Rich and Poor

              ‘A new report by Oxfam says that since 2020, or over the span of the pandemic, the richest 1% of people have accumulated close to two-thirds of all new wealth created around the world.’

              ‘No surprise there,’ Camp said. ‘The rich get richer and the poor stay poor.’

              ‘According to the report the pace at which wealth is being created has sped up, as the world’s richest 1% amassed around half of a new wealth over the past ten years. Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, called for taxes to be increased for the ultra-rich, saying that this was a “strategic precondition to reducing inequality and resuscitating democracy.”

              ‘Tell that to the new US Congress,’ Camp said. ‘They want to reduce spending on social and health programs and give the rich and corporations another tax break.’

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Drink Up

As the rainy winter drags on and outside activity comes to a soggy standstill, the only fun times seem to be the frequent ‘happy hours’ with friends and neighbours; a glass of wine or a drink in hand, kicking back and telling tall tales and regurgitating memories and old stories. Our weekly Thirsty Thursday meet at the local waterfront pub falls into that category. I wouldn’t want to give it up nor would it be the same with a cup of tea instead of a cold, golden lager. 

‘You must have heard that the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction published a real spoiler last week, recommending that Canadians limit themselves to just two drinks a week – and ideally cut alcohol altogether.‘

‘Indeed, I’ve heard and read all about this shift towards prohibition funded by Health Canada. The previous guidelines issued in 2011 recommended 10 drinks a week for women and 15 drinks a week for men. Talk about a double standard.’

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       I told Camp that I read an interview about a group of researchers at Harvard that had been studying the same 724 men from Boston for over 80 years. They have been observing and interviewing the study participants since 1938, since they were teenagers. One of the boys was future President John F. Kennedy. 40 of the men are still alive today, now around 100 years old. These researchers began studying their children and grandchildren decades ago and eventually included their spouses as well.
          ‘I hope some interesting conclusions can be drawn from this long observation span, I’m sure.’ Camp said. ‘Did they figure out what makes a good life? The key to happiness? Can you be happy without your own family? Is it possible to escape a difficult childhood and still live contentedly?’  
‘Robert Waldinger, the current director of the study supplied some answers in the interview. Strangely, they all struck me as common sense and I didn’t really learn anything that I didn’t know already. Like the conclusions that a healthy diet, a comfortable median income, stable relationships and nurturing friendships all make for a happier life than one of addiction, unhealthy eating habits, poverty, estrangement from family and friends. Apparently, stress, be it existential like wobbly jobs and marriages or poverty makes for an unhappier life than a stable existence surrounded by loved ones.’               
‘Really?’ Camp said, somewhat cynical.  ‘How about the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness but financial security buys peace of mind, resulting in less stress. It took all those resources and brainiacs to come to these conclusions?’               ‘Well yes Camp, I thought the same thing. Guess what, one of the happiest participants wasn’t the richest or the most successful but a teacher who lived a life full of compassion for his pupils and his family, always putting the community ahead of personal needs and finding satisfaction and happiness in the achievement of others under his tutelage or within his realm of influence.’                ‘Ok, I get it. A windfall from a lottery ticket or a goal in a soccer match gives one a burst of happiness that lasts a short time but when a pupil graduates and thanks the teacher or when a charitable involvement results in the betterment of the recipients, that kind of satisfaction goes a lot further. What astonished me is that it took dozens of academics, psychiatrists and psychologists over 80 years to come to these conclusions when they could have just asked themselves.’        
  ‘Kind of reminds me of a story about this hermit who after many decades of meditation finally mastered how to walk on water. ‘For a few coins you could have taken the ferry, the buddha is known to have said to the pious sage.’        
  ‘Ok, so the key to happiness is: help those around you, reciprocate and nurture the love of your friends and family, be humble and fair and enjoy the life you have.’          ‘You’re now sounding like some wise guy. Just enjoy the beer, the pristine vistas and the company you have. That includes Vicky who just happens to be on her game today,’ Camp said with an appreciative nod to our server’s perfect timing with two fresh frosty mugs.           

Weather and Politics

‘In with the new year, much like the old year.’ I said as I sat down across from Camp, We were the only two guests on this soggy and glum winter day. 

‘You’re right, not even the weather changed,’ Camp said. ‘Have you noticed how people in Canada constantly check their weather apps, several times a day, looking for improvement when the rest of the world just stick their head out the door or window?’

‘I do it as well, just to confirm that what I’m looking at is actually true. The weather is much like politics: unreliable, unpredictable and subject to change.’

‘A new congress in the US, hijacked by a fistful of fanatics from the extreme fringe, promises cold and chilly winds coming from the right. It seems to me that wherever you look, from Brazil to Israel, from the US to Alberta, a militant, fascist minority impose their ideology and agenda onto the majority by way of political blackmail, and siege tactics and propaganda built on lies and conspiracy theories,’ Camp ranted.

‘And what is their agenda really?’ I said and didn’t have to wait long for an answer from my friend.’ 

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Year End Rituals

            Once again, we’re moving into the season where schools close, year-end reviews permeate the airwaves and print media, the weather turns nasty and the many coloured lights come on lighting up neighbourhoods, trees and even construction cranes in the city. It’s supposed to be a time for reflection, taking account of the past year, and making personal resolutions for the year to come. Or not. 

This is also the time of year where families gather despite the difficult travel and weather conditions, presents are exchanged – or not – and foodbanks need all the donations they can gather. To be homeless at this time of year is multiplied by the fact that those unfortunate enough to have no home, most likely have no family and few friends they can count on. In other words, this time of year exacerbates their predicament. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Glamorous parties are the counterpoint to long lineups at the foodbank and the soup kitchens. 

Children at this time of year are excited with all the lights, the feverish shopping of the parents, being out of school, the cookies and the anticipation of presents. Of course, there are the religious celebrations, the enactment of romantic stories about a poor, homeless couple with a new born fleeing persecution and finding shelter in a stable full of animals. This of course has no resemblance to the homeless down on their luck in our inner cities, living in tents and makeshift shelters.  No temples and cathedrals are going to be built in their honour. 

We’re in Mexico where the decorations and religious rituals are taken to another level and town squares are turned into magical fantasy sets replete with over life sized straw animals. Aztek warriors with splendid plumage on their heads and fisher folk casting imaginary nets are joined by indigenous dancers and of course, always eclipsed by a large and splendidly decorated tree. Church-bells are ringing at the oddest times and fireworks go off most every night. 

Many Mexicans still live in extended family households where everybody joins in keeping the family unit functioning and together. Old people are cared for within the household, babies and toddlers are looked after within the family and those who work and earn, share and participate. This includes those who have to go afar, to the US or Canada, to make a meagre living in order to send some money home. We don’t see many homeless here. Yes, there are street people but most of them have something to sell, a few fruits or vegetables or some other products like honey or simple weavings or a small basket made of pine needles. Yes, the weather is warmer here than in Vancouver at this time of year and nobody freezes to death. Yesterday there was an event in the decorated plaza that advertised itself as ‘Nobody goes cold’ with various musicians playing for donations of blankets and warm clothes. By the end of the day a large pile of ponchos, blankets, hoodies, jackets and sweaters was collected to be distributed to those in need. A sense of communality is evident by the crowds gathering every day to just walk and look at the lights and sights whereas at home we are mostly enclosed in our homes or the malls. Not much outdoor life at this time of year.

To end the year and start a new one is part of the cyclic nature of our lives and closing rituals are an essential part and they help us release and let go of the past, good or bad; it’s a time to think about the future and what’s yet to come. We all have the three ghosts of Dickens tale, the past, the present and the future and all together they make up who we are and the things we’ve done and have yet to do. 

Do we have a reason to celebrate and make merry? I suppose it depends on your situation. Personally, I don’t really care about the rituals of this season – bah-humbug – but I enjoy the lights, the food and the gatherings. I‘m thinking of my friend who is dying; I’m  thinking of my niece and her fragile, new baby; I’m thinking of our neighbours and friends who enrich our lives and how fortunate we are to have each other.

Feliz Navidad

Good News

I walked briskly along the waterfront just when the light was fading and only the sugar-coated north shore mountains where still lit by the dipping sun. I was early and waited for Camp who showed up in an unusual good mood. ‘What’s up? I asked.

            ‘I had a record day of sales today. Maybe people got wound up with all this Black Friday and Cyber Monday hype, making them feel like they missed something. Also, more people are reading books this time of year when it gets dark so soon and they’re stuck inside.

 ‘Did you have any black Friday sales?’

 ‘You’re kidding right. How about ‘Free Books Tomorrow’ or ‘Buy two Books for only one Bill.’

            ‘Talking about books; I’m reading ‘Human Kind’ by Rutger Bregman, I’m sure you know it. It’s a hopeful history of our species and full of positive stories about how disaster and wars bring out the best in us, not the worst as so many want us to believe, from old philosophers like Hobbes to anthropologists like Chagnon, to today’s tabloids and news outlets.’

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‘How was the book fair?’ I asked Camp after he’d taken his pea coat off and sat down.

            ‘Good fun. So many excited and hopeful young writers and plenty of older book junkies like myself getting together at the end of the day for a pint or two.  Did you know that on average over 1000 books are published in Canada every month? Add to those the self-published titles and you can triple that number.’

            ‘That could be depressing for any writer struggling to get a book together. You and I know what it takes. Years of lonely toil, self-doubts, re-writes, and rejections.’ 

            ‘It’s a labour of love my friend. A compulsion and a passion. Some people just have to write every day, mostly for themselves as their main audience.’ 

            ‘Do any of those self-published books sell? Is there any money in writing?’

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Power to the the People

            Camp is attending a pre-x-mas book fair in the big city this weekend. That gives me a chance to slip this little essay in.

The world needs power, ever more, to energize everything from electric toothbrushes to e-cars, from computers to manufacturing processes, for lights, cooling and heating. Thousands of activities and consumer gadgets, industrial processes and comfort needs require electricity: power and energy. When we talk and think about renewable energy, we tend to confuse this with free energy, drawn from the sun, the wind and the thermal heat underground, the kind of energy which is boundless and there for the taking. But like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy within an isolated system always increases, so is the 1st law of life which proclaims: there are no free lunches.       

Energy is wildly abundant all over the universe but harnessing it and then releasing it to drive, move and energize specific tasks like motors, resistance (heat, light) and transistors is where the cost comes in. Labour, infra structure, storage and transmission. Wind and solar radiation are free but to translate them into power is an elaborate and expensive process. Water flows downhill but to hold it back and transform its energy into electricity takes massive dams, turbines, transformers and transmission lines. Burning fossil fuels, which is a finite resource and energy sink, to heat water and drive steam turbines and generators, is also costly and leaves behind planet warming emissions and pollution.  Then there is nuclear power which is a relatively clean energy, except for Uranium mining and burned out fuel-rod storage. That’s about it: hydro, coal, oil, wind, solar and nuclear. Which would you like to power your elevator or charge your electric car?

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November 11th is Remembrance Day here in Canada, Veterans Day in the US, observed throughout the Commonwealth to honour those who have died in the line of duty. 

We remember the more than 2,300,000 Canadians who have served throughout our nation’s history and the more than 118,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth. It was originally called ‘Armistice Day’ to commemorate the agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

In order to honour the day, we changed our usual pub by the sea for a draught at the local Legion. The view isn’t as spectacular and the clientele isn’t as diverse, mostly pensioners, from sexagenarians to octogenarians. There are no servers, only a bar tender but the beer is cheap and plentiful. Legions in Canada can be found in every town and city, from the Billy Bishop Branch in Kits to the Roberts Creek Branch here on the coast, most of them struggling to survive but one of the few places where you can still dance to live music by local cover bands on most Saturdays. It’s also a place to have cheap lunch on Fridays and play some serious snooker or darts. 

‘What do you think Camp. Are the wars glorified by the pageantry of Remembrance Day ceremonies?’

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Remember Tim Leary’s motto: Turn on, tune in, drop out?’ I said to Camp who was relaxing with a pint in hand. ‘It could fit today’s political and social media environment. Turn on your brain, tune in to reality and drop out of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.’

‘You got a point there but old Tim was talking about psychedelic drugs. Today we have a toxic cognitive environment where the wildest conspiracy theories and unfounded claims find more traction than the boring truth and facts. ‘

‘Exactly. As a US professor who studies polarization and extremism said: We now have a population that is unable to discern what is true and what is not. People are willing to accept conspiracy theories when they reinforce the narrative they already hold in their minds.’

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‘The rain is coming,’ Camp promised

 ‘Are you a politician or the weather man?’

 ‘You’re right, they both make promises and are only right half of the time.’

‘It seems that the ‘new world order’ – to borrow a phrase from the conspiracists which allege a secretly emerging totalitarian world government – is happening in increments with populist leaders and governments gaining traction from Hungary to Sweden and Italy and close to home in Alberta,’ I said.

‘Don’t forget Iran which is a religious dictatorship or China which is now a de facto totalitarian state with the usual tools like strict censorship, political and cultural repression and jail for those who oppose Xi and his reign of fear and tyranny,’ Camp said.

‘I read about the ‘bridge man’, the lone protester who hung a banner from a busy overpass thousands of miles from the Beijing congress. Let me read you what it said: ‘Life not zero-Covid policy freedom not martial-law lockdown, dignity not lies, reform not cultural revolution, votes not dictatorship, citizens not slaves.’

Of course, this action has been furiously scrubbed from Chinese social media and Xi has now been confirmed as Emperor for life. He wants to be bigger than Mao.’

‘Nothing good will come of it, not for the Chinese, not for the world,’ I said.

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Food & Energy

            Canadian Thanksgiving is over and the turkey soups and sandwiches are done and fall is officially upon us but I’m certainly not complaining about the continuing unseasonably warm and dry weather. Can we still call it Indian summer or is that a derogatory reference, woke or politically incorrect? Camp waved off my concerns as unnecessary polemics. ‘It’s a common phrase that simply refers to warm fall days, kind of like a second summer.’

            I had something on my mind and wanted Camp’s input. ‘All of Europe, and a lot of people elsewhere, are very concerned about the coming winter’s supply or lack of energy to maintain their life styles. Anything from hot water to gadgets, from hair dryers to tumblers, hot tubs to heating systems, is now being looked at with a new and concerned scrutiny. Gone are the days when we could waste energy without giving it a second thought,’ I said.

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The Short and the Long

            ‘It’s the endless summer,’ I said to Camp when I settled into my corner at our watering hole. ‘No rain in three months makes this a lovely summer.’

            ‘Except for the usual stage 4 water restrictions, forest fires and dried up salmon streams,’ Camp grumbled, ‘but winter is coming, as they say.’ 

            ‘Oh well, I love this time of year, harvest time in Clare’s garden, which is awash in zucchinis and yellow tomatoes. We’ve been eating, canning and freezing the bounty. You and Muriel must come over for dinner.’

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Stones and Words

            ‘How was jolly old England?’ Camp asked me after I sat down, happily surveying the unchanging moving picture of the harbour, the comings and goings of boaters and people and the noisy gulls. It feels good to be home again and have a pint with Camp who looks a bit like Einstein in his dotage. I think he needs a haircut but I better not say anything because he prides himself not to give a hoot about his appearance. ‘Did you like London?’

‘Yes, I did. We walked for miles around the old city, along the Thames and past all the iconic buildings and landmarks. Lucky for us, we were there just days before the Queen died, so we still had unrestricted access to all the gigantic stone monstrosities: castles, cathedrals, bridges and towers. I was most impressed with the Modern Tate gallery which is in a huge old former power station.’ 

‘Did you go to Stonehenge?’

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The Only Way: A Diatribe by Campbell Roberts

            Once in a while my good friend Campbell or Camp as everyone knows him goes off on a soliloquy or monologue, usually classified as a diatribe. Since this is not a discussion with differing points of view but a sermon aimed at a choir of one – me – I find it easiest to listen and look out the window at the water, the gulls and boats and let him get it off his chest. It went something like this:

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Together is Better

At an anniversary celebration a couple of weeks ago, one of the guests asked of the long-married couple what it takes to make a marriage last.  The usual banter and jokes were offered like ‘make love not war’, ‘too busy to think about it’ or ‘time is not the enemy of everlasting love’. I asked Camp what he thought.

‘Well, that’s a loaded question,’ he said, ‘since I’m only wedded for a few years I’m not the expert on longevity in matrimony. I would say that tolerance of each other’s idiosyncrasies and giving each other the personal space is probably the most important facet of my relationship with Muriel.  Without her support for some of my silly habits like reading the news at 3am or my bizarre conviction that I’m always right it wouldn’t last.’ 

‘I’ll let you in on a little secret Camp,’ I said.

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Three Fears

The pub was busy with the summer crowd. I love this time of year when I don’t have to worry about socks and sweaters, pants and jackets. This is T-shirts, shorts and sandals weather.  Except we have local water restrictions and wild fires in the province.

            After my walk along the shore I half emptied the cool refreshing pint that Vicky sat down in front of me the moment I sat down. Camp was late, which was usually good news since this meant customers in the book store. He finally arrived and like me downed half his pint. These are thirsty days. ‘What’s on your mind these days? Plenty of things to worry about I take it.,’ Camp said.

There are three things that scare me Camp,’ I said.

            ‘What are those? Old age, incontinency, losing your mind?’

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Charter of Liberties

‘Are you familiar with the Magna Carta?’ Camp asked me when we were comfortable settled at our usual table at our favorite seaside pub.

            ‘You mean the English Common Law from the Middle Ages? I’m superficially familiar with the term. What gives?’

            ‘A friend handed me a printout the other day pertaining to this charter of liberties of which the English barons convinced King John – yes, the one of Robin Hood fame – to give his assent to this document in June 1215 in Runnymede, along the river Thames in Surrey, about 20 miles west of London.’

            ‘Ok, why is it called the Magna Carta?’

            ‘It means ‘Great Charter’ and it was mainly composed by Cardinal Stephen Langdon as part of a mediation agreement for peace between Pope Innocent III and King John. But the Pope was infuriated by the arrogant behavior of the 25 barons who enshrined the Magna Carta into law and he annulled the Charter which he deemed a threat to his authority.’

            ‘Power and Politics?’

            ‘Yes, the usual I guess but the charter stands up through the ages while that Pope is long gone.

            ‘Ok, so how does it compare to our Charter of Rights?’

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Health and Wealth

‘Emergency rooms are closing; paramedics are struggling to answer 911 calls and hospitals all over the country are stretched to the limit. We can’t just blame Covid for all that can we?’ I wanted to hear Camp’s opinion on this issue.

‘The pandemic just highlighted what we’ve known for years. Not enough physicians, nurses and hospital personnel, underpaid care workers, immigrant doctors not able to get their Canadian license, family doctors a dying breed. Exasperating all of this? The same driving factors as in the worker’s shortage: Aging population, boomer retirement, not enough training and a lack of incentives for rural doctors and nurses.’

‘I read about a desperate senior – one of nearly one million people in BC without a family doctor – who took out an ad to find one. That got the attention of the premier who quipped he might do the same in order to get the federal government’s attention, which is woefully underfunding the provinces.’ 

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The Dragon, the Shark and the Elephant

            ‘I want to recommend a book I’ve just read by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former speech writer. After Trump’s election Ben travelled the world, visiting former politicians and friends he made in the eight years working at the centre of power. It’s very insightful and he is able to explain a lot of what is going on, how social media is able to shape peoples mind and what motivates politicians like Putin and Xi. I highly recommend it,’ Camp said, taking a sip from his pint.

            ‘When do you have time to read?’ Isn’t summer the busy season?’

            ‘There are always lulls between the onrush of crowds and I consider reading working, sampling the wares I sell.’

            ‘If you say so.’

‘Rhodes points out that while the XXth century was about ideology, the XXIst one is about identity,’ Camp said, ‘and this identity is constructed from inward looking nationalism, flag bearing and partisan patriotism and a revisionist history. More and more we’re pulled into a nationalistic and fascist maelstrom that is promoted by a slew of US- social media which is gobbling up all the advertising, away from print media and even TV. We know that and don’t seem to do anything about it. We always blame the Other for our societal failings. It’s the foreigner’s fault, the Jews, the brown and black migrants, or these days the liberals and socialists who is anybody not in the neo-con camp.  No matter if it’s inflation, skyrocketing Real estate prices or even climate change. It’s all the Other’s fault.’

‘I guess we’re part of these Other’s then. I’m a liberal social democrat, read established print media and do not subscribe to any social media platform.’

‘We’re now the minority,’ Camp said, ‘and it’s also generational. Millenials are all connected and that electronic connectivity is their religion. It tells them how to live, what to buy, read and believe.’

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