Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Christmas gift: a book to love

Alistair MacLeod: No Great Mischief, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, 1999, 283 pages

             A strange, poetic, elegaic on roots and love.

             The McDonald clan migrated from Scotland and live on the same Cape Breton soil they first set foot upon, during the American Revolution. They have deep roots..

                Theirs is a tragic tale. An unknown fatality weighs on the land and its people. The Soil is scrabble poor, poverty forces the MacDonald men to the mines of Ontario and South Africa. Life is hard for the McDonalds and they're tough people. Yet somehow, though doomed - as we all are, they have survived with dignity. "No Great Mischief" is an elegy to common folk, whom MacLeod loves, facing adversity and fatality with dignity.

                 Grandma's mantra, "All of us are better when we're loved", cycles like the returning beam of a lighthouse through the concluding chapters and ends the book. Another popular family mantra, "Blood is thicker than water",  is ironically betrayed by a young man from the branch of the clan most enamoured of the phrase.

                  "No Great Mischief" is really a story about love. MacLeod tells us that, facing the void, facing adversity, facing pain, our sole real arm is love: love between spouses, in family, love of the land, love of life itself.

                   A sad, elegant poetry runs through the text, giving the feel and tone of epic or legend:

                   "On the east coast, the native peoples who move across the land, harvesting, are stilled also.. They are older than the borders and the boundaries between countries and they pay them little mind."

                   "Once we sang to the pilot whales on a summer day. Perhaps we lured the huge whale in beyond his safe depth. And he died, disembowelled by the sharp rocks he could not see. Later his body moved inland, but his great heart remained behind", echoing the migrations of the McDonalds inland, to Ontario's mines, driven by poverty, not desire. Their hearts too remain behind in Cape Breton.

                    But there is more than poetry in this tale. One could call it a "philosophical novel" in the sense that MacLeod invites us to a deeper reflection on life and real values but subtly, without posing a specific question; it is left to the reader to pose his own questions. Thus MacLeod ceaselessly points to quotidien tragedies, ironies and absurdities: the young man who graduates from dental school on the same day that his namesake cousin loses his head in a mining accident.

                    MacLeod's universe is not a happy one though it has room for joy, lots of wonder and, above all, it honors love which, ultimately, redeems this lost world.

                    Alistair MacLeod is a national treasure though I fear he risks being forgotten: he lacks the imposing oeuvre whose sheer volume demands attention. Worse, he has favored the short story, not in favor in academic circles.

                    Nevertheless, his work fits common definitions of "great literature" well enough: universal in scope while parochial in content. MacLeod's prose is idiosyncratic - difficult if not impossible to translate or paraphrase without losing much. At its best, his work has the punch, the bang for the buck, all great literature gives. I recall reading his slim volume of short stories, "The Lost Salt Gift of Blood" and ended up knowing more about the maritime soul than if I had waded through several thick academic tomes on settlement history and economic activity. This is surely a mesure of great art: much is said in little space and the heart is moved.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Learning to think outside the box

               Conform with its pro-business (actually pro-corporation) ideology, the Harper government has banned further ownership of Canadian oil industry assets by State owned foreign entities. This goes down well with Harper's core constituencies but does it answer the really important questions we, as a society, should be asking ourselves at this point in time?

               Is foreign corporation ownership more benign than foreign state ownership? If so, why? Neoconservatives have argued that the state always does things badly, that turning over everything to private (in reality, corporate) enterprise equates with freedom, with spreading economic benefits more equally: the "trickle down effect", "a rising tide lifts all boats".. But are these ideas true? Are they confirmed by fact? Reality does not seem to confirm these ideas. Gaps between rich and poor both within and between societies grow, demanding more spending on security measures, the military and the attendant suppression or limitation of civil rights. Scandinavia with its Social Democracy inspired "welfare state", actually allows its citizens more - not less - upward mobility than is now possible in neocon dominated America. The American dream is actually more realisable in "socialist" Scandinavia than in "capitalist" (actually corporatist) America!!

                 One definition of fascism..

fascism: control or seizure of the State by the corporate elite

                In our humble opinion, we should be asking a different set of questions. And questions are critically important, it turns out: you can't get right answers unless you learn to ask the right questions..

                 For example, a "good" question might be, what type of development do we need?

                 Renewable energy versus fossil fuel and nuclear energy? Decentralized energy networks / localized networks of production and consumption? - there is mounting evidence, I think, for those whose minds are not ideologically closed that we have reached a point where DISeconomies of scale are more important than economies of scales in many areas. Democratic, participatory, community based / community initiated / community driven development? - such development would seem more in accord with the values that occidentals give lip service to: democracy, entrepreneurship, upward social mobility for the little man..

internal blog link:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Harper's gang: they shoot messengers, don't they?

               The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), recent recipient of ideologically driven budget cuts, has recently attempted to call into question the qualifications of a lab which found evidence of Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAV) in British Columbia farmed salmon. Interestingly, the lab is cited as one of the best in the world and its work was never called into question before. An "interesting" synchronicity, one might say..

                On a CBC radio interview the head of the lab, Dr. Fred Kibenge, admitted that the timing was curious and would appear to be an attempt to blacklist his lab. Nor would this be the first time the Harper government was guilty of shooting messengers. The (radical, ideological) probusiness stance of the government, particularly in the petroleum and mining sectors, has led it to cancel funding to government sponsored projects, agencies and organizations which do not "tow the party line" and  refuse to relegate environmental issues to the back drawer.

internal blog links:

Running down the up escalator

             In ancient times, when the pyramids were built, knowledge - especially mathematical knowledge - was equated with magical and religious power. There is something inherently magical in mathematics' ability to capture reality and describe important qualities of it in a tiny space. Ancient rulers, before modern weapons and mind control techniques, armed themselves with the predictive power of astronomer-divines to awe and control the masses. One announced that on a given date the Dark Dragon of the Abyss would rise up and swallow the life-giving sun. Preparations were made to magically defeat the Enemy of Light. As the sun went into eclipse, great sacrifices were made across the land and lo! the Forces of Evil were turned away, the sun emerged once again from the belly of his Enemy and began to shine. The world grew bright and rejoiced! The world was saved, Light triumped over Darkness!

             The glass bead game of manipulating reality through numbers has grown a bit more sophisticated, the masses probably (??) a bit less gullible, but similarities remain. Mathematics can still be tweaked to "prove" what you want (especially if your interlocutor doesn't understand math..) Math can still be made to lie to serve the interests of a ruling elite.

               A fascinating example comes up in recent arguments by global warming "sceptics". Statisticians call it running down the up escalator. Let's say you have a trend which is rising gradually, say temperature globally is rising 5 C per century or one twentieth of a degree per annum but this "signal" is buried in a lot of "noise", random variation in temperature from one year to the next. The long term trend, a century, will effectively show an approximately 5 degree rise but you can always "cherry pick" and find relatively short series of years over which the temperature is falling. The overall 5 C per century rise is the "up escalator". Cherry picking the short series of declining temperature is referred to "running down the up escalator". The escalator ultimately wins of course but if your interlocutor is ignorant of math then you might win the argument: "you see, temperatures have been generally falling for the last 7 years. Therefore, global warming is a fraud, perpetuated by university profs who want to make trillions by cornering the carbon trading market early in the game".

                Interestingly, this "follow the money" argument never focuses on the billions that oil company execs and stockholders are making from fossil energy sales! "
How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you don't see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you'll see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Luke 4:42

                 The following link gives a beautiful graphical demonstration of "running down the up escalator". Don't miss this one! The blue lines in fig 1 are cherry picked declining temperature intervals. These are products of randomly fluctuating "noise" in the climate machinery. The red line shows the long term rising trend.

                  These, of course, are extreme examples of non-transparency in the communication of "information" from "official" or "authoritative" sources. Data is being twisted - by cherry picking selectiveness - to say the very opposite of what it actually does!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Have we become so inured?..

From the Dirty Tricks file:

          Pollsters have a professional watchdog called the "Market Research and Intelligence Association". It is an in-house attempt to auto-regulate the industry. Even so, even they found a conservative pollster guilty of conducting a misinformation campaign against a Liberal MP from the Montréal, Québec region and thereby sullying the reputation and good name of the profession.
           In a voter identification poll conducted for the Federal Conservative Party last fall, Campaign Research, Inc. is alleged to have suggested to interviewees that Irwin Cotler had or was about to quit politics. The apparent goal of such a manoeuver is to dissuade voters from voting for a Liberal favorite in upcoming elections.

           Following the condemnation by the Market Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA), interim Liberal leader Bob Rae and MP Cotler denounced the disinformation campaign, demanded and apology and a dissociation of the Federal Conservative Party from the offending pollster. While the MRIA has the power to expel members, it stopped short of expulsion, only "censuring" - publically rebuking - Campaign Research, Inc. for violating professional codes of conduct. While many of us might feel that such a finding and action don't go far enough, MRIA did find the violations of public trust compelling enough to redraft it own professional code of ethics:

"The controversy prompted the MRIA earlier this year to update its code of conduct to spell out that voter identification or partisan promotion can not be conducted under the guise of market research." And this dirty tricks campaign was, let us not forget, carried out on the watch of a party that was elected on a platform of "transparency, responsible government and law and order".

                  What I find so troubling about this affair and the possibly related "Robocalls" misinformation campaign is the relative indifference of the public to these repeated abuses against the public trust and goodwill on the part of Steven Harper's federal conservatives. Have we become so inured to this abuse we no longer react?

internal blog links: (Keyword: populism)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Budget cuts: go ask the Grinch

               The recent federal budget is bad news for would-be refugees seeking asylum in Canada. Many formerly available medical services have been cut. A recent applicant, fleeing religious oppression in the Mideast, was denied chemotherapy for a cancer discovered after he moved to Canada. (He wasn't looking for free chemotherapy..)

                Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall finds such behavior 'unbelievable' and 'uncanadian'. Saskatchewan is picking up the tab for the would-be refugee's treatment.

              Saskatchewan's minister of health Duncan said Wednesday that 'confusion abounds.. provinces are frustrated because there is a lack of clarity in terms of what Ottawa will continue to cover.' Ah, dear! As is so often the case: the Harperite's are so busy scrounging around winning brownie points with their redneck base, a few pennies pinched from the cancer patients here, First Nations' schools there,.. it all gets pretty hard to follow. Meanwhile, the oil patch gets big de facto subsidies (big Harper supportors there!) And, of course, when auto corporations screw up, well, they just get 'bailed out' - too big to fail (it's the economy, stupid!)  

              It's all smoke and mirrors. The people who get shafted are expendable scapegoats. Meanwhile, the real criminals walk free. But it sells well on the late news - and that's the audience Harper and friends are going for.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

We goofed..

           I have to apologize for the numerous typos and grammatically buggered text of the previous entry, "Turning over rocks". Well,.. we were a bit busy and didn't take enough time to check for errors. "Haste makes waste!" We'll try to remember that next time.. Sorry! 

           Anyway, we prettied up the text and hope it is a bit more enjoyable to read now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turning over rocks: the things you find..

           When I was a child, there was a patch of undeveloped swampy land behind our house, fed by a spring. There was tall grass, so high I remember it being over my head - fantastic place to hide! There were big grass snakes slithering around, hunting. And there was a shallow bog which held water all year round, except when it froze solid in winter. In the higher, drier spots of the bog there were discarded bits of lumber and some big rocks. When you turned these over you would find an amazing zoo of light shunning creatures: ant colonies, spiders, centipedes, earwigs, worms, woodlice.. I even saw my first slime mold ameba.. Sadistically, I would occasionally lure another kid to see one of my prized "collections" of creepy-crawlers. Sometimes I wouldn't have time to finish turning over a rotten board or a flat rock before I saw their backside cutting a wake through the tall grass to get the hell out there as fast as possible..

           When governments lose contact with their true function: to provide services essential for the maintenance of a civlilized society, they become like that bog of stagnant water. Strange lifeforms which shun the light of day proliferate and take over. When the bog becomes too stagnant and stinks too much people finally decide to drain it and clean it up. Investigators, whistle blowers and muck-raking journalists turn over rocks and expose what has been hidden to the light of day. This is what transparency looks like in action..

           Québec province's Charbonneau Commission into organized crime influence in the construction industry has claimed its first victims.

            Montréal mayor Gérald Temblay decided to step down as the heat went up and accusations of corrupt practices in the metropole's city hall came to light. As Don Macpherson noted in a recent column, the Charbonneau Commission also has a mandate to investigate corrupt political linkages between the construction industry and the financing of political parties, both municipal and provincial. These links may prove the greatest embarrassment of all. Mayor Temblay denied any knowlege of inflated contract prices and an organized system of kickbacks to collaborating city officials in Montréal. But resign he did and not without signficant political fallout. The Mayor's ruling municipal party found itself so weakened and morally compromised that it was forced to cancel tax hikes that been announced a mere two days earlier. The municipal tax hike was pared back from 3.3% to 2.2%, reflecting the annual inflation rate. It was simply too embarrassing to demand super-inflationary tax hikes while city hall is under suspicion of accepting bribes from mafia-ridden construction companies to inflate city contracts. Contracts may have been, in some cases, inflated as much as 30 to 40% over their real value. Corrupted city officials are alleged to have received skim-offs of 2 to 3% of the final contract value to let the inflated estimates pass without question.

              There has already been blow back from the Charbonneau Commission at the provincial level. Ex-premier Jean Charest (Libéral) was, more or less, forced to call an early, summer election rather than face the storm of corruption charges that the Commission would unleash. He lost that election..

             Nor were Mayor Tremblay and Premier Charest the only early victims. The city of Laval's "king", Gilles Vaillancourt, was forced to fall on his sword after a 23 year reign. The heads have only started to roll, one suspects..

              Investigators are looking into allegations that Mayor Vaillancourt funneled millions of dollars of dirty money into overseas tax havens. In addition, two provincial officials have stepped forward claiming that he offered them illegal political contributions.

             A smorgasbord of articles on the Charbonneau Commission by Macleans Magazine: 

internal blog link:
While the inquiry is usually described as being into corruption into the construction industry, its mandate also includes possible connections to political financing.

Read more:
While the inquiry is usually described as being into corruption into the construction industry, its mandate also includes possible connections to political financing.

Read more:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Review: Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion

Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion, the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle. Alfred A Knopff Canada, 2009. 193 pages, chapter notes, bibliography (extensive), citation sources and references (extensive), good index. Rating 9 on 10, excellent.

"In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honest or reality.. We ask to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes, and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be.. The ability to amplify lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives lies and mythical narratives the aura of uncontested truth. We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition.. all complex thought, ambiguity, and self-criticism vanish." page 49

"A populace deprived of the ability to separate lies from truth, that has become hostage to the fictional semblance of reality put forth by pseudo-events, is no longer capable of sustaining a free society." page 52

        This is a hard hitting book. I know one social activist who read it in dribs and drabs, a few pages every week or so because she felt it was both essential reading and punishing. I didn't have this reaction probably because I gave up on the status quo and attempts to reform or transform it, years ago. I think this is a particularly valuable text for young people who are starting to question the nature of the "reality" that surrounds them. This book could save them years of wandering in the desert, asking useless questions and dreaming up rationalizations to justify or explain the madness they see around them. I concede I found the second chapter on pornography repellent and was happy when I finished reading it.

         From my perspective, Hedges is presenting us with a warts and all portrait of modern industrial culture, particularly American culture. It is picture of a morally bankrupt, spiritually vacuous culture whose sole function appears to be the maintenance of the greedy and ecologically suicidal life styles of a demented elite: even animals are capable of providing for future generations; we will leave only ashes..

         Because we today are lost, wandering in the wilderness like the ancient Hebrews, Hedges can provide no recipes to turn things around. He can analyze the disease - he does this exceedingly well! - but he can offer no cure that fits within the operating parameters of the dying "System" we live in. In the concluding passages, Hedges waxes prophetic, recalling archetypal images of death and rebirth reminiscent of the "Dark Night of the soul" evoked by the great Spanish mystic, Saint John of the Cross:

"Our culture of illusion is, at its core, a culture of death. It will die and leave little of value behind. It was Sparta that celebrated raw militarism, discipline, obedience, and power, but it was Athenian art and philosophy that echoed down the ages to enlighten new worlds, including our own. Hope exists. It will always exist.. The power of love is greater than the power of death. It cannot be controlled. It is about sacrifice for the other - something nearly every parent understands - rather than exploitation. It is about honoring the sacred.. Blind and dumb, indifferent to the siren calls of celebrity, unable to bow before illusions, defying the lust for power, love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion. Love will endure, even if it appears darkness has swallowed us all, to triumph over the wreckage that remains." page 192-3

             Of course, what Hedges, as prophet, is proclaiming here is a new model or "paradigm" of culture, at the antipodes of the protofascist vision of an Ayn Rand. Whether we or our grandchildren will live to see such a new vision of society arise from the ashes of the dying culture remains a moot question.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The right hand knows not what the left hand does..

           According to conventional neoconservative, Free Market ideology, reducing the size of government and eliminating regulatory mechanisms leads to increased efficiency (government is defined to be inefficient as an axiom of the belief system whether or not, in any given instance, it actually is).

           Like many "common sense" propositions, "cutting fat to improve efficiency" is, at best, only partly true, of limited (though real) applicability. Like all good, but limited, ideas, carrying it to illogical limits leads to destructive, counterproductive blowback (unintended consequences). 

           A good example of the such blowback was revealed in the Charbonneau Commission's investigation into corruption in the construction industry in the Province of Québec.

Wiki: Charbonneau Commission

            Budget cuts can lead to increased expenses in the long run, if they are not judiciously implemented and monitored to optimize the benefit to cost ratio of services provided to the public sector (that is, if cuts are implemented in a hamfisted, ideologically driven fashion). 

            One of the witnesses being grilled before the Charbonneau Commission into construction industry corruption in the city of Montréal observed that staff reductions in the Montréal Public Works Dept meant that oversight of public work contracts was reduced. The reduced oversight had the perverse, counterproductive effect of making it easier to inflate cost estimates and pay off corrupted officials. For example, cost overruns on projects would be inflated or simply invented with a kickback payed to a corrupted civil engineer so he would approve the additional billing. In addition, with oversight delegated to private sector consulting firms, the city lost the inhouse competency to carry out its own monitoring. This lead to increased costs for oversight and / or to reduced capacity. So the net effect of ideologically inspired budget cutting is to save a few bucks with the right hand while the left hand picks the right hand's pocket. Hidden costs - economists call them "externalities"..

internal blog link:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Globalization and its discontents

             Globalization is based on "Free Market" ideology. Companies should be free, absolutely free, to invest anywhere, do what they want, no strings attached. At best, governments should serve as industry's handmaidens, not their masters. In the words of one neo-conservative luminary, government should be shrunk to the point that "it can be drowned in a bathtub":

              In practice, wo/man appears a more tribal animal than our ideologues would wish! Of course, ultimately it all comes down to a question of power. If you have the power to globalize, you globalize on the backs of those who are too weak to resist.  Western investment - often compelled by IMF / World Bank diktat - in third world economies? No problemo! Free markets foster wealth creation which wealth then "trickles down"  - The Golden Shower - and lifts the masses out of their poverty. That's the theory anyway. The practice may leave a bit to be desired..

              Haitian farmers, for example, have to compete with US subsidized rice which maintains them in poverty if it does not force them off the land into urban squalor. (Subsidized rice?? - Gee, we thought "Free Marketeers" were against subsidies. Guess it's a question of whose subsidy.. Third world farmers versus US agrobusiness, petroleum companies versus renewable energy producers..) But then a little suffering for little Haitian farmers: can't make omelettes without breaking eggs,eh?

             On the other hand, when it comes to third world (or ex-third world) companies investing heavily in important sectors of the North American economy? Not so sure, not so sure..

              A recent poll found, for example, that 64% of Albertans polled "opposed Chinese investment in the form of full ownership" in the Albertan oil sector while only 15% found it acceptable: that's more than 4 to 1 against full Chinese ownership of oil sector assets!! "Free Market".. Maybe, just Not In My Back Yard. 

              When it came to Chinese state-owned companies buying oil patch assets, things weren't much better: 53% against, 24% for - a bit over 2 to 1 against.

               As the French say, "un poids, deux mesures": one weight, two standards of weight. One standard for the first world, another standard for the third world :-D

Thursday, October 18, 2012

North American Autumn

"How will we say what this day means to us unless we enter it fully, consciously, and aware? How will we save what we love unless we are willing to be with our loved ones, to share their journeys and longings, their gifts and blessings? How will we come to know our world unless we go to it, our hearts open, ready always to receive and then to give back?

There are few things more important than to find a way to stop what we’re doing and look, look deeply, lovingly, fearlessly, unselfishly, without being anxious about what it might mean, how it might change us – and then to enter in."

              This is the primordial sense of "transparency": transparency, authenticity, openess towards oneself and the organic world around one (including the close circle of loved ones). If this primordial level of transparency is not attained, forget the rest: an inauthentic wo/man's judgement runs false at its source, the self..

               The existentialist philosophers of the last century understood this. They realized that one of the essential challenges of our time was to achieve the clarity of "authenticity":

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pipelines aren't transparent, you've noticed?

Reversal of pipeline 9 between Westover and Montréal - Équiterre reveals Enbridge's real motives.

Montréal, October 4, 2012
Équiterre (environmental group) revealed today that Enbridge has concealed the real motivations behind its project to reverse oil flow in pipeline 9 between Westover, Ontario and Montréal. 

During public hearings before the National Energy Board last May, Enbridge claimed that this project was uniquely destined to supply the energy needs of eastern Canada.

However, according to information released today, the Canadian consulate approached the governers of the New England states, particularly Maine, in order to promote the sale of Albertan oil sands in the region. Information was obtained from the Natural Resources Council of Maine through the American Access to Information law.

"For several months, we suspected that Enbridge was hiding its real intentions for the reversal of oil flow in line 9. Now we have the proof that it was not to supply consumers in eastern Canada with Canadian oil nor to reinforce the energy security of our country! The goal was, and always has been, to export oil sand bitumen to the United States" stated Steven Guilbeault, adjoint director general of Équiterre.

"Given the fact that the federal government is in bed with the petroleum industry, we are appealing to the public, to municipalities as well as to the newly elected Québec provincial government in order to prevent this project from proceeding. Enbridge wants to transport one of the most polluting forms of petroleum through the second largest city of Canada (Montréal) via one of the oldest pipelines in the country! Are we going to let them get away with this?" concluded Mr. Guilbeault.

Our translation of the following press release from Équiterre

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Charbonneau Commission: when transparency dies

            Writing this blog has been instructive. The ambient cynicism / political passivity has probably insulated me from the important role transparency plays in healthy political, social and economic systems. I am surprised to discover the degree to which democratic societies are hostage to the word. Who controls the word and how it is spun controls (in the short run, at least) the nature of the political game and the power relations among the various players.

            I have come to look for examples of what happens when transparency breaks down, when structures and political actors become opaque, when information does not flow freely, when news is distorted or "spun" to attribute a desired meaning or signification to an event..

             The province of Québec is a "small" society. Demographically and, especially, ethnolinguistically, it is a small island of francophonie in English speaking North America. This status, this mentality, has its advantages and its disadvantages. The relatively lowered mobility of our elites (the language issue) means that our big shots - nos gros légumes - know each other. They inhabit a small world, evolved from the ancestral farming village where you knew your neighbors and were probably related to them. "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" was a survival strategy before the invention of the modern State and insurance policies. Unfortuantely this philosophy, in modern societies, leads all too often to political corruption and the exploitation of unfair advantages: those with money purchase politicians and judges. Québec, as a small society, must therefore constantly be vigilant to eradicate corruption. The seeds of the disease must be extirpated before they have time to spread and infect the entire culture.

                The Charbonneau Commission is investigating corruption in the provincial construction industry. Evidence is coming forth in Montréal that a cartel of ten favored contractors received the lion's share of contracts with the provincial or municipal governments.This favoritism was bought with kickbacks to politicians and "taxes" payed to the Mob (about 3% of project cost in the city of Montréal). Cartel members, in turn, inflated their costs in order to pay for this privilege. And of course, in the final analysis, it is the poor taxpayer who foots the bill. We pay about 30% more for provincial tenders than in the neighboring province of Ontario, for example. How much of that difference is due to political corruption in the construction industry? Perhaps the Charbonneau Commission will shed some light into dark corners. (I suspect a horror movie is coming..)

                 This is what the breakdown of transparency engenders in modern, nominally democratic, societies: public theft, gangsterism, public apathy and cynicism toward the political process. Our declining infrastructure - some shoddily constructed in the first place - has reached the point of posing a physical danger to the public. 

Book Review: Chris Hedges, American Fascists

American Fascists, the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges, Free Press, NY, 2006

       In this brave - even noble text - Chris Hedges delivers a cautionary tale of a tragically, perhaps terminally, flawed society brought low by the very forces which gave it dominion over all other nations.

       The Ancient Greeks recognized in hubris (excess) and hybris  (arrogance) tragic vices which, like alcohol, could take possession of a person's or a nation's soul and draw them toward self-inflicted destruction. Such a collective dementia, Hedges suggests, has seized - or is seizing - the American national consciousness with unknowable - but surely ominous - consequences.

       American Fascists is the best book I've yet read on the Authoritarian Personality. It is not easy reading except, perhaps, for inveterate, knee-jerk America bashers. Most readers, though, will find a cautionary tale, a warning: there, but for the grace of God (or simply a relative delay in our cultural trajectory relative to the US.), go we.. In reality, the disease Hedges describes is endemic and the "American case" is merely more acute, more advanced, more overtly virulent (everything there is oversized!)

       As Le Monde columnist Hervé Kempf has already shown - How the Rich are Destroying the Earth, Chelsea Green Publishing - our society of "emulative" hyperconsumption is unsustainable and thus, in the long run, a failure: nature operates on the long run, what counts is what survives - Darwin.

      We are taught, as children, that those who possess much are "winners" and to emulate them, we, too, must consume big (even if that means consuming beyond our means and working ourselves sick to earn the prestige of being a big spender). Such a patently sick, constricted, vision of human life over-stimulates the economic sector (which, of course, is the "goal"). In reality, our economic system - advanced or Late Capitalism - requires such over-stimulation: investors demand future returns on present investment (profits). No profit to be made - no investment! But future return on present investment implies, logically speaking, infinite growth which is impossible in a "closed" - finite - physical world. Consider physical constraints: depletion of finite resources, the negative impacts of pollution in closed cycle systems, the obvious limits of physical space - territory - for human population growth.. In short, the "System" is screwed: it is now collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions. The hypocrisy - if not cynicism - and self-deception of those who profit from the "System" is boundless; that's one thing at least that's infinite! I recall my prof of Economics 101 pointing out that the economic "axion" of "infinite intersubstitutibility" of resources was, in all likelihood, BS. Yet he continued to teach it year after year.. In this case, it seems the blind do not WANT to see.

      To his credit, Chris hedges stresses the psychological effects of such a perverse culture. U.S. blue collar - and many white collar - jobs were exported to the 3rd world during the "globalization" mania. Why? To maximize profits for international megacorporations, their high living CEOs and shareholders by exploiting cheaper overseas labor. U.S. workers got screwed of course which made them even more paranoid then they were after 45 years of Cold War. And 9-11 didn't help..

       Into this menacing climate of economic, ecological, geopolitical, existential and cultural insecurity stepped the "dominionists" and "apocalyptics" of the radical "christian" Right. Dominionists believe that America has a duty to God to impose a "christian" vision on the rest of the world and to turn the U.S. into an Iranian style "theocracy".

       Dominionists also reject established science and support the absurd, suicidal agenda of the fossil fuel industry: God, they claim, gave man "dominion over" nature (Book of Genesis) and this goes as far as suspending the laws of physics, materializing resources out of thin air!

       "God is not capricious. He's given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything."

       So you've god God's permission: consume! consume! consume!

       Alternatively, although potentially equally dangerous from a geopolitical perspective, are the apocalyptics who, at least, grasp that the world is, in fact, going to hell in a handbasket. They, however, in a massively intellectually and morally dishonest move, attempt to shift the responsibility for the state of the world onto God's broad shoulders. Ecological crises are "re-framed", re-contextualized and re-interpreted to support the fossil fuel industry agenda: they are not the results of human greed and stupidity but manifestations of "God's plan". Ecological crises are nothing less than "signs" of the "End Days", of the Second Coming of Christ, when the world we will be destoyed in a universal conflagration. Only a "remnant" of humanity will be deemed "worthy" to ascend into a paradise of eternal bliss. The rest of us will be condemned to eternal torture, even well-meaning people who have the misfortune of worshipping the wrong - or no - God! (This is a "God of love"??) In the apocalyptics' delusional system, greens "oppose God's will" by trying to save the world from human greed and stupidity. They are, in fact, knowingly or not, "Satan's agents" in their opposition to God's will for humanity. This is heady stuff! Think of the witch hunts of the early modern era which killed, probably, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women. Think also fo the rise of fascism in Europe in the first half of the 20th century..

       Hedges, chippily enough, concludes his book on a positive note (why I'm not sure!) He believes in the common sense and the basic decency of the American people. He also believes that by returning to traditional American values, "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity", America can regenerate itself, heal and progress. He understands, rightly, that this will require rebuilding a sense of community in grassrooots America, of rediscovering a common sense of purpose and shared values - not in unending passive consumption. Community can only be rediscovered / rebuilt by working together with neighbors on common projects. Remember! For hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years our neurological circuits, our genetics, were programmed / molded by a hunter-gatherer existence. We still ARE hunter gatherers! Our nature, despite neoconservative propaganda, is to live and cooperate together in communities on communal projects. This is how our species evolved, survived and prospered for millennia..

       We must relearn, somehow, to rediscover - or create - the sense of meaning of life in our social existences. The ancient Greeks, who already understood that hubris and hybris are tragic vices, also understood that wo/man is wo/man ONLY within a webwork of mutual / reciprocal familial / social / economic / cultural / spiritual relations. The economic is but one dimension of human life and, perhaps in a healthy socieity, one of the lesser ones.

       For some insight into the incursion of neocon style propaganda and tactics onto the field of Canadian federal politics:

       If you consider youself a green activist or a social activist and you only have time for one book on the authoritarian personality, its origins, its nature, its objectives and strategies, let this be the book!

       I can conclude no better than citing Chris Hedges himself, American Fascists, page 33:

"If this mass movement [ the "Christian" Right] succeeds, it will do so not simply because of its ruthlessness and mendacity, its callous manipulation of the people it lures into its arms, many of whom live on the margins of American society. It will succeed because of the moral failure of those, including Christians, who understand the intent of the radicals yet fail to confront them, those who treat this mass movement as if it were another legitimate player in an open society. The leading American institutions tasked with defending tolerance and liberty  - from the mainstream churches to the great research universities, to the Democratic Party and the media - have failed the country. This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible should no longer be tolerated. They must be held accountable by institutions that maintain the free exhange of ideas and liberty. The radical Christian Right must be forced to include other points of view to counter their hate talk in their own broadcasts, watched by tens of millions of Americans. The must be denied the right to demonize whole segments of American society, saying they are manipulated by Satan and worth only of conversion or eradication. They must be made to treat their opponents with respect and acknlowledge the right of a fair hearing even as they exercise their own freedom to disagree with their opponents. Passivity in the face of the rise of the Christian Right threatens the democratic state."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Awakening the Dead: denouncing false values

 "We want the final answer. We want that in religion, in affluence, in life savings accounts, in relationships, in military power, in our work, in our identity politics, in the racism that has again reared its ugly head, and in our endless consumption of things, the manufacturing and marketing of which becomes the only thing we can think of to put people to work so that they can be the good consumers such a world needs them to be. And then we want all that to reach some point of stability that makes the future safe and secure."

           Herein revealed the roots or reactionary thinking.. seeking false security in a world of flux which no longers promises even the illusion of stability..

A question of priorities.. what do we value most?

Harper flips (? flops ?) on asbestos

            In a surprise move, Christian Paradis, Minister of industry, announced that the federal government will no longer oppose asbestos being listed as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. Such inclusion would effectively restrict exportation and limit revenues. Minister Paradis explicitly linked his government's decision to September 4, 2012 election of Parti Québécois chief, Pauline Marois. The mercantile / populist logic couldn't have been laid more clearly open! 
            In effect, Madame Marois has promised to cut a provincial loan required to open the Jefferey Mine. Up until now the Harper government could pretend to "defend Canadian jobs" by opposing the listing of asbestos on the Rotterdam list of hazardous (and controlled) substances. In reality, Harper lacks a base in Québec, so any opportunity to make a populist show of solidarity with Monsieur / Madame Toutlemonde is welcome. So what if third world workers in India, etc get lung cancer from the exported asbestos? The Market is God, after all (a Moloch man has created to enslave himself..)

             But now, with the election of the PQ, the plug has been pulled on the asbestos industry. No government start up loan for the Jefferey Mine, no asbestos industry. Simple as that. Time then to switch to Plan B..

              Plan B: Marois and her PQ are going to kill the asbestos industry anyway, so why not opportunistically pick up a few freebie votes from disaffected Liberals or left-leaning Tories with social consciousnesses? Otherwise, Harper and his gang wouldn't have given a s--t about Indian workers' lung cancers..

internal blog link:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

flying pigs and other impossibilities

             It is hard to comment on a piece like this. To what literary genre does it belong? Journalism (of a curious sort)? Satire - conscious? unconscious? Fantasy?

             Stephen Harper feted as a "champion of democracy" in New York. What are they putting in the water..

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book review: M Swedish, a spirituality of hope

Margaret Swedish, Living beyond the 'End of the World', a Spirituality of Hope
published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2008 

          This tight, concise, well written essay on the state of the earth and its future can be divided in two sections with varying appeals to different readerships.

           The first two thirds provide an admirable synthesis. This part is recommended to young people who want to get their feet wet on environmental / social justice issues and their interactions. Activists who work with the young would be well advised to check it out too.

           The last third, the core of the text, moves into territory where academics and most greens fail - or fear? - to tread, the "philosophical" (existential / ethical) dimension of our relation to the earth and Nature. Teckies and geeks might see "emergent complexity" here; the artist and mystic will think in terms of the "metaphysical" or "transcendental"; the religious will recognize the "spiritual" or "religious" dimensions of the text..

            Semantics aside, the author is boldly - "prophetically" - claiming a redefinition of the place of wo/man on the earth and in the cosmos, a vision that simultaneously respects emerging scientific cosmology AND the integrity of planet's life support systems. For salvation - if there is salvation for our civilization - will only come through the interaction of the two: science must become the servitor of life, otherwise it too will die with the planet it destroys..

            The false, addictive - ultimately suicidal - "values" of the Consumer Society will be layed aside as cheap fossil energy sources deplete: the Consumer Society is founded upon access to cheap energy . The natural resilience, autonomy and conviviality of human communities must be rebuilt, beginning with the one we live in. All this must be done in as equitable, just fashion as possible for never before in history was the solidarity of the human race(s) required as it today!

            We must, in effect, simultaneously convert the non-renewable energetic and material resource bases of our economies to renewable bases while raising per capita consumption in the poorest regions of the world. Never before was need for cooperation greater..

            This great transformation of society - the "Great Turning" - will be lived in constant crisis, this is simply the nature of the age we live in , it's "karma" if you wish..

           "Religion", "spirituality" - in their non-perverted forms - provide the self with a greater context within which its actions are to be evaluated, within which to discover meaning, purpose, value and self-expression. They are, we feel, also capable of providing an expanded frame of reference from which to judge the trajectory the world is now following and the probable consequences of following that path for future generations and for all life.

            At the end of my reading, I caught myself wondering, "what is truth?". Fundamentalists of all stripes, religious and secular, often speak of truth in absolute terms, with capital "T's": The Truth or, even - arrogantly - God's Word, God's Truth. Yet these inevitably prove to be either fools and madmen, at best, or vilains, at worst. (There are indeed true sages, wise ones, but such persons are rare and their words and works are soon seized upon by the fools, madmen and vilains, and perverted to their ends.) 

          The fanatic is caught in a web of delusion: in many / most cases he gives the impression of a man fleeing a reality too painful or fearful to face. Because ecological crises are fearful (they strike at our deepest instincts of self-preservation, individual and collective), the fanatic denies they exist without fairly examining and weighing the evidence. Ecological crises are rapidly converted into "signs of the End Times" ordained by God. They are no longer the product of the all-too-human vices of stupidity,  greed,  folly and hubris. There are immense false 'truths' spoken today by madmen and vilains and there are many willing dupes to take up arms in their names. Today, September 11, is the 11th anniversity of the terrorist attacks on New York city's Twin Towers and the Pentagon..

           At root, author Swedish is correct in demanding that people must "own up" and take responsibility for the state our world is in. WE made the world what it has become, not God! (Do the fools not see the blasphemy of making God responsible for humanity's folly?) Even if we admit that mass media exert corrupting influences on public opinion, values and aspirations (Noam Chomsky et al.), we find ourselves obliged to re-affirm that, in democratic regimes, the people are the rulers. We must take back our democracy! We can't have our cake and eat it too. Either  (1) the people assume their rule or (2) they reneg, quit the field, leave the game (democracy). 

           "Taking back our democracy" will be a very painful process, I suspect. It will require admitting that we let ourselves ourselves be duped by conmen (neoconservatives, conservative "christians", Free Marketeers, hate filled mullahs..) Such admissions, if honest, are always terribly painful. We have, collectively and individually, let madmen, psychopaths and fools call forth all that is venal and animalistic in man. Worse, we supported them in their work. 

           We did all this to the detriment of the health and stunning natural beauty of our world. We denied future generations the opportunities we enjoyed and we leave them a diminished world. These are painful searing admissions once we let them rise to consciousness. Passing through this painful point is a necessary step in our healing, though..

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ship Alberta crude to China - safe bet or suicide?

            Former federal environment minister Anderson slams Enbridge's safety record and challenges the wisdom of west coast oil shipments:

             Greed is good? British Columbia premier Christy Clark seems to think so. In a surprise move, she wants a more generous share of the proceeds from the proposed Enbridge pipeline which would deliver Alberta crude to BC ports for shipment to China.

            Aside from environmental concerns (greenhouse gas emissions, oil spills) and the question of sharing the spoils, there is also the question of shipping jobs to China. China wants crude, not refined oil. Thus, in bowing to Chinese wishes, Canada is effectively shipping thousands of jobs out of the country. The Chinese benefit from the oil and avoid the environmental damage of extraction while gaining thousands of jobs. A sweet deal.

            Meanwhile, the oil companies make money from the sales to China while avoiding having to pay highly paid Canadian refinery workers. Another sweet deal.

            Canada's land is scrapped, jobs are shipped to China with the crude. And, of course, money that could have been invested in building a New - post cheap fossil energy - Economy is flushed down the toilet of the dying Old, fossil fuel based, Economy. Everyone gains, it seems, but the land and people of Canada. Defintely not a sweet deal on this front!

            When does this silliness stop? Why do we let ourselves be run over by the steam roller of big business serviced by a servile and co-opted State? Why are we such damn patsies..

             Meanwhile, Harper's followers are mesmerized by the mantra: economy - economy - economy.. and either do not see, or do not want to see, the long term damage that is being done to our land, our way of life and our planet. Wake up Earth!

             For a more nuanced, in depth analysis, consult the four part investigative series which appeared in the Vancouver Sun:

              Talk about "Orwellian" bullshit: even the Chinese under Mao couldn't beat this one - unbelievable!

               "An Environment Canada website states: "A society that lives and develops as a part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than can be replenished and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in its biodiversity.""

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

cruel hoax they're pulling over on the public

           More evidence that the Harper government holds environmental regulatory measures in utter contempt. 

 " While Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the fate of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to tankers on the British Columbia coast will be based on science and not politics, documents show some of that science isn’t forthcoming.
And critics say there is no time for the science to be completed before a federal deadline for the environmental assessment currently underway."

             And why is the science not forthcoming? Because the government hasn't had the time to assess the impact of the Enbridge project on some 1,000 (!sic!) streams and their associated ecosystems the pipeline will cross. And why hasn't the government had the time to do the assessments? Well it might have something to do with budget cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the body mandated to carry out the assessments..

              Get the pic? First you cut budgets to regulatory bodies. Then, because, of understaffing / underfunding they can't do the job they were mandated to do: regulate. It's called deregulation on the sly (as if we didn't have enough already..)

              But doing things on the sly, dealing cards from a hidden deck under the table, is NOT transparency, which democracy requires in order to function properly (or simply to function - period). Don't forget Mr Harper "transparency" was one of the planks of your electoral platform going into your first mandate. That's why we - the people - elected you, in fact. (The people were fed up with the lack of transparency and back room shenanigans of the senescent Chrétien government so they voted you in, Mr Harper, hoping for CHANGE.)

"[Harper] says the science will make the decision. Well he’s basically disembowelled the science,” said Langer. “It’s a cruel hoax that they’re pulling over on the public."

                  One gets the impression that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has become a mere pathetic puppet with Harper's hand up its backside. This is not a picture of a functioning democracy.

 One definition of fascism: the control or seizure of the State by the Corporate Elite.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Some wise words even if you are not a writer

                 Transparency, like charity, begins at home. Ultimately, transparency, if it is to be an operative virtue in society at large, must begin with personal authenticity. 

              Personal authenticity can be defined as transparency with respect to the contents of our own minds and the narratives we tell ourselves to explain the world and our place in it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harper remaking Canada in his image..

"Harper remaking Canada in his own image" - scary stuff when you stop to think about it..

Why Haper suppresses environment science?

         Hidden costs of unsustainable development?? Global Warming theory predicts that, with a heated up Hydrological Cycle, there will be more extreme precipitation events. Data from the Insurance Bureau of Canada seems to confim this prediction. It will become harder to get insurance in the future and / or you will pay more. Like conservatives like to say: "there's no free lunch kid. You pay sooner or you pay later." Too bad they don't follow their own advice!

         The real costs of 2 centuries of unsustainable development (fossil fuel powered) are beginning to roll in. Deep pockets, anyone..

Internal blog links (previous related articles):

Friday, July 27, 2012

From the Bureaucracy Sucks file

         Here's a beaueaucracy story that just happened. About a week ago I returned some books to the municipal library (big city). One book was not listed as returned ...and fines began adding up. Several emails were sent and received no reply.

         Today, I went to the library in person and talked to a technician. She explained in detail all the hassles I was in for. They would... have to do 4 searches before charging me about 50 bucks for the book and handling fees if they could not find it. In the meantime I would receive notices by mail, phone calls and might even have my account frozen, etc. The whole thing would take a month or so to fix, "but I shouldn't worry" (!!) she said with a smile.

          According to the technician, THEY HAD ALREADY CONDUCTED ONE SEARCH AND HAD NOT FOUND THE BOOK ON THE SHELVES - three more searches to go. So, being old enough to know how bureaucracy functions I went to the shelves and - guess what? - found the damn book IN THE RIGHT PLACE..

          This is an example of why, despite all the gaping horrors ahead, I find some reason for hope in the Peak Oil crisis. Cheap oil is finished and, with it, the globalized economy it built. It will soon be too expensive to ship junk from sweatshops in China to big box sweatshops in N. America or to grow food through industrial farming as we now do. The world will be forced to de-globalize productive, economic and financial activities. We will once again grow, manufacture, and consume locally and regionally. Bureaucracy will shrink.
            Do you hear that? Bueaucracy will shrink! Yesssss!
            Can Peak Oil be all that bad..