Monday, July 27, 2009

Oily Reality

The Star's Thomas Walkom takes on Bank of Canada honcho Mark Carney's pronouncement last week that the recession in Canada "is over". While I agree with much of Walkom's arguments to the contrary which point to the reality on the ground for Canadians, I can't say that this is accurate:

And yet, it says Canada's recession is over. How so?

Two answers: China and oil. The bank's hopes depend on the Chinese economy continuing to forge ahead, with its consequent thirst for Canadian raw materials. But most of all, the central bank assumes that oil prices will stay high.

That would obviously benefit Canada's oil producing provinces (and, through spinoffs, the rest of the country). As well, by keeping the dollar high relative to other currencies, a protracted oil boom would, in effect, make all Canadians richer vis-à-vis the rest of the world, causing consumers to buy more things and thus boost the economy.

Yet it's not clear that oil prices will stay high. Thanks in large part to the collapse of the U.S. economy, crude oil inventories are building up – which should dampen prices.

More important, there are indications that the high oil price now is driven less by real demand for energy than by speculation and the desire of institutional investors to park their money in something safer than the U.S. dollar.

All of which casts considerable doubt on the central bank's prediction of steadily high oil prices creating a quick end to this particular slump.

The news out of the Alberta government today is that welfare numbers are soaring in this province*. And the other day, they dropped a bombshell when they announced that home energy bills might triple in the near future as a result of its carbon capture plans.

Calgary's unemployment rate has doubled over the past year and while cheery politicians seem happy that more people are moving out west, (a stark contrast to former Calgary mayor/Alberta premier Ralph Klein who called similar migrants "eastern bums and creeps" during the 1980s' oil boom), what they fail to add is that the migration is happening, once again, because of distressed economic situations in other parts of Canada.

Meanwhile, the land of milk, honey, cows and oil does not have adequate resources to deal with more newcomers and with sky-high rent and food prices, the picture here is anything but bright.

Add a Conservative gov't that for decades has subsidized the oil barons while cutting essential programs for ordinary Albertans, resulting now in the first deficit in 15 years while still fighting against making the corporations pay their fair share of dues and I sincerely fail to see where Wolkum gets the idea that oil will be Canada's great salvation - unless he's strictly referring to the already uber-rich and the corporations they rode in on.

As for China's role in Canada's recovery, Wolkum would do well to take a look at the harsh reality it finds itself in in relation to the US as analyzed by Niall Ferguson. We can't help but feel the ripple effects here.

Most Canadians don't experience recessions as economists do. Numbers don't get us through the day when we're trying to survive. Theories and forecasts don't put food on the table. What may be "good" in an economic sense (ex. the high price of oil) just doesn't translate into what's good for us peasants.

So, no, this recession isn't over. Not out here in the real world. And let's be realistic - because China and the price of oil certainly won't be (and isn't) our salvation.


*Alberta's welfare payout levels are absolutely appalling compared to the cost of living:

The amount a person can collect through income support varies. For example, a single person looking for work receives $583 a month, while a two-parent family with three children under the age of 12 would get $1,240 a month, plus a national child benefit supplement.


EI roll hits highest level since 1997

Alberta showed the fastest increase, and that province, plus B.C., Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all recorded their largest number of EI recipients since 1997.

In Alberta, the number of regular beneficiaries grew by 16.8 per cent to 57,000 in May.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Food for Thought: The Need for Gods

The week before last, Bill Moyers interviewed Robert Wright, author of the new book, The Evolution of God (which I haven't yet read).

It was an interesting discussion but what stood out for me, as an atheist buddhist (yes, there are such creatures), was this exchange:

BILL MOYERS: But you're not saying that one has to be religious to be moral?

ROBERT WRIGHT: I'm absolutely not. I'm absolutely not. One of my own closer contacts with, I would say, a form of consciousness that's closer to the truth than everyday consciousness, came at a Buddhist meditation center. These were essentially secular Buddhists and that was the context of the experience.

But through the meditative practice performed intensively for a week. No contact with the outside world. No speaking. Five and a half hours of sitting meditation a day. Five and a half hours of walking meditation a day. I reached a state of consciousness that I think is closer to the truth about things than the form of consciousness that is kind of natural for human beings.

BILL MOYERS: Was it a consciousness that had an ethical and moral issue in it or was it a state of being? A state of simple acceptance?

ROBERT WRIGHT: Well, it absolutely had ethical implications because it involved much broader acceptance of other beings and it involved being less judgmental of other beings. I mean it reached almost ridiculous extremes. Look looking down at weeds and thinking, "I can't believe I've been killing those things. They're actually as pretty as the grass. Prettier."

But in the realm of humanity, I mean I was just by the end being very much less judgmental about just people I would see on the street.

And I would just my focus moved away from myself. And I think that is movement toward the truth. I mean the basic illusion natural selection builds into all of us is that we are special. You know, that's obviously something if you were natural selection you'd want to build into animals, right?

Because that's how you get them to take care of their own and get their genes into the next generation. But it really is an illusion and it's more fraught with ethical implications than we realize, I think. I mean it just suddenly blinds us to the truth about people I think.

BILL MOYERS: I do find more people like you who are seeking a spiritual practice without a governing deity presiding over it.

ROBERT WRIGHT: Yeah. It seems to work. Now these people, they do though, even these secular Buddhists I would say, they do believe in a transcendent source of meaning. They believe that there's something out there that is the moral truth and that they are aligning themselves with.

Secular perspective that doesn't not involve belief in anything that you might call transcendent, although that's a very tricky word.

My reaction was: why the need for a God figure then? Why isn't it enough to be able to look inside yourself and to see the "truth", as Wright experienced it?

I was also reminded of the concept in this quote by Alan Watts:

"To see the moon, you must forget the pointing finger, and simply look at the moon."

And , if you have the time and the inclination, I'd suggest reading his Lecture on Zen which expands on that quote and this idea that we need something beyond ourselves - some authority figure - some doctrine - in order to live a satisfying, complete life.

In the western world, although we like to think of ourselves as being much more free than foreign societies with their strange traditions and religions, we are still so undeniably bound to paternalism, dogma and conformity. Yet we somehow believe that our version of "freedom" is far superior. How free are we? Really? And why do we continue to support political and religious systems whose main aims are to tamp down that freedom in our lives?

I don't know if there's a "God gene". But I do know that when we willingly restrict ourselves by only holding onto whatever the conventional so-called wisdom of the day is while not examining how that only serves the power structures we have been taught are so absolutely necessary to our well-being (see this book by Alice Miller for an insightful look into the results of that), we only end up giving up whatever it is in each of us that could truly set us free.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

No black man in America is safe - because of me

The amount of overblown, wingnut-like hyperbole flying around in the so-called "progressive" American blogosphere over the arrest of Henry Gates has risen to such hysterical levels that it isn't even possible to discuss the facts in a rational manner.

Take this exchange:

Amen (13+ / 0-)

seems to me that this idea of not placing all the blame on the officer sounds alot like the attitude back in the 70's of women who were raped or beaten that perhaps they were to blame

by Bluerall on Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 08:34:05 AM MDT

that's asinine (0+ / 0-)

The comparison doesn't even compute.

by catnip on Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 11:03:36 AM MDT

* [new] no you are assine (0+ / 0-)

the safety of people in their own homes and black men especially in their own homes should be inviolate.

gates should have been able to say anything he damn well pleased in his own home at any decibel level that did not disturb neighbors who, by definition, cannot be disturbed by noise at high noon.

gates has a documented upper respiratory infection which prevented him from making undue noise.

no black man in america is safe because of attitudes like yours.

and if you think i am calling you a racist, go ahead.

racist is as racist does.

i am not backing down on this one. not. one. inch.

by fernan47 on Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 11:09:09 AM MDT

get off your pulpit (0+ / 0-)

Comparing what happened to Gates to what happens to rape victims is asinine. Period.

no black man in america is safe because of attitudes like yours.

Pathetic. Absolutely fucking pathetic.

by catnip on Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 11:14:46 AM MDT

* you are pathetic (1+ / 0-)

and apparently structurally a racist.

as a women of color.

as a women aware of sexual victimization to the max.

you are the asshole in this scenario.

what makes you think what you think of my pulpit of the least importance to anyone, anywhere?

by fernan47 on Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 11:21:08 AM MDT

Oh, I'm used to being called a racist. You couldn't criticize Obama during his campaign at sites like Daily Kos without expecting that someone would throw that at you. But let's get serious here - if people want to hold up Gates as the poster boy for racial discrimination they have to look at his behaviour and how it contributed to the situation. Thus, the comparison to what happens to rape victims who aren't believed definitely is asinine and it's an insult to those rape victims.

Tale a look at this quote and tell me that Gates doesn't need a reality check and that his victimization allows him to be blameless:

My driver is a large black man. But from afar you and I would not have seen he was black. He has black hair and was dressed in a two-piece black suit, and I was dressed in a navy blue blazer with gray trousers and, you know, my shoes. And I love that the 911 report said that two big black men were trying to break in with backpacks on. Now that is the worst racial profiling I’ve ever heard of in my life. (Laughs.) I’m not exactly a big black man. I thought that was hilarious when I found that out, which was yesterday.

It looked like someone’s footprint was there. So it’s possible that the door had been jimmied, that someone had tried to get in while I was in China. But for whatever reason, the lock was damaged. My driver hit the door with his shoulder and the door popped open.

The bottom line - based on the facts - is that everyone overreacted here: Gates, the police officer and Obama. And if people really want to have a discussion about racial discrimination in America, I can think of so many other examples that could suffice as a jumping-off point. Placing Gates up on some pedestal as an example is hardly the best place to start. And if you want some real insight into village behaviour, look no further than the torches and pitchforks being carried at some so-called "progressive" sites against people like me who believe that facts, not emotions, should be driving this discussion. After all, it was the emotions of both men involved - Gates and Crowley - that escalated this story in the first place.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Quote du Jour: Omar Khadr's Despair

"I always say that I've never seen anyone who's been so abused and so abandoned by so many who should know better."

CSIS ignored Khadr's human rights: report

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Write Your Own Caption

I see Steve's in town for the Stampede...

I did not have sexual relations with that pancake.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Fun: Senators Behaving Badly

Good thing there wasn't any food close at hand...although that would have been even more entertaining.

But wait! There's more...

Obviously, somebody's been studying the secret handbook.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Happy Bonne Birthday Fete Canada

Help me out here, eh?

So, I'm taking this hoser "quiz" and just as quick as you can get your double double at Timmy's, I'm pretty sure that I picked the right answer, but...?

4. Due to a shortage of coins in New France in the 17th century, which of the following was used as non-traditional forms of currency?

a) Playing cards

b) Birch bark

c) Muskets

d) Croissants

I'm going with d) Croissants. You know how wacky those Frenchies are. (I can say that - because I'm one of them. The rest of you watch it or we'll cut off your supply of poutine.)