Sunday, February 6, 2011

This blog has moved.

I had difficulty with blogger recently.  The problem seems to have cleared up now, but meanwhile I've decided to move to Wordpress.   I've also reverted to the name of my original blog - Mira's Picture. The new url is

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Consumer Society -- Not

When we came to Canada, we had to replace many of our electrical devices, including our bread-maker.  I wanted a Panasonic, which is an American brand, so I was surprised that I could not find a Canadian distributor.  In the end we bought  a Cuisinart.

Twice, since we bought it, the baking tin has developed a leak and needed replacing.  If we were in the USA, I could just go online, order one and it would be delivered within days.  In Canada, I can only order from the local authorised spare-parts supplier (there's just one in Edmonton).  The supplier doesn't keep any in stock.  She has ordered one for me from the USA, and four weeks later I'm still waiting for her phone-call to tell me it has arrived.  The tin is probably stuck in customs. There was the same delay last time I ordered one, and on that occasion the first tin delivered didn't fit the machine.

Moving to Canada has taught me some lessons about myself.  One is that even though I dislike shopping, there are some aspects of the consumer society, such as choice and convenience, that I miss when they are no longer available.  As far as the consumer experience is concerned, living in Edmonton is like living in the UK circa 1971: shabby shops, poor choice and poor service; the only difference is that unlike the UK in 1971, or anytime since, Canadian shop-assistants are excessively solicitous, without actually being helpful. For that reason, I generally adopt the tactic of sprinting into Sears or The Bay, grabbing what I want from the display and sprinting to the cash-desk before I can be intercepted.  Hesitation is perilous, for example, the last time I bought a filter for our vacuum cleaner, I ended up with the wrong one, because I could not shake off the shop-assistant who was intent on giving me incorrect advice, while I was trying to choose from the display.

I particularly loathe shopping for clothing here. As soon as you enter the shop, an assistant bears down on you and starts talking, disconcertingly, as if she is a childhood friend who hasn't seen you for a while.  "And how are you today" she usually begins. The first few occasions I entered clothes shops here, seeing an assistant making a beeline for me, I thought she must think I was a possible shoplifter, and I left rapidly.  On the next occasion, the assistant got as far as her opening gambit,  and I replied by telling her that I was sorry, but I didn't think we'd ever previously met.

Eventually I did succeed in purchasing a coat that was too small and a pair of jeans that were too big.  Since then, I've tried to get all my clothing from the UK, either mail-order or on my yearly visits to my mum.  Inevitably, I'm getting shabbier by the year.  Not that I was very smart to start off with, since I don't buy much clothing, and when I do it's often from charity shops, but by the time I move back to the UK, I'm going to be looking like a bag-lady.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Caroline Lucas on Economics

Greens don't want growth using up the world's resources.  They are against over-consumption, and in fact want consumption to reduce. But, on the other hand, they are in favour of full employment and redistribution, and call for a rebalancing of the economy to green industries.

The UK economy contracted by 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010, but if the bad weather is taken into account, the true figure is probably nil, neither growth nor contraction. Output in production industries however expanded by 0.9%, whereas service industries output contracted by 0.5%. The claimant count also fell slightly in December.

Now, you would have thought that these figures would be welcome to a Green politician; reduction in unemployment without economic growth, rebalancing of the economy, and reduction in consumption. Even reduction of the deficit which fuelled overconsumption should be welcome to a Green. But no, this is what Caroline Lucas has to say:

The ONS figures heap further doubt on the Conservative-led government's policy to eliminate the national deficit at breakneck speed – and at huge social cost

Now how is that?  Wouldn't green economic policies produce similar figures? A few paragraphs later, Lucas calls relying on GDP to measure success a "pure fallacy", but it seems to me that there isn't much point in adhering to an economic theory, unless you are also prepared to apply it.  Ever since the economic crisis broke, the Greens have come over all Keynesian, even though the Keynesian approach relies so much on stimulating consumption, which Greens should be against.  The result is incoherent nonsense.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The latest CAPP ad.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers regularly places advertisements defending the tar sands, and I like to comment on each one.  They deserve serious attention, after all this is CAPP's bid to make a case for the sustainability of this much reviled industry.

Today's tar sands beefcake is Garrett Brown, another strong but sensitive type, smiling confidently and crouching to show his closeness to the soil, in front of a wood.  The headline states : "I grew up on a farm.  I know what it means to have the land restored."

Maybe it's because I'm British, but the words farmer and land restoration do not sing in harmony in my mind.  The average UK farmer only becomes a friend of the environment once he's been subsidised, regulated, monitored and cajoled; in other words given the full carrot and stick treatment. Left to his own devices he'll regard the rivers and streams through his land as a useful run off for toxic waste, but I suppose it might be different in Canada. No, actually I don't suppose that at all.

Garrett is an environmental officer for Conoco Phillips, concerned with land reclamation.

In reality, only 0.2% of the land disturbed by tar sands mining has been certified as reclaimed.  You don't need a degree in ecology to know that land which has had its entire vegetation and topsoil removed, cannot be restored to its previous state, even if you can plant trees on it.  Currently there is no solution to the toxic tailing ponds; there is no way of restoring the land they occupy.  Conoco has had a problem with birds dying in the tailing ponds.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I listened to Radio 4's Book at Bedtime: Snowdrops by AD Miller.  It's a very bleak novel.  I've read reviews that compare the book to Chandler's crime novels, but actually Chandler was a lot more positive about human nature.   Chandler's hero is endowed with the values of a British public school, Miller's only has the opportunist amoral greed of the Thatcher/Blair generation.

According to Miller, snowdrops is the word Muscovites use for the bodies found under the snow after the spring melt. That happens here in Edmonton too, bodies under the snow, murdered prostitutes and homeless people who didn't make it to a shelter, usually.

Moscow has a warmer climate than Edmonton, by a couple of degrees Celsius.  Our fourth winter here seems colder than the previous three, even though there haven't been any record breaking lows so far.  I think the temperature has been below -10°C for most of the last two months.  It's been in the minus twenties for a lot of the time. Today it is -24°C.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


If you think you've had a lot of snow in the UK, you have no idea....

We went to an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concert yesterday evening by bus, because the car was snowed in.  Despite the blizzard the bus arrived on time, and so did the bus to take us home. Snow ploughs and gritters were keeping the main roads clear.  The way the city copes with the weather is impressive.

After the concert we went to the Fairmont McDonald Hotel for soup while we waited for the bus.  It's probably the cosiest place in Edmonton from which to watch a snow-storm.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Archers 60th anniversary episode

My money is on Elizabeth and Nigel Pargetter both getting killed in an horrible accident.  Maybe they both fall into the ha-ha.