Memo to self

May 31, 2003 at 10:10 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Memo to self

All these fish and forests are getting too heavy. The most beautiful weather is happening every day and the day stays light until 9:45 pm (I’m sunburned, dammit). I recognized Carol Shields in Grafton’s Bookstore today — she’s in one of those final stages of breast cancer, yet she was walking, talking, smiling, selling off a pile of books to Grafton’s, before heading to Ottavio’s next door to stock up on Italian comestibles. Grafton’s is an antiquariat — was Shields, as the shop owner suggested, making room at home for new books? Make a sentence with the words bookstore, food, cancer, and survival.

Can’t lay off the fish stories

May 31, 2003 at 9:45 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Can’t lay off the fish stories

Africa’s bushmeat trade, which is forcing several rare species towards extinction, is fuelled by European Union policy, according to John Lawton, the head of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. Seems the West is overfishing with huge factory-type trawlers far off-shore, which deplete the fish stocks closer to shore where the artisinal fishers work (i.e., the people actually fishing to feed their families and communities), and this is forcing the latter to hunt bushmeat, including rare and endangered species.

Further north, wild salmon stock is declining drastically in Scotland, due largely to the sea lice clustered around farmed salmon sites.

Build it and they will come … unfortunately

May 30, 2003 at 9:37 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Build it and they will come … unfortunately

Here’s a story from a local newpaper that illustrates, in my opinion, what’s wrong with the way we’ve managed to set up our lives in society. Since the link will break in a few weeks, I’ll summarize: business people hopefully predict that fear of BSE will spur investment in plants — factory-sized machines — that render harmless the waste derived from beef production. There is a company in Calgary, BioSphere Refineries Corp., that can build “industrial-scale plants” at a cost of $10-12 million. The plants can handle up to 25,000 tonnes of raw material annually. The technology is touted as a way of “disposing of dead, downed and diseased cattle as well as high-risk tissues such as brains and spinal cords.” Farmers would be encouraged “to bring in dead animals that might otherwise be disposed of on their property, resulting in potential soil and ground water contamination.” The process involves heating the animal remains to 180 degrees Celsius under 12 atmospheres of pressure for 40 minutes. It renders the remains safe for landfills; they could even be used as “fertilizer on non-grazing land” and the plants could possibly include “an anaerobic digester that could transform the pressure cooked material into biogas to produce heat and electricity.”

So, what’s wrong with that? What disturbs me is that we’re planning for waste and garbage on an industrial scale, which means that we will have to produce “material” (in this case cows) — we will have to continue to produce the “material” on an industrial scale — to provide the garbage. Even if 50% of the western world turned vegetarian tomorrow, we’d have a hard time stopping the juggernaut. We’d just end up putting more cows into the landfill instead of into our stomachs: the mechanism is in place to keep production going. There’s a logic to it. Build plants that can efficiently cook 25,000 tonnes of waste per year, and those plants will demand their due. We have created artificial stomachs that need feeding, just as we ourselves are turning into living garbage remediators. Industrial scale “food production” here clearly shows that it’s also about industrial scale garbage production. And if we build the garbage handlers, we’ll keep producing the garbage.


May 29, 2003 at 10:11 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Qualities

I spent the better part of today’s ruminating time thinking about the current blog entry on Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Making Light, and in particular about the passionate commentary flying back and forth. I ended up having to write my own 2-cents worth, although I really felt the limitations of the format. Still, at least the conversation is happening, vividly.

On an obliquely related note, an odd story caught my eye yesterday. In my mind it’s related to Making Light‘s topic today insofar as it has to do with qualities. It has to do with the nature of myth, expertise, and reporting spins. Three native Americans, from the Navajo, Sioux, and Tohono tribes, who happen to be US border patrol agents, have been deployed to Poland to help track down, find, and detain illegal immigrants on Poland’s eastern border with Ukraine.

Or should one say: Three US border patrol agents, who happen to be native Americans…? The newspaper article makes hay of the former wording.

The hunted illegals are accused, among other things, of bringing additional drug trade to Poland. The border area in question is very leafy, wooded, sparsely populated, and inadequately monitored: lots of hiding places. And the Natives have roundly amazed the native Poles with their “incredible” skills, which so impress the indigenous agents as to make them speak of genetically gifted skills on the part of the visiting trackers.

In the wilds of the Newly-Wild East, American immigration specialists who happen to be Indian are deploying skills that used to spell their survival. Their expertise is rented out to the European East, where things apparently are getting a little out of hand. It’s an odd kind of slippage that rearranges perceptions.

It also reminds me of the Navajo code talkers in World War II, who were the only ones capable of confounding Japanese spies.

I would like to know if the agents are typical of their people, or if they are the lucky ones who have special gifts and happened to land decent jobs? Can these gifts be taught, and can they be transferred? Presumably they can be transmitted, which begs the question of why those skills and gifts haven’t been transferred more widely and haven’t figured more prominently in a North American pantheon of talent.

I also want to know why the Europeans, especially the Germans, give front-page coverage in one of their major newspapers to this story? It’s headlined, “Indians Help the European Union Keep Refugees Off Its Back,” even as it then goes on to describe the “refugees” as undesirable drug peddlars. (What are they then, refugees or drug peddlars?)

This story makes me wonder what the Wild West was anyway, and just how wild today’s East really is.

Do Chimps use swimming pools?

May 28, 2003 at 8:07 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Do Chimps use swimming pools?

Yes!, The New York Times — albeit in the food section — has joined the chorus criticising the salmon fish farming industry. One more time, despite the broken links to Vancouver Sun stories, see also my April 14 blog, “What would Flipper do? Fish Stories” for links to Farmed and Dangerous, a great site for information about fish farms. Now the NYTimes joins in: …farmed salmon are not naturally salmon pink or red, and… if they were not fed artificial colors they would range from gray or khaki to pale yellow or pale pink. Wild salmon turn pink from the krill and shrimp they eat. (Farmed salmon eat a fishmeal diet.) I’d just like to add that this “fishmeal” diet may contain ground up cattle and other animal product. BSE, anyone? On the topic of swimming and water, BBC carried a useful article about a possible connection between chlorinated swimming pools and asthma. The research findings are under attack by other scientists, but it makes perfect sense to me. Chlorine kills, and obviously seems to be the Zyklon-B of the fitness world; why would anyone doubt that, absorbed in the water by the skin and inhaled at poolside by the lungs, it does significant damage? On the topic of US-Canada relations: the other day Jean Chretien mocked George W. Bush for running up a $500billion deficit. (But Canadian lawmakers have kow-towed to U.S. pressure and introduced a more watered-down version of the marijuana liberalization law.) Ari Fleischer, meanwhile, whines and snarks away that the U.S. has these deficits because of September 11 (such a convenient scapegoat) and has had to spend billions in the war against terror, but Amnesty International points out that since the U.S.’s initiative, the world has become a much more dangerous place — as dangerous as at the height of the Cold War. And while animal rights activists will perhaps want to shut this site down because it’s so unfair to chimpanzees, take a peek nonetheless at Bush or Chimp? (Via Davin‘s site!)

Did Dorothy Parker have children?

May 27, 2003 at 10:42 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Did Dorothy Parker have children?

There are many worthy, important things to point to in a blog right now. Here’s a laundry list, unsorted: Dave Winer‘s pointer this past weekend to William Safire‘s article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer; Stuart Laidlaw‘s article in the Toronto Star that complacency is the real killer in mad cow disease (read Stuart Laidlaw‘s new book together with Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and don’t forget Joan Dye Gussow’s This Organic Life (2001), where I first learned about the 3000 calorie strawberry); the article Silencing of Dissent on Graduation Day in AlterNet, about Chris Hedges getting booed off the stage as commencement speaker at Rockford College in Illinois — he spoke out against the US-led war against Iraq; read a transcript of his speech in the Rockford Register Star; the fish story that is unfortunately true, reported on IndyMedia and National Geographic, that we’ve depleted fish stocks in the oceans worldwide by 90% since 1950; and in that same vein, a recent email from Steve Talbott noting a Sunday NYTImes book review of The Empty Ocean: Plundering the World’s Marine Life by Richard Ellis (Talbott’s recent NetFuture newsletters have repeatedly discussed food production); and a call by environmental direct action activists in the Pacific Northwest to rally to Cascadia now that the Bush administration has unleashed a similar free-for-all on wilderness as the government in British Columbia has done. This would just be a partial list, of course — the socks and t-shirts stuff, no underwear yet. But what I really want to write about is this: I’ve noticed that I have not shared a good, sniggering laugh with a girlfriend in what seems like eons. This undoubtedly has something to do with my sense of humour, which admittedly runs towards the misanthropic. As far as I can tell, Dorothy Parker (it was her, wasn’t it?) nailed it when she said, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.” To have a misanthropic cast of humour you have to have a keen and unforgiving eye for stupidity in all its forms (including writing a blog that anyone can read….). You have this eye because your mind is like a rapier, not to be confused with rapist, which is what all those jerks you can’t stand are. (This is a terrible mixed metaphor, eye and blade, the Surrealists had a field day with this, but who am I to assume better?) As a bona fide philanthroposophizing misanthropist, you will feel no compunction whatsoever to pick on anyone and anything: the world is fair game. Until you become a mom, that is. Suddenly, just because you were biologically capable of reproducing, you are in a new grouping, and it’s one that doesn’t necessarily share your way of seeing, your eyeballs, or your any of the pointy sharpened objects in your arsenal. Because aside from biological prerequisite, any idiot can reproduce. And when you become a mom and meet other moms, you quickly learn that they do. Since we tend to assume that babies are also idiots insofar as they won’t be able to understand Dorothy Parker’s subtlety until at least the age of 4, we fall into the trap of being nice — to the kid, and to the other moms, who may or may not be idiots, which we won’t really know for sure because we can’t break the spell of niceness. We therefore suddenly find ourselves hanging out with other people being mindlessly nice instead of appropriately nasty, and there go the good laughs. Sometimes one finds a mom capable of being nasty: when, quite by accident, I came across Michelle McBride’s April 18 entry in her blog, Sexy Mothers Do Exist, I laughed out loud. She disses a man so brazenly, using the kind of language that one expects from a smart woman who knows what’s what (she calls him the a-word), that I knew that all hope does not go down the tube when you reproduce. But she’s not anyone I actually know, so reading her blog is a bit like watching tv — British comedy, AbFab, that sort of thing; and some of the comments she got showed that too many people out there are still stuck in a nice-idiot world and have no sense of humour whatsoever. So many of the women I have known since becoming a parent are just so damn nice and we talk about such damn nice things and we behave so rationally and sweetly around our children (where do I put the “damn” in that last bit?), that it makes me want to scream. Or go shopping. Because — drumroll — this is my theory: we sublimate our nastiness into an urge to shop (which is why it’s called “retail therapy”). I have known very nasty shoppers, even though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths as they were being so (g-d flippin freakin) nice over tea, but you just knew that they were tsk-tsking your choice of jeans or sofa or neighbourhood or husband or some other equally insubstantial thing, instead of getting down to the real matter at hand: nasty gossip about the neighbours. In a poor-to-middle-class village without a nearby mall, the gossip flew; now, with a strip mall on every street (and on your computer), Miss Marple, for want of material, dries up into the old prune she always was. This of course also means that women’s misanthropic, sublimely intelligent, and nasty sense of humour, nearly obliterated and now sublimated into shopping, is one of the driving forces of western economies. Budge up, Karl Marx, because where would we be without Mrs. Shopper? Now, how do I cook that piston engine.

Judy Feldman on NBC tonight

May 26, 2003 at 1:35 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Judy Feldman on NBC tonight

The following, from an email from Judy Feldman and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall:


Collect them all

May 25, 2003 at 9:51 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Collect them all

Probably hundreds of people are out and about this weekend taking pictures of a certain coffee shop franchise. My awareness of it started because I found the reference on Dave Gillmor’s blog. Checked out Larry Lessig’s suggestion, saw the pictures on Dave Winer’s blog. Since I’ve blogged about this particular corporation before, I thought at first that since we have a score of these shops in Victoria, I would take pictures in Cook Street Village and Oak Bay Village. Then I saw the criticisms that this was just advertising for the corporation, and I had the idea to have the Card starring in a series of redeployments. (You might know that there is a movement afoot to get people to stop using that card because first, it’s effectively an interest-free loan to the corporation: to whit, you stock up your card for $50 and use it up over the course of time, but the corporation has your $50 from Day One, times a couple of million, interest-free; and second, it doesn’t allow adding on a tip, and the barista-workers are effectively losing money even as the corporation gets an interest-free loan, from you.) Several themes suggested themselves: 1. The I am not a crook card 2. “The Kewpie Doll card” 3. “the Banana Republic card” Any other suggestions?

Sympathy for

May 24, 2003 at 5:11 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Sympathy for

If the Rolling Stones really do give a free concert this summer in Toronto, in a move to rescue the city, the province, and now even the country from the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into due to our sloppy handling of the SARS outbreak in T.O. and the tainted feed scandal in the Alberta BSE outbreak, then I think Mick Jagger should come on stage dressed as QE2. The role would suit him, and he can be the ceremonial head of state just as well as she can. It’s that kind of world. Meanwhile, Time Magazine in Canada has a fetching cover on this week’s issue, asking if the world would notice if Canada disappeared. For an appropriate commentary, please read David Olive in the Toronto Star. As Olive suggests, would anyone notice if Time Magazine disappeared?

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