Friday, 30 December 2011

Canada - The World's Energy Superpauper

I'm not going to bore you with the usual tiresome end of year rundown, best and worst, the year that was crap you're probably reading right now out of most quarters. Most of these are probably devoting the bulk of their time between rehashed political headlines and celebrity gossip chronicles to how "Occupy" changed the conversation about inequality and this will change the way things go next year. I'm dubious. I've realized that if governments and central banks have been able to lurch from day to day, week to week, and crisis to crisis printing money, printing bonds, and subsidizing the standards of living of most from the most decrepit housing projects to the poshest of neighbourhoods through their labyrinths of loopholes, write offs and entitlements, there's nothing that's going to stop them now. The numbers became outlandish and absurd long ago. Those of us who like to live in the real world and predict the end of this fantasy week after week are proved wrong week after week. Ultimately, when the day comes that we all have to admit that the debts can never be paid, the bonds can never be made good on, and the GDP can never grow again, we will start over, I think, without too much disruption. It's just a matter of actually performing some real accounting; and when that happens, we will just end the game of jenga we've been playing with the liabilities column but people, at least here in Canada, will stay in their homes, do their errands, go to the supermarket, take their kids to school etc.

There is one area, however, where we can't cheat accounting and where the chickens will come home to roost some day in the near future. The energy sector. Nobody knows when that day is, so any attempt at determining it is written off as false prophecy. This is probably how idiots like Daniel Yelgin in the Wall Street journal with their "We're just getting started" oil reserve forecasts make their living. But sooner or later, if you recognize the basic limitation of the planet supplying 90 million barrels a day of cheap oil to a growing population of 7 billion, the game is going to be up. And cheap energy, which all current and future economic activity and growth assumptions are predicated on, will become impossible to access.

In the meantime, there is a lot of money to be made and short term thinking rules the day. I hope Canada's Prime Minister lives to see the day of prophetic irony when he appears in history as the moron he is for declaring that Canada would become an "energy superpower". Because we are anything but. Canada is the only net-oil exporting nation that still imports almost 50% of its crude. And we can mock Saudi Arabia and Iran for subsidizing gasoline for their own citizens to the point where it costs pennies; there are not nearly as many people in those countries driving nearly as new cars (and cars are a very energy intensive product to manufacture) and commuting nearly the distances that we do.

These middle east backwaters, which the Prime Minister and Ezra Levant are insistent can only be avoided with "Ethical" oil from the oil sands even though we develop the oil sands and import oil from them simultaneously right now, will have to deal with the reckoning of their own short sightedness. We, however, have no such excuse for being so cavalier about our energy future. Canada is making money hand over fist from oil and gas but the profits are mostly going toward supporting suburban lifestyles in Alberta and Saskatchewan instead of high speed rail and bikeable major cities. Urban agriculture and non-petroleum reliant agriculture, meanwhile, are taking baby steps but will really need to become widespread in the wake of necessity, given the current stupor of cluelessness around this topic shows no signs of abating.

Boxing day, being the amped up annual spectacle of consumer carnage ten times that of the year before, was an indicator to me that society does not yet enjoy widespread awareness these challenges. I take comfort, however, knowing that there is constant growing awareness. Whether action will follow is anybody's guess

In the meantime, Canada will continue to behave like a department chair PhD making six figures, who owns a big suburban home and two vehicles and is in hock up to his eyeballs. For we have been operating in trade deficit for some years, which is crazy considering the amount of raw materials we export. The professor living high on the hog keeps up appearances, is arrogant because of his perceived success and academic achieveements, and gets on his high horse at parties, yet eventually has to sell the house and leave the neighbourhood because of his own vanity and recklessness. Such is an analogy that represents the way I feel my country is carrying itself at the end of 2011.

I wish you a great 2012! I will not be here on Lacking Credentials for awhile but trying to be successful on some other fronts - study, fiction writing, and work (Not to mention parenting). Someday I hope to have the luxury of coming back here and sharing my ruminations but for now its not a productive activity in terms of achieving these goals. Thanks for reading and see you sometime

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Language and Culture - English Only Supremacists Unlikely to Declare Absolute Victory in 2012

Hey brother, you don't look like you're gonna last too long in that job - got your TOEFL certificate?

If you don't know English, you must be an ignorant, stupid, backwater,
worthless individual

...Or so goes the official line from certain North American media outlets.

As a native English speaker, I must say the above perspective has
fascinated me for some time and I've been wanting to write a piece on
language and culture because of it. The Wall Street Journal declared
some years ago that English was the world's official language, the
National Post engaged in its favourite sport of deriding francophone
Quebecers for continuing to use and insist on French in its "Learn
English, Get Ahead" editorial and Neil Reynolds declared in the Globe
the other day (his headline) "The Anglosphere Reigns Yet Supreme".
These are articles that overtly address the issue; it does not take
much investigation to detect the same strain of impatient elitism and
barely concealed disdain toward foreign languages under the
faux-politesse veneer in Macleans, the Economist, the New York Times,
and just about any respectable periodical in the Washington, D.C.
think tank community.

Nobody with eyes and ears can contest the dominance and prominence of
English on the world stage, in popular culture, in business, and as a
tool for making non-speakers from different cultures feel elite and
sophisticated. That I am not ready to dispute with the unilingual,
middle aged, grey haired white men who wrote these articles. Yet if
it so, why do they feel the need to be so aggressive? In response to
what threat does their belligerence emerge? If they really are, as
North American English speakers, the crème de la crème of the world's
linguistic tapestry, shouldn't they be consecrating their time to the
civilized pursuits that are the bedrock of their linguistic supremacy,
like theatre, literature and film? Or even just making money. Why do
smarter, wittier, craftier, economically productive people, if that is
indeed what they are, feel the need to kick dirt in the faces of
speakers of "lesser languages", then smush those faces in the mud?

It is because the world is not ready to declare itself unilingual yet,
and these men who were born speaking English yet engage in the
ultimate hubris of believing that fact over which they had no control
makes them superior individuals cannot fathom how anyone can be
displeased with their imperious demands that all hail the supremacy of
the English language.

It is tempting to believe that a lingua franca - at international
political and banking summits, English is spoken, and every country
has an English language media outlet to broadcast news internationally
- is the death knell for all other languages. It is also a facile
inference that a world that has gone from 6000 to 2500 languages in a
century is on the fast track of paring the language of communication
among the speaking species that populates it - homo sapiens sapiens -
down to one. But this is hardly the case. Because if it was, we
would have collectively just said "fuck it", and everyone on earth
would have already seen the futility of speaking other languages and
abandoned them for English.

Consider exhibit A - the current coach of the Montreal Canadiens,
Randy Cunneyworth. For five days this man has been roasted in
Canada's French and English media for not being able to speak French.
Never mind that there are more francophone players on the Pittsburgh
Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Vancouver Canucks than on the Habs;
8 million Québécois know that team as Les Glorieux for a reason. It
is an institution.

English Canadians will weigh in with their usual responses - the
totally ignorant perception that they don't speak real French in
Quebec, it doesn't matter in 2011, what does it matter if 66% of
Quebecers and 100% of Quebec French media sports columnists can speak
English? It matters because this man is unable to do his job of
coaching a hockey team with this distraction! And if the fans wanted
the team to win and didn't care about being spoken to only in English
even though they can understand it, than maybe they wouldn't have
caused this distraction. The English-only supremacists cannot
understand that we are not playing a board game, some people have as
much attachment to their languages as the supremacists have to English
and English's current status does not mean "game over" for everyone
else. Look at how French Quebec still is today despite four centuries
of assault on its language and culture.

Exhibit B - English is not as easy as you think it is.

If these English-only people cared as much about English as they say
they do, they might complain about the generally poor level of the
language around the world which could be increased by improving its
own speakers skills, rather than demanding people who don't speak it
to learn it. A conversation can be carried on in English with a
vocabulary as low as 300 words. You can go to any country in the
world and find someone who speaks English, and while they may not be
at this extremely low baseline, there is a good chance they have not
passed the next level - 3,000 words. Taxi driver English.

The supremacists go to bed at night thinking the stats they use mean
the whole world is chucking at the jokes in Shrek and Woody Allen
movies, singing along passionately to a few Bob Dylan albums, then
reading a few thick Jane Austen novels and Shakespeare plays before
they go to bed. Never mind that the extremely limited version of
English that the vast majority of the world outside the anglosphere
speaks, if it speaks any at all, makes it impossible to have a
pleasant conversation, nevermind tell stories or jokes or have a
debate. The amount of people willing to take the pain of becoming perfectly bilingual on earth is small; much smaller than the
supremacist columnists would have you believe. If these guys ever travelled they might have experienced that first hand.

Exhibit C - Anglophilia

Some countries have leaders who are impressed by the vigour of the
supremacist columnists and think they are real decision makers who
mean business. And they studied abroad at English institutions
themselves. Now they aim to improve their shitty, third-rate
countries by making them English speaking paradises.

It is understandable that Georgia and Rwanda have had troubled
histories and discarding the languages from the colonial past that was
a main factor in troubling the histories (Russian and French) is a
logical step toward healing and catharsis. But these countries have
perfectly good languages of their own (Georgian and Kinyarwanda) that
they could revert to, and the unilateral decision to abandon these in
favour of English made by these tin-pot autocratic pro-American
leaders is truly pathetic. It will be praised by Time Magazine, of
course. Hopefully people in these nations will become angry about
their rich cultural heritages and ways of communicating being thrown
in the garbage by a couple of padded elite Harvard wannabes like Mikhail Saakashvili and Paul Kagame before its too late.

Other countries like France and Italy manifest their anglophilia by
peppering their vocabularies with a mishmash of Anglicisms lifted
from advertisements and business school textbooks that just make them
sound like idiots because they don't know how to use them properly.
It also probably doesn't help that they are being used on
advertisements that don't make any sense (in France - "Go for the
benchmarking". What the hell is that supposed to mean?). At least
when English ads use French it is usually in context (for areas in
which the French have an edge, fashion, cuisine, etc).

Some knowledge of English never hurt anybody, and I would encourage
people to explore the depths of this rich language I of course have a
deep emotional and practical attachment to. But knowledge of another
language never hurt an English speaker either. If English has
universal second language status, that second language level, if it
does not work to cheapen and degrade real English, will probably never
live up to it either. Anglophones, meanwhile, should remember that
learning Mandarin, Russian, German, or even French will open enormous
doors to them. Besides the exposure to rich literary and film
traditions and different perspectives and cultures, something else
that you could (not that you couldn't as an English only speaker) is
go to the countries where these languages are spoken and do business. these places still operate in their own languages. Yes, the language of "international business" is English and business people in those countries may try to make you feel comfortable by speaking English (or they may not), but learning someone else's language would allow you to hear what they are saying to each other and what jokes they are telling about you (which stop once they know you get it) and not feel
like an excluded douche bag. Or like Randy Cunneyworth (sorry man, but as a
Leafs fan I want your team in as much disarray as possible). Merry

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Filled in guest post - Canadian fascist checklist

Taken without permission from - The 14 Characteristics of Fascism
by Lawrence Britt
Spring 2003
Free Inquiry magazine

Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt recently wrote an article about fascism ("Fascism Anyone?," Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, page 20). Studying the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), Dr. Britt found they all had 14 elements in common. He calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. The excerpt is in accordance with the magazine's policy.

The 14 characteristics are:

Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. - Hmmm, lets see. Demanding a portrait of the queen be placed in all embassies, suspending parliament for the olympics, and passing legislation that makes someone who prevents someone else from flying the Canadian flag on a balcony apartment building eligible for jail time? I think point one deserves a check

Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. - By flatly refusing to allow one of the country's own citizens home from an illegal international prison where he has been tortured for crimes committed while he was a minor, check

Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. Well, judging by the last seven years of attack ads and robocalls telling slander and lies to a sitting Liberal MPs riding five months after he won his seat in a majority government (as in, that seat is not up for grabs for at least four more years), not to mention the blocking of a legitimate democratically electoral coalition on the basis of scaring the population into thinking the "socialists and separatists" were dangerous, yes I accuse the Cons of treating all other parties as enemies by addressing them all with nothing but dirty tactics and epithets and I give them a check.

Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. Hmm, do I even need to say anything. Let's just say the most expensive purchase that is about to be made in Canadian History ($36 billion) is for some jets that haven't even been built and won't necessarily function properly yet. It's from a quasi-private US government supported crony capitalist outfit Lockheed Martin, and against the public advice of several former top military brass and the private advice of the acting leadership, the government is pursuing this without opening the procurement to a competitive bid. They're going to need something to top all those Tim Horton's photo shoots in Kandahar. Plus the defence minister taking a military aircraft ($32,000 an hour) on a fishing trip. Check

Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy. The former Reform wing of this party was mostly made up of fundamentalist and evangelical "christians" and adhered to all of these values consistently and publicly. To get in government, Harper made them dial it down. I'll give them a half-check on this one since I know its how they want to act but abortion and gay rights are not seriously impaired or threatened in Canada at the present time.

Controlled Mass Media

Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. Ha ha ha. Except for the CBC, which they would love to stop funding, the conservatives have a 24-7 partisan wackoff session with the Canadian media! They have two newspapers which are openly and loyally outright supportive (The Post-Canwest Chain and the Sun chain), a sometimes critical but mostly feeble and acquiescent highbrow daily (The Globe), and one supportive national magazine (Macleans), whose owners also own all three biggest private channels on TV (Global, CityTV, TVA, CTV, Rogers, Vidéotron) and all of the home phone, mobile, and cable and internet business in Canada. And as of yesterday, the most cash cow sports franchise on earth, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Are you f----- kidding me? Except for the hostile Toronto Star (read by a few million GTAians) and the mainly antipathic Quebec media (read by 8 million French people - guess what? The country has 26.5 million other people who've never looked at that stuff in their lives.), the Conservatives are very friendly with, and thus covertly control and influence, the vasy majority of this country's media - so check!

Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
There is an urgent need to merge our border and security apparatus with the United States for no other reason than complete stupidity since their legal system allows them to now do pretty much whatever the hell they want (Like torture you in Guantanamo Bay for watching youtube videos - see copyright legislation worming its way through congress). Plus all the "cracking down on illegal migrants" who, if they are indeed here, anyone has yet to experience difficulties with. Check

Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions. "God Bless Canada" after every election victory speech. I respond in my head to the Prime Minister every time - "Fuck off!" Check

Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. Of course it is. Just ask any of the big five banks on bay street or give a call over to Suncor or Enbridge in Calgary. Check-er-oo

Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed . Well, ok its not that all the unions that got forced back to work (Air Canada, Canada Post, Fed Public Sector) are overpaid for doing either the physically draining or mind-numbingly boring work that they do, its just that the entities they are working for are broke, b. Air Canada and Canada Post would be bankrupted into oblivion the minute they lost their "crown corporation" status. So I would buckle down and carry on if I was them (which they have). But the government musing about making "the economy" an essential service? That earns them their ninth and a half "check"!

Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts. "Yes. Everyone who cannot afford an $11,000 taxpayer-funded junket to Boston to watch game 4 of the stanley cup final like the Prime Minister should just stay home listening to his friends in Nickelback or watch youtube videos of him singing Beatles songs" - check

Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. See Greg Weston's article on from today about how the Conservatives created a $1 million lobbying watchdog and the RCMP is yet to enforce a single complaint that it has received, closing every single file without laying any charges. Even ones containing clear evidence of breaking the rules and wrongdoing. Not to mention this tough on crime omnibus bill fiasco, which is too depressing to even get into. Big fat check.

Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. Mines, oil, metals, wood, water. Whoever's taking all that stuff from us now, its their's for the taking and no one in power has any damn intention to alter that arrangement in any way whatsoever. The windfall to the Canadian public on that stuff, given its value, is a joke. Check.

Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections. The CPC is a beneficiary of A)At least 40 overrepresented, sparsely populated rural ridings, and another 40 overpopulated underrepresented urban ridings, and is guilty of at least 1 case of election fraud (the in and out scandal) which was settled out of court. The conservative party uses taxpayer funded propoganda (either direct mail or tax-deductible individual donations) to fund its powerful spin machine. Then the mainstream media gives a huge boost. But elections Canada is a very reputable bureaucracy that thus far has maintained its independence. We'll be generous with half a check.

Wow, let's tally it up. Final score 13 out of 14. Great job Conservatives! 92% You have officially received an "A" grade in your quest to transform Canada into a fascist state.