Saturday, December 7, 2013

My First Assignment.

Gazeta Lubuska newsroom, Pawel Janczaruk. (Wiki.)

by Ian Cooper

My first assignment as sports editor of a community newspaper, a weekly, was to cover a high school wrestling tournament.

It was first thing Monday morning and it was already happening. Mark slapped me on the arm and pointed at the door!

I drove twenty miles to the village of Langton, Ontario, parked in front of the high school, and went looking for the gym. I had a pen, and my trusty steno pad in my pocket and a 35-mm camera hanging around my neck. I had spare film and all the accessories. I was a little nervous.

The editor, Mark, had given me the name of the coach, and the tournament would be going on all day. A couple of students in the hall pointed me in the right direction and I was in like Flynn.

I shot three rolls of 36 frames. I filled my steno pad with the names of the two guys wrestling in each shot, the name of the ref, the name of their schools, their coaches’ names…I watched for quite a while. I didn’t really know exactly how much effort that first story justified. But I had it all. It took an hour and a half.

The story wasn’t all that big. There were other sports going on; on a weekly basis, and the sports section varied in size based on ad sales. I was lucky to get anywhere from two to four pages a week. It took a while to learn just how the job should be done, or even how hard to work at it. And after a while, two or three months, I started to get a few compliments, the odd pat on the back.

One of my stories was nominated for the Ontario something something community journalism awards, although I didn’t win. I think Mark, the editor, was just applying a kind of very good psychology.

Everything was manual back then: typewriters, type-setting, proof-reading, and you sure didn’t want to cross old Ethel, our proof lady. She was pretty formidable. She knew her stuff, too. She was not shy about telling you when you screwed up.

The paper’s pages were laid out on blank, blue-ruled sheets and on Wednesday the ad guys would bring in the paste-up ads and stick them on there. That’s when we knew how much room for news we had. The paper was maybe thirty percent ads and the rest was allotted to various forms of news and community coverage. So many ads equals so many pages. I’m getting off track here.

But, it was my first day on the job and obviously, I didn’t want to screw it up.

One of the wrestling shots made front page, including a quick little blurb, and there was another good picture in the sports section, with a full write-up and the results. The front page shot was Mark’s decision. He liked my pictures.

(I almost cried when I wrote that, ladies and gentlemen.)

That was my first ‘pro’ story. The job paid $190.00 a week. Some of us self-published authors can only dream of that kind of money these days!

Later of course, it became a lot easier. I knew I could rely on the Pentax K-1000, a very simple camera. I knew how to bracket the shots, when and how to use the flash, taking lots of good notes and essentially how to tell a nice little story.

As sports editor, my beat included any kind of sport, plus the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the archery clubs, of which there were several in town, darts, auto racing, the swim teams, and people engaged in the martial arts. I photographed mayors and council members, Members of Parliament and the Ontario Legislature, and one or two cabinet ministers, as I recall. 

But then, I photographed everybody. If you’re there long enough, in a small town, sooner or later you will photograph, or write about everybody…and I do mean everybody, ladies and gentlemen.

I also covered town and township councils, the Long Point Region Conservation authority, and, I soon learned how to do spot news. That’s when someone phones in a tip, sometimes in the middle of the night, and you go zooming off to get a picture of a house fire or an auto accident, whatever it is that’s going on.

After a month or two I began to learn how to lay out my pages. After a while people didn’t call the front desk. They knew my name from the paper, some of them had my number and they could just call me. They became my sources, and I became their buddy at the paper.

But the greatest benefit that job gave me was from the face-to-face interviews. I had to go and talk to people. I had to learn about farming, and town council, and local industry. I had to learn about all the local personalities. I had to go a little outside of my comfort zone. I was a very shy young man. I had to ask a lot of questions, and yeah; sometimes I had to call back later with more dumb questions when I missed something.

I had to learn how to talk to all sorts of people, and listen to their stories, and then write them up and put them in the paper.

There were other benefits, not least was the pursuit of my dream.

But more than anything, that job got me out of my own little home town.

A home town where the thing to do was to keep putting your name in to the plants. Where the best careers were in the petro-chemical industry. It’s unionized. It’s not that they don’t train you, but it’s not the same as a career, which to some extent can be at your own direction. It’s not exactly defined as a calling, a vocation. It’s just a good job, no matter how highly-paid, and for most people, it seems to work. For some reason it just wasn’t for me.

That’s because I had that dream. I had the dream, ladies and gentlemen. I also acted upon that dream.

I gave up a lot to pursue that dream, including the big bucks in the petro-chemical industry. I was making pretty good money as a carpenter when I decided to go back to school. I was making a living at it. Over time I would have become very good at it, and I liked the work and everything.

But of course there was that dream…

I went back to college as a ‘mature student’ after dropping out of high school and working at many different and all equally-crappy minimum-wage jobs. I studied Radio, Television and Journalism Arts. I wanted someone to teach me how to write, ladies and gentlemen.

Some of the courses were writing for the news, writing ads, writing for radio commercials. We studied photography, radio and sound board operations, we ran TV cameras, and we studied political science and graphic arts. We studied marketing and we studied a few other things as well.

That was more than thirty years ago.

I have no regrets. None.

In fact, I would highly recommend a similar course of action to young people today, no matter what your dream might be.

Otherwise, you will never know, will you?

I just had to know. And now I do know.

If I had the chance to do it again, I might make better decisions along the way, but yes—I would do it all again.

Maybe the next time around I would do it a little better, (or start ten years sooner) but you really don’t get too many second chances at life and I guess we’ll never know how that might have gone, eh?


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Economic Justice off the Radar.

Matthew Samuel Spurrell. (Wiki.)

by Ian Cooper

One reason there are so many poor children in this country is because low-paid parents have to spend so much of their income on rent and utilities. There is little left for food, clothing and other necessities. Public, geared-to-income housing is non-existent or there are such long waiting lists that people don’t even bother applying.

A third of all Canadians earn less than poverty-level wages. Millions aren’t covered by employment standards, and do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

If wages had kept pace with rising productivity, wages would have been an average of $200.00 a week higher in 2005 and a total of $10,000.00 higher on a yearly basis.
See this document from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to see the full impact of these programs, for surely all of this is a result of policy.

In 2006, wages increased marginally to 50.6 percent of GDP. This was down from 55.4 per cent in 1992. Yet corporate profits over the same period increased from 4.7 percent of GDP in 1992 up to 13.9 percent of GDP, the highest in history.

The Vanier Institute reports that since 1990, average after-inflation wage increases for the typical Canadian family rose a whopping ten cents. Statistics Canada defines low wages as those paying less than ten dollars an hour. About 1.3 million Canadians held full-time low-wage jobs; women are twice as likely as men to hold these jobs. Many are single moms, surely one of the most maligned groups in history! But just listen to the rhetoric and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not talking on the floor of Parliament either—this nonsense has trickled down to the kitchen table and doughnut shop level of minldess, people-bashing rhetoric.

University of British Columbia economist Robert Evans notes that between 1976 and 1990, the per-capita average income of Canadians was stagnant, but the top 0.01 percent of Canadians saw their incomes nearly double.

The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s CEO’s saw their pay increase 39 percent in just one year, 2005; while the average Canadian worker got about $38,000 a year, minimum wage workers subsist on less than $16,000, which is below the poverty line.

Multinational corporations have the ability to shift investments around the world. This pressures governments to reverse reforms associated with the social safety net. Trade is international, but unions are nationally based. Business has less need to compromise with government and labour, the power of workers to negotiate fair wages and benefits is eroded.

The issue of economic justice and income distribution is totally off the radar screen, leaving huge numbers living in poverty. The minimum wage has been allowed to fall in after-inflation terms, despite the fact that it plays a key role in social justice and anti-poverty issues. Trust me, Canadian journalists are good enough to know all about this. Why isn't it a bigger issue?

Almost 1.2 million Ontario workers have to live on wages of less than ten dollars per hour. The only countries with lower minimum wages than Canada are Poland, the U.S., the Czech Republic, Japan, and South Korea. There are no provinces in this country where minimum wages even come close to the poverty line.

Among the developed nations, Canada has the second highest percentage of low-paid workers, exceeded only by the U.S.; our minimum wage is lowest of all the OECD countries.

Some reasons for this are the ignorance of the media; who sweep the issue under the rug, the smugness and mealy-mouthed hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, and the vicious greed of the corporate-sponsored Conservative and Liberal governments of some provinces and this nation.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Dream of Racing.

Kammann. (Wiki.)

by Ian Cooper

Racing has always fascinated me. I was going around all the used car lots, pressing my nose to a lot of glass and checking out a lot of sheet metal, and I was barely fourteen or fifteen. Back then there were some cool cars in town. One of the local shop teachers used to park a silver Jaguar XKE, the V-12 coupe version, right beside the school and I always took a good look at it going by.

There were a few cars hidden away in barns and garages that I never knew about, but I knew where every cool car in town sort of lived or parked. My first car cost $50.00, a 1969 Austin Mini that I yanked out of a back lot on the end of a rope, my old man towing it home in his old Volvo. By the time we were done, I’d gone through three Minis. My old man drove about four Volvos over thirty years, ending a couple of years before he passed on. We had to take his driver’s license away from him because he just wasn’t safe any more.

Racing is serious business, where high technology and research drives names and brands into the winner’s circle. Driving is one of the few things I ever thought I did well. In this Toyota Le Mans video, there are no straw-chewing cowboys. These are scientists and yes, they hope to sell cars based on their racing success. 

But even just being there brings its own prestige.

There is a moment when the car becomes a part of you and you a part of it, and you are no longer man and machine, but one with the machine. It becomes an extension of your body. By having hands on the wheel, feet on the pedals, your ass strapped in tight, you have extended your perceptions.

You hardly need to look at the instruments. You don’t really need to look at the speedometer at the end of the straight because you can feel it and hear it and see it and even taste and smell it. It's scary as shit if you do look at the speedometer. Death is inches away and you know that very well. It rumbles through your guts and  tugs on your inner ears when you pull gee forces in a banked turn, go over the top of a sharp rise or slam down into a valley and then begin pulling out, like an airplane in a swoop and dive attack. The only thing that matters is the road ahead and what lies beyond.

You know exactly how fast you can accelerate, because you are doing it. There is a kind of intensity in that moment that other athletes will recognize by the description.

It is a kind of focus, a Zen-like moment when nothing else matters.

It is doing your own thing in the ultimate sense of the word. Hell, I know it’s an old piss-pot, and I know some half-decent guy in a car that is only slightly better could and should be able to go through the turn or corner faster than I just did. That’s not the point. Maybe the point is that it’s the only such exercise that I get, the only real physical adventure that I can sort of afford or allow myself.

It is the pursuit of something intangible. The adrenalin probably doesn’t hurt either. It is the feeling of having risked something, and getting away with it. Maybe that’s it, but I think it is addictive too.

It’s strange, I even feel the same way when I’m riding my bicycle and thing are going well—not too much pain and the breathing is good and I feel good and it is a machine after all. I’m just the one making the power, another level of management I suppose. You have to manage your mind and your body or it isn’t going to work. There are parallels with other aspects of life.

In every act there is meaning. I really believe that.

I don’t even know where the dream started, possibly because of my buddy Bob with his motocross racing magazines—he was into motocross pretty strong there for a while. He, at least, actually went out and did something about it, but then he got married and the kids started popping out. I guess he did the right thing. 

He was no longer a spoiled young guy with a bit too much money but a father now, and so he had to quit.

That is the way of all dreams, isn’t it? Reality sets in at some point. Even I had to grow up at some point. 

No, it’s true. I settled for something less—people often do.

When I was a young lad I wanted so badly to go to this Jim Russell racing school. Back then it was only $1,400.00, but now it’s more like $4,300.00 for the introductory three-day course. The cars have a six-foot four height limit, so that kind of lets me off the hook! But honestly, I’d have to be nuts to even dream of it. At my age, maybe someday…I might do it as some kind of a bucket list thing. The trouble is that I would probably still want to go fast and win. Everyone has an ego, don’t they? And it would probably just cause friction with the younger and more professional aspirants. The real winners usually started pretty young.

Those opportunities come to so few...

Man, would them young people ever like to beat me! (‘Cause if you can’t, you’re pretty lame, right?)

Enough said, ladies and gentlemen.

What I would like is a free photo from inside the car, (almost any car) doing about a hundred and eighty miles an hour, Mulsanne Straight, Le Mans, with a couple of cars ahead in the picture. Road and Track used to have some good pictures and articles and I subscribed to the magazine for a few years there.

All I could find is the night lap in the Audi with telemetry on Youtube.

Here’s an extensive article on Le Mans from Speedhunters.


Friday, November 22, 2013

De Comburendo Heretico.

"And pity, like a naked new-born babe, / Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd / Upon the sightless couriers of the air".

“Who among us would not prefer to read one of Shakespeare’s plays, where not one rule of the theatre is observed, rather than some more modern production, where not one single rule is broken?” – a rhetorical question designed to provoke an indignant and very negative reaction.

And the unwritten rules of society are enforced by group pressure.

I am paraphrasing something I read once, here. And I guess that says a little something about me, in that I couldn’t find the talent to do it myself. And I guess we’re all products of our environment. But…

“At one time art reflected aristocratic taste and interests. The spread of modern industrial mercantilism created a new bourgeoisie; sufficiently strong to assume the role of nobility in the sponsorship of art.”

“Societies motivated by profit, power, greed, and luxury have little use for artistic integrity and imaginative creativity.”

“Artists are sought who can translate values into art, thus giving rise to a school replete with banality and vapid themes; a saccharine romanticism. A certain degree of originality is tolerated and accepted, but only if the artist doesn’t transcend the boundaries of conventionality.”
How are we to translate middle-class Western values into art?

“No artist can escape the age in which he lives. At best, he can reject it. It has ever been the pastime of academies to create the illusion of preserving a cultural heritage. The public wants the familiar, the soothing, comforting reassurance of having its taste confirmed and certified by a higher authority.”

“The public does not want to be surprised. It hates the unexpected. It fears being duped or mocked or satirized by the artist. Tradition is by no means synonymous with repetition; but its self-appointed guardians invariably equate it as such. The official arbiters of art decide who will be punished, and who will be rewarded.” They are making money off of ‘what is,’ and so why change it?

“Stupidity and narrow-mindedness reduces the artist to a craftsman”—as in Canadian journalism, for example. Writing has been reduced to a trade. For thirty-five dollars an hour and a dental plan; I’ll write anything you want. If you study the news media, sooner or later, if you are a thinking person, you will come to the conclusion that it is mighty short on facts. What you are looking at are opinions. No one wants to talk about this. I guess that makes me an idiot.

If you put forty monkeys in a room full of word-processors, sooner or later, they will not write one single line of Shakespeare.

“Cezanne was wise enough not to adopt the conventions of the Renaissance. ‘I am old,’ he said, ‘I can only show you the road, younger men will have to follow it.’”

“The Greeks of Constantinople, after purging away the impurities of their vulgar speech, acquired the free use of their ancient language, the most happy composition of human art, and a familiar knowledge of the sublime masters who had pleased or instructed the first of nations. But these advantages only tend to aggravate the shame and reproach of a degenerate people.”

“They held in their lifeless hands the riches of their fathers, without inheriting the spirit which had created and improved that sacred patrimony: they read, they praised, they compiled, but their languid souls seemed incapable of thought or action.”

“In the revolution of ten centuries, not a single discovery was made to exalt the dignity or promote the happiness of mankind. Not a single idea has been added to the speculative systems of antiquity, and a succession of patient disciples became in their turn the dogmatic teachers of the next servile generation. Not a single composition of history, philosophy, or literature, has been saved from oblivion by the intrinsic beauties of style, or sentiment, of original fancy, or even of successful imitation. In prose, the least offensive of the Byzantine writers are absolved from censure by their naked and unpresuming simplicity, but the orators, most eloquent in their own conceit, are the farthest removed from the models whom they affect to imitate.”

“In every page our taste and reason are wounded by the choice of gigantic and obsolete words, a stiff and intricate phraseology, the discord of images, the childish play of false or unseasonable ornament, and the painful attempt to elevate themselves, to astonish the reader, and to involve a trivial meaning in the smoke of obscurity and exaggeration.”

“Their prose is soaring to the vicious affectation of poetry, their poetry is sinking below the flatness and insipidness of prose….the minds of the Greeks were bound in the fetters of a base and imperious superstition, which extends her dominion round the circle of profane science.”

“Their understandings were bewildered in metaphysical controversy; in the belief of visions and miracles, they had lost all principles of moral evidence…their taste was vitiated by the homilies of the monks, an absurd medley of declamation and scripture.”

“Even these contemptible studies were no longer dignified by the abuse of superior talents...alone in the universe, the self-satisfied pride of the Greeks was not disturbed by the comparison of foreign merit, and it is no wonder that they fainted in the race, since they had neither competitors to urge their speed, nor judges to crown their glory.”

A number of sources were consulted or quoted  in the writing of this missive:

“Cezanne, father of modern painting,” by Frank Elgar.

“The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” by Edward Gibbon.

*the author of the first quote is unknown to me.

Editor’s note:

Mr. cooper is probably the greatest living artist of his age who is presently living and working in Canada, and not making a dime off of it, and it is undoubtedly true that he will die alone and in the most abject poverty. He accepts this, although he doesn’t like it very much.

“You guys are all fuckin’ crazy,” he says. “I wouldn’t swap places with you for a million bucks.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weird Anecdotes.

Mrchopper (Wiki.)

If you live long enough, some pretty weird things can happen to you.

I don’t mean big, serious things like finding Sasquatch sitting at the dining room table reading the papers when you come home, and you know danged well you didn’t leave a door or window unlocked and never subscribed to the National Post anyway.

No, I mean dumb stuff. More especially, I mean little stuff.

Something that just sticks in your mind for literally decades, and it often becomes something to refer to. I mean, you wonder about it later.

They’re called anecdotes or something.

It’s something you can compare other weird stuff to in an objective and analytical fashion.

There was this one time, my girlfriend and I were at the home of friends. They were a young married couple with a daughter of about eight months. We were drinking some kind of cheap wine from a trick decanter. 

You put the glass up to a certain place, push, and the decanter filled the glass.

We ran out of wine. My buddy and I hopped in my little MGB, and off we go to the liquor store.

We were sitting at a red light, a few blocks from their place. On the other side of the intersection was a big boxy vehicle. The light turned green, and I started going, and the truck lurched ahead, coming towards me. I was just shifting into second gear, when this guy steps out from behind the truck. He must have been waiting on the curb, blocked from vision behind the truck. I can only assume he was maybe planning to go east, or he might have been better off using the crosswalk, i.e. ahead of the waiting cube van or whatever. Sort of like where people could see him.

He would have been better off to wait for the light, right? That is the safest way to cross a street.

I know for a fact that this was no fault of mine, and I had a witness, although we were both under the influence of alcohol…hey, look, I didn't much want to talk to the cops either. I can admit that, a few decades later.

He came from the left side. He was right on me, literally so. He stopped dead. My front wheels missed his toes. He fell forward onto the hood of my car as I screeched to a halt. I had a quick look at a guy with a big sack over his right shoulder, like Santa Claus.

It only lasted a half-second because the gentleman was presently occupied in the act of smacking into my windshield, rolling up and over the roof, which buckled and made funny noises and then there was a quick glimmer of something red dropping away past my glaring brake lights.

I pulled the handbrake, popped it out of gear and went to go help the guy.

I heard laughing from inside the car, which was maybe not all that weird.

Don’t you understand the seriousness of this situation? Some friend, right? That was my initial thought.

Even weirder, there was no sign of the guy. He sort of came from Seven-Eleven, and right across the street is the doughnut shop. He wasn’t there.

Spinning around, there was the guy, walking east on the south side of the street.

I leapt back in, and drove up a hundred feet. My buddy, still giggling, rolled down his window.

“Hey Buddy! Are you okay?”

He looked over, then straight ahead again, plowing on towards whatever uncertain destiny he had.

I pulled twenty-five feet further on. He was covering the ground pretty quickly.

“Hey, man!” (This was the seventies.) “Are you okay, man?”

Didn’t even look around this time! The man just kept his head down and kept walking.

I have always wondered what the hell was in that big sack over his shoulder.

A big bag of laundry might have saved him from some harm, some injury. Yeah, but what the hell? Why not have something to say, right? Most people would have said something.

Whatever was in that bag saved him some bruising from my windshield, among other things. A big bag of dope? That’s one reason to keep moving, I’ll grant you that.

Stolen property?

What was he stealing, tea towels? Soft furnishings? Women’s clothing? There were no stereos or cameras or whatever in that bag. Something hard in that bag would have smashed the windshield, or made more noise in the impact, or been broken itself, right?

But I can honestly say that one was definitely weird.


Weird is one thing. It’s bad enough sometimes. Creepy is worse, so much worse.

Many years ago, I was working in another town. I had rented a weekly kitchenette unit at the local motel. I worked days and had to go to work in the morning.

I’m lying in bed, the lights are out and it’s about eleven thirty p.m. All of a sudden the door pops open and some guy walks in. I sit up in absolute astonishment as he sits on the edge of the bed and starts taking off his shoes.

Who in the hell are you?

I find it hard to believe that I would forget to lock my door. It was a new town, a long way from home, and all that sort of thing. It must be possible, because apparently that’s what happened.

Even so, what are the odds of some guy losing his own way, and of course back then I slept in the raw? Bad coincidence, right? It was harvest time and the motel was rocking. Every room and private barrack-type farm accommodation in the whole town was jammed to the rafters.

And in fact, this guy went into the very next unit when he finally did go.

So there I was, clutching my bed-sheets up around my chest, my voice rising higher and higher as I tried to get this guy out of my room.

Yeah, it turns out he’s drunk. Really drunk.

Finally it sinks in that he’s not wanted in my fucking bed—I swear to God, this guy took off his shoes and laid back on the bed beside my own freaking-out self.

“Can’t we just talk for a while?”

“No! Get the hell out!”

Can you imagine that, ladies and gentlemen?

Can’t we just talk for a while?

Imagine having that brain in your head. No wonder you’re a migrant farm worker, buddy.

Finally the knuckle-head leaves and I threw aside blankey-poo and nipped over and locked the bloody door.

You’d think the guy would have enough sense to leave.

Honestly, in a situation like that, weird is as weird does, but leaping out of the bed and beating the crap out of the guy would have only led to further and more serious embarrassment.

I’m firmly convinced of that: Naked Man Beats Off Nocturnal Intruder, and stuff like that in the paper.

I think could live without it, especially since I was working at the paper at the time.

They really loved that story though--what, you didn't think I was going to waste a perfectly good story like that, did you?

You know me better than that.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Night Cruise.

1974 Triumph Spitfire.

The Rainmaster had a little scoot around town and local environs tonight. Oh, I don’t take it all that seriously.

I’ve always enjoyed driving at night. 

Some of my fondest memories are of very long rides. My friends Geoff, and Doug, and I went to Mosport back in about 1977 or so in Geoff’s Datsun 610 sedan with aluminum Cragar slot rims and 60-series tires. (The 1600-cc engine, totally stock.) 

We watched a Formula One race. We camped on the ground, and I had never been up that way before. My impression of was of lots of sandy hills, winding back roads and forest. Lots and lots of forest. We drove all night to get here. We talked all the way, and of course there was the whole notion of racing, rallying, being a professional race driver and all the things young guys dream about. Tall as I am, I sat in the passenger side and Doug was in the back.

That was a good race, and you can read about it here. At that time, Walter Wolf Racing was a Canadian team, and doing well in the championship, with a top driver, Jody Schechter at the wheel. Gilles Villeneuve was in that race. I won’t say I was pissed off or anything, but I was probably there to see Niki Lauda, whom I absolutely adored in a manly sort of a way—one driver to another.

I took all that shit very seriously, and drove accordingly, and I had the speeding tickets to prove it after a while. Then again, I learned how to drive at a hundred miles an hour on gravel and you never know when that might come in handy.

You sort of learn how to drive without using your brake lights, and quickly turn off before the red lights get you—a little heel-and-toeing there ladies and gentlemen, let the compression stop you down, and maybe a little bit of handbrake just at the last minute.


This time of year it gets pretty dark by about six o’clock, and I went out for a cruise. I’ve lived around here for a long time, and if I go through a certain set of streets, a nice set of turns in any given neighbourhood, after a while a kind of rhythm sets up. I’ve done it all before, having practiced those turns many times, and often going a lot faster.

It’s like a weird sort of mechanized dance, as I clutch, shift, brake, add power, clutch, shift, accelerate, hold it…brake and let off on the gas. I know all my marks. When I straighten the wheel, the car comes out in a certain place, with no further inputs. It’s as straight as a die, looking forward to my next set of braking points, (and I’ll often touch the brake and let off, touch and let off as I burn off momentum after winding her out,) and here comes the next turning in point, the next apex, and so on.

It’s kind of soothing, with the radio on low in the background. This time of year the sensation of speed is sometimes magnified by leaves falling into the headlights’ glare, especially on narrow roads with a long fence, guardrails, brush and trees close to the road. Bits of fog low over the road are great.

The yellow lines start to go by increasingly fast and the low burble of the exhaust note builds. It’s even better in a low-slung roadster with the top down, in dry weather at least. I haven’t done that in a while. Maybe someday, and just for the record that car in the picture isn’t mine.

I’m shifting around 3,500, up to 4,500 maybe. Honestly, I’m short shifting, and not stomping the pedal right to the mat. I have some sense, especially at night, in rain and mist, overcast skies, no streetlights, no lines on some roads. Leaves and gravel all over the place. You never know when a deer will jump out in front of you or a car with no headlights will come out of some driveway. You've really got to watch the puddles, they'll grab your wheels and throw you off on one side pretty quickly when the wheel spins up...

Shit happens. No doubt about that. You definitely want to be paying attention.

I suppose I’ve spent some of the loneliest nights of my life in a car, coming back from someplace or other. 

There are times when I don’t want to come home, just stay in my car and keep driving.

You have to go home at some point.

The whole feel of the town is different at night. All people are strangers after you get a half a block from home. It’s been years since I saw a buddy’s car and recognized it by what kind of a car it was.

On balance, I’ve spent some pretty good nights, and some pretty good days in a car.

A little more power would be nice, some driving lamps maybe, but four half-decent cylinders and a good gearbox are all I really need.

Brakes and tires are important too.


Here's Led Zeppelin: Ten Years Gone.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Future Not Bright.

A Feng-Shui spiral. (Arnold C.)

No economy can remain static. It’s either growing or shrinking.

Our way of life is based upon constantly expanding markets. The notion that we can continue to improve standards of living while lowering production and consumption flies in the face of everything we believe about market capitalism. And in fact no one has had this notion. I think I’m the first!

When you consider that I dropped out of school (upon request) about halfway through grade ten, then that’s really saying something about the intellectually sterile environment we’ve created in Canada.

Every business person realizes that if revenues are capped at $100,000 then the only
way to increase profits is to cut costs. But that is an assumption. You could sell fewer
units, while still generating the same revenue—simply raise prices and lower production.

But no one ever thinks of it that way—lower costs by creating efficiencies and driving up demand by reducing the number of available units.

Yet this is all indicated by the currently-accepted theories of economics! And I’m not saying that all the theories are self-justifying bullshit. It’s just that one of the things a philosopher does is to invert things—and see what falls out of its pockets.

And in this society at the present time, consumption drives production, which drives employment, which drives taxation. That is one reason why we now have half as many people living in homes that are twice as big as our parents lived in. In some ways we are a victim of our own efficiency. The housing industry is so competitive, that there is little profit in a 1,200 square-foot home, once the risk, liabilities, capitalization and time factors are put into the equation. Why would a builder waste six months to earn a profit of ten thousand dollars? He wouldn’t be able to live in the very houses which he builds for others. It is far better to build a 4,500 square-foot home, make fifty to a hundred thousand in profit, and at that rate, not only can you afford to do it again, it’s even worthwhile. It still takes six months of his precious time. The lot represents a fixed cost, so the bigger the building, the greater the profit.

So the real problem is how to maintain standards of living without conspicuous consumption, without over-production and without stagnating wages and profits—because apparently the only path to prosperity for the greatest number of people is to constantly expand consumption and production.

How is it possible, in a nation with a constitution and the rule of law, to compel the rich, the powerful, the corporations and institutions to make do with less? They don’t respect the law or any kind of morality—they never have.

How can a CEO tell the shareholders, “We must lose money (or reduce our expectations of profit,) for the next five years in order to make these changes?”

Stock prices will fall. The CEO has ‘damaged’ the company and the shareholders.

According to shareholders, “Surely it is not our responsibility to save the world?”

(I say it is, actually, but no one listens to my absolutely fantastic long-term investment
strategies. But then they want ‘big profits right now.’)

Only the poor can be compelled, for they don’t have the ability to resist. Price increases affect them first, and the most, but they don’t have the resources to invest in
newer, more efficient technologies.

Hydrogen-powered cars have been announced as being just around the corner. Yet
a different source says, ‘They’re just a myth.’

In order to make hydrogen; ‘You have to burn methane,’ i.e. a fossil fuel. And electric vehicles are really only about 30 % more efficient than comparably-sized fossil fuel vehicles. In ten years your town will be spewing out just as much pollution as it ever did…we’re trying to sell more cars, after all, in order to employ more people to buy more cars, and homes, and electricity…we must expand to increase profits…it’s a vicious circle generated by conventional thinking and people and corporations who inevitably put their own interest first, ahead of all other considerations; including species-survival.

(Not just our own species, but every species.)

Battery-powered electric cars hold promise, but the required increase in generation capacity must almost inevitably come from nuclear technology, with all of its attendant problems.

Ford and GM and Chrysler do not want to build small, efficient cars because there is
no profit. It starts to look like a very expensive little car, in a very competitive market niche. To re-tool for hydrogen cars will take billions in new investment. And the car
companies create unionized, middle-class factory jobs. This makes for a nice block of
middle-class voters; all of them afraid as hell to rock the boat or upset the status-quo,
which after all makes their own smug and comfy existence possible.

It is a fact of human nature, “Those whose livelihood is involved, cannot see the
problem.” And if you can’t see the problem then you can’t even conceive of a solution.

They are simply unable to perceive the evil that they are doing, by their persistence
and insistence on continued conspicuous consumption, for surely a Hummer or a Ford
F-150 are nothing else. Most of those vehicles still have one occupant and never carry a
serious load in the entire life-span of the product. It is so much about status and so little
about utility that it is a kind of indictment of middle-class ethics and morality.

Oh yeah, the middle class wants change, just don’t ask them to contribute, or don’t put it in their neighbourhood, or both. One lady objected to a solar farm due to ‘transformer
noise,’ yet one wonders if that farmland wasn’t noisier with the trucks, tractors,
mini-bikes, flocks of blackbirds…worms digging in the soil. She was simply an idiot. Her kitchen clock makes more noise! A middle-class Canadian idiot, and we have many of them.

Where are you going to put the next nuclear reactor? I have a couple of concerns as
well. These include the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome, and the usual cost overruns
associated with any project organized around government patronage. In Sarnia-
Lambton, a petrochemical company was assembling a piece of land for a refinery. No one
had any real environmental objections, and people were disappointed when it failed to go
ahead. One wonders how they would have felt about nuclear power.

We already have nuclear waste trucked down local highways, and ending up in provincial landfills. We try real hard not to think about it too much.

Local food production would reduce the carbon footprint of our diet. For every ten
units of food energy, a hundred units of carbon are released by the transportation and
processing of food. Local food production might employ a lot of people, and that sounds
good in the middle of a depression. The problem is that historically, we haven’t paid
folks like that enough to afford $400,000 homes. And it begs the question of how can we
compete with a sixty-five cent New Zealand apple, shipped and trucked twenty thousand

For some reason it’s called ‘global warming,’ but the problem is really about our selfish lifestyles. Talking about waste isn’t sexy. It’s pretty square. We have such great expectations for ourselves, but the changes our world is undergoing carry a strong risk of the mass migrations of peoples, war, revolution, famine and endemic disease. All of our standards of living are going to fall. That is the big secret that no politician has the courage to talk about, in fact they will tell you, “There’s nothing wrong with our lifestyles.”

Middle class wages have been stagnant for about fifteen years, the working poor have seen incomes fall over the same period. Only the rich are doing well. So if our lifestyles are not going to fall, why are they in fact falling? How do you explain it?

“Oh, I can assure you it’s not a conspiracy,” you might say.

I never asked about a conspiracy. You brought that up all on your own.

If our lifestyles are killing the planet, then they are simply immoral. That’s pretty
tough to accept. To call for a ‘carbon tax’ is politically unpopular, but no one thought to
call it a ‘pollution tax.’ (I would call it an ‘ignorance tax.’) The biggest shortage in this country is leadership, with any kind of firm resolve, or clarity of vision. And the truth is that a lifestyle based on greed, consumption and conspicuous waste, has become kind of immoral, and some people are becoming quite alienated, like a kind of subculture.

The government is in no position to provide moral guidance, and guys like me are in no position to run for election. I guess we’re pooched.

Now, in the perfect economy of the future, an artificial and theoretical construct; all (or most) products and services will be intangibles, such as financial planning, wellness consultation, motivational speaking and literature, news-casting, e-publishing, etc.

What this means is that Canadians will be able to enjoy a high standard of living without the need or benefit of unions, as everyone will be self-employed. They will make good livings, based on the provincial $10.25 an hour minimum wages, and they never have to cut a tree down, skin a beaver, dig up coal, put out a fishing net, or do any of the traditional resource-export-based things we did in the past.

Once you get your head around this notion, then you will quickly see that the perfect economy of the future is perfectly designed for constant expansion of productivity—all products are useless and therefore luxuries and therefore desirable, like a thousand ‘apps’ for your text service provider’s ‘free phone,’ and oh! What a surprise when the monthly bill comes in and it’s six hundred dollars.

I’ll be selling essays, or better yet, bartering them for aromatherapy or feng-shui classes, getting my colours done and using my cell-phone apps to keep track of my pedicure appointments, or my reservations at ‘Grille 23.’ The pemmican is great, you should try it sometime.

In a world where ignorance is popular and superstition sells, a bullshit-peddler like me or that nice Mister Kevin O’Leary on CBC should make out all right.

Mr O’Leary and I agree on one thing for certain: people are basically pretty stupid.  

I guess the only solution would be a long-term program of mass education by a disinterested and highly-honourable consortium of mass media. Oh, sorry—we already have that. Right?

Anyhow, I'm off to class. At least now I know what a Feng-Shui spiral is.