Saturday, July 30, 2011

Festival season is upon us

Summer is here, and so are the festivals. So far I've been to the Nippigon Black-fly Festival, the Marathon Mosquito Marathon, and the Lake 'o Bays Bitin' Fly Festival. The music festivals are in full swing too. Almost every town now has a blues festival. Most Canadians don't know the difference between Howlin' Wolf and Wolfman Jack, but have we got blues festivals out the ying yang.

But the festival that towers over all others on the Canadian festival landscape is the Department of National Defense Perpetual Bullshit Festival. They've been in high gear lately, what with the "withdrawal" of Canadian "fighting forces" from Afghanistan. Those quotation marks are there for a reason. It seems that in the DND a lot of our soldiers aren't actually intended to fight. I guess that makes sense - every army needs its potato-peelers and toilet scrubbers, but I always thought at the end of the day even those guys (and gals) had to pick up a gun and challenge the forces of evil. Maybe not.

The new gig for our boys and girls in Afghanistan is to train the Afghan army. Hmmmm. Train them for what, I wonder? Oh, that's right; to take on the Taliban. Those would be the bad Afghans - the ones we didn't train, the ones who put the run to the Ruskies back in the '80's and the ones who have effectively fought NATO and the US Army to a stalemate over the last ten years. My thinking is that if they want an effective army, shouldn't it be trained by the people who are winning the Afghan war instead of the ones who are losing? That's right - get the Taliban to train the Afghan Army. Makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Besides, if you look at the history of Canadian training missions, the record is pretty bleak. We've been training the police in Haiti on and off for over a quarter of a century, and they're still considered one of the most corrupt and inefficient police forces in the world. Who knows, maybe they would have been even worse without our help...

But back to the bullshit. The DND has been tripping over itself for many years trying to sell the Afghan adventure. First it was the big sell. Top gun General Hillier was eager to lead the charge against the Taliban scumbags - his word. I thought at the time, gee, maybe one should tread a little lightly with the pejoratives. Let's at least pretend to respect the enemy, at least until we get to know them a little better. Not Hillier. They were scumbags and murderers and to hear him talk you'd think he was going to have the whole mess cleared up in six months.

Six months came and went. Gradually you started to see a little bit of questioning here and there about what the hell are we doing over there. Those questions gradually opened a faucet of bullshit from the DND that continues to gush to this day. One week we were there for democracy. Then we're liberating Afghan women. Doff those burkas, girls, the Canadians are here: it's bikini time! I remember reading about the bike paths we were going to build in Kandahar City. And lots of good news stories about the happy Afghan children being able to fly kites again, thanks to the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform. Overtime at the bullshit factory.

Meanwhile the brave men and women are coming back in caskets or in wheelchairs with limbs missing. A new era of Canadian Heroes was born. Every scared ninteen year old who stepped on a landmine was a hero. They'd get a street or a bridge named after them in their home town. The route that the hearses took from the airport to the base became the Highway of Heroes. Afghanistan became a must-do photo-op for Canadian politicians. You had a steady stream of political weenies playing dress-up; flak jackets and helmets and a half hour inhaling the macho ambience of a secure base, then back on the helicopter and high-tailing it the hell out of there. "We're not the type to cut and run" Harper assured our Afghan allies. And we haven't. Just our fighting forces have cut and run. Our trainers are standing firm.

You'd think the climb-down (not a cut-and-run, just a climb down) in Afghanistan would mean slow times for the Perpetual Bullshit Festival at the DND. You'd be wrong. This morning I listened to General Charles Bouchard explaining how bombing TV stations in Libya is part of the NATO mandate to enforce a no-fly zone. As a Canadian my chest swells along with with everyone else when I bask in the fact that a humble Canadian is in charge of the NATO bombs. I kinda felt for Bouchard, though. Like anybody listening, he seemed to know it was quite a stretch from no-fly zone to bombing TV stations, and he seemed uncomfortable, sort of like Colin Powell when he was waving that ridiculous little vial of white powder around in the UN. It's like, I know I'm bullshitting you, you know I'm bullshitting you, but let's just keep going with the bullshit, shall we?

So here we are. The national newspaper of record, perhaps sensing that the DND was running out of bullshit, assured us that when we are dropping bombs on Libya, what we are actually doing is "projecting our democratic values". Now that's good. I wouldn't be surprised if an editorial writer got an immediate secondment to the DND for that one. You won't find bullshit like that at the Kleinburg Binder Twine Festival.

Enjoy festival season.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The almost level playing field

Well here's a spot of welcome news; according to the national newspaper of record, wages in Chinese manufacturing are rising so fast that before the end of this decade they will have passed manufacturing wages in North America! Yessiree Wei Long! And you know what's gonna happen then? All those jobs that went to China from Ontario, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois will be right back. The rust belt will shake off its scales and spring back to life. It'll be jobs, jobs, jobs baby! Just like the the golden age, when any shaggy-haired pot-smoking delinquent could drop out of high school, apply to the nearest factory, and make more than the teachers he just waved his middle finger goodbye to.

Wages in China's manufacturing sector have gone up by as much as 25% in the past year alone. Surely part of the reason is that our Chinese brothers have been gradually getting a little more militant. In fact, they're not averse to tossing the occasional manager from the factory roof just to establish their bona fides. There's a lesson in there that our labour leaders have forgotten in the past half-century or so; workers get power and influence by taking it, not by waiting for kindly corporate overlords or sympathetic governments to hand it to them.

C.S. Jackson was one of the best union leaders we ever had. He was a big picture guy, in the sense that he never shied away from the fact that management and labour were, at the end of the day, not in some noble venture together, but were destined to be adversaries at the most fundamental level. He was also a man of unimpeachable integrity. In his many years as top dog at the UE he never took more than a tradesman's salary. A lot of your union bigshots, once they get well up the ladder, they get to making boss-type salaries, join the same country clubs as the bosses, live in the same neighbourhoods, and before you know it they got more in common with the captains of industry than the folks on the shop floor. He was effective too. Hard to believe today, but the General Electric plant in Guelph was known as "Generous Electric" back in the fifties, thanks to the contracts he wrung out of them.

Alas, a curious phenomenon overcomes a lot of workers when they land a good union job. Take the typical aforementioned dropout. The reason he applied to Generous Electric is because he knows it's a good gig. He knows he's going to do better there than at the non-union place around the corner. He is so appreciative that for the first few months he even goes to union meetings. Talk to him a year later, and it'll be a different story. He's making the good wage because he deserves it. The union isn't doing a damn thing for him. He grumbles about his taxes being too high. Soon enough he'll be voting conservative.

Once enough of the union brothers were voting conservative we succeeded in helping the bosses re-establish the primacy of capital over labour. Not that the primacy of capital was ever seriously in doubt, but at least in the middle of the 20th century we were starting to get a reasonable slice of the pie. We let our guard down, the bosses sent the pie to China, and here we are, waiting for the level playing field.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good cops, bad cops

Google has an exciting new thing happening. Badges! Yup, I can earn badges just for reading stuff off their news aggregator! Bring back that boy scout magic, Google! I gotta find out if I can get some retroactive badges for all the news I already read.

The cop who wrote me up as I was heading north wasn't a bad sort. He started off a little grumpy, but I must have won him over with my appropriately deferential demeanor. What could have been really expensive ended up being little more than the cost of a tank of gas. And it could have been really, really expensive. Had I not seen him hiding up the sideroad when I did, and had I not jumped on the brakes immediately, I could have suffered a Fantino forfeiture. That's where they take both your car and your driver's licence on the spot, give you a ticket for ten thousand dollars, and let you walk home.

Canadian media are choc full of tributes to Marshal McLuhan today. The old bullshitter would have been 100. I sold all my McLuhan books at a yard sale years ago, but not before having a quick scan to try to recover that old sixties magic. Didn't work.

Julian Fantino first gained national attention with his crusade to stamp out homosexuality in London in the early nineties. After that his career went from strength to strength. He was always a big-time law and order guy. Not much given to worrying about the rights of the accused and all that wimpy stuff. Not that his rise was without controversy; far from it. But, every time you thought the jig must be up, that there would finally have to be some accountability, poof! Fantino would disappear in the pixie dust of yet another promotion. During his time as Toronto's police chief we learned to re-imagine the concept of "cop". Used to be a somewhat portly guy strolling out of Timmies with a coffee and a six-pack of donuts. Approachable, sympathetic. Now "cop" means some intimidating graduate of Gold's gym kitted out like Darth Vader. But crime rates are going down, so I guess it's working.

I suppose one reason I don't get McLuhan is that I'm just not bright enough. I read a few pages and all I see is a bunch of very malleable non-sequiturs without much of a framework to hold them together. This morning I was listening to a professorly type being interviewed on CBC. He started out by assuring his audience that the iconic McLuhanism "the medium is the message" means at least twelve different things. Exactly! That's my point! When I say to my kid "don't stick the fork in the electricity plug", do I want her to have to ponder which of twelve meanings that might have? I think not. When the cop says "put your hands where I can see them",  do you sit wondering what he really means? No! Maybe if I had a few more watts upstairs I'd see it differently, but as it stands I'm afraid I still have to admit I don't get McLuhan. I had his grandson in my shop class for a couple of years though. Hell of a nice kid.

No sooner had Fantino become the top gun at the OPP than he discovered an epidemic of street-racing on the highways of the province. Hence the Fortino forfeiture. Get clocked at fifty kilometers over the posted limit, and kiss your car and your driving licence goodbye. No namby-pamby innocent until proven guilty nonsense. Pay the ten thousand dollar fine or pay a lawyer twenty and take your chances. The law and order types love it, at least till their mom gets nailed trying to make it to her hair appointment on time.

The cherry on top of Fantino's career was managing security at the G20 conference. He has since retired and reinvented himself as a member of parliament for the law and order party.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The trains just keep on coming

It's one train after another. Typically they're well over a hundred cars. A lot of the cars are container cars. Each rail car keeps at least two, three, or four trucks off the road. Every train that goes by means several hundred trucks aren't on the highway. The trains are coming through at three or four per hour. That's a lot of trucks.

Containers. Just one thing Jimmy Hoffa didn't see coming. Hoffa was one of the greatest labour leaders of the post WW II era. A lot of your so-called labour scholars would dispute this. All mobbed up, they say. So what, I say. He came from a tough time. The trucking companies were all mobbed up. Half the state governments were all mobbed up. Most of the other unions were at least somewhat mobbed up. He inherited a mobbed up union. When he disappeared he was working on demobbing it. The 1964 Teamsters National Master Freight agreement still stands as the high-water mark in terms of the relative standard of living of rank and file workers, with a few localized exceptions.

There was a rumour going around Guelph back in the day that one of the local salami factories disposed of the evidence. Hoffa arrived in town in the trunk of that Lincoln and left in a delivery van. I assume it was a joke. I hope so. I ate a lot of calabrese salami from the local shops over the years. Does have some plausibility, though. Guelph is just a few minutes off the 401. You set the cruise control at 85 mph, set your rum and coke on the dash, and you're in Detroit in about three hours. It'd be about the same going the other way.

Yesterday I did a few miles on the Trans-Canada. Went as far as Rossport. Exquisitely pretty place. Chatted with the young fellow at the local museum. Rossport used to have the biggest fishing derby in the world. No more. On the road I was following a skinny old biker with a long white beard on a great big Harley. Traded how-ya-doin's when we both stopped for gas. Nice guy. Had to be in his eighties. He was leaning that Road King into the turns like it was a cafe racer. May he live a thousand years.

So I think Hoffa's biggest mistake, other than thinking he was going to take on the Kennedys, who, while not necessarily all mobbed up by that point, certainly came from all mobbed up, was a decision he made, and made on principle, with respect to the phenomenon of owner-operators. An owner-operator is a guy who buys his own truck and then contracts with some shipper, or even better, a manufacturer or grower, to truck goods independently. It's the iconic "independent trucker" of folklore. Stalone made a movie about them. It's a great gig when it works. Not so great most of the time. Over the long term, it's a race to the bottom for the guys in the game. Say you have a load of turnips in south Ontario. You want to take them to Ohio, where they become rutabagas and are worth more money. The local Teamsters carrier will do it for a thousand bucks. Along comes Mr. Independent Trucker, who just went 120 grand into debt to buy a new Peterbilt. He offers to do it for $900. Great! You just saved a hundred bucks! That's just dandy. Then, out of the blue, here comes another independent who went 120 grand into hock three years ago, and he's a few payments behind; he'll do it for $800. Greater yet! Sooner or later some poor schmuck with a 20 year old Mack held together with duct tape and baler twine is gonna offer to move those rutabagas for just enough to cover his gas and maybe feed his kids for a few days.

The independents are well aware that they're in a race to the bottom, and they were well aware of it back in the sixties. Every time they try to organize, half of them park their rigs, and the other half have twice as much work. So the independents went to the Teamsters looking for support. Hoffa declined. His reason? As a union leader he didn't believe that it was his job to negotiate a return on capital. And these independents, when you get right down to it, are capitalists, are they not? Marx would have been proud of Jimmy. Today there are more independents driving trucks across America than there are Teamsters, and it's never been cheaper to get your rutabagas from Ontario to Ohio. Sometimes your principles can be your undoing.

The eighty year old biker reminds me of the last time I did this trip. Stopped at a little campground at Montreal River, so close to Superior that you could stand at the edge of your campsite and piss in the water. I'm there pitching my tent, getting the lawn chair out, starting the camp fire, getting settled. Gonna be a good night. Got the whole place to myself. Oops, here comes Mr. Biker, the full nine yards of Road King hard bags, trunk, the Mrs. in the queen seat.... surely to God he's not gonna... no...no..please...PLEASE DON'T TAKE THE CAMPSITE 2O FUCKING FEET AWAY WHEN THE WHOLE PLACE IS EMPTY!!! But he did. I hate when people do that. Anyway, it worked out. He was a real biker, real as in when people talk about gangs and stuff. From Montreal. Heading back after a business meeting in Winnipeg. His english was a little rough, but helluva decent chap. So he pitches his tent. It's twice the size of mine. He got a cooler out from somewhere. Next time I look he's walking around with a tackle box and a fishing rod. Oh look, they're starting a campfire too... they got firewood in the saddlebags? They've got nicer lawn chairs than me. How the hell does that happen? They're on a bike for God's sake! I was half expecting him to pull a canoe out of one of those saddle bags.

One of the localized exceptions were the building trades in New York City. Building trades unions everywhere in North America have done a pretty good job for their members, but these guys were doing way better than that. They had contracts for the shop stewards - I guess they call them business agents in the building trades, that had them paid their hourly wage anytime any of their members were on the site. Excuse me? That would be pretty much 24-7. It was. Good for them. And while I don't have a lot of fondness for Donald Trump, I was very impressed that he went out of his way to give credit to the building trade union guys in New York City when he wrote The Art of the Deal. A lot of people, when they get to where Mr. Trump got, seem to forget who did the actual sweat and blood labour that got them there.

Another localized exception to the Teamsters high water mark was what happened on the west coast when the IWA and the coastal logging companies went from piece-work to an hourly wage for the guys who cut the trees down. The main plank of the changeover was that nobody was going to be paid less than they'd made under piece-work, so overnight every bucker and faller was making an hourly wage equivalent to what the most productive among them had made under the old regime. That wage scale of course trickled down to the IWA members who had never been on piece-work in the first place. There are welders in southern Ontario today working for the same hourly wage that I made in my little IWA shop in Victoria over thirty years ago. That was a good gig. Good enough that Peter C. Newman had a shit hemorage about it in print; he was utterly aghast at the thought that mere forestry workers were doing the grand tour of Europe with their families, just like their betters in the front offices. I suppose he's breathing easier now.

I've been enjoying the clean air and the trains and the view and walking paths my POW grandaddy walked. But I miss Falling Downs. I'll be heading back soon. The grass is probably a foot high by now.

I wonder what's in all those containers? I'm guessing the eastbound containers are mostly plastic shit from China and the westbound containers are mostly empty.

The trains just keep on coming.


You can't bullshit welding

Made good time getting up here.

Eleven hundred and some clicks in twelve hours. That included an hour for lunch at a lovely spot overlooking the north channel in Thessalon, and an unscheduled stop shortly thereafter while a semi-literate cop took forever to write me a speeding ticket.

I used to think that would be a great job, cop. I even applied once, the City of Guelph Police Department. On the application there was a question, "have you ever been arrested?" and then they left a two-line space. I wasn't sure the best way to handle this, so in the space I wrote "see over."

Not that I was ever much of a criminal, but there was a fair bit of your normal late adolescent alcohol-inspired assholery.

I remember the first time I stood in front of  Hangin' Hank, infamous local judge and bon vivant down at the country club.

I learned a lesson that day that Conrad Black still hasn't figured out; while you might well be the smartest guy in the room, when you're standing in front of a judge isn't the time to let the room know it.

Subsequent visits to Hangin' Hanks workplace went a lot smoother, and I think eventually, as my adolescence dragged on, we grew to have a grudging mutual respect. It wasn't till years later, when I got to know one of the bartenders at the country club, that I learned Hangin' Hank was also known in some circles as Hammered Hank, and was on most work days as shit-faced sitting there on the bench as I was when I did the stupid stuff that led to my visits there.

So the cop thing didn't work out and I was forced, more or less by default, to continue my welding career. Welding is where you take something called an electrode, made of an exotic blend of alloys than I can neither spell nor pronounce, fry it up with a few hundred amps of electricity, and in the process join other metal things together.

What also happens in the process is that giant clouds of toxic smoke are created, which were then inhaled by everyone in the shop for the rest of the eight or ten or twelve hour shift. It was the norm in a place like the General Electric plant for the toxic fog to be so thick you couldn't see from one end of the shop to the other.

In the midst of that fog you'd see guys welding away, a little cigar-hole cut in the front of their welding helmets, cheerfully puffing away on a stogie. The health and safety do-gooders eventually put an end to smoking on the job, but they haven't figured out how to make non-toxic welding rods yet.

The best welding jobs, to my mind, were always the ones that involved the least welding. Back in the early eighties I was doing maintenance welding in sawmills on Vancouver Island. Most of the mills are closed now, but it was a great gig at the time.

You'd usually have hours of planning, fitting, re-fitting, head-scratching and general dinking around before you finally got to a five minute weld. And unlike a lot of jobs; judging, teaching, politicking, writing, stock market analysis, to name a few; you can't bullshit welding.

Which is not to say you can't do the job while half in the bag. Apparently there were times when Hammered Hank had to be carried from the bench to the judges chambers after the courtroom was cleared.

There was a guy I worked with at the drydock in Saint John who coulda give old Hank a run for his money. We worked the afternoon shift together, and Buddy would already have a good glow on when he turned up.

The first half of any shift at the shipyard was always a bit of a lost cause. We were working on the Canadian Patrol Frigate program and everything was top secret, which meant the guys on the day shift had to turn in all the blueprints before the end of their shift, and then the afternoon shift foremen had to go around handing them out again. That could often take till lunchtime, so a bit of a glow when you arrived at work was neither here nor there.

One of the perks of the shipyard was the Royal Canadian Legion located in the parking lot. How that came to be there is a long story.

Over the years, as the Irving family bought and then relentlessly expanded the yards, they picked up all the properties around. The Legion refused to sell. Eventually you had this huge parking lot with the Legion right there smack dab in the middle. Needless to say this was the spot to go for lunch. We'd all be honorary Legionnaires for half an hour and most guys would have two, maybe three beers.

Not Buddy. Three triples and three beer chasers for lunch. Everyday.

Now for me, that's not the time I want to be welding anything that matters. With Buddy it wasn't like that. His eye got keener, his hand steadier. He was famous for it. If there was a tough job anywhere in the yard they'd radio over to our section, and Buddy, well past three sheets as far as I was concerned, would be dispatched to get it done. Best welder I ever knew.

You can't bullshit welding.

And now, apparently, you can't find welders. Welders in Alberta typically make anywhere from $25 to $50 an hour. There's lots of guys, and some women too, around Fort McMurray making well over a hundred grand a year. And the job isn't nearly as dirty as it used to be.

So what are we doing to retrain our dispossessed mill-workers to take those jobs? Right next to nothing, that's what.

Instead, what the employers in Alberta are doing is lobbying the government to bring in foreign workers by the tens of thousands.

Now that's bullshit.

The bar tender told me that when Hammered Hank was ready to drive home after an eight hour shift at the country club, he'd call the cops. Two cruisers would show up. One would lead the way and one would follow behind as Hank drove home.

Never had an accident.

Monday, July 18, 2011

north of superior

I'm sitting at my campfire, overlooking the Little Pic River and Lake Superior. A freight train is chugging along a rock cut overhead. It's beautiful here.

This is a trip I need to make every couple of years. A pilgrimage.

Seventy something years ago my grandfather got a job here, logging along the Little Pic.

There aren't a lot of jobs up here anymore. Yesterday I bought the local paper at a variety store in Marathon. The clerk was a guy in his mid fifties. Until a couple of years ago he worked at the Marathon paper mill.

A good gig. Sixty thousand a year before overtime. The mill is closed now. When I was up here 25 years ago the place was booming. Construction workers from the big gold mines on the other side of Marathon lived in the park I'm camping at.

At the tourist info center just before Marathon I learned that Barick Gold is still pulling 4-500 thousand ounces of gold out of the ground here every year. But the construction boom is long past and Barick can do this with just a few hundred workers.

Another train goes by. There are probably campers who would find this distracting. I find them beautiful. Even more, they remind me of what we used to be able to achieve in this country.

Imagine, a railway from coast to coast!

Canada was able to do this 130 years ago. We could never do it today.

That's progress.

The front page story in the local paper is all about Barick Gold giving the local medical center a contribution of $100,000. Just like that - no strings attached.

One hundred grand.

Oh, maybe they'll have to call it the Munk Medical Center.

Peter Munk survived the shame of bankruptcy and reinvented himself as the founder of Barick Gold. The 500,000 ounces they get out of their Marathon mine translates into something around three quarters of a billion dollars a year.

This gift to the Marathon Medical Centre is emblematic of the Canadian spirit; great Canadians don't just take and take and take, they also give back.

So Peter Munk reinvented himself as a gold miner.

Buddy at the variety store reinvented himself as a variety store clerk, and my grandfather, after being drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1939, reinvented himself as a logger.

Another train.

Imagine, a railway from coast to coast! If we tried that today it would never happen.

Today it takes twenty years of planning for 10 kilometers of subway. Train tracks across the country?

I figure at least a hundred years for the feasibility studies. Then the environmental impact studies.

Imagine all the sensitive wetlands a trans-Canada railway has to cross!

At least a couple of hundred years for that.

Then the aboriginal land claims...

In Nippigon, a couple of hours drive west, I ask the clerk in the liquor store where  locals go to work.

Fort McMurray she says. She's not trying to be funny.

Nippigon is hurting. All the towns along the north of Superior are hurting.

The jobs are gone. Except the few hundred still digging gold out of the ground for Peter Munk.

It seems a lifetime ago, but I remember Mulroney campaigning on his "job jobs jobs NAFTA jobs jobs jobs NAFTA" platform in 84.

Sounded fishy to me.

You mean our stupid brown brothers south of the Rio Grande only want the shit jobs?

We're gonna keep all the good ones?

Oh yes, not only keep all the good ones; there'll be more more more!

Well, people voted for that.

That's democracy, I guess.

Another train.

Mulroney probably gets a bad rap.

The mere mention of his name conjures up images of cash-stuffed envelopes being furtively passed from hand to hand in sleazy hotel rooms.

In the first place, and let's do Mulroney justice here, they weren't sleazy hotel rooms - they were the poshest of posh.

Secondly, I think we forget the leadership role that Brian Mulroney played in the boycott of apartheid South Africa.

Those were turbulent times.

Nelson Mandela had been jailed as a terrorist for many years, and although that was before the Palestinians gave terrorism a bad name, it still took courage for a world leader to stand up for him.

Brian Mulroney took that stand.

Apartheid South Africa had one main export - the Krugerrand. The Krugerrand was the gold coin of choice for people around the world who needed to hoard gold.

I don't know why people need to squirrel away gold - I'm sure there are lots of legitimate reasons. When Brian Mulroney took his stand against apartheid, the Krugerrand had but one competitor - the Canadian maple leaf gold coin.

Here's another train.

When I first heard these trains many years ago I couldn't figure out why the brakes were squealing at the same time as the engines were pulling. Then I realized that the back half of the train was still going downhill while half a mile ahead the engines were already pulling uphill. They are a marvel, these trains.

So Buddy at the variety store thinks the mill jobs might come back. Apparently some politicians together with some wheeler-dealer types have a plan afloat that will use the mill to make bio-fuel to use in Ontario's coal fired electricity generating plants.

I wish him well.

So NAFTA came in.

The jobs on the north shore of Superior are gone.

The factories in the south are gone to Mexico.

Brian Mulroney left politics and became a director of Barick Gold.

Peter Munk has the biggest gold company in the word.

Nelson Mendela got out of jail and became President of South Africa. He's celebrating his 93 birthday today. All's well that ends well.

Except for Buddy at the variety store, maybe, but we'll see.

So my grandfather gets drafted, goes to war, and gets captured in the first week. My other grandfather gets sent to the eastern front and freezes to death in a snowdrift.

Fate.

Here on the north shore the German POWs considered themselves the luckiest Germans in the world.

Every morning a guard would take twenty prisoners out for a nature hike. You can see pictures of the guards and prisoners at the information center at Neys Provincial Park.

The prisoners had a handball club, orchestra, boxing team, wrestling team... escape attempts were rare indeed.

You can see it in the pictures...

Fate.

These men, some guards, some prisoners, were all in this together. If not for fate, they'd have been somewhere in Europe trying to kill each other.

I hear another train.

I don't think we could build a railway across Canada today.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Engaged or enraged?

It's a stinking hot day at Falling Downs. Too hot to work. The chores pile up. Need to focus on getting wood in for the winter. That job is way behind. The bat cave needs attention. Way too hot up there today. There'll be a rainy day soon. Good day for idle speculation, quiet rumination.
I'll be keeping an eye on the NASCAR race in New Hampshire. I love New Hampshire. Live free or die.  Very liberal place. Back in the seventies it was one of the few states you could drive through in a Subaru without getting beat up. I still appreciate them for that. No Subarus in NASCAR yet, but Toyota's a pretty big deal, so who knows? Ya gotta love NASCAR. Orgiastic celebration of late capitalism. The high-banked oval is to the American empire what the Colosseum was to the Roman empire. Disconcerting to see so many empty seats at the big events. Hard times for the masses. Still, I'm rootin' for Mark Martin. He's the old guy. I pretty much cheer for the old guy in any of the manly arts these days. Speaking of manly arts, waydago Rocketman for beating that Grand Jury nonsense. Roger might be a bit of a tool in many ways, but he knows how to throw a ball, and both Congress and grand juries should have lots better things to do with their time and the taxpayers money.
But I digress. Engagement. Why do we care about the things we care about? A while back there was a big old snapping turtle digging herself a nest on the shoulder of the road right here in front of Falling Downs. It took her hours. Total engagement. You could have walked up to her and hit her with a bat, she wouldn't have noticed. Coulda drove over her with the truck; she woulda kept digging. Total 100% engagement in her work. Next morning there's a raccoon there digging up the turtle eggs. Again, total engagement. You coulda walked up to it and hit it with a bat, which I did. Then I ran over it with the truck. I was rooting for the turtle. Ironically, both the turtles and the raccoons will be thriving here at Falling Downs long after the nuke plant down the road does a Fukushima and vaporizes all the bipeds for 1000 miles around.
Which brings me to George Monbiot. Monbiot writes here and there about environmental issues. He's committed, he's passionate, he is super-engaged. I don't know why he cares about the environment, but I have no doubt that he does. Yet, this super-engaged super-environmentalist, writing shortly after the Fukushima melt-down, came to the conclusion that this disaster proves the need for more nuclear power!!!
Now, I'm not a particularly flaming big-time greenie, but I am an environmental pragmatist, and I was enraged. How is it possible, long before the radioactive dust has settled, to declare that the melt-down of one nuclear power station proves the need for more nuclear power stations? This beggars comprehension. This is a full-throttle power-slide down Stupid Street.
On reflection I have concluded that for all his environmentalist cred, deep down Monbiot believes in progress. And isn't that the modern way? Lets rush into stuff we know next to nothing about. There's not a moment to lose. There are billions of dollars to be made. Times a'wastin'...  Goldman Sachs will put together a construction finance package for us... yesiree... go go go.... There's recoverable oil in them thar tar sands? 500 years worth? Quick -let's dig it all up in a generation. Frac gas? Let's get it all! NOW!!!
What's up with this attitude? It's gonna kill us. Where is the long-term view? Here at Falling Downs nothing is Round-up Ready. The apples and pears don't get sprayed. The cows walk around eating grass that's never been treated with anything. There'll never be anything genetically modified planted here as long as I have anything to say about it. Why? Because I want my descendants 100, 500, or 1000 years from now to have the opportunity to farm land that hasn't been ruined by the maximize-returns-at-all-costs mentality. Or somebody else's descendants. Doesn't matter. The point is we need to save the land.
Speaking of progress, gullibility, greed and willful stupidity, I found this howler in a column by Azam Ahmed in the NYT, "Banks like Goldman Sachs are marketing tools engineered to protect investors". Hmmm... of course they are, Azam! By the way, how would you like to be an altar boy, Azzie? It's ok - I'm a priest. Trust me. If you're good maybe I'll let you see my sceptre...
Mark Martin is back from two laps down running 14 seconds behind the leaders. Thirty to go.
Engage. Enrage. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Welcome to Falling Downs

Who the hell needs another blog?
You do, dear reader! And here's why; while there are literally hundreds of millions of blogs out there, absolutely none of them bring you the view from Falling Downs.
What is Falling Downs? Falling Downs is the wee organic farm where I live, nestled in the folds of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve if you don't mind. (The Niagara Escarpment, not my farm - just to be clear.) Aside from being a World Biosphere Reserve we're also a mere one hour drive downwind from one of the biggest nuclear generating plants in North America. Ah... there you go  - biosphere reserve and potential nuclear fallout all in one sweet package. It's those little contradictions that make life interesting!
As for the view, well, when I sit in my Muskoka chair facing south, I see the escarpment ridge on the other side of Bass Lake. When I look west I see the escarpment ridge between here and Wolsley. When I look north I see the escarpment ridge that separates Falling Downs from Colpoy's  Bay. East, I just get my neighbour's house. However, if I built an observation tower at least 30 feet high on the highest point of my property and looked east, I would see the waters of Georgian bay where the bay runs into Owen Sound.
The organic farming aspect of Falling Downs is a work in progress. The progress has been slow, in part because I spend too much time admiring the various views. Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day either. We don't allow any chemicals on our property, so that's a start, I guess. 
The view in The View From Falling Downs isn't really about those literal views, however (although it will be from time to time). Rather, the view is my point of view on a variety of issues that have engaged me for a long time. I care about the world I live in. I've been a news junkie my whole life. What are the issues that engage and enrage me?
Stay tuned.