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

Net Losses

And that year
Hardly returned at all, the opening
For two days only, and we took only eight
Sockeye (and some chum)
And didn’t even make
The price of fuel.  And we blamed
Each other, and we blamed
The Indians, and the government, and
The loggers of watersheds. And we blamed El Niño,
And development on the riverbanks,
And the builders of dams.

And we cast a net
Across Seymour Street, but the cars
Were wise to it, and we caught nothing
That day, either, except camera crews
And a few scribblers with laptops, who said
Maybe we’d taken the good years
Too well.

And the banks
Foreclosed on a few, because they hadn’t
Made provisions.  And the banks
Would not make provisions
Or, as they said, exceptions.

And the government cracked down
On us for abuse of UI,
Because we had asked for it, they said,
And the rest of the community had asked
For it, and there was no money, anyway.

Because the banks had to have
Their money, and we didn’t want
The country going belly up, did we?

And someone threw mercury
In an Indian boat, and someone killed
An Alaskan, who’d had a good year.

And some men beat their wives
For asking questions
They’d already asked themselves
Without answer.  But the judges
Were easy with them.

And that year
I slept on the couch
With the TV on and my dinner rotting
In the microwave, and my beer
Going flat on the table, because
Doing nothing takes a lot out of you,
And there was never anything on, anyway.

And I prayed to El Niño
To be happy with his havoc,
To leave us in peace the next year,
To let next year show a return.

But I don’t speak Spanish.
Who can say if El Niño heard me?

 

© Mark Milner, Vancouver

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.