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.

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: