Sidestepping Through Questions



Here’s a question for all us’ns:

What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?

I saw this gem as a minor headline on the Globe and Mail site yesterday, from whence it then disappeared, though a quick search turned up the article. It burned me up some, as these idiocies will, but I had other things to attend to and Geoff Dembicki over at the Tyee beat me to the acid comment fest (as probably did legions of others).

So what remains to be said is that we are getting as bad at paying attention to questions as we are at seeking answers and solutions, often the latter being something of a result of the former.

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.

—Naguib Mahfouz

We ask questions all the time that are perhaps not the optimal questions to deal with situations that confront us. How, for instance, did pacifists deal with the prospect of World War II., supposedly a war to eliminate fascism and the threat of Nazi domination of the planet. Tough to do, largely because folks had already painted themselves into a corner with regard to the aggressive acts of the Axis powers, and, really, part of the problem is that the essential questions were no longer applicable because no one knew what to ask back around the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 (and better results might have stemmed from an even earlier questioning of direction and process). So here is Rex Tillerman asking us if we want to stall development in the poorer sections of the world so that we can reduce carbon and forestall the damaging effects of climate change: what he’s really saying is that those poor little brown people are really in the stew anyway, so why can’t we just party on. Climate refugees are already a reality, and even the operators of ski hills are beginning to see that they are seriously impaired in their ability to do business if the snow and ice is all gone on the mountains that they presently occupy.

Dr. Henry Morganthaler died yesterday. He probably thought he had the abortion question whipped several decades ago, but there are still many who don’t think it’s really a good move to be removing nascent life from a woman’s womb before it has a chance to defend itself, and others who will vigorously defend a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. Heck, in my feeble mind, they’re both right, but, again, the timing of the question is wrong: ideally, the question of the survival of the child needs to be answered before conception, and to facilitate this decision, there needs to be easy availability of family planning, contraception (other than the Bush-era counselling to crossed knees) and counselling. I have no answer for the poor fetus resulting from forced sexual intercourse and better minds will see that there is an answer stemming from a better question, something on the order of looking at how we prevent rape in the first place, something on the order of a fundamental shift in attitudes toward relations of sex and power.

The same quandary applies to the debate about gun control. I’ve never owned a firearm and don’t intend to start any time soon, but I know lots of people who do own firearms, and most of them treat them with a sense of respectful caution and would never think of leaving them lying about in a way that might promote an accidental shooting, let alone have a thought of using a firearm to enforce their will or take revenge. However, we keep hearing of accidents where youngsters harm each other, either with their own firearms, or with carelessly stored firearms belonging to a responsible adult, and every once in awhile, someone loses it and goes on a rampage, shooting mostly random victims. Likely we need to be asking ourselves questions about people’s expectations, people’s perceptions of society, how we define success and how we participate in a live lived in a community, and particularly how we resolve conflicts.

The sad part of the topic is that Tillerman gets away with framing an argument in these terms, when really, it isn’t just the developing world that will suffer, but all of us. There was a line from a song by Luc de la Rochellière a couple of decades back called “Six Pieds Sur Terre” in which he expresses his fervent desire that Hell exist (Mon Dieu, promets-moi que l’enfer existe!) as a remedy for people who perpetrate the unspeakable crimes of warmongering and economic plunder, something that would certainly seem to apply to Tillerman and people of his ilk who are quite keen to add insult to the injury they have  done by sequestering the wealth of the world for their own benefit all out of proportion to any sane standard.


Some Of The Good Stuff Stays Good



I first heard James Cotton on the Sam Charters Vanguard anthology Chicago/The Blues/Today in 1965 and saw him on stage at the original Fillmore Auditorium not too long after that, a show where, I believe, he was actually still touring with Otis Spann and S.P. Leary (If you haven’t heard Otis Spann’s barrelhouse piano, I highly recommend it). Highlights since include a show at Winterland where he and his band pulled the rug out from under Cream in March of 1968, a week’s worth of shows at a club called the Egress in Vancouver in 1973 and a show at the Commodore in 1976 (at this show, per usual practise, the band played a couple of warm-up numbers, and Matt Murphy was a real stand-out. I assumed he was in his twenties because of his youthful energy and contemporary chops, but it turns out he’s of an age with Cotton.). I haven’t seen Cotton live for several decades, but have continued to buy his records, and I got this despite feeling that it might be like the Tony Bennett duets stuff, or B.B. King’s  80th birthday set: none of that. He doesn’t sing any more, but he sure can play and, while he has some stellar players with him, they leave lots of room for top-notch harpooning. The set has a really nice feel to it, the tunes are fine, and the stars add to the music rather than dominating it.  Not bad having Joe Bonamassa around, or Warren Haynes. Keb Mo’ lends warmth to a couple of cuts and Ruthie Foster and Delbert McClinton each brings a special touch to a tune. Darrell Nulisch, often the singer with Cotton’s band  since Cotton gave it up, takes up the mic on other tunes, and the band is always good. Chuck Leavell, a fave since he showed up on the Allmans’ Brothers and Sisters, plays some as well. All in all, I’ve found this a very satisfying set and am happy to reconnect with one of the favourite musicians of my younger days and to find out that everything is cooking along as it seemingly always has.


What Comes Around?

What Comes Around?


Complaints about constraints on doing business are rife with taxes, regulation, red tape and labour unions high on the list. Businesses may face constraints on hours of operation, location, waste stream, supply chain, manufacturing processes, noise, smell, unsightliness issues and, of course all manner of labour regulations regarding hiring, firing, salaries, benefits, pensions, working hours, breaks, and workplace safety. Why all the regulations? The regulations exist because of the long litany of bad behaviour on the part of a segment of the business community, overworking, underpaying, absconding with the cash register, failing to consider the safety and well-being of employees and clientèle, sending toxic waste directly into the waste stream without treatment, faulty storage of chemicals and toxic materials, harassment, assaults, situating business such that they infringe on the ability of the community to carry on without nuisance: every time some of these people get out of line, government seems to be the only recourse and we end up with more red tape and more regulation. Of course there are businesses that get around much of this by manufacturing in low-standards jurisdictions where environmental and labour standards allow the manufacturer to operate without regulation. Isn’t it interesting to note that in those jurisdictions, business tends to seek the lowest common denominator, to so the least they possibly can so as to maximize profits. Some of this may be due to laws on the books that state that the business may have no other concern than to generate profits for shareholders, but even privately held companies tend to hew to the same line, perhaps because they have to compete with the publicly held outfits, perhaps because it fits their view of what constitutes a sound business plan. When we tack on poor quality, lack of workmanship and planned obsolescence, and then export the goods back into our own jurisdiction where the lowest price seems to be the most important consideration, then there are profits, but the people who made the mess don’t seem to bear any responsibility for cleaning it up, for finding additional space in landfills for the shoddy goods they’ve brought on shore or for the people put out of work because of a tilted labour market (see the previous post about RBC and offshoring). Then there are the convoluted and sometimes outright fraudulent schemes concocted to avoid taxes, funds that ought rightly be used to provide health, education, infrastructure, policing, fire protection, bylaw enforcement and diplomatic services, but which end up in offshore accounts, The executive suite has also been an inordinate beneficiary of the gains built on externalities and junk economics: J.K. Galbraith famously quipped: “The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement.  It is frequently in the nature of a warm, personal gesture by the individual to himself.” Should we wonder, then, that there be a clamour for something to inhibit the victimization of citizens by the investor group? What?, you say, we won’t be able to produce anything if we keep all these rules and forbid the waste, planned obsolescence, exploitation of labour, and the ability to externalize whatever interferes with the profits. True, and it probably means that we can’t go on changing electronic devices every six months, our wardrobe every season of every year, our home decor at a whim and kids toys on a daily basis. Fewer, truly durable goods, easily repaired in case of failure, manufactured with all byproducts recycled and without toxic material let loose manufactured by people as close to market as possible and by workers well enough paid to exist comfortably in society. When greed ceases to be the motivating factor in society’s business, we’ll need fewer protections and will be able to simplify our code of legal protections. Please, let’s have less griping and moe constructive moving to a real economy.


It’s Only Words, And Words Are All I Have…

Open Up The Gnarly Gates

Open Up The Gnarly Gates

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is featuring a series of pretty upbeat ads showing how good the tat sands business is for the whole country, that, dadgummit, they fuel all our activities, and besides, they ensure that people all over the country benefit from jobs in manufacturing and transportation, not to mention spin-off jobs and what a wonderful world it is. You can see this all for yourself at

On the other hand, there is the statement issued, today, I think, by some egghead scientists, any one of whom has more credibility in the cuticle of the nail of his left pinky than the whole phalanx of oil patch shills. You can see it here:

I can give you the short version, but I recommend you check out the statement and peruse the rather lengthy list of those who’ve signed on in support of the document: it basically tells us what some of the more forward-thinking writers have said for decades, that there are too many of us, that our patterns of consumption are unsupportable, that our living space is already seriously toxic, that we’ve managed to wipe out a huge swath of species, and that we’re staring down our own demise due to accelerated climate change. Of course, a lot of us are staring at our own demise with a blindfold securely covering whatever we normally use to see, and it comes as no surprise that a big part of the blindness is brought on by the smokescreen of don’t-worry-be-happy advertising thrown up by the same people who benefit short term from the destruction they intend to continue wreaking. the same people who have bought, on the cheap, governments who participate fully in the fraud that will kill us all. All parties on that side of the “equation” (a formula which, in this case, represents no equilibrium at all), when caught in a situation where the facts belie what they say, make up their own facts as though they alone can defy the laws of physics, and when they are caught in an outright fiction, their strategy is most often, to lie some more. It’s sad in a way that those who vote for Harper, Wall, Redford, Clark, et al, have so little idea of their share of responsibility for recreating a new version of the middle ages, but at least it will be short-lived as the rulers die in the same cataclysm that will envelope us all.