For those of you who are keen on fighting back against the tyranny of modern technology, you could do a lot worse than read “Dark Ecology” by Paul Kingsnorth. It is a fairly long piece (by internet standards) but worth every minute you spend with it.
Each summer, Kingsnorth teaches the use of scythes in England and Scotland and in this article he uses the scythe as a surrogate for other simple tools when compared to modern machinery. He explains the delight one gets in using a scythe, but remarks that most people use brushcutters these days:
“Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”
He really hits the nail on the head when he confronts critics who claim that he and those like him are simple-minded back-to-the-earth idealist dreamers:
“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress…
Critics confuse “a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined ‘golden age.’ It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a ‘crank’ by saying, ‘A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions’.”
Kingsnorth looks closely at the “green movement” of the last century, noting how badly it failed:
“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing.”
Worse, he says, we now have neo-environmentalism, often described as simple “ecopragmatism” but which is “something rather different” as described by the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, one of the movement’s canonical texts
For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.
Or, as Peter Kareiva, says:
“Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment, and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?”
“If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politician might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.”
Kingsnorth argues that these neo-conservatives are misunderstanding the problem, probably deliberately:
“What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.”
“The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:
Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.
There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should.”
He looks at the future through the eyes of the past:
“Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.
It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around.”
“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.”
This is a sad pass we have come to. Humanity has been too clever by half.
It is said that we each have a novel in us, or at least we like to think we do. And I am sure most of us dream of the New York Times bestseller list and the money and fame that will flow from that success. Well, don’t hold your breath.
In An Agent Explains The Ins and Outs of Book Deals at Electric Lit Kate McKean demystifies the mysterious world of the advance and other esoterica of the book deal.
“the total advance depends on so many things, including the quality of the work, the sales potential of the work (not the same thing!), the author’s platform and/or previous sales, the zeitgeist, the “market,” how many other editors are interested (if any), how similar books have performed for the publisher and/or other publishers, and many, many other things. Because there are so many factors, there’s no “average” book advance. $1,000 is rare. $1,000,000 is also rare.”
This is well worth the read for anyone contemplating their first novel.
The bus ride finished a mile from the shore
leaving a trek through the muddy clay
of rain-spattered early spring,
the swarming midges of late July,
or the leafy carpet of middle fall,
to the beach at the end of the world.
Sitting on a sea-driven log,
a carcass of the far northern woods,
my lover and I cleared our throats with lemonade,
quietly removed the stings of another week,
and populated our thoughts with waves of dreams
far removed from the drab of every day.
I spent much of yesterday celebrating our neighbourhood as part of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Grandview Heritage Tour.
The Grandview Heritage Group (GHG) was an Event Partner, and we set up shop on the porch of the historic Wilga house, now the rectory of St. Francis of Assisi Church at Napier & Semlin. Father Gino was extraordinarily generous in allowing us to use his space for a series of GHG displays featuring aspects of Grandview’s history.
The Tour was a resounding success, helped no doubt by the perfect weather yesterday. We had about 350 people come through the Church, most of whom stopped to chat about the exhibits and to share their own memories of Grandview of an earlier time. There were some wonderful conversations and exchanges that were as valuable, I hope, for the visitors as they were for us.
It was a very worthwhile way to spend an afternoon. Thanks again to Father Gino, to the VHF and to their volunteers.
“It Is very simple to be happy,
but it is very difficult to be simple.”
— Rabindranath Tagore
Black puddings are some of my favourite things. Other kinds of blood puddings are okay at a pinch (JNZ’s is particularly fine), but nothing compares to the blood, oatmeal, and beef suet creations born in England. Slices of quickly heated black pudding are the perfect complement to any configuration of the traditional English breakfast, or served between two heavily-buttered pieces of good bread.
Most North Americans shy away from trying this perfect food. Obviously, the list of ingredients will seem unattractive to some. But it is also true that most black puddings are cooked too long and turn into hockey pucks. Thus, even if you are brave enough to try it, it may be horrible and put you off a second attempt.
I was lucky enough to be raised in London where they know how to cook their puddings. And I love them.
Experienced cooks will recognize what I mean when I say that for me, in the context of a fried breakfast, black pudding performs like an anchovy in a beef stew. It dissipates a flavor that complements and embraces all the other flavours and yet almost evaporates under examination; umami, as the Japanese have it.
A wonderful experience. And now we hear it is oddly healthy apparently,
“according to well-known nutritional oracle MuscleFood (an online shop specialising in lean meats for body builders). A spokesman … claimed the pudding is becoming so popular with their health-conscious customers that they have declared it ‘a new buzzword in clean eating. Black pudding is a superfood. Low in carbohydrates, high in protein, filled with essential nutrients. Lancastrian Viagra, I call it.”
In a post yesterday, I outlined a few of the developments that are altering Grandview beyond recognition. As if on cue, on Wednesday October 9th, Heritage Vancouver and SFU are hosting a conversation specifically called “What do we do about neighbourhoods?” To quote their website:
“Neighbourhoods are often positively associated with community. They tend to have a combination of qualities that communities identify with which can make them distinct. These include the people, the types of interactions they have with each other, nature, types of commercial spaces, housing tenure, and public spaces in addition to the type and design of buildings. However, there are conflicting views as to whether this distinctiveness is positive or not.”
In 2016, I was a panellist on one of these “Shaping Vancouver” conversations, and this is part of what I had to say then about the changing nature of the Drive:
“Since that time – for some 60 years – the Drive has been the scene of continuous change. We have had a constant change of people on the Drive – starting with the Italians and the Portuguese and some East Europeans, followed by Central Americans, Jamaicans, those from the Middle East, and a variety of Africans. Not only different cultures and nationalities and languages, but also different sexualities and those of various economic circumstances were welcomed to the neighbourhood.
Each of these groups have left their mark on the patina that is the glory of the Drive today. They have changed building styles, grocery options, street art, food availability, everything; and they have done this over and over again.
And all of these continuous changes have been welcomed, indeed encouraged, by most Drive residents. And that is because all these changes have been subtle, incremental, and evolutionary within the general envelope of what the Drive is – which is a place of low-rise buildings, 25′ store fronts, and, importantly, local business ownership.
That is how we got to today, and it this same velocity and style of change that will maintain the Drive that we all love. Introducing rapid and intrusive change can only damage what is a highly successful and well-loved neighbourhood.”
My opinion hasn’t changed. It will be interesting to hear a discussion on this three years later. Hope to see some of you there.
It is good to remember words of wisdom from long ago:
“[T]here is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
— Abraham Lincoln, State of the Union Speech, 3rd December 1861.
It is now about three years since the Grandview Community Plan was bludgeoned through City Council by the pro-development Vision majority. For some while thereafter, it seemed to result in only minor effects on the ground. However, below the surface, seismic events were building up a head of steam.
Almost immediately, realtors and developers had started to plan for their new future. As I noted back in 2017, large numbers of Grandview properties were being offered — at hugely inflated prices –“for assembly” by developers. This had an undoubted effect on the house price inflation that has plagued Grandview until the market correction earlier this year.
Then the proposals started piling up. First, the outrageously incongruous Boffo Tower at Commercial & Adanac was approved, against broad community opposition, for 12 storeys. We have only been saved from that disaster by the developer’s refusal to proceed without even greater heights of absurdity, and the current softness of the luxury condo market.
Do any of these look anything like the neighbourhood we know and love?
My concern is that the avalanche has barely begun.
The Everloving and I went for breakfast today at the Skylight on Commercial. Nothing newsworthy about that; we go there on a regular basis. However, it was special because the Skylight is going to close later this week, with Eva and her husband retiring after working so hard there for more than twenty years. The closing saddens us but, unfortunately, extends a series of such closures.
I love a cooked breakfast, and I particularly love eating a cooked breakfast in inexpensive diners. When I first moved to the Drive in the early 1990s, and living on Graveley, I almost immediately discovered Grant Cafe at 1464 Commercial. The fact that it was positioned at the intersection of Commercial & Grant was a pure coincidence, the cafe having been opened in 1951 by Wally and Gladys Grant at 1501 Commercial. In those days, it was anything but a lowly diner. On its opening, the Highland Echo praised its “unusually pleasant wallpaper design.” After several changes of ownership, the Cafe moved across the street in May 1968 and by the following year was advertising itself as “The Place Where The Elite To Eat.” However, it went through another series of owners in the 1970s and 1980s and, by the time it became my regular haunt, it had become a down-at-heel diner. I thought it was great — the sausages were especially good as I recall — and I was devastated when it closed in 1996.
Luckily, I had already found a substitute. A restaurant called Greek Express had been opened in the Il Mercato mall in 1995. It operated in the space west of Van City and served both breakfast and lunch. The owner was a grumpy old sod but it had the very best coffee I have tasted and the same with their rye toast. Even better, perhaps, was the gorgeous smell that they produced and which saturated the interior foyer of the mall. Unlike say McDonalds where the sickening greasy smell keeps me away, the aroma of the Greek Express was sweet and delightful. Even when I didn’t stop for breakfast, I used to walk through the mall just to enjoy the atmosphere. v At the end of 2000, we moved from Graveley to Adanac, and so the Greek Express became less convenient as a daily stop. However, if I had business at the credit union or SuperValu, say, I made sure to have breakfast at the old place, until they too closed in 2010.
Meanwhile, we had discovered the Skylight within walking distance of our new home. For a couple of years in the early 2010s, I split my breakfast custom between them and the regrettably short-lived Adelines, but the Skylight has been our regular go-to place for the last twenty years. They have friendly service, great coffee, the best corned beef hash I ever ate, and a large cadre of regular customers, many of whom have become nodding acquaintances at the least. During school terms, it is filled at lunch time with Britannia students, and I wonder where they will go when they want something better than a slice of pizza.
We are sad, for ourselves, that our favourite diner is closing. But at the same time, we congratulate Eva and her family on their retirement; they have earned it and I hope they enjoy their rest.