Zero expectations for predictable weather


As I write this it’s -50ºC in Yakutsk, Siberia. And that’s without any wind chill. In case you don’t know, Yakutsk is the only dot on the map for several hundred-thousand square miles in the far northeast of the Asian continent—where the temperature is the coldest on the planet.

Here at home we’ve had what can only be called chronic rain for several months. In fact, over the last four months the rain days have exactly equaled the rain-free days. This, of course, went over the top with the rain-induced flash flooding mid-month, which was so bad on December 13th that Environment Canada couldn’t collect the day’s precipitation stats.

It seems impossible to form a clear pattern of our weather, this, despite all the modern satellite technology we throw at tracking it. Call it the unpredictability factor. And that unpredictability messes up our ability to take issues like climate change or global warming seriously. We just can’t get a sense of the big picture on a personal level.

I get the same feeling looking back over the past year. While the real economy seems to be flatlining, the stock markets have risen dramatically, almost doubling from the crash two years ago. The big banks and investment houses are paying out huge bonuses, and the wealthy are getting wealthier, even though ordinary people in the States are still losing their homes to foreclosures and the unemployment rate has plateaued at near record levels.

Then there’s politics. On one hand Barack Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan, while on the other he managed to get the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia through the Senate in a major peacekeeping move.

Fouling up the big picture even more is the Julian Assange–WikiLeaks controversy, which may have been the biggest news story of the year. In a classic twist of the news, the story morphed into the Assange story rather than the actual leaks, which most people don’t seem to remember or even particularly care about. They do, however, seem to care about Mr. Assange’s use of condoms, or whether he’s a responsible journalist. (To be clear, he’s not a responsible journalist; in fact, he’s not a journalist at all. He’s an information technology activist. He admirably leaves the journalism to journalists.)

And then, of course, there’s the local scene. But what to say? That the Liberals crashed and burned and the Conservatives took over? Or that the Atlanticade motorcycle event came and went in one year?

Well kudos to the Conservatives. And the Atlanticade experience is not unique. Victoria, BC, just dropped its hugely popular Tall Ships Festival that attracted more than 32,000 paying visitors this year. The event apparently generated between $6- and $8-million for city businesses but the organizers just couldn’t come up with the $1.2-million cost needed to host the event in 2011. C’est la vie.

On the personal front, my experience with all the characters involved with Ministers Island tourism attraction was most entertaining, though decidedly unproductive. This project, like everything else this year, was a bit unbalanced and unsettled. Unfortunately, getting everyone on the same page with the same mission was impossible.

It all comes down to how things fit together—or not. A book I’m reading came to the rescue in terms of personal fit. The author talks about great economies and great places to live and mentions U of T professor, Richard Florida, who theorizes that the healthiest communities are the ones with the most accommodating environment for “creatives.” He includes Boulder, Austin, San Francisco, Madison, Wisconsin and few others in this category, most of them university towns with vibrant after-hours entertainment.

What you learn is that these cities have been engineered for success. Take, for example, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Like most cities in the U.S. Rust Belt, it experienced a rapid economic decline as industrial jobs were shipped overseas. But Kalamazoo’s civic leaders took action to attract new young families. Thanks to a number of wealthy local donors, they put together a huge endowment fund to pay the full Michigan university tuition for any student who attends K through 12 in Kalamazoo. Well, guess what? It’s working. The first 860 students have just graduated from university this year. And Kalamazoo is the envy of struggling towns everywhere.

Since arriving on the East Coast, I’ve been suggesting that we build these kinds of creative-minded, forward-thinking towns. This blog started out as, and still is, development-focused with that goal in mind. But I don’t quite think it’s worked. Perhaps that's what comes from trying to be overly innovative in conservative small town cultures. So as the New Year arrives, I think I’ll revise my resolutions—and my expectations. In 2011 maybe I’ll try to…

1. Accept the unpredictable.
2. Stop offering advice.
3. Avoid taking the lead.
4. Experience life.
5. Enjoy all kinds of weather.
6. Find more creative friends.
7. Talk to my kids.
8. Do stuff I love.

Because, as the cliché goes: life is short. The world is a very wonderful place, filled with opportunity and hope, and we should all aim to make the most of it, to explore as much of it as we can.

And there I go offering advice again. Damn. Well, I still have a few days left until the New Year…


  1. Damn good advice. I think I'll take it.

  2. Laughing! Yeah, I hope I can too! Trouble with old dogs, though...

  3. 1. Accept the unpredictable
    (weather = well we managed to mess with our little planet pretty good, so far.
    economics=nothing is unpredictable, only to us, the uninvited.
    politics=let's stop listening to the grocery boys(aka our so-called elected representatives).

    2. Stop offering advice.
    (advice, perhaps.
    But never stop sharing your thoughts, NEVER it is one of the few perks left in our so-called democracy, and the "Land of the Free.")

    3. Avoid taking the lead.
    (that is a personal choice)

    4. Experience life.

    5. Enjoy all kinds of weather.
    (we NO longer have a choice in that)

    6. Find more creative friends.
    (That is the only way to live)

    7. Talk to my kids.

    8. Do stuff I love.
    (how else should one live?) ツ

  4. Love it! Grocery boys! How completely accurate. Bag boys for the economic store owners. Agreed: how predictable.

    On advice, just re-reading John Ralston Saul's On Equilibrium. He has a section on imagination and talks about the need for dissent as the fundamental first stage of imagining—but dissent has disappeared. My advice/thoughts have to do with dissent, and definitely frowned upon in this conservative backwater, pleasant as it is.

    As to leading, one must offer leadership as appropriate, and have it accepted in some fashion to be able to effectively lead. What I offer in this geographic location is not wanted. So, until another day. But there is always stealth leadership (the power of the subversive Idea, which I love...).

    So what would your Top 8 be for the coming year...?

  5. Well, at my advanced age I no longer make lists for the New Year. The world is changing constantly and so must I.
    Here is my mantra:
    1. shut off/out the manufacturers of consent. It clears the mind
    2. read, read, read. The more I read the more I realize how little I know
    3. take off the rose-colored glasses, look reality in the face without fear
    4. accept that history will repeat
    5. engage, globally and locally. Be both moral and ethical in your behaviour.
    6. do NOT be politically correct (my circle of aqaintances is shrinking rapidly, no big loss)
    7. THINK positive, pro-active, analytically
    8. DO NOT pontificate (see 1-7)

    In the closing chapter of his memoir, “Point to Point Navigation” Gore Vidal wrote:
    So, in ending, let me quote the last lines of the Dunciad, lines I learned, voluntarily, as a schoolboy:

    Nor public flame nor private, dares to shine;
    Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
    Lo! thy dread empire, CHAOS! is restorer’d;
    Light dies before thy uncreating word;
    Thy hand, great anarch, lets the curtain fall,
    And universal Darkness buries all.

    In 1943 when I recited this to a classmate at the Phillips Exeter Academy, he was bewildered.“ Why did you learn that?” he asked. Because, I said, it’s bound to be apt one of these days. And so it is today, January 1, 2006.

    All the Best for twenty-eleven. Contra Mundum.

  6. Well, I don't know how advanced you are. But Gore Vidal is advanced, in age as well as perspective, so an excellent source for resolution material (the United States of Amnesia, et. al.).

    Agreed, banish the manufacturers of consent (this from a former ad man!).

    Reading has limits: the more the intake the more need for output, but reading, yes!

    Reality without fear, always. But bring on the fear, too, to signal that we're still alive!

    History will repeat, but not in predictable patterns (now that messes up some minds).

    Screw political correctness, agreed. There be lies there.

    Think, but better yet: imagine...

    Do not pontificate... because? Because honesty is best attached to humility; we're not all at the same point on the same road. The other knows that which we don't, yes?

    Contra mundum. A tip of the glass to that! Happy New Year, E. May your travels find you well. -G.

  7. Oh, but dissent has not disappeared, Gerald -- not at all. It's gone underground for a while and resurfaced again, en masse, with the spectacular burst of WikiLeaks on the international scene.

    The classic twist of news you describe, switching our collective attention from WL disclosures to "sex by surprise" charges against Assange, has to do with the propagandist nature of our media which are the mouthpiece for the ruling elite more than anything else.

    Nothing but nothing works as well as sex -- especially tawdry/kinky/questionable sex -- in diverting and capturing people's attention from things that really matter -- in this case, the dirty dealings of our rich and powerful, perpetrated in our names and with our money.

    In that case, this is indeed classic -- as classic as the "he said/CIA said" bizarre charges against the man who has shown people all over the world that dissent, on a global scale, is possible, and that hope and imagination still matter.

    Hope, imagination, courage -- and dissent? Good heavens, the world as we know it may as well come to an end -- can't have that, if you're currently sitting on top of that world, therefore must destroy the messenger of these news by any means possible.

    Too bad -- for the vampires of power and greed -- that you can't erase WL and Assange's principled stance from people's consciousness now. Courage IS contagious, as the man rightly says.

    Now go talk to your kids. :)

  8. Yes. There's dissent out there. The whole WikiLeaks thing brings it to the fore, and clarifies all the positions and sight-lines. It is/was a great media moment, including the sex scandal reaction.

    John Ralston Saul writes about modern dissent, specifically a new kind of angry populism, which he calls "false" populism. He sees this as symptomatic of corporatism—the drift away from involved citizen democracy toward rule by managerial groups, a new professional elite which jealously guards its own new power (whether it's neo-con right or neo-liberal left).

    Ralston Saul identifies only four political "authorities": God, kings, groups and democracies. And he believes that we're devolving back toward group-rule—or fascism (the nastier word for professionally managed corporatism). I would refocus the lens on managerial capitalism, as the most pernicious form of ideology.

    So the dissent we feel is largely reactionary, and ineffective in combating the vast and pervasive professional system of governance, both private and public. Not to mention the hidden ideology driving it all.

    I don't know if I'm being clear enough. But a read of The Unconscious Civilization is well worth the time.

    Yes, will go talk to my kids. Road trip today, maybe! Cheers, E :)

  9. Gerald, will check out Saul's book when I have the time (ha...) and extended enough attention span (ha ha...). It does sound interesting.

    The reactionary nature of our dissent and its ineffectiveness is something that Adam Curtis hinted at in his "Century of the Self," although his analysis did not reach into the 21st century and certainly did not include our current economic crisis.

    The future of dissent remains to be seen -- one of those fascinating developments that we are privileged to observe in these times. There are unknown variables that may be already working on undermining the existing power relations and structures, and singular unpredictable events that may do the same.

    When we immigrated from Poland in 1987, we knew that change was afoot, but we never imagined that it would involve the total disintegration of Communism. *That* was unthinkable -- and yet it happened within a few years.

    The unthinkable does happen -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

    Will see (or the generations after us will).


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