There’s Always A Way


So Michael Byers had a piece in the Globe and Mail that seemed to confirm reports that the Pentagon had leaked a missive that the Canadian government was going to go ahead with the purchase of a mere four F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. There still has been no competition to replace the F-18 aircraft we currently deploy, and considerable fuss arose when the plan to buy a whole fleet of them came to light a few years back as it became clear the the Defense people weren’t being particularly candid about the cost of the program and about the notion that the aircraft itself is not particularly adapted to the ideal mission for Canada. On top of that, the whole program has run decades behind schedule and has run over its original budget by orders of magnitude. The problem with buying four of these beauties is that the JSF then is likely declared the winner of the competition that never happened and the standard for further procurement.

I recall distinctly the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I learned that the Chrétien government had signed a contract to acquire four British submarines back in the late ’90s.



There is much I love about Britain and the British, but their engineering and construction of mechanical devices has left a trail of broken hearts among all those who’ve experienced the joy of owning an MG, or a Triumph, or a Handley Page Halifax, and the Canadian experience with these vessels would seem to bear that out. The original price quoted by Chrétien & Co. was on the order of $750 m, but by the time any of them was declared fit for service, our own poor little exchequer had disbursed several times that, and we had lost lives when one of the things caught fire in Mid-Atlantic on the way to Canada. Our little dabbling with the JSF looks like a similar story, aside from the price tag running over $100 bn., and it seems hard to locate any discussion of this in the House, a phenomenon that would have demonstrated a modicum of consideration following all the previous upheaval over back room dealings and the desire of AirShow McKay to have his Mission Accomplished moment. Nope, a leak, sort of like our submarines.

Sadly, we have a government that won’t take no for an answer and that will trip around the back door or under the toilet seat togged what it want, even through chicanery and pure skulduggery.






To Market, To Market


Lots of ink spilled about respect for the fallen who gave up their lives for our freedoms. Peter Mansbridge is solemnly pontificating in the next room, falling in line with Mr. Harper’s bid to gain votes by sanitizing the slaughter of millions for the sake of the Empire, a benefit for industrialists and (ig-)nobility. People not attending the ceremonies will include those trading on various stock markets around the globe because, after all, it was really all about money anyway, wasn’t it? (Aside from Royal pissing contests.) Markets are up, and here’s the eventual payoff for our august leader…






Mrs. Thatcher quipped that “There is no alternative” to her brand of unfettered capitalism. This explains much of the malaise in several electoral jurisdictions where people are leaving the mainstream parties in droves: they simply stand for nothing in particular, if not for more of the same. This doesn’t necessarily show up in the campaign rhetoric, but officials are to be judged not on what they promise, but on what they deliver. In the case of the recent U.S. midterm elections, it seems plausible that the victory of the Republicans has little to do with the merits of the people or the ideas, but a lot to do with the unfulfilled promises of the 2008 election. In effect, the voters were sold a bill of goods and got more of the same, though with a very well-spoken figurehead. In effect, there wasn’t really a true alternative. I see that Bernie Sanders is challenging his hordes to be ready to take on the entrenched structures of capital and no one of prominence has the credibility that Sanders has built over the years. It would be interesting to get inside peoples’ heads to see what they thought of Sanders as a potential president, and we all know that his chances of getting elected are somewhat south of the Vegas minimum, but Bernie represents an alternative that has been there all along, that of rule of the people, by the people and for the people. This has become increasingly difficult to conceive of, let alone implement, as the creeping influence of big money has captured the security establishment, both houses of the legislative branch and a good part of the court system. It has been the hidden alternative, never discussed in polite society and certainly not a figure in the press and entertainment venues that constitute the daily fare of most of us, it has not been a coherent alternative, and it would seem that neither party in the GOP/Dem dichotomy (not so much), as well as the Labour/Tory pairing in the UK and the UMP/Socialist duo in France, presents a framework for that voice.

A further thought about the possible outbreak of something like democracy. This morning’s radio had a feature on an imaginary food truck and the promotion thereof by the buying of glowing reviews and FB likes and Twitter followers. The suppliers of the lies do it for the money. Does this remind anyone else of our political process, except that, instead of a phony grilled cheese sandwich truck, we are paying for bogus legislation and legislators.

Stirring Up Mud


These people were a feature of my listening about the time I went off to university, following hard on the heels of John Mayall’s Hard Road album  and the Crusade, once Peter Green had sought something beyond Mayall and Mick Taylor had stepped in. I watched a fine documentary on early Fleetwood Mac on Youtube this evening (started last evening, but things keep coming up), and it was stimulating to revisit this from another perspective, both in terms of the time of my life and seeing things through another’s eye.



Of course, all the connections with people would come back, floods of those feelings about the boardinghouse where I lived, the beginning of classes, the weather, the food, and the feeling of connection with bluesy music. It’s amazing what’s hiding in the old mental storehouse and how little it takes to evoke floods of images, tastes, smells, tactile sensations and emotions.

In Praise of..

…the old, the full-sized, the connected.



I pulled all the quinces off our tree this morning. We tried through several nurseries over several years to find a full-sized quince without any luck. Finally, we found one in a nursery on our way out to Vesuvius to get a ferry home from a visit to my mother who was recuperating at the time from a fall that had severely curtailed her mobility. The quince in question was a pretty sad specimen, and the nurserywoman refused to sell it to us, but asked if we knew anyone who had a named variety, a situation that would allow us to take cuttings to start. So back we went to my mother’s place and snipped a dozen cuttings from her quince, wrapped them in moistened paper towel and went for the ferry. That was ten years ago, and the tree isn’t forty feet tall because we keep it pruned pretty strictly lest it become impossible to pick. Starting the third year, it gave us a couple of dozen quinces, increasing quickly to a hundred or so, and this morning I picked a full wheelbarrow full of fuzzy yellow fruit that are sized somewhere between a baseball and a softball and hard as rocks. A couple that were split I winnowed out, trimmed up and made into quince paste this morning.


Few people seem to be familiar with the fruits and it unlikely that they would appear in a market. We like to rub the fuzz off them, quarter them and roast them in the pan with pork or chicken and quartered onions. They are really tart, but a nice foil for the onions and the meat. We have also juiced them and made quince jelly: they are loaded with pectin and will jell easily, producing the loveliest pink transparent jelly that goes as well with yogurt as it does with toast. The leavings from the juice get put through a Victoria Strainer and sweetened to make something like applesauce. If you have a food dehydrator, it also makes delicious fruit leather, or it could be made into something like turkish delight, or quince newtons or who knows what else.


My mother is no longer with us, so the tree is something of a living memorial in the yard, along with the bay laurel that we got as a wedding present from Dad’s father, via her and Dad (been in the back yard for 32 years as of Thursday). I like carrying all this lore around with me as I reach deeper and deeper into old age, and the bay leaves and quinces liven the culinary happenings in a way that stirs up lots of fond memories without venturing into maudlin nostalgia. The lore makes for a nice counterpoint to all the fury out there.

None Of The Above



Above is a bit of a rogue’s gallery of major players, at those front and centre, in the disputes taking place in the Ukraine, which came to mind because of this piece on The Real News Network. Of course, some of the same players would be in an analogous gallery relating to Syria and the Iraq redux (re-redux? re-re-redux?), or Libya, Egypt, take your pick, as there seems to be no end of selection for trouble in the current state of statesmanship. Our little graphic is also missing the IMF and World Bank, but their faces coincide with this lot, except Putin, perhaps, and perhaps only in this instance. The lead-in to the piece in question reads:

Political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin says the Russian state is pursuing geopolitical interests in Syria and Ukraine for its elite – to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

The implication is that ordinary Russians are taking a beating over Ukraine and its discontents, a likely scenario, and one would have to think that perhaps Petroshenko represents the same routine when it comes to the general populace of the Ukraine. A lot of this came to mind while reading the current post on Northern Reflections in which Owen muses on the foolishness of Stephen Harper’s adventures in trying to emulate Winston Churchill’s war prime minister persona. I left the following comment:


This is all pretty Alice in Wonderland stuff, though actually, it reeks of people who used Catch-22 as a user’s manual. It also reminds me of reading Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly and finally discerning that the case studies, while about nations acting contrary to their national interests, were actually cases of nations working for the narrow self-interest of the forces behind the governments in question.

This surely describes the great preponderance of world leaders, people who consistently lead away from any manner of society that would smooth our the edges of conflict, provide a decent living for all citizens and encourage broad participation in the moulding of public policy. Our parliament is right in the middle of a debate on the current mission proposal, a debate mooted before its start by the very fact of a Con majority, and by the tepid nature of the opposition. The Libs want a humanitarian mission, and while the NDP makes noises about diplomacy in this case, they fall flat on a laundry list of environmental and some social issues. Elizabeth May, the only elected Green (Hayer being a refugee from the NDP), often makes complete sense, but the party itself often goes wide of the mark on social and economic issues. In effect, none of the choices in Canadian politics will be able to get us to a nation that will be preparing actively for the survival of humanity a century from now. The same situation exists at the provincial level and in a lot of municipal governance. It is encouraging to see, in our little neck of the woods, the emergence of a broad spectrum of candidates for city council and mayor’s chair, some of whom stand steadfastly for the status quo (though they may not entirely own up to it), some of whom are feeling their way toward a new path, and a few who already understand the engagement necessary to move our community toward being a vibrant and inclusive place to live.


I Haven’t Read The Book, Either, But I Did Read The Comments



I’ve been delaying reading this piece because of the anticipation of sheer pain at another shot at someone trying to do something to ensure that we have a planet to live on a couple of decades down the road. I can understand that Margaret Wente, as an apparently very well-off US citizen living a fairly cosseted life as a columnist in Toronto, might take exception to the existence of the economic system that set her up in the life of Riley, but her column was written without, apparently, the benefit of reading the actual book.

(Full disclosure: I, too, hold US citizenship, and lead a different version of that cosseted life out here in the last remaining low-rent district on the Wet Coast. Neither have I read Naomi Klein’s latest tome, though it’s on the list. Unlike Ms. Wente, I came to the conclusion long ago that we are staring down both barrels of the apocalypse on a number of counts and have been actively engaged in local initiatives to do something about the endless wars, resource extraction follies, over-consumption and possible disasters related to food/water shortages and disease.)

MW’s contention is that Klein is clueless on a number of questions relating to both capitalism and climate change and in the rather snide way of discounting the thought that went into the book, labels her the It-Girl of climate change, rather a low blow for someone with pretentious to intellectual status. I was curious to see what the mood was amongst the commenters ( I didn’t get too far, but was surprised to see how vehemently the commenters protested Wente’s not having read the book and proceeded to point out flaws in her argument, specifically that Klein hadn’t addressed issues relating to China and India, stating that those who read the book would find that it was all there. The sad thing is that the Globe and Mail would leave the impression that Wente was on the right side of it all, except for those intrepid enough to dive into the comments.

I’m glad that I delayed reading the piece and glad to get this thought out where I can now ignore it. We all have some pretty important tasks to attend to.

It’s My Education



Update: Just ran across this on Facebook, and how eloquent it is!

In various places in the mainstream media, there are articles along these lines: Teachers and government are both wrong to hold my education hostage.

From the Globe:

With the cancellation of summer school and distance education offerings, student Cole Poirier says he’s felt as though students have been “held hostage” as negotiators from both sides have claimed that they are representing the best interest of students.

“I don’t think it’s right to suspend our education for a labour dispute,” said Mr. Poirer, a student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in the southern end of Vancouver.


This statement speaks to the kind of education being promoted generally in North America, that is to say, job training, and demonstrates something of a lack of perspective on what it means to be educated. When students (and parents) insist that they are being short changed, they need to look at the potential outcomes of the conflict at hand.

If the teachers win in labour negotiations (an unlikely prospect) as they already have twice in court, students will be in smaller classes with staffing made available for students with special needs (these needs carry on right through secondary school: most disabilities can’t be fixed). This does not mean that the education system will be all fixed, but it ensures that there will be a functioning public education system, a framework on which to build some form of education that will extend the notion beyond job training and general grooming for the workforce and allow for analysis to be part of the curriculum so that we won’t be stuck in the same kind of closed loop that brought us to this untenable situation.


If the current provincial government gets its way, either through labour “negotiations” or through a stunning legal reversal (that would essentially void the value of any contract), the school system would continue to be starved for the resources it needs to function until there would only be the skeleton childcare and warehousing service, and even this might be turned over to the private sector. Meanwhile, those who could afford it, along with the few poverty cases that showed themselves worthy of scholarship assistance, would funnel into the private school system, which, oddly enough, is pretty generously subsidized by the province, i.e., you help pay for the fancy campuses, the uniforms and the IB programs.


The net result of Mr. Poirier getting his education at the expense of the BCTF would be to effectively cheat future students out of the whole of their education, not just the part of a year or, Clark forbid, the whole year. I wonder if he and his ilk are willing to consciously shoulder the responsibility for that prospect.


Ultimately, the responsibility for getting educated rests with the individual. Current curriculum is laced with pap and limited perspective. A lot of it is aimed at extinguishing creative impulse and dissent and on imposing restrictions as it sorts out the young folks who aren’t appropriate fodder for the workaday world. It is incumbent on learners to recognize this and to ensure that they accomplish those parts of the curriculum they need to find their niche in society, but to never stop at that point and wander off into the maze of consumerism and social myth that bombards them from all quarters. Learners have many potential partners,parents, peers, the community and, yes, teachers. The remarkable thing about many young people who choose to be educated is that they find the peers, relatives, community leaders and teachers who have something to offer and take from those people what they need to move in the right direction. Some of this may not come from agreeing with what someone says, but from the sense that they’ve been misled and from refusing to accept blindly what issues from the mouths of the anointed. It isn’t the easy path, but a dedicated learner needs to revisit and question whatever comes before him and to constantly reformulate and resynthesize the body of knowledge and ideas that he has accumulated.

It would be wonderful to have a public school system that was a knowledgeable and supportive partner in this undertaking, but it won’t happen with the current governing régime, nor with people whose concern for education ends with their own education and with the loss of the current academic session.




Socialist In Name Olny

Like many, the early days of the Obama presidency brought with them expectation that we had lived through something of a nightmare and that it was time to move on to rebuild the shattered community. the economic landscaped, the tattered diplomacy and the crumbling environment that characterized the Bush years. Sadly, the glory of the Obama presidency has been more of same, the odd sop to progressivism and sound ecology, but more war, more torture, more violation of rights and more inequality. This situation is reflected all over the world, for me particularly in a land for which, thanks to my Dad, I have a strong predilection, France. There, following the disappointment of the two terms of François Mitterand, nominally a socialist, the French got two terms of Chiracism, the new crony capitalism in its nascent form with a strong dose of self-perceived De Gaulle ego. This was followed by the nastiness and arrogance of a term of Sarkoland where the lords of the towers of money really established their preeminence and life for the general populace seemed to spiral down the crapper. Sarkozy was removed in the general election of 2012, when François Hollande came to power with, of all things, a parliamentary majority, and with the support of the EELV, the greenies of the Hexagone. The greatest achievement of this formation has been the Pacte de Responsibilité (just what it sounds like) which bestowed some forty billion euros worth of breaks on the business sector without any established quid pro quo in terms of creation of employment or any other measure to improve the lot of the  working folk. Of course, the idea is to increase the competitive level of French business in relation to the rest of Europe and the World, meaning more stuff being made in France and more jobs. Sounds like straight Strauss to me and some of the elected Socialist Députés felt the same way. including the Minister of the economy, Arnaud Montebourg, who, this week, had the audacity to say something about it. Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister appointed by Hollande five months ago, wasted no time in inviting Montebourg and a couple of his colleagues to leave the cabinet. Montebourg was replaced as Minister of the Economy with a chap named Emannuel Marcon, a product of the Rothschild banking concerns. From this, we can see easily why people are more than a bit disappointed by the Hollande government and has a lot of people divorcing themselves from the political manoeuvres of both the Socialist Party and the UMP, looking to find solace in the arms of Marine Le Pen’s Front National or just calling a pox on all their houses.

As our own next federal contest approaches, I find myself asking if there is a choice worthy of a vote: Harper has devastated, physical, social and spiritual landscapes here in Canada, contributed to a new Dark Age of Ignorance, doomed to planet to war, pestilence and climate dislocation and created inequality in Canada on an unprecedented scale. Justin Trudeau wants to cast himself in the rôle of Saviour from all of the above, but is still a champion of pipelines, of the investment community, big pharma, the arms industry and a hawkish Israel and NATO. Mulcair seems unwilling to tell the nasty truth because he knows it won’t bring him to power. The prospects for responsible government seem to fade with each day. We can only hope that Mr. & Ms. Every(wo)man will begin immediately to scratch some part of another of the collective anatomy and utter the polite Canadian equivalent of WTF before starting to school whatever politician of whatever stripe about being accountable to those with little to lose and an allegorical pitchfork stowed somewhere in the closet.




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.