Morning thoughts (8): A great moment in American history

I understand the risk in posting the link below, of it possibly being misunderstood by some south of the border who would wrongly claim for their own that great moment in American history. Freedom is a thoughtful word.

But, I’ll take that chance. Readers of this blog will know from previous content where I stand regarding the current existential crisis in the world’s first and greatest modern democracy. As John Adams said then, and would, I’m sure, say again today, he was “not without apprehension.” But rather than the “apocalypse” certain members of the Continental Congress predicted if the American Revolution continued, “I see hope,” Adams said.

Adams, one of the Founders, went on to become second President of the United States, after George Washington.

Now, as then, the fate of The United States of America, hangs in the balance; it will survive as a free country under the rule of law; or it will become what the Founders feared and tried to guard against most of all: a tyranny, an authoritarian, one-party state born of one man’s atrocious lies, and unprincipled pursuit of power.

This is my way, from up here in Canada, to wish the best in the New Year to our great neighbour, and my relatives and friends who live there.

This morning’s walk with the dogs down Cathedral Drive to the touchstone featured another interesting, and, I choose to believe, hopeful sunrise.

Morning thoughts (7): Ravens speak on Christmas morning

Grey and misty this Christmas morning, as we walked to the touchstone down Cathedral Drive. In the woods over to the west, one of the family of ravens that lives there was calling persistently, a kind of ‘whoop, whoop’ sound. I took it to mean, in the fog, “where is everybody?” For a few seconds there was no response. But then came a lower-voiced, continued croaking, as if to say, “we’re here, we’re here, don’t worry.”

“My ravens,” I called them a few years ago when a mating couple built an impressively large nest up high in the barn where two, big, hand-hewed beams meet. That was in the spring of the year. Later, in the late fall, when we were walking back one morning and the first snow of big, fluffy flakes came down, the parent ravens and their three, young offspring flew over from the barn. And I swear, just over our heads, they danced in the snow, wheeling and soaring joyfully. It was as if they were putting on a show, sharing their joy with us. I stopped to watch, and so did my dogs, Buddy and Sophie. No barking, just watching. And then the ravens flew away into the trees on the other side of the house, where they chattered back and forth to each other for a while, pleased, perhaps with their performance.

I don’t know why, maybe because I took visitors over one too many times to admire the Raven nest, but a couple of years later they set up ‘house’ in the woods near the barn. Or maybe they were just expanding their territory into the hardwood forest that stretches far to the west alongside the old hay field being allowed to regenerate back to the forest it once was — claiming back its territory, you might say.

So much for close to a century of back-breaking work, the hopes and dreams, of the weary, struggling settlers and their children who cleared that long, winding field through the forest; and then, like most of their neighbors, ended up selling the farm too cheap to Dow Chemical almost 50 years ago. But Hope Ness didn’t become one big limestone quarry; all that land about 2.000 acres (800 hectares) of it, became Ontario Crown land, with some of it now called The Hope Bay Nature Reserve, by Ontario Parks. I count myself fortunate to have ended up living here, surrounded by that nature reserve, on a few acres of what used to be one of those farms.

And so it goes, in the life of humankind. Who knows what or who will be here a hundred, a thousand, a million years from now? But I wouldn’t be at all surprised, if I were somehow able to go forward in time, to find ravens still here.

For a while, a few years ago when the family of ravens had vacated the barn, I wondered if they moved away, found a new territory. I even hoped to a certain extent it wasn’t because I had in some way offended them. But if they left it was only for a little while. they seem at home still in the nearby forest. And when the dogs and I go for our morning walk, the ravens greet us with what I fancy may be the ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ chorus.

I mean these intelligent, interesting, talkative, fun-loving creatures no harm. To be completely honest, I’d prefer they weren’t nest robbers. I can still see the sky-blue remains of robin’s eggs I found one morning on the driveway near the house. For all I know, maybe they saw my reaction, and chose to make a territorial adjustment on that account when they left the barn.

And ravens are the last thing a cattle farmer wants to see around his herd, especially when new calves are about. Yes, it’s true, amid all its beauty, nature can be cruel.

Ah, the myriad of thoughts, some of them perplexing, that come to mind on a morning walk because the ravens were heard talking.

But having a sense of wonder is, after all, the key that opens up one’s heart, mind, and soul to the ultimate wonder: the appreciation of this sacred gift of being alive, this opportunity, this journey of being and becoming, and where it leads.

Morning thoughts (6): An azure-pink sky, the silence, the music of life

Rising more or less at first light, the beloved ritual of morning coffee and quiet reflection duly observed, the online morning news perused – the Tiananmen Pillar of Shame unceremoniously removed by a paranoid regime at Hong Kong University; a reclusive American heiress living in Italy getting a lot of attention for inadvertently funding the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capital — I look up from the screen for a glimpse out the kitchen window facing west. The sky is a lovely, soft, azure-pink color. Astonishing.

I am moved to capture it: I grab my camera and go outside quickly as the dogs complain, wondering why they’re being left behind. But, outside, the moment has already passed, enough that the pink hue in the sky has started to fade.

I should know better, I tell myself, than to think I can, even for a brief moment, stop the natural flow of the world. “What conceit, man!” I tell myself. Buddy and Sophie, look at me questionably, appearing to agree. I give them their morning meal, and, with their usual joyful anticipation, we begin our morning walk down Cathedral Drive toward our waiting Touchstone.

Right away, I take note of the profound stillness in the air: not like yesterday morning when the nearby forests on both sides of the ‘no exit’ road roared in the strong wind, each trunk and infinity of winter-bare branches an instrument within the perfect, natural orchestra. I stop to observe the uppermost branches of ash and wild apple trees along the sides of the road: not a hint of a tremble among them.

In due course, I know, the still air will soon begin to move as the sun rises, prompting the winds to play their part again in the chorus of life.

But in the silence there is also music: a calmness of spirit, a moment of quiet reflection, a gathering of strength. The sky knows, the clouds know, the sun knows, the trees know, and every big or small creature in the forest, in the grass, and in the soil under the new, snow cover; they all know.

The music does not have to be analyzed, picked apart and explained, though that doesn’t necessarily hurt if you keep the essential ‘thou’ in mind: above all, it is heard and understood in the great mystery of heartfelt wonder and appreciation.

And so, dear hearts, this is how we nourish ourselves, as creatures of the world and of the spirit. And, just as important, this is how we nourish, and bring peace and hope to a troubled world.

Morning thoughts (5): Hope

Hope is the most precious …

I was going to say ‘commodity.’ But that primarily refers to a raw material or agricultural product that is ‘bought and sold.’ It has also come to be applied in a more general sense, as in, “Water is the most precious commodity.”

That’s certainly true enough, including spiritually; but then I would add calling water a commodity doesn’t do it justice. Likewise, Hope, perhaps to an even greater extent.

So, what should we call Hope? Preferably, not ‘it.’ The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, best known for his book, I and Thou, would suggest ‘Thou.” The title denotes the different quality of relationship people may have with other beings, ultimately leading to relationship with God, the Creator, the Great Mystery. I use that word, ‘beings,’ in the broadest spiritual sense, as applied to all the natural wonders of our world, and beyond.

Whatever we may call Hope, it is most essential. We cannot live without Hope. Surely that’s true — who can deny? — problems of varying degrees of troubling impact are bound to happen in our lives. It can be, it often is, a hard and frightening world for most of us who simply want to live our lives as best we can with a sufficient level of peace, security and stability, and hope for the future.

But Hope is strained under the weight of too much heartbreak and adversity, and of fears engendered by an overwhelming series of major troubles in the world around us, far and wide. Despair can set in if that persists day after day, month after month, year after year.

Despair is a terrible thing. Taken to heart internally, it will break the spirit, leading to other terrible personal and and community consequences like poverty, homelessness, drug addiction that further eat away at the possibility of renewed hope. It is a foolish society indeed that fails to recognize the need to reach out to help those in such critical need.

Despair also expresses itself outwardly, in confused anger and violence. Millions of people in unknowing despair are easily exploited by selfish, unprincipled people for their own gain, including the pursuit of personal power.

Such, I fear, is the world we now live in; and I confess, I am losing hope.

The Covid pandemic is heading toward the beginning of its third year, with a fourth surge fueled by a new variant that appears to be more infectious, spreading quickly around the world. The Omicron variant originated in southern Africa where, like other poor areas of the world, vaccination levels remain extremely low, compared to richer countries, where booster shots are being pushed to meet the challenge amid indications vaccines are less effective against the new variant. It is hoped booster shots will help.

Meanwhile, the other big story is the continuing crisis in the U.S. Make no mistake, that is an existential, world-changing story that affects us all. I have sensed for some time people are tired of hearing about it. But bury your head at your peril.

In recent days, much new evidence has surfaced about the extent to which the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Congress was the result of a coup conspiracy orchestrated from the White House after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. He continues to claim election fraud, and insists he has the best interests of his country at heart.  

The White House

Many observers are publicly wondering why, with more than enough evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice appears to be so passive about laying charges, or otherwise showing its hand. To some extent that is the nature of the beast when it comes to enforcing the rule of law; you take the time you need to do your due diligence to ensure you have a strong case. In this case that is even more important. If charges are laid, especially against Trump, and there appears to be anything less than an ironclad case, there is a real chance of civil war breaking out.

Meanwhile, Republicans control a majority of the state legislatures, many of which are busily passing new laws giving them more power to declare the results of the 2022 mid-term elections in their states, if the outcome is not to their liking.

So, in effect, the coup is still underway. And time is running out.

I don’t know how you feel about that. But I am worried.

The decline and fall of American democracy, and therefore, America itself, will shake the stability of the world to its core. Russian troops are massing on the Ukraine border, because Russian leader Valdimir Putin is, at the least, testing the resolve of the U.S. to do anything.

U.S. President Joe Biden and allies have warned of “consequences” if Russian invades the Ukraine. They would likely be more economic sanctions.

The possibility of war is hanging in the balance. It must be noted that any war between Russia and its allies, and the U.S. and it’s allies, would be fought to a large extent in cyberspace, where Russian operatives have already had much experience attacking the U.S., by interfering in the 2016 presidential election in support of Trump.

Am I getting carried away? I actually hope so. But if the last few years have told us anything, it’s that anything is possible.

In the meantime, I keep my hopes up as best I can by, first, going for morning and evening walks with the dogs.

This morning the sun rising through a line of trees to the southeast was enough to stop me for a while. Then on the way back I was struck by how much in a few minutes the sun had risen over the trees.

And that led me to think about how for ages people believed the apparent movement of the sun meant the Earth didn’t move, and therefore must be the center of the universe. In the 16th Century a pretty smart guy named Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician, astrologist and man of many talents, wrote a book that proved otherwise. It was titled, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). A Roman Catholic canon himself, he was praised by other learned people, but also strongly criticized by protestant and Catholic church leaders alike for many years.

Nicolaus Copernicus, who put the sun back in it’s right place

Copernicus, being human, worried that might happen, and delayed publication of his book, until shortly before he died in 1543. But even so, he was hopeful: he believed the truth did not diminish, but rather glorified the wonder of Creation; and the day would come when others would see that.

So, thinking about Copernicus raised my hopeful spirits. And then later in the day, I baked bread, and that always helps.

“To know the mighty works of God, all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High.”– Nicolaus Copernicus.

The Saugeen land claim and the ‘path of peace’

The out-of-court settlement just reached by Bruce County and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) is the latest indication SON’s long-standing land claim is heading toward similar, land-transfer settlements with the remaining defendants.

Those defendants include the governments of Canada and Ontario, and the three local municipalities on the peninsula that were always most at risk. That’s not only because the ownership of local roads has been at issue since the claim, as a lawsuit, was first filed in an Ontario court; but also because of the large tracts of Crown land on the peninsula held either by the province and/or the federal government, including two national parks. As a result, those settlements when they happen, will more than likely be much bigger.

The Bruce County/SON settlement involves 306 acres (124 hectares) of county forest in two tracts on the peninsula. The full details of the settlement are confidential.

Grey County and SON reached a similar settlement in September 2020 that included the transfer of 275 acres of county forest northwest of Owen Sound in Georgian Bluffs.

SON and Saugeen Shores, a local municipality in Bruce County that includes the towns of Southampton and Port Elgin, announced this past September they had reached a settlement. It included the transfer of four acres (1.7 hectares) of municipal property, financial compensation, and municipal support for housing development.

SON is comprised of two, closely-related First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash, on the Georgian Bay side of the Peninsula north of Wiarton, and the Saugeen First Nation, on the Lake Huron side, south of Sauble Beach. In 1994 they combined to file a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court claiming multi-billion-dollar damages for alleged improprieties committed by Crown before and during negotiations that led to the signing of Treaty 72 in 1854. Under that treaty, SON’s ancestors, under pressure from Crown negotiators, including threats from one, surrendered most of what was then called, the Saugeen Peninsula. They were left with several, relatively small areas of land and hunting grounds on the upper peninsula.

The Grotto, in the Bruce Peninsula National Park

The surrendered land was surveyed into 100-acre farm lots, to be sold, and the money put into trust funds for the benefit of the Saugeen/Nawash people. But, for one thing, no provisions were made in that regard for newly-surveyed road and shore allowances and the land they took up.

The roots of the Treaty 72 claim go back to a treaty signed in 1836, when SON ancestors occupied a much larger area, as far south as present-day Goderich, east beyond present-day Wasaga Beach, and north to the tip of the peninsula. But that territory was being overrun by non-Indigenous squatters. Crown officials said they were unable to keep the squatters out. But they promised, if the Saugeen surrendered the larger, southern part of their territory, they would keep squatters out of the peninsula “forever.”

But, just 18 years later, Crown officials, were again looking for a further surrender of Saugeen land on the peninsula, and saying, yet again, they weren’t able to keep squatters out. One in particular, T.G. Anderson, went so far as to threaten the Saugeen that if they didn’t surrender the peninsula, the Crown would act unilaterally.

The SON lawsuit claimed Crown officials had thus brought the honor of the Crown into disrepute, and also breached the Crown’s Fiduciary (trust) Duty owed to First Nation people. The Supreme Court of Canada, in previous judgements, has recognized both as violations requiring compensation.

The Saugeen were, and still are, a fishing people active on the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay on either side of the peninsula. In 2004 SON added an additional claim to the lawsuit, calling for a declaration of Aboriginal Title to the land under those waters. That would have been a first-such declaration in Canada.

The trial into the SON claims began under Justice Wendy Matheson on April 23, 2019, and ended October 23 of the same year. In her 211-page judgement released July 7, 2021, Justice Matheson did not find in favor of the claim for Aboriginal Title. She also found SON’s claim that the Crown’s Fiduciary Duty had been breached did not meet the requirements based on Supreme Court precedent.

SON and its lawyers have appealed those judgements.

Justice Matheson did however find the Crown had failed to keep the 1836 Treaty’s promise to keep squatters off the peninsula “forever.” She also found T.G. Anderson’s threats in preliminary negotiations for the 1854 treaty that summer breached the Crown’s honor. “He said that the government had the power to act as it pleased and that he would recommend that ’the whole, excepting the parts marked on the map in red and blue, be surveyed and sold for the good of yourselves and children,’” Justice Matheson said in her judgement.

“To do so would have been contrary to Crown policy, which, at least from the time of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, had required obtaining the agreement of the Indigenous group.”

Laurence Oliphant, the newly appointed Superintendent General of Indian Affairs for Britain’s Canadian colony, travelled from Quebec to take over the 1854 treaty negotiations. After arriving in Guelph, he and a member of the Upper Canada Legislature travelled by horse and buggy to Owen Sound, and from there to the Saugeen Village near the mouth of the Saugeen River. On the way, Oliphant saw the squatter and associated problems first-hand and recorded them in his final report after the treaty was signed. He spoke of “the tide of immigration, the search for ‘wild lands’, gangs of squatters, bloodshed and threats by squatters to settle on Indian Lands in defiance of the government,'” Justice Matheson wrote in her judgement.

During the trial, SON presented evidence to back up the claim that Oliphant lied when, in treaty negotiations, he told the assembled Saugeen/Nawash Chiefs “that squatters were, even then, locating themselves without permission” on the Peninsula. He went spoke of “the extreme difficulty, if not impossibility, of preventing such unauthorised intrusion,” as Justice Matheson later noted.

After Oliphant’s arrival, the treaty negotiations did not begin in earnest until the late afternoon of October, 13, 1854 because the Chiefs were out on their fishing grounds. The discussions went on into the night, until the treaty was signed about 1 a.m.

The next day, back in Owen Sound, Oliphant issued a public notice warning that squatters were not allowed on the peninsula land just surrendered in Treaty 72, thus making it Crown land. He wrote to the sheriff of Grey County, informing him of the surrender and requesting his assistance in “summarily ejecting” squatters. And, finally, Oliphant also wrote to surveyor Charles Rankin, asking him to do everything he could to keep the sheriff informed and help remove squatters.

However, Justice Matheson, did not agree Oliphant lied during the treaty negotiations and, thus, did not breach the honor of the Crown like Anderson. SON has also appealed that decision.

Since it was first filed filed in 1994 the SON lawsuit has claimed damages totalling $90 billion, an amount often cited in news media reports. In legal parlance that is known as a “placeholder,” John Bainbridge, a lawyer with land claim experience, wrote in the Bruce Peninsula Press in August, 2019. “Any litigant who fails to put in a figure for compensation in their Statement of Claim will get zero dollars if they win the lawsuit. If the SON establish that they have a valid claim, a negotiation will begin to determine an accurate figure for compensation that will probably fall far short of $90 billion,” Bainbridge wrote. He noted “the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is one of the biggest so far in Canada and the compensation they received was $1.4 billion.”

The SON lawsuit is being handled by the Ontario court, as agreed by the participants, as a two-phase process. It’s still in the first stage, to determine the merit, to one degree or another, of the SON claims. If in favor of SON to whatever extent as determined in phase one, the second phase will consider an appropriate amount of compensation and how that will be paid.

In that event, given the fiscal restraints of government coffers, made worse by the current Covid 19 pandemic, a purely financial settlement is unlikely. The stage has been set for settlements based on land transfers, as in the three out-of-court settlements already reached.

The overall process, as it now stands, may yet take more years. Or there may be a final out-of-court settlement involving the remaining defendants sooner, possibly in 2022. A lot depends on motivation of the two senior defendants, the federal and Ontario governments.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I note here that the province has about 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of Crown land in Hope Ness, just north of Hope Bay on the peninsula. My home and property are surrounded on three sides by it, including the Hope Bay Nature Reserve. That provincial Crown land is a prime candidate for inclusion in a potential Ontario/SON settlement.

Am I worried about that, for my sake, and the sake of my family? Not really. Despite the dishonourable way they were treated, over and over again, since before 1836, the Saugeen/Nawash people chose the path of peace in the courts of their historic oppressor to seek justice. That was, and remains a huge expression of hopeful trust in the current legal processes of the Crown and Canada, as well as the inherent justice of their cause.

And that is a thought worth taking into consideration as everyone on the peninsula waits, and thinks, about how the claim will, or should be, settled.

Morning (evening) thoughts (4): “He would have proved most Royal”

“My God, he’s been here before!”

So said my father when he first set eyes on me, just brought home from the hospital, when I happened to open my eyes just as he looked down into the crib. He covered his eyes with an arm and looked away in surprise, and, apparently, shock. That’s the story my mother told me many times when I was a boy. For some reason she never explained, or perhaps knew; in which case she must have felt instinctively it was something I should always remember.

And, so I have, though not precisely this morning when the sun rose in a mostly bright, blue sky. A few clouds were gathering on the horizons over Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The day stayed cold and bright until late afternoon. But by early evening dark clouds were rising up on the horizons over Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, to the west and east respectively. I fed Buddy and Sophie, and a few minutes later we went for our ‘evening walk’ down Cathedral Drive to the touchstone.

I started thinking about how certain great poems or lines from Shakespearean plays have often come to mind; and not always when I’m in a mood and need that consolation. Sometimes, just the sound of words spoken dramatically, with the wind roaring through the bare branches of late-fall or winter trees — sometimes that’s more than enough reason; and I hold forth with lines like:

“Dark hills in the west, where sunset hovers like a sound of golden horns that sang to rest, old bones of warriors under ground,” the first few lines of The Dark Hills, one of my favourite poems, by the American poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson.

That led me to thinking about my father and how from an early age he loved words and devoured the great works of English literature, especially poetry, Shakespearean plays, and the short stories of Ernest Hemingway, who he regarded as an underrated author.

My father certainly certainly encouraged my own interest. I remembered one time in particular when I was 11 and we were still together as a family. He came into the living room and noticed I was reading a seriously thick, hardcover book. I think I got it from the school library.

“What are reading?” he asked. “Two Years Before the Mast,” I replied. He lit up with keen interest and recognition. He didn’t have to say, he had read it: it was written in his eyes. “A good book for a young man to read,” he said, as he sat down beside me. “You must be enjoying. I see you’re more than halfway through it. Good for you. Quite a story, isn’t it?” It was Richard Henry Dana’s classic, 1840 memoir of his two year journey as a young man from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the California coast. In those days, long before the Panama Canal was built, it was a long and perilous voyage down the Atlantic Ocean, through the Magellan Strait at the southern tip of South America to the Pacific Ocean, then north to California.

“Oh, yes,” I said, happy and proud to have my father’s approval.

It was about that time, either the Christmas before or after, when he gifted me with a bound copy of Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Inside, he had written: “Read as a boy, understood as a man.”

My father’s formal education ended when he turned 15 and he went to work to help his poor family survive the Great Depression. At most he got a year or two of High School, at Western Technical School in Toronto.

He was born in 1923, and adopted as a newborn baby within days of his birth. He was just days away from his 20th birthday when he looked down into my crib and said what he said about me apparently having had a previous life. Where did that come from at such a young age, one might ask. He prided himself on being a rational man by then. But already, he had seen enough of life’s pain and heartache to inform his soul. The death of my parents’ first child, a baby-girl named Susan who died at birth, was especially painful. At that hospital, in those days, my mother was not allowed to see the body of her still-born baby. But my father saw her. I don’t know that he was ever the same again, though my much younger sister, who he also named, Susan, and my brother, David, have told me our father found some peace of mind before he died.

He died in Los Angeles, in August, 1970. He was just 47 years old. With his, literally, last breath, he reached out desperately for more. Life had not been kind to him in many ways, with being abandoned at birth his first misfortune. But he loved life with all the passion of his deep, though troubled being.

“For he was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most Royal …,” Shakespeare wrote for Fortinbras to say, after the death of Hamlet. That’s one of those lines I also often call out for someone to hear, somewhere. My father may have had good reason to do the same.

Had he seen those dark clouds gathering across the skies over Cathedral Drive and Hope Ness this evening, and felt the cold, ominous wind blowing out of the Northwest, I have no doubt he would want with all his heart and soul to savour even that precious moment of being alive again.

But what am I saying? He was there, of course.

Morning thoughts (3): potatoes and glyphosate don’t mix

Potatoes and glyphosate were on my mind this morning as the dogs and I walked down Cathedral Drive to the touchstone.

That may come as no surprise in the worldwide community of Finding Hope Ness readers well aware of my continuing concerns about the risk vast quantities of weed-killing herbicide containing Glyphosate being sprayed on crops around the world may pose for human health.

And, yes, I have gone on and on about how much I like potatoes often enough, that some might shrug and say, ‘so, what else is new?’ and turn the page, so to speak. But bare with me.

I have taken it for granted that because I don’t use Round-up or any other herbicide containing the active ingredient glyphosate that my potatoes are free of it. But I bow my head. I confess, after all these years it has taken me too long to find out that may not be true.

So, the question now is: what to do? And the answer may be … Well, I won’t go so far as to say ‘life-changing,’ not in a world where ‘life-changing’ events have become an ongoing or sudden reality. Not being able to do the things you love and live to do because of Covid-related travel restrictions or because climate-change-related weather extremes have already destroyed your life’s work – that’s truly life-changing.

As a good friend has often said when something goes wrong, “it’s not the end of the world” if I have to stop growing potatoes. But I love doing it; and I take pride in the way I do it, especially my habit for the past 25 years of mulching the newly emerged plants with good, clean straw. As a result, I’ve never had to spray any kind of insecticide to control the Colorado potato beetle, the major pest of potato crops. Also, I’m old-fashioned when it comes to weed control. I never use herbicide, and nowadays that means products that contain glyphosate, the best known being Round-up. Developed by Monsanto, it was first approved by the U.S. 45 years ago.

Glyphosate has been increasingly controversial in recent years, with the big question being, does it cause cancer or doesn’t it? Several lawsuit cases in the U.S. have answered yes and ordered multi-million-dollar damages. Bayer, the current owner of Monsanto, has set aside billions of dollars to cover similar future judgements. Various regulatory agencies, in Europe for example, disagree on the answer to the fundamental question. A study done for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) from 2015 to 2017, with results published in 2020, concluded levels of glyphosate residue in food product samples taken from retail stores do not pose a health threat, based on Canada’s existing Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs). The study gathered 7,955 food samples from Canadian retail stores. of those samples, 3,366, or 46.3 percent, contained a “detectable” amount of glyphosate. And of those, 99.4 percent were within the Canadian MLR limit, while 46 samples were “non-compliant.”

“The high level of compliance (99.4% of samples with the Canadian regulatory limits) and the lack of a health risk for non-compliant samples indicate that, with respect to glyphosates, the food available for sale in Canada is safe,” the study concluded.

This past August Canadian officials decided after a period of public consultation not to go ahead with proposed increases to some MLRs until “at least” next year. Meanwhile, the government will look at enhancing its monitoring of pesticide matters.

Ah, the beautiful potato, fresh from the garden

In the best of all possible words, I would much prefer to consume no glyphosate. None at all, zero, nada.

Which brings me back to the beloved potato, that which my Celtic ancestors largely survived on; which Hope Ness pioneers, I’ve been told, had nothing else to eat except; and which originated in the Andes mountains a very long time ago, thanks to the indigenous people who lived there.

Winter is the time to start planning for next year’s garden crops. Every year I tell myself not to bite off more than I can chew, but rather, focus on the essentials, of which potatoes are one. So, with that in mind, as well as glyphosate, I went looking online for any possible concerns. Overdue, yes, I know.

I was surprised to find potatoes are, if anything, more sensitive to damage from incidental, wind-drift spraying somewhere else than I imagined. In fact, I thought I was far enough away on the Bruce Peninsula in secluded Hope Ness that it wasn’t a problem, despite the prevailing west and southwest summer winds. I assumed too much.

I found several online sources that spoke of the damage even a small amount of such incidental exposure to glyphosate can cause to potato crops. Most troubling was how glyphosate can travel down the parent-plant into the soil, and the daughter root ‘tubers,’ They are the actual potatoes that are marketed either as food, but most worrisome here, as seed potatoes.

“Tubers may have a normal physical appearance but have glyphosate in the seed that can cause a variety of germination problems the following year,” says a current article in Potato News, written by two associate professors at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

I routinely buy seed potatoes from certified growers to plant in the spring. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for the federal Seed Potato Certification Program.

“The objective of the Seed Potato Certification Program is to supply Canadian growers of seed, table stock and processing potatoes with certified seed which is of high varietal integrity and is relatively free of tuber borne diseases,” says a CFIA web page. (my italics)

No offence, dear CFIA, but I think I may have to delve deeper into seed potato suppliers and how they deal with possible glyphosate contamination. As other on-line sources note, ‘organic’ is no guarantee regarding the effect of incidental drift.

I want to be able to say, “no glyphosate residue in potatoes grown at Cathedral Drive Farm.” Hopefully, that will be possible.”

.

Morning thoughts (2): in praise of winter

So, it has happened: that inevitable Canadian morning that says in no uncertain terms, winter has arrived for the next five months or more, and the season of necessity is in control our lives. You don’t dare refuse or neglect its demands, without risking varying degrees of trouble and misadventure, up to and including …

Well, let’s not go there. Let’s not even think of being without heat when the temperature falls below -30 degrees, or more, and you didn’t cut or buy enough firewood, or you forgot to check the furnace-fuel level, or do routine maintenance on the generator and snowblower; or – and this is most likely the biggest mistake city folks make – you still haven’t got your winter tires on. Of course, those are mostly things you should have done well ahead of this morning if you woke up to the first significant snowfall and sub-zero temperatures overnight. It’s November 23, a little less than a month from winter’s official arrival. So, what else is new? It’s Canada, eh.

The ‘necessity’ I’m thinking of especially this morning is rising to the occasion. Want to sleep in? Not allowed. Feeling a bit lazy? Not allowed. Feeling blue? Not Allowed. Ask yourself any number of questions of the sort, and the answer is always, ditto, ditto and ditto.

The remarkable thing about winter’s absolute rule of necessity is how it can remind us how strong and capable we are – especially if we have gnawing doubts about that – just by giving us a push to get going. I venture to say that can be the key, not only to surviving, and even enjoying winter, but making the best of life itself.

Years ago, when I was a young man and drove a cab for a while in Toronto, a well-seasoned old cab driver gave me good advice. We were all about to get our assigned cars for the night – the best to get, by the way, was a Dodge or Plymouth with a 225, six-cylinder engine, the venerable ‘slant six,’ good on gas and plenty of power.

The old-timer next to me leaned over and said, “I’ll give you some advice kid: whatever you do, keep moving.”

He meant keep moving in the streets with the cab, and someone would wave you down sooner than if you parked somewhere and waited for the dispatcher to call your number. It was indeed good advice for that job.

But I’ve never forgotten what he said for other, important reasons. It’s truly amazing how often “keep moving” has struck me as good advice for life: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Invariably, when I feel myself getting down, or lately, worry that age is catching up to me, I think of what the old cab driver said: it was just as good or maybe even better – inadvertently perhaps, but so what? – than an ivory-tower philosopher with a doctorate might be able to offer. Not that I would devalue the worth of a good education. Perish the thought in today’s world, so desperately in need of understanding.

I thought of that good advice again this morning as I, rather grumpily, donned a winter coat for the first time this season and the dogs and I went for our morning walk down Cathedral Drive to the touchstone. The rising sun was brilliant in a blue sky. An infinity of stars sparkled on snow-covered tree branches, and everywhere around on the fresh snow-cover.

Welcome winter, I thought. Good to see you again, and thanks for being here.

Morning thoughts (1)

Morning walks down Cathedral Drive had become routine; something I had to give myself a little push to keep doing, because the dogs needed a walk, and so did I. And because the touchstone, the turn-around point, was down that way. But my habit of touching it while saying a prayer was at risk of becoming an empty gesture, symptomatic of … what? An increasing old-age weariness settling in? the usual seasonal disorder? Mild depression, or more?

Something had to be done. This would never do: no way to end one’s life. Hadn’t I just messaged back a friend to offer a hopeful thought: not to despair, because “anything is always possible.”

I decided to refresh the morning walks by, in anticipation of that, taking my camera along to record an image of whatever thought-inspiring moment might appear. Then, post it here as the first of a daily series of ‘Morning thoughts.’

At the end of the long driveway I realized I had forgotten the camera. Just as well, I thought; after all, hadn’t we, my online friend and I, decided after just such a moment earlier this fall, that it was better not to ‘capture’ and thus diminish the wonder of it all.

And, of course, it happened again.

The sky above on this mid-November morning appeared to be well overcast. Heading north along Cathedral, the air was still. Young ash trees along the east side of the road stood bare and unmoving. A few small, red apples still clung on the branch of a wild apple tree. The dogs, with eager interest, savored a fresh scent, of deer, likely. In the low light of this cloudy morning, the moss on the touchstone had that luminous quality I have also noticed at dusk as the light is fading.

On the way back I plodded along, my eyes looking down on the gravel road. I Looked up, and then I saw it: just over the tree-line to the south-east, a narrow band of brighter sky; the rising sun not quite breaking through, but trying to.

I looked away for a moment, then back, to see the bright orb of the sun shining through; not entirely: its light was still somewhat filtered through thinner clouds. But there it was: brave sun on a cloudy day.

I thought for a moment of having forgotten my camera, of maybe getting back to the house soon enough to hurry back with the camera but realized the moment would not last. And so it was.

Still, it was enough to lift the spirit. Let the day begin.

The root cause of the American crisis: a view from up north

Civilization and the social stability it provides, allowing human beings to live their lives in peace and pursue their plans and dreams can never be taken for granted. Recent history has shown how fragile is the veneer of civilization when a would-be demagogue, sensing an opportunity in the mass despair and confusion of a people, can take over one of the world’s most civilized nations; with disastrous results for that nation and the world.

How quickly history and its lessons are forgotten. It is happening again in, of all places, the great democracy that saved the world from history’s most evil tyranny. And again, It can only get worse if that country, the United States of America, can’t somehow save itself from self-destruction.

It’s terrifying to see, even from this distance, day after day how badly American politics and society are divided. On one side, the cult-like obeisance of a large proportion of the population and conservative lawmakers to the demagogue and his outrageous lies. If anything, it grows more extreme, driving the world’s first and greatest democracy toward an existential crisis. On the other side, various commentators are beside themselves with loaded language, preaching to the converted and looking down upon the others, as yet more evidence of the demagogue’s failed coup after he lost the 2020 election is daily revealed. There is no effective communication between the two sides, nothing that might offer a glimmer of hope.

Meanwhile, nothing is done about the continuing, horrendous decline in the quality of life of millions of people who have lost hope of ever being part of the ‘American Dream’, or who live in fear on the edge of that despair. Take a short trip on YouTube and see the depressing sight of how countless people now live in many American cities, like Oakland, in California, the U.S. state with the world’s 5th largest economy.

Speak the truth, by all means; it is the only hope. But start where it begins, at the root cause of the malaise that now threatens the end of a great nation, and the future of the world.

The underlying causes of the rise to power of a ruthless dictatorship in Germany in 1933, leading to the Second World War, and the Holocaust is well-documented: a First World War lost at great cost of life; a punishing peace treaty with crippling reparations; drastic out-of-control inflation, and then a global depression. The demagogue who has already pledged to make Germany great again blames it all on communists, and especially Jews. His Nazi party has become the largest, but with less than 40 percent support of voters, after several democratic elections, still lacks a majority. But he is appointed Chancellor (Prime Minister), of a bipartisan government by an elderly, increasingly senile, figurehead, war-hero president. It is expected the demagogue can be controlled. The Reichstag (Parliament) is set on fire, the communists are blamed, the demagogue is given emergency powers. The old president dies. And the demagogue and his racist party seize total power. Other political parties are banned. Jews, homosexuals, and other people considered racially or mentally defective are persecuted, sent to concentration camps, murdered. All members of the military and government officials are required to pledge personal loyalty to the leader (Fuhrer).

So, the question arises, what has made such a large proportion of the American people, so vulnerable to a demagogue who wraps himself in the Star-Spangled Banner, declares himself the only person who can save the country and return it to greatness, demands loyalty to Himself, and tells lies constantly?

Let’s start by talking about war and how, even before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S., wars and the military-industrial complex that thrived on war became a predominant fact of American life; and then how, after 9/11, they became much more predominant, to the extent that in the next two decades the U.S. spent $14.1 trillion (measured in 2021 dollars) on post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

First, a prophetic warning about the growth of the military-Industrial complex from the late, former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, the former Commander-in-Chief of Allied (western) forces in the Second World War, in his farewell address as president on January 17, 1961:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

The Viet Nam War is a good place to start a discussion about the fateful impact war has had on the American psyche and body politic. Its complex causes have been well documented, for example, on this history.com website.

At its height close to 500,000 American troops were serving in Vietnam. By the time the war ended in 1973, 58,200 had died, and an estimated two million Vietnamese, mostly civilians.

The Vietnam memorial, engraved with the names of 58,200 American dead

A final, humiliating image of U.S. defeat was helicopters landing on the roof of its embassy in Saigon to evacuate Americans, some of whom fought off Vietnam refugees desperate to get on. That image was the parting wound among many others that cut deep into the proud American psyche. “The war had pierced the myth of American invincibility and had bitterly divided the nation. Many returning veterans faced negative reactions from both opponents of the war (who viewed them as having killed innocent civilians) and its supporters (who saw them as having lost the war), along with physical damage including the effects of exposure to the toxic herbicide, Agent Orange, millions of gallons of which had been dumped by U.S. planes on the dense forests of Vietnam,” says the history.com article.

And this: “According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.”

Many Vietnam veterans are still alive today, the fathers and grandfathers of millions of Americans. Many of them, and others, would have recalled that humiliating image of how the Vietnam war ended when the shocking images of the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan were shown around the world this past August. They showed thousands of Afghans desperately tried to get on flights at Kabul airport. It’s no coincidence President Joe Biden’s approval rating suddenly dropped, though it was former President Donald Trump whose administration negotiated the withdrawal deal with the Taliban insurgents, without the involvement of the now-defunct Afghanistan government.

The U.S. spent $120 billion on the Vietnam war from 1963 to 1975. But that number pales in comparison with the $14.1 trillion spent following the 9/11 attacks. As noted above, there never was a formal declaration of war by Congress before the U.S. invaded, first Afghanistan, with justification, and then Iraq, without.

The Center for International Policy, at Brown University’s Watson Institute, has recently published a series of research papers called, ‘20 Years of War, a Cost of War Research Series.’ One is titled, ‘Profits of War: Corporate Beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 Pentagon Spending.’ As far as I can tell it has received little news coverage. That’s a shame because it contains a wealth of revealing, and shocking, information about the “dramatic increase” in U.S. military funding since 9/11.

That paper includes a quote attributed to a high-ranking official of one of the five major, private defence contractors, in this case Boeing. It underlines the extent war fever at the time left the public purse wide open for huge increase in military spending after 9/11:

“Harry Stonecipher, then vice-president of Boeing, told The Wall Street Journal in October, 2001, the month after 9/11, ‘the purse is now open … any member of Congress who doesn’t vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November.’”

Of the $14.1 trillion total Defence/Pentagon “$4.4 trillion went for weapons procurement and research and development, categories that primarily benefit corporate contractors,” the Watson Institute article says. It adds “the rest was used to pay for pay and benefits for military and civilian personnel and supporting expenditures needed to operate and maintain the U.S. military. It noted the $4.4 trillion figure is “a conservative estimate of the pool of funding Pentagon contractors have drawn from in the two decades since 9/11. The Pentagon’s massive budget for operations and maintenance also subsidizes contractors, but it is harder to determine what share of this category goes to private firms.”

The article notes the Pentagon has become increasingly reliant on private contractors in the post-9/11 period; and “that raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud and abuse.” (my italics, for emphasis)

“One-third to one-half” of the $14.1 trillion went to defence contractors that earned profits “that are widely considered legitimate,” the article says. But “other profits were the consequences of questionable or corrupt business practices that amount to waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging or profiteering.”

The paper notes the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated that waste, fraud and abuse in the two war zones as of 2011 had already totalled $31 billion to $60 Billion.”

It goes on to describe numerous examples. I will focus on a couple that had a direct and deadly impact on American troops. See the link above to the full report for all the examples.

What the paper calls “a particularly egregious case of shoddy work that had tragic human consequences involved the electrocution of at least eighteen military personnel in several bases in Iraq beginning in 2004 due to faulty electrical installations.” It says some of the installations were done by Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) and its subcontractors. KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton, one of the best known and controversial reconstruction and logistic contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Watson Institute paper says, “An investigation by the Pentagon’s Inspector General found that commanders in the field had ‘failed to ensure that renovations… had been properly done, the Army did not set standards for jobs or contractors, and KBR did not ground electrical equipment it installed at the facility.’”

In another case: “The 2008 death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret who was electrocuted while showering in Iraq, brought Congressional and public attention to the issue. While KBR had inspected the building that Maseth died in and found ‘serious electrical problems’ almost a year before his electrocution, KBR did not fix the identified problems. Notably, KBR’s contract did not require ‘fixing potential hazards.’ A former KBR electrician accused other KBR contractors of falsifying documents to make it appear that they had fixed the previously identified grounding issues. Another former KBR electrician testified to the Senate that KBR used untrained or inexperienced electricians to do electrical work at a lower rate while billing the U.S. government at the same rate used for experienced electricians. Lastly, in July 2008, a KBR electrician testified that the (Department of Defence) had no oversight system for the electrical work, even after soldiers had been electrocuted.”

Halliburton was controversial in the post 9/11 wars because of its connection to Dick Cheney, U.S. vice-president in the administration of President George W. Bush. Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton when he was picked by Bush as his running mate in the run-up to the 2000 election. Cheney had previously been Secretary of Defence in the administration of President George H.W. Bush before he became Halliburton’s CEO. Widely regarded as an unusually powerful vice-president, Cheney strongly favoured the invasion of Iraq, despite knowing before it actually happened that the intelligence that supposedly justified it was faulty. As well, there was no evidence of a connection between Iraq leader Sadam Hussein, and bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization. After the invasion and the defeat of the Sadam Hussein regime, no weapons of mass destruction were found.

Dick Cheney

The Iraq war claimed the lives of between 275,000 to 306,000 people. They included 4,598 U.S. troops, 3,650 U.S. contractors, 15 U.S. Department of Defence civilian workers, up to 208,964 Iraqi civilians, 323 ‘other allied troops,’ and 39,881 opposition fighters.

Canada did not join the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq, but it was a member of the coalition that sent troops to Afghanistan where 158 Canadian soldiers lost their lives.

Another Cost of War study in the Watson Institute series found at least four times as many active duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide than died in combat. An estimated 30,177 have committed suicide compared with the 7,057 killed in post-9/11 wars. The report notes “the increasing rates of suicide for both veterans and active-duty personnel are outpacing those of the general population – an alarming shift, as suicide rates among service members have historically been lower than suicide rates in the general population.”

The U.S. had the moral high ground after the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,977 people and injured more than 6,000 that terrible day. The as-it-happened, shocking images brought the watching world to a standstill. Hardly anyone could question the justification to go in force to Afghanistan, to investigate and find and arrest Osama bin Laden and members of his Al Qaeda terrorist organization; and, as well, members of the Taliban government who were complicit, by allowing bin Laden to use Afghanistan as a base of operations. And then they all could, and should, have been brought back to the U.S. to face justice at the scene of the crime, under the rule of law.

Perhaps that’s incredibly naive, or too much to expect, given human nature and its primal need for vengeance; and given the long, established history of nations going to war with or without justification. Some would even argue, and have, that war is the natural state of human beings in a perverse, ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario. Sometimes there does appear to be no choice, as in the Second World War, other than allowing absolute evil to take over the world. But Heaven forbid civilized nations should do something different, something better, when possible, even under such provocation as the 9/11 attacks?

Imagine, if you will, what the U.S. and the world would look like today if, after the inevitable fever for war arose, a strong but less disastrous course of action had been taken that did not kill, wound and traumatize millions of people; that did not cost trillions of dollars; and did not shake the stability of the U.S. to the core, leaving old and new generations afraid and confused about what the future holds.

Instead, the war fever in the wake of 9/11 was exploited by unscrupulous people in high public and private places, who were motivated above all by one desire: to live the American dream of getting filthy rich, and remaining in lucrative positions of power, whatever the cost to the country and their fellow Americans.

Of course, there is a tragic malaise and a lot of deep-seated anger in a large proportion of the American population.

Now, two decades after 9/11, the Biden administration has been having a lot of trouble getting Congressional support, especially from so-called, conservative lawmakers, for legislation to update long-neglected, crumbling, U.S. infrastructure, and improve the quality of life of Americans; millions of whom are struggling through poverty, homelessness, and physical and mental health issues.

Yes, it was going to cost several trillion dollars to begin restoring a damaged nation to health. Gaining approval for more much more than that to fund war and the military after 9/11 was never a problem; more often that not, Congress approved more than was actually requested.

Radicalized conservatives, following the ‘big lie’ strategy of past and present demagogues, have taken to calling the Biden plan “communist” and “Marxist.” That’s how stupid they think the American people are. It can only be hoped they are wrong.

The Capitol building at peace.