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Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Rain's Shoreline

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My mother is the sea;
my father is the earth; 
a creature of the shore
I leave my place of birth

in the cobwebs of those who snore
he speaks, addressing no one
in case his words have some worth
open the blessed, oblique door

blank apostrophe of a drunk surf
the rain falls and hides false ore
it returns mother to father; mirth
rises in our smoky din, more

to come, pour it in a torrid form
shimmering waves over the terrain
mud, tracked onto the creaking floor
meeting the barren wood, reclaimed
and creaking under the dingy storm. 

Driftwood winds its way back and forth
treading the shore’s smooth grey stain
like a tango, forward and backwards
arrows unsheathed, shot towards shards

of light, splitting the horizon; aim
the hunter’s only friend, death’s train
stops in the dark, holding tracks hard
to straight lines plodding from a bard’s
mouth, a thread tautens, caught prey

spins out deadly signals, a spider’s name
echoes in the place where cards cut
amongst the music of the door shut
once more, evacuating his refrain. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Economic Price of Climate Change

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One notices, after reading scads of material on the environmental movement and its skeptics or opponents, that one of the central conflicts in this debate is the notion that taking care of the environment and economic growth are somehow incompatible. This debate, if we accept the premise of the environmental movement – that our bloated consumption practices will lead to the untimely demise of much of the life on earth currently – is arguably the most crucial debate of all. In this push and pull between those who privilege the economy and those who value other species, the health of the oceans and the atmosphere above all else, it becomes difficult to sort out fact from convenient fiction and truth from  falsehood. Mind you, we must take into account that this debate will take different forms, strategies, and approaches depending on where it takes place. In Canada, the primary argument against investing in research and development for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is that it is not economical. This is a knee-jerk response that is taken as self-evident truth among many people.

Let’s examine what is behind this claim, and the abundant facts that contradict it. Canada, through a rather arbitrary turn of events, happens to have incredibly large reserves of petroleum, locked up in “tar sands.” Make no bones about it, this is the dirtiest form of extracting petroleum on the books right now, except maybe for Venezuelan heavy crude. However, the depression in 2008 hit, and the economy became a grave concern; we can’t afford to not develop the tar sands became the argument of choice. As an exploitable resource for the most important commodity in the world, our oil reserves make for a very compelling reason for Canada to want to disregard the simple fact that extracting petroleum from tar sands is relatively speaking, very dirty and not very efficient. Thus, the Conservative government in Canada spent oodles of taxpayer money for commercials attesting to the environmental safety of the tar sands. You can fool some people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But, in a representative democracy like Canada, where a political party can earn a majority of parliamentary seats in the House of Commons with about 25%   (this is a generous estimate) of the total vote, fooling enough of the people turns out to be quite easy and efficient. There is a long line of psychological research that suggests that the more you repeat something, the more the listener will tend to regard it as true, regardless of whether the statement or claim made is true or not.

Granted, there must be some reasonable Conservatives that concede that the tar sands aren’t the cleanest manner of oil extraction, but still maintain the priority of the economy. This is a statement you can’t really oppose. I would be more willing to accept their argument that we can’t afford not to develop the oil sands if it was actually benefitting Canadians. Here I must concede that the tar sands boom has done well for Alberta. However, because Mr. Mulroney privatized Petro-Canada in 1991, the potential benefits to the rest of Canada are slim indeed. After all, Sinecorp and Exxon/Mobil are the main developers of the sands, and they are a Chinese and an American company. To find evidence of this lack of benefit for ordinary Canadians, one simply needs to look at the price of gas at the pump. We are in the top ten producers of oil, and yet we still pay more on average than Americans do for gas. While it is true that we don’t have the refining capacity to turn crude oil into gasoline, and thus incur the costs of shipping it to and from refineries, nothing (that I know of at least) has been done to build refining capacity so that our advantage in oil production would actually benefit Canadians at the pump.

Let us now address the contention that renewable energy sources are not “economical.” Denmark has pledged to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. It already has considerable renewable energy production capabilities. It also has much less unemployment than Canada – nearly half as much less in 2009, a quarter as much less in 2010. Furthermore, Denmark’s youth   unemployment rate was 11.2 % , while Canada’s was 15.3% in 2012. Somehow, Denmark seems to be economically robust while investing in renewable energies. Also, Germany the economic powerhouse of the EU broke records last year by producing 50% of their energy from renewable sources on peak days. Both its general unemployment and youth unemployment rate are lower than Canada’s. Most importantly, both Denmark and Germany’s governments have run much smaller deficits than the Conservative government despite the economic instabilities in the EU. I must be missing something here, because these two paragons of renewable energy seem to be thriving, economically speaking.

Finally, I would like to introduce an issue I have not seen addressed by either side of this ongoing debate, which is the economic damage precipitated by climate change. Climate change has become the rallying cry of the environmental movement. 2012 is sizing up to be the hottest year on record in the Toronto region, and many others as well. Despite the boatloads of evidence supporting the climate change hypothesis, some still deny it. Others admit it exists, but matters little because the world is ending, whatever that means. I hypothesize that increasing  temperatures decrease productivity. Certainly, many places have air conditioning, but this itself is a very energy-intensive technology and will put further strains on the energy sector (these are well-documented and self-evident). Because much of the energy sector depends upon fossil fuels, this in turn increases the rate at which the earth’s climate changes. Also, not all places have air conditioning, and productivity in these places, usually small to medium sized businesses, will suffer in summer heat waves. This argument, mind you, must take into consideration that warmer winters could alternatively see an increase in productivity to balance the concomitant decrease in the summer. However, is there any greater stimulus to activity than a slight chill in the air? These hypotheses need testing, though, which is unlikely to happen in the current political climate of economic cuts for research and development, and a stimulus plan that focuses almost entirely on construction (not all of it even necessary, at that).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dead Don't Argue

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The End of the Line

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Euclid on Space; Cat watches on.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Marxist Infographic on Law

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Philosophy Infographic

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Morning's Glory

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The rhododendrons have grown six inches in the past two weeks. The winter cactus is blooming in spring. Chaz tested the irrigation system of the greenhouse for a leak. When he found it, he daubed a freeze-dry plastic out of a tube to plug the hole more or less permanently. Thank god for chemical engineering, he muttered to himself. He called out to the greenhouse foreman that it would need to cure for thirty minutes before they could turn the system on to water the plants. Some of them near the end points of the tube network were starting to look blanched, wilty.

He made a note to himself not to say that out loud, because he’d come as soon as he got the message. Central booking has been slacking, clearly. He tsked out loud, and a greenhouse attendant who he didn’t notice creeping up behind him asked him if he said something.

After starting slightly, Chaz excused himself and said he got here as soon as he could. The attendant, who introduced himself as Stan Klepton, responded that Chaz had saved the day around these parts, because Stan had noticed his boss’ visible relief when he learned Chaz could come on a Friday afternoon, so they could be all rarin’ to go on Monday without having to front-load the week by having to problem solve at its very outset. Chaz smiled at him and said he was glad he could help.

You know the plants. . . they listen to us you know. They feed off our stress.

Yeah, ok bud, Chaz thought to himself, put off. Who creeps up on person and says such weird shit! He walked past an enormous bulbous cactus that filled the background of the room with menace.

The word stress echoed in his mind after he left the nursery, and made a line for his pick-up truck, his keys jangling in his hand. He filled in the home visit report, and sat there, looking around. A man in the park across the street, dressed in the orange jumpers of city workers, was buzzing the corners with a weed whacker, sending dandelions, ditch weeds and clover flying. Some grass inevitably got in the way, but for how high it was; it definitely was not “friendly fire.”

He put on his bluetooth in preparation for the drive, started his truck, revved the engine a bit to check for odd sounds, and then pulled out slowly into traffic, while putting on his seatbelt. He hit HQ on his speed dial, and after two rings Masia picked up.

Hi Masie, I just finished the Anderson nursery job. It was a simple patch-up, nothing too dramatic. I’m checking in to see whether there have been any more assignments, or am I good to go for the weekend? My monthly report is on schedule.

Ok Chaz, I’ll let Bill know. Nothing has come in at all since you last checked in, and Bill made sure to tell me to let you go for the weekend, and he said to enjoy your weekend in Haliburton.

Great! That’s good news Masie, thanks for the message. I’m in traffic here, so I’m going to wish you a happy weekend too and sign off for the week.

Will do Chaz, see you on Tuesday.

Sure thing Masie, goodbye.

He pulled onto the Allen expressway and made for the 401. He had packed for the long weekend at the cottage; since Jessica was in Boston on business he arranged to meet Jason Kemp at the cottage for a weekend of fishing, beer-drinking, and college reminiscing.  After the kink of the 400 clover leaf, it looked like heavy traffic. Sirius radio was just installed, so there was that. Howard Stern bought up all the shares of that right quick. A slight fatigue grew inside him, swelling behind his eyes. Look forward, he retrained his eyes. Signs, sky, the oak ridge disappearing behind him in glacial mounds, former shoreline of a sea far larger than the present lake. Chunks of rock started to wall in the highway as it traversed the Shield. A slight jaunt west on seven, up 135 past buckhorn lake and he would be there. The fishing show he had just watched, River Monsters, idled in his thoughts as he drove, as well as a youtube video of a pike snapping at a fisherman’s hand. Yawning fish mouths traversed his imagination as he drove. Traffic suddenly slowed, and it was a half an hour wait to get through a bottleneck caused by a severe accident. Blood smeared the pavement lightly, drag marks prominent; EMS was on the scene.

That was a sobering thing, he thought as he merged back into traffic, and shifted in his seat to get more comfortable. The first dirt road he entered was quiet, not even a birdsong, but soon strange shapes started to appear out of the woods. A burnt scarecrow hanging, broken bodied above the road -- he’d been on this road hundreds of times, and he had never seeen anything like that. He hoped a satanic cult hadn’t moved in next door, but he didn’t see anyone as he reached the 1.2 km driveway to his secluded cabin and manouevred his truck slowly down the rocky terrain.

Five years ago he had bought a small landing between two huge shears of rock, on which there was a small but elegantly designed cabin. The parking area was perched about 10 meters above the cabin, and stairs zig zagged between the rock; the lake's light blue-green susurrated beyond. It was the best purchase of his life, he thought, as he walked down the steps, feeling more and more relaxed. Jason was nowhere to be seen, even though Chaz had seen Jason’s sister’s saturn parked on the side of the driveway. There was a pulley system for moving luggage up and down the granite monolith underneath which, his log cabin sat placidly, complete with hot water and tv; he was proud of that pulley.  As he reached the wrap-around deck that enveloped the house in a hexagram of regular rectangle shapes, seen from above, Chaz remembered the summer he had built the cottage with his father; he used to have strategems to become an architect.

He found Jason at the front of the house, on the deck, looking out over the lake, which was spotted here and there with rugged outcrops of rock:  little jagged islands. The sun hung low in the late afternoon stratum; they were shielded from this apocalypse by a bigger pine-covered island, some of the trees towering over seventy feet above the rock. They could see Cedars spindled about along its edges, their muscular roots clinging to the rock, tenacious. A cloud passed over the drooping sun, momentarily darkening their reunion. Something was very different about his college friend

Some people have the quality of chameleons: their moods, their clothes, their faces, their hair, even their accessories seemed to change so much, and yet despite all this they seem to slip into the background of every gathering; they wear make-up and talons, their faces look this way and that in a maelstrom of expressions. They tended to make others around them feel more powerful. Jason was one such person

He took Jason’s hand warmly, and patted his shoulder, then together they looked out over the lake, commented on its beauty.

Jason spoke first:

Saw some fish jumping the twilight.

I don’t doubt it, I said as I noted the cloud of mosquitoes around Jason’s head, and his periodic swats around the air around him.

These bugs make it hard to enjoy a beautiful sunset. There’s beers pre-chilled in the fridge for you.

Thanks. I'm going to go use that pulley to get the weekend’s supplies down here.

When he returned a beer waited for him in a frosted glass. Jason’s not usually this nice; something must be up. His mother has cancer? His daughter has a fever?

Did you see that scarecrow thing when you came in? Chaz asked as soon as he could. Jason smiled strangely at his friend’s question.

No, what are you talking about?

Hanging in the trees, like an effigy, a burnt scarecrow. Like a scarecrow skeleton.

You need to lay off the drugs, bro!

A chill ran down my spine in the early spring evening air.

You aren’t trying to pull some Blair Witch shit on me, are you?

Jason laughed heartily. Relax, man. The neighbour’s daughter is probably some emo-goth chick and is trolling you hard.

My nearest neighbour is two bays across the lake, I told him.

You’re not going to rape me or anything like that, are you?

You wish!

His quickly emptied first beer was replaced by Jason, who nursed a mojito with the corner of his mouth. The leaves of a huge potted palm in the sunburst lobby at the front of the middle part of the cabin, enclosed by specially treated glass that dispersed light, but insulated well, hung heavily in the room. Jason immediately took the position in the room best for viewing the magnificent palm.

Oh, that reminds me! I brought you a reunion present. Don’t worry if you didn’t get me one, because it’s a pretty ridiculous occasion for a gift. But I remembered you had this wonderful palm, and I saw this new miracle grow formula advertized on television, and I thought it would be a perfect thing for your palm. His speech was quick and unshakeably certain.

Might reduce all the dried leaves; he looked at Chaz sideways. That was among its guarantees, so you’ll have to keep me updated.

Thank you Chaz said, appreciation in his voice mixed with an uncomfortable curiosity.  He strolled into the living room, where the sun burst started, after chipping open another beer. He stared at the birds, in little clouds like schools of fish flicker in and out of the window frames. Behind him, he heard Jason rip open the miracle grow, sprinkle it in the palm’s soil, and then water it.

Chaz fired up the hot tub that was between the cottage and the halved rock behind it; the crickets were out in force. A couple frog songs emerged and echoed off the hard surface above them. He unpacked the groceries for the weekend: some steaks for bbqing, some chicken wings, some cheese and crackers, some veggies for skewers, he stocked up the bathrooms with toiletries, then slid out of his clothes and put on his swimsuit. Usually he would just go naked, but he was a little unsure of that because Jason was here. With a towel draped over his shoulder, Chaz made his way to the hot tub with another beer, and another mojito for Jason, who came out five minutes later. The stars by that point had already come out in their glory; Jason too was naked. Chaz felt a little sheepish about that, so he asked Jason to get a bag of chips from the cupboard above the stove, and he slipped his swimsuit off and hid it behind the control panel for the tub. They soaked quietly for a minute or two, sipping their drinks and staring into the great beyond, arms stretched out, facing one another. Steam rose from the water and hid their faces from one another in a melting mask. After twenty minutes, the heat broke Chaz, and he hopped out carefully, testing himself for dizziness. The cool air against Chaz’s body was invigorating and rejuvenating, as if every evil had been burned from his body and now floated off into the lovely and comforting air; a falling star streaked the sky above the cottage as he re-entered it. When Chaz passed the palm on the way to the kitchen for drink refills, he swore that it had four branches that hadn’t been there before the miracle grow. He saw that Jason had spilled some of the grow formula on the floor, so he swept it up and took it to the back yard to dump it; it was best to reduce the garbage they had to drag all the way up to where the driveway joined the county road. The four extra branches struck him as strange as he wandered wearily back out to the hot tub with a tray that hooked onto the edge. On it he put his beer, Jason’s mojito, and some dip and veggies to accompany their chips. They ate, drank, and listened to the waves lapping the shore on the other side of the cabin before they started to reminisce.

Jason was quite the player back then, so most of the stories were about his sexual adventures in which either I or one of his other friends played the wingman.

Chaz sometimes tried to change the topic of conversation by asking about Jason’s wife. Divorced last year, apparently. He asked him if he intended to resume his player lifestyle, and suggested he needed a new wingman because Chaz’s relatively new familial responsibilities almost automatically disqualified him. Kids change the way you smell, and single women can smell it on you. When that didn’t work, he asked if Jason had run into or heard from Glen, another one of our college buddies. This launched him on to his Vegas adventures with Glen, but he ended up admitting he had lost track of Glen too.

Do you think he’s married by now?

Pshhhhh! Glen? Do you remember how awkward he was with women?

Do you think he’s gay?

No, he’s just one of those forever alone people. Undateable, but a great friend to either gender.
After our fourth drink, Chaz suggested getting out of the hot tub before we passed out, and either going for a walk along the small pebble beach skirting the rock wall, or watching a movie. Jason surprised Chaz by endorsing the latter option. They brought a bottle of tequila, a barbeque lighter, some paper for a fire, and a couple logs for a fire, thrown haphazardly in a canvas rudsack.

Wandering out on to the windy beach, they walked sloppily on the smooth pebbles with their loads. Just past the point where the rock rescinded into dark woods, where strange hooting and muted bellowing periodically emerged and disappeared, they found a familiar alcove in the rock, with fallen trees that had washed up on the beach after travelling on the longshore drift. These logs formed perfect benches between which they could build the fire.

Jason made a stone circle, dug up the sand to make a hole, and Chaz went to collect kindling from the woods for the fire. The air was quite cool by now, so he hurried about his task and soon brought an armful of kindling, dumping it beside the ring of stones. Jason had placed sticks parallel and perpendicular, making what they called in boy scouts a log cabin. Inside, Chaz placed a teepee of dried grass, twigs, and small branches. Around the whole thing, they built a much larger teepee with bigger branches, and then Chaz lit the kindling; they watched the fire consume their elaborate construction.

Orange fire-cules wafted up on the mysterious air movements fire makes with the wind. The tequila slowly disappeared and their laughs drowned out the coos and riddles of the woods’ inhabitants. A loon called out in the night’s darkness. They did their damnedest to imitate them, blowing wind through different configurations of their fingers, like their friend Glen used to, but the most they could manage was an eerie whistle. Mostly it just resulted in them falling over laughing.

An osprey called out in the accumulating mist, and a chill went down Chaz’s spine again. Two hours later,  their conversation slowed and stopped, replaced by intermittant snores, but the movement of their bodies easing off the log always caused them to wake up again. Finally, they decided it was time to return to the cabin for bed, and they noted a mist had enveloped the entire lake; Jason estimated he could only see two metres into the heavy fog. They left their garbage, promising to collect it in the morning.

Chaz woke up once in the night; through the skylight, towards the hills rising on the other side of their little bay he saw a scarecrow, on fire. He blinked, and light traces of it remained. But it was not the same. The windows were open because he was like a furnace at night. He heard people calling across the lake, scared. A local air raid siren bleeped and then fell silent. He sat as still as he could in his bed, listening for new developments, daring hardly to breathe. But nothing; sleep came easily again as his liver worked out his stupor. He dismissed it as a nightmare as he dozed back to sleep.

Chaz woke to a scream; he practically jumped into a pair of clean underwear, and rushed into the sunburst. Before he even got there, he saw undulating forms pass through the opening of the stairway. Jason screamed again, horribly.

Chaz called out his name, hesitant to go down to where those slithering and wriggling stems were doing god knows what to Jason.

Jason called Chaz desperately. Chaz ran down the stairs, and faced his palm, which had doubled in size over the night:  the leaves seemed alive, swallowing Jason in tight rolls. It looked like a terrible hydra spreading out of his solarium to occupy the living room as well. Luckily, the stairs to the basement were right around the corner from the stairway to the bedrooms upstairs. He could get some weaponry from the basement – a spade or a pick, or something. A chainsaw.

He slipped around the corner, glued to the wall, and opened the door to the basement. He jumped down the stairs three at a time, scanned the room in a frenzy, and found his chainsawt. He tested it; two pulls of the cord passed before the grating noise revved through the low empty basement. He let it settle to a malicious growl, and then he ran up the stairs, opened the door, and flung the chainsaw against the first plant limb he found. The plant dropped Jason, all its tendrils aimed towards the source of the hurt. Chaz withdrew quickly, not wanting to anger the creature his palm had become. He hugged the walls, holding the humming chainsaw up in front of his chest. Jason was hurt; he didn’t get up. He had stopped making sounds altogether, actually.

The plant limbs danced in front of Chaz irritably, and he leaned the chainsaw under the kitchen table, before rolling out and crawling towards Jason. He got him by his armpits and dragged him to the hiding spot under the kitchen table, so he could get his weapon again if necessary. Apparently, it wasn’t necessary because the plants limbs were slithering only around the one decapitated end, confused by pain’s first little explosions.

Chaz shook Jason firmly to resuscitate him. He woke up, but he was groggy, as if the plant had drugged him.

Jason, we gotta get out of here.

Before he could finish his sentence, a limb flashed out like a whip and seized Jason by the ankles, dragging him mercilessly towards the palm, and his head hit everything behind him. A giant mouth in the trunk of the palm tree swallowed Jason whole. Chaz sprawled over the floor, rolled and broke out into a run out of the door to the hot tub and the stairs. As he passed the threshold, however, the morning glory on the trestle hanging from the upper-level deck grabbed him and stung him with electric poison. He called out for help as loud as he could, and he heard a response a few moments later from across the lake.

Plant problems, son?

It was the last thing he heard before the morning glory, in collusion with the solitary pine in his back yard, made a meal of him.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Photographs of Found Alphabeticals: Z

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Photographs of Found Alphabeticals: T

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Photographs of found alphabeticals: U

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Found Photographic Alpahbeticals: X

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Photographs of found alphabeticals: A

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012