Alcohol is not just in our stories — the stories that kiciwamanawak [Cree for white settler Canadians] first told about us that some of us continue to tell and believe. You see, alcohol is also in kiciwamanawak stories, the stories they tell about themselves. However, it is told much differently: they are never “the lazy, drunk, white person” in their own stories about alcohol.

To many kiciwamanawak alcohol is an everyday thing. It’s a glass of wine with supper, or a beer or two while watching the game on television, or a glass of whiskey in the evening. To them, alcohol is natural, normal, and even necessary. In their stories about alcohol, their social position determines the amount they spend on alcohol. The higher they are in their social and class structure, the more expensive the alcohol they must consume.

In their story, if a person does not drink, it is automatically assumed they do not drink because they have a religious reason, or, more often, it’s assumed it’s because they can’t handle it. Only alcoholics in their story do not drink. Healthy, normal people in that story often consume alcohol daily. Every significant event is marked by alcohol: birthdays, marriages, graduations, a sports team winning (or losing), and even death is saluted with a drink, a toast. To not drink in the kiciwamanawak story is to cut oneself off from important parts of the story. Their story and the alcohol story are so entangled that one becomes the other. The kiciwamanawak story becomes the alcohol story and the alcohol story becomes the kiciwamanawak story.

Johnson, Harold R. Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). 2016. University of Regina Press; Regina.

{ 1 comment }

In a piece for The Guardian, Thomas Piketty argues that inequality in the U.S. and the failure of governments to address it are the primary cause of Trump’s victory. He argues that:

The main lesson for Europe and the world is clear: as a matter of urgency, globalization must be fundamentally re-oriented. The main challenges of our times are the rise in inequality and global warming. We must therefore implement international treaties enabling us to respond to these challenges and to promote a model for fair and sustainable development.

Piketty’s claim about inequality seems plausible in part because of how mental distortions seem to be central to the social and political consequences of inequality.

I am increasingly open to the view that the two ideas are related, including through the sense of entitlement that accompanies privilege. The terrifying willingness to impose suffering and death on innocent people around the world and on nature in order to maintain a preferred lifestyle is at the heart of the climate crisis.


{ 1 comment }

Here’s an irony of the Trump election:

The electoral college was recommended by Alexander Hamilton, who argued in Federalist Paper 68 that: “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”.

Of course, if the 2016 election had been conducted based on the winner of the popular vote getting the presidency then candidates, parties, and voters would all have behaved differently. You can’t take the results of a game played with one scoring formula, then project that the results would have been the same under different rules. Among other things, under a popular vote system both Democrats and Republicans would have worked harder to turn out the vote in uncompetitive states, and voters would probably have been more willing to cast a ballot in non-swing states. It’s impossible to say whether Trump would have done better or worse than under the electoral college, making the petition to have the electors choose Hilary Clinton instead misguided, at least insofar as they rely on the popular vote outcome as justification.

The “not in an eminent degree endowed” justification may be stronger, but it’s hard to argue that the members of the electoral college (or signers of the petition) are more capable of judging the question legitimately than voters following the system which the U.S. has in place for electing a president.


High Park trees


Squirrel graffiti


For a few reasons, I am trying to reconsider what sort of political activity presents the best odds of helping to mitigate the seriousness of climate change.

I think people are right to target new fossil fuel infrastructure. There is a good chance of delaying or preventing many projects which would otherwise worsen humanity’s total historical carbon emissions. We just need to be careful to move on from tactics which have proven ineffective. I would put big marches and many common forms of direct action into this category.

There also needs to be a sustained effort against complacency within the environmental movement. We can’t fall into a pattern of doing things which are emotionally fulfilling to us, but which aren’t advancing a clear external purpose. “Raising awareness” doesn’t count.

We need to be working on cross-ideological alliances.

We need to keep developing alliances with other social justice movements, but make sure to try to do so strategically. Just because a clause is laudable doesn’t mean it’s prudent to engage in allyship automatically.

We need to be developing an alliance with what remains of the unionized labour movement: at a minimum to support the development of training programs for fossil fuel sector workers, and more ambitiously to support the emergence of an electable political ideology that calls for the transition away from capitalism intent on endless growth in consumption.

We need to keep pushing climate solutions justified in other ways. If people in some jurisdictions or social groups are more interested in renewable energy because of energy security reasons, it’s worth working with them on the deployment of climate-safe energy. Shutting down coal plants because of their appalling toxic pollution is just as desirable as shutting them down because of their damaging GHG emissions.

Other ideas?

{ 1 comment }

Red canopy


My second (worse) wave of grading for this term has begun: first year essays which we are vexatiously required to grade exclusively online.

At the same time, my PhD proposal continues to drift into strenge new realms of lateness; opening my email inbox produces blasts of panic; and it’s hard not to obsess over the insanity south of the border, even if that obsessing serves no productive purpose. The Trump victory also raises questions for my PhD project, with my supervisor making the dispiriting suggestion that it may be wise to drop Keystone XL from the analysis, and possibly refocus the whole project on opposition to natural resource projects in Western Canada, including fracking. This is about the last thing I want when I desperately need to get a proposal submitted and approved, and then get ethical approval granted.

On another note, the Lionel Massey Foundation (Massey’s student council) has acclaimed a “new College photographer” whose one set so far, from the Halloween dance, strikes me as rather amateur in quality.

To add to it all, I have not been paid for my teaching work since April 28th and have been living by drawing down the PhD account I established while still working and spending every cent I have ever earned from photography (no gear replacement or repair for the foreseeable future).


Gold leaves


Fractal branching