Friday, 20 August 2010


Well, this is going to be long. Longer than usual. And in several parts.

(BTW, you can blame Da Blog Fodder for this; he put me up to it. Mind you, he's been active in posting, and sharing other information, about this pending development. As have his readers. If you go over to his blog and look about, you'll find lots of things to consider. Much of it centres around his "Of Mosque and Men." OK — credit given where credit it due.)

As there has been a huge amount of mis-information floating around about this proposal of a mosque a few blocks from "Ground Zero" — the site of the old World Trade Center in New York.

I want to start by putting out as much correct data as I can. To that end, I begin with the observations of a blog friend from New York, who has worked on Wall Street.

The proposed mosque would be part of a building housing various areas relating to Islam, and also some recreational areas, including a swimming pool. The location is not at "ground zero," but several blocks away.

There are to be all sorts of commemorative areas at, or closer to, ground zero.

The area of the proposed mosque and cultural center now houses a variety of enterprizes, including bars, discount electronic shops, and shops specializing in pornography.

I used to work in a big office building a short block away from the Twin Towers back in the late 1970's and early '80s. That part of Wall Street has always been a strange architectural mix of very, very old New York buildings, varying eras' attempts to be modern, and many humdrum bits of ugliness.

It houses gleaming offices where capitalism reigns, churches, pizza shops, tourist souvenir stalls and shops, discount clothing stores...even luxurious lofts created out of discarded old buildings. Most of the wealth is well-hidden. On the street level, it's a bit of a honky-tonk place, where everything moves pretty quickly.

News stories that say that the proposed mosque is to be built on the site of the Twin Towers are incorrect.

There are a number of parks in the area, some located on the nearby river side...great places to sit and catch some fresh breezes, and perhaps think peaceful thoughts.
That, from New York.

The larger issue is the amount of furor this has created in the U.S., and (to some extent) elsewhere. Much of that upset has focused on how westerners understand Islam, and how westerners are being encouraged to see Islam. That is the issue which I find most concerning.

As a bit of historical background, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share a common background, and are collectively known as the "People of the Book." That is an important consideration.

I want to try to put in some information about Islam. And I want to try to look at how Islam is being portrayed  in North America, particularly the US.

I'm not claiming in any of these comments that I perfectly understand all these things. I don't. But I know enough to be able to ask questions, to encourage thought — which is all I'm trying to do.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


By now, you've seen my laments on the tearing down of a house, and the chopping down of a tree.

There's been a change. Not sure why, but there has.

This is something to celebrate.

What has been torn down was the garage of the old house.

It has been cut off in order to create a new lot,


which can be "severed" (if City Council agrees), and sold for a new house. (But it is still too bad that the owner thought he had to cut down a tree to make the potential new lot more "saleable.")

So what will arise?

Perhaps something one of these places, just a bit down the street from the proposed lot.


Or perhaps something like this, one street over (just up from our house).

Those houses are a bit on the small or narrow side, but still nice enough, and with a view of the river, even a small house can be quite inviting.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


That's how Joyce Kilmer concluded his well-known poem, "Trees," written about a hundred years ago.

On the other hand, any fool can cut down a tree. Which is what's happening at the site of a perfectly good house that's being torn down (and about which I blogged previously).

This one was perfectly healthy, as far as I could tell.

Sadly, the world's inventory of trees is declining with rapid deforestation in many areas, in North American and South America, as well as Asia and Africa.  So every good tree is worth keeping. That's especially true in the urban forest, where trees help to cool the city, and its homes, through their shading.

To make up for the loss of trees elsewhere, we've been doing our bit by growing trees on our micro-holding.

We have a big pine in the front. We have transplanted it from several homes to others, but now it's reached the size that a we won't be transplanting it again. 

We've got several spruces at the front as well. Along the side, two more spruces. At the back of the house two more. Scattered through the yard another eight spruces. Four of them surround the Celtic meditative garden I've been trying to build.

Plus this mountain ash (in front of which you can see one of our back yard spruces).

Hiding behind the mountain ash, an apple tree. The apples are not particularly good for eating (by our tastes), but they're great for baking.

At the other corner of the house, a big maple

Plus two Manchurian Elms — which are really "weed trees." They grow all over, spread thousands of seeds (which invariable seem to grow wherever they land), and you can't trim them from April through September, for fear of spreading "Dutch Elm Disease." I would really like to take those two out, but not until good "replacements" have grown to sufficient height.

You can see the little spruce in front of the larger elm.

I just wish we had more trees.

P.S.: No report on our trees would be complete without  a mention of "The Mistress of the Trees."

Monday, 9 August 2010

RISING WORLD FASCISM (yet another lament)

I'm hardly the first person to talk about the return of Fascism to the political agenda of many western nations' political parties. Of course, it isn't called "Fascism" — that would simply scare too many people. It's simply fascism with a different name — some Orwellian "newspeak."

One of the countries where this is happening is Canada. But I'm taking an American example, because the U.S. is much further down this particular road than is Canada.

One of the most interesting pieces of this from the blog of a "Pesky Emotional Republican."

Check this chart:

To begin at the beginning; a confession. By temperament, I'm a "small-c" conservative; I'm not a "Large-C" conservative whose thinking is shown on this list.

The first problem I have with this list is the language. Overly simplistic, jingoistic (excessively hostile), language.

Lets take a look at a few things.

"Globalism" — from the Liberal list. Globalization/globalism is supposed to be the ultimate goal of "free enterprise."

"Judicial activism" — from the Liberal list. Meaning of that phrase? "Decisions by a judge with whom I don't agree."

The truth is, of course, that I believe in mixing and balancing the various items on these lists. But the goal of Fascism is to create polar opposites — to be opposed to co-operation (which is routinely explained as a "selling out one's convictions"). Once the polar opposites have been created, your goal is to get rid of people — in one way or another — who don't agree with your thinking. Which is why bi-partisan government isn't working in the US, or in Canada.

Lord, have mercy upon us!

Monday, 2 August 2010


This house is not far from our home. I didn't realize what was happening until I passed it recently. It is literally right across the street from the river which runs through our city.

As you can see, it is a large house; perhaps a quarter or a fifth of it has been demolished. The building looks structurally sound. The windows are in good repair. The outside was brick-covered. For all intents and purposes, a good house. 

But it is being torn down to make way for a bigger, fancier house.

I've long believed that the more affluent we become, the more effluent we produce. And I'm not just thinking of sewage; I'm thinking of waste in general. A perfectly good house, which might have been able to accommodate two families, is being turned into garbage, taken to the dump, at a time when we have a lot of homeless people in our city (an issue which, ironically, I raised in my last posting). 

To quote a couple of lines from a contemporary hymn, by a friend and colleague:

    when waste and want live side by side,
    it's gospel that we lack.

Or to return to my earlier premise, homelessness is an ethical and spiritual problem long before it's an economic problem. It's problem with what we value as human beings.


Monday, 26 July 2010


1. The Real Problem of Homelessness
While we tend to see homelessness as an economic problem, it is an ethical and spiritual problem long before it is an economic problem. It is a problem of how we see, and treat, one another, as human beings and fellow citizens of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and the World.
The simple truth is that we all have same basic human needs -- food, shelter, clothing, health, community, meaning, etc. If we don’t eat, we die. If we don’t have shelter (at least here in Canada), we die (particularly in the winter). But even if we don’t die, we have health problems. Former Senator Michael Kirby, now the Chair of Mental Health Commission of Canada, speaking in Vancouver recently, said that up to 50 per cent of the homeless have mental health problems. (That simply confirms what I have known since the 1970s.) I know that these include low social skills, which make these people “hard to house” (to quote one person who had worked with them a lot). Add to that the physical health problems such people experience, in common with all people living in poverty, and the human burden mounts rapidly. These health problems are well-documented, even in Saskatoon.
2. The Real Problem of “The Market”
We need to remember that the faceless phantom called “the market” is of limited value in solving spiritual and ethical problems, which underly the economic problems.
The saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boat.” Which is true; but it is meaningless, if you cannot afford a boat.
“The Phantom of the Market” takes no account of -- indeed, ignores -- those who cannot “play “ in the market; those who are economically, physically, or emotionally disadvantaged and marginalized. Simply put, “The Market” does not know how to deal with basic human needs, except in terms of money, as opposed to terms of humanity. "The Phantom" deals with everything on the basis of supply and demand; those who cannot meet the demands of the market are simply cast aside. Or to put it in the most direct terms, if you don’t have the money to pay what a landlord is demanding, you don’t have a place to live. And when the supply of housing is short, and thus “in demand,” (as it is now), those who control the supply (i.e., the landlords) will raise their prices to “whatever the market can bear” -- when there are many who do not have the resources to reach “whatever the market can bear.”
For example, a single worker in Saskatoon earning the minimum wage of $8.60 per hour, earns about $1,500.00 per month before taxes. Given that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says people can reasonably afford to spend about 30% of their income on housing, this single worker can afford an apartment whose monthly rental would be about $450.00
3. Solution
If we are going to house people who cannot afford “boats” we need to look at solutions which work for all people.
We need in Saskatchewan, in Canada, an effective national housing policy, which will provide a robust stock of housing available to people at all income levels. “The Market” will look after those who have money; we need something else which care for and serve those who do not have the money which "The Market" demands.
This means “affordable housing” for all people. In a recent conversation with an official of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, she expressed to me CMHC’s concern that not only low-income people (i.e., people the low-income cut off, or LICO that Statistics Canada notes) but middle income people as well, are having problems finding suitable housing in Saskatoon (and other places). Another representative of CMHC warned Saskatoon City Council recently that unless a city has a good supply of apartment housing, it cannot expect to attract new people to the community. (This, at a time when City Council is allowing so may apartments to be turned into condominia, thereby creating a shortage of apartments, and inflating the rents for apartments.)

There are all kinds of models available for the building of housing -- publicly funded housing -- funded jointly by federal and provincial governments. I personally favour a co-operative kind of housing, where the ongoing decisions are made by tenants, staff, and government representatives (since the government is “footing the bill” for building such housing), working together. Nonetheless, the money for the construction of such buildings can only be provided by governments, since "the private sector" will claim (with some justification) that it cannot make enough money on "low income housing" since tenants cannot afford the rents which private-sector landlords would want to charge.
To simply rely on "The Phantom of the Market" to meet the housing needs of citizens with low incomes has not worked, is not working, and will not work in the future. We need intervention on the part of the whole community (represented in this case by the federal and provincial governments) if we are to find appropriate solutions to the needs of many citizens, including low-income and moderate-income citizens. But we also need direct citizen engagement, too!

Monday, 28 June 2010


This item was originally posted on my "Chrome" blog, but I'm including it here, because it rightly "Bears Noting."

I wish I could find things more noteworthy, in a good kind of way.

With it, a working definition of Fascism.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


This is something that I've posted to my my "Chrome on the Range" blog. But since it's something that "Bears Noting, I've put it here, too. 

Life is getting more and more trying as, it seems, people become more and more frustrated. I'm not sure where this is going to end.


Wednesday, 28 April 2010


    Question: When is a deal not a deal?
    Answer: When you make it with the government.
    Many in the Saskatchewan’s Agricultural sector, and beyond, will remember the problematic changes by the New Democratic Party to the Gross Revenue Insurance Plan (GRIP) in 1992. Now, The Saskatchewan Party has created a similar fiasco — with chiropractors.
    I hadn’t planned on returning to Canada’s democracy problems so soon. But Saskatchewan's recent Budget holds a precise example of what has been worrying me, and so many other Canadians.  (I’m not saying this is only a Saskatchewan problem; it’s just that Saskatchewan’s event is so timely.)
    Previously, I discussed the latest report from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. A central finding in the “Democratic Engagement” report was that Canada is facing “a huge democratic deficit, with trust in Canadian government and public institutions on a steep decline.”
    The “steep decline” was pushed ahead by the Saskatchewan government’s decision to limit funding for chiropractic care.
    Every three years, the Saskatchewan’s Chiropractors negotiate a contract with the Saskatchewan Health. That was done again, the agreement was ratified by the chiropractors. Their president, Dr. Shane Taylor, of Regina, says the agreement included a 2.5% increase in government payments per patient visit, from $12.50 to about $12.80. (That’s for the first 16 visits; Taylor said 90% of the roughly 125,000 people who see a Chiropractor each year go for 16 visits or less.) Taylor says he went to the Saskatchewan Health and signed the agreement on behalf of the chiropractors earlier this year.
    In the budget, the Wall government reneged on the deal, offering only limited chiropractic assistance to people with very low incomes. It’s a case of using a law to over-rule a contract. And it’s quite legal, as unhappy farmers learned in 1992, in relation to GRIP.
    The government’s decision has created several problems.
    First, this has destroyed the credibility of people negotiating on behalf of the Government. The budget decision screams “bad faith.”
    Second, this decision has jeopardized the health of people who are now getting chiropractic care through Saskatchewan Government Insurance (in the case of car accidents) or the Workers’ Compensation Board (for people hurt on the job). Payments to chiropractors from those agencies were based on the government agreement with chiropractors. The questions: can those agencies still pay chiropractors, and how much?
    Third, this is a major setback to the direction of 21st century medicine and holistic care. The goal of “Functional Medicine” is not to simply treat injuries and illnesses, but to treat people. And to work largely on “evidenced based care.” Taylor says the evidence shows chiropractors can get people back to work faster, at less cost, and more effectively, than can physicians. But when you have the physician and chiropractor working together, perhaps with other professionals, the progress is even better.
    Three questions remain. What can chiropractors do, will they be paid by government-related agencies, and on what other deals will Brad Wall’s government renege?

    And behind all that, there is an even more sinister sign. This is the conservative government's first broad step in privatizing health care. The actual process is called "de-listing." It's the government's way of saying, "Remember some of those services we used to cover through medicare; we're not going to cover them any more."
    Which means individual citizens are going to have to reach deeper and deeper into their own pockets to meet their health care expenses. For the old, and the chronically ill, this is just the beginning of their nightmare.


This originally appeared as an op-ed column in The Western Producer of March 24, 2010.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Just as money can’t buy happiness, Gross Domestic Product doesn’t tell us how well we’re doing as a nation. (Gross Domestic Product is the overall measure of our nation’s economic activity; it came to be regarded, erroneously, as the sign of how well a country was doing.)

Protests across Canada on January 23rd, against the lengthy shut-down of Parliament, are one sign things aren’t going an well.

But that’s no surprise to Canada’s Institute of Wellbeing. The Institute (an independent, non-partisan body) recently released its report on the “Democratic Engagement” Domain, the first report of its kind done in Canada, perhaps in the world. (This one follows reports on “Living Standards,” “Healthy Populations,” and “Community Vitality.”)

The central note in this report is that Canada is facing “a huge democratic deficit, with trust in Canadian government and public institutions on a steep decline.” That’s seen in the fact that fewer people are voting, or are participating in formal political activities. Likewise, about half of Canadians aren’t satisfied with their democracy, while very few believe federal government policies have improved their lives.

This “democratic deficit” didn’t surprise to me, either. During our last federal election, only 3 out of 5 eligible voters cast ballots. Stephen Harper was returned as Prime Minister with the support of merely 23 per cent of Canadian voters. Hardly a ringing endorsement. That number highlighted for me the increasing malaise I’ve seen among among urban and rural citizens — a kind of resigned indifference — a feeling that government doesn’t work for them, or represent their concerns. Their response, to paraphrase Shakespeare: “A plague on all your political parties and governments.”

Lenore Swystun and Kelley Moore of Saskatoon’s Prairie Wild Consulting saw that, and a lot more. Together with Holder and Associates, they developed the report for the Institute. Their work was based on historic studies of Canadian attitudes, plus their own research with Canadians from coast, to coast, to coast, as well as international studies.

They considered not only voter turnout but interest and participation in political activities, as well as representation of woman and minorities in Parliament, and Canada’s commitment to international development. We’re promised to put 0.7% of our GDP into Official Development Assistance; we actually spend about half of that most years, putting us in 16th place among 22 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (Our government is way behind Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, though it is twice as generous as Japan and the U.S.)

That doesn’t fit my perception of Canadians’ overall caring and generosity. Consider how much we’ve raised for relief in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, and you can see how generous Canadians are. I think many see the mis-match between what they do and what our government does. The report reflects that visible mis-match.

How can we build a Moral Economy, which reflects the needs, concerns, and values of Canadians, and to which political parties and governments see they must align themselves?

The time has come for us to see this situation for just how bad it is, and do something about it. "Politics" as a whole has become far too insular and entrenched; I really doubt that the current system in Canada can reform itself. If you've ever compared parties election platforms with the priorities set in party policy conventions, you'll see the gaping canyon that separates the two. There's an appearance of democracy, of consultation; in reality, parties are run from the top down. Same for governments.

The report provides some broad recommendations.
• Create opportunities for meaningful engagement;
• Seed a culture of engagement in government;
• Ensure more accountability and transparency in politics;
• Invest in civic engagement;
• Make voting easier
• Increase diversity in politics;
• Use technology better;
• Invest in civil society; and,
• Engage Canadians about our place in the world.
It also calls for more research, and closer monitoring, which are important.

The problem, of course, is that the current political ethos, our political context, is dead set against all those principles for action. Canada isn't the only nation facing this; most "democracies" in our world are having the same problem.
Perhaps ordinary citizens, of varying ages and backgrounds, using internet connections, will be able to repeat the events of January 23rd, at different times and in different places. Maybe they will become the Democratic Engagement which the report anticipates. Frankly, I don't see an alternative to the "huge democratic deficit" that Canada faces.

* * * * *

This post is based on my "Moral Economy" op-ed column which appeared in The Western Producer on Thursday, February 4, 2010.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


Yeah, yeah, yeah; I know. I lived through the 1960s. That's when people were picking up on Victor Lindlahr's book, written in 1942, entitled You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet.

But what happens if the thing you're biting bites you back? Aye there's the . . . pain.

It happens more often than you think. I'm not talking just about very obvious food allergies, everything from hives to Coeliac (or Celiac) disease. I'm talking about relative low-level sensitivities. In themselves, they may not pose a major problem. Put them together and you've got "Trouble in River City," as "Professor" Harold Hill put it in Meredith Willson's The Music Man.

"Trouble in River City" I can do without, thank you very much.

My doctor and I have been working on a number of things which may be troubling me.

One is gluten — the stuff in wheat (red, white, and durum), barley, rye, triticale, and the like. A person with Celiac disease can't handle those kinds of food — bread, pasta, candies, cakes, pies and soy sauce; some salad dressings, luncheon meats, and soups. Some of us can "handle" those things, even if they are doing minimal damage to our intestines, and leave us feeling sluggish.
I've seen studies which suggest that as much as 70% of the population may have problems with gluten, but don't know it. So removing some gluten from my life may make it easier for my whole body to work better.

Another common problem is food which causes problems for people with arthritis. These are in the nightshade family — everything from tomatoes to potatoes.

The point is that doctors (as in MDs) — at least some doctors — are beginning to look more closely at integrative medicine. It's not just giving you pills for this particular problem; it's looking at the much bigger picture of who you are as a person, and "connecting the dots" in your life. Instead of getting pills, maybe you need to take something out of your life. Maybe you need to get more exercise (like walk the dog, in my case).

That's why I "team up" with my doctor to build a healthier me. Yes it takes more than the average 5-10 minute visit, but it's a great investment in my long-term health.

So I eat more rice and less bread and pasta (though I really like pasta). I eat more fish and less meat. I eat a lot more vegetables, particularly greens, and more fruits. I eat fewer potatoes and more yams (or sweet potatoes).

Not a bad plan, overall.

What kinds of experiences have you had with food?