New American Civil War?

I’m sitting here pretty much incapacitated by some undetermined health issues, anticipating yet another doctor’s appointment tomorrow to go over yet another set of lab results, and trying to distract myself from too much inward looking self-pity. At least I can still write. The brain fog I’m experiencing makes it somewhat more difficult than in the past, but I can still do it, especially if I write about something I have some passing knowledge of.

A new American Civil War? Perhaps. The first American Civil War in the 1860s was fought by agricultural capitalists in the South against industrial capitalists in the North but it was couched in state-based rhetoric: Northern states versus Southern states. During the war, there was less emphasis on the economic interests than on slavery, ‘freedom’, and the need for a ‘United’ States. Capitalism can tolerate slavery to some extent, but it really needs a labour force that is also a consumer force. Slavery is incompatible with a growing need for mass consumption. Of course the first American Civil War was fought using non-economic rhetoric and propaganda but the underlying logic of the war was economic and political. Contemporary Confederate flag wavers are not focussed on economic, but on some imagined lost ‘freedom’, and Southern solidarity: Us hard-done-by-Southerners versus You overbearing, holier-than-thou Northerners. The longevity and sustainability of Southern feelings of oppression by the North should tell us something about the depth of feeling in the US now. Looking at a map of the US featuring red and blue states illustrates that there are still glaring geographical differences in people’s attitudes and in their political loyalties. The Southern states, now including Texas, are still feeling hard-done-by. (Some of the northern mid-American agricultural/rural states likewise). Visiting Texas it’s clear that there is an underlying uneasiness and separatist impulses have not completely dissolved. I haven’t visited Idaho, Wyoming or Montana, but rural, agricultural areas are clearly alienated from New York and California. It may be the United States of America, but it’s not the Solidarity States of America. Internecine squabbles and jealousies abound.

The Second American Civil War may well have a rhetorical veneer of statism and rage (yes, rage) over perceived (and sometimes real) social and economic inequalities, but if Donald Trump is successful, it will be a moral war, one fought by people who have fully absorbed the moral imperatives of the capitalist promise of free enterprise (while hardly benefitting from it personally) against people they perceive to have abandoned American ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’. The move to impeach Trump will only further solidify the camps, but Trump has not given the Democrats many options. I’ve recently read a number of articles in the New Republic and in other publications that argue that the way to combat Trumpism is not to call out Trump supporters as stupid, ignorant morons, but to engage in dialogue and community building with them so as to understand their grievances and support them in coming to a more reasoned assessment of the issues. I’m not sure there’s time for that.

Trump will continue to inflame passions with his frequent Tweet storms and rallies, accusing high level policy makers of treason and high crimes. How long can this go on? How long will it be before we see a convoy of Mad Max wannabes rampaging through the streets of America’s major cities randomly shooting people, raping and pillaging? How long will it be after the initial skirmishes and outburst will be see anti-Trump militias grow in defence of their families and communities? What of the police? Will they serve the American Constitution against concerted attacks on democracy from all sides? Will they be peacemakers or will they take sides? And what of the military? Will the military take sides? Would the military support Trump if he decided not to vacate the White House after a narrow electoral defeat in 2020?

It’s dreadful to even think about possible scenarios of violence, lawlessness, and totalitarianism but to not think about them is irresponsible.

I’m a Canadian. As Pierre Trudeau said decades ago, we are a mouse sleeping next to an elephant. Woe be the moment when the elephant rolls over in his sleep. For Canadians there is no isolation from American extremism. Over 80% of us live within a hundred miles of the American border. We have family and friends in the US. We worry about their safety and security.

I am a retired college teacher. I told my students decades ago that America was headed for a civil war. The tensions caused by American corporations creating global markets and (at least for the moment) eliminating good paying jobs in manufacturing to exploit cheap labour in Asia, Africa and South and Central America, were bound to lead to widespread social unrest, nationalism and jingoism. I don’t think that global supply chains and markets are going to be easily dissuaded by Trump. They continue to create subsidiaries and engage contractors in China, India and elsewhere. North American manufacturers continue to expand their supply chains and are not interested in containing their activities to US territory nor would they be interested in repatriating manufacturing. I can’t imagine Nike returning to Oregon to manufacture its products. It has no capacity to do so in the US and it would be prohibitively expensive to build new factories in Beaverton, Oregon, the site of its headquarters. There are some agricultural corporations that are moving their processing facilities from Canada to the US in a move, in part, to placate Trump supporters, but they still need Canadian raw materials. The complexity of global capitalism is staggering and strangely enough, that is what gives me any hope at all that a second American Civil War can be avoided. Many US manufacturing corporations that keep research and development functions in the US but produce their commodities everywhere else on the globe are pushing back against Trump’s tariffs. For example, iPhones are made in several places, mostly in China (check out FoxxCon) but may also be made in India shortly. US tariffs will force the price of iPhones upwards, but that’s true for many so-called American products made in China and elsewhere. The world is now so economically intertwined and interconnected that starting a war with China, say, means crushing America’s own manufacturing and processing capacity. I’m hoping that America’s business leaders will have the guts to seriously oppose Trump. I’m not sure that will happen and they may just try to wait him out. I’m unconvinced, however, that any business opposition to Trump will be able to coalesce sufficiently to help ease tensions in the US domestically.

The picture is much more complex than I’ve presented it here, and I may be a victim, like many others, of hyped up, sensationalist news. However, I perceived, like others, this trend in America for decades, before social media, fake news and the gutting of the CBC and other formerly independent news sources. I read widely and I search out different points of view. Trump supporters are caught up in a cult-like mindset unencumbered by reason and will not easily be dissuaded even if dire predictions of the imminent collapse of America do not come to pass. Sadly, some extreme lefties are caught up in the idea that all Trump supporters are ignorant, stupid slobs. There isn’t much room for moderation, reconciliation, or peace in this extremism. Is it possible for the political ‘middle’ to assert itself and put a stop to all forms of extremism? If so, how would that happen? If not, where do we go from here?

THC and CBD: My Personal Experience.

So, I’ve had chronic pain for decades, at least since the early 1990s. I use acetaminophen regularly, sometimes resorting to T3s and even hydromorphone (oral morphine) on occasions where the pain and discomfort were (are) extreme. I can’t take ibuprofen because I have only one kidney (my left one was removed because of cancer in 2002) although it works the best for me. The other day, as a tribute to our silliness, Carolyn and I went canoeing on Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park. Such a beautiful place, but the wind can come up very strongly. We knew it could do that, but we blithely went out in the canoe anyway, and surely enough we got caught in a very snotty windstorm. We had to paddle at ramming speed for quite a while. My 72 year old body protested on every stroke. A couple of days later things came to a head and I had excruciating pain in my back because of a severe muscle strain (probably a tear, but who’s quibbling). So now I had acute pain competing with my chronic pain for attention. Both were winning at this stage. Enter CBD and THC.

There are lots of websites extolling the virtues of CBD and THC for the treatment of chronic pain, arthritis included. Here is one example from Medical News Today. WebMD is what I judge to be a fairly reliable source of internet-based medical information. Like this article in WebMD argues, consulting a physician is always important before using CBD as a medicine.

Great, so in the interests of attempting to alleviate some of my chronic pain, and being desperate, I decided to try using CBD and THC. To that end I had an MD ( a locum in my medical clinic) refer me to a group of health care professionals (physicians, nurses and therapists) at a clinic not far from my home. I figured I’d be a test subject although I know very well that a one person study is not a study at all. I was called shortly thereafter to a consultation with a physician who has experience with using CBD and THC medicinally. I was prescribed the use of CBD daily for chronic pain and THC at night to help me sleep through the night. On the physician’s recommendation I bought a 40 MG vial of CBD and a 40 MG vial of THC from what they said was a reputable manufacturer. So far, I’ve found that the manufacturer has been very careful to sell me only what I have a prescription for. The physician I saw prepared for me a sheet of instructions for taking CBD and THC. Since then, I’ve had regular calls from the clinic inquiring as to my experience with the products. I completed my first course of using CBD and THC a while back and have recently picked up my second prescription.

I really hoped that CBD and THC would work for me. T3s are fine, but harsh on the stomach. The THC is fine. It gets me stoned to some extent so I tried to take it only at nighttime. Doing what I do in my daily life, I can’t be stoned all the time. I need a clear(ish) head. I have enough trouble with brain fog as it is because of my immune disease. I don’t want to add to it with meds that don’t work all that well. I don’t think CBD worked for me at all, ever. I kept giving it a shot paying very close attention to my symptoms but I felt no improvement.

After I injured myself canoeing, I saw an MD again. I still had a few T3s left so I wasn’t too concerned. Well, the T3s ran out really fast. At one point when my pain was pushing 9.5 out of 10, I took T3s, up to 4 at a time and washed that down with a ml of CBD and another of THC. I also had some alcohol to really wash it down. I was then able to sleep, but I couldn’t keep that insanity up for long. So, back to the my regular medical clinic for some more T3s.

I also went back to the other clinic, the one that prescribed the CBD and THC for me. I had a consultation with an MD there and we basically agreed that CBD was not going to work for me. Clearly, it doesn’t work for everybody. I may still try using THC, but only at bedtime, and only if I’m feeling I need it for putting me to sleep. I may cease taking it altogether.

I’m quite sad about this because I had high expectations. At the moment all I can do to keep my pain levels down is to do very little of anything. Obviously I can write, but walking is even difficult and going out to socialize is increasingly unpleasant. Damn it, I love to socialize! I still go out and do volunteer work and maybe go to a restaurant now and again, but I have to rest frequently.

I knew that CBD and THC had not been tested using double-blind studies, but I hoped they would work anyway. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t (and isn’t) the case. I sincerely hope they work for you.

On the ferry with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

[I wrote this piece of writing a few months ago to submit to a CBC writing contest. I just learned that I wasn’t even shortlisted for the prize. That’s fine, but I still think it’s worth reading so I’m giving you a shot at it here. If you like it please share it.]

On the ferry on our way to Vancouver.  It’s an overcast day and the water is slightly choppy as the ferry glides towards its destination. My wife and I have seats on the starboard side. I sit by the window. Looking forward along the ship down the Salish Sea the sky and sea melt into a continuous light grey with swaths of steely blue. I can’t tell where the horizon is, where the water touches the sky. Gabriola Island is off in a distant westerly mist. We’re passing close to tiny Entrance Island with its lighthouse and scattered red-roofed buildings. The history of its many keepers is replete with impropriety and the occasional drownings. There’s a ten metre sloop under full sail between us and Entrance island. An older woman sitting behind us turns to her husband and asks him: “Is that boat anchored out there?” 

Fittingly, I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut Jr. His posthumously published notes and speeches, introduced by his son, Mark, are called Armageddon in Retrospect(2008, Berkeley Books). Anyone who reads Vonnegut’s books, especially Galapagos knows how apt this title is.  To Vonnegut the world is funny, tragic, and ridiculous. “Look at this planet…look at us go!”  People, their silly, impossible ideas, their botched projects, and their often short and brutish lives are grist for his mill. He lovingly dissects human idiosyncratic frailties, but death, death always has a place of honour in his narrative and so does war, that insane theatre where heroes are supposed to be made and so on.

On this trip, the ship is packed with people but not completely loaded with cars. The high ferry rates are most likely pushing many people to leave their cars at home and walk down the long corridors and up the foot passenger loading ramp at the terminal dragging luggage and sometimes kids behind them.

I couldn’t have a better traveling companion than Kurt Vonnegut Junior, except for my wife of course. He’ll help me come to grips with our collective denial to see the world as it is, our self-righteous ignorance, our misuse of language, our multiple genetic weaknesses, organic diseases, and absurdities like our stupid wars. As Vonnegut says, “We are impossibly conceited animals and actually dumb as heck…Dogs and cats are smarter than we are.”[1]If only people on this boat could see that they are all closet schizophrenics, there would be peace on earth. Too bad, but we’re actually dumb as heck!  Now, how many people would actually recognize that in themselves? 

In my former career I researched death, wrote and lectured about it, all uplifting stuff. I was not like Kübler-Ross with her focus on dying and good grief. Rather, my interest was all about how we collectively try to deny death using cultural institutions like hospitals. Of course, I feel some affinity toward my fellow passengers. In a sense, we’re all in this together. We’re all dying. Some of us don’t like that idea at all. Actually, we haven’t liked that idea for millennia, so we (humanity, that is) concocted some quite elaborate immortality projects[2], giving their adherents the delusional sense that they might live forever. Silly them. Of course, we die, and we’re a lot like mushrooms in that way. I realized years ago during a walk in the woods that humans are a lot like mushrooms. Mushrooms emerge from the hyphae of fungi that are concealed in the soil, spend a glorious few days flowering and spreading spores, then shrivel and die almost as quickly as they came into being. People are like that. Generation after generation we emerge from an underlying social structure of selfish genes, fruit into adulthood, spread a few spores if we’re lucky, then fade to slimy black in short order. Clearly, mushrooms, people, death, and Vonnegut go together swimmingly. So, what about my mushroom-like traveling companions? I did say we all die, didn’t I?

Aside from the poor unfortunates who will die suddenly of drug overdoses, car crashes, or suicide, I’m sure most of my fellow travelers will end up on their death beds surprised as hell at what’s happening to them because who knew death is for real? My mother wasn’t surprised when she died last winter. She had no idea what was happening to her. She couldn’t possibly be surprised. Life was nothing to her. Death was nothing to her. She had profound dementia and nurses pumping a steady stream of morphine into her veins. She was ninety-four years old. Fade to black. So it goes.

On this ferry, the old Queen of Cowichan, I’m captive on a floating maelstrom of silly humans, regular humans and exotic humans. There are babies, old codgers like me (one sitting in the seats behind us forlornly packing an oxygen bottle), the inevitable groups of young girls scantily dressed even in this coldish weather their sexuality bursting at the seams. They giggle and jostle each other as they push their way through the annoyed crowd waiting in the cafeteria line. There’s a mama pushing a stroller, and a few young men driven unconsciously by floods of testosterone looking sullen and as menacing as possible. So cute!

What can I say, I’m an inveterate people watcher, and I’ve got a lot to see on this old tub of a ferry.  The denizen aboard are my captive subjects, a social scientist’s dream! They are prey to my stealthy researcher’s gaze. At my leisure, I can try to figure out what makes them tick. I make up stories about them. Of course, I’m wrong a lot, but who knows? I’m not an untrained observer. I have hunches about people that are backed by loads of research. Social scientists can predict a lot about people, you know, even if their individual stories elude us in much of their detail. I’m certainly as good as GRIOT™[3]in figuring out what people’s life chances are. 

I’m having a hard time not staring at people too much, especially the more exotic ones like the fifty-something woman bleached blond, long stringy hair in leopard patterned tights, wearing red heels and a fur-lined vest over what looks like an ill-fitting red tank top, to match her shoes I expect. I somehow tear myself away from the spectacle and return to my reading. Vonnegut is his usual scathing self, his words are sometimes like little grenades, at other times like machine gun fire blowing the world’s silliness to bits. 

A big guy shuffles by us.  Well over 182 centimetres tall, slovenly, scruffy beard, thin, scraggly longish hair, battered old jeans, T-shirt with his hairy belly peeking out over his beltless jeans. I know nothing about him except for his appearance and demeanor. He is plugged into huge earphones. With his deeply furrowed brow, he is sadness and angst personified. A few minutes pass, he gets a chocolate bar out of the vending machine across the aisle, and he slowly walks down the starboard side of the ship towards a bank of almost empty seats and sits down at a window seat, fourth from the aisle. He’s almost out of sight. Vonnegut would have a field day with him.

If it’s possible to make any inference about a person’s sense of self based on their appearance and demeanor, I would say that there are quite a few people aboard who are sartorially indifferent. There are exposed butt cracks everywhere. There might be wealthy passengers aboard. Maybe not. One can’t always identify wealth by what it wears. There are a few BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, and such on the car decks below, intermingled with dirty old pickups, beaters, Toyotas and Hondas, but an expensive car is not necessarily an indicator of the owner’s wealth. It could be a commentary on their borrowing power. No, I think most of us on this boat are just plain ol’ working class folk hopelessly in debt. True Canadians. 

There are lots of young people on this boat. That’s strange because it’s a week day. Most of them haven’t experienced the alienation of work yet. Too young. Their age and inexperience seem to give them license to be brash and uncouth. So charming! This one kid, maybe fifteen years old, has the crotch of his jeans hanging around his knees forcing him to waddle around the forward lounge of the ship rather than walk upright.  One of his buddies has his hoodie so tight around his head I’m sure it’s constricting the blood supply to his brain. Careful you don’t pass out, kid!

There’s the usual contingent of the over sixty-five set on this boat. Lots of couples like us. We old folks get on for free as passengers Monday to Thursday and that does encourage us to get off the island and visit the kids and grandkids on the Mainland from time to time. Lots of grey-haired ladies and gents still read books it seems. Deliberately looking around now I see an older woman sitting by herself, coiffed and dyed hair, prim and properly suited, reading A Handmaid’s Tale. A guy about sixty-five with a long grey-speckled beard and slouching in a seat a couple of benches in front of us is reading The Sisters Brothers. His grey sweatpants are stained front and back with splotches of who knows what. Delightful! At least these two, whatever other qualities they have, show good taste in reading material, but I look around and see quite a few iPads and Kindles, smartphones too. It’s just not true that older people are all computer phobic. Just some of us are.

A woman about thirty, dark hair, slim, dressed in a dark green ill-fitting suit, passes by me pushing a child in a wheelchair. She is moving slowly. There is something up with the child, obviously, but I have no idea what. He strikes me as being around eight years old, but he can’t speak from what I can see although he does make sounds. He looks at me, but I don’t know if he actually sees me or not. His mother, I assume she’s his mother, stops to talk to the guy reading The Sisters Brothers. I overhear some of their conversation, “You had lunch yet?” and it seems as though they are related somehow. Maybe he’s her father. I don’t want to think about any other relationship they might have. I don’t know. I’ guessing they’re related.

Rounding Bowen Island now, the passage has gone by so quickly. We arrive in Horseshoe Bay in fifteen minutes or so. Foot passengers are already milling around on deck 5 waiting for the gate to open to disgorge them onto the ramp down into the terminal and out to the waiting busses and taxis. 

I checked my blood pressure before driving down to the ferry terminal this morning. It was fine: 126 over 65. That’s normal for me. So, that’s not the problem. A urologist removed my left kidney in 2002 because I had kidney cell cancer. Now I have high creatinine levels again. Fun and games! We’re headed to see a specialist in Vancouver. Maybe she can figure it out what my problem is. Something isn’t quite right, that’s for sure. 

I can’t stop thinking about my mother. The way she died, demented and drugged. Come to think of it, her mother died the same way. For some reason I don’t think I’ll get to die that way, but I can’t rule out drugs being involved. So it goes.


[1]Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. (1990) Hocus Pocus, New York: Putnam, page 146.

[2]To read about death denial and immortality projects see: Becker, Ernest (1973). The Denial of Death. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[3]To know what the reference to GRIOT™ is here you’ll just have to read Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus.

Ship (a canoe, really) of fools!

Ship of Fools.

Alright, I have a confession to make. I’m not always the most reasonable person around. The photo above is of our fifty-year-old, sixteen foot “Huron” canoe outfitted with outriggers, a mast and sail, along with a deep-cycle battery and an electric motor, and paddles of course. First off, it’s a canoe, not a sailboat, but it did sail very well in moderate to somewhat higher winds. It’s tied here to a stump on Buttle Lake near Ralph River Provincial Campground where we recently spent a few days. The lake was relatively calm. We probably paddled and used the motor to get to this spot not far away from the campground. 

On another day, however, we went out in relative calm and while we were out there, the wind blew up. It often does in the afternoons on Buttle Lake. We sailed very quickly to a spot down the lake called Auger Point, a three-kilometre run. Getting back from there was anything but pleasant. We should have known better. Happily, we had the motor that I cranked to full power but even with that we had to paddle at ramming speed to get back to the river mouth where we kept the boat tied up, maybe a kilometre to our camp site. That was one tiring run home. It would have been different had we been able to sail closer to the wind, but with the sail we had and the lack of a leeboard, we were in for a rough upwind fight. Carolyn and I are experienced canoeists and at no time did I feel like we were in trouble, but paddling as hard as we could was feasible even ten years ago, not so much now that I’m 72 and Carolyn is handicapped by arthritis in her hands. Still, we are strong paddlers and we made it without swearing and berating ourselves too much. Now, having done this once and also having promised ourselves to never do it again, what do we do? We go out there again on another day and get caught in the snottiest wind and wave conditions I think I’ve ever seen on the lake. What can I say? Again, we went out on a day that promised to be benign so we headed up the lake looking for a nice place to swim. We paddled down to a bay maybe four kilometers from the campground but there was someone on the beach playing music and fishing from shore. So, we headed down and across the lake to a bay still some distance from the campground where we knew we could skinny dip. As we enjoyed the beautiful lake water and the most enjoyable swim, the lake decided to turn against us, and the wind started blowing strongly from the north. We set out with the motor at half throttle, but we soon had to up that to full throttle and full on paddle to boot. Well, we’ve had some situations in the past where we paddled as hard as we could against a wind without making much headway at all. But we were young then and had much more energy and stamina than we do now. Coming around the point close to the campground we were hit with two-foot chop. That was fine as long as we were able to paddle directly into the wind, but that was not possible as we rounded the point moving east towards the campground. We were abreast to the wind, paddling as hard as we could with the assistance of the motor, and we were being beaten hard by the waves to the point where we started taking on water from the port side. Sensing that we probably couldn’t make it back to the river’s mouth where we would have preferred to leave the boat, we turned the boat downwind and took her into shore on a muddy, unpleasant part of the lakeshore, but still within easy walking distance to our campsite. That’s where she stayed overnight. 

The next morning, we took her around to the river’s mouth. We were exhausted, especially me, and I hurt everywhere. Silly us. After that episode, we got reasonable and didn’t do it again. Actually, we got our best swim of our stay on Buttle Lake a couple of days later with no trouble. 

The family joined us last Thursday and that was great, but I felt a pain in my right side and shoulder that was getting worse and worse. There’s no doubt in my mind that fighting the extreme winds on Buttle not once but twice contributed significantly to my injury. I was definitely injured. The pain got so bad (pushing 9.5 out of 10) that I was very relieved to know that I had some T3s in my toiletry bag. I took two and felt hardly any relief. Later, I took two more along with some CBD and THC (I have a prescription for them). I managed to sleep fitfully although some people might suggest I was not sleeping as much as in an altered state of mind. The next day the pain had not attenuated at all, and we had to leave the campsite and head home. I couldn’t help pack up at all and my son-in-law was conscripted to drive the truck home towing our old eighteen-foot Holidaire trailer. I could barely sit still on the way home, having to shift my weight often to try to lessen the pain. The drive home was uneventful, but I still hurt, easily pushing 6 out of 10. 

After being home for a bit and still at the end of my rope trying to deal with pain that prevented me from even taking a deep breath, I took two ibuprophen, went to bed for an hour or so and got up feeling fine. A miraculous recovery! I would have taken ibuprophen a lot earlier, but I was counselled in 2002 after my left kidney was removed because of cancer that I should avoid anti-inflammatory meds. I didn’t take any until this past weekend and just took two more a few minutes ago. The meds are still keeping the pain at bay, but I’m loathe to keep taking anti-inflammatory meds like ibuprophen because they are hard on the kidneys. So, tomorrow I call my doctor and make an appointment to see if there are any alternatives to ibuprophen I can take that might help mitigate acute pain. I’m used to chronic pain, but the acute pain brought on by the foolishness in our canoe was untouched by acetaminophen, even with codeine, and even supplemented with CBD and THC. My problem seemed to me clearly one of muscular inflammation. It’s clear that I need a solution to deal with acute pain because I can’t promise to always be reasonable in the future. My family was extremely supportive, and I love it for that, but I feel that I need to pull my own weight too. I will not always have my family there to support me if I get into unreasonable trouble again. I need good meds too!

I’m a Cancer Survivor but I won’t be a Life Survivor.

It seems odd for me to describe myself as a cancer survivor. Oh, I had cancer, alright. In 2002, very early in the year, I was diagnosed serendipitously with kidney cell cancer. I had gone to see my GP about acid reflux so he sent me to to the hospital to have an ultrasound to check it out. The ultrasound tech wasn’t looking for anything in particular is my guess, but she zeroed in on my left kidney and sure enough there was a lesion there that they strongly suspected was kidney cell cancer. The techs didn’t tell me that, of course. They don’t discuss the results of a scan with patients in my experience. My GP was the one to break the news to me. His office called me to tell me the doctor wanted to see me at 5:30 the following day. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight, that was an unusual thing for my GP to do. In any case, he broke it to me and said that the best chance of a full recovery for me was surgery as soon as possible. Then he sent me off to see the urologist who would perform the surgery. They didn’t perform a biopsy they said because of the fear of spreading the cancer which at that point was restricted to my left kidney. Fair enough.

So, after all the preliminary tests were done and I had seen the surgeon and the anesthesiologist my surgery was scheduled for the third week of February. Normally, of course, I would have been teaching at that time, but that wasn’t going to happen so the college arranged for subs on very short notice, one of whom was to die of cancer a few years later. The thing is that there are no obvious symptoms with kidney cell cancer. As far as I know, it doesn’t usually affect kidney function, so my kidneys didn’t show any signs of stress or disease. I felt fine. I did some work around the property. It so happened that we were just in the process of buying a new place in Cumberland, BC when I was diagnosed. There was a lot to do. We had an acre of property with the house and several outbuildings. It was a good thing that I wasn’t particularly debilitated. That was to come later.

Needless to say, a cancer diagnosis is traumatizing for everyone involved. I was concerned for my family as much, if not more, than for myself. Strangely, I was convinced that this cancer wouldn’t kill me so I was pretty upbeat about the whole thing. Why I felt this way I have no idea. It could be I was in denial. We humans are great at denial, even me.

Finally, I had my day in the operating room. I arrived at the hospital with Carolyn early in the morning with hardly anyone around. We said our goodbyes and I was taken to the pre-op area. They didn’t waste any time getting me ready and into the operating room. That I remember. My GP was in attendance and assisting, although I didn’t see him in the operating room at the time. Later, my GP told me that the surgeon had cut me in half laterally on my left thoracic area so that the kidney could be gently lifted out helping to keep the cancer contained. He said it was quite daunting. That’s what happened. Since then I’ve made do with one kidney. One of my former students was a nurse in the OR. We joked around until the anesthetic kicked in. Having a former student in OR isn’t unusual because many of my students were in the nursing program and were taking my sociology courses as electives. It happened again last year when Carolyn went in to have her appendix removed. My former students are everywhere!

I tell you all of this so you get a sense of what I mean when I say I’m a cancer survivor, but I find it hard to describe myself as such. I think of cancer survivors as people who have had to struggle for weeks, months or years on chemo and/or radiation, losing their hair and being in horrible pain the whole time. I have known many people who have succumbed to cancer, but I also know a number of people who have fought it, and fought it valiantly for long periods of time and survived. My cancer recovery was not at all long and drawn out. The surgery put an end to it. Done. Well, mostly done. My surgery was seventeen years ago and my left thoracic area has been a source of constant pain since then, aggravated often by the slightest movement. The pain in my side never lets me forget about the cancer that almost claimed my life. It gets pretty tiresome at times and saps my energy, but I carry on because what else is there to do? No, suicide is not an option.

So, I guess I’m a kind of cancer survivor, but I won’t be a life survivor. No one has ever been, nor will anyone ever be a life survivor. Nothing can ‘cure’ us of death. My surgery has allowed me to live longer and that’s fine, but I’m still in line for dying. And that’s fine. I don’t have any illusions about life and death. Life demands death. Life cannot happen without death. Denying that gets us nowhere. So, every day is one more day to enjoy and struggle over. When it’s done it will be done. That’s it. I know that some of you might think it odd that I say it, but if I had died on 2002, that would have been fine too. Carolyn and my family would have been sad and would have mourned my loss, but they would have gotten on with their lives. That’s what we do when people close to us die, we get on with our lives until our turn comes.

Beauty in Death

Alder leaves – Skeletonized by alder flea beetles

The photograph above is of skeletonized alder leaves caused by alder leaf beetle larvae. The adults chew holes in the leaves while the larvae leave the ‘skeleton’ of the leaf intact but strip it of the ‘meat’ of the leaf.

We have several alders on our property and they all look terrible with leaves dropping or dead but still on the tree. From what we’ve read on the internet the trees generally survive an alder flea beetle infestation, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Of course alders lose their leaves in the fall, but ordinarily, the leaves drop off in a heavy wind and are generally intact yet brown. The skeletonization of alder leaves is the product of the little black alder leaf beetle larvae. The effects of the two processes are entirely different and are obvious upon inspection.

But enough technical stuff. The point of this post is that I find these skeletonized alder leaves quite beautiful. I love the intricacy of the connections of the veins. I love their strength. I haven’t used these particular leaves as a drawing subject, but I have drawn skeletonized leaves.

I can’t remember just when I drew these skeletonized leaves, which are not alders, but it was a few years ago certainly.

It’s difficult to see death in these leaves because we hardly see life in trees at the best of times. Forest companies don’t deal in trees, don’t you know, they deal in ‘fibre.’ When we see a load of logs on a logging truck going down the highway we don’t think of death (if we think of anything at all) related to the truck and its load. I have no real evidence to write this, but I do understand the culture and the language that denies death and this has that culture and language all over it.

That said, there is death in these leaves. They are dead or at least fully within the process of disintegrating and becoming compost for future plant growth. Their ‘meat’ is gone and all that remains is their ‘skeletons’. I find beauty in skeletons. I’m not sure why. We have lots of bones around here, bits and pieces from various deceased animals including a mouse, a tiny bird, raccoons and deer. Skeletons, for some reason, at least clean and bleached ones, have a simplicity and elegance that is always hidden in life. They require death to release them from their ‘meaty’ cover, to bring them to our attention, and to give them life. Maybe that’s why I find them so attractive.

Do you have a university degree? Did your parents?

Did you know? Children in lower income families (22.6%) are less likely to obtain a university degree than those in higher income families (59.3%). By responsibly using new data sources, we provide Canadians with greater insights.

From: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190702/dq190702e-eng.htm?CMP=mstatcan

Statistics Canada puts out a report every day called The Daily. Lately, it’s added a new feature to The Daily called Did you know? I quite like this new feature.

The observation about the relationship between education and family income comes to you courtesy of The Daily. It’s a simple statement of fact based on the masses of information on us that Stats Can collects. Of course the devil is in the details as they say. I’d need to dig a bit deeper into the Stats Can website to determine what ‘lower income’ means and also what ‘family’ means. It’s not as simple as it seems because Stats Can has different ways of determining family.

But let’s just leave it at the basic level it’s presented to us by Stats Can and think about why children in lower income families are less likely to obtain a university degree than children from higher income families. Let’s see how this basic fact can be explained by various political groups or parties for their own ends and what ‘greater insights’ Canadians might get from contemplating this fact.

If I subscribe to a Social Darwinian ethic with roots going back to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, I might just argue that the greater numbers of upper income progeny going to university and getting degrees is the natural order of things. They are ”successful” because they are superior to the lower class rabble. They have the personal traits that make them successful, traits that the poorer schmucks down the road lack. Personal initiative is everything. Poor people just don’t have any of it. They are lazy and must be prodded to get them to work or to study.

If I count myself among the ranks of ‘progressives’, I may very well argue that the reason that poor people don’t go to university is that the social odds are stacked against them. They lack the financial resources to attend university. They don’t have the advantage of having attended superior elementary and secondary schools. They don’t have a home life conducive to reading or intellectual work, and their parents are probably people who don’t value a higher education.

Others along the ‘progressive’ spectrum put more emphasis on structural factors that impede access to higher education for low income people. For them, the class system steers individuals along certain pathways. It divides us and ensures we remain divided by selectively supporting certain social programs and not others. Social inequality from this perspective is not about individual differences. It’s about class and other group characteristics.

So, Stats Can can produce numbers like this but the insight it generates is not objective. The insight is filtered through a number of screens depending on the ideological framework deployed to make sense of it. There is virtually no gain to be had in trying to convince a dyed-in-the-wool Social Darwinist that Marx was correct in his analysis of class, and vice versa, of course.

[BTW, putting together another post about the meaning of things. Maybe by Sunday or Monday.]