Monday, June 29, 2015

Oh! Canada..

Imagine seeing a place like this

turned into this.

Stephen Harper has decided it's a good idea to build a 10 storey Colossus memorializing Canada's military history along the rugged, windswept coastline of the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The statue will be part of a proposed "Never Forgotten National Memorial" inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The plans for the memorial, brilliantly conceived by food-packaging baron and "enthusiastic patriot" Tony Trigiani were described to the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Trigiani is planning to place a "We See Thee Rise Observation Deck" in front of the Mother Canada statue, and behind it "The Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love," a low wall featuring metal plaques naming the international cemeteries where Canadian soldiers are buried. He's also planning a "With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary," as well as a restaurant, souvenir shop and interpretive centre.

Siting any structure in a National Park sets a precedent that calls into question the very reason to even have National Parks. If a consortium of wealthy individuals can ride roughshod over the Parks' legal protections, then the Parks are no longer safe.

The names of the fallen will not be commemorated by this monument - only those of the sponsors will appear, carved in stone. That is, after all, the incentive for getting them to contribute in the first place - it is there, for all to see, on the official website. They are paying to have their name and/or brand immortalised on this so-called 'monument', while the names of those it is meant to honour will not be. That isn't patriotism, it's marketing, and to use the dead to sell stuff is an insult to their sacrifice. A monument should remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country, not those who sacrificed a small proportion of their disposable income for brand awareness.

 Finally - it's really, REALLY ugly.

Just in case you need to know more about this project there's more news here. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with just a few of the hundreds of comments made to the Guardian:

* Not to mention the I-Love-Me Harper Hall! Plus, what names! What grandiose, egocentric, egotistical megalomaniacal names! What typical of tyrannical regimes names! Amazing the approach is not being named the Avenue of Glorious Leader Harper!

* Sitting Bull and other Lakota described Queen Victoria as 'Grandmother England' and thought of Canada as a place of sanctuary - just stick a big statue of Victoria facing the US.

* They should build a statue of a giant oil sands truck and call it "mother of all fuck ups".

* Not so much "Mother Canada" as "The Mummy" Canada".....

* Perhaps instead a statue of Pierre Trudeau doing his pirouette? A monument to the last Canadian prime minister with any real character or brains.

* War already does a pretty good job of eradicating natural beauty, so yeah, let's commemorate that by eradicating some natural beauty.

* Interesting to compare the triumphantly open-armed Mother Canada with the bowed and grieving Canada Bereft Vimy memorial, which at least makes the point that war is a desperately sad business. An example of a new mood of sentimental jingoism, now that WW2 is more than half a century away.

* Meanwhile about 120 First Nations communities in Canada are on boil water advisories, some for as long as 20 years. Typically the Harper government would rather spend our tax dollars on self congratulatory projects like this than improving the third world conditions of Canadian First Nations living in one of the richest countries in the world.

* A final insult to the east coast before Harper goes. To sell out national parkland to a private enterprise for such a stupid idea is just plain wrong. You're not allowed to pick a single flower in these parks and he wants to pour concrete all over Green Cove. The gratitude we have to our fallen soldiers is felt by all, but to use our sentiments to sell this piece of tacky schlock is pathetic.

* The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities.

* This is not the only oversized piece of controversial memorial "art" that Harper's Conservative government is working on. They are going to build a massive "Monument for the Victims of Communism" outside the Supreme Court building on Parliament Hill.
No indication where the "Monument for the Aboriginal Victims of Canada" is going to be located, thus proving that it is much easier to commemorate other people's victims.

* I think Cape Breton needs a 100' statue of the McKenzie brothers, hockey sticks draped over their shoulders, a beer in the other hand of course, and big smiles showing the requisite 3 or 4 missing teeth. Now that says everything about the Canadian psyche that needs to be

Happy Canada Day on the 1st of July
Happy Independence Day on the 4th

We'll try to be back sooner next time :)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

on human flight

A walk in the park is never boring but usually we see things we expect to see - people, dogs, squirrels, crows, bluejays, chickadees, gulls, clamshells, crabshells, flowers, grass, trees, the sea etc. You get the idea. Sometimes we see the unexpected. One day last week we came across a scenario just unusual enough that I have to share it. Unfortunately, since I'm not in the habit of carrying a camera you'll have to settle for a more elementary image.

That day, after passing through a narrow section of the beachside path between some old wwII bunkers, we were surprised to see an older man standing on the shore holding the ropes of a very large parasail*. In actuality he was wearing a harness, knee pads and elbow pads as well as the helmet, plus there were a few more ropes. I hope you'll excuse me being a bit too lazy to draw all that. He did look a somewhat worried. I don't know if you're familiar with the sport of parasailing - I'm certainly not - but what I do know is that the general idea for getting up in the air is as follows:

You want to begin by standing high up on a reasonably steep grassy hillside with the sail spread out on the ground behind while a fairly brisk wind blows up the hill. The pilot then grabs the ropes in the prescribed manner, runs forward, throws his hands high over his head, and, if God is merciful, the glider inflates - floopf. A brief downhill run and the pilot feels the earth dropping away under him. He is flying. Unless, of course, he crashes. The flying and landing parts are beyond the scope of my story.

The man we saw wasn't doing any of that. Instead, he was holding tight to the ropes as the parasail (about 30 feet across and therefore much bigger than I've drawn) shuddered above him in the breeze. The fact the breeze was blowing out to sea might have been part of the reason he looked worried.

We'd barely had time to take in this unusual spectacle before a little boy out walking with his mother caught sight of the man and his apparatus. Transported by sheer delight the little guy ran laughing and shouting across the grass, 'Hey! Hey! Mister! What are you doing?'

It was great.

We kept walking and the little boy went back to his mother. I turned back to see the man spreading the parasail on the grass in preparation of folding it up. I wonder if he's found a suitable hillside?

Before man walked, he yearned to soar, as if on feathered wings. Ever he has sought, in supreme affirmation and ignoble pride, to float upon the wind, high above the mute and pitiless ground. Icarus lives in archetype: Children remain convinced a bright cape will let them fly like Superman.

* references to parasailing should probably say paragliding
(thanks, Lindsay)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

historic Crow

Crow came across this postcard in his files a few days ago. It's one I hadn't seen before and neither of us can remember if it's from his past or his future. I'm hoping the future.

While humans have been inventing things ever since some enterprising  homo habilis first knapped a flint then figured out how to rub two sticks together, it's definitely true the pace picked up over the last few hundred years. Crow, who had a front row seat at many discoveries, regaled me with stories about developments he witnessed:

'As I recall, it was nearly five thousand years ago in Sumer, when a bored farmer decided to improve the performance characteristics of his oxen-driven plow by getting rid of the plow and yoking his team up to a platform on wheels. The new vehicle, the first chariot, was a novel source of fun for many centuries until the people began to realize that these chariots would go no faster than an ox could lumber. About 2500 BC, people began importing wild asses from western India and yoking them up to their chariots. The history of the chariot, and non-human powered vehicles in general, has been a steady quest for speed. In the millennia since that time, there have been quite a number of these wild-ass innovations - some, obviously, better than others.'

Here's a brief summary of more recent developments:

1876 and 1886: internal combustion engine, bicycle, electric lightbulb, electric transformer, steam turbine, electric railroad, automobile, telephone, movie camera, phonograph, linotype, roll film, dictaphone, cash register, vaccines, reinforced concrete, flush toilets and the machine gun (the typewriter arrived in 1868)

1890 and 1950: adding machines, automobiles, diesel engines, airplanes, radio, motion pictures, computers, disposable razors, wireless telegraph, frozen food, rockets, air conditioning, submarines, the vacuum tube, jet aircraft, helicopters, television, electron microscope, refrigerators (and a raft of other home appliances), as well as revolutionary advances in manufacturing processes (oops, can't forget The Bomb)

All of that in just 75 years. For some reason what came next doesn't seem all that impressive in comparison. Then again, it's not easy to see the nano in nanotechnolgy.

If you could choose just one of these two inventions, indoor plumbing or the Internet, which would you choose?

I think I know how I would answer.


ps: please let us know if you've seen the postcard previously

Saturday, May 23, 2015

pillowcase talk

I may be alone in this but I have a particular fondness for old sheets, ones that have been washed so many times that their touch is like an instant return to the security of childhood. In those days sheets were washed, hung out on a line to dry, and often ironed before being put away in a cupboard to air. In fact, I learned to iron by practicing on pillowcases and my father's handkerchiefs. I'm not even sure anyone irons anything anymore, or at least not often and even then, probably not sheets and handkerchiefs. Not even me. But I do have some old sheets that I like a lot. A few days ago when I was making the bed I must have tugged a little too hard on the top sheet as I pulled it into place because, before I knew it, a large part of the top band had separated from the rest. Oh dear. While trying to imagine how I might fix that one I got another set of sheets from the cupboard. All went well until I shook one of the pillows into its case and the pillow bounded across the bed while I was left holding the band. Oops. Dammit. I hate it when that happens.

So it turned out to be time to go to the department store, one of those activities that hasn't been that much fun for me these past few/many years, but occasionally necessary. Happily, sheet buying hasn't become any more complicated than I remember - at least not at a still old-fashioned place like Sears. Of course, I could have purchased my sheets online and had them delivered too, but I'd rather see them first. Speaking of online purchasing, did you ever foresee the day you'd be asked to give the book, dvd, or widget you'd ordered a starred and/or written review? It seems this has become such an entertaining activity for bored (or broke) shoppers that there are number of people who have taken up reviewing as a hobby. Sometimes I wonder if the reason for this is that we like to have some input and, since we're more used to being known as consumers these days rather than citizens, it gives us a place to express our frustrations with the system.

Anyway, it's time I begin training two new sets of sheets. Maybe I'll iron them - if I can remember where I stored the iron.

ps: Some very good news I read yesterday is that the government of France has made it a law that all grocery stores must donate unsold food to charity. It's a start.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

dream stream

This is another of those pictures of mine that has no story attached - at least none that I'm able (or willing) to tell. While there are earlier pictures it still seems to me there there are some missing, ones that would add more depth to what's turning out to be a strictly visual narrative. I'm liking the dog more and more and make no bones of the fact they are my favorite species (naturally, Crow doesn't count). Over the years I've had two canine friends of my own, but none now and none for a long time. Full-time jobs and apartment living don't combine to make a happy environment for a being that needs both love and regular outdoor exercise.

German shepherd or poodle, it's funny to think that all dogs are closely related to wolves. How they came to appear so diverse makes a fascinating exercise in considering just how long they have been close to us and one could make a somewhat reasonable argument that dogs and people began evolving together some thirty thousand years ago. Just as most dogs don't look like wolves neither do we (again, most of us) resemble Cro-Magnons, the people who first welcomed dogs to their caves and camps.

There are lots of theories, but one among them written by Donald A. Mackenzie, (1873-1936) in a book called 'Ancient Man In Britain' caught my attention:

The introduction of the domesticated dog may have influenced the development of religious beliefs. Cro-Magnon hunters appear to have performed ceremonies in the depths of caverns where they painted and carved wild animals, with purpose to obtain power over them. Their masked dances, in which men and women represented wild animals, chiefly beasts of prey, may have had a similar significance. The fact that, during the Transition Period, a cult art passed out of existence, and the caves were no longer centres of culture and political power, may have been directly or indirectly due to the domestication of the dog and the supremacy achieved by the intruders who possessed it.  There can be no doubt that the dog played its part in the development of civilization. As much is suggested by the lore attaching to this animal. It occupies a prominent place in mythology. The dog which guided and protected the hunter in his wanderings was supposed to guide his soul to the other world.

It was Will Rogers who said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went”.

and Woodrow Wilson suggested that, “If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”

That the NDP can win big in Alberta proves miracles still happen!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

climate control Crow

Here's another of those hastily made travel postcards sent by Crow after he viewed one of the proposals put forward by the Gates Foundation toward geoengineering a solution to Anthropogenic Global Warming. The device you see is a very very large vessel that will suck up ocean water and blast it into the atmosphere in an attempt to make clouds. Projects similar to this, called Albedo Modification, are proposed to reflect sunlight back into space through one or all of several methods. The wildest one is the idea of using orbiting space mirrors to deflect the sun's rays (unknown weather effects, fails to prevent acidifying oceans); another is to spray aerosols into the stratosphere (risk of ozone depletion as well as unknown weather effects and ocean acidification); cloud seeding by using atomised sea water (same possible negative consequences). 

A number of other geoengineering proposals have been suggested including fertilizing the ocean with iron filings to stimulate plankton growth or pouring tons of ground limestone into the sea to absorb CO₂. The effects on the ecosystems by these methods are also unknown.

Naturally enough, Crow had some thoughts to share about all this that he appears to have written on a number of tiny scrolls that began arriving by carrier pigeon earlier today. Here are a few I've been able to decipher so far:

First and foremost, the idea of geoengineering is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what climate is, and why it is important. Although I have the greatest respect for many climate scientists and engineers, most do not understand ecology, or have a particularly good grasp of it. I have not, for instance, found any of them flying with condors or guarding eagle nests.

The failure in thinking about geoengineering is it wrongly assumes that the only issue is temperature, and that if you simply bring the temperature back down, then the problem is solved. This is so ecologically naive that I may need a shot of brandy before I start. Ahh, there - deep breath. Even if geoengineering did manage to bring the temperature down, it is likely to fundamentally change how ecosystems experience climate, or have other serious ecological impacts - ones that are inherently unpredictable and likely to cause far more problems than they solve. Ecosystems don't just experience climate in terms of crude average temperature. There's the amount of sunlight, precipitation, wind strength, wind direction, humidity and so on. In crude terms, it would be creating another type of climate change.

Geoengineering is based on the credulous concept that the world is rather like a giant room, and you can just raise or lower the temperature, and the rest or room stays the same. In reality, ecosystems interact with the climate in very complex and circular ways. They not only are effected by climate, but they also effect the climate. The geoengineering concept is based on a fundamental failure to understand the dynamic and highly interlinked nature of the natural environment and natural ecosystems. Any whale or dolphin could tell you this.

Geoengineering is essentially a convoluted form of denial saying that humanity should carry on as usual, to the extent of taking absurd gambles to try and control the climate. Missing the 'big picture' entirely, this thinking does not take into account that the present economic model (and industrialization) is highly unsustainable, even if climate change never existed. There is ongoing massive biodiversity loss, ocean depletion, the depletion of natural resources like water, human  population growing out of control, and a 1001 other environmental problems, which geoengineering will not address, and might make worse. It is an artifact of people who reject the idea that the global system has to change to make it environmentally and ecologically sustainable. 

Anticipate my early return, dear susan, and a period of relaxed enjoyment when we can discuss these matters more fully. Meanwhile, you may feel free to share my thoughts with our friends. Please keep the brandy warm and the fruitcake moist.

Your Crow

ps: Perhaps they should try their experiments in an environment where no living beings are likely to be hurt - Mars, for instance.

On a lighter note, here's some video evidence that sometimes a regular person can make a difference. You can see it now and I'll show it to Crow when I see him:

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21 or CMP11 will be held in Paris, France in 2015. The objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

Shall we keep our fingers crossed?

Saturday, April 18, 2015


 Here is the latest in the mysterious ongoing adventure of a girl child and her not always entirely faithful canine companion. It could well be said of him: "I'm a good dog, but sometimes I do bad things." I'm still not sure where this journey is headed - time will tell.. or maybe not.

Meanwhile, I found myself reading some mystery novels by Oakley Hall about his only mildly fictionalized version of Ambrose Bierce, a writer very famous in 19th century America who lived through several battles in the Civil War. The experience left him somewhat jaded. In 1914, in his early 70s, Ambrose Bierce went to Mexico to participate in Pancho Villa's revolution, a journey from which he never returned.

The first chapters of the books I read all began with quotes from Ambrose Bierce's 'Devil's Dictionary'. I thought you might enjoy reading a few of them:

“Apologize: To lay the foundation for a future offence.”

“Bore, n.: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.”

“Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum -- "I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;" as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.”

“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

“Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be.”

“Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.”

“Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.”

“Inhumanity, n. One of the signal and characteristic qualities of humanity.”

“Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

“Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.”

“Patience – A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.”

“Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.”

“Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”

“Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”

“Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.”

Good wishes to all until next time,
and yes, not only is the snow going fast, but yesterday I saw the first stinkweed flower of spring. Although they may not be as beautiful as snowdrops and crocus, they were a welcome sight.