benefits of doing business get divided up.

However, it strikes me as a little tone deaf for the future king and descendent of Queen Victoria, to be lecturing anyone on the perils of failing to confront the ills of past empire. In the good old Kipling days of White Man’s Burden, the sun never set on the British Empire, and where there was empire, there was a bleeding off of resources and personnel to serve said empire and its principals, at the top or which pyramid sat Charles’ forebears.

Yes, so, the House of Windsor can speak from a position of authority based on personal experience and hand out free advice to others will have to bear the brunt of any real reconciliation before skipping back to that green and verdant island for a few chukkers of polo. The same applies to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and our progressive Pope. They seem to all be endowed with the same propensity for high-sounding rhetoric devoid of any real meaning whose greatest local proponent would be none other than our current Prime Minister, though there would be many others vying for a position at the top of that scale.

The monarchy, the papacy and the corporate hierarchy represent power and money, both of which are notorious corrupters of any notion of morality (the possible exception being the theocratic republicans wrestling for some notion of the soul of the US, Canada, Hungary, Poland and other jurisdictions where notions of fairness and equity are seriously on the wane) exactly because the deed of reconciliation, all over the World must imply a different way of conducting the business and different outcomes relating to the distribution of wealth. This in not a comfortable notion for those holding the economic and power cards as currently dealt.

Misplaced Priorities

 

So Mr. Horgan will spend the better part of a billion dollars on a rebuild of the Royal BC Museum and tout it as a vital step in reconciliation with First Nations…

I believe that it’s a good thing for a society to maintain artifacts that document its history and cultural antecedents, but this project speaks to a level of extravagance that defies comprehension. We have to wonder how much consultation there was with First Nations about the disposition of such a large whack of provincial funding at a time when the health system seems to be coming apart, when forestry is in ruins, when there are staffing crises in most sectors of the economy, and where civil service bargaining is on the horizon.

Is this the way that FN would choose to spend the loot? might there not be a need to reorient forestry and mining jobs to focus on a truly ecologically sound economy (Clean BC and current forest practices being basically business as usual)?

Here’s a cheap start: take the Royal moniker off the establishment. The Crown continues to be exploitative and contributes nothing other than some phony cachet to our institutions. We may not do so terribly well at governing ourselves (look at the two parties that have alternated in power and their tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum approach to multiple existential crises), but the need for this other layer of Crown interference perpetrates a long tradition of colonial exploitation and pomp that helps to exclude the little folk from the business of governing (as opposed to the political shenanigans that take up the bulk of question period).

Also, lest anyone think of this as an endorsement of any party currently active in BC, let the intellectual net be case a little more widely. The Green caucus has emitted a steady diet of common sense and bold initiative that is a marked contrast to either Liberal of NDP sludge, but a caucus of two and the lack of a coherent party apparatus (which may be what allows the quality of thought to seep through) eliminates the possibility of a government in any foreseeable future. The NDP has dropped the ball on so many fronts that they become almost indistinguishable from the Liberals who preceded them, and the current version of the Liberal Party seems to be just chomping at the bit to get their faces once again fully immersed in the trough of public largesse.

The prospects for both near and distant future become increasingly bleak with each advancing session of the legislature, and wandering off in the weeds with a cool billion is emblematic of our current willingness to bury our concerns in a stinking heap of indifference and vanity.

Addendum: note that Mr. Horgan, following cancer treatment is less filled out than he once was previously. This puts me in mind of a quip from Bertrand Russell that I quoted a couple of times to Scott Fraser when he was our MLA and held ministerial portfolios. The first time it was cautionary, the second in anger at the two-faced nature of the government in relation to Indigenous Relations and to all aspects of environmental policy. I’m feeling the same way with our current MLA and Minister of Municipal Affairs, Josie Osborne:

“No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.”

“No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.”

—Bertrand Russell

Airshow MacKay Wins!

 

I see the figure for he purchase of F-35s looks like the severe low end of possible contracts for supply of the aircraft, and it will be interesting to see where it lands in terms of provision of proprietary associated infrastructure and other cost overruns. The project is a long and woeful history of ballooning development costs, underperformance, multiple returns to the drawing board, and, finally, a Stealth Fighter that is neither particularly stealthy nor particularly capable as it would need to be in its various appointed rôles, other than fattening the bank accounts of the execs and shareholders at LMM, and the politicians they’ve bought. But, y’know, there’s a war on, and we have to assert out Arctic sovereignty and contain the break-out of autocracy from Moscow.

Not that the scenario would be much better with EADS, Saab, or Boeing/McDonnell/Douglas. We’re investing in war and that’s more than likely to beget war of some sort. We still haven’t found a way to invest in peace. Sorry for all of us.

Succinct

In a long-ago world, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the joys of French literature, principally by Miss Shelley at Lowell High School beginning in the second semester of Grade 10. It was very challenging at first, because few of us in the class had had much real experience with the language and it was a task to lift a corner of the literature curtain when reading the texts was a bit of a plod involving frequent recourse to the dictionary. I soon realized that using contextual clues, along with an increased linguistic awareness, allowed for focus on the content of a piece that transcended the text itself. I watched as the curtain slowly drew back and revealed a universe of tales and verse that mirrored the world back at me and brought on a wealth of insights into politics, social unrest, wars, pestilence, sex and violence. I suppose this might have happened without the linguistic stumbles had someone been able to light the same fire about English (American, Canadian, Australian…) literature, but that never happened, other than little sparks over Conrad and Faulkner in Mr. Lombardi’s English 11 class. Also, there seemed something mildly exotic and risqué about French  material, due to the prejudices of the time and place and the prudish newness of North American society. I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm for the oriental works that ran across my desk in the course of the World Lit class in Grade 12 because I had to read them in translation and thus didn’t feel the same connection experienced in Miss S’s class.

It follows on that I continued this through a somewhat checkered university stint, and finally, into the public school system here in BC, wherein I found myself attempting to replicate, in some small way, the wonders of what a few had done for me in those risky late-teen days, that is, to drag a small number of students to a point in the study of the language where they could experience the real language and some interesting thought through the study of literature from a somewhat foreign perspective.

So here’s our lesson for the day, a poem by Jacques Prévert:

Composition française 

Tout jeune Napoléon était très maigre

et officier d’artillerie

plus tard il devint empereur

alors il prit du ventre et beaucoup de pays

et le jour où il mourut il avait encore

du ventre

mais il était devenu plus petit.

—Jacques Prévert

Basically, and I’m a poor translator, but there aren’t enough subtleties in this case for me to wreck:

In his youth, Napoleon was very thin

and an artillery officer

later, he became emperor

and he packed on weight and lots of countries

and the day he died he still had

a belly

but he had become a lot smaller.

This looks to me as though someone was encapsulating the decay of empire in a few short lines. It happened to France in Metternich’s time, and again after the Second World War, it happened to the British, and we seem to have a front-row seat (popcorn optional for some) for the American Empire, and we all get to pick our favourite figurehead to substitute for Napoleon.

Since some of us have benefitted materially from empire, it’s a bit of a daunting prospect, no matter how fervently we wish the end of empire, to suffer the consequences, especially if we’ve been paying attention to the lot of Cubans and Russians in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the hot mess that has been part of existence in Africa, say, or Southeast Asia. A good part of the fear stems from not having the option to resign gracefully, or to exert any measure of control over the descent from the heights, especially when combined with the disquiet that accompanies the thought that the same perpetrators are also driving humanity off an ecological cliff, seemingly without much real possibility of restraint or course change.

We might as well have a little poetry to usher us down the hallway to that much-vaunted new normal that isn’t likely what the puppet masters wanted us to see.

Tom Lehrer:

Soon we’ll be out amidst the cold world’s strife.

Soon we’ll be sliding down the razor blade of life.

DOUR DOERS?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sophie-louisnard-tJXo5S5_8U4-unsplash-199x300.jpg

Photo by Sophie Louisnard on Unsplash

I sent a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s most recent essay (it came out in print October 19) to a friend in Vancouver, partly as a thank-you for a favour done some months back, and also because he’s the kind of reader that likes material that tickles the brain. He phoned this morning to tell me that Solnit was going to speak with Matt Galloway on The Current, a conversation you can both find and whose transcript you can read at:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-oct-29-2021-1.6229890/how-george-orwell-s-roses-gave-rebecca-solnit-a-new-perspective-on-the-author-1.6230540

I’m finding that Orwell’s Roses adds a lot of insight, both in my appreciation of the life and work of the Orwellian one, but also, in typical Solnit fashion, in general little life hacks. One of the items she discusses in the interview with Galloway is the incident where Orwell was told by a fellow activist and hard-line socialist, that flowers are bourgeois, and therefore worthy of the scorn of progressive activists. So ought those most persistent in the search for a better world to swear off all forms of pleasure and appreciation that don’t directly add to the effort to tear down the capitalist edifice? Evidently, not according to Orwell himself, given that he planted and tended notoriously bourgeois roses and indulged in the sensuality of gardening, amongst other pleasures without, seemingly, diminishing his efforts to warn us of the rise of authoritarianism and the surveillance society.

My mother Maggie was a long-time activist involved in anti-war protests, advocacy for women, housing issues, voter registration, racial equality and pretty much any other cause that worked for a more just society, but who maintained a passion for art, music, design, gardening (including those pesky bourgeois flowers), food, books, and conversation as belonging in everyone’s more just existence, and often mentioned the thought that beauty and humour needed to feature prominently in efforts to broaden people’s perspectives on social and economic justice. She and Dad were both seriously activist in their attitude, but his outlook was more straightforward and looked to simple facts to take the converts down the road. There are echos of Maggie in a lot of the mental meanderings of Orwell’s Roses, a lot of them reflecting the need for balance in the search for a better life.

The Key

The Globe and Mail this morning has a post on its site in which it, unsurprisingly, trumpets that:

Private sector holds the key to reaching sustainability, climate goals

The problem is the skepticism engendered by the long history of the private sector spending lavishly to buy favour in the corridors of power precisely so as to keep the aforementioned key buried under a mass of commercial profit-making activity and hidden in a safe where no one is allowed to see it. This goes a long way to explaining why so many governments have continued to be willing partners to destructive business initiatives, and it wouldn’t surprise many of us that the global media have been active in lulling people all over the world into a sense of security and entitlement of what has come to be known as “normal” The recently-concluded G20 hasn’t produced any tangible results, and COP 26 could easily turn into a brilliantly-laundered word-churn accomplishing nothing.