Category Archives: Opinion/Comment

Ontario’s climate change plan – A Response

For those of you who live in Ontario: the Government has a consultation underway right now about its climate change plan. If you’re surprised to hear that, so was I. The process closes on November 16. You can provide input to it by clicking here. Given that the current government cancelled the previous government’s climate change programs (fair game, a new broom sweeps clean) it’s asking for input – also fair game, though it’s not fair game that the process is hurried, largely unpublicized, and completely anonymous. In the age of trolls and bots, that anonymity is surprising. I’m firmly of the view that if people had to identify themselves, and could not hide behind handles and avatars, they would be more civil and honest in the comments they make; and that the results would be less manipulable and more representative of actual citizen opinion.

In that spirit – my submission follows in entirety (and I encourage you to make your own!):

First of all I want the government to base its approach on science and the scientific method. State unequivocally that the climate change we are observing is the result of human activity. You need to eliminate climate change denial as a defense to do nothing.

Second, do not be ideological in policy formulation. Every reputable economist, including the latest Nobel laureate, says that pricing carbon is the most effective way to reduce emissions. I am a common sense person and I know this to be true. Price signals work. Your own “Areas of Focus” stipulates the goal of “unlocking the power of the private sector to finance and drive innovative climate solutions.” Set a price on carbon, and let the power of the private sector solve the problem. Stop changing the approach mid-stream for petty political purposes. It signals that you are not serious about the issue and do not believe there is a problem; it confuses those who should be working on solutions.

Unfortunately your Government is fighting the federal government’s plan to tax carbon and rebate the proceeds to the people. The reasons seem purely political. They are not based in sound theory. Ontario will have to use sub-optimal methods to curb emissions. But as you claim to want to take action (in a ‘made-in-Ontario’ way), go sector by sector, find the biggest sources of emissions, and target them. Give emitters clear targets to achieve, and ensure they make them, without exception.

Third, while we need to plan mitigation measures, because climate change is now inevitable, it is far cheaper to reduce carbon emissions now to avoid more damage than to respond ineffectively to the damage later. The insurance sector is very clear on this. The future costs of climate change will dwarf the cost of solutions we implement now. So please, don’t make this consultation another empty process for political purposes. DO SOMETHING that will reduce emissions, and stop wasting valuable time.

As Merran Smith and Dan Woynillowicz wrote in the Globe & Mail recently (see https://www.theglobeandmail.com/…/article-denying-solution…/), denying solutions that work is a form of climate change denial. Do not reject any solution out of hand without determining its cost/benefit and efficacy.

Fourth, if Ontario is not part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. The only way we can address the challenge of climate change is to act in a concerted manner with other jurisdictions in Canada, and around the world. We cannot go it alone. If Ontario is going to rely on its own ‘made-in-Ontario’ approach, it has it work. It must reduce emissions. It must meet our international obligations. And we must hold other jurisdictions, in Canada and elsewhere, to THEIR obligations.

Finally, I object to the fact that this consultation is anonymous. I attest that this is my only submission; but how on earth can you rely on the feedback you get if no one who comments is accountable? How representative is the feedback you get? How can you follow up to confirm anything?

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Open Content and Star Wars

Wikipedia edits on Star Wars - The Last Jedi

Just to illustrate the pros and cons of Wikipedia, here is how para 3 of the article on The Last Jedi read this morning, and again a half hour later.

I use Wikipedia all the time. It’s a really useful general resource, and I donate every year to the Foundation. Still, let’s acknowledge its limitations. Its open content status means it can be manipulated by anybody in the short-term.

There is no substitute for diligent, independent research based on multiple sources. In other words, get thee to a good old-fashioned library.

The Book Cover and 911

APOL - NYC, at WTC
A Person of Letters at 1 World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) in New York

Today, as the anniversary of 911 approaches, I want to put aside the whimsical APOL tour to talk about the cover of A Person of Letters. Person is a satire on writing, creativity, obsession, and love. That encompasses a lot of territory, and while there is humour in the book, there is absolutely nothing funny about 911.  So why are those two not-quite-WTC towers depicted on the cover of the book?

Perhaps it was an over-reach. Those who have read Person know that it is not about 911. It is the life story of its narrator, and yes, he is there, in one of the towers, on September 11. He, like so many others, got out of bed that morning, put on his socks, and went about his business, not suspecting the cataclysm that was to come. He survived, although he is wounded and scarred, both physically and psychologically, by the experience. It changes him, and having cheated death (or so he believes) he changes the course of his life, setting out to write—to become a man of letters.

Back in the early, gleam-in-the-eye days when I began work on Person, I decided to subject an ordinary (if quirky) character to a life-changing ordeal, and imagine how he would react and what he would do. The question was, what kind of ordeal? I didn’t want it to be the subject of the book. I reasoned that by throwing him into the horrific cataclysm that was 911, he would be traumatized and forced to take stock of his life—and as everyone knows what happened that day, I would not have to write about the event itself. My skills were (are) simply not up to that task, and it was what happened afterwards that I wanted to explore: how he responds.

He is certainly deeply affected; he manifests all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress; but in his survivor’s guilt, he refuses to acknowledge his own PTSD. He chooses instead to escape—he writes about anything but the experience that traumatized and nearly killed him. He becomes obsessed, and as his journey unfolds, he veers (possibly—it is left to the reader to decide) into madness. Is the spark external (his experience) or internal (a seed that was always there)? (Or is it pharmaceutical? I left many clues to that possibility.)

I wanted to examine many things in Person: if there is a manic aspect to creativity; the point at which obsession becomes madness; and how somebody’s creation actually becomes “art”—how does it get recognized? To my narrator’s credit, he refuses to be defined by the 911 experience; he is an everyman who takes up a pen, and he wants only to be known on the merit of his oeuvre. But that is not how things work, and ultimately he is defined in terms suggested by others.

911 is a turning point in the character’s life, but A Person of Letters is not about 911, and I know that the picture on its cover confuses some people on that point. In light of that confusion, I might today choose different imagery, but artist Andrew Judd’s iconic image was created to be symbolic, not literal.  What appear to be two towers, one flaming , one inert, are actually books. Person’s protagonist finds relief from his trauma in writing. The two volumes represent his first book, which has come to nothing, and his second, which is stalled. Perhaps the reason is his refusal from the start to confront his trauma straight on. Instead, he produced a muddled, un-publishable nautical epic, an escape, so he thought, but in truth an avoidance; hence the ship on Person’s cover, sailing away from the conflagration at its centre.

For those who question the cover, I accept your perspective. 911 was a cruel tragedy. But inspiration comes from many places, and in many forms. From darkness springs insight, and in this case, dark farce; and hopefully, a modicum of truth.

Note: Information on my novel A Person of Letters is available at Martin Scribler Media. The book’s solo world tour is documented on this tour archive; it owes much to magical realism.

We Stand On Guard For Thee

APOL - Niagara, Queenston Hts 6

To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, APOL is on Queenston Heights, where in 1812 a combined force of British regulars, Canadian militia, and First Nations warriors repulsed an American army—and saved Canada.

British General Sir Isaac Brock died leading a charge up the heights, and when his Canadian aide-de-camp John Macdonnell assumed command of the assault, he too was killed. Today a memorial column stands atop the Niagara escarpment to commemorate the victory that was ultimately won, and the battle’s fallen. A statue of General Brock stands in silent vigil atop the massive pillar, a reminder of the cost of Canadian sovereignty and independence.

Happy Birthday, Canada. Chi-miigwech, to all those who Stand on Guard. And Happy Canada Day, world.

(A different type of American invasion has occurred in Canada over more recent decades. Today, the Canadian retail landscape is dominated by American chains. Perhaps it is more benign form of invasion than that of 1812, but it remains a sore point for APOL, which has yet to win shelf space at Walmart or Price Club. Perhaps it will seize these heights in due course. In the meantime, though, A Person of Letters is readily available on the American behemoth Amazon’s many domestic and international platforms.  Readers everywhere are encouraged to support this hard-fought bridgehead.)

Note: “APOL” is the anthropomorphic version of my satirical novel A Person of Letters, which has gone on tour without me (with a wink and a nod to magical realism). Follow APOL’s quixotic world tour here or on my Facebook Author Page, and read about all of APOL’s (mis)adventures in sequence on this tour archive.  For information about the book, go to Martin Scribler Media.

On the Abrogation of the Paris Climate Pact

polarbear,
Photo credit: Mario Hoppmann, AFP/Getty Images

In his Second Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln invoked passages from both the Old and New Testaments to describe the significance of the challenge his nation then confronted, and to emphasize his commitment to see justice prevail. Whether you are religious, or whether you love the beauty of the language of the King James bible for its own sake, or whether you admire the eloquence of a leader who did not shrink from a grave and momentous struggle, it seems appropriate on this day, the day his latest successor withdrew his country from the Paris Climate Agreement, to consider again the words he chose to emphasize in 1865:

“Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” (Matthew 18:7)

“…so still it must be said, ’the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” (Psalm 19:9)

So too, the judgments of history are true and righteous. This is a bad decision, and history will judge Donald Trump accordingly.

What Would George Washington Think?

01_george_washington1“Never be agitated by more than a decent warmth and offer your sentiments with modest diffidence,” George Washington once advised. “…opinions thus given are listened to with more attention than when delivered in a dictatorial style.” This is worthy advice for any leader. On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, I can’t help wondering what America’s first president would make of its latest.

I just completed Ron Chernow’s exhaustive, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, “Washington: A Life.” Chernow’s account is sympathetic and sometimes hagiographic, but it does not ignore the contradictions of the man, a slave-owning icon of Liberty. George Washington was a man of his time, and today historical figures are judged by contemporary standards. Be that as it may, I have new respect for Washington and his accomplishments. He was a leader of moderation and balance, a dignified, magisterial character who acted in the best interests of his fledgling country, its people, and its democracy. Would that there were such an individual to lead his country now.

A Pause to Remember

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The APOL book tour pauses this week as I myself pause to remember a friend who has passed away. Don Stewart was a naval officer and successful businessman, husband, and father. I first met him in the summer of 1976, when we entered basic training at CFB Esquimalt, BC.  Don was a loyal friend, a guy you counted yourself lucky to know, someone who you knew had your back and would never let you down. He was a born leader with an impish sense of fun; and he told marvellous stories, some of which were tall, all of which were entertaining.

Don is seen here in California last winter; he was an early reader of A Person of Letters, and one of the first enablers of “APOL” on its quirky world tour. He and his wife Karen kindly sent me photos of the book taken in the Palm Desert area. These photos launched the tour on January 19 of last year – almost exactly a year ago. This is, then, a good moment to pause; although I deeply regret the circumstances. RIP, old friend.

We are the sum of our experience, of our triumphs and defeats, and the friends we meet along the way.