Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.” (Elisabeth Costello, in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals)

I had just left Owen Sound and was on my way home after the weekly trip to run a few errands and do some shopping when I first heard the news about an animal rights group having released a video of alleged abuse of chickens at a poultry factory-farm near Chilliwack, B.C.

The radio-news report said the alleged abuse involved people hired as “chicken catchers” to gather up chickens, and pack them in shelves of plastic cages for shipment by truck to plants for slaughtering and further processing.

Before he continued the CBC reporter warned the description of the details might be difficult for some people to hear. And so they were. Continue reading

The unbearable weight of stuff


Blossoms on a roadside, wild-apple tree. And good apples they are too, as I discovered last fall. Not sure what this has to do with “stuff” and garbage. But it sure makes a better sight, or site.

What will they think of us, those otherworldly beings, when thousands or millions of years from now, they reach whatever is left of our world and can hardly believe what they find?

So much garbage – deep mounds of it in what we euphemistically called “landfill sites.”

Or, if their arrival is far enough in the future, maybe the space travellers will find places where seismic acitivity has exposed thick layers of a peculiar rock largely composed of fossilized garbage; and, here and there, scattered bits and pieces of stuff  that remains strangely intact: a child’s plastic toy, a small lockbox full of keepsakes and trinkets, a porcelain bluebird on the wing.

The strangers will turn those things over and over in their hands – or whatever – and wonder at the apparent ingenuity of the long-gone beings who created such things. But they will also be appalled and confounded by the shear volume of our waste. Continue reading

Searching for hope on rainy days

This question is often asked by historians, and others who take an interest in such things:

How did one of the most civilized, cultured nations on earth fall victim to takeover by a ruthless, mass-murdering, dictatorial tyranny? How was the nation that gave the world the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart led into a world war that killed many millions of people and left much of Europe in ruins, including Germany itself? Continue reading

Remembering the Home Bank collapse


home bank

The collapse of the Home Bank of Canada was the biggest in Canadian history and led to government regulations aimed at rebuilding and maintaining public trust and stability in the Canadian banking system.

Many years ago when I was living in Toronto I drove a taxi part-time to help make ends meet. One night I picked up several visitors from the U.S. at the airport. We were on the expressway heading downtown when the lights of several tall bank buildings came into view.

“You sure have a lot of big banks here,” one of my passengers said, with a note of wonder in her voice.  I was a bit surprised. Didn’t they have big banks in the U.S.?

I noted Canadians – at that time still largely of Scottish descent – were a frugal people and put as much money as they could into savings.

If I’d had more time I would have regaled them with some relevant, historical background, about the big bank failure that took place years earlier and led to Canada’s stable, government-regulated banking regime. (I note here in passing that it was that very stability that helped Canada cope with the financial crisis of 2008, and earned the country and its banks international praise.)

Continue reading

Finding hope in a dangerous time



Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at the press conference after the Quebec City Mosque murders 

We need more like him, a lot more, to tell us the essential truth, in a few well-chosen, thoughtful words:

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard put his finger tight on one of the biggest problems leading to the murderous attack on Muslims at prayer in their Quebec City Mosque: the irresponsible use of words, including political rhetoric, that stirs up and feeds a dangerous climate of hatred in human society.

“Words matter,” Couillard said in a press conference after six Mulsim men were murdered and 18 others wounded, several critically, by a lone gunman as they knelt at their evening prayers. Continue reading

‘Heat wave’ at the North Pole waves a red flag




Hope Ness, on the Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario, Canada, is just a few kilometres south of the 45th Parallel which is halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. It’s not that unsual for temperatures here to still be hovering around the freezing point of 0 degrees Celsius close to the end of December. The moderating effect of the nearby waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron play a role in that until they start to freeze over. The really cold weather comes in January and February, unlike the North Pole that normally would be bitter cold, far below freezing by December.

But the temperature at the North Pole on December 22 reached 0 C, the same as it was in Hope Ness and other parts of southern Ontario that same day. From the point of view of the North Pole, and the impact of global warming and climate change, it was appropriate indeed to refer to it as the “melting point,” as many news media outlets did at the time.

That amazing event was recorded by a weather buoy 145 kilometres south of the North Pole. Continue reading

Sauble Beach needs co-management now



Sauble Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Ontario. In its natural state many years ago it must have been a wonderful sight: sand dunes stretching almost as far as the eye can see in a long, gentle crescent along the eastern shore of Lake Huron, one of the largest of The Great Lakes. Its sunsets are legendary.

By the mid-20th Century the beach and nearby resort community were well on their way to becoming the destination of choice for thousands of summer tourists, easily 25,000 or more on a summer weekend. Some estimates reach as high as 100,000. Continue reading