Garbage Collection

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The other day, there was a news story about how a group went out to a beach somewhere and gathered up a literal tonne of plastic and garbage from the shores.

It was the quintessential climate-emergency “feel-good” story.

“Look what we can do if we only try!”

But I had some questions.

Mainly, I wanted to know what precise good this was going to do, overall, because the garbage still *existed*. Picking up didn’t make the garbage go away – it didn’t magically disappear. It still exists, as garbage, and, I suppose, would go on to a landfill, still polluting the earth, but just not where anyone could see it.

A lot of people complained that it was still a Good Thing to have done, because at least it wasn’t polluting the ocean, and I guess that’s true enough.

But today I had an idea about where people could put that garbage, and all the other garbage they collect in this effort to clean up (finally!) after ourselves.

We could arrange to deliver it to the appropriate governmental offices.

Here in Alberta, we could dump it on the lawn of the Alberta Legislature buildings.

In Ottawa, it would go best on the green expanse in front of Parliament.

US people could maybe look at 101 Independence Avenue SE, in D.C.

All around the world, we could drop that tonnage, so lovingly collected, in a place where those who are blithely ignoring the problem can see it, and maybe we could leave a note, advising them that it is their problem, for real now, and we are eager to see what they do about it.

Because playing three-card Monty with our rubbish isn’t working that well so far.

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Talking ’bout my generation…

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What happened to us?

There was a time when we seemed open and welcoming to every form of self-expression, assuming that that expression did no harm to others.

We celebrated diversity.

We did.

We took courage in these words Chimes of Freedom

We sang along with this oboladi oblada

We knew the truth of this  Big Yellow Taxi

We rocked out to this Lola

These were hit songs, and we knew all the words. We believed them.

We put our bodies and our futures on the line in massive demonstrations, begging the world and the powers that be to stop killing people. To let us all sit on the bus together.

We marched for peace and civil rights, practically every weekend.

And now?

We vote for people who are infinitely more repulsive and dangerous than Nixon et al ever were.

We complain if those on the margins call us to account.

We might not actually chant the hateful words, but apparently, we don’t much mind of others do.

I am angry. I am ashamed.

And I want to know what happened to you. Why you have betrayed every one of your best selves, and support injustice and racism, and think that “things have gone too far”.

Because, believe me: your 20-year-old self thinks things have not gone anywhere near far enough, and they would haul out Madame Guillotine for each and every one of you, were they to see you now.

Oh, the terror!

We’re terrified of the economy, and we’re terrified of the banks and most of all, we’re terrified by the word “deficit”.

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Historically speaking, Canadians have been running deficit budgets whenever necessary, and no one seems to have worried about it… deficit budgets are found most often in conjunction with prosperity. They used to be a sign that your economy is growing, and in the middle of the previous century, that was indubitably true. 1963 was not a panicky year, nor was anyone talking about belt tightening. Go ask you grannie, she’ll tell you. Or, look here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/canada-deficit/

Don’t believe me? Well, there’s this:

http://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2009/03/anyone-for-deficits/
“…fiscal deficits hold a distinguished place in Canadian history and have been called upon as a way to achieve the goals of an activist state. Deficit finance has been used for three purposes: to build a new country, to fight world wars and to stabilize the economy [emphasis mine].

“Deficits and debt built Canada. The objective of building a national economy swept aside doubts about the wisdom of borrowing because the transportation infrastructure (originally canals, then railways) needed to exploit Canada’s natural resources was expensive and could not be privately funded. From before Baldwin and Lafontaine’s responsible government in 1848 to Confederation in 1867 to Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy in 1879 and beyond, Canadian governments ran nation-building deficits. By 1866, in fact, debt interest payments amounted to 29 percent of colonial spending, with more borrowing needed to finish the job. Confederation was in no small measure about deficit finance and the need to create a more creditworthy borrower—Canada.

During both world wars, the federal government used borrowing as a key method for financing Canada’s participation. In part as a reaction to the World War One approach of borrowing now and paying later, World War Two was funded on a so-called pay-as-you-go basis. Nonetheless, by the end of that war, the national debt exceeded the annual gross national product, a level not seen before or since in Canada. The scale of the Second World War required significantly more planning, coordination and central direction than had previously been asked of capitalist liberal democracies. As a result, the modern Canadian state was built.”

The word deficit probably didn’t even get a mention outside of Parliament until 1970.

In fact, it wasn’t until the oil crisis of the 1970s that deficit became a dirty word.

Oil prices had skyrocketed, contributing to inflation.

(Hey, wait a minute. That’s the exact opposite of why everything is supposedly going to hell in a handbasket now: oil prices are too low! I know. There’s a reason for this. It is not because economists know more now, or that things have changed. It is because anything that can be used to create fear works for businesses and corporations, as a mechanism to get people to agree with things that will obviously be bad for them. Watch and learn.)

Anyway: Doom was just around the corner, and the parties and people whose views were to the right of centre used this to create irrational and unfounded fears that we would go bankrupt. They fostered the notion that a government budget is exactly the same as a “guy-on-the-street’s” household budget would be. (It isn’t.)

We were told that the banks would just declare Canada bankrupt and take all our stuff, turn out the lights, and leave. (They can’t. They won’t.)

For starters, the government has its own bank. The government creates the money they manage. The government has a host of options available to it that you and I don’t have. They can, for example, float bonds to help finance themselves: can you do that? Governments can, if necessary, print more money. Can your average mortgagee, coming up short after Christmas indulgence, run off a few extra hundreds to make sure the payments go through? No? Well, then.

But the bankruptcy thing – it played well. It sounded dire. It sounded imminent. We started to demand balanced budgets, and were willing to accept all kinds of cuts to services to achieve it.

And every time we began to think that perhaps this wasn’t really the best way forward, that maybe we weren’t getting any prosperity or stability out of this, there was always a scary story to be screamed to us and whip us back into line.

In 1985, it was New Zealand – Rex Murphy did an entire program on it, an hysterical doom-and-gloom piece that has (perhaps not surprisingly) been excised from the series’ archives on the CBC website.

New Zealand had hit the Debt-Wall! They were done, toast, and the only remedy was to put themselves into the hands of the bankers and “restructure” their entire country from top to bottom. It was the only way out!

(And, Rex implied, we were next. Canada’s deficits and debts had already doomed us to failure, but if we acted quickly and cut everything except parliamentary salaries and military spending, we might just survive into the next decade. No promises, though!)

New Zealand went from a fairly egalitarian country with virtually no unemployment to one where over 300,000 people (around 10% of the total population, based on 1985 figures) were unemployed and a few major companies sucked up billions of dollars.

A cautionary tale, interesting mainly because most economists now agree that New Zealand was nowhere near imploding financially and that the wholesale restructuring of New Zealand society was completely unnecessary.

Maybe that was too long ago. Maybe you think that this proves nothing. So they were wrong, that one time. (Okay, two times, because, of course, high oil prices are not the problem, silly old 70s people.)

But now, we’re in a global economy. We’re too small to control this. We have to do whatever it takes, we haven’t got the power to stand up to the banks. They might just crush us, out of spite.

Really?

In 2008, Iceland (whose total population is around the same as the number of people thrown out of work in New Zealand in 1985) was very much in the news.

They were bankrupt. Kaput. The meltdown had taken its first total annihilation victim, on account of they were so small and simply had no weapons to counter the global meltdown.

Their only hope was to become an indentured servant of the world’s bankers and the IMF, grovel till the EU agreed to rescue them, and hope like hell they’d be allowed to keep their name.

But, wait, hold on: Do you hear anything about Iceland and their terrible woes anymore? Do the politicians agitating for more austerity hold up the awful plight of the Icelanders fleeing their country, or worse, staying on, shivering in their impoverished frozen wasteland?

And if not, why not?

Because that’s not what happened at all.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/17/the-miraculous-story-of-iceland/

Unlike Ireland and Greece and a whole raft of other countries whose people have swallowed the fictions as we have, Iceland did the exact opposite of what all the conventional wisdom and every political pundit said they must do.

And they’re fine, actually.

Nobody is refusing to do business with them, and nobody’s freezing, and there was no mass exodus, apart from a bunch of felons from the banking industry, who can’t go back because Iceland will jail them if they do.

Now, someone is about to point out that Iceland is different – that they are small – TINY, in fact – and that’s the reason they survived. They could get away with it because they don’t matter.

You’ll notice that this was not mentioned when everyone was telling Iceland what kind of axe the executioner had to use, and how many innocents would need to be slaughtered. Size of country did not appear to matter, then.

Canada is different. Now the chorus is: We’re bigger. That’s what someone is getting ready to shout, right now.

It’s true. We are bigger: bigger land mass, bigger population, bigger world profile. That’s an advantage, folks.

Do you think that the prospect of losing a much bigger market, a much bigger supplier, a much bigger overall entity with a much higher profile in the world is going to make it easier to mess with us?

The 2015 Alberta election should be your guide here: to date, although Rachel Notley’s NDP government at least started to make good on every one of the promises that had the Tory voters and mega-companies frothing at the mouth before the election, not a single one left.
Oil prices remained in the toilet – and yet every single oil company is still here. Every. Single. One.

Sure – a government that was going to put social safety nets and working- and middle-class people at the head of the agenda and tax the people who could afford to maybe make do with one less yacht this year – they probably spent some extra money, and maybe some of their plans didn’t work out too well and we had to rethink a few things.

We didn’t see instant prosperity. And, like toddlers, we started whining about that.

But we could have changed the rhetoric, turned down the heat, made people’s lives better, and started gearing up to confront a future that is undoubtedly going to look different from the past.

We didn’t have to be afraid.

We were, as Canadians, quite free to choose a different course, and that even if that course didn’t work out, it was not really that big a deal, and we could have tinkered with it, we could have fixed stuff, and the economy would not have imploded: deficits are not the problem, there was no looming debt-wall that would have knocked us on our butt.

You needed to ask yourself this one question

Do you value the freedom of everyone over the promise (likely undeliverable) of a few extra bucks on your paycheck?

Alas, Alberta, you did not.

Alas, Canada: you will not.

 

Inthisdayandage…

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It’s hard to believe, but…

…it still amazes me how incredibly tone-deaf people are.

A friend who works as a stage manager was working a local dance competition recently, and one of the school groups competing did a Disney-esque Pocahontas romancey thing.

He, as a Metis/First Nations man, as tactfully as he was able, pointed out to the choreographer /artistic director of the group, how incredibly offensive this was to First Nations people. How Pocahontas, as far as academia can ascertain, was 11 years old when she was raped by a white adult colonial, then kidnapped and taken from her home, and anyway, it’s not even a story little white girls in stereotyped “Injun” war-paint and feathers should be doing, here in this day and age, in a Canada trying to come to grips with a centuries-old racist and genocidal past, and that they maybe should have given more thought to this.

I was pretty flabbergasted when he told me about this. I mean, this person running the group was a teacher, out there molding young minds, and preparing these kids for the future, and she had apparently given not even a single thought to any of this. In fact, among her many defensive rebuttals, she said that she wasn’t even aware that Pocahontas might have been a real person.

This morning, on Twitter, I was greeted by the advert for an indie novel that struck me as so incredibly offensive that I am perilously close to outing the author and the title – but I won’t. If you have even the tiniest suspicion that it might be you, well, time for some self-reflection, probably. Let me just say that Rudyard Kipling did this less offensively.

It was, in every way possible, a “white man’s burden/white savior” trope of the most egregious nature. The title alone proclaimed its bias: that the poor beknighted savages of some backward nation required a white man to not only rule them with the wisdom and compassion that their own culture so conspicuously lacked, but that only he could save them from colonialistic disasters.

People.

People, please.

Yes, maybe there’s a market for this shit. Maybe there are people who live to see their great-grandparents’ values to return, so they can openly revile and oppress anyone they don’t like. So that othering everyone who isn’t white, male, and heterosexual isn’t something to be embarrassed about, just like you could back when.

I would like to believe people like that are few and far between, but I strongly suspect that the comments and unfollows that will result from this post will prove me unbelievably wrong.

Flash Fiction Friday!

It was one of those years.

The winter came early and stayed late. Spring was wet and sunless. Few lambs were born, some of the chickens stopped laying, and the poor went hungry – well, hungrier than usual.

And when summer arrived, it was overnight, with no preamble, and so hot that even the hardiest sought the cool shade at noon, and little work got done.

Autumn came, and with it, more rain, and even the most prosperous struggled to get their crops in.

And yet…the overseers demanded the tribute as if it was just any old season.

If it had just been the one year, then Jonas thought that life would have bumped and groaned its way back to normal.

If the next winter had been mild.

If the next spring had been its normal mix of light showers and pleasant sunlight.

If they’d all been able to put this bad year behind them.

It was almost as if Mother Nature was goading them to rebellion.

It worked.

The Usual Excuses

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As an editor, there are a few constants in my life.

One is that when I point out that a manuscript’s structure is flawed, and that in order to fix it, some basic elements might need to be altered, the writer fights me like they are the Russians defending Stalingrad in 1942.

(When I’m the writer, of course, these editorial “suggestions” make me feel like a Spartan at Thermopylae, 480 BC…)

It’s too damned hard. That’s what the reasoned and detailed responses come down to, in the end.

 

And that’s what all the current, real-world resistance to inclusivity and simple human decency come down to, as well.

 

It’s too hard to stop making racist and sexist jokes.

It’s too hard to learn new names and pronouns.

It’s too hard to examine our internal and learned-in-childhood biases.

It’s too hard to work for justice and joy.

Too hard.

 

But if a writer wants a book that people will enjoy reading, and will recommend to friends – a novel that satisfies, that sings to the reader – those changes will be worth it, and deep down, the writer knows it.

A good writer will evaluate the critique, and make the effort, as much as they are able.

A good writer knows that “hard” does not equal “impossible”.

If you want to write a good book, then the hard changes must be made. The work will obviously be worth it.

 

And a good person will look at those current, real-world issues, and see the same equation and the same result.

If you want a good world, then hard changes must be made. The work will be worth it.

Five Months of Legal Weed

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In October 2018, the Canadian government legalized marijuana.

It’s a limited legalization: we are supposed* to buy it from licensed dispensaries, locally or on line, each household is limited to growing no more than four plants each, and each community and municipality got to add by-laws about where we can smoke it (basically, most communities used the model for cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol), and where licensed grow-ops and retail outlets can be located.

In the months leading up to The Day, and especially (for some unfathomable reason) the night before the legislation went live, some people were predicting doom and destruction and the re-run of Sodom and Gemorrah – with attendant rises in car crashes and violence and other, unspecified crimes.

It’s nearly six months on, and the silence has been deafening.

There was one (ONE!) report on the first day of the new world when a driver was caught smoking a joint while driving. That was in Winnipeg.

Closer to home, the only news I could find was that Camrose County tried to prevent a grow-op from opening by claiming it didn’t fall under the agricultural regulations, but last week, the courts told them “Nuh-uh – it’s the same as any other market-garden-type enterprise” and ruled that it could go ahead.

We still have no dispensaries here in town, and those who need to have to drive a whole 20 minutes to Wetaskiwin for instant weed purchases. City Council is losing money, because we have a number of empty storefronts that could be filled not only by those retail places (and probably some inventive snack-and-go shops next door to them, because Nature abhors a vacuum) in terms of business taxes and money staying in the community.

The police, not needing to worry about people carrying around small quantities of reefer, are spending more time dealing with drug problems regarding meth and heroin, and going after car thieves and mediating domestic altercations.

The rest of us are carrying on pretty much as always, except a lot more people stand around at the end of their back gardens after a long day at work, having a couple of tokes after supper.

Armageddon did not come.

The sky did not fall.

I, myself, smoked a joint on the day it became legal, just on a matter of principle. Since then, I’ve been too busy writing short stories for anthologies I was invited to participate in, and also learning to knit.

 

*In point of fact, a country-wide shortage after the first day, coupled with reports that the legal weed is generally of low quality, has led to people returning to their normal suppliers. The police seem, for the most part, to be studiously ignoring this.