For what it’s worth…

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘reopening’ or ‘restarting’ the economy. A lot of this talk comes from politicians and media pundits. Most are for it, with varying degrees of caution, and very few against it. Almost no one questions who will benefit most from reopening or restarting.

Usually, the argument is framed in terms of being able to get haircuts or sit in restaurants or watch sports. Everyday people kind of stuff. Occasionally there is some acknowledgment that some everyday people – hair stylists, cashiers, childcare workers – might face more risk than others as a result. Many already do. But we can’t be afraid, we’re told. We are warriors. (That last part from a coward who lied his way out of going to war multiple times.)

Even before the current pandemic closed so much down, the economy we are currently told we should be willing to – literally – sacrifice lives for was not working for the majority of people. This is, in part, what has allowed populist movements to take hold in the U.S., Europe and parts of Latin America and Asia. Why would the poor vote for someone like Trump, who clearly does not have their interests in mind? Because the alternative didn’t care about them, either.

The economic system we are all so keen to restart – as soon as it is safe to do so, however we define that – really only ever worked for a very few. The gap between those who have much and those who have little has only increased since 1980. The number of those between those two polls has only diminished – and the majority of them retreated to the latter camp. As corporate profits increased, their payrolls shrank. As the stock markets surged, the real economy of everyday people became ever more tenuous.

Now, I need to be clear: I’m neither an economist, nor a historian, nor a political scientist. I have, however, read the works of economists, historians and political scientists, and not just those with whom I’m likely to agree. I live in this world that we’ve created, and I pay attention to what I see happening around me, and I think about what I observe. I consume facts, and modify my opinions accordingly. These are my opinions.

There are facts here, too. The current pandemic will eventually end, and economic activity of some kind does need to begin again at some point. Those are facts. But, in my opinion, it is time now not to simply ‘reopen’ or ‘restart’ our economies, however tentatively or rashly, but to reimagine them in a way that will benefit more people and harm fewer, and lead to greater freedom and equality for everyone.


Strange bedfellows

That’s what they say about politics, isn’t it? That it makes for strange bedfellows. The provincial election here in British Columbia is a case in point.

I had planned to vote for the Green Party in this election. The most serious (if not the most immediate) issues facing us are, in my opinion, environmental in nature. The climate is only part of it, albeit a big part. But many issues exist regarding water quality, protection of biodiversity, endangered species, disposal of toxic waste. These are all things that I believe are just as important as jobs and the economy. Nature really doesn’t care about our balance sheets.

But the BC Green Party has decided to align itself with the incumbent BC Liberal party. (For those who don’t live in BC, the BC Liberals are conservatives. I know it’s confusing. I’m pretty sure it’s intentional.) At the same time, they have derided the left-wing party here, the BC NDP, as lacking principle.

Again for those who don’t live here, this is why that’s ironic:

  • The BC Liberals have been accused of, and some of their operatives convicted of, breaking election laws.
  • The BC Liberals have profited from a political financing system that is largely without rules. Both the Globe and Mail and the New York Times have written about the ‘wild west’ nature of this system. Donors routinely pay tens of thousands of dollars to dine with the Premier or a collection of cabinet ministers (or both), and are handsomely rewarded. It was reported today that a company who happen to be one of the bigger donors were awarded the contract to oversee a multi-billion dollar project.
  • The BC Liberals have happily raised ‘fees’ and ‘premiums’ and ‘rates’ – while claiming not to have raised taxes – for everything from health care premiums (doubled in their time in office, and worth noting that no other province have these at all), hydro rates, campsite fees, and so on. And on. And on. And on.
  • While the BC Liberals did introduce Canada’s first carbon tax, it has been frozen since 2012, and will remain so until 2020. At this point, it’s been essentially priced in and is having a negligible effect on emissions.
  • Environmentally, the BC Liberals have promoted the development of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, even while the market is saturated and the price is at record lows, leading to an enormous increase in the fracking of natural gas deposits. They have also promoted BC ports as a conduit for American thermal coal to reach Asian markets, and approved the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, provided it meets their vague-to-the-point-of-meaningless conditions. They are preparing to flood some of the best farmland in BC to build a hydro-electric dam in a geophysically questionable location to generate power for additional resource extraction. They plan to replace a four-lane tunnel with a ten-lane bridge that most local governments oppose, rather than supporting additional public transportation.

I could go on, but it gets tedious to recite this stuff.

So why, you may ask – I did – why would a Green Party leader support this group? Why would he prefer them to a more progressive party? It really doesn’t make a lot of sense. But I hope his bedfellows, strange as they are, don’t fuck him too roughly. 

That kind of hypocrisy is really not my style, though, so I changed my mind and voted for someone else.


Beach combing

Two could walk this beach becoming
Barefoot now and then as the rocks
Obtrude, piling down from the short
Worn cliffs, past water’s edge. Slinging
Shoes over shoulders and climbing
The rocks. Fording deltas. Getting
Stronger as they go. Clothes falling
To rags.

Two could walk this beach
And one turning to the other
Will say: Nothing goes on forever,
But the world is much larger than
I had imagined. And the other,
Turning in turn, reply: It all
Seems small to me; everything,
I think, is like an ebbing tide.
Building a fire. Watching stars fall
Into the sea.

Two could walk this beach
For continents. Catching fish in
Their tangled nets of hair. Dreaming
Islands in the moon’s deep white seas.
Hiding their bones in the wind.


© Mark Milner

Odds & sods

Strange days in politics…. I mean even more than usual.

In the U.S., Donal Trump talked mostly about himself in relation to Black History Month, with a nod to the little known up & comer Frederick Douglass (oh, my!), apparently unaware of the 19th Century abolitionist and friend of Abraham Lincoln. Turns out the Donald threatened the President of Mexico with invasion and told off the Prime Minister of Australia before hanging up on him. I don’t think this bodes well for the upcoming visit with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

Speaking of whom, here in Canada our Prime Minister has abandoned his election promise to reform the electoral system his party subsequently benefited from to one that better reflects the popular vote. I guess when you go from third place to first, your perspective changes. Funny, that. I’d be more disapppointed if I’d fallen for the lie.

Add that to his ‘betrayals’ (utterly predictable though they might have been) of the progressive voters who abandoned the NDP for the Liberals in the last election, such as on oil pipelines, greenhouse gas emissions targets, pulling out of combat in Syria, and so on. Add all of that to his cash for access fundraisers, holidays with religious leaders whose charitable foundations get millions of federal dollars….

For those Bernie-loving Americans who think our Liberal Prime Minister is some kind of progressive poster boy, think again. He and his party are just as inextricably linked to big business as any establishment politicians in the U.S.


Still too cold, in my opinion, to be out and about on two wheels. I just don’t like frost and ice. I can’t wait for the overnight low temperature to get up to 3C again!


Reading Guitar Zero (which could be my new nickname) by Gary Marcus. It’s a fascinating book, even if you’re not trying to learn to play an instrument. (And reassuring if you are. It’s not so much that you’re talentless as that this really is difficult! Eventually, with enough practice, you’ll get better at it. Probably.) It looks at how learning a musical instrument rewires the brain, even later in life. Well written, well researched. If you’re interested in neuropsychology or music, or language for that matter, I recommend it.


Cat is being high maintenance, so that’s all for now.

History, freedom, persecution and religion

I am simultaneously saddened and outraged by the shootings in Quebec last night. Whatever the specific motivations of the shooter(s), it seems clear from the fact it occurred in a mosque during evening prayers that the victims had been targeted for their religion.

I have said before I am not a religious man, but I do respect the religious beliefs of others, at least to the extent that they don’t conflict with human or civil rights. In a democratic society people should not be persecuted for their religious beliefs, or for not having any.

Even before the shootings at the mosque in Quebec, Muslims in many western countries have been looked at with suspicion just because a very few have committed crimes against non-believers. This has taken the form of xenophobic graffiti, name-calling and assaults, proposed bans of religious articles of clothing, like hijabs and niqabs, and even the words and actions of the current President of the United States.

No religion should consider itself immune from criticism. Saying a prejudice against gays or women is mandated by religious belief, for example, does not excuse it. Religions exist in a social context, and must adapt themselves to historical changes just like everyone else.

At the same time, discriminating against all members of a particular religion based on the actions of a handful of adherents is equally inexcusable. No one, of any race, religion or sect, should have to fear for their rights or security on such grounds. People should instead be judged on their words and actions.

On those grounds, I submit that people like the Quebec shooter(s), the President of the United States, and the fanatics in terrorist organizations of every stripe, from ISIS to the Klan, will ultimately face very harsh historical judgments.

Science, technology & authority 

There was an excellent article today in The Guardian about Canadian scientists helping their American counterparts get their findings in front of the public, something the Trump administration clearly fears. It’s not clear why it fears this, since the public clearly views facts with suspicion, while eagerly accepting lies. But fear it it does, and as a result it has been shutting down programs, websites and twitter accounts since it assumed power – and this is just week one!

This is common among governments with an authoritarian bent. It happened here in Canada under our previous government. We weren’t the first and clearly won’t be the last.

People often wonder how these governments can be against science, without which – they say – we wouldn’t have TVs, the internet, nuclear power (not to mention weapons), and so forth. It’s a dubious argument, because it conflates science with technology. Authority tends to like the latter and fear the former. The same might be said for the majority of the public, for that matter. After all, technology is fun to play with, while much of science tends to be hard to understand.

I hope the scientific community persevere. I expect they will. Authority always ends. Knowledge continues. Maybe that’s what they dislike about it.

What time is it?

I’ll keep this brief, since it seems we may not have a whole lot of time.

The group of nuclear scientists in charge of the Doomsday Clock have moved it forward. We’re now at 2 1/2 minutes to midnight – the closest we’ve been to nuclear annihilation, in the estimation of this group, in decades. Guess who you have to thank for that? (Hint, look for the Day-Glo orange emanating from him.)

Soon, we’ll have children huddling again under their desks, being told what to do on the off chance they survive the initial blast and subsequent shockwave. And those annoying Emergency Broadcast System interruptions – this is a test… if this were not a test, you’d only have two minutes to say goodbye to whomever you can. Just like in the good old day when America was ‘great’!

Add to this the wall – that America will pay for – and the soon-to-be-announced Muslim ban & registry. And the resumption of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (better known as torture). And looking the other way while Russia prepares to take back former Soviet republics in the Baltics and elsewhere. And poking China with a stick at every opportunity. Backing out of international agreements like the Paris Accord.

It’s starting to look like I might not need a retirement plan after all.

And this barely scrapes the surface of political stupidity occurring south of the 49th parallel.

I honestly don’t think the right wing morons who run the United States understand just how this might all blow back on them. If they do, they obviously don’t care. That’s an even more frightening though, if you allow yourself to think it: they know this will not end well, but don’t care. Short term gain uber alles.

If there was a god, I’d ask him or her to help us all.

Facts, opinions, beliefs and truths

‘[A]ll belief is of little value.’ – Nietzsche

‘You can’t let facts get in the way of the truth.’ – Leonard Cohen

The news, and Twitter, have been buzzing lately with the term ‘alternative facts’, thanks to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway’s rebranding of the lies told by White House spokesperson Sean Spicer. In spite of ample evidence to the contrary, Mr. Spicer insisted that the Trump inauguration had larger crowds than reported by the media, and that it was viewed by more people than any other on television. The substance of the lies, and who uttered them, have been much discussed, and I won’t go into that here. What’s interesting is the notion of ‘alternative facts’, and the suggestion that facts are somehow distinguishable from evidence.


Facts do not depend on evidence, nor are they independent of it; they are evidence. What depends (or is independent from) evidence is opinion. Opinions are expressions of belief, and like beliefs they may have much or little factual, or evidentiary, support. The more facts you have in support of your opinions and beliefs, the more likely they are to be true.

Many people insist that beliefs are different, somehow weightier than mere opinion. Some even insist that even though their particular beliefs are at odds with facts, they are still true. That their truth is somehow deeper and more profound than mere factuality. They subscribe to the view expressed (ironically) by Leonard Cohen above, and would recoil from Nietzsche’s observation that their beliefs hold no value.

You see this sort of thinking not only in political spheres, where disregard for evidence and truthfulness is conventional, but to a disturbing degree in everyday life. Just this week, a woman in Alberta was convicted of negligence causing death because she refused to take her seven-year-old son to see a doctor, and instead treated him with ‘natural’ remedies, in spite of the urging of a friend, because she didn’t believe in science-based medicine. What she assumed was a flu turned out to be meningitis accompanied by a strep infection, against which dandelion tea and oil of oregano proved inadequate, and her son died. This is not an isolated instance. There are at least two other examples just in Alberta.

‘Alternative’ medicine depends for its continued existence the idea of alternative facts, on disregarding evidence in favour of unsubstantiated belief. Other examples include the anti-vaxxer movement, the Flat Earth movement, and many similar conspiracy theories that have become popular, in many cases wildly so as a result of social media.

It used to be fashionable in some academic circles – and maybe it still is – to say that there are no such things as ‘truth’ or ‘facts’, only competing claims, different perspectives, alternative interpretations. Everything, in this worldview, is merely belief. And as such, nothing has value – or at least, no more value than anything else. (Except, they don’t really believe that last part.)

To use the example Robert Bolt uses in his play A Man for All Seasons, the shape of the earth is something that can be reasonably questioned. (It is also something that can be answered, but we’ll leave that for a moment.) Some say it is round, some say it is flat. But once evidence determines it is one or another (it’s round, by the way, in case you were wondering), believing the opposite won’t change that fact. It will simply make the believer absurd.

I won’t go quite as far as Nietzsche and say that all belief is without value. Belief in your ability to do something, provided there is no evidence to the contrary, can be a valuable thing. But once a belief or opinion has been disproven, continuing to hold it as if it has value is absurd. Like claiming a lie is just an alternative fact.





Random thoughts

Has Frito Lay considered suing Trump for infringing their intellectual property? Surely the makers of Cheetos has trademarked that shade of orange.


I find the best music to listen to while running is from the late 70s/early 80s. XTC, The Police, Devo, Talking Heads, Prince, Peter Gabriel, or some harder rock, like Motörhead, Judas Priest and even Rush. Hard rock of an era is best when lifting weights. Metallica, RATM, Iron Maiden. I love prog rock, but there are too many time changes to make it useful for workouts.


Some potential theme songs for the resistance movement in the Fractured States of Trumpistan:

The Police – Rehumanize Yourself
Rush – Between the Wheels
Living Colour – Cult of Personality
Ice T & Jello Biafra – Shut Up, Be Happy
Babes In Toyland – Swamp Pussy
Public Enemy – Fight the Power
(Yes, these do show my age.)


Would it count as cruelty if you chloroformed your cat? Asking for a friend. Seriously, though, wouldn’t self defence be a reasonable argument?

Literacy, culture and tartar sauce

A news story today says a strata in Vancouver’s tony Coal Harbour neighbourhood has vetoed the lease of a commercial space in their building in part because the name of the restaurant that was set to open there contained an ‘offensive’ word. Moby Dick Fish & Chips has operated in Whiterock, about a half hour south of Vancouver, for several years, apparently without anyone thinking they were serving whale rather than fish, or finding the name offensive. Equally apparent is that the strata corporation and its lawyers have neither read nor heard of Herman Melville’s classic novel, from which the fish & chip shop has inexplicably taken its name. (It’s doubtful the owners of the shop have read it either, for that matter. It’s not a cheerful book.)

Now, you don’t have to like Moby Dick, or Melville for that matter, to know something about the story. Or at least, so I thought. In fact, I didn’t think you even needed to be particularly well-read (or well-educated). The tale of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the great white whale had, I thought, become woven into common cultural fabric of North America, if not the entire English-speaking world. And perhaps it has.

There has been a raging debate in Vancouver over the past several years about the extent to which foreign buyers have affected the local real estate market. Coal Harbour has often been held up as an example – in particular the proportion of expensive condos whose owners seem rarely to be at home. I don’t want to get into that debate here. I think the about-face of the real estate association in the aftermath of the likely misguided ‘Foreign Buyers Tax’ introduced hurriedly last summer has more or less settled that matter. The interesting thing to me is that nearly half of the lower mainland’s residents (or at least of its home owners) come from different cultural backgrounds now, such that we can no longer assume common cultural currency.

This is not a one-way street, and I am not bemoaning the presence or influence of immigrants, like some loopy Trumper or Brexiter. (Or some people running to lead the Conservative Party of Canada – but let’s leave that aside for now.) Just as I cannot assume that everyone I speak to (or who reads this blog) will understand references to Moby Dick – or Hamlet, or Huckleberry Finn, or Beatles songs, or Star Wars – neither can others expect me to understand their cultural markers. What do I know about Chinese literature, South American film stars, K-pop, or even Sikhism?

Being honest, North Americans – by which, since we’re being honest, means those of us of European decent – have not even made an attempt to understand the rich and diverse cultures of the peoples we stole the land from in the first place, whose descendants still live here. We’ve made little to no attempt to understand the ‘minority’ cultures in our midst, and who we generally ignore until they begin to ignore us back, rather than trying to fit in, which we find especially galling if some of them are really rich.

My advice to the restaurant owner is: change your name. Anyone who has read the book will find it puzzzling at best anyway, and it apparently offends those who know some of the language but none of the literature of English-speaking North America. Oh, and maybe avoid literary references altogether. The Old Man and the Sea? Great book, depressing as hell. Spoiler alert – he loses the fish.