I get semi-regular commentaries from Cousin Bill in Vermont. He’s written some interesting tomes, but spent most of his life doing business and trying to reconcile to American business model with care and responsibility. I never knew I had a cousin until I met him at Uncle Mark’s during a visit at Christmas, 1997. I actually got to visit the farmstead in Vermont in April of 1998 and we have sent the odd e-mail back and forth over the years, but I look forward to his commentaries, some about local Vermont issues, some with broader application. Here is the latest:


The Social Safety Net We Can Never Afford

We’re putting our future at risk. The current political stasis that ignores the needs of so many Americans and immigrants and refuses to fix broken systems is creating a new wave of troubled citizens who will only cost more to help in the future. If we think the safety net is expensive now…do nothing and see what awaits us in another decade.

About fifty million Americans live below the poverty line. Many of those are “working poor” and comprise the fastest-growing economic class in our country. Now consider that simply being poor can make you sick. Lack of safe housing, poor diet, high stress, lack of access to health care, substandard education and a greater risk of being a victim of crime, injury, environmental hazards or discrimination all affect health. Poverty breeds emergency room patients and other societal costs.

Many neighborhoods are more like apartheid enclaves than democratic communities. Gated communities, united by shared economic status, flourish far from low-income housing projects. Switzerland integrates low, middle, and high-income housing projects into single neighborhoods. Our egalitarian traditions would indicate a similar policy but our belief in wealth as privilege obstructs this.

Schools in poor neighborhoods struggle to make up for stress and unmet needs at home. Under-educated children may make poor choices and struggle to find meaningful work that might offer them a leg up to financial independence on the economic ladder.

While the rest of the civilized world has made access to health care a basic right of citizenship, our citizens must compete financially for access to the quality healthcare we brag about. The prognosis for those without access only gets worse and more expensive.

Then there’s incarceration. With almost 2.5 million Americans in jail, 100,000 of whom are kids, we’ve enrolled almost 1 % of our citizens in crime academies where they learn little more than how to become better criminals. We do little or nothing to reintegrate them into society.

We are quick-to-war, even though the last morally unequivocal war ended in 1945. Thousands of our young people enlist with the largely illusory dream of patriotism, respect, and expensive toys. Many return home unnoticed except by family, often physically or emotionally crippled, and some sexually abused or addicted to drugs or to the adrenaline of conflict.

Our obsession with gun rights has flooded our nation with weapons. Killing someone in a fit of pique is now as easy as checking your watch. The ubiquity of guns turns spontaneous rage into murder, most often among our children.

While politicians debate the red herrings of ideology, we’re creating a new wave of citizens who will need a social safety net we can never afford to build.

We know that prevention is more cost-efficient than cure yet we like to live in the moment. Thinking ahead is hard and requires some current sacrifice. But the mentality of “I’ve got mine. You go get yours, and don’t ask me to share” will surely bankrupt us in the future.

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Bill’s whole attitude is so Un-Harper like.
Besides, anyone who writes telling tales of local folk, appreciates good food and wine, loves the many manifestations of beauty, and knows French Literature can’t be all bad.

Big News:Pot Calls Kettle Black



Gwynn Morgan suggests, in a Globe piece, that oil sands foes (not the lack of tar) should use facts, not a popularity contest, to sway opinion. Do I really have to say more? This character drips crude and bitumen, spent time as head of Enbriidge, moved to become Christy Clark’s adviser on Northern Gateway (no conflict there) and has been a tireless shill for an industry that’s on its way to killing life on the planet. His idea of facts eliminates islands from Douglas Channel, touts world-class spill clean-up (ask people in Kalamazoo how they feel about that) and is the living incarnation of Mencken’s description of the political class:


“The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing.The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.” -H. L. Mencken

(Thanks to for the quote)

This, I think, reflects poorly on Morgan, but we should expect it of him: it’s his gig, bad as it may be. The real shame is on the Globe for giving him the pulpit and an air of credence to which he has no legitimate claim.




This somewhat ugly-looking concoction is eggs florentine in the making, with spinach harvested this morning and some of the lovely eggs we get from our hens. While I usually tend toward nuts and berries, this came to mine when Erica left a couple of egg yolks in the fridge from putting meringue on lemon pies for the local soup kitchen, and I noticed that a late planting of spinach was about to bolt. Rescue for rescue, it was delicious. She who is mistress of all things just whipped up a batch of pie-by-the-mile, the mennonite version of stöllen, complete with sour cherries. Yummy stuff. The other lovely aspect of this morning’s breakfast was that it was consumed al fresco, under the grape arbor on the sun deck, and there in the corner was this:



It’s a gardenia, an uncertain proposition, it seems, and particularly as a delayed action Valentine’s gift. The perfume from these blossoms is exquisite, but they seem to be finicky, particularly about conditions indoors, to the trick is to nurse them until they can go out on the sun deck.

I hate to spoil this with a sour note, but I see where people all over the world are calling attention to the centenary of the outbreak of World War I., just as official Ottawa decided that we should celebrate the War of 1812 a couple of years back. The sad part is that, looking around, we have learned nothing, and that “the war to end all wars” was more a blueprint for larger scale and more industrial destruction. With the annual breast-beating that is the Hiroshima commemoration, in which we suage our conscience and then go about our business for another year, sleepwalking toward oblivion.




What did I tell you?



Plus Ça Change

Which One IsHiding The Pea?

Which One IsHiding The Pea?


An article in today’s Globe discusses a possible change in attitudes in a toney Nova Scotia town where, as they put it, the “gin and Jaguar” set is hosting a fundraiser on behalf on the current Liberal Leader, an unlikely occurrence given that the riding has elected only one Liberal in the last several decades. The Globe points out that this occurred in the context of the decimation of the Tories at the end of  the Mulroney reign, a grace period that lasted exactly until the next election, and the precedent is somewhat portentous for the rest of us: we should recall that Chrétien was elected on a platform of killing the GST, cancelling the helicopter contract and revoking NAFTA, and we all know how that turned out. This is basically a case of “here we go again”. A vast number of people might be disenchanted with the high handed, rather dictatorial style of Mr. Harper, and the anti-progressive and downright nasty way in which he rains on peoples’ parades and pulls the underpinnings out from under Canadian society. There are many rumblings about doing whatever it takes to rid Ottawa of the blight of CONservative government, including cross-party cooperation and strategic voting, as well as a concerted effort to get out the non-Con vote. In the face of all this effort, all the stirring of the electoral pot, and the strident calls to action, it’s hard to feature that the election of a government run by either of the other party leaders will be a great deal different. Both Trudeau and Mulcair seem wedded to the regimen of free trade documents that are currently blitzing the negotiating set, what with TISA,TPP, CETA, FIPPA and who knows what else might be emanating from the back rooms of the corporate dream factory, and it may be that Canadians don’t have the stomach for a platform that would reestablish some semblance of sovereignty for Canada and an economy that works for Canadians at home while working on diplomatic and economic initiatives abroad that would make staying home a viable option for all those TFWs, refugees, and whatever offshored jobs might be lost in the call centres of the underprivileged world. Canadians may not be capable of the adjustments in the way we live that would ensure that we use resources in a prudent and sustainable way, but, in any case, it seems unlikely that any of that will happen behind and of Doors 1, 2, or 3. The sad fact is that our current crop of leaders are all likely to lead us off a fiscal, social and environmental cliff, even though they may recognize that there are great minds telling us collectively that we need to re-educate ourselves quickly and act on our newly-gained tenets of wisdom. Would Messers Harper, Trudeau, and Mulcair be up to the challenge, once elected, of initiating that educational process? I would wager not, and not expect to get a lot of takers for that wager.


What Time Can Teach Us


(belongs to info

(belongs to info


Title from an article on the Globe & Mail’s site. I’m not going to read it:

The rise of the drones: Do privacy concerns outweigh the benefits of this burgeoning technology?

The obvious answer is yes, but not just drones: our lives are interlaced with a plethora of different technologies and their associated gadets, some of which may enhance our lives, but many of which have too much downside, and the sum of which amounts to an addiction to veeblefeetzers and goldbergian claptrap. We’ve been sold a load of not-so-goods that channel the way we live and bind us to the culture of consumption. It would be interesting to know what portion of the Earth’s human population is employed in the development, production and marketing of what are essentially toys: civilization seems to have structured itself to choke itself on stuff to the extent that our escape route is not entirely clear and becomes less so by the day.

I suppose the radio and television set the tone early on in the last century, a brilliant way of extending communication and a possible step in improving the human condition. What we got was the best pavlovian Bernays sauce of conditioning through limited discussion and debate reinforced with tsunamis of emotional drek and lowest-common-denominator views of society and its discontents. What started with the promise of a vehicle for the improvement of culture and the broad dissemination of information and analysis, became, with the television, the complete medium for the perpetration of a scheme of lies and salesmanship, promoting consumption, covetous desire for baubles and meaningless status, and the preeminence of an American dream built on the pillaging of other peoples’ resources. The culture, debate, information and analysis was there, but it took a skilled and dedicated seeker to connect with it,a task that became increasingly difficult as a compliant school system largely failed to give students the requisite questioning skills before trying them loose to be good producers and consumers.

I have been good at this sort of compliance, even in the face of an education, part of it in school, a lot of it from reading, from social interactions with peers and family and, finally, from recoiling from some of the anomalies in what I was hearing/seeing, and what I perceived to be a version of real events. Here I am working on a somewhat passé computer, using a browser and blogging software, so I haven’t escaped unscathed from the onslaught, but the ad below, for our provincial political masters, one of the sleaziest governments I’ve ever encountered in person or in story tells me that we haven’t learned much. We haven’t learned that any technology can be bent to the rules of crass commercialism  in the service of colonization by capital. The Internet, like radio and television, seemed to start out as a medium of contact and discourse, but has evolved into a maze of pornography, cute cat videos, a shitstorm of political venom and yet another bully pulpit for oil lobbies and other destructive groups.


This is not to say that there isn’t a ton of good material and fine journalism and rhetoric out there, that there aren’t loads of inspired images and sounds, some that go beyond simple entertainment to provoke thought and engage the viewer in a constructive interaction with others, but without actually putting the thesis to the test, a browse through a day’s Facebook posts seems to confirm it, as do the frequent arrests of people from all walks of life for charges relating to porn.

It is yet again an instance of doing what comes easily to us rather than tackling what really needs to be done.


Meanwhile, here’s a link to a video of the late Charlie Haden playing with none other than Ginger Baker (who’d-a thunk it) and Bill Frisell:


Nowhere To Run To



I got home to see this in my inbox and on Facebook. It’s the kind of shenanigan that makes people distrust political parties of any stripe. I’ve had dealings with Paul, all of them constructive. He has been a consistent advocate for democracy, environment and rule of law, including the fighting of discriminatory and corruptive legislation. However, he isn’t good enough to even present himself as a candidate for the NDP. Sad, and in particular because it highlights the current struggle in the progressive mind in the conflict between the desire to get elected and to hold the power to form government, and the adherence to ethic and principle. Ideally, the power of a party to educate citizens to the necessity of changing direction from our present self-destructive course would mean that this dichotomy wouldn’t be in play, but parties don’t seem to get that they need to be constantly schooling their prospective electorate. Paul has done much of this, but not in the quest for political power, but because he has seen the destruction wrought by our present lot of scallywags  and has foreseen the consequences of failing to make a radical course change. In this, the NDP has failed miserably and left it to Elizabeth May federally, and Andrew Weaver at the provincial level, to probe and elucidate the horrors being perpetrated in our name. Solution: vote Green? This is a tough one because Greens and Dippers don’t talk much to each other and increasingly it appears as though neither can unseat the incumbents whose cancerous tentacles seem to have sunk deep into the consciousness of Canadian voters, either to continue with Harper as the prudent fiscal manager he touts himself to be, or to give in to apathy and not vote at all. Trudeau is a younger, slicker version of the same corporate shill and, though most people don’t seem to see through the smokescreen, is, given access to a majority in the House, would likely follow in the footsteps of Stephen Harper, just as Barack Obama seems to have been largely unable to change course from the W era.





Backing Down, Spinning Around



This Janet Holder, the face of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project. I wrote a post  a week ago or so before disappearing into the wilds of Southern Ontario for a family occasion, lots of schmoozing without song or strong drink, a ton of humidity and heat, but mostly pretty relaxed and in good company. I haven’t published the post because it might be too inflammatory a thing for pure opinion. Who knows? The gist of it was that Holder and all the other mucky-mucks at Enbridge, the NEB, the Conservative caucuses in both Alberta and Ottawa need to be issued hazmat suits and put on standby for the rest of their natural lives in preparation for working in the trenches of the world-class clean-up contingency crew when the inevitable eventually comes to pass. A big part of the problems  we face stems from the lack of personal responsibility for decisions that affect us all.

Then I get home to learn that we’re shipping yet another round of shipbuilding contracts for BC Ferries to Europe, specifically Poland. The curtain of deception makes it hard to see how they selected this group to do the building, but this is surely the forerunner of the whole procurement process inherent in the Free Trade agreements we seem to be signing without debate or even being allowed to see what benefits and constraints might be under that polished silver dome awaiting the unveiling of the main course. Do we need ferries? Build the suckers here, and, in the process, build capacity and skills to similar work in the future. I din’t particularly like Glen Clark, but his fast ferry fiasco included a lot of training for metal work, welding, fabrication, machining and what have you. Are there enough of these trained people around to work on new ferries and whatever the Royal Canadian Navy might need? Or have they all drifted into the Athabaska tar pits?

Australian solar power is already competitive with coal for generating electricity. I have a nephew who has a contract to place a couple of solar arrays on his “farm” for which he is paid $0.80/kw/hr. Go figure, I guess it’s a free market solution, now that Ontario Hydro has gone the same privatization route that BC Hydro suffered under the Campbell régime.

S.T., a member of our local Transitions initiative, sent this link to a TED talk that rings a responsive chord to thoughts over the last couple of decades.

…a recent brush with an updating of ancient history:



(click on the image to read the Tyee’s article)

Throughout my working years I was party to discussions about the role of unions in relation to their members and to the community as a whole. Some felt that the advancement of the economic well-being was paramount in the union’s business to the exclusion of all else. Of course, this being a teacher union, there was also a faction who felt that the social climate was of concern, given that there is so strong a link between the conditions of the learning environment and the well-being of the teaching force, not to mention parents and the broader community.  The Tyee has a piece today about the concerns of unions relating to jobs in the energy sector, a discussion that may drive the wedge that separates economic and environmental well-being in the debate about the construction of energy infrastructure. The trade-off, in the eyes of the energy companies, as in the vast majority of government circles, is that we have to accept huge environmental  risks if we wish to have the prosperity that the export of dilbit and LNG would supposedly bring to our province. Thusly stated, the dichotomy is false and avoids the discussion of who “owns” the economy as well as highlighting the short-sightedness of those leading the discussion.


Had we chosen to be serious about jobs and energy, we would long ago have adopted the construction of infrastructure for renewable energy, using public funds as well as reworked taxes and royalties on fossil fuel development to set in motion a transition out of the era of environmental degradation and the rapid use of finite resources for the benefit of a small minority of the population, and into an era of the deployment and maintenance of all forms of renewable energy, paired with a truly effective recycling program that would obviate the need to extract much of the mineral wealth that is currently mouldering in landfills around the country. It would also be reassuring to see industrial production focused on truly durable goods, items made to last a lifetime and more, goods that, when broken, can be repaired and which, at the end of their useful life, can be easily recycled back into remanufactured replacements.


A quick look at economic gains made by unions might very well show that they are rapidly eaten up by inflation and by new taxes and user fees imposed by governments looking to reduce the load on their business constituency. Gains in working conditions and environmental concerns encourage broader hiring, keeping benefits in the local economy and social gains for society as a whole. We have to remember that the terms of economic discussion have, for decades, been set by a consensus of people schooled in and attached to the Friedman/University of Chicago group of free market freebooters, a group who barely manages to hold back the tides of discontent as they move us from crisis to crisis and who have produced as great a disparity of wealth distribution as has been known in recent history. They have also been the crew that dispenses the results of their efforts and have not spared the froth in letting us know what a brilliant job they’ve done for us, but there is so little truth in most of the reporting that it’s hardly worth the effort it takes to read it. The bar has been set so low that it wouldn’t be hard for us to do better, all the while keeping in mind that we want to still have an economy in mid-century and beyond. Our current course will lead to disorder and destruction, and unions can step up to help alter the course so that our children, grandchildren and later generations will be the beneficiaries of a decent living space and some equality of opportunity to participate fully in the business of society.

Some Wisdom Shows Through



“Economics is a form of brain damage.”
–Hazel Henderson (economist)
The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every right that he claims for himself.
—Robert Ingersoll
These two people were guests on a forum from Boston organized by HuffPost: they are people who work within the current system, but who have drawn the wrath of much of the political class for advocating a return to some saner version of our current economic/social/political régime. Thomas Piketty got an earful from Kevin O’Leary, and it would seem likely that Elizabeth Warren scares the daylights out of even some of the Democratic caucus, as well as the entirety of everything farther to the selfish Right of the political spectrum. Why is that?, you may ask, when what these two are proposing is the rescue of our “civilization” from eating itself alive and taking much of life on Earth with it.  Fundamentally, they are proponents of redistribution of wealth in the opposite direction from what the Washington Consensus and the Reaganite/Thatcherite bunch have written as law in the post-New Deal/post-Great Society era, in effect the taxation of wealth beyond a certain level of absurdity, where wealth ceases to represent a comfortable living and starts to represent power across the spectrum of economics, social affairs and into the deepest recesses of politics and governance.
Piketty and Warren don’t necessarily have all the answers to all our ills, but the refreshing part of what they say is the reasoned openness of their critique of the corruption and misdirection of human affairs where the corruption becomes entrenched in the institutions that are supposed to serve society as a whole and where  moves are afoot to destroy the last vestiges of the commons, or the ability of society to come together to address the challenges that society has, by and large, created. This is evident in many spheres, but is particularly acute in the environmental field where the fossil fuel has drawn a verbal palisade around issues of energy, economy, and living space, including not only the buying of political influence, but the criminalization of revealing the nature of the damage being done by drilling, tracking, and mining of carbon fuel sources.
It would be nice if we had a special sandbox where the rich folk could hold sway and trade in luxuries as long as they didn’t encroach upon what the World needs to be doing to address inequality (especially inequality of opportunity) while the rest of us worked in a more constructive direction to rebuild a society where sense would be part of the commons and where we didn’t depend of stuff to define who we are. Sadly, the trade in luxuries tends to require an inordinate share of economic resources that will be needed to provide a decent standard of living for all of the rest of us.
Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the link to the HuffPo vid.

Lovely Surprises



We have a Bay Laurel in our yard that we got for a wedding gift from my grandfather. A curmudgeonly sort, I suspect, with no disrespect intended, that he sent money to my folks and asked them to get us something appropriate, so they got this tree, and gave us a healthy cheque to go with it. They also bought one of the trees themselves for their place on Old Scott Road, the Miniment. We planted it out the first spring we had it and it wintered over pretty well, something of a surprise for our climate, which is hardly Mediterranean: these things like to grow in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, the South of France and similar mild climes. The next winter, we were horrified to see it die right back to the ground and conversely were overjoyed when we saw little sprouts ringing the part of the “trunk” that still stuck out of the ground.  Following that incident, it grew like crazy for twenty years until, about eight years ago, it got some snow stuck on it, followed by a hard freeze. At this point it was over twelve meters tall and beyond any shelter we could give it. It essentially died back to the ground and we whacked away the deadwood with a power saw. What a joy it was to see the little sprouts coming from both the ground and the stumps. We’ve covered it ever since and been fussy about who gets a branch from it: the leaves are a culinary delight, sweeter and more pungent than what you can buy in the store and we used to have a huge volume to spread around to friends and acquaintances, but wanted to ensure that the tree could flourish without being pillaged for leaves. I walked by this thing the other day on the way back from the chicken coop and got a whiff of something reminiscent of vanilla, cinnamon and mocha, but subtle in its sweet spiciness: the bay had bloomed again.



It has unprepossessing little flowers, and if you stick your nose right in them, there isn’t much to discover, but back away a meter or two, and there is this lovely perfume floating in the air, an enchanting reminder of the season and of the previous generations who bestowed the tree on us. It’s a real source of joy, reflection and reminiscence.