My Eyes…

… are quite red from all the rubbing.

Here are a few items that have had my head swivelling back and forth, even as I rub my eyes:

Where’s the middle ground between authoritarianism and democracy?georgelakoff.substack.com

As much as to say that you can neither be somewhat pregnant, nor somewhat fascist, and that that “fair and balanced” crap is just that, a fence on which to sit so as not to alienate anyone, especially paid advertisers.

Mussel Farming Is Healing the UK’s Coastal Food Chain

This resembles some of the work of the Savory Institute in rehabilitating land using integrated animal management to enhance the soil biome, increase plant diversity, deepen root masses and store carbon.

https://www.sfgate.com/politics-op-eds/article/should-have-listened-to-oppenheimer-17670146.php?IPID=SFGate-HP-CP-Spotlight

A figure from the past shows us something about the trajectory on which we find ourselves, in large part because of the influence of those bent on control and private gain, in this case, the military and arms manufacturers, in our current pass, those same as well as entrenched fossil fuel concerns, bankers, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Health, and a slew of governments and their attendant bureaucracies who are all too comfortable denying reality.

https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2022/12/22/Why-I-Stopped-Giving-Food-Bank/

One of my primary bugaboos of late, wherein people directing society seem willing to slough of responsibility for the remediation of the ills created by a throwaway attitude towards whole segments of civilization and pass that on to the charity industry, composed of people wanting to do well for the less-fortunate, but having morphed into huge bureaucracies who look increasingly as though their real raison d’être is to ensure its own continued existence, rather than the elimination of the circumstances that cause poverty, homelessness, malnutrition, energy poverty and the like.

 

https://nor-re.blogspot.com/2022/12/failure-pure-and-simple.html

Owen Gray riffs on an article from Andrew Nikiforuk, an author not at all afraid of staying on point when the slogging is glum, frightening and depressing, on the state of our interactions with the COVID pandemic, and the willingness of our leadership to gloss over the harm for the economic benefits that wide-open business confers on us, or those that survive. There is also the little Montaigne quip in the header graphic about cowardice being the mother of cruelty that is worth a bit of contemplation in passing.

Rewilding the Political

Here is a piece that draws some neat parallels between some work that needs to be undertaken to ensure biodiversity in nature and how that approach might apply to a stultified and stagnant system of governance that builds in the exclusion of discussions of the most pressing problems and any likely real solutions, Much of this stems from the scaffold of regulation, law, and tradition put in place to support our current economic/social/environmental paradigm.

https://www.thestar.com/business/opinion/2022/12/24/the-worst-is-yet-to-come-the-effects-of-inflation-policies-will-dominate-2023.html

How do we address economic stress? We increase the tension, and in such a way that it had negative impacts on those most likely suffering already and leaves untouched the hoards of of them that’s already gots. This brings on a ton of thoughts about the nature of money and how it can be used as a weapon, as well as how we might revise our conception of wealth, its accumulation and distribution.

There is never a shortage of mental fodder for the serious grazer.

 

What?!! We’ve Been At War All This Time?

 

Recently, Canada and Denmark settled an outstanding dispute over the sovereignty of Hans Island, pictured above. The two countries decided to draw a line down the middle and split the island into Danish and Canadian zones. Until this settlement, there was apparently a rotation of visits by the respective navies of the two countries to substitute flags and leave a bottle of spirits for the other guys when they inevitably came on the same errand. Much was made of the peaceful nature of the conflict and the fact that it was finally settled through diplomatic channels rather than through the ruinous discharge of ordinance as is so often the case when international conflict arises, and not the least bit of irony seemed to leak into the announcements and the minor jubilation that accompanied the settlement.

The dispute and its settlement beg a few questions, the first of which is, who cares? I suppose the importance of the “territory” might touch on questions of control of navigation in Arctic waters, or of two hundred mile fishing boundaries, in which case there might be some question as to whether anything is truly settled. The second is enforcement: will there be customs and immigration stations set up to keep the Danes and Canadians on their own side of the island? Will Canadian mining interests begin drilling in such a way that it impedes the enjoyment of the Danes on the other side of the island?

Part of the charm of reading about the whiskey war was the patent and acknowledged absurdity of the affair, but the charm of the international farce is gone and we’re left with a feeling that a resolution better suited to our time of crises might have been an agreement that the island and the sea around it might have come under mutual protection and that people might actually stay the hell off it, leaving it to wildlife and protecting this and other areas from the predations of shipping, tourist and military traffic.

Two Possible Paths

I live in a funny household. My wife is a devout Christian, I have no particular faith, and yet we live quite harmoniously.

She grew up in a Mennonite community and still has strong feelings of community relating to that crowd.

I was raised as a Catholic with decreasing strength of dogma as we all got older and the cognitive dissonance between the pulpit and reality became increasingly glaring.

Where appropriate, we support each others’ practices in search of making society a little better than it was when we first got here. We discuss, mostly in abstract terms, both religion and politics, but there never has been any proselytizing.

My wife is actively involved in several initiatives aimed at palliating the rampant poverty both at home and abroad. I pitch in occasionally, but I’ve long had the sense that charity is an excuse to continue with the outsized disproportion in economic benefit that characterizes our global economic and social system.

To that end, I have, for some decades now, been involved with groups whose aim is to build a more peaceable, caring and sharing system of distribution of goods and services, along with incorporating all people into the business of society with dignity and sense of belonging.

Both causes have, thus far, proven to be exercises in futility, giving rise to questions of the usefulness of both charitable work, and of efforts to eliminate the need for charity.

No answers, thus far, but we can let each other know when we find evidence of a better path.

Airshow MacKay Wins!

 

I see the figure for he purchase of F-35s looks like the severe low end of possible contracts for supply of the aircraft, and it will be interesting to see where it lands in terms of provision of proprietary associated infrastructure and other cost overruns. The project is a long and woeful history of ballooning development costs, underperformance, multiple returns to the drawing board, and, finally, a Stealth Fighter that is neither particularly stealthy nor particularly capable as it would need to be in its various appointed rôles, other than fattening the bank accounts of the execs and shareholders at LMM, and the politicians they’ve bought. But, y’know, there’s a war on, and we have to assert out Arctic sovereignty and contain the break-out of autocracy from Moscow.

Not that the scenario would be much better with EADS, Saab, or Boeing/McDonnell/Douglas. We’re investing in war and that’s more than likely to beget war of some sort. We still haven’t found a way to invest in peace. Sorry for all of us.

Succinct

In a long-ago world, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the joys of French literature, principally by Miss Shelley at Lowell High School beginning in the second semester of Grade 10. It was very challenging at first, because few of us in the class had had much real experience with the language and it was a task to lift a corner of the literature curtain when reading the texts was a bit of a plod involving frequent recourse to the dictionary. I soon realized that using contextual clues, along with an increased linguistic awareness, allowed for focus on the content of a piece that transcended the text itself. I watched as the curtain slowly drew back and revealed a universe of tales and verse that mirrored the world back at me and brought on a wealth of insights into politics, social unrest, wars, pestilence, sex and violence. I suppose this might have happened without the linguistic stumbles had someone been able to light the same fire about English (American, Canadian, Australian…) literature, but that never happened, other than little sparks over Conrad and Faulkner in Mr. Lombardi’s English 11 class. Also, there seemed something mildly exotic and risqué about French  material, due to the prejudices of the time and place and the prudish newness of North American society. I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm for the oriental works that ran across my desk in the course of the World Lit class in Grade 12 because I had to read them in translation and thus didn’t feel the same connection experienced in Miss S’s class.

It follows on that I continued this through a somewhat checkered university stint, and finally, into the public school system here in BC, wherein I found myself attempting to replicate, in some small way, the wonders of what a few had done for me in those risky late-teen days, that is, to drag a small number of students to a point in the study of the language where they could experience the real language and some interesting thought through the study of literature from a somewhat foreign perspective.

So here’s our lesson for the day, a poem by Jacques Prévert:

Composition française 

Tout jeune Napoléon était très maigre

et officier d’artillerie

plus tard il devint empereur

alors il prit du ventre et beaucoup de pays

et le jour où il mourut il avait encore

du ventre

mais il était devenu plus petit.

—Jacques Prévert

Basically, and I’m a poor translator, but there aren’t enough subtleties in this case for me to wreck:

In his youth, Napoleon was very thin

and an artillery officer

later, he became emperor

and he packed on weight and lots of countries

and the day he died he still had

a belly

but he had become a lot smaller.

This looks to me as though someone was encapsulating the decay of empire in a few short lines. It happened to France in Metternich’s time, and again after the Second World War, it happened to the British, and we seem to have a front-row seat (popcorn optional for some) for the American Empire, and we all get to pick our favourite figurehead to substitute for Napoleon.

Since some of us have benefitted materially from empire, it’s a bit of a daunting prospect, no matter how fervently we wish the end of empire, to suffer the consequences, especially if we’ve been paying attention to the lot of Cubans and Russians in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the hot mess that has been part of existence in Africa, say, or Southeast Asia. A good part of the fear stems from not having the option to resign gracefully, or to exert any measure of control over the descent from the heights, especially when combined with the disquiet that accompanies the thought that the same perpetrators are also driving humanity off an ecological cliff, seemingly without much real possibility of restraint or course change.

We might as well have a little poetry to usher us down the hallway to that much-vaunted new normal that isn’t likely what the puppet masters wanted us to see.

Tom Lehrer:

Soon we’ll be out amidst the cold world’s strife.

Soon we’ll be sliding down the razor blade of life.

DOUR DOERS?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sophie-louisnard-tJXo5S5_8U4-unsplash-199x300.jpg

Photo by Sophie Louisnard on Unsplash

I sent a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s most recent essay (it came out in print October 19) to a friend in Vancouver, partly as a thank-you for a favour done some months back, and also because he’s the kind of reader that likes material that tickles the brain. He phoned this morning to tell me that Solnit was going to speak with Matt Galloway on The Current, a conversation you can both find and whose transcript you can read at:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-oct-29-2021-1.6229890/how-george-orwell-s-roses-gave-rebecca-solnit-a-new-perspective-on-the-author-1.6230540

I’m finding that Orwell’s Roses adds a lot of insight, both in my appreciation of the life and work of the Orwellian one, but also, in typical Solnit fashion, in general little life hacks. One of the items she discusses in the interview with Galloway is the incident where Orwell was told by a fellow activist and hard-line socialist, that flowers are bourgeois, and therefore worthy of the scorn of progressive activists. So ought those most persistent in the search for a better world to swear off all forms of pleasure and appreciation that don’t directly add to the effort to tear down the capitalist edifice? Evidently, not according to Orwell himself, given that he planted and tended notoriously bourgeois roses and indulged in the sensuality of gardening, amongst other pleasures without, seemingly, diminishing his efforts to warn us of the rise of authoritarianism and the surveillance society.

My mother Maggie was a long-time activist involved in anti-war protests, advocacy for women, housing issues, voter registration, racial equality and pretty much any other cause that worked for a more just society, but who maintained a passion for art, music, design, gardening (including those pesky bourgeois flowers), food, books, and conversation as belonging in everyone’s more just existence, and often mentioned the thought that beauty and humour needed to feature prominently in efforts to broaden people’s perspectives on social and economic justice. She and Dad were both seriously activist in their attitude, but his outlook was more straightforward and looked to simple facts to take the converts down the road. There are echos of Maggie in a lot of the mental meanderings of Orwell’s Roses, a lot of them reflecting the need for balance in the search for a better life.

Citizen Science and Halloween

For the better part of two decades, we’ve been growing these Baby Bear pumpkins whose seed we get from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine. They are great eating pumpkins, pie pumpkins, carvers for the not-too-ambitious, and keep well into winter. They have semi-hulless seeds that toast into a most delicious snack. They are the antithesis of what goes on in some corners of the pumpkin patch.

My wife showed me a picture back in the very beginnings of our hanging out together showing a child draped over her father’s giant pumpkin, a whopping 165 pounder. It was not long after that when I first read the name Howard Dill in, I believe, Organic Gardening. Dill’s claim to fame was that he had grown a 439 pound pumpkin, eventually patenting the results of his breeding program as Atlantic Giant seeds, His final largest pumpkin, per Wikipedia, weighed in at 459 pounds.

In the ensuing years, giant pumpkin growing seemed to become quite popular with weigh-ins being held yearly in several strategic locations. A local gardener actually had one of the main heavyweights a dozen or so years back at 1 565 pounds, but I don’t believe it was a record. This morning in the Guardian, I was confronted with a whole tale of this year’s big pumpkin results, always interesting, and it lead to some thoughts about what these growers are accomplishing and some parallels to other areas of human endeavour.

For decades, the weather service in the U.S. was supported by a network of citizen observers and chroniclers who faithfully filed data with the service, building an enormous data base for the study of weather patterns and climate, though this may have fallen by the wayside as populations got more mobile and as satellite data became available to fulfil the same function as the citizen observers. We have a network of air quality sensors around many communities in the province, and I’m sure that similar efforts are in place around the globe. but these networks are much more structured than the pumpkin breeding folks, and it speaks well for the hive mentality that results on the current scale have been achieved over a relatively short span and with minimal outside coaxing. Perhaps the greatest influence here is the lack of profit motive, derived from the growers’ sense that this is a fun and worthwhile past time, and that money shouldn’t enter into it.

Would that our medical and pharmaceutical research might be conducted on the same basis, where research would be funded, but not for profit, where the benefits could be universally available, and where publication wouldn’t be a smoke screen to hide flaws and downstream consequences in aid of turning a buck in the meantime.

Environmental Clarity

 

A fellow climate campaigner circulated this link as worthy of an hour’s reading time:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/environmentalists-what-are-we-fighting-for-an-environmentalist-argues-it-s-not-clear-1.4917208

The lede:

Environmental problems are well-known and have been for decades, but we still appear to be edging toward a global catastrophe. Why?

Environmentalist Graham Saul believes that part of the problem is environmentalism itself. He argues it has a message problem — mainly because it doesn’t have a single, coherent, unified message that people can grasp.”

Certainly, there is a multiplicity of views on what constitutes the length and breadth of the perceptions of how we got where we are, and likely an equal plethora of prescriptions on how to bail ourselves out of the corner into which we seem to have painted ourselves. Even within the confines of our little community, there are several groups working to address questions relating to the environment without necessarily arriving at a consensus on the whys and wherefores as well as a direction to solution.

Does this mean that we’re doomed to failure? Will our lack of a unified and clarified message doom our efforts to enlist a broader swath of society in efforts to stabilize what we have set a-kilter?

I would like to offer a couple of analogies that seem relevant, the first somewhat silly and of dubious origin, the second perhaps more pertinent and certainly more thoughtful.

My wife brought a very fancy pasta maker in 1983, and part of the promotional material for the machine touted the fact that, despite the difficulty of getting Italians to agree on anything, this machine was universally accepted the length and breadth of the country. Imagine that!

The second insight was from a book called A Fair Country, by John Ralston Saul, published in 2008, in which Saul posited that there are three pillars of culturak tradition in Canada, the French, the English, and First Nations, and that one of the tenets of First Nations culture that has tempered the effect of fervent opinion in Canada (as opposed to the fiery hai-triggeer revolutionary spirit of the United States) is the longer perspective of First Nations culture and the willingness of First Nations to tolerate a higher level of unresolved ambiguity.

Based on this outlook, I would argue that we ought not get overly exercised in the quest for perfection of clarity in our message. I see this in contemporary readings where some will advocate for the immediate dissolution of the capitalist system at the base of our society, while others, equally implicated in efforts to put our living space back together, will argue that it’s imperative that we enlist to the cause those constituencies traditionally hostile to considerations of the environment, advocates of free-market economics and some communities of faith. Where there is no consensus among the recognized environmental leaders on such questions, it seems unlikely that we will do any better locally or regionally, and that perhaps we ought to shift our focus to actions that will lead to better outcomes and accept that there are multiple ways to both look at the process and to work toward resolution.

Olympian

Head Under Heels

Newest Olympic Sport

 

 

 

Photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash

Mount Olympus was held to be the abode of the Greek gods, from which comes the idea that something olympian is of great stature, lofty, admirable and worthy of the aspirations of the best of humanity. So why is it that every time a new sport is added to the Olympics, I get the feeling that the Olympic Movement has devolved into a marketing board for cheap distractions, tawdry displays of gaud, and colossal misappropriations of public funds?

This is how I felt when baseball and tennis were included, with a grudging nod to the ubiquity of some pursuits. This is how I felt about beach volleyball with its yahoo culture and skimpy get-ups…why not do as the wrestlers apparently did back in the origins and go full monte?

I also hear disturbing rumblings of the coalescence of a group looking to bring the Olympics back to Vancouver. We have had no meaningful reckoning for the binge of a decade ago nor a cost-benefit analysis of the temporary glow of winning some medals and the costs (still sealed) in money and disruption caused by the supporting infrastructure so that the IOC could bring its Spendy Circus to town and say the usual trite things about what wonderful hosts and suckers we’ve been. Tamp it down! There are several layers of more pressing issues that should be on the agenda.

Oh, and break dancing? Yet another marvel of one-time innovation, athleticism, and culture. No worries there, just that the IOC needs to work on the idea of universality and appropriateness as represented by the rings.

 

Happy Birthday to A Very Special Young Lady

Grand daughter’s sixteenth birthday. Loved by all her family (with the sometime exception of her brother, but, hey, someone has to be the foil).