If This Is Tuesday…


…it might be a good day for a couple of not-so-random thoughts.

Making Pulp?

Over at National Observer, there is an article about avoiding the use of trees in the manufacture of pulp and paper products by substituting the vast quantities of wheat straw for the usual complement of trees harvested in the forests of the Northwest. Eastern Washington State is the location of some of the most ridiculously fertile soil on the planet, to the point where I recall reading about farmers having to develop strains of wheat that were less prone to tall growth because the nutrient level in that part of the world meant that normal strains would grow too tall and collapse on themselves. However, fertility, we know, is to forever and must be maintained and reinforced wherever possible. Most of the current literature I’ve read would suggest that the more biomass you leave on the land, the better the soil health will be in the long run and the better will also be both crop yield and quality, other factors being equal. So the use of wheat straw for paper product may save trees, but it’s likely to the detriment of soil quality, and much of that quality, according to the Savoury Institute and other forward-looking groups, lies in the embedded carbon in the soil, to wit, soils have at least as much potential as carbon sinks as forests. On the face of it, this article seems like something positive in the effort to rein in climate disruption, but misses the real point in that we will likely have to forego the use of a lot of the paper products so ubiquitous in our everyday existence so as to sacrifice neither forest nor field to the gods of consumption.

Shades of Colonel Batguano

(…a nod to Dr. Strangelove, as pertinent as ever, just not here and now, but it’s my post!)

Meanwhile, a fellow transitioner posted this link on Facebook to an article in Hakai Magazine about the valuable role that bird guano plays in maintaining fertility in ecosystems.

Birds Do It…


“We wanted to inform the general public about the importance of seabirds and the value they provide for humans,” says Daniel Plazas Jimenez, a PhD candidate at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil who studies food chains and coauthored the paper, published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. But the value that seabirds provide to world ecosystems is much greater, Jimenez adds—a powerful argument for seabird preservation.”

So, again, while farmers can use guano to raise crops, and while the Chileans and Peruvians may have fought a war with the Spaniards over the stuff (it was also a source of nitrogen for the manufacture of explosives), nature itself likely provides greater benefit to humans and the rest of the biosphere than any dollar amount derived from the extraction and application of guano.

We are often asked by those proponents of the status quo to turn off our energy-intense furnaces, get all the plastic out of our abodes, forego any transport that uses any fossil fuels and go back to living life in the Stone Age if we wish to curtail the current régime of extraction and consumption without bothering to mention that their patrons have for decades actively blocked any sort of a transition to a paradigm that might allow for the survival of human civilization into the next century. Our task, and the task for all our friends in the fossil fuel/extraction industrial base, is to envision a future where there is at least a sufficiency of necessities for everyone, and, hopefully, a plenitude of whatever we need to survive, thrive and prosper without soiling our own nest and while protecting and nurturing the rest of the biosphere.



…and I miss the Mound of Sound.

Is This The Best We Can Do?

To no one’s great surprise, the NEB put its stamp of approval on the “revised” application for the construction of the TransMountain Pipeline, even the ‘new-and-improved’ model looks an awful lot like the original shabby sham of an oil-lobby grease job. This represents an utter failure of governance in Canada (not to mention the effect this will have on our atmosphere, oceans, storms, wildfires, sea-level rise and the rest of the disruption catalogue). None of these parties seems to get that, for our society to continue to exist, we have to leave this gunk safely buried in the ground, and, while the time to begin the process of weaning ourselves off our present addiction was several decades ago, we didn’t do that, so that makes now the next best option.

Justin Trudeau, campaigning in the last general election, deployed the full-spectrum Liberal strategy of saying most anything to get elected, particularly at the expense of Tom Mulcair, knowing that many were just so tired of the Conservative wet blanket of the previous decade that they would go to great lengths to unseat the Harper crowd. All those glowing campaign promises and the soaring rhetoric that filled the earliest of the sunny days disappeared into a morass of same-old, same-old once the rubber hit the road. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party settled on a brand new face for the same blood-sport capital sell-out that characterized the Harper years, but with dimples and a complete lack of either gravitas of intellect. The New Democrats turfed Mulcair and replaced him with Singh, a seemingly decent guy who seems to need to check the weathervane before making a policy pronouncement, and even then, doesn’t necessarily stick to it.

These three stooges have taken centre stage in Canadian governance against the backdrop of an economy that serves only a relative few, a frayed social fabric, simmering internal divisions, and an environment that threatens to become entirely inhospitable to life in general, and specifically a teetering technological human society. All three major national leaders continue to play in the sandbox of Canadian politics as though it’s 1950 and a new era of prosperity and progress awaits us, rather than recognizing the crises into which we’ve already entered and educating  us as citizens as to the necessary steps in mitigation, adaptation and revamping that will be necessary to ensure that the numerous offspring of the Trudeau and Scheer households have a shot at a decent life. Instead of mining more goop from the tar sands, why not put those yellow vests to work doing something constructive, building renewable energy infrastructure, reforestation and agricultural rejigging to ensure that we all get fed and that more people can work the land in a regenerative fashion?

This isn’t happening because none of our leaders has the courage to say what many of us know and then to take the steps necessary to throw off the ties that bind them to their handlers and the people whose interests the handlers represent: banking, pharma, Big Ag, the arms dealers, tech companies and, above all, fossil fuel concerns. Those whose good gigs are suffering because so much wealth has already left the country and even the slightest steps toward sanity feel like persecution. No one has been able to decouple a good living from the insanity of the oilfields, and it’s unlikely at this point that people are going to lend much credence to anything that comes from the mouths of our most august leaders.

Elizabeth May stands out as the only leader to do the right thing: she went and got herself arrested protesting TMX, and so need say little else. It would be too much to hope for a minority government next October with May and several colleagues holding the balance of power. Ephemeral though it might be, it would at least have a chance at airing some serious concerns in the kabuki theatre that is the Commons.


Another ‘New” “Free Market” Party


Huffpost pic


Many sources have indicated that Maxime Bernier is quitting the caucus of the Conservative Party of Canada, likely because it isn’t a true libertarian paradise. The trigger irritant seems to have been the idea that our own JT is practicing extreme multiculturalism, and that too much diversity will destroy Canada. He says, or one of his spokespeople said, that he wants to create a party based on free market principles, along the lines of the Wild Rose Party in Alberta, and yada yada. He doesn’t like supply management, unions, public anything and definitely not the idea of The Commons in any form. Let the market decide.


The problem with the market is that it already exists and is a creation of capital controlled by a small and very entitled group of people. So when we start this free market, there’s never a reset where everyone starts out with the same resources and the same opportunities, but we carry on the fiction of a free market, even though our executive, legislative and judicial apparatus uses a set of scales with a heavy thumb on the side of those already most well-off. It would be laughable that Bernier finds the current CPC to be morally corrupt, given that his major objection is that they don’t stand for a vision based on a pure enough version of greed. As John Kenneth Galbraith quipped:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

Bernier’s Free Market Party would strive to take us to greater depths of economic and social disparity. My sense is that we’re already teetering on the edge of the abyss as it is without having someone like Mad Max pouring further combustible on the flames.

Rachel’s Path to Success

Rachel Notley announced yesterday that Alberta will be seeking intervenor status in the BC reference question, that she’s ready to turn off the oil taps to BC, and that she’s rolling out an ad campaign to win hearts and minds to the Kinder Morgan cause. So here we have a promise to participate in the process whose legitimacy she has denied, a threat, and paid persuasion. Cute.

The ads are the most curious part of the package. That a province that doesn’t balance the books should spend money on ads is pretty retrograde, that the ads in question should be for the benefit of a profitable Texas-based pipeline company touches on absurd, and the idea that she can capture hearts and minds is frightening.

After all, advertising is really about getting the target population to spend more money than it ought to on things it doesn’t need, often doesn’t want, and which may, in both long- and short- terms, be hazardous to the health of the target population. Just sit in front of a television for an hour and you’ll see all these phenomena in play. Perhaps if the ads can make you believe you need to eat Chocolate-Covered Sugar Bombs, they can also convince you that you like dilbit and paying to build a pipeline so that you can ship the stuff through several hundred kilometres of varying terrain and urban landscape to tidewater, thence to undetermined markets leaving no economic benefit for most of BC and a large sword of Damocles in terms of spills. Rachel wants to convince you that this is a good deal. It is not. Rachel, Justin, Jim Carr, Ian Anderson and the whole tar baby industry are lying to you. They want you to lie to yourself. I won’t, not in this instance. Please join me.


Kinder Morgan and Raison d’État


Listening to Justin Trudeau speak of Canada as a country of rule of law reminded me of this paragraph from John Ralston Saul’s 1992 tome, Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.His assertion that Kinder Morgan had achieved all the requisite permits rings hollow, given the make-up of the NEB and the writing of the regulations by the former Harper administration under whose regulations the Trans Mountain expansion was approved speaks of a willingness to choose allegiance to the law as it suits his own purposes, and his invocation of the national interest belies the idea that the national interest might include the best interests of all Canadian citizens rather than the will of the Chinese government who might eventually decide that they want to ship bitumen into their energy mix, or of the fossil fuel cabal that insists on its right to trash whatever it will in the pursuit of profit, most of which is sent offshore in a big hurry.

This is Justin telling us that he knows better than we do, that he alone can, with the aid of his special sidekick Cath McKenna, perform that special trick of legerdemain wherein we produce more carbon-intensive fuels and manage in passing to meet those laudable climate goals expressed to such loud ovations in Paris in 2015. There is a whiff of something malodorous about this business, something that resembles the duplicity of pretty much the whole of the Liberal election platform. Trudeau the Younger seems to have a bit of a problem being truthful, and his difficulty seems to increase as he seems to increase his belief in his own pronouncements.

If Kinder Morgan does abandon the project, it will be because Kinder Morgan will have recognized that market forces have clearly demonstrated that the project doesn’t work.  There has perhaps been a shove due to the resistance from First Nations and those inclined to leave something of a livable legacy for their children and future generations, but the long-run prospects for fossil fuels get less attractive with every cent that comes off the price of a kilowatt of renewable energy, particularly given that we know how to store and distribute intermittent energy, and that we have the technology to convert electricity to liquid hydrogen, as well as how to make plastics and other items from crops we already know how to grow. Mr. Trudeau would seem to see himself as part of a technocrat élite that ought rightly to be above having its pronouncements or actions questioned, and there are places on the planet where this would work well for him, but in Canada, he is supposed to serve his constituents rather than the reverse.



Note: A discussion of the rule of law needs to include this little gem depicting an anti-spawning mat installed by Kinder Morgan to facilitate the permitting and building of the Trans Mountain pipeline, an act that looks to my untrained legal mind as a clear infraction of fisheries law. Did Justin stamp his feet over these? They may be all gone (if they aren’t, something is clearly amiss in the realm of the righteous) but the act itself speaks to an attitude of arrogance and impatience that augurs not well for a collaborative relationship between pipeline proponent and citizens.

Note 2: Saul’s book is a worthy read even if you don’t see it as revelatory or agree with his outlook on history and governance. It resonates pretty loudly with me.

Protecting Genetic Heritage

Along with whatever might be useful as we plunge into the abyss of our GM-AI-Driverless Technofuture:

Semences autochtones : la Tunisie en prend de la graine

Alors que les semences de blé améliorées, massivement importées dans les années 80, sont rattrapées par les maladies, les variétés traditionnelles font de la résistance.


An article from Libération details how Tunisia has reverted to the use of heritage seeds for its staple crops, having experienced high degrees of disease and degradation with the ongoing plantings of hybrid and GM varieties adopted in the ’80s. There is particularly heightened interest in this given that Tunisia was where the Arab Spring first arose, and arise it did because of lack of food due in part to lack of funds, tied to lack of work. This appears to be a rare application of that rarest of commodities of late, common sense based on traditional knowledge.

Taxes are…

Long ago, I came to see the following, attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, as an axiom by which to gauge a good deal of public policy:

Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.

Today, I ran across this in the cesspool that is Facebook, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that it was posted by a former student:

I guess it hurts to see a chunk of your paycheque disappearing into the maw of Revenue Canada to be handed out by the Trudeau Liberals to miscreants both foreign and domestic, layabouts, drug addicts, Commies, queers and Jews (to paraphrase an old line from Asshole from El Paso, Chinga Chavin, c. 1975).

There is little doubt that much of what we pay in taxes is misspent in paroxysms of waste, but the object of the ire is often the wrong target by a long shot. All the welfare fraud, even all the welfare, pales in comparison with the funds eaten up by misguided projects like the Phoenix pay system where implementation is into the hundreds of millions of dollars stretching across the mandates of two governments with no end in sight to the expenditures and no resolution to the seemingly random overpaying, underpaying or simple not paying of civil servants. The examples of this sort of waste are legion, but even this sort of malfeasance pales in comparison to the amount of cash extracted by large corporations, by foundations and by rich individuals, money taken from people such as Tommy, the former student in question, and shipped offshore to be tucked away in perfectly legal (moral? not so much) accounts in Panama, the Bahamas, the Isle of Man, and such places for future reference, but without scrutiny by Revenue Canada. Revenue Canada recently was convicted of malicious prosecution of a couple of business people in Nanaimo, apparently chosen because they didn’t have the kind of financial and legal resources at the disposal of, say, the clients that KPMG counselled to set up accounts in offshore havens. Yes, you, the hardworking individual, are subject to the yoke of taxation in a way that touches the wealthy in a  proportionately gentle fashion, it would seem.

I’m an old retired guy now, but I spent a lifetime working for a living, a wage slave if there ever was one. Before I discovered the joys of a career in the classroom, I worked in commercial fishing, in logging, in hospital and hotel maintenance, in construction, in plumbing, in bookselling, in grill cooking, in gardening and hauling, in rock drilling and odd bits of this and that to fill in the gaps and pay for much of my education (I also had a really good gig for a number of years running a pool hall and bowling alley on campus, not great pay but very satisfying socially). All along, I paid taxes, and, for the most part, it was money that went away to support other people and initiatives. I obviously needed it less than those who benefited directly from government largesse. But when I hurt my back rock drilling, I actually managed to get some support from WCB, and there were no huge doctor bills or prescription worries because there were programs, supported by taxes, to take care of those items.

We don’t always get the best value for our tax dollars, and the system of taxation is far from equitable and fair (a reflection of general economic policy), but I still pay taxes on my pension and am happy to do so for the aid that some folks get when they most need it and for those services provided by all levels of government.

None of us lives insolation and we all have contributions to make to our social life. Taxes are part of it, as is the responsibility to be informed on governance and to participate in the conversations that should be leading us forward.

Do You Believe What You’re Reading?

So here, you’ll find the Post Media outrage that RT gets paid to be on the cable services, as if pretty much most of the rest of the offerings aren’t mouthpieces for a toxic system of private profit and public plundering.


For a bit of perspective, here is a piece from Lee Camp who broadcasts on RT and whose work is highly critical of the bulk of media outlets. It’s eloquent, obviating the need for me to blather on.


Blow Back

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


The following headline showed up in my Twitter feed this morning:

Local economic impacts would be considerable if Site C

is cancelled: Chamber President

…and you can go to the source here (it was posted by Integrity BC)

The crux of the matter is that there will be a loss of revenue to those providing service to the work site/project and that layoffs will ensue, should the project be cancelled. Yes, there will likely be some of that, though a principled and aware government would be taking steps to mitigate the negative effects by redirecting that portion of the embedded costs to local business for other work that might be deemed in the public interest, and some form of development, if properly thought through, would almost always be appropriate for the region. However, we have to ask ourselves whether any of the local leadership was paying attention as the plans for this project moved forward. The exclusion of the Utilities Commission from any review should have been a red flag, and certainly when the then-Premier spoke of pushing the project past the point of no return, hackles ought to have been fully deployed with the message loud and clear that this was perhaps a politically motivated boondoggle and that those who put their faith in it were those who would be abetting a scheme to defraud taxpayers and ratepayers of substantial sums for decades to come. The documentation was always there, though it might have taken some chasing beyond the confines of Global News or the PostMedia crowd.

The logical course of action now for the Nabobs of the North is to work with Victoria to wind down this project and remediate the entirety of the damages while developing strategies to ensure that an appropriate package of development funds will be earmarked and distributed to northern communities to ensure that they will be equal participants in whatever prosperity flows from the ongoing business of the whole province. Let’s stop making problems to fix, let’s work to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake in an economy that isn’t run for the benefit of large corporate donors to the party of “free enterprise” (and insults in the legislature).


The Burden of Politics and Governing


Photo by Daniel Malikyar on Unsplash

In the course of many extended conversations with a friend who practices law, mostly pertaining to real estate, we would touch on the essence of what a career entailed. I was a school teacher until I discovered the wonders of retirement, and Scott even went as far as to pay a visit to the small rural school where I spent five really stellar years late in my working life. I had visited his office on occasion, but it would have been somewhat awkward for me to get in any observations of his interactions with clients, so I had to take his word for his thoughts on the law, its deployment, and on how it affected the parties undertaking the legal process.

A recurring theme in our conversations was that education formed a good part of many occupations where one has to deal with human beings, and Scott thought this was very relevant to the practice of law, particularly in the process of bringing parties to an acceptable settlement without engaging the services of the court and burning through exorbitant legal fees. I had observed some of this phenomenon in my father’s architectural practice where clients had, at times, unrealistic expectations of what could be built, and especially what could be built within a realistic budget, along with considerations of light, sight lines, interior spaces, interrelationships within the building envelope and how the building related to the building site. This was a critical part of the work because it was, in essence, the intellectual and spiritual framework for construction and ensured that the client understood well in advance not only the end result, but the journey from conception to planning, to detail preparation and on to construction before final occupancy. Dad’s success as an architect rested on the number of people who would write at the end of the process to say not only that they were deeply enjoying the final project, but also that they could see how those initial consultations had set the course for both the process and the result.

Such is not the case for all practitioners, and the area where education seems to be least central to the work at hand is in politics and government, an area where a good part of the electorate is content to function on preconceived notions of ideology and/or to accept the divisions laid out in the existing political framework of parties, candidates and support groups. As in business, it would appear for secrecy and deception to be largely the norm, sometimes through societal inertia, sometimes through duplicity, sometimes through expediency. The electorate gets bombarded with waves of information, but said information has been carefully chosen to direct attention to whatever the agency deems as good and to distract from the sources of the information and, often, the possible and likely consequences of the decisions being made. Where business is entirely about generating profit for shareholders and the executive suite, there seems little impetus to ensure that we are getting the whole picture and that the profits being generated will do more good than harm. The current and ongoing shut-down of the Sears retailing establishment in Canada is an interesting case study, where layoffs and disappearing pensions are being used to fund bonuses to the executives who have taken the enterprise into bankruptcy and dissolution, where those responsible for the decisions that lead to the downfall reap large rewards and those who toiled in the trenches are stripped of benefits, both present and future.

The same hiding behind a veil of secrecy also prevails in most governing bodies, often for the benefit of small groups of people whose fortunes allows them much greater influence than the one vote to which the general populace can aspire. Where this amounts to corruption, if often goes unpunished because of that same veil of secrecy. This is a legal matter and missed opportunity to hold to account those at fault. Other times, there may be cases where policy seems distant in its origin and benefit, and the implementation seems high-handed and dictatorial. In those cases, what’s lacking in a meaningful effort on the part of those enacting that policy to ensure than all parties are armed with the data and analysis to make sense of the action. All of our elected representatives ought to be armed with the knowledge to explain their decisions and the ability to make sense of those decisions to the people who elected them. as well as those who may have made other, unfulfilled choices at election time.

As an example, the current discussions of reconciliation with First Nations certainly has both supporters and detractors. On this file, we seem to be moving slowly, but there is an ongoing stream of relevant information that needs to be put at everyone’s disposal and there needs to be time for options to be developed and time and resources allotted to First Nations to sort out what might be their idea of the desired outcomes. For those like Senator Lynn Beyak whose sense is that First Nations should just “get over it” and become Canadians, there is a chance to review the information and to show that they have a basis for their beliefs, and for the rest of us to understand that perspective, without necessarily accepting that it might be valid if we have data and analysis to bolster our own thoughts.As new material emerges, we might need to re-evaluate our positions.

There is a certain amount of anxiety in the salmon farming community at this point, where First Nations are occupying a farm and where notice of review of tenures seems to have given the idea to the companies that they are about to be unceremoniously evicted from the waterways of the province. It turns out that the reviews are scheduled and that the panic might reveal more about the outlook of Marine Harvest than about the state of the spaces they occupy. For a group that appears to have done whatever it can to squelch information relating to disease outbreaks, escapes and other negative effects on wild stocks, there might be a tendency to think that the fish farming community senses that the end of their current business mode might be coming to an end. I wonder if they are willing to put all the informational cards on the table and let the public decide in full knowledge of how the industry operates and what are the real benefits and harms involved in their operations. It i here that the government, and especially the ministers responsible, ought to have the duty and the mandate to see that all appropriate information is put at the disposal of the electorate so that, when the government decides to either renew the tenures or to let them lapse, we will all have a clear understanding of the reasoning behind that decision.

When it comes to light that local casinos have become a money laundromat, and where it comes to light that the phenomenon has been known to government for the better part of a decade, and where the knowledge has been buried because it might have a negative impact on certain “commercial” enterprises, and where those enterprises are undertaken by people whose moral, electoral and financial support props up the party that buries the report, we have the exact opposite of a desirable education quotient. This is not a simple oversight, but a fraud on the electorate, even if the law seems not to see it as punishable.

The same applies to the approval of projects that appear, on the fact of it, to contrary to the interests of Canadians as a whole, but that will be good for board rooms in Toronto, Calgary and Houston, projects whose evaluation omits large swathes of data about downstream consequences to be suffered by all of us, but whole effects will be mitigated for those who stand to gain the most.

As a voter, I am willing to revise my position on many files, but I need to see that I’m getting decisions based on the best information, which means all the information. It falls upon my representatives to convince that the revision is warranted.