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I wrote weekly newspaper editorial columns from 1997 - 2005, nearly 400 total.
Here are some samples, to show the range of topics covered and a few favourites.

World food production peaks, costing the Earth

Ignorant champions of empire, BC Ferries style

The genius of paper wasps, learning from nature

'How are you?' - listening with a warm heart

Red meat government subsidies betray free market

Environmental volunteers are getting wary and weary

Prime Minister in waiting could use environmental ed'

Culture of sharing would aid environmental causes

Local names recall big mistakes of history (Pitt, Burke, Addington)

Power of one can make a difference (unbleached toilet paper)

How can we make kids curious again? (breaking school windows)

A bit of garbage has exotic origins in natural world - *#1 favourite*


World food production peaks, costing the Earth
The Tri-City News
2004 November 06

Whew, we just made it. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization predicted in June of this year that global cereal production would fall behind consumption for the fifth year running. The weather gods smiled, however, raising crop forecasts by 24-million tonnes, just enough for production to match consumption. We're doing good, eh?

Actually, we've been beating the odds since nitrogen fertilizers were developed nearly a century ago. The green revolution burst through the limits that natural nitrogen fixation put on every sort of plant growth, including crops, continuing to this day.

(Figuring out nitrogen fertilizer chemistry furthered the nitrogen-based explosives industry too. Hitler, for example, couldn't have begun his dream of world dominance without his stockpiles of TNT and derivatives. To this day, new ways of using nitrogen help terrorist and anti-terrorists to keep upping the ante on each other.)

We may not yet be reaching limits to the amount of nitrogen fertilizers we can make and apply, but other limits are coming into play. One is that creating them requires a lot of energy, mostly in the form of fossil fuels. Oil isn't cheap anymore, and likely won't be again. Natural gas reserves aren't any more promising than oil. We can't look for vast new reserves being discovered and coming on stream.

Dirty fuel sources are more abundant, but burning them is pollution intensive. This year, for the third year running, carbon dioxide levels have risen, on average, two to three per cent, rather than the usual one to two. Could the Earth be able to absorb so much, after which levels will rise unchecked? Could be. It's a grand experiment, and we're all on board.

The green revolution has also relied on massive irrigation schemes. We're sucking surface and groundwater bodies dry. China is taking 30 cubic kilometres more water for agriculture than it's replacing; India uses nearly one-third that, drawn from countless wells, some a kilometre deep now.

Too much nitrogen fertilizer swamps, literally, arable land. Too much water extraction makes deserts. Too much protein production makes a poopy mess of land and water. Too much monoculture kills biodiversity. Too much genetic modification irreversibly taints organic crops. Too much development removes irreplaceable topsoil. Too much edible food ends up in dumps - up to 30 per cent in developed countries. Too much, too much, too much.

We live in lucky times. Nearly a billion people are still starving worldwide, but the same number are overweight, with ever more becoming obese. Bless our good fortune, especially during this late harvest season. May it continue, by every reasonable means and by personal moderation, for many years to come.



Ignorant champions of empire, BC Ferries style
The Tri-City News
2004 August 15

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept and realities of 'empire'. We all know what an empire is, and we all know more or less what empires do, but the things themselves remain great amorphous phantasms, as well as huge fuzzy givens.

Empires, for all their bigness and grandness, have really simple operating principles. They impose. They co-opt. They subsume. Think of the Romans marching into the British Isles. They built roads going straight to their fortresses and baths, to 'their' mining operations and other marketable resources, and that was all that mattered. Slice through the watercourses, fields, and homes, waste everything in the way. Forget the lay of the land, the wisdom and wishes of the people.

Empires would have us believe that life is miserable, if not impossible, without them. Buy in, and everything will be peachy. Oppose at your peril. Suggest that they need not even exist, and you'll be considered a nutbar.

In this broad context, the comments of BC Ferries CEO David Hahn regarding his refusal to let B.C. shipyards bid on providing C-class ferries are perfect examples of how bullheaded empire-builders work. "We're going to stay true to the process. If you stay true to the process, you do the right thing." And "You fall into the trap of the past", if you start listening to what [dissenting] members of the B.C. legislature are saying on the issue.

What a perfect Roman invader. Didn't they build such good highways in the U.K. that many of their straight-arrow routes are still in use today, and still cursed by the locals for changing their landscape and lifestyles in the most culture-killing ways? Give true Brits their winding roads and hedgerows any day, and if it takes you hours longer to navigate through their beloved homeland, well, lucky you.

"When in Rome," the old saying goes, "do as the Romans do." When everywhere else, Roman invaders said, do as they do too. Global corporate empires follow the same creed.

Thus, David Hahn proudly declares that he tries to remain "politically naïve" about B.C. politics. He just does what he does, local needs and realities be damned. This is precisely why this Big Apple boss was imported to run BC Ferries, because he doesn't give a rat's hind end about anything local that's 'foreign' to his modus operandi.

The question we all have to ask ourselves, especially as we approach the provincial election next May, is the extent to which we'll continue to welcome such deliberately ignorant champions of corporate empire, and how much local identity and capability we'll surrender for their efficiencies and economies.



The genius of paper wasps, learning from nature
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2004 August 25

Everyone and everything has its genius. The lowliest cluster of cells, even lumps of mud, are particularly good at something. The trick for us is to see and appreciate this innate brilliance - an ability that's a cornerstone of human genius.

I've been trying, this hot, doors-open summer, to view the wealth of wasps in my life from such a positive perspective, but man, they make it hard. While I'm aware, beyond sight and hearing, of their vital role as bug-eaters supreme, in reality, their close-up genius seems to be to annoy. Their persistent, desperate buzzing gets on my nerves, augmented by nasty threats to get under my skin - and venomously a few weeks ago, when I thwarted a little sister's mission in life.

They don't have to make all that dire racket. Sure, the way their wings work - new research shows they get lift from vortexes under the leading edges of their gyrating front pair - produces a certain amount of noise, but they can up the volume to excite others about a food supply or to mount an offensive. I had an unusually quiet wasp at my table recently, and for its grace and consideration, I let it stay. Why aren't they all so smart, to increase their odds of scarfing a meal?

Meals, of course, are what impel them to be such nuisances - meals for their offspring, which are carnivores. Early to mid season, wasps are scavenging for protein to take to their larval babies. (By season's end, the larvae have pupated, and the adults have only themselves to feed. They want sugar then, for their starving last feeds before dying.) As a reward - this is the maggots' genius - the grubs exude a sweet nectar that their nursemaids gobble up, happy to fly off and repeat the exchange.

Other workers rasp away at likely materials to build nursery chambers into which the queen deposits eggs. Some use mud, others mulch wood. This much more subtle noise can be annoying too, the tiny crunch-crunch of the deck rails being chiseled down in narrow strips. Twenty summers at the pace set this year, and my rails will be entirely converted into wasp paper.

Okay, so now we're talking genius. These little devils make paper out of woodfibre, and they've been doing it for at least 70-million years. Humans have been making paper for a couple of thousand, aren't we clever? Only in the last 150 years has paper as we know it, from sieved wood pulp, come into existence. The tip-off that fine sheets could be made from such a previously unmashable source came from Frenchman Rene de Réaumur in 1819, who reported that if wasps can do it, then why can't people?

He didn't try, but the word was out and spread. Nova Scotia's Charles Fenerty made the world's first wordfibre paper in 1838, but fellow Canadians, of course, put no faith or money into their quirky neighbour's invention, and his genius got swamped by Americans and Europeans who followed suit, took out patents, and started the modern papermaking revolution.

Reading this very paper is a gift tracing back to the paper wasps' particular brilliance, which is a connection I keep in mind while waving it to urge the little pests to take their genius elsewhere.

Now that we're such rapacious papermakers, clearcutting the world's forests to fill insatiable demand, I wish we'd pay more attention to the quality and scale of wasp papermaking, which the Earth has sustained since dinosaurs walked it. We can imitate better; we can harvest smarter. Nature, as ever, will show us how.



'How are you?' - listening with a warm heart
The Gulf Islands Driftwood

2004 June 02

"Hi, how are you?" asks the person being interviewed on the radio or TV. He or she has just been introduced, and this is the first thing said. "I'm fine," says the interviewer, who then asks the obligatory, "How are you?" The guest is, of course, fine - whew! Good to get the big, contextual stuff clarified and over with up top.

With a federal election on, and the buzz starting about B.C.'s provincial election next May, we'll be hearing a lot of this over the weeks and months to come. Politicians are especially prone to the hail-fellow-well-met approach, glad-handing their way through seas of "Hi, how are you? Hey, I'm fine."

This ritual greeting is superficial at best, and a setup for lies are worst. I've given an inordinate amount of thought to it, in all its applications and variations, because it's deeply telling about our society and how to operate in it. I've never gotten comfortable with the quick, thoughtless question and the fast, empty answer, though I understand the supposed politeness of them.

Imagine what it's like for newcomers from cultures that don't demand of strangers, with a hand jabbed out to shake, to know how you are - in a word, please. It must seem incredibly aggressive and invasive. Imagine them asking friends and loved ones the same, then rushing past the answer, not really wanting to know. It must seem incredibly superficial and callous.

A few years ago, I watched two middle-aged men approach each other on a sidewalk. One looked upbeat, the other subdued. The jolly one, obviously blind, bubbled the usual, "Hey pal, how are you?"

"Oh God, oh God," his old friend wailed, starting to cry. He dove into the shocked questioner's shoulder, shouting so half the block could hear, "My boy, my beautiful son has been killed! He died in a car accident last week. Oh God, I cannot live. I cannot go on!"

Hmm. I wish more people would be even a fraction as honest. The guy who initiated this little interchange couldn't have been more uncomfortable, as he did his best to be kind and get the hell away quick. I bet he hasn't asked that silly opening question again without looking and thinking a little first, steeling for a real answer.

Is there a better question? "What's happening?" "What's new?" "How's it going?" "How's life?" There are dozens of ways to ask, and they're all more or less equivalent. They're all fine too, as long as the person asking really wants to know and really listens to the answer. The usual gloss-over is alienating, another symptom of the big disconnect in our society, why too many people get desperate for drugs and other cures to feel that they're seen and matter.

The question that really matters and I wish we could ask is, "How's your heart?" When the heart's right, everything's right. When everything seems okay, but the heart's hurting, nothing's right. While there are important activities and pressing issues galore on this planet, when all's said and done, the quality and meaning of life come down to what the Dalai Lama calls "the warm heart."

We need to notice and mind each other's hearts, starting with the inevitable, unshakeable "Hi, how are you?" One of the great attractions of the Gulf Islands, as with most small communities, is that simple trips up the road or to town can take big chunks out of the day, because every "Hi, how are you?" is real, and real answers take time. Now, if we can just get politicians to mean it when they ask, then listen before making promises.



Red meat government subsidies betray free market
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2004 April 21

"Let the market decide" is the mantra of our times. I've used this vaunted cornerstone of corporate democracy to make a small, everyday statement about our beef and pork industries, which I think are sick. I haven't bought or eaten factory-farmed red meat since nine people died and thousands got ill from manure-laced water in Walkerton, Ontario.

Water problems resulting from red-meat production are two-fold: one, for every pound of cow and pig meat produced, 1,000 gallons of water are seriously dirtied, and two, we spread this waste around in ways, notes Dr. David Schindler, Canada's world-reknowned water systems scientist, that we'd never spread human excrement. Walkerton's water became lethal, he said, "from a legally manured field at the recommended rate."

This issue hasn't been addressed and corrected. Instead, the knee-jerk response was to fix the water system, at great expense to taxpayers, while the farming industry carries on its risky business. Yes, risky. Very risky. Let me count the ways.

Fouled water is just the start. Feeding cows to cows - animal protein to vegetarian animals - well after the BSE shakedown in Great Britain, has been a particularly idiotic and massive pushing of limits. Severe crowding of creatures turns their quarters into petri dishes for epidemics such as avian flu and salmon furunculosis. Genetically modified foods open Pandora's Box to unpredictable, irreversible new problems that will require ever more complex, Draconian, and expensive solutions.

The business of treatments to these and ever more screw-ups, complete with too many subsidies to track, becomes bigger than the business of primary production. What a deal for business. What a loss for farmers and for the food-requiring public, who have little say or sway.

Industrial food-raisers aren't stupid about the odds and outcomes of their nature-pushing practices, but listen to them cry the blues when the inevitable disaster happens. How long did they think their luck would last? Look at them go squealing for a government teat to suck on when they get caught. It's almost funny to see these big, red-neck, government-bashing cowboys running for the milk of taxpayer kindness when their greedy, unnatural ways finally fail.

The only real way to stop such dangerous practices is to not support them, individually and collectively. I've tried on the red-meat front, by not putting a personal nickel into this disaster-courting business for years.

Now, thanks to Prime Minister Paul Martin's desperation to be loved in the West, I and every Canadian have bought a billion dollars worth of Alberta beef. In one massive business welfare bailout, he's nixed my years of voting in the market the way I'm supposed to vote, with my feet and my money. How dare he buy beef on my behalf without consulting me.

This is an election issue. It's as big and serious as government-funded abortions, which is another example of everyone having to pay for something that not all support. No prime minister would dare make a billion-dollar unilateral decision about abortion rights, nor should any leader do so about food-choice rights. Democracy must rule in issues as vital as these.

Martin should withdraw his generous offer of our money to Alberta ranchers and put this issue on his campaign agenda. For his thickness about democracy in this regard, I won't vote for the guy. The Conservative party, given its cattle-country roots, will promise, of course, to throw the treasury at our red-meat industries. I expect the NDP and Greens to stick to the corporate principle of letting the market decide. Bring on the electoral debate, so I can vote as right wing as I can.



Environmental volunteers are getting wary and weary
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2004 April 07

Environmental volunteers are getting wary and weary. Three such people - real movers - have spoken independently to me of this recently.

I called Kathy Reimer last month to discuss an upcoming talk and walk she was giving about Salt Spring's salmon streams. For more than 20 years, she and her Salmon Ladies have tirelessly reclaimed messed up island waterways, leaving great natural richness and beauty in their wake. They've increased property values too, which they've secured with covenants as best they can.

Still, it's a fight - a constant fight to get owners on side, even though it's a win-win-win for the fish, habitat, and human community. Those who resist recognize that she's a force to be reckoned with, often assuming that someone so driven must be making a lucrative living from her passion. People who only understand the financial bottom line figure there's got to be money in it, why else would she bother?

Thus, Kathy said to me, with some exasperation, at the end of our conversation, "Nobody pays me! I'm not a consultant. I'm a volunteer." Further, she noted that if, for example, the $4-million wasted in a recently revealed government boondoggle went to Fish Renewal BC, it would cover 70 years - 70 years! - of their work.

Next, I talked with a cousin and his 23-year-old son in Jasper (hi to Salt Spring friends from Dana Ruddy). They're both keenly interested in the dwindling numbers of woodland caribou in the park, which is being studied by a newly formed group of stakeholders.

Love that word: stakeholders. What it really means is that some people at the table make a living at the game, while everyone else puts in the same hours and days for no pay, or sandwiches and coffee at best. The bureaucracy then wangles ways to forward its agenda, aided by its hired guns, with the volunteers left feeling like patsies. Dana can see the pattern; his dad has lived it. No wonder they're cautious.

Such sentiment is rising among volunteer environmentalists in the Coquitlam area, who've given countless hours to caring for the besieged Coquitlam River. They've sat on all sorts of committees; they've attended every special day and event possible to get their message and good work across.

The city's given some environmental awards in recognition too, but it keeps approving tax-providing developments, on the backs of volunteers' free maid service, to the benefit of those lined up to profit from the river's bounty and beauty. The Riverwalk housing project is a case in spades. It'll cover an important stretch of river floodplain, wiping out every protection and enhancement on that strip, with hefty upstream and downstream costs too.

"When," a prominent Port Coquitlam eco-volunteer asked me, "are they [fellow river-maids] going to say shove it and walk off?"

Soon, I hope, actually. Environmental inputs and actions are not an "externality", in economic terms. They cost, and they should be paid for. They get little respect and aren't sustainable otherwise. Young people aren't volunteering with the enthusiasm of their burning-out seniors, although many are passionate about caring for this planet. They need jobs from this most valuable work, and environmentalists have got to start seriously lobbying for this.

They're a dying breed otherwise. There's green and there's green - economics and ecologics. They're both worthwhile, and they're both worth money. Forget the cheap awards and cheaper pats on the back; government, industry, and individuals have got to start paying for monitoring, maintenance, and clean-up of environmental assets. It's all part of business - decent, honest business, no slave labour given or expected.



Prime Minister in waiting could use some environmental ed'
The Gulf Island's Driftwood
2003 November 19

Crown Prince Paul Martin has spoken for the environment in his big speech last week, and he said ... precisely nothing. Not a peep about the ecological realities that make his economics possible.

It's not that he's stupid about these things. More like ignore-ant. He's got plenty of company too. The world teems with people who think that the environment can slide up and down the scale of importance depending on how they feel about other things. Topple a couple of skyscrapers in New York, and for two years, the environment stops mattering.

So Ma Nature smacks us harder - heatwaves, fires, floods, anyone? - then we pay attention, but only until our health acts up, our children act out, or our favourite team acts smart or dumb.

How did we ever get to this ridiculous belief that considering and caring for the environment, whatever our interests and endeavours, is an option? The way we're educated is faulty, which is a particular concern of mine.

I studied ecology-ethology at UBC, with the hope that I might work to help solve some pressing environmental-behavioural problems. I quickly figured that direct environmental work was patchwork at best and charting the decline at worst. The real hope, without doubt, lie in educating our kids.

I did that for a decade, as a field trip leader, then as curriculum developer for the B.C. government. The program I spearheaded won first prize in a continental contest, beating out some US million-dollar publications.

Teachers weren't getting it though. Environmental ed' was just another subject, a good excuse for field trips - wasteful field trips too, using extra fossil fuels and disposable lunch stuff to see nature a long ride away, as if there were no nature in classrooms or schoolyards. Nothing's changed in 30 years.

The kids see through this totally, and they become fabulous little environmentalists in elementary school. By high school, they can talk the talk with the best, while most carry on as hypocritically as our society encourages them to be. Wish with all your heart for a clean world, give a token effort, and get all the goodies you can.

The rare teacher understands that our environs are everywhere and all hooked together, hence the environment laces through everything they teach. Moreover, they know that children don't need to be made environmentally aware. They are already, in spades. They need direction and encouragement to express their interests and concerns.

This gets us into the territory of protest, looping back to the question of my last column: how to protest while remaining reasonable and good humoured?

Coquitlam school district teacher Murray Peters writes that last year he got his gifted students to develop hoax websites "to poke fun at something that bugs them. We discussed the concept of 'satire' as a long-standing form of criticism in a humorous context." His students came up with great ideas and protests, all appropriate and good humoured.

This is inspiring stuff, nothing his students will leave behind or get hypocritical about as they move on. Now I'd like to see them create some satires about Paul Martin's School of Ecology. Lord knows, he needs environmental educating, and if anyone can help him, it's these and countless other kids (and maybe Arnie, California's new eco-guy). Send PM your stuff and hope he gets it - really gets it.



Culture of sharing would aid environmental causes
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2003 October 08

An activist friend recently asked why I don't write more environmental protest columns. The simple answer is that I'd lose the great privilege of this forum if I did. Too many readers would roll their eyes - oh gawd, there she goes again - and editors would quite rightly dump me.

But aren't I an environmentalist, going back to my mid-teens? - 37 years now. Don't I have a B.Sc. in ecology-ethology and an M.Sc. in environmental education? Don't I live my values as best I can within the tyranny of today's infrastructure? Shouldn't I speak up about local campaigns every chance I get?

There are many and talented voices doing this. I believe we need more people in another camp, coming at the problems systemically, from the ground up, rather than "on the nose".

As long as Greenies are fully engaged fighting through political, legal, and bureaucratic channels, they're in the Greedies' game. The big boys control it and manipulate the tools to make sure they win most of the time. Oh sure, neo-cons regularly throw sops to conservationists and cry the blues about it, but they still walk away with the lion's share. Eventually, they get 'smart', as Premier Campbell's doing, and change the rules so radically that there is no game. Then what?

Witness logging in B.C. Of all the trees felled in the last 140 years, half have gone in the last 20. Half! Environmentalists have won some battles, but overall, the forest environment has lost and big time, with worse to come.

The many and noble Wars in the Woods have made no difference in the big picture, because the real problems are rooted in everyday human behaviour, and that's where real change has to take place, if real change is, in fact, what those who shout for it want.

It's easy to talk the walk. It's easy for the Greenies to say "No more greed," then refuse, for example, to share a ride to town because it's not convenient or comfortable. It's okay to waste and pollute that way, because it's just a little thing for personal reasons, right? I've yielded to such social pressures, although I'm painfully aware of how it extrapolates up to exactly the world we have. It would be hypocritical of me to continually bemoan, and work stridently against, what I don't like other people doing to the world when I cost the Earth as it suits me.

I prefer to work from the flip side of stopping this and that sort of greed, which gets to the nuts and bolts of how to contain the self-serving activities that devastate our wild inheritance. It's called sharing, and it goes deeper than letting select people in on the property we've staked out and the goodies we've managed to amass. It's developing a culture of sharing, so it becomes socially unacceptable to be self-serving to the detriment of the community.

We have masters of such sharing among us. They were here long before most of us or our forebears arrived. "It's a little bit late," one of them said recently at a Beaver Point Hall lunch gathering, but it's about time we listened to them. They've been through hell for hanging onto their deeply refined generousity, and many have died for it. Those who've misunderstood and exploited this trait have called these people naïve and wondered when they'll ever learn. Now it's coming full circle - time for the major exploiters to learn from them, so all may live and thrive into our shared future.

Next column, I'll expand on this, with some vital words from Tswaout elders.



Technology will help us follow nature's curves
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News
2003 August 20

Hey, I'm outta here. After more than 150 very lucky weeks filling this space, I'm on to other things.

What would I like to say in farewell? Fishes. I've got wild fishes on my brain and, in particular, why Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area is one of the most important places in the world in terms of learning to live with them.

Until the last few decades, when people moved in bunches into an area, they diverted the streams to ditches and underground pipes, filled in creeks, paved them over, and except for some foundation and maintenance problems, forgot they existed.

Look at Vancouver, the big golden city at the mouth of the Fraser River: they've only got two-and-a-half once-wild streams of the dozens that originally held the area together in a rich web of water courses, and those poor trickles are being reclaimed. They still aren't half what they used to be. The Ridge-Meadows municipalities are big wild-stream utopias compared to little, underprivileged Vancouver.

Some things are happening to make it possible for us to live in neighbourhoods with wild fishes at our doorsteps. First, there's the will to do it, which is paramount. Second, there's a growing understanding that wild salmon, in particular, aren't just a resource, but a cultural icon and a spiritual necessity for all British Columbians. And third, technology has taken the most significant leap in land planning and use since the Romans shot their arrow-straight roads and aquaducts throughout Europe.

Until the US government stopped scrambling the Global Positioning System a couple of years ago (for military reasons, so nobody knew exactly where the global cop had armaments stored, aimed, or fired), surveying was back beyond the dark ages, for all sorts of practical reasons. Property lines are sacrosanct, contentious demarcations to most people, and the equipment we've had to divvy up the land worked best - solely, really - in straight lines.

That nature is sinuous and curving in her every expression, especially the route water takes down slopes to the sea, was secondary to humans' need to impose a cheap, crude, legally exacting grid on every useful bit of land. If surveying lines can only be shot from point to point in dead-straight lines, and if the law requires accuracy in property line ownership and control within millimetres, then so be it, and to hell with whatever snaking natural feature and critters gets in the way.

GPS will revolutionize how we divide up land and rework our communities. From satellites now, with wonderfully reliable accuracy, we can start planning and building with nature, allowing her curves to determine the ideal shape of developments. We have an excess of straight roads and property lines already, but we can build curved structures within, around, and over them.

We'll start with water courses, because they trace the contours of the land, showing us the best, most natural paths to follow for dividing land resources. Streamkeepers are leading the way, by adding side channels and pools to enhance a river's fish-spawning capacity. These developments look lovely and right. Property values around them go up.

When properties themselves are laid out following nature's design and wisdom, using GPS surveying, they'll capture the world's imagination and will be, hands down, the best, most beautiful places in the world for folks of all incomes to live.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area is at the cutting edge of this ultra-new, exciting way of redesigning neighbourhoods. The wild fish count in its streams will be the measure of its success. Every salmon coming home is a special joy and triumph - silver in the streams, wealth beyond measure in the heart, and money in the bank for land owners who steward, treasure, and develop using GPS and nature's designs.

Hey, lucky you. You've got it all now. Run with it!



Gov't should take care of our biz, not bedrooms
The Tri-City News
August 30

What a summer it's been for examining marriage in the eyes of government and society. Pierre Trudeau planted a good guidepost, I think, by saying that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.

The word "business" could well be taken fully and literally. Governments' only business in our households is to apply taxes and benefits fairly, regardless of sexual activitiy between consenting adults. The state need not define marriage, except to protect the underage and unwilling from any form of it. Describing and sanctioning wedlock can easily be left to other organizations and the individuals involved.

The courts can recognize and uphold marriage contracts the same way they do other type of contracts, without having to prescribe and register them. Gays and lesbians fighting to expand the status quo, keeping the state busy defining marriage, haven't considered another scenario that's bound to split their opinion as much as their demands have split broader society. No, this isn't the polygamy argument, which is spurious in terms of two-person unions.

A couple - deeply in love, living and bedding together, committed for the long term - want the law to recognize their proud, productive co-habiting, which will proceed with or without legal sanction. They're tired of hiding an essential fact about their relationship that makes some people squirm and make slurs. They're first cousins. Or half brother and sister. Or aunt and nephew. Or sperm-donor dad and daughter. Or ... well, the possibilities are many and growing in our complicated society.

Ugh, some gays will say. Same-family marriages should be illegal, because offspring are more prone to genetic defects. Who on the cutting edge of social change, however, would dare challenge the worth and rights of the genetically defective? And what if the couple are childless - do we say no, just because we're taught such unions are repugnant? In many societies, including royalty in Europe, incestuous marriages have long been a common, government-blessed practice.

The best way out of this quagmire is for government to recognize every sort of legally drafted and signed marriage agreement between consenting adults. This frees the state to give every employee and taxpayer the right to name one recipient of their choice, regardless of sexual connections, for tax and employment benefits. The beauty of this is that twosomes raising kids - eg. a grandma and single-mom daughter - can then claim the various incentives and benefits now restricted to married couples. Single workers can fully share with a designated other the employee supports they're forced to pay for.

It's simple. The state should stick to the business side of households and get out of bedrooms entirely.



Little more Indian time would do wonders for our souls
The Gulf Island's Driftwood
2003 July 02

"Summer time, and the livin' is easy ...."

What is summer 'time', literally - not just the season, but the way we perceive and use time in the summer? It's a hoped-for return to taking life as it comes, to viewing days as oceans of hours stretching before us that can be filled with activities that suit the place, the weather, and whatever's at hand, possible, essential, and satisfying.

The best summer holidays take us back to simpler times, when we can reprise a taste of life before the abstractions of modern times imposed endless deadlines and trumped-up appetites. Before the clock became our master.

Many holiday places and plans promise an easy, indulged time away from the grind, but they don't offer time away from the way we use time. No one's encouraged to throw their watches away, else they'd miss the next planned activity and provided nosh. No one goes on what I'd call "Indian time", a term I use with the greatest of respect.

I caught a glimpse of it when my children were pre-schoolers. We lived in family housing at UBC, surrounded by 400 households from around the world, including a few dozen First Nations families. While I was, with regret, structuring my kids' lives around the clock because that's the world they'd face (and around nature, spending every minute outside that we could), the aboriginal kids were simply outside, making up their day as it unfolded, depending on their imaginations and needs. Time was a very different element for them, and thus the grassy and wooded places we shared were also.

The game they played most often illustrates this perfectly. A native child would declare in the morning that he'd be, for example, a wolf all day. His little sister would be a sea urchin. They stayed in character as best they could, letting nothing break the spell. Naturally, watches and clocks, set mealtimes and bedtimes had no meaning. They very busily and inventively explored the neighbourhood. They accomplished all that a wolf or bear or eagle must in a day to thrive, and I'm sure their parents sharpened their skills further when they reported their adventures. Such games wouldn't help them fit into the rat race, but then, why do so many of us want to curse our children that way anyway?

I see a crying - and I do mean crying - need for every driven person in our society, which is nearly everyone, to give themselves the gift of a little Indian time. Native people who live it don't see well enough its great value. In fact, many seem to be fighting it, beating themselves up for not being able to get fully with the clock-obsessed program of mainstream society.

Forget it, I'd say. Not only stay on Indian time, but make a booming business of offering it at retreats and respites on their land. If summer holidays look good and vital to clock-crazy workers and bosses, then Indian time breaks would be the cream of get-aways. Living by the sun and the season for days and weeks at a stretch, imagining and realizing other ways of being, would be immensely restorative and therapeutic.

If a few key people, then more and more, had this option, with Indian time retreats becoming available for every pocketbook, the ripple effects could be amazing. Most people agree that something's got to ease up the press of modern life, at the core of which is how we use our time. Going on summer time is a good start. Living a little more on Indian time in every season would do wonders for ourselves, each other, and the Earth.



Four marriages make one marriage complicated
The Tri-City News
2003 June21

June is wedding month, such a bright and tender time. Ahead of each couple lie so many possibilities, so many unknowns, so much good will that all challenges be met with the fullest of hearts and the highest of principles and resolve.

What's not said to couples becoming a legally, spiritually, family, and community sanctioned unit, however, is that each marriage is really four marriages in one. It's a fairly unbeatable system, without great conscious effort, and even then, the forces of the status quo are powerful.

It's easy to fall into the patterns demanded by these four marriages and make the sacrifices they demand, which can be fine when done consciously and willingly along the way. When what's really happening remains fuzzy though, difficulties and resentments can accumulate. Problems are often taken personally, when the whole set-up - the failure to balance the marriages within the marriage - is the problem.

In the usual order of our society, men are married first to their work, because they're driven to it for personal reasons, as well as to be good providers. Their employer is essentially their first wife, and they expect to be treated as such. The wedded wife is the home-front backup, ever ready to run the whole show when his work calls.

Most women are married first to their husbands and children. When there's a choice between tending home or work urgencies, chances are she'll be there for family. If she can't be, she'll make a frantic patchwork of fill-in help, while he leaves her to it.

I know only one couple who successfully reversed their work and home commitments, so they both served her job first. In the 20+ years the husband, a bright, talented, handsome fellow, raised their two children, she made an impressive international career for herself.

When he took temporary or part-time work, he had the tough task of telling his employers that he couldn't come in when he was needed at home. The pressures at times were enormous to "Get a friggin' real job!" and "Be a real man."

I don't foresee many couples, ever, attempting to switch who the first and second spouses are within the four marriages that make up a household. Nor do I see many employers or work partners happy to be a second wife when there's the off-hours one fill the role.

The only thing that can be readily changed are couples' foreknowledge and expectations of the two people each is marrying: the devoted worker and the devoted spouse. The boss and the career are at the altar too, silently saying their vows within the new ménage à quatre.



It's taxing work, being a stay-at-home parent
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2003 April 30

Income tax filing season is just over. Each of us has a clear snapshot, down to the penny, of the financial fruits of our labours for the past year. It can be a sobering exercise, especially for households with children. The deductions and credits aren't anywhere near the real price of raising the next crop of citizens and taxpayers.

This is particularly galling when businesses can deduct 100 per cent of all sorts of questionable costs and acquisitions - discretionary equipment, exotic travel, sporty vehicles, entertainments, etc. - as investments that matter to the individual company and to our collective well-being, present and future.

Two-parent families who mind their own kids are hit significantly harder than double-income households who put their kids in daycare. They're denied deductions totalling thousands of dollars every year, adding up to tens of thousands over their childrearing decades.

Lorna Turnbull, in her 2001 book, Double Jeopardy: Motherwork and the Law, writes that, "One of the justifications made for the differential treatment of families where both parents are employed and of families where one parent is at home to care of the children is that it is appropriate that a single-earner family pay more in tax because that family has the benefit of the imputed income of the parent at home."

"Imputed income" - what a dynamite phrase. It means all those dollars saved because the household doesn't have to pay for childcare, cleaning, cooking, etc. They're even richer because the one doing this valuable work is assumed to schlep around close to home, nixing the need for nice clothes, meals out, and daily transportation.

As Turnbull says, "While it is certainly true that imputed income benefits the family as a whole, it is the individual woman herself who pays the cost of providing these benefits through her own lost income and economic stability." Not to mention self-esteem and pension benefits. It's a double whammy, or double jeopardy, because the at-home parent has given up a pay cheque, then the household is penalized further through a tax system that recognizes the benefits of this unpaid childcare, while denying the real costs to the person providing it.

Why does government give such stingy deductions to all parents, wherever they work, for childcare, and why is it particularly hard on two-parent, single-income households who raise their own kids?

The answers are many, but they're all polemics. Rather than get mired in endless arguments with those who support the current system, I think it's time for all families, and particularly millions of Canadian single-income, two-parent families, to say that the tax system is grossly unfair and must be changed.

I'd like to see every at-home childrearing parent keep track of her/his core hours tending the kids - the hours they'd have to pay others if they were out working - and tally them up at minimum wage. Present this as a bill against the family income, and declare it as paid wages. This would allow single-earner families the same childcare deductions accorded double-income households.

It's not legal, so such families would best send in this protest accounting along with their regular income tax reporting. Revenue Canada will likely throw out the extra pages, so copies should go to their MP and the Minister of Human Resources Development Canada too.

If households losing tens of thousands of dollars in childcare deductions over their parenting years don't get furious about being penalized for their beliefs about what's best for their kids, no one else will. It's well past time, I believe, for a nation of childrears, especially those doing the job at home, to show the government that they mean business.



Lovely ladies of spring signal hope in sea of pollen
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2003 April 09

"Daffodown Dilly has come to town in a yellow petticoat and a green gown."

I grew up saying this little spring ditty, its author too obscure to find using dozens of Internet search engine. As a child, the imagery of daffodils as girls in fancy dresses with big flouncy skirts captivated me entirely. I spun this fantasy further, seeing every flower as a costumed woman decked out for the great musical of spring, a wedding celebration that went on for weeks.

I wasn’t far wrong. I smile each year as I realize again that cherry trees, for example, really are a great froth with little up-ended ladies waiting for the right bit of pollen to land on them and start the next hoped-for generation. They’re perfumed, of course, to attract insects, which provide a special introduction service. Larger spring blooms – crocuses, primulas, daffodils, tulips, the whole passing parade - nod on their single stems, glorious variations on the same theme.

Around the core female parts is the stag line of stamens, either within the same flower or on separate male plants. They produce pollen grains by the kajillions, too many to count – alas, to allergy sufferers - each wafting on the wind with the hope of landing just right and getting lucky. These days, the air is full of the stuff, which I heard described on radio a couple of years ago as "a sea of male sex cells".

It’s all rather blatant, considering what flowers are up to. It’s all rather magical and tastefully done too, which people might keep in mind when their fancies turn to such things. Courting humans are similar to blossoms when it comes to seeking balance between basic urges, putting on one’s best, and the delicacies of the dance.

People are different, of course, because like all animals, we can move and make choices. An undesired suitor can be avoided or spurned. Flowers, on the other hand, are truly promiscuous, which means "without order or discrimination", from pro-, Latin for "before" or "for", and miscere "to mix." Alexander Pope (1688-1744) understood this when he wrote that the "scene of man [is] A mighty maze! but not without a plan! A wild, where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot, Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit."

Female flower parts must accept whatever compatible male genetic material lands on them. They might have some subtle chemical ways, which we haven’t decoded yet, of rebuffing a poor match, but they’re still sitting ducks to the drakes, so to speak, to a far greater degree than real ducks are.

Because plants have little choice regarding what chance puts together, a far greater range of genetic material gets thrown into the mix and makes up the next generation. They have vastly diverse genotypes, that is which translates into vastly diverse phenotypes – i.e. their offspring show much greater species variability than animals to. Botanists, in turn, must be good at taxonomy, because there are so many varieties to identify within each plant type.

Memorizing endless obscure names was never my strong suit, hence for this and a powerful love of choice in every way, I took a zoology degree and avoided botany entirely. I may thus have anthropomorphized myself out of a whole field of study, but I’ve kept a broad and poetic appreciation of plants’ reproductive strategies and successes, which I renew each spring. Especially this year, with destruction so fiercely in the news, I take heart from all the lovely "ladies" out there in their showy, scented skirts stirring in an airy sea of pollen, reminding us of what’s really happening, beautifully and hopefully, in this blessed season.



Love day hard to reconcile with current events
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2003 February 12

Hearts are everywhere this week, with Valentine's Day approaching. In truth, hearts are everywhere every week, and if there's any question that matters to people around the world, it's "How's your heart?"

If the answer is that the heart is fine, then all else is okay, or at least manageable. If the heart isn't fine, then even the best of circumstances can be difficult.

These thoughts come to mind because we're at an important juncture, with climate changing, business imperialism rising, and war looming. I find it hard to reconcile the beauties of early spring here and the promises of a day dedicated to love with so much that's going on elsewhere.

I see cherry and other blossoms chancing that the mild winter will last, and my heart percolates with their bravery and magic.

Then I wonder about our oddball weather, especially how dry it is. My mind flits to the prairies, entering a deeper drought than the early years of the dustbowl '30s. I think of China's growing Gobi Desert and the patchwork of tiny deserts springing up everywhere. Fine dust from huge storms reaches from there to here, with increasing frequency. Ah, my precious cherry blossoms, what about these things?

I wake up to countless tiny birds making a sweet racket in nearby trees. They're like the brown leaves of winter come to life again, cladding bare branches in singing swirls of hope.

Then I remember the annual New Year's songbird count, which was down here and many places (though up in the wealthy eastern U.S. neighbourhoods). Are these anomalies of counting, natural swings, or the beginning of quieter, if not silent springs? Ah, my little winged friends, what do you know?

I interact with the children of this special place - human flowers, so fragile and strong - and I marvel at their energy and ingenuity. I teach them karate, which means "empty or open hand" and, by extension, "open heart". They open my heart like none others, these most deserving and cherished of people.

Then I think of countless babies born on garbage heaps, with stinking, festering lives to endure - short ones, if that's a blessing. I think of the children of Afghanistan, where more than half of them have seen a love one killed. Their hearts must be brimming with revenge or broken entirely. I think of Iraqi children, innocent of the bloody, screaming war that's brewing for them. It will land in their living rooms in reality, while they will land in ours as electronic ghosts to haunt our peaceful, rich lives. Like Waco, Texas, apparently it's fair to torch everyone in a madman's house to get rid of him. Ah, my beautiful children, is this okay by you?

I look at the heart-shaped cards and chocolates and gewgaws, so much that it's overwhelming, a banquet of love, love, love, as if our hearts were overflowing. Our pocketbooks and charge cards are, at any rate, and that's a lucky thing.

Then I think of how generously our society feeds every need and whim for things and toys, and how shortchanged and starved so many hearts are, numbed with prescription and street drugs to shut up the pangs of hunger for meaningful connections to each other, community, and the Earth. It's big business to keep hearts yearning, to provide the next and the next fix to make them happy, almost. Ah, my dream of hearts fulfilled, whatever will it take?

We call ourselves Homo sapiens, a flattery that we're wise. We are, at best, Homo sentiens, humans aware - joyously, painfully aware. Never more than in spring, and especially this early, strange one.



'I see you' goes a long way towards responsibility
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News
2003 February 05

"Were you a kid in the Fifties or so?" reads a forwarded e-mail I recently received. "Everybody makes fun of our childhood! Comedians joke. Grandkids snicker. Twenty-something's shudder and say "Eeeew!" But was our childhood really all that bad?"

Following were a dozen or so remembrances of a simpler, idyllic world for which the unidentified author clearly pined. He lists stuff like cheap bread, safe streets, innocuous television shows, Grandma's snap peas, sheets dried outdoors, parents' word as law, moms at home - the whole "Father Knows Best" world.

For every nostalgic tear this rose-coloured backward glance was supposed to raise, I could think of some serious bad-old-days stuff that got swept under the rug and locked up in closets. All the sorts of abuse and denial from then have become the counselling (psychological and legal) industries of today, growth sectors set up to serve … yeah, the kids of the '50s, who have - and this is the real irony - cut every connection with their childhoods that they could as soon as they had the wherewithall to do so.

This litany of remembrances is supposedly about values, but it's really mostly about a world with far fewer choices and less stuff. Now we're up to the gills in stuff, possessed by every must-have possession sold as a necessity over the last gluttonous decades, the relatively clutter- and crud-free world of half a century ago looks good.

There's no turning the clock back. There's no wishing away all the stuff and complexities of this world we've avidly bought into. We have to face and deal with our excesses, finding space for things, maintaining and fixing them, passing them on, recycling them, sending mountains of crap to landfills … no wonder we're groaning.

One paragraph of the lament is directly about values, however, and it's as do-able as the day such '50s behaviour was abandoned. It reads, "And just when you were about to do something really bad ... Chances were you'd run into your dad's high school coach ... Or the nosy old lady from up the street ... Or your little sister's piano teacher ... Or somebody from church ... ALL of whom knew your parents' phone number ... And YOUR first name ... And even THAT was good!"

Now this is, I believe, something worth wishing for, a major component missing in our culture. It comes down to adults saying to the kids in their neighbourhood, "I see you." Kids of all sizes need to know that they're visible. They need to know that for every way in which they recognize their community, their community recognizes them back.

The more blind eyes and deaf ears are turned, the more children and teens act out to get a response, to feel real, to cry for belonging and meaning in their lives. Alternatively, most kids can be kept in line and happy, or at least kept from doing all sorts of stupid and destructive things, by simply saying to them, whenever they're encountered, and in whatever words fit the occasion, "I see you."

The horror of Breanna Voth's murder, her screams for help getting no response, is the ultimate outcome of a society that ignores its kids. She desperately needed to know - as do all sorts of other young people in less dire circumstances - that the adults of her community were there to say, "I see you" and, by extension, "I hear you."

There's no sense, at this late date, getting into knots of self-analysis and reproach. Such behaviour is part of the problem, I believe, so self-aware, self-serving, and blame-pointing are we. It's time to become more "other-aware", particularly with regard to young people. It's time to acknowledge the existence of every young person who catches our eye - and ear, if called for.

Now that's an old-fashioned value worth shedding a nostalgic tear for and re-instigating from this moment forward.



Shorter lease: save hatchery from 'back then' song
The Gulf Islands Driftwood
2003 January 29

In the last 1960s and early '70s, when I was studying life sciences at UBC, forestry professors and the logging industry used to say, "Oh yeah, we used to be really bad 20 years ago, but we've changed. It's a real science now. We run clean, sensitive, modern operations. Those damned activists can get off our case. Trust us."

However much they hated their critics, on a continuum from cold annoyance to Rumplestiltskin in full fury, they admitted that they wouldn't have cleaned up their acts if they hadn't been pushed to it.

Move forward to the late '80s, and what a surprise to hear them say, Oh yeah, we were bad 20 years ago, but not now. We've really changed."

Excuse me? Are you twice as good now as you were 40 years ago, or were you half as bad when you first sand the "20 years ago" song? And if you deserved full trust when you got all scientific and sensitive, are you double trustworthy now that you're truly enlightened?

Reel forward again to today, and they're still selling the "bad 20 years ago, wonderful now" line, tagged with the "trusssst in me, jusssst in me" seduction. They're still admitting, too, that they wouldn't have progressed if they weren't goaded by environmentalist foes. Other resource-based industries use the same tactic, crapping on their own past operations to promote their most wonderful present.

So what's my response when I heard last week that a sablefish hatchery is being built on Salt Spring and is seeking a 20-year lease on Walker's Hook?

Of course, they have not track record now, but I'm certain that when the lease is up in 2023, they'll build their case for renewal by pointing out the serious flaws and misjudgments, with costly consequences, they made back then.

"Back then" is now, and sure enough, the hatchery's proponent, Gidon Minkoff, filled his allotted time at the local Trust committee meeting on January 25 with assurances that it'll be a clean, sensitive, modern operation. He went into considerable scientific and technical detail to sell his conviction that it will be a perfectly sustainable and aesthetically pleasing set up, at least as far as the eye and see and local waters run.

Just don't look beyond Walker's Hook, where he admitted that, "We don't actually decide" where their product end up - or how it impacts, obviously.

People with memories going back 20 years, and 20 years again, are getting awfully tired of this endless, same-old way of selling industries that will freely admit how bad they were in another 20 years. The problem with Salt Spring's Sablefin Hatchery may not be within the operation itself, but for sure there will be some big "uh-ohs" regarding life and livelihoods up and down the coast.

Alas, about the best to be hoped for under the current provincial regime is to keep the hatchery on a series of three-year leases, not the 20-year one they're applying for. Better to keep tabs every few years, I'd say, than to suffer another 20-20 hindsight confession to all they did wrong in the crude old days, before they were pushed to smarten up in their small corner of an extremely complex, globally connected system.



Putting fire into art better is than art into fire
The Tri-City News
2002 December 14

Every year as the winter solstice approaches, I imagine a bonfire sending bright tongues of flame up into the longest night of the year, fed by artists tossing in their drawings and paintings that are beyond redemption. Every artist has them, those grand inspirations that stay shimmering in the mind, but come stiff and stubborn from the hand. No amount of reworking can salvage them, yet their promise is strong enough to keep them lurking in corners, closets, drawers, and under beds.

Artists of every sort are obsessed with redemption, always looking for ways to catch their mistakes before they're disasters. Professionals haven't gotten past botch-ups, they're just smarter about turning messes into glorious surprises. They remain explorers, launching into the next and the next piece full of big ideas and the courage to fail. They keep pushing themselves to personal limits, while pushing their media to its extremes. Unpredictability is part of the draw.

Of course they've all got failures, that's how they progress. Still, it's a rare artist who knows what to do with them, so halt and lame pieces hang around to clutter and haunt. Redemption may seem impossible, but then, so does destroying the work.

That's where the gathering I imagine around the bonfire comes in, because a group of artists faced with seeing perfectly good materials - however unacceptable the images on them - turn to ashes would immediately start working out ways to give them new life.

Redemption. They'd gesso over the worst to start again. They'd tear up and remake. They'd swap and collaborate. They'd come up with creative solutions I can't begin to guess.

By the time they got down to the last pieces that absolutely had to hit the flames, there would probably be very little left. But a great roaring fire to celebrate the collective redemption would still be in order, so each artist could arrive with an armload of wood as admission to the event. (If a solstice burning it seems wasteful when there'll be dead Christmas trees galore to torch in January, the ritual burning could be held then.)

What's needed to make it happen? Not much, beyond a place for the fire and a nearby building to work out what and how to redeem as much as possible. It simply has to be irresistible, too much fun and too worthwhile to miss. No one artist can push it through, because artists, like cats, won't be herded, but if the chemistry's right within a loose collection of like-minded people, they'll work it out and make the party. I'm game. I've got contributions, oh yes.



Polite and polished politicians police the polis
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News
2002 November 23

Polite, politics, police, polished, policy - all these words trace their roots back to the Greek word polis. Our renewed city councils and school boards would do well to consider what a polis is, how the various English terms spun from it, and how we might do better at running our own polises and metro-polises. (Yes, that's where the word "metropolis" comes from, the "mother-city" of a collection of polises.)

I learned what a polis is when I lived and worked in Greece more than 20 years ago. Dictionaries define it as a city-state, but that's far too cut and dried. "Neighbourhood" and "village" don't have the full feel or it either. Each polis I entered in Thessaloniki, Athens, and surrounding areas was an organic entity, an extended family that grew from the land and the history that the locals had built on and shared.

A polis is a warm jumble of many things that add up to a happening, crazy, fun, self-regulating civil society. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is all about one woman's polis in Chicago. The poverty of her future husband's apparent lack of a home polis runs a painful thread through the film.

I was adopted into several polises in Greece, most notably a fabulous Jewish one that introduced me to others. A wonderful, amazing feature of each was the neighbourhood broadsheet, a typed and photocopied page or two of the weekly/biweekly news. They were like informal high school or sports club newsletters, announcing what's going on and cryptically telling the hot gossip. Everyone in the know knew who'd done what silly, juicy, praiseworthy, amazing thing, seldom with names named.

Who wrote them? I'm not clear, but old women, in particular, kept their eyes out for everything worth reporting. They were seen as nosy gossips, yes, but they were also wise elders who knew what to ignore, what to laugh at, and what to sharpen their tongues on. Old men and women alike are vital in polises, as they should be everywhere.

One of the advantages for me of polises and their internal communications was that I, as a single woman travelling alone, was quite safe. If, for example, a Greek man attacked me, I was assured that his polis would be onto him in a flash, and if he tried to escape anywhere, the next and the next polis would deal with him. Polis news spreads at lightning speed around the globe - a worldwide web. He would have no place to run and hide as long as he was recognized anywhere as a Greek.

Behaviour in polises is, for the most part, regulated simply by people knowing that they're known and being watched. I find, for example, that angry, destructive teenagers often stop their foolish behaviour the second that I, or other adults in the community, have the courage to say, "I see you." Hot threats and cold punishments are a far cry - and I do mean shouts and tears - from simply being there and caring enough to say so.

In a polis, people are well behaved, in general, because they know there'll be talk if and when they do something outside usual or acceptable bounds. They're polite, that is, in the fashion of their polis. They're polished. Policy is written in their code of family and community behaviour. Politics are a natural extension of this. They don't need much policing.

Does such a system give them room to be as individual as American-championed me-me-me society demands? Again, think of the "Big Greek Wedding" - more characters per foot of film than most 10 Hollywood movies put together.

Municipal politicians are charged with the job of minding their polis. In many places, they'd be hard pressed to find one. That's their first job then: lay the groundwork for a functioning polis. Much of what's missing or missing the mark will come clear and straighten out when a happening, crazy, fun, self-regulating polis is up and running.



Department of Fisheries apparently doesn't do fish
The Tri-City News
2002 October 30

Last week, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sanctioned a two-day opening for about a dozen gillnetters to chum salmon milling in Satellite Channel. These stressed, predator-harassed fish are waiting for rain to swell their spawning streams. Six southern Vancouver Island native groups protested it, because too many salmon could be taken to guarantee that enough will survive the drought to reproduce in sustainable numbers. This means preserving genetic diversity as well as body count.

Fisheries and Oceans may know all about fisheries and oceans, but they know obviously precious little about fish. How many to take, how many to leave, when and where, has long been a problem for them, and they're not much smarter now than they ever were.

This ignorance about basic population requirements came home to me at a meeting in August between the Kwikwitlem First Nation and DFO personnel. The Kwiwetlem council was reading them the riot act about the mess their namesake river, the Coquitlam, is in, because DFO hasn't done its legal duty protecting the fishes.

A rare race of sockeye, which breed in the spring, were deliberately wiped out in the early 1900s when the Coquitlam Dam went in. Pinks - hardy little guys - vanished by the 1970s because of gravel mining. Burgeoning development sends sporadic bursts of deadly stuff down the waterway. Salmon can't take streambed disruptions and choking waters.

As the Kwikwetlem leaders talked about the fish, the fish, the fish, the DFO people sat uncomfortably, eyes unfocussed, tongues almost tied. Silty gills, muddy gravel, messed channels, toxic spills - nothing got more than a non-committal nod from the DFO team.

Then, the Kwiwetlem mentioned their difficulty getting their boat in and out of the river, even at high tide. Ah, the DFO woke up and got into gear - literally, into gear. They understand boats, docks, nets, stuff like that. They could fix the access problem, let's talk about it.

Ding! I got it. They're "fisheries", they do the hardware, the housekeeping, and the regulating of it. They don't do fish, because even when we're down to the last fish dumped in the ocean from someone's aquarium, there'll still be a fishery, right? They can chase that fish, manage it and make rules, wring their hands over all the inherent difficulties.

The Indians on Vancouver Island are, like their mainland cousins, worried about the fish, and they think that DFO should know enough about them to tell how many, waiting in the ocean for rains to fill up their spawning grounds, are required to maintain the stock. It's still a crapshoot.

Until we have a Department of Fishes and Oceans, it will continue to be. Commercial, sport, and natives fishers alike should quit fighting each other and get insisting together on this new focus. The fishes will win then, and so will we all.



Ah June - small kids in bud, big kids in bloom
The Tri-City News
2001 June 09

The late spring crop of new babies is in full bloom now, and what a joy to see - moms and dads with wobbly headed little ones in arms, snugglies, and bucket seats. I catch my breath, knowing how profoundly parents pray - in whatever form and name this takes - that their precious flowers grow and glow through every stage to full fruition.

This year's newborns will graduate from high school in 2018, which seems impossibly far off. There's such a gauntlet to run to get there.

The late spring crop of high school graduates is in full bloom too - and what an equal joy. They haven't a clue how tender and beautiful they are, from the inside out, from a long string of yesterdays to today. Most feel so ready for the world, just let 'em at it. It's their turn.

Now that they're officially leaving childhood behind, it's their turn, too, to make sure that the children in their world have as complete, happy, and unspoiled a childhood as possible. Children who've had this make the best parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. because they're fulfilled to generous overflowing.

Those who feel shortchanged by childhood have a tougher time of it. I've long said that many people's biographies could be called "Compensations", as they try to make up for what hit and missed them in their youngest years. To reach maturity, each of us has to overcome shortcomings and those visited on us. To fully grow up, we have to help others do this too.

The class of 2001 may not see themselves in the newborns of this year, but that's exactly where they were 17 or 18 years ago. Now, every one of them will serve as role models to these little ones, who will see directly what they do and know them by the world they create. Most will become parents, and the leap from babe-in-arms to grade 12 graduation is usually longer than the leap from graduation to having one's own babe-in-arms.

Year after year, I'm a sucker for this special season. Every small human bud and blossom, and every big kid gowned and suited for the prom, is so precious and full of potential. Our fledgling adults have received so much, have been through so much, and have, at last, so much to give back and pass on to those who follow.



There's joy & much to learn on dark continent
The Tri-City News
2 000 July 23

Africa: what images come to mind? Our media give us an endless parade of AIDS, hunger, coups, and corruption. It's hard to picture what life is like at ground level, how the majority of people spend their days from sunrise through the day's meals to bedtime. It must be constant chaos on the edge of living hell, right?

I catch a glimmer of the real Africa through the eyes of a friend, Bonnie Dalziel, who lives there and visits here once a year. She grew up in the Yukon, raised by a bush pilot dad, gourmet cook mom, and loving friends in two Indian tribes. She's spent the last 17 of her 50-some years living in and travelling from Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. I asked her what she gets from Africa that she can't get here.

"Joy," she said instantly. Africans know how to connect and have fun. For example, when she goes alone to any restaurant, she's always got company happy to see her. New arrivals are expected to introduce themselves to everyone already seated, and when this round of smiles and greetings are done, the next newcomers exchange names and grins at her table. It's unthinkable in Africa, if you eat with others, that you'll pretend they're not there and unimportant. Friendship and community are as much sustenance as food.

"I can make a difference in Africa," she says. In overdeveloped western nations, it takes ever-more effort to effect the slightest change. In Tanzania, Bonnie connects farmers on tiny acreages planted with organic coffee (they can't afford chemicals) to buyers who pay them a premium for this 'primitive' product, allowing families to feed their kids and stay on the land. She teaches African needleworkers to sew practical and artistic items that increase their income many-fold. She can build bridges to western markets for all sorts of African commodities, all found at a village and heart-to-heart level.

Africans, of course, see our excesses through the media and aspire to be like us. She tries to dissuade them by explaining the essential trait they must cultivate to do this: "Narcissism." They don't get it; they don't understand the concept. And in that, she hopes, lies the greatest chance that they'll maintain their capacity to create and share joy, which is never found in mirrors, but by saying, "I see you," and reflecting off each other.



Local names recall big mistakes of history
The Tri-City News
1999 July 18

When I hear a place name, I often ask, "So who was Mr. So-and-so?" Find out, and you’ll get a story every time. Find out the meaning of several names, and you’ll start seeing how our world hooks together.

We’ve got a lovely trilogy of local names that remind us of some of the greater accomplishments and miscalculations of western history. These places are our playgrounds, too, especially in summer, so this is the season to visit them and consider what their names mean.

So who was Mr. Pitt anyway, for whom Pitt Lake, River, and Meadows are named? William Pitt the Younger, of course, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783, at the age of 24. The American colonies were just lost, in fact as well as on paper, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. His father, William Pitt the Elder, had been PM too. He was the beloved "Great Commoner" who helped lose New England, accepted the title of Lord Chatham (some commoner), and died of syphilis. Young Pitt was greeted as "not just a chip off the old block, but the old block himself," in the words of Edmund Burke.

Years after Pitt Jr. died, heartbroken over Napolean’s victories, a fan of his gave us Pitt’s River. James McMillan, founder of Fort Langley, penned it in his journal of 1827 and it stuck.

So who was Mr. Burke anyway, for whom Burke Mountain is named? Edmund Burke was a gift-of-the-gab Irishman who surfaced in the Great Commoner’s era. He served as MP in London for decades, and when he rose to speak, the world listened. We still quote him with such gems as "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."

Burke’s fan here was Captain Richards of the HMS Plumper [<italics], who named Burke Mountain while surveying Burrard Inlet in 1860.

Richards also gave us Addington Slough next to Pitt Lake. Henry Addington served in Pitt the Younger’s government until they parted ways over how to treat Catholics. Mr. Addington became Prime Minister for 3 harsh years, inciting Catholic fury, hanging Luddites, and selling Louisiana to the US for a song.

We haven’t quite got over yet the great and goofy things these three men did. Reminders of the long ago and far away are as close as a Pitt paddle, Addington stroll, or Burke climb.



Trucking companies should pay more for roads
The Tri-City News
1999 January 17

Why are roads so expensive, and why do they wear out so quickly? If we knew the answers, we might devise a better way of paying for them than dinging the little-guy taxpayer again and again, or by putting people at risk if we don't look after our road networks.

Most of us have vehicles, so most should pay. That's fair. Not all vehicles are created equal, however. Big, heavy vehicles need heavy duty roads. They pay more for licences, insurance, and total taxes as the gas pump--many times more than small-vehicle owners. I'll bet that most of us think they pay their fair share or, if they don't, that the subsidy the rest of us provide is minimal.

Highways engineers have tables by which they work out the Equivalent Single Axle Loads per Lane per Year, or ESALs. For different standards of roadbeds and paving specifications, these tables show the wear caused by different weights of vehicles, measured by axle loads.

Cars, vans, and small trucks do essentially zero damage per year. The mess created by increasingly larger tractor-trailers quickly goes from orders of magnitude (i.e. factors of 10) to thousands of times. A fully loaded 18-wheeler can do 30, 40, 50 thousand times the damage. Yes, that's correct: tens of thousands of times the wear-and-tear.

The question is, who should pay for this? If average-Joe/Joan citizen pays the lion's share, that's a heckuva subsidy and a nice bit of socialism for the big companies who benefit, whether we patronize them or not. If we make big rig owner/operators pay, they'll jack up the price of their goods and services, and pass it on to the consumer.

Your answer will depend on what kind of capitalist you are. Free market supporters talk the talk about user-pay systems, but howl when they're applied to them. They've been at the public teat for a long time. Weaning will be a noisy process, but I advocate we give it a try, starting with road building/maintenance fees and taxes that reflect truer cost-benefits for each sort of user.



Power of one can make a difference
The Tri-City News
1998 February 08

I have a small, but dear wish for 1998: unbleached toilet paper. While millions apparently fantasize about using fluffy white kittens, bunnies, and yards of tiny pillows, I dream the truly impossible--plain brown tissue.

Scott paper, I know, made a limp attempt at marketing such dioxin-free rolls, but gave up quickly due to lack of demand. They know all about market demand: how to create it and NOT create it, as it suits them.

The truth is--and they know it--we'd rather have underwater deserts like Howe Sound and toxic blobs like the one lurking in the Fraser River at New Westminster than get educated, pay a little more for start-up costs, and use the right thing for dirty jobs. Corporate producers are there to serve. Leadership is for others.

We put other questionable things down our drains. Local storm sewer covers have fish images painted on them, to remind us that someone's home is down there. When we're cleaning up our own homes, however, the needs of the moment often override other considerations. And each of us in just one person, right? How can our tiny bit of trashing make a difference?

Our toilet and sink drains have nothing painted on them to remind us of who lives downstream. What goes down our collective household drains, one shudders to think. Annacis Island water treatment plant workers can probably tell stories, and daily, that outrank the grossest, gruesomest movies.

What to do? The place to start, in my book, is to believe in the power of one. Each of us does make a difference. Another requisite is to make our wishes known. Change and new products don't happen overnight, but eventually, individual wishes coalesce into community wishes, then bingo! We get what we want.

One of my recent, small enviro-wishes was to find less polluting, still-powerful cleaning products. I've got some now, developed and made in Canada. They're not available on market shelves, where competition and related costs keep the little guys out. Call Rebecca at 461-9831, if you're interested. She's a young local woman, still learning the ropes of selling and, as many her age are doing, trying to patch together a living. It ain't easy.

What of my wish for 1998, for unbleached toilet paper? I've heard that a Vancouver store sells it. That's a start, but my real wish is for some local stuff. Any ideas, anyone?



How can we make kids curious again?
The Tri-City News
1997 August 31

School's still out, and one sure way to tell is to count broken windows. They appear every night, more every weekend. Trashing schools is an increasingly popular summer activity, perhaps spearheaded by big kids looking for future work as window manufacturers and glaziers.

They haven't figured out that the window makers and fixers won't be impressed by police records of their helpful undertakings. Alas, these destructive children aren't our brightest lights, although they are, bless them, ours nonetheless. What to do?

I have an idea that they need to know more about the stuff of their lives. Take glass, for example. How many kids really know what glass is? Where local glass comes from? What piece of the earth goes into making it, and what energies are spent to create, frame, transport, and install it? Where it goes when the shards are picked up and trucked off? That it's magical in ways, and almost eternal?

Too many things, to too many kids, remain a mystery, and somehow we've engendered no curiousity in them about how their world works. Minds and hearts occupied with such musings and searchings, understandings and carings aren't usually given to destruction. Those empty of basic wonderment and knowledge come up with other things to consider and do. And undo.

Appreciation is lacking. Why is that? It has something to do with education, something to do with schools, which then bear the brunt of what they, in part, are failing to do. Some kids hate the places and are striking back. They haven't a clue what's missing, and they're mad as hell.

One way of punishing the offenders--assuming they're caught--is to berate them for their anger and its inappropriate expression. Another way is to levy replacement costs. Another is to ostracize them, maybe even suspend them from school--hah! See how smart we are?! That'll teach them.

I'd really like to see them get educated about glass and windows. Why don't we give them the full course, complete with local field trips? Why do we fuss about getting every kid to the Vancouver Aquarium, Science World, Granville Island, the Symphony, etc.? Glass is thrilling too. The kids who smash it are dimly aware of this; they just don't know anything smart to think or do about it.

It's time someone told them. It's time we gave them some meaningful, satisfying knowledge about the makings of their world.



A bit of garbage has exotic origins in natural world
The Tri-City News
1998 July 05

I hold a tiny thing in my hand, and in it is a world. It's just garbage, a piece of something someone bought, toyed with, then chucked without a second thought. I'm in a parking lot waiting for a ride; I kick it up from the dirt at my feet.

It's a pop or beer can tab. The drink was irresistable, went down bubbly and cool. Ahh. The tab was fiddled off, probably while sharing small talk with friends. Plink. It hit the ground silently, another bit of crap in the nest of modern life. Innocuous, costly crap.

I pick it up. I clean it. Hello, I say; I bet you're from Jamaica. Instantly, I'm there, at Discovery Bay, where Christopher Columbus and his boys pulled in on May 4th, 1494. The sea is shimmering shades of green, teal, and blue, skirted by bright flowering bushes and fruit-laden trees. Behind are jungle-covered, craggy clifts, dramatic in the high, hot sun.

More than 500 years of history, I say excitedly to my geologist husband. Isn't that amazing? He shrugs and says, look at the hills behind you: more than a million years there.

Jamaicans are carving up their time-worn cliffs and carting them away. The island is so rich in bauxite, they'll undermine the place to keep the wheels of commerce turning. The bauxite ore goes to Kitimat, where Alcan extracts the aluminum.

This little tab has probably been there too. My mind turns to our cool northern wilderness, where eagles soar over giant forests and whitewater rivers, home to the magic of our salmon. What an amazing thing I hold in my hand, a world traveller and a technological wonder. Garbage now. Spent and, to most people's eyes, worthless.

I take it home, where I drop it into a container of many hundreds more salvaged tabs. These little fellas are a higher grade of aluminum than the cans they come from, so if they're recycled separately, they fetch a higher price and can be remade into higher-grade products.

It's a small effort I make, for a small part of our world. Why? Because it's all tied together. That can of fizz, which satisfied for a few minutes, comes to us from wonderful, rich, ancient places, then too often becomes garbage forever. Is this any way to treat a planet? A pop can tab? I can't really see the difference.



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