A Taste In My Mouth



This is a time of year when the garlic gets a little easier to peel. This is the beginning of a casserole that will feature some Great Northern beans that I soaked all last night, a head of garlic, some of Pete’s chorizo, probably some onions, some of our bottled tomatoes and some greens scavenged from under the tents in the garden. I get to make this up as I go along. It’s a lovely change from the ruminations of yesterday, full of angst and murder. Angst and murder are always there, but this is what will fill the kitchen with aromas this afternoon, allowing for a little lightening of the general mood.

Wherefore Tolerance?



Today’s attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, as well as on the spirit of criticism in which they worked, brings thoughts of all those works of the Enlightenment in which tolerance was such a dominant theme. The illustration is from the cover of a recent pocket edition of Lettres persanes, by Montesquieu, in which he portrayed the foibles of contemporary European society as he would have imagined it to be perceived by a couple of visitors from the Levant, in effect mocking his own people. Montesquieu went on at some length in other works, notably L’Esprit des lois, about the need for separation of powers and about keeping religion out of the business of worldly government, a notion that seems increasingly imperilled all over the world, though not every so brazenly as seems to be the case with certain fundamentalists unable to close their eyes to an irreverent attitude on the part of those who don’t share their views of either the spiritual or the temporal world. When Charlie Hebdo first published images of the Prophet, it was clear that they had knowingly hit on a very raw nerve, and to those most offended, being an equal-opportunity lampooner matters little, underlying the sense that certain sects of almost all religions cannot and will not distinguish between the affairs of this Earth and those of whatever version of celestial existence is part of their credo. In addition, and this is where the real rub arises, they cannot and will not accept that what constitutes their own system of beliefs has no relevance for those of other systems of belief: they have all the right answers, and they have the answers for everyone, to the point where simple argumentation will not suffice for redress of transgression and all other dogmas must be extirpated. These are people who are not willing to let the elected and the damned be sorted at death, heretics must be expedited on their way to eternal damnation. Charlie Hebdo chose to be the burr under the saddle in a time and place where there was considerable risk of inciting the kind of violence that was visited upon them today, they knew those risks and chose to proceed. It’s a heavy price to pay and will only be validated if there arises a true spirit of willingness to tolerate diverging opinion. It is also a little painful to hear the commentary from folks like John Kerry and Stephen Harper, as well as other leaders who have been the beneficiaries of tolerant societies who rise up to pontificate on the values represented by a free and open press and the unfettered flow of information and ideas, but who support emasculated and feckless organs of a press establishment that consistently curries favour with corrupt enterprise in both the public and private sphere, and whose organs of government engage in prosecutions of whistleblowers and other truth-tellers, the rendition and torture of prisoners and the extra-judicial executions of those who either refuse, or even neglect, to follow their own social and economic dogma. It’s sad that we pay so little beyond lip service to the thought embodied in the works of Montesquieu, his contemporaries in the Enlightenment, and those who both preceded and followed up in the quest for tolerant pluralism.

Lovelier Thoughts, Michael





















We listened to this endlessly when we were little tots. Strangely, my eldest brother was named Peter, and the sourpuss who couldn’t quite get the flying thing was ceaselessly exhorted to “think lovelier thoughts, Michael”, that being the name of my other elder brother who, being analytical from a young age, tended to express rather cynical thoughts on many scores. So over at The Tyee, Bill Tieleman posted a piece in which he points out that, upon meeting some political foes, he discovers that they have some common likes and that they might be human just like him and that perhaps we ought not to demonize these folks.

Perhaps demonize is a little too strong a term for what needs to be our outlook and how we ought to guide our actions, but a quick scan of the misery and misrepresentation spread by Jim Flaherty, I find that a shared liking for the Group of Seven isn’t enough to want me to treat him particularly kindly, that his behaviour is any more worthy of compassion than petty thugs (who at least can often plead need for their predations, or impulse). There is such a litany of double-dealing, prevarication, greed and grand larceny on the part of so many politicians, and so much of it fits a recurring pattern that belies the possibility that simple stupidity might be at the root of these misdeeds, that it seems difficult to avoid concluding that these folks have knowingly and intentionally engineered schemes to redirect public funds into private pockets and then to smile and cook up a wealth of rationalizations and justifications to cover their real intentions.

Therefore, we needn’t demonize these people: they’ve done that by themselves and anyone who treats them with deference and respect is putting on a display of connivance, or complacency, or ignorance, or some combination of the above. We might want to keep this little quip from Charles Dickens in the back of our minds as we deal with the current régimes in Victoria and Ottawa (and beyond):

I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don’t trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.
—Charles Dickens
And, sadly, as we reflect back on the year and consider what we were promised and what we got, we might want to hold this image close to our hearts.
Political Promises

Housekeeping and Hissy Fit

Broom and Dustpan













By way of an update to the last rant, we should take notice of the signature on behalf of the government on the letters discussed in relation to university mandates: Amrik Virk.His named come up in relation to some dubious dealings as a member of the board of Kwantlen College. As of today, he is no longer the Minister of AE, but still sits in cabinet. Sad.

Another thought was that Christy Clark could well be taking her cues from one Stephen Harper when it comes to controlling information of all natures from curriculum to FOI requests. It looks like a threat to public participation in the political process.

Here’s the hissy fit:

I understand that progressive organizations are starved for cash and that they rely on folks tossing some coin in the hat as they stroll by on there web peregrinations. I dutifully pony up in varying amounts to at least a dozen different sites and organizations. I can’t cover them all at any meaningful level and assume that some, especially the larger, better-known organizations will get funded by their broader readership. It irks me when I get repeated pleas from even the best of sites for donations that I have often already made because, let’s face it, they tug at the little guilty part of my heart, no matter how old and grinchv I get. It gets to look something like the charity dance where you give once to what seems like a worthy charity and find that you get monthly mailings, e-mails and phone calls soliciting further donations so they can keep right on tugging at your coat tails. I’m good at phone calls, where I tell them that if they are phoning, they aren’t getting and that’s just the first step in what will be a concerted campaign to keep them off my line.

(Too bad that the live version of this, from Birmingham in 1980, is embed-disabled)

Wherefore Learning?



Independence is one of the hallmarks of a great university and of the educational opportunities it provides. The independence of our institutions of post-secondary learning is perhaps in deeper jeopardy than at any time in recent history with the issuance and signing of mandate letters, Government Letters of Expectations, this past spring. Reading superficially through the letters doesn’t necessarily set off any alarm bells, but that’s precisely the weaselly nature of the document. These letters, and some addenda, are to be found on the Web at the links below, and all include the same material in the letter itself, it seems.

After the preamble on the purpose of the document we get:

In the spirit of collaboration and cooperation, the Institution agrees to:


– In establishing the Institution’s priorities, consider the Government’s goals of supporting our economy by controlling spending to balance the budget, job creation and investment in the province, and improving social programs that support families of every description and improve the lives o f British Columbians.


Notice the government buzzwords about social programs and families? Think of how good the balancing of the budget has been generally for families and social programs. Job creation and investment both look like code for “we will only fund programs that do what business wants.” It’s good that they only want the institution to consider the Government’s  priorities.


– Work in partnership with the Government and Aboriginal communities, organizations and institutes to implement the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan in order to increase the participation and success of Aboriginal learners.


This tells me that the Government wants to do to Aboriginal communities what they’ve done to the rest of the citizens of the Province.


– Assist in advancing Government’s International Education Strategy, including promoting greater internationalization o f the education system, attracting and retaining more international students, and providing increased opportunities for students and educators to study and work abroad.


Here we see the drive to generate trade by importing international students we can soak for exorbitant tuition and housing while excluding needy students from British Columbia, all of whom should move to Peace River gas fields or go straight to Tar Sands Land.


– Continue to support the development and adoption of open education resources, including Government’s open textbook initiative, to increase affordability for students and their families.


Washes of material on-line, mostly unmediated, selected texts available for free while the real stuff hides out in bookstores for very real money, but keep this young riffraff off the campus and as far as possible from Gordon Head, Burnaby Mountain and West Point Grey.


– Support seamless delivery of education and skills training for students from high school right through entry into the workforce.


Start students down this path while they’re young and have neither choice nor discernment and keep hammering that message until they get let out with a mountain of debt to toil as drones with only the light of BCTV and National Post to inform them of their good fortune.


– Collaborate with Government to set targets for post-secondary graduates to ensure British Columbia’s current and future labour market needs are met.


We don’t do broad-ranging inquiry, research and knowledge. Cultural heritage? Take it elsewhere.


– Continue to minimize overhead costs and, where appropriate, consolidate functions across different post-secondary institutions.

 Cut programs that don’t pay their way in the perhaps vain hope that one of those other universities will fill the gap. Not our worry.


– Undertake an institution-wide core review of post-secondary education programming to ensure student seats are being filled .


Core review is an oft-recurring code for insane cutbacks. A good way to ensure seats are filled is to create an artificial shortage.


– Comply with the Government’s tuition limit policy that limits tuition and mandatory fee increases. For 2014/15, fee increases will be limited to two percent. A copy ofthe tuition limit policy can be found on the Ministry’s website.

Meanwhile, what has been the direction and magnitude of salary increases for those close to the Premier’s office?


Under the heading General Institutional Accountabilities, we see the following:


- Conduct its affairs in a manner consistent with the spirit and intent of all applicable legislative, regulatory and policy framework established by the Government, and with the principles of integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and service.


Let she who is without blame cast the first stone.


– Ensure audited financial results (before endowment contributions) achieve a balanced or surplus position on an annual basis, and develop strategies to ensure this is achieved.


These strategies must include shredding of union contracts, keeping the faculty in line should they start to get uppity, or even restless, and offloading expenses down the hierarchy wherever possible.


– Conduct board matters in accordance with the Government’s best practice guidelines-

BC Governance and Disclosure Guidelines for Governing Boards o fPublic Sector Organizations, which can be found on the Ministry of Finance website.


How much did those Olympic Games cost? How about the Millennium Line? B.C. Place refurb? Site C?

- Ensure any board remuneration is publicly disclosed on the Institution’s website as required by the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat.


Along with all the other financial shenanigans we’ve seen out of Victoria…


– Comply with the Government’s requirements to be carbon neutral under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act.


Carbon Neutral? Liquid.Natural.Gas. Let she who is without blame cast the first stone.


– Comply with the Government’s freeze on executive and management compensation announced September 2012.


– Comply with the 2014 Economic Stability Mandate which applies to collective agreements that expire on or after December 31 , 2013 . A summary o f the mandate is available on the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariatwebsite.

Remember those union guys? They’re a botheration on the spirit.Do whatcha gotta, but beat them back.


If Music Be The Food Of Love






Duke Orsino:
If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3

Two posts on the SF Gate caught my eye this morning, one about the highest paid musicians of the year, and the other about the music that U.S. interrogators used to torture suspects caught up in the web of renditions and extrajudicial lock-ups of terror suspects

I didn’t cross reference the two posts to see if there might be some overlap, but extrapolating from the titles gives me cause to bemoan the state of culture, and particularly music, in our current version of what passes for civilization. I wonder if the torturers had this in mind as they blasted eardrums with the abrasions of what their victims might otherwise have been able to have passed off as simple bad taste:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

–William Congreve

It reminds me, in a way, of many conversations I’ve heard over the years, in some of which I’ve been an active participant, about who is the best musician, the best instrumentalist, the best technician, the best whatever, until somehow some of us arrived at the point that this was primarily a matter of personal taste and stopped scoffing at other people’s assessments and also stopped particularly caring what others thought of what pleased us, or displeased us. Somebody likes almost everything and let ‘em have it, but the desire to label the music that sells the most as the best (isn’t that what it is?) speaks really poorly of a culture that bows down to common taste and forgoes discussions of the content of the music. Conversely, it is almost perversely appropriate that we should torture captured souls from other cultures with the worst products of the sick society against which they are likely railing, such that they would know the righteousness of their cause even as their minds turn to jelly and scream out for relief before they move on to the next dimension. I once really believed that music was a force for good in the world until it became so commodified and misused that it became part of the destruction attendant upon people so distracted that they fail to see that their cultural icons, if they follow the mainstream, are most often in cahoots with the authors of the breakdown of any sense of community. Oh, darn, I’m starting to sound like Tipper Gore crusading against the moral breakdown of society through naughty lyrics in pop music.Torture and Big money: something to consider (now I’ll go back to my Eric Dolphy recordings).



Sowing The Seeds of …



One of the great joys of the approach of winter is allowing myself to dive into the seed catalogues and place orders for the coming season. Some seed lines we save and redistribute, some we replant from purchased seed, and every year there are a couple of new varieties that get a trial in the garden. Seed catalogues are a lot like other inducements to buy with glossy pictures and glowing descriptions of the plants and their edible bits, on the same order as wine labels, and I suspect that there is some of the same mystique generated by the anticipation of the pleasure of growing as there is with imbibing.

Earlier, I was in contact with Baker Creek Heritage Seeds about the possibility of a donation of seeds to our local seed library, run by the Food Group of the Alberni Valley Transition Towns Society, Vancouver Island Health, and the Port Alberni Branch of the Vancouver Island Public Library. Shortly after I made the request, I got a call from Charles, one of the group, wondering about an invoice he received from the Baker Creek folks, but with zeros showing at the bottom line: the donation had already shipped. It was a generous variety of different seeds, for which we are thankful, as we are thankful that there are outfits like BCHS that promote seed saving, open-pollinated and heritage varieties and who staunchly oppose genetic modification. My dealings with them over the last decade have all been of a positive nature and I continue to place substantial orders with them so I can play more effectively in the dirt when the weather improves.

I haven’t gotten my order from Baker Creek, but I did get an order from West Coast Seeds, who, I believe, have donated already in the past year (I’ll check and strong-arm them if they haven’t). Again, it’s a seed house I’ve dealt with for a couple of decades with nothing but positive results. I made a point of ordering larger quantities of seeds than I would likely use, and what you see in the above photo is my little kitchen table operation for breaking out small packets of seed that I will take to the library to share with others who might be thinking of getting started at providing some part of their own food. It hardly seems fair to encourage others to donate if I don’t have a bit of a stake in the game.

There are several groups in town who are involved in starting up community gardens, and I suspect that some seeds may find their way into those plots, but it is also my hope that we’ll see plantings in back yards of both renters and owners, that there might  actually be initiatives to share surplus produce,and that some people will take the time to become knowledgeable about saving seeds and restore their withdrawals to the seed library as a return or deposit.

Between droughts and floods in some of the primary agricultural areas, food scarcity is a real problem, and price rises may have the same effect with the straitened budgets that many are experiencing. I know from my own growth as a player in the dirt that becoming a gardener is an ongoing process and takes not only sweat and sore muscles, but also thought and good information, gathered through reading, through  talking with other gardeners and through personal experience: the donation of seeds will likely not be enough to promote successful food production. Gardeners will have to share time and labour to help others get started and then nurture the neophytes to ensure that the experience is as rewarding socially as it is nutritionally.

Meanwhile, along with the garden initiatives, there need to be efforts to get as many people as possible into a constructive engagement with the community, including the economic phase of life so that food, and other basic needs, are available to all lest we become a physical grouping of individuals rather than a community.





Neither, Nor














Angela Merkel










A most frequent occurrence, there’s a lot of telling material for your reading pleasure at Salt Spring News, the latest instalment dealing in considerable depth with recent moves involving a developing alliance between Russia and Turkey, doing something of an end-around to counter NATO moves in the Ukraine and Syria. Mr. Scott has run this most excellent aggregator site for more than a decade, providing not only the material for rumination, but a short rumination of his own from time to time. He has often featured pieces from Pepe Escobar, a pundit who is the diametric opposite of what we see in our closer-to-home press, that is to say, a fine researcher and a scribe who looks under all the rocks before informing his readers of all aspects of the subject of his enquiries. His latest piece can be accessed at SSN (link above) or here, so now we can get to the point of the mainstream of tonight’s symposium (h/t Tom Lehrer, An Evening Wasted With, c. 1959).)


Pictured above are some of the prima ballerinas in the current dance macabre working through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, with Erdo and Vlad finessing some slick stuff on Merkie and Obie of late. For those of us who don’t like the meddling of NATO in the affairs of the Ukraine or supporting sworn enemies to unseat Assad in Syria, there is this tendency to gloat at the undoing of the narrative that the West is promoting in this region, as well as others around the globe. There is also a tendency to forget what sort of people Vlad and Erdo have shown themselves to be through the repressive actions against minorities in their own countries as well as the sequestration of wealth and suppression of human and general social rights at home and abroad. The sad part is that, for the ordinary citizen who believes that we should all have a say in the affairs of our land, there may be no viable choice from those extant, and there is a readjustment in thinking, one that takes us from an alignment with existing organizations to a sense of belonging to a broader human group of fluid and changing nature in which we provide our own leadership and delegate freely as long as those to whom we delegate work toward agreed objectives. When objectives are not met, or the effort goes astray, we withdraw our support and realign. Anyone who felt the upsurge of interest and energy attendant upon the “hope and change” campaign of 2008, who sensed the stark contrast between the mumblings of the Bush and the soaring oratory of Obama, it continues to be something of a bleeding sore to see that Obama has, for all intents and purposes, become Bush, other than the words. We saw this play out on a lesser scale a couple of weeks back when we saw the loyal opposition in Victoria sign on to a tax bill that even some of their members qualified as a sell-out. It was a no-brainer: the measure would pass with or without their vote, and instead of taking a stand against the bald giveaway of what should be common resources, the opposition became the same corruption by voting with the government. Weaver stood alone is asking the rhetorical WTF? and the sitting was over.

The difficulty lies in building community activity to counter this massed stupidity and betrayal, a process that seems to require a good deal of patience, but there remains the question of how much time do we have to be patient, given the pressing nature of the challenges we face.






A Misdirection On A Confabulation

File 154


Yes, my sort-of-kind-of-favourite-Premier-because-she’s-the-only-one-we’ve-got is holding forth over on the Globe and Mail about Gomeshi and abuse. Not to want to seem unconcerned, but let’s deal with Gomeshi the same way we should have dealt with Rob Ford: if he’s guilty of a crime let’s enforce the penalties and have done with it. Is this  Ms.Clark suggesting that comments by the leader of the opposition amount to abuse? Serious problem, especially coming from one who has abused the political process, the levers of government, the justice system and the English Language. But, then, we might have to admit that being straightforward doesn’t seem to be in the Premier’s toolkit.



So here’s some Misdirected Blues from one of my fave players:


Ian Anderson, spokesman for Kinder Morgan in a current ad campaign…



So this character gets on the tube telling us about the hundreds of conversations and how they’ve engaged with First Nations and that they will continue to listen to make their project the best it can be, but it’s meaningless because the part of the conversation he’s not hearing, along with his pals in Victoria and Ottawa, is that it shouldn’t happen at all. If KM wants to do some good and make a buck or two, how about doing something with geothermal: it should be right up their alley. I would still prefer that we do all this locally and that Kinder Morgan and all its carpetbagging cronies disappear back into the landscape in Texas and Oklahoma, where they might also want to consider other forms of energy so that their descendants can have something of a future.

It’s also galling that these campaigns, with all their half-truths, deceptions, misdirections and faux sincerity end up being paid with our money, as they write it all off their revenue stream as a cost of doing business, further enriching the media Mob who happily broadcast this shite and pocket the proceeds. Look-here, you get to tie your own noose!

I like this Ian Anderson better…



…at least his bluster and buffoonery is musical and utterly avoidable and its consequences are pretty negligible. I actually like a lot of Jethro Tull. I also like Blodwyn Pig and Jack Lancaster…