Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Thursday 27 January 2022

Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson and Bottled Gas and Lost Love

Quite enjoyed hearing Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan's podcast (Jan 25, 2020), suggesting that the solution to poverty and climate change is to distribute gas to the world's poor.  

I posted something like that back in 2013.

Just distribute for free.

Environment and climate change and poverty would be nixed in a pinch.

No brainer, really.

won't happen, of course, because of the threat that simplicity presents to those of us who control our privileged position of power, dependent on keeping the poor exactly that....

a kind of species suicide, because our middle class behaviors won't change...

we fear the potlatch....

which is how i and rachel ran our wedding....

then selfish, short sightedness set back in...

or why my identity focussed lovers and friends and the democrats and liberals are set at each others throats the moment one gains more than the other...


seems i've lost a lot of love over a few tanks of propane in a poor family's hands...

Saturday 7 October 2017

Identity Politics: Is This Picture Beautiful ?

I wanted to stay away from this page.

Democracy drives me back to the table.
Cheerleading on identity politics as a subterfuge for winning votes makes the meal difficult to swallow.

Can you folks really believe this following statement from our Canada, that purportedly operates on the principle of rule of law... and not ideology?

"Peace and prosperity are every person’s birthright. Today, as Canadians, we have a great opportunity to help the people of the world’s developing countries join the global middle class and the multilateral system that supports it.
It is worth reminding ourselves why we step up—why we devote time and resources to foreign policy, trade, defense and development: Canadians are safer and more prosperous when more of the world shares our values.
Those values include feminism and the promotion of the rights of women and girls."

Standpoint epistemology is not a credible justification of a point of view.

I believe that I am right does not make me right.

Yes, there are identity politics.  However...  the valued pursuit in democracy is a higher value than yours'... it is the common good.

Where is the evidence that "Canadians are safer and more prosperous" because the world shares our values, including feminism?

Just a mixed bag of worms kind of statement.

Unfortunately, a technically perfect self serving statement: "Canadians are safer and more prosperous when more of the world shares our values."
Of course.
It that needs to be spelled out for folks:  "this is a statement made that has no evidentiary value and serves no useful purpose other than furthering the or reinforcing a party’s position".   Got that from lawdictionary.com.

Some thought could be put into discussions about safety and prosperity based on military alliances, banking and international flows of finance, international shipping regulations, mining and resource extraction, and at least ecological principles.

Point is that many complex factors produce what is perceived or experienced as safety and prosperity.

Sorry for harping on this... but it seems completely un-Canadian to tout the idea that more of the world should share our values. In our own interests of prosperity.

The more I think of it, the idea does not even make sense in terms of identity politics. Which I understand to be more along the idea of live and let live.  Canadians are telling other people how to value life?  Join our global middle class and our multilateral system or else you are not really worthy?


Not that that is not true.  Maybe we are.  It is, however, a very aggressive statement.  Which usually means guns and bombs and increased control over resource extraction... to defend our own interests... and values.

I am for this, actually.

Rather than telling people how to think and behave, I find it much more interesting, honest, and exciting to come to the bargaining table with differences.

While acknowledging that somebody at that table has a bigger hammer.

Monday 23 September 2013

Sorry = Bottled Gas


I have one last contribution.

My solution to all the gender, ecological, education, political, and everything else problems of the day is very simple.

Very simple.

Provide free bottled gas to all persons who want it on the entire planet.

Free = free.

Of course, this is mostly for cooking.
And distribution.


Then see how much money gets dumped into education.
And health.
And home construction.
From the pockets of the poor.
And the poor will drive the future.
It will cost the rich next to nothing.
Not a bad investment.
And even the rich can profit from this.

Buy gas stocks now.


Tuesday 10 September 2013

Tamil Nadu - my final post for this blog

My heart wanders through incomparable contrasts,
my image of my international world
as seen from the windows of a moving vehicle,
a charity organization’s four wheel drive truck,
and my image of the world when on foot among rice paddy or in forest,
Confusing me.

Why the delirium in the head of a rational man
Bent on eradicating poverty,
Where humanity can be reduced
To the ideology of strategic plans,
Objectives, Actions, Goals,
Project success in typed reports,
Faith manifest in the idolatry of statistics?

In a vehicle  I am infected with an urgency,
Travelling between those villages the truck takes me to and from
To be compassionate, to understand, to know
And to wipe problems away with solutions.

On foot inspecting the rice variety sown in the paddy,
Looking up to calculate the yield of firewood in the trees,
I lose sight of graphs, policies, and analyses;
I hear the wind and become lightheaded.

Because I can see the people on the dry lands of Tamil Nadu,
one thousand years from now,
as they were before,
as they may always have been:
there are different trees,
though maybe more than now,
always rice,
and different homes,
but simple as they are now;
in essence all remains the same
in that wasteland my world could never find use for.

Do I hear a woman weep from loss?
And I see a man bend painfully under the weight of a load of stones.
Then, scintillating in the arid breeze,
I hear children's laughter,
I see them play,
and if I listen carefully, yes,
I hear women, too, in laughter at a well, gossipping,
and men mumbling in hushed, low tones,
sitting together beneath a tree while their buffalo graze.

Because my income depends on projects,
travelling to where the donors pay,
I have only once been to Tamil Nadu;
With God’s grace
when one day all this madness of my world is done,
I will be again in one thousand years.


You may not know us
We the modern day missionaries
Of the rational mind.

Our institutions are familiar,
The World Bank
The United Nations
World Vision
The list goes on and on.

We are the rural economists,
Macro-economy experts
Municipal planners,
Civil engineers,
Social health advisors,
Emergency aid coordinators,
And more.

We deal in matters of consequence:
Food deficits and drought,
Trade barriers and GATT agreements,
Child labour,
Female circumcision,
And more.

We deal in poverty,
Calling  people beneficiaries,
Target populations,
The urban poor,
And more.

In rare moments, I have known my people to look out over the landscape,
Through the mirages of states and governments,
Into a world without human order,
Only the shifting sands of power.
Briefly, we see the infinity beyond the horizon.
We see our busyness as meaninglessness,
But it is only before bed at night,
And then we sleep,
Or for a moment when waking,
And then we put our feet to the floor,
Because we must dash...
There is an office to get to,
Meetings, workshops, and conferences,
Reports, proposals, and evaluations...
Where we must assume without thinking
That what each of us does matters
While we worry about funding cutbacks,
Competition between organizations
For zones of intervention,
Partners, collaboration, and donor policies,
Changing economies and shifting political winds
And so much more.

Our hearts, we believe, are good,
We believe ourselves to be compassionate, concerned
For human rights
And equality,
That our struggle for fair trade agreements,
Cultural respect,
And environmental protection,
Makes a difference every day,
For we worry about the future,
We have children of our own.

But blind our eyes we must
For in our international lives
We are accountable to none
Excepting our donors
Who measure by the pennies we spend,
Insulated statistics ceteris paribus,
And positive public relations,
While cultures exacerbate their distances,
The wars keep coming,
The famines,
The dying children,
The migrant, homeless refugees,
The insatiable consumption of resources,
Glaring growing disparity
Between continents and classes
So immense none can imagine.

My people scurry faster and faster,
Our rational minds ever more addicted
To a porridge of ideologies,
Liberalism, humanitarianism, and democracy,
A drug we must keep taking
To blind ourselves from the course we race
With a Hobbesian Malthusian tidal wave.

A terror,
I tell you,
Impossible to conceive,
From the comfort of twenty four on seven electricity,
Working traffic lights,
Canadian Tire,
And Loblaws,
Sears online catalogues,
Impossible to see,
Me and you,

Our World Order - more than just a Wikileak affair

For the better part of ten years I worked in the international aid industry.  I worked with local governments, small farmers, landless women, migrants, and refugees.  In Asia.  The Caribbean.  Africa.  The Caucasus.  I worked with the United Nations.  Private companies.  Charities.  Somewhere in the distant past I was a farm boy.  I worked in construction.  I drove taxis.  Ran bulldozers.  Somehow or another I paid for an education.  Now I consult.  Raise a family.  Fix bikes for the kids.  Cut the grass.
            Some years ago I was on a visit trip to Canada, playing croquet with old friends, and I had a chat with my brother about the world order.  I blithely commented that our techno-industrial socio-economic order would be sustained for a long time to come.  I talked in terms of one hundred years or more.  Which would take our way of life somewhere into the 2100’s.  The discussion took place before the rallying cries that were bellowed across the world in late 1991 and then 2001.  Gulf war followed by Iraqi war.  Many other bombardments and  drone excursions have followed.  Now here in 2013, in the sleepy backwater of Canada’s capital, I have pretty much the same idea.  Only with a new flavour.
            What is this world order?  More to do with wealth than nation states.  Basically, some of us are rich.  We have lots of stuff and consume quite a rather extraordinary share of economic resources.  Most of the rest of folks on the planet are not rich.  They do not have much stuff.  And so?
Well, thoughts about the human condition can never be neutral.  All thought is based on belief, whether we are conscious of our belief or not.  To believe is to be set up for contradiction by someone who believes otherwise.  Consequently, we creatures are in constant motion: defensive, aggressive, playing off each other, gathering, creating, exploiting, destroying.  The world theatre is dramatic, there is a plot, there are winners and losers, there is pain and suffering, there is malignancy, there is death.
Of course, there is some ecological collateral damage.    Meaning little more than that all things non-human are affected by our presence here on this planet.  However, this biological observation, for better or for worse, is hardly important.  The earth is a resilient organism and there is little way of knowing how the biosphere will evolve with or following our short presence here.  Which is to say that the earth is not really a principal worry and that our indulgence in worrying about it is somewhat vain.
More directly and of concrete concern to pretty much everyone is the problem of our joy and happiness and, ultimately, our liberty.  We want to be free to drive a car, to have sex, to eat what we like, to believe in which god we want.  This focus on freedom does not require wealth.  So if wealth is not really a fundamental prerequisite of being, the wizardry of economists worrying about Gross Domestic Product is like the eco-warriers trying to save the planet.   After all these years of wandering about, from Tibet to Texas, I am strangely surprised that I do not believe joy, happiness, and liberty to be the prerogative of those of us who have the dubious blessing of being wealthy.
            Such complexities have always challenged my sense of right and wrong.  On one hand, there is no doubt that the technological amenities and our standards of health that we have created make existence somewhat of a simple pleasure.  On the other hand, neither the amenities nor our health come cheaply.  As many are aware, the provincialism and unfortunate apathy which too often follow sustained comfort and security keep many of us passive, ignorant, or, as the case may be, in active denial of the fairly straight forward sets of global relationships which allow for our standard of living – environmental destruction and economic pauperization of masses of humans.  It is a sorry state of affairs when people contain themselves in passivity, ignorance, and denial.  We are lesser for it.
            I see little improvement where people with purportedly well researched information provide exhaustive arguments that justify our actions and condition.  Such as?  Well, there is the value of democracy in liberating thought, the innate creativity which capitalism inspires, or the social order which follows from public education.  Proving a point equates debating ability with intelligence, which in the absence of wisdom is sorrowfully too oft justification for the execution of terrible deeds.  We proceed consciously with harm when we believe that the means justifies the end.
None of which is to say that I am an apologist for the world’s poor.  In this dialectic madness, the inverse is also true.  The I-am-poor-because-of-you argument abounds, the oftentimes illogical blaming of the other for one’s own condition.  The whole rights thing.  Such arguments purportedly address everything from neo-colonialism to economic imperialism to public housing.  It is remarkable how self-absorbed people can be with their own oppression.  And, in the context of argument, few oftentimes are clearly not wrong in their observations, which is the esteemed virtue of the art of debate.  However, many fewer are by virtue of not being wrong, also right.
My reservation of judgment on the world order stems from a belief that existence is not a matter of right and wrong.  Time seems too infinite and the universe too grand for me to feel secure in what seems a profoundly human sentiment – morality.  Folly in thought and deed and belief is forever knocking at my door.
            Once, I was outraged by the lack of clarity in arguments about the state of the world.  Outrage, I found, required the involvement of others.  On one hand partisanship; we band together and shake our angry fists.  On the other it requires an enemy; someone to shake that angry fist at.  But while I needed partisanship, friends, a comforting shoulder to cry on, I caught myself blaming others for my woes.
Woe is me does not work very well in the end.  To heal our woe, such an enormous amount of energy must be invested in sustained like-thinking.  Which in the end is ideological, or theological as the case may be.  And it was likewise rather consuming to sustain anger towards enemies who were simply, in the end, often people I did not know very well – business owners, bankers, owners of yachts.
            Now, I find myself sad.  It is essential for me to be clear that I own only the sentiment, not the things about which I am sad.  Over those I am powerless.  My sadness is sustained without much effort, because in sadness there is a mutual extreme, which is joy.  This case of mutual extremes, paired ends of a spectrum, or harmonious opposites is a philosophical truism, which, I believe is simple enough to be true.  To suit the case, my joy must also be owned by myself.  Like sadness, there is no ownership over the things that bring me joy.  A colorful bright red sparrow lighting in the garden.  My children commenting wisely on an observation of their own experience.  The love I have for my wife.  The pleasure of simple food and wine.  Company.
            Acknowledging the limits of my own sentiments has a liberating effect.  Yes, in the first instance, it would seem that I am overwhelmed by fate, that I perceive myself to be powerless.  Which is true in a certain sense of being overwhelmed, in that all that exists completely surrounds and permeates me.  On the contrary, if I am free to act, to choose, I can also refuse any ownership over me.  As a consequence, whatever my circumstances, whether related to my physical opportunities or my will, I can choose.  From all that there is, including my inseparable relationship with fate, I can choose.  Rather frightening, actually, all this liberty.  And also rather exhilarating.  There is nothing passive in existence.
            But back to the world order.   I find that I am sympathetic to both those who suffer from being locked out of our wealth of amenities and good health systems.  I am also sympathetic to the fear of owning wealth and health, which arises from our provincialism and ignorance and my own selfishness.  Of course, I live by and large on just one side of the fence, the one with the computers and the cash and the medicine.  It is clear which side I am on.
But I did once knew Mahmadou.  A gardener.  He earned less than one hundred dollars a month, which was lucky.  He had a wife and two little kids.  He was illiterate.  He had few refined skills.  He was poor then , probably poorer today.  There are many others like him.  To explain this poverty is simple.  While the global economy grows and the real cost of goods diminishes for those with disposable income, there is a parallel drop in the real value of primary resources and commodities, including labour, which are used in the manufacturing and distribution of those goods.  In practice, this means that Mahmadou lived in an inflationary world.  Everywhere and anywhere, humans who are directly linked to the production of those primary inputs into the global economy, share the drop in value.  It is of course convenient to neglect all the arguments and optimism, which say that it does not have to be this way or is not really this way.
These distractions require a blind eye to CO2 build up in our atmosphere.  To the beggars who are outside our gates.  To the gunshots resounding from Tunisia to Pakistan.
Mahmadou’s world was beyond mine. Largely, I could only observe it, even though we shook hands each day.  His younger sister, I remember, experienced a spell while working in the market. The spell was cast upon her by a spurned lover.  The spell was followed by a sudden onset of lunacy in which she abandoned her vegetable stall in the market, raved, and threw off her clothes.  She was treated by a Grande Dame, secret herbs, and two months of Mahmadou’s salary.  Mahmadou and family were poorer, the sister healed and returned to her market stall – unmarriable.  I continued drinking imported beer.
            I felt as much disconnected when I was in Azerbaijan, a peculiar little post-Soviet republic on the fringe of the eastern fringe of Europe.  Azerbaijan, it seems, was so much on the fringe of the fringe that a pervasive cultural schizophrenia had been part of the culture from time immemorial.  Definitely not Asia, what with vodka and pork sausages, cheese, bread, and vinyards.  Admissibly not quite Europe, what with all the exotic hand knotted carpets flying around the country.
Part of the contemporary confusion seems to stem from the hapless luck of the Azeri peoples having grown up over pots of easy oil beneath their feet.  The Nobel brothers of the famous Nobel Prize were the first to seriously pump the goop out of the ground.  Hitler tried to get his hands on it.  Now the Europeans and the US have tubes in the ground.  So if you arrive in the capital Baku, with the nice airport and the nice shops and the nice little touristy things to do, you could say, if you wanted, that this was a place you could get to know because maybe you know it already just a little bit.  We are all pretty familiar with oil culture.
But what about the, oh, one million or so Azeri persons who were forced out of their traditional homelands by a little war somewhere around 1990.  These homelands had never had much if anything to do with this century’s oil.  These people had experienced some reciprocal fair trade in the context of the Soviet Union, exporting cotton and horticultural goods in exchange for social services and basic infrastructure.  This all evaporated with the demise of the Bolsheviks’ dream.  The displaced people, virtually all the rural population, and the majority of the urban population are decidedly poorer today.  The oil, of course, leaves the country in pipelines.  The reciprocity agreements that the population had with the Soviet Union poofed into clouds.   Today, my thoughts are alive with the memory of multi-lingual, university educated Agalar Mahmood.  He was thirty six years old, married, kids.  His three brothers died in various wars.  He wished to immigrate to Canada, to escape his nightmare.
            Before Azerbaijan, I was in China.  The lower mainland and Tibet to be precise.   A couple of things stared me in the face.  On one hand, my mind boggled at the vast numbers of humans swimming in unimaginable levels of atmospheric and ground pollution and the perplexing parallels of incredible efforts at environmental regeneration.  On the other hand, in every corner one had the sense that China had been around for a long time, in a variable though remarkably consistent form.
But the Three Gorges Dam, a technological wonder if there was one, the construction of the world’s highest elevation railway into Tibet, the urban skyscrapers of Shanghai, these are nothing more than redundant examples of the process of resource extraction and consumption.   They will only intensify  the already bloated concentration of industrial production of pigs and chickens in southern China, there to feed the population (in a manner of speaking), which serve as perfect breeding grounds for new diseases like Sudden Acquired Respiratory Syndrome.  What about the impossibility of hundreds of millions of the working poor all wishing to own a car?  And a mobile device?  To fly in an airplane?
Well, with some refreshment, I was inspired and enlightened when I watched and walked among families in their fields in Tibet.  Men and women, young and old alike, tilling their fields with ards pulled by yaks.  Voices singing in motion with the swing of wooden implements that broke clods of soil to cover hand strewn barley seeds.  The voice of eternal non-change singing somewhere in the back of my mind.
            Acknowledged, my romantic notions.  And my Luddite emotions?  I am responsible, of course, for my own doubt, which arises in part from my own naiveté.  For I was raised on liberal democratic ideals.  I had a mandate, did I not, to improve the quality of life for individuals in poorer countries?
No, not really.  I had an economic and very material dependency on poverty.  No poor.  No job.  No international travel.  No quaint rural retreats and bucolic vacations.  I was an ideologue.  An ideologue backed by big purse strings, to which all international workers are attached.  We were and remain oddly unaccountable to local authorities.  At any time, each of us could always get into a plane, leave, go home.  None of us, for all practical purposes, subject to independent judiciaries, taxation, or a rule of law in those countries in which we worked.
            Ignorant or blind to my own studies in history.  Shallow in my observations of human nature and organizational behavior.  Too tolerant of the propaganda in the language of the international organizations.  Blind to the severity of the little jingle: “You are either in the game, or out.”  It has taken quite a blasting for me to wake up.  The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Drones.  Housing market crashes. Syria.  Global surveillance systems.  Yes, you are either in the game, or you are out.
            My initial observation, I believe, remains correct.  My techno-industrial socio-economic order will remain for some time to come.  A wealthy order, no doubt.  And so long as I do not rock the boat, a comfortable one.
But a world order from which a little something has been shaved.  Which is the matter of choice.  Choice has been compressed into a little marble, now flicked off the game board.
The slice of choice, of how to live, shaved off the idea of liberty.
It was nice having it while it lasted.