Monday, December 23, 2013

I lied like Tepco.

I will not continue to write about Fukushima.

In researching the simplest first item on the list of 28 items to discuss, the amount of information out there was overwhelming. My point is simple, you cannot research anything with logic and facts if there are no credible scientists disclosing facts and/or researching the effects of radiation. This is true for virtually every one of those 28 points.

When scientists had to march on Parliament Hill last year in protests of gag orders in talking to the press or the public then that sends a pretty clear message. If governments and agencies want us to believe everything is fine they will reinstate radiation monitoring sites and give us real-time data. They will unmuffle the scientists and researchers. They will test for isotopes other than caesium and iodine, e.g. plutonium and strontium and a few of the other 400 isotopes or more that likely drifted over the northern hemisphere. Until they do that they leave the public trying to discern facts and science from fiction.

Research the topic yourself. There is nothing I could write that hasn't been written. There is nothing I can say that will make a difference. But there is one thing you need to know. When facts are not there. When scientists are under gag orders. When Tepco has by its own admission  repeatedly lied, the public will find themselves thrown into a world of conspiracy. This is not good. It takes the argument into places it should not be. Queen Elizabeth did not create the earthquake and tsunami; the aliens are not going to save us, and the New World Order people are not deliberately trying to depopulate the planet so they can then take their spaceships to Mars. That of course is only my opinion. To each his/her own. I believe time spent debating these kinds of things is at best wasted and at worst a diversion from what MUST be publicly discussed.

Fukushima and what it may mean is pure science, logic and facts. That in and of itself is enough to tell us we're in a heap of trouble. Even if Queen Elizabeth conspired to kill off the planet, now is not the time for punitive action. We haven't got time to seek out the guilty. We must ban together to find the facts out and mitigate what damages we may or may not be facing.

If nothing else, understand that the explosion and results of Fukushima scientifically were the equivalent to 71,000 Hiroshima bombs. It was at a level far far beyond Chernobyl. This is fact. What that means needs to be told to us by those that in the position to do so. There is no excuse not to. Watch the video I posted below. There are facts there.

Ask your Member of Parliament why they have not reinstated the monitoring of radiation and why they will not allow scientists to speak publicly, take questions or engage in public debate. That's what you can do. Until you have some straight answers.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Apples, Oranges and Bananas and the Silence of the Rems

If we all die horribly from Fukushima it won't be because of aerosolized MOX fuel emissions. It will be because the pundits are making us crazy to the point of self-destruction. Why is it that when discussing Fukushima we have polar opposites sitting like foxes on fences snarling at each other. There is no middle ground apparently. Nothing can drive moderates crazier. The truth is, no one without a degree in Nuclear Physics can hope to understand the ramifications of this dreadful event in human history and because of this, we are left to those that interpret. Even with a degree apparently in Nuclear Physics, the ramifications of three core meltdowns is unknown. I've looked at the arguments. And this is what I have found, my grand conclusion: The doomsayers make more sense. I'm not saying they're right. Who am I to judge? But I "am" saying they make more sense.

The pro-nuclear pundits are deeply in need of some media savy if nothing else. Given the infinite resources they have, you'd think they'd be able to easily discount the fear-mongering. Straight answers are in short supply. Alas, they have forgotten the educated public who have long since understood spin-mastering--that fine art of avoiding some questions, rewriting facts, focusing on the minor points and avoiding the big ones. The bigger, the simpler the lie, the easier to sway. Their arguments are just a child's game in a media-savy world. Why is it that when busy comparing apples to oranges, pro-nuclear advocates always end up with bananas? If I make only one point in this article it is: Bananas have nothing to do with Fukushima radiation. Bananas being radioactive is a big selling point for the pro-nuclear spokespeople, cited at the NRC, on National Geographic, The Economist, and recently in a CNN pro-nuclear film looking at Fukushima. It is perhaps the biggest bit of propaganda ever vomited on the American people. A newly-released pro-nuclear film is deeply admired by Michael Moore of all people. Michael Moore has now become the elephant in the room eating bananas.

And if my readers can at least hold one other thought in their minds, its that TEPCO lied, lies and if past history is any indication, will lie. They have admitted to lying on a number of occasions. Japan's "Silence of the Rems" law which effectively criminalizes communicating about Fukushima speaks volumes, as silence often does. As does the silence in formerly public nuclear forums. As does the silence from scientists and marine biologists and physicians who have put their own welfare before that of humanity. May there be forgiveness one day if they have been silent when they should have been screaming.

There are many who say, why worry about something you can't do anything about? There are those who say they'd rather not know. I say we have to worry at least for the generations to follow and we have the right to governmental and university statistics. If not protection. We paid for it. Why were we paying for governments to monitor radiation for lo these many years to find that when something actually has happened we then don't get the statistics because monitoring sites are shut down and information is classified? It's madness. We have every right to know absolutely everything. Absolutely. We are not children. The news media has become a colossal joke. The largest "ongoing" environmental disaster in history gets little coverage. If CNN is worrying about declining audiences they might want to think about that. There are many who say why tell the truth if it causes panic? In that sense the governments and agencies are protecting us all. I personally do not hold with this. Had citizens been given potassium idodine capsules at the outset, it would have prevented thyroid problems showing up now in infants and others on the west coast. Had pregnant women known at the outset, the alarming rise in infant mortality rate in western canada might have been prevented. And now the question remains on how much the northern hemisphere is being bombarded and at what levels over time will it affect citizens? We don't know because we don't have the statistics. We don't know because transparency is a lost art.

In September, Stamper on a website called Activist Post published an article called "28 Signs That The West Coast is Being Absolutely Fried with Nuclear Radiation from Fukushima." It has become a popular destination for Facebook fans and a favourite place for the so-called "debunkers."  If only they could back up their attacks with some solid evidence, research and/or experts not tied to the big business of nuclear energy.  Unfortunately for all of us, nuclear physicists with university affiliations are in bed with big Nuclear. As are governments and the main news media and the military. It's the nature of the beast, the means of funding. Even if they were telling us the truth, how could we really trust them given this? It leaves us very few experts to speak unfettered. But I digress.

The purpose of this piece is to look at the 28 signs and see who makes the most sense. For this purpose I picked a pro-nuclear partisan's debunking piece by Mike Rothchild on a website entitled Skeptoid to see the arguments for. Mr. Rothchild's arguments are representative if not encompassing of the pro-nuclear arguments throughout the internet. The arguments for and against have been found at various sites. What makes the most sense to you? I put aside my own belief that Fukushima is not good and look at the arguments here. It's up to the public to decide, given we have no way of really knowing. If the experts can't figure it out, it's not likely we will for a long long time. The situation changes daily. Even as I write this TEPCO has apologized for not telling their citizens that there was a core meltdown in Unit 1 when they knew it. The University of Berkeley in California has now brought the issue to the forefront in admitting the sobering nature of the problem and a call for action. Every week a new revelation. If there is one question that stops the pro-nuclear argument in its tracts, that creates a dead silence, it is simply "Where are the cores?" There is no answer apparently to that. My advice is pretty simple: until we do know, stay out of the rain and don't eat the fish. Just don't.

Unit 4 Fukushima 2011
TEPCO photo by the famous Fukushima 50 who are for the most part no longer with us or suffering terribly from radiation exposure.

Unit 4 Fushima 2013 

It's nice they took the time prior to fuel removal to paint the trim and clean up everything, given the levels of radiation workers were and are being exposed to.

This article to be continued.... as I research the pros and the cons.
Here's something to watch in the meantime:
Again, not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Fukushima Series

These three pieces were written in August and September of this year. They are not for the faint of heart. I did not undertake writing these without an excruciating amount of research and reflection. Would it not have all been better to have lived in denial? That's the thing about us writers... we can't do that. We feel an immense need to speak a truth. Research this yourself. More facts coming to light paint an even darker picture. In the new year I will write another column. It will not be pretty. But it must be written. After that, it is back to humour. I promise. Some say it is best not to worry about things you can do nothing about. Is that true?

I have a correction to the statistics on Canada's production of Uranium. We produce approximately 20% of the world's uranium. We are the second highest producer in the world next to Kazakhstan.

Normalcy Bias

As human beings we are completely ridiculous. Utterly, forbiddingly, painfully ridiculous. This is not a funny column. I am a writer in my generation commenting on this time in history. If I did not write this then there would be no point to writing anything. Really. If you don't believe me, do the research yourself. 

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds," said Oppenheimer the builder of the nuclear bomb, not knowing if it would ignite the atmosphere when tested and completely obliterate us all. You have to give the man credit I guess because the moment called for a profound quote from the bhagavad gita instead of "holy f**k" to mark the climax of humanity's moment of sublime stupidity.

When the Fukushima nuclear plant was inundated with the tsunami in 2011, it was the single most catastrophic environmental disaster in history. Ever. It is said that every single day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for two years and running, the equivalency of 10 Hiroshima bombs is being pumped into the Pacific Ocean. Right now. As you read this. The American and Canadian government's reaction to the Radioactive plume that blanketed the northern hemisphere at that time was to shut down radiation monitoring sites and increase what was considered safe limits for human exposure. They are also now considering changing the definition of cancer. It is said that every 40 days the rain brings more as the jet stream sweeps the planet. It was measured by backyard geiger counters in Ottawa. The naysayers and the down players are quick to say that the amount in the ocean is like a swimming pool of contamination, that's all. They skirt the issue of bioaccumulation. Little fish eat big fish. All of the tuna tested in California this year had levels of caesium that far exceeded levels for human consumption. It takes from two to five years for cancer levels to begin showing up. At the time of the incident, sudden deaths of infants born in Western Canada increased profoundly (35%) over previous years. There is no such thing as a safe level of radiation. Period. Every x-ray, every mri, every strontium-laced fish accumulates in the human body until you grow a tumour or develop leukaemia. 

Fukushima, the world's, history's greatest environmental disaster is not over. Let me quote an astute and succinct article by Harvey Wasserman: "We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focussed on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4…. Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own. Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima…..

Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere…. Former Japanese Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima 'would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.'” 

We know what Tepco did and continues to do. Proven lies, all along the line. We know what government's did and are doing, glossing it over. And the media? What is the media's response to the single most catastrophic environmental disaster in history? Welcome to the power of advertising. General Electric owns the media. They also own Fukushima. It is only being run by Japan. They designed it. They built it on a fault-line in a faraway country. They own the problem. This is why when we watch the news we get to see commentary on the nose hairs of Zimmerman at his trial or what Miley Cyrus is up to. Because we mustn't know such disturbing things such as Fukushima. They are counting on that odd human quirk, called the normalcy bias. This is not normal. It never will be. Japan says they don't know where the cores are. We may have China Syndrome times three. Like Oppenheimer, they just don't know what that may mean. It's never happened before.

As a Canadian, I'm sorry to say that over 20% of the worlds uranium production is mined and shipped from here. Chances are we had a part in this one. Japan has acknowledged they can't handle this. Every single environmental group, including saving the whales, the bees, the trees and the baboon needs to drop all their activities worldwide and put the resources where it needs to go. Now. Otherwise… well, what would be the point of all your work anyway? Call your Member of Parliament. Ask them what Canada is doing. It is about all you can do. But do it. Make no mistake this is a "holy f**k" moment.

And here, for the record, is Wikipedia's definition of "normalcy bias": The normalcy bias, or normality bias, refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations. The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.

The Comedy of Errors 

I've been given some flak by my fans (okay fan…. named Colleen) for last week's deadly serious column on Fukushima. And so, this column is about the lighter side of Fukushima. It's kind of as if The Three Stooges were hired to do things over there.

Like all good stories, this begins at the beginning. First design a nuclear power plant with the cooling pool and fuel rods 100 feet up in the air and then put the back-up generators on the ground floor. Then build it on an earthquake zone. Then wait for the earthquake which will damage the cooling pool, cracking its foundation causing highly radioactive water to leak from the fourth floor to the ground floor continuously. But I'm ahead of myself in the story here. This is, after all, an epic story with many twists and turns. What could go wrong now to our intrepid fools? With earthquakes come tsunamis. So the tsunami wipes out the back-up generators and the cooling rods are heating up. Never mind the other explosions. No. Let's not talk about them. Or the atmospheric releases….

So… lets pump in some salt water and collect the contaminated waste. Let's just bolt those tanks together and neglect to weld them and make sure they are metallic enough to corrode with salt water. Then lets just keep cutting down forests to put in more and more and more tanks because there is really no place to put the contaminated water. Well, maybe the Pacific. But we have to treat it first. Don't we?

Lets tell everyone that the radioactive readings are horrible. Then, two years later lets get some monitoring equipment that actually measures beyond horrible and confess that it was really about a few thousand times worse than we said initially. Is this when the rat chews through the wire and all hell potentially breaks loose  or not? I can't remember. But it happened. The script isn't finished yet.
Let's confess that there is contaminated water leaking from one of the tanks and lo and behold, the contaminated water is leaking into the Pacific at a great rate. We won't say how much. Not for two years. We'll just wait. Break it to 'em gently. They might interfere otherwise and we don't need help. None. So let's build a wall. A dam. That'll contain it. Who knew that a dam would cause a back-up of contaminated water to the plant? That it would actually work like, well… a dam. Who knew that groundwater backing up would actually saturate the already fragile soil. Is that building containing the fuel rods listing? Is it? Can't be.

Let's not tell them that the further down we dig the higher the radioactivity numbers. Why would that be? Oh, let's not entertain the notion of china syndrome. Let's just not. We can't find those cores anyway. That's what we say.

Let's start asking for help. It appears nothing is working. Let's tell them exactly how much contaminated waste is actually going into the Pacific. Let's confess that maybe we don't know how to stop it. Let's just put it out there.

Oh, there's another tank leaking. Oh, there's a typhoon on the way. We have no choice, we have to dump into the Pacific now. Oh, the ocean curtain we designed to collect radioactivity has a tear in it. Oh, a piece of plastic from one of the fixes has blocked the new equipment pipe we put in for decontamination. We'll just shut that down for a bit. Oh, wait… Did we tell them yet that we neglected to tell the whole truth all the way through? Surely they'll forgive us. Let's build an ice-wall! Yes! We'll freeze the unstable ground and then we'll move the fuel rods even though the robots we have won't work under those conditions. We'll have to build some new ones. Or else we could use some humans. If they are willing to be exposed to lethal doses of radiation and have no human frailties when put under any kind of pressure. Let's hope there's no new earthquake happening while we do this.
Oh, and let's start up the pressure to restart another nuclear facility near by. How can we keep that ground frozen without it? Wait maybe that won't work. Oh, we accidentally dropped the monitoring equipment for testing groundwater radiation into one of the two holes we were using. We just won't test anymore maybe. Oh, we'll need to build a 3 km pipeline for contaminated waste to a storage facility in case there's another typhoon. We just need to add that to our to-do list. We'll get to it. Oh, lets host the Olympics!!! Yay!!!!

Well, that's the story some say so far. But like all good epic stories, the heroes are not done yet. The comedy continues. Let's watch our protagonists and find out what they tell us next week.

My dear Dr. Suzuki,

I was deeply amazed to see your column concerning Fukushima and how we must all be pleased to eat the fish and not to worry in any grand way. Your column of course, followed my two deeply horrific columns of the state of affairs in Japan's ravaged nuclear plant and for which I received a great deal of flak and accusations of negative thinking. It was a bit of a departure from my humour columns so it raised quite a stir. Since your pleasant column followed my miserable ones you actually had me thinking I was just a doomsayer. How, I asked myself, would I ever forgive myself for having upset my readership in such a disturbing way? I even thought I might have to go into deep psychological therapy over this one. You are after all an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. In a CBC poll you were selected as the greatest living Canadian.You are Canada's scientific spokesperson really. We all look to you for your expertise because we are not scientists for the most part. We depend on you for that. For the truth.

This is why I was deeply shocked to come across your panel discussion on October 30th, 2013 at the University of Alberta. When asked about Fukushima you said "Fukushima is the most terrifying situation I can imagine. You ask, what can we do? First of all you have got a government that is in total collusion with Tepco, they’re lying through their teeth. […] The fourth one has been so badly damaged that the fear is if there’s another quake of a 7 or above that that building will go, and then all hell breaks loose. And the probability of a 7 or above quake in the next 3 years is over 95%. […] They don’t know what to do. We need to get a group of international experts to go in with complete freedom to do what they suggest. Right now the Japanese government has too much pride to admit that. I’ve seen a paper which says that if in fact the fourth plant goes under an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye-bye Japan, and everybody on the West Coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is."

I saw this and I was deeply relieved to see I did not indeed need any therapy. You see, when I'm not writing columns I spend a great deal of effort running my Society for the Rehabilitation of Misguided Scientists whose mission has now been raised to a critical level. Much like Fukushima. When your dear little light and honey column came out I was distraught indeed! I spent many a dark night with myself battling concepts of reality and delusion. I spent my days much as I always do, teaching engineers macrame and physicists how to make shrunken apple head dolls in an effort to bring them back to world we all live in. But oh, those nights were rough I will admit. How could I have been so wrong? But that's okay. I don't mind really. We all need to do some sort of self-questioning to keep us balanced and well-adjusted to this profoundly sick society. It is necessary. However, I digress…
So now I have a question you must consider: "What took you so long?" I mean really, 2 and a half years! 2 and a half years!!

Oh, it's okay Dr. Suzuki. We all live with a certain amount of denial and that's okay. But I don't think I've really come across someone that spent an entire 2 and half years in such a state of high denial over such a monstrously obvious issue. Well… that's not entirely true. I have worked with a scientist who believes the world is 6,000 years old and has pretty much decided that early humans used to play cowboys and indians on the back of a brontosaurus, but that's beside the point. You, in your official capacity as scientific spokesperson for Canada cannot continue in this way. You poor poor man. I cannot imagine how you live your days in such denial.

Oh don't be embarrassed. We all understand. Embarrassment is much harder I realize for your particular psychological disorder however I realize we must treat you with a great deal of kindness. Kindness never hurt anyone I always say. It's taken me at least a week to understand what your particular disorder is. There are actually not many studies out there to  cover everything you have but I'm fairly sure I may be right here.

Oh my dear Dr. Suzuki, I'm sorry to say it may very well be that you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is chief among the various disorders for its disassociation from reality and denial. It explains pretty much everything on the surface of it: Your drive to reach the pinnacle of the Canadian scientific community. The videos. The books. The two houses you own and the fossil fuels you use to spread your message in light of your declarations of environmental consciousness… The deeply amusing stories you tell just before you say "Fukushima is the most terrifying situation you can imagine."  Oh they are all key to the diagnosis. It was this last that finally clued me in. Not many personality disorders could be so cavalier in such short order. Now I may very well be wrong since I don't quite know what particular Freudian childhood trauma caused you to spin out of control. But there is something there that needs some most gentle probing.

Please consider contacting my Association for Rehabilitation of Misguided Scientists. We will not hurt you.

Sincerely yours, Sylvia Shawcross.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Far from the madding crowd

What matters
S. Shawcross / 16" x 20" / Oil on masonite /

I don't know why I called this "What matters". It is a view along the river further north of here. It is dusk with snow glistening on water and the sky its reflection. I suppose I called it this because what else could possibly matter if you are standing looking at dusk on a winter night. Peace knows no other expression but what we find in nature in our solitude. (Note: the horizon on the painting is actually straight. I just take bad pictures.)

HERE'S AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW ON POLITICIANS (but don't follow his advice)


Young'uns and voting

It's not so hard. All of you young'uns that have since high school vowed you'd never vote because it supports the existing system. It only encourages them you say, and you hate "them." The time has come for you to change your wicked ways. You must vote in your municipal election because it is the only seriously important vote where you can actually make a difference. If you care about the place you live in and all the creatures, beings, and wildlife in it, then you have to vote. Otherwise you are a hypocrite to say you love this planet. You don't love this planet if you don't vote. You don't. There is no other argument.

It's not hard now. Really it isn't. Voting, I mean. They send you a thing in the mail. It tells you where and when you can vote. You bring  the thing and a photo ID. You wander into the big room where pleasant bilingual people behind tables will greet you. Now I know you young'uns aren't used to looking at people in the eye or having a real life conversation anymore because of all  your handheld devices blitherbloos but it's just a short little few seconds of your life. After telling them your name and address (you can practice this out loud at home before you go) and presenting your card you don't even have to look at them. You can just thrust out your hand and they will give you a ballot. This is a piece of paper with names on it. You will be directed to a tidy little private booth where you look for the place where you can put a mark. They use pencils for this. Pencils are old-fashioned things that work rather well if you can figure out how to hold them. They are made of wood and lead. You use the pointed end to make  your mark next to the person you think might actually understand what they are doing. (More often than not, none of them do, they are, after all, politicians, so just do your best.)

You then leave the booth and hand your little ballot to the person behind the desk. They rip off something and put your ballot in the box. Try and watch to make sure they do this if only so you don't have to look anyone else in the eye and have an unfortunate conversation with spoken words. Then you skulk out. End of story. You have done your civic duty. You have proven to everyone that you love the planet you live on and are not just some hippie-crite with lots of foolish words and no substance hiding behind some "I don't vote" foolishness that everyone knows is foolish. You have proven to yourself and those who might notice that you are a responsible adult with a valued opinion who actually does care. 

Now go do this. Vote.

The truth of course is, nobody will be proud of you. You won't get a star. You won't win an award. Great throngs of admirers will not be standing outside the door when you come out of the voting place, cheering and whistling. BUT you will have the right to complain for another four years about anything and everything. If you don't vote you'll have to just sit like a lump in a corner without an opinion because nobody will respect a damn thing you might want to say. There's the brutal truth. At every party you go to, when you tell them you didn't vote, they will feed you blue-cheese nibblybits to keep you quiet. They will sit you next to the bathroom door for the whole evening just to be spiteful. They will ensure that your cell-phone handheld blitherbloo won't work in their house and they won't let you leave until after midnight. They will not be kind. Just so you know. You will be all alone without a blitherbloo or a friend. All alone sitting by the bathroom door with a plate of blue cheese nibblybits. I mean ALL ALONE. OUT OF CONTACT. ALONE with those things they used to call thoughts. (At least that's how it works at my place anyway.) Oh you poor thing. You can avoid this horrible situation by voting. Now go do this. Vote.

But never mind all that. I've received some rather inventive ideas for Chelsea's new slogan to replace the old one, i.e. Chelsea: The Environmentally Friendly Community. The winning slogan, picked by George, Me and the dog because nobody said this was a democracy, is: Chelsea--Spending Iz Us.  This slogan was actually one of the less naughty ones if the truth be known. Who knew Chelseaites were like this!

Also, I was pleased to see the pothole I mentioned in my last column right next to one of the election signs was filled in. Now… just a bit further down the road there is another one. Any chance that will be fixed before the election? Or is it just the ones with the election signs? Just wondering.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Going Home / Oil on canvas board / 20 x 24 / S. Shawcross / 

It is to laugh sometimes.

Depending on the Bankster

The banksters always win. We all know that. Banksters and governments. They get it all. We don't like to know this. In fact, it can make us downright despondant if the truth be told, but that is neither here nor there. I am here to tell you that you can win. Oh I know that they have constructed an elaborate game with all sorts of nefarious ins-and-outs and snake ladders all wrapped up in fine-print and inscrutability but you "can" win. In fact I'm absolutely certain I won this last round even though it might be hard to tell.

This week I was at the bank playing the retirement planning game with a lovely bank clerk who was just a ray of sunshine in my otherwise bleak existence. Dressed in pin-stripe perfection with high heels and peach nails, she was a delightful human being, as far as any Bankster employee can be a human being in the spiritual sense of the word. I figure she was a nice human being because she asked me how I was today, and nobody does that anymore. She said she'd be right with me so I had about 45 minutes, as it turned out, to wait to play the retirement planning game with her.  I didn't much mind as they had the daily paper there with the crossword puzzle and I was just brilliant if I don't say so myself. I'd just figured out the eight-letter word to 13-across was Esurient. How appropriate I was thinking to myself that I would get the word Esurient, a synonym for Greed, just before scuttling into the clerk's office to play the game.

Did I happen to mention that before seeing this ray of sunshine I was greeted with a wide smile by the Bankster's receptionist who offered me water? Thoughtfully and rather graciously I would say, I replied that given that it's 9:00 in the morning, a coffee would be more in order. She said she was deeply sorry to report that they only had tea. So I took a free pen from her desk and sat down to wait with a cup of water. While I was struggling with 24-down, I noticed another Bankster employee arriving with six Tim Horton's coffees and donuts. They didn't offer me any. I made my way to the Receptionists desk and took two more pens. 

Pin-stripe was gleeful with numbers. There exist in this world people like this. They are not normal but try as I might, I can't seem to convince the Canadian Psychological Society that this is a mental illness requiring deep sedation… forever. But that's an entirely different story. 

Pin-stripe played with little blips of light on her computer with frightening speed. I was glad I wasn't epileptic, I was thinking, because all those flashing lights were beginning to make me dizzy. Pin-stripe mentioned percentages of locked-in RSPs that converted to REBLEEBLEEs would constitute a gain of sixteen percentage accruals during the fiscal year provided I was not aged 67. I noticed a spider in the corner outside the window. It was a lovely web, all shimmery and symmetrical. Pin-stripe was looking at me as if she wanted some sort of response. I hate that. I took a pen. This was good because she then informed me that I needed to go to the police to get papers witnessed. This is because I live in Quebec and I'm married. When she said because I live in Quebec I took a pen. When she said Police I took another pen. I felt like a criminal. I don't know how that happened. I'm fairly sure I worked for 20 odd years in the real world and made that money. I had no idea why I had to see the police but then I knew at least enough not to ask. I had no idea what the papers were. Mine is not to question why, as they say. Otherwise it would be complicated. I hate that.

So I called the police and said I need some documents witnessed and they informed me I had to go to the station during office hours. So the husband left work early and we drove, rather snail-paced our way through the construction on Highway 105 to arrive at an Information desk where the woman, after getting off the phone, told us to wait because she had no information on this matter. We waited three hours on account of the man who was dating a border-line personality disorder woman who had his car impounded to spite him and who now took precedence over all the other people in the waiting room because he had a taxi waiting. We other people didn't apparently have meters running and were therefore considered secondary. We were finally shuffled into the hallway where a nice young officer explained that they didn't do the sort of thing the Banksters needed. So we went elsewhere. It was either the CLSC, the notary or that guy who sells poutine down by the drugstore that finally signed the papers. I'm not sure who it was because it was all a blur really.

Pin-stripe had changed her nail colour I noticed. They were flaming pink. She was surprised that the police in Hull wouldn't do what the police in Gatineau routinely do. She didn't seem to want to hear about the three-hour wait or even the man whose car was impounded. Now that was a story! She began sweeping her wild pink nails over the keyboard and it lit up like lightening, scaring the spider all the way outside the window. And the government will take 30% of this rather than 21% if you do that because you live in Quebec. I looked lugubriously at her and took three pens. One for each ten percent. AND, she went on delightedly, you can take 7% of this and that if you are this age when that happens with super-analation. So I took another pen.

She then thrust a stack of papers at me to sign. "My, I said, that's a lot of papers. How many are there?" 

"Seven," she said assertively. Delighted, I took seven pens. One for each sheet.

"That's a lot of pens you have there," she said. 

"Yes indeed it is," I said with firm finality. "Transaction fees," I added to her rather strange facial expression that had replaced the white-strip smile.

"Now, this is all pre-tax and there will be fees," said Pin-stripe with appropriate firmness.  I was pondering about how crossword puzzles never seem to have any of the four-letter words I was thinking about just then. Doesn't seem right somehow since they are the mainstay of most people in this world when they have to communicate these days.

"How many fees?" I asked hopefully.

"Well, if the REPL becomes a BLIFLE then there is a fee of this to make that into this and percentage wise the misconstrued figure of the BINGBONG will convert to a RIFFRAFF after 16 months." I didn't recognize any numbers in her spiel so just I took 6 more pens. 

"So, at the end of the day," I said sweetly, "In my old age I will be living on gruel and dust."

"I wouldn't put it that way," said she suddenly considerate. I noticed the spider had finally caught a nice big dragonfly. It was busily wrapping it up. Pin-stripe went out of the office and collected a box of pens to replenish her supply. I took them all.

"Maintenance fees," I said pleasantly as I thanked her for her time.

I'm looking forward to my next appointment. I garnered about 23 pens I think this round. I was triumphant. Indeed I was.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

City Rain
S. Shawcross / 19.5" x 9.5" / Oil on masonite / 

Oh the wildlife living here in Quebec. Many don't know about the interesting night lives of Owls e.g. Here is a video worth watching on the life of the Owl:

The Island

There's an island, I figure anyway, somewhere in the Caribbean where the long hot sands stretch out alongside the teal blue ocean and the wind wafts through coconut trees. This is an island where "they" are. (This, of course, is just "my" grand conclusion based on living daily here in the northern part of the world.) They are the people who are not here. They are the people with whom we wish to conduct some sort of interaction with but whom always seem to be "not here right now." Everywhere you go, you are told that the manager is not here right now, would you like to speak to someone else? The owner is not here right now, would you like to come back later? The person you elected in the last election isn't here this year would you like a candy? The bank manager is not available at the moment, would you like a free calendar? They are not here. They are never here. They are there. That can be the only conclusion: there is an island full of people who are not here.

The people who are not here leave behind their little minions to handle things because they are there and not here. One of the most important minions sits behind a very important looking desk in a profoundly conspicuous location under a usually lighted sign called Information.  They have practised for hours pretending to be on the telephone on a very important matter before they actually look up to tell you they don't have that information right now. Their job is to tell you they don't have any information on whatever matter you bring up. They will never actually have that information anyway in their lifetime but they don't tell you that. You could come back day after day after day and they would still not have the information because whoever might have that that information is living on an island in the Caribbean drinking no doubt pina coladas on a lounge chair laughing about something or another. Probably about you; although I can't say that with any certainty, although I have my suspicions.

Another minion of the people who are not here but are there, snorkelling with colourful little fish on coral reefs, are the people who answer telephones eventually. They are very happy in their jobs because they are faceless employees of giant corporations and institutions and government places that can say whatever they want to you to ensure you get off the phone with them. You could ask this person if blue-spotted kumquats from Antartica are going on special this week and they will tell you yes. Their whole point is to ensure you have no business whatsoever disturbing them but since you are, they will pleasantly agree to everything you want so they can get a pay check that week. They will never give you their names because it is "policy." That policy probably doesn't exist but the idea of it keeps them unaccountable. This is their preferred existence. If they do give you a name it is usually made up so when you call back to speak with Beelzebub in Accounting, you are informed they do not exist, a variation of "he is not here right now", would you like to speak to Esmeralda? So, despite what Beelzebub said, he isn't here. He is there.

Another minion of the people who are not here but are there, dancing the cha cha to a live band near the pool by the ocean with other people who are not here, is the person who apparently listens to conversations with the other minions on the telephone. This call may be screened, you are told. This is not true. They don't screen calls because if they did they would hear your sputtering incredulity and cut into the conversation to ensure you are pleasantly agreed with. The only thing they are screening is their game of poker on their iPad. No, Nothing ever happens when they screen your calls. They just want you to believe this so that when you go off the handle they might have a witness that you called someone a foul-toed freaking moron. No, sadly, despite concocting some of the best righteous rhetoric of rage you've ever spouted in your life, nothing ever gets screened or recorded.

By far the most important minion left behind to handle things for the people who are not here but there, watching a live show of hula hoop dancers beneath the full silvery moon listening blissfully to the crashing surf, are the clerks. Clerks are deeply important minions because they have extra protection. Now this person has a face and normally a little happy tag with their first name on it. Ebenezer will be happy to help you but usually they have to pretend to be on the telephone with a very important person first. They learned this from working the Information desk. They then go to their computer. This is their extra protection to ensure they don't actually have to do anything. "I'm sorry," they say, "the computer does not have that information on it." This is a variation of "the computer can't do that," or "the computer isn't working right now," or "the computer doesn't know who you are." If the computer then can't do anything, they can't do anything and you and Ebenezer are left awkwardly staring at each other. Eventually they express their apologies and happily go back to doing nothing after sending you to some closed door with a giant waiting room behind which there are people who are not there so you wait for hours and hours until you start to cry and go home.

Receptionists are also minions of the people who are not here but there, having their green clay full-body facials and eating pineapple with blue cheese nibble bits while planning their boat tour of the outer islands. Receptionists whole purpose, beyond pretending to be on the phone, is to get you coffee. They get you coffee to keep you occupied in the waiting area and then they disappear into the bowels of the building until you eventually cry and go home. That's when they come back out.

You will never win against the people who are not here. They are there. And you are not.

Next week we will be discussing the specialized Bankster minion and how to keep your sanity which might actually be possible during retirement planning sessions.