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.

The Key

The Globe and Mail this morning has a post on its site in which it, unsurprisingly, trumpets that:

Private sector holds the key to reaching sustainability, climate goals

The problem is the skepticism engendered by the long history of the private sector spending lavishly to buy favour in the corridors of power precisely so as to keep the aforementioned key buried under a mass of commercial profit-making activity and hidden in a safe where no one is allowed to see it. This goes a long way to explaining why so many governments have continued to be willing partners to destructive business initiatives, and it wouldn’t surprise many of us that the global media have been active in lulling people all over the world into a sense of security and entitlement of what has come to be known as “normal” The recently-concluded G20 hasn’t produced any tangible results, and COP 26 could easily turn into a brilliantly-laundered word-churn accomplishing nothing.

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.

Influence Peddling

It would be a rare person who is entirely immune to the blandishments of Madison Ave. to unload his family fortune for some article or service that might increase community or financial status, or allow said person to blissfully ignore the storm of miscreants and their misdeeds that seems to surround us all. As if Madison Ave., and its lesser equivalents in the hinterland, was not enough, we now have internet influencers to fill in the gaps and create new cravings, with the same assurances as to quality and utility of goods and services provided. Perhaps somewhat more pernicious from operating mostly out of public view are the lobbyists who troll the halls of government and like bodies to ensure that corporations can flourish and, optimally, feed copiously at the public trough. Influencers, lobbyists and their benefactors also tend to form up in institutions called think tanks, where much brain power is focused on whatever the central theme of the think tank might be. One of my favourite tanks is the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives, who pool their ganglions in support of building a society that benefits the broadest possible spectrum of citizens and whose prescriptions seem to be best received by politicians identified with the left, though they themselves are not overtly political. They are distinguished from their opposite numbers by the question of whose interests they serve. There  are many of them, one of which, The Fraser Institute, falls on the opposite end of the social and political spectrum. In my adult life, I have seen more credits to the FI in the press than all other tanks combined, possibly because their greatest influence might be in our region and their greatest impact therefore at the level of provincial, regional and municipal politics. The influence exerted by these organizations becomes problematic when it moves from politics to policy and when the privileged few directing the Think Tanks get to translate their desires into legislation. The little screen capture at the top of this screed, and which is its inspiration, was from Libération, part of the daily read-around. You can find it here.

Montaigne has been chosen as a symbol of rational thought, an iconic figure of the Renaissance in France, to legitimize the view of the institute and to ensure the widest acceptance of the policy that stems from the institute’s influence. It would seem that there really isn’t anything all that original, apart from reference to contemporary challenges, but that the answer for those challenges is likely to result in More Of Same, emerging from pandemic restraints into as close a mirror of “before” as possible.

…un agenda à faire rougir de plaisir les entreprises : assouplissement du marché du travail, subventionnement de l’investissement, libéralisation des soldes, augmentation de la durée du temps de travail, réduction des dépenses publiques structurelles…

 

… an agenda to make businesses blush with pleasure: loosening of the labour market, subsidizing of investment, loosing restraints on remuneration, extending work hours, reduction of structural public spending…

Nothing to displease the FI crowd, nor the CD Howe bunch or any of their analogs. French President Macron has much in common with our PM in this, and so many other ways. Rien de nouveau sous le soleil.

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.

 

Visionary? Really?

 

Last fall i had occasion to be on the UBC campus for the first time in a decade and the visit was revelatory. The view I had of the campus had been almost entirely submerged in new construction, and a whole new city had sprung up on the Endowment Lands to the south of campus, including the rising spires of the temples to real estate speculation. My guide, who taught at BCIT and who lives in one of the older developments on the EL, pointed out that only full-time tenured faculty could actually afford the rents/mortgages in the neighbourhood. So I had to have a rueful laugh at a headline on the landing page of the Times-Colonist this morning mourning the passing of the real estate visionary who revolutionized UBC housing. I suspect that the visions were likely that of pecuniary symbolism pasted on his eyeballs.

What’s Old Is Still Old

…but it often keeps resurfacing.

 

Camus, himself

Long ago, in student days, I read a couple of plays by Albert Camus, Caligula and Le malentendu, each of which dealt with some fairly weighty questions that get left out of most of the day-to-day conversation. With thoughts of a couple of other Camus pieces (Noces and L’été) that had shown me a side of the author not generally acknowledged (reflections of sun-drenched vistas and the general beauty offered by nature, however indifferent or absurd that nature might be), I plunked down some serious coin for a Pleïade edition of the man’s complete works and invest some time in broadening that horizon while keeping some language skills activated.

Caligula

 

As is often the case with works read in the deep past, the reader’s perspective will have morphed through piled up time and experience, and such is the case with Caligula, a ruler who has forsaken the conventions for his own individual struggle with a lack of limits, something that rings true with a number of authoritarian administrations, yet only partially in the case of our own Mr. Trump (he is a product of a confused and twisted world, and therefore belongs to all of us). The big difference between Trump and his Roman analog is that Caligula is fully conscious of who he is, what he is doing, and the nature of his relationship to those he rules. As devastating as Caligula’s rule might have seemed at the time, the threats to civilization posed by Trump and his associates are, if you’ll pardon a smarmy Camusian observation, existential.

And I’m sure it’s an utter coincidence that I arrived at this particular spot in Camus’ oeuvre at this juncture in the Trump narrative (impeachment, assassination of the top Iranian military figure).

Look What Crawled Out Of The Woodwork!

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash, with thanks.

 

So, as Huffpost opines, Justin Trudeau and a new star candidate for the fall election: Terry Lake, former minister of Health in the BC government of Christy Clark.

Lots of folks used to insist that Clark’s idea of a Liberal was different from the Federal Party, but the lat three-and-a-bit years of Trudeau’s reign will have solidly put paid to that notion. In fact, there are pictures of CC and PMSH seated side-by-side where it seems it would be easy to substitute the the-PM for our current cardboard cutout. While Lake seemed to be less aggressive in his pursuit of the bent dealings that characterize most of what happened during the Campbell/Clark years, he was still a willing participant in the shenanigans and is unlikely to be terribly constructive in the context of a Federal government. This reminds me a little of the revolving door between Federal appointees and Industry, both here and south of the border. Anyone exercising a modicum of neural networks will know that it doesn’t much matter who the Libs and Cons throw up in front of us as a candidate because policy isn’t formulated in cabinet: it comes from the board rooms of Bay Street and Oil Alley in Calgary (also SNC, Irving, Davie, various Pharma and Ag giants…). So Sad.

Another dead giveaway that we’re seeing an opportunist supporting other opportunists? In the above link, it states that it was Trudeau’s Climate Plan that brought him to filing for candidacy, and we’ve had ample opportunity to discern that said Climate Plan is full of lovely rhetoric, and no action, or actions that no sane person would include in a plan to scale back the destruction of the planet’s life systems. Interesting how groups of the like-minded mendacious find each other and connect.

 

Is It Illegal? Just Hang On A Sec!

The Centre of The Liberal Universe

 

(http://deadder.net/   https://www.thechronicleherald.ca)

While it is deemed that economic impacts may not be considered in the implementation of a DPA, it seems we can always find a way around any roadblocks inhibiting special treatment of our special friends in business.

The above is from the paper of record (for a lot of folks) and hints neatly at how the PMO can do it’s due obeisance to SNC so as to preserve votes in Québec. The law doesn’t do what we want it to do? The law, slack as it is, might cut SNC off the public trough? Wait, we can change the law, and deem it retroactive to the time of Methuselah, just, y’know, to be sure.

(with the gracious permission of the author: (http://deadder.net/)

Who publishes at:

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca