#72 – In Memorial to the 49 Lost Canadian Rangers

Fucking eh, Canada. How do you suck this badly?

Since 2011, Canada has lost 49 members of the Canadian Rangers. These units, often staffed with Inuit troops wielding Lee-Enfield rifles whose obsolescence came and went shortly before the Moon landings and for which parts are growing scarce, are tasked with patrolling and watching the sparsely-populated lands that Canada claims. Never mind that the Inuit are using their rifles to hunt – they can wait a few decades for a gun. They also do not have access to the basic rights and services that Canadian Forces receive unless they are injured in active combat; the likelihood that they’ll get said services considering that a majority of their 19 trainers are medically unable to do their jobs isn’t that high anyways.

This bears repeating: 49 troops with ancient equipment have died in 4 years of peacetime. By contrast, 22 members of the Canadian Forces were shot in Afghanistan after 13 years of involvement. Fewer people in an active warzone were killed by direct fire, suicide attacks, friendly-fire incidents, and suicides combined than were lost in a non-hostile territory. How do you even do that? While Stephen Harper is out traipsing along in the North, the primary defensive system for this entire area is dying.

Canada has a responsibility to those in its employ. Those responsibilities include ensuring that people don’t die on the job. This is understandably tough in a war-zone, and no doubt hostile terrain in the North makes things difficult, but that just means that Canada is responsible for properly equipping its troops. It doesn’t matter that they’re “not real soldiers” – they’re employees and they deserve to be treated with dignity. Part of that dignity is, again, not dying at work. This responsibility compounds given the relationship that the State of Canada has chosen to forge with Indians and Inuit. You just can’t do half-jobs.

So, whatever killed them, this blog would like to honor and respect those 49 people lost on the job. Treated like props and with replacement for their ancient survival equipment being once again delayed because Canada, these men and women nevertheless attempt to do the thing with which they are tasked by their employer, who clearly doesn’t even begin to care about their well-being. That these people work for what behaves like an occupying power – one which prides itself on being modern and well-heeled, no less – is a bitter irony. This is truly a tragic, horrific example of government mismanagement and a lack of planning leading to death and sorrow.

But the hockeymans are on so that’s more important.

#71 – Getting Schooled, Part Five: Rotting at the STEM

English Canadians believe that all of their problems would be solved if everyone was in school for the right things.

Of course, “the right things” are obvious to the simple-minded English Canadian – make more shit to drag more raw materials out of the dirt because that’s what Canada does, baby! The intellectual side of this, engineering, has been long held as the “way to get a job”. But naturally, Canadian businesses don’t want to pay for this homegrown talent, because that would be stupid! Who hires people based on competence anyways, am I right? Why hire Canadian talent when you can outsource! What do you mean, the Egyptians we dragged in did a shit job? Never mind that – keep scouring for more foreigners to work for cheap!

Meanwhile, Canada’s science grads suffer un/deremployment on par with the hated social sciences and humanities. Even engineers are starting to feel the crush – huge graduating classes with (reasonable) high demands for pay and benefits meeting Canada’s business culture of cutting costs doesn’t spell good things. In 2007, 18% of Canada’s engineers were un/deremployed or not even in the workforce. This number has only increased as graduating classes continue to surge in size and expectations. And Canada, being Canada, continues to not bother looking at how it intends to employ a huge pile of students expecting the Moon in salary after being told that they are The Chosen Ones.

See, this is the problem with un-coordinated education. A shortage of professionals in a field results in a crush of students, which our university-businesses love to see because that means tuition money – but those people graduate in a crush, meaning a scrum for a job inevitably ensues. Co-op programs provide cheap work for Canadian firms. Why hire a good student at a high rate of pay when you can use co-op temp-workers for the same job and have them rotate? We were told that we were desperate for engineers, so desperate that we just had to grab a bunch of Chinese engineers ready to work for 60% of the wages a grad would expect. And now that we have a bunch of home-grown engineers, Canada doesn’t have a clue what to do next.

What does this mean for the future? I don’t know. I’m not typing this at Delphi. But I do know that there’s a problem here (any time a field is defined in a study as “more mobile”, what it really means is “less stable”) and that the mismatching of talents to salaries in the STEM fields needs to be examined. The most recent studies on the information and communication technology market have gone undone for a decade, but the offshoring of R&D and increasing reliance on cheap labor in the Canadian business world has been continuing apace. And Canada doesn’t even look.

You know, there’s a way to hire that ~40% of natural and social scientists grads that remain underemployed or not even in their field. But knowledge doesn’t drag shit out of the ground so it clearly doesn’t matter.

#69 – Canadian Storytime, Part Three: The Therac-25

English Canada has forgotten about one of the most horrific accidents in the history of software engineering despite the minor detail that one of its companies created said accident.

It created said accident in the usual way Canada produces anything – laziness begetting complete fuck-up. The Therac-25 series, a radiation therapy machine created by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), had the unfortunate side-effect of irradiating patients because nobody bothered to look at the software that was running the machine after removing the interlock system. This produced a mildly-undesirable effect colloquially referred to as microwaving cancer patients like one would a fucking hot-dog and medically referred to as “holy shit fucking stop!”

Given that microwaving your patients is discouraged even in the cacophony of idiocy that is Canada and certainly in the modestly-more aware United States, the incident proved to be a bit of a disaster. Being a Crown Corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada proudly and boldly leapt to the rescue after the second case of radioactive funtimes by guessing at the problem (they couldn’t replicate the scrotum-zapping majesty of the Therac-25 in the lab) and declaring the machine to be safer “by at least five orders of magnitude”, a zesty claim in the context of not being able to recreate the issue in the first place. Oh, and denying that the machine could pump an overdose into a patient.

The AECL knew that Canadian products were perfect and amazing and thus didn’t bother having any ability to follow-up on the first case of nukery. The first patient was injured in June of 1985; a 61-year old woman who unknowingly put her faith in the hands of Canada (never a good idea) claimed that she could feel the radiation burning her as she was zapped. The technician behind this particular incident of human cookery accidentally fired 20,000 rads of Canadian therapy where 200 is the norm – clearly, the machine could never do that despite the patient being obviously burned and eventually losing control of her arm. This issue was dropped by the AECL until it became obvious even in Canada that the Therac-25 was a menace.

Shockingly and incredibly enough, the guesswork changes to the Junk-Jammer 9000 after the second incident of nuclear bukkake failed to amuse those who discovered that the Canadian government’s business was unable to follow even the basics required by the Canadian Radiation-Emitting Devices Act. This law was passed in 1971; the Therac-25 menaced North American genitals starting in 1985. But Gordon Symonds and his recommendations from the Canadian Radiation Protection Bureau were ignored save for a single fix.

Then the AECL pulled a full Canada by lying through its fucking teeth. A lawsuit filed from the first patient had been filed in October of 1985 listed the AECL as a defendant, mostly because of the whole massive dose of radiation thing. After a dude got nad-nuked in Yakima, Washington, the clinic there wrote to the AECL to say that their latest error could be a radiation problem. The AECL said that an overdose was impossible and that they had never had a problem before.

Yeah. The first and second patients weren’t damaged by bad equipment! They just didn’t want to be cured enough!

#38 – Canadian Storytime, Part One: High on Cruelty

Of all of the series that I wanted to go back and clean up, this is perhaps the most urgent. The purpose of Canadian Storytime is to tell the tales of misery and woe that didn’t make it into the national record. Events like the wilful, deliberate starvation of the Plains Cree by John Macdonald and his gang of goons. Or the sudden shutdown of the Hebron Moravian Church, an essential institution for nearby Inuit, by the federal and Newfoundland governments. Did I mention that after that closure came forced relocation? Relocation is one of Canada’s darkest secrets, and this series is here to bring some light to these hidden stories of unimaginable pain. Even when forced relocation was well-meaning, it was poorly executed and invariably led to heartbreak and squalor.

Of all of Canada’s myraid forced relocations few have as stupid an origin story as the High Arctic Relocation. I hope you’re sitting down for this one, because it’s the perfect cocktail of caker self-importance, flagrant disregard for humanity, and the kind of foresight and planning that Canada does best (that is, none at all). It’s the early 1950s; the corrupt, questionable government of Louis St. Laurent rules the Ottawa roost, and the Red Scare is in full swing. Ottawa is acting in a “frenzied” manner, the RCMP is given extraordinary power to detain homosexuals and lock them into something called the “fruit machine” (don’t worry: we’re definitely going to be talking about that one), and nobody is thinking clearly because of media sensationalism and because they’re useless Ottawa kleptocrats and scumbags.

Looking at the source I cited above, you might note the fear that Canada was believed to be a natural battleground between the Soviet Union and the United States. The supposed entry point into Canada was over the North Pole, where Canada had no power projection of any kind. Despite having at best a tenuous claim to lands that they had no clue how to control, Canada was desperate to avoid the ridiculous boogeyman that was the prospect of Ivan coming over Ellesmere Island. And to avoid that make-believe prospect, Canada decided to create a make-believe community which would serve to solidify Canada’s claim to the Arctic – a village of “human flagpoles“, as it were. The two places where deceived Inuit were dumped and left to die are today called Grise Fiord and Resolute.

(S) The construction of which ended up on the $2 bill between 1974 and 1979, because Ottawa loves cruelty.

Since cakers were hilariously racist and categorically unable to themselves survive on Ellesmere Island (which might in retrospect have been a sign as to the likelihood of a mass Soviet invasion of the High Arctic), Canada scrounged around to find a population to dupe into a lifetime of suffering. Naturally, they settled on the Inuit. Seven families were told that they could move to a land of abundance, and if that didn’t work they could leave in two years. Neither of those things turned out to be true. From the source that I cited in the previous sentence, this phrase stands out to me:

The plan was inherently unsound, and the means necessary to carry it out were equally unsound. The failures in execution served only to aggravate the hardship and suffering inherent in the plan from the outset.

So in effect, a hairbrained idea was executed in a slapdash fashion against a non-consenting population that was duped into said hairbrained idea. And just in case you thought that Canada had consulted the Inuit at all and maybe asked them what a difference of 1200 miles in latitude and a total lack of infrastructure might make on their living conditions, rest assured that Canada did not give a single shit. In fact, Canada assumed that the Inuit were simply too stupid to offer advice on their own living conditions. Even worse, the relocation was also serving as an experiment to see if the transplanted peoples would even survive. Yes, people – Canada committed a shoddy, unconscionable experiment with dubious methods in the name of strengthening its territorial claims to lands that it has no idea how to use.

For decades, people who were separated from their families lived lives of deprivation and want. When Ottawa was informed that they had a responsibility to apologize for their unimaginable, boneheaded stupidity, Ottawa immediately leapt into action. By commissioning a report. Which ultimately attempted to exonerate Ottawa by claiming that there was nothing wrong with separating families and moving them thousands of kilometers into an unknown, unsafe environment for the sake of claiming territory. This claim, mercifully, was too flimsy even by Ottawa’s weak standards and the House apologized. In 2010. And then money that Ottawa gave to the victims by way of a trust fund ended up performing so poorly that it stopped paying out to the victims and couldn’t cover its own expenses.

 

 

#26 – Exploding Trains are Bullshit

For a country that proclaims the creation of a trans-continental railroad (but not the attendant genocide which is naturally revised out of caker history) as part of the national mythology Canada sure as shit doesn’t care about the totally inadquate state of its rail infrastructure. There are several postings worth of content to this story but there’s one particularly exposive issue that Canada desperately needs to be dinged for. That event was the horrific derailing and explosion of a train carrying oil on 6 July 2013, which caused massive damage to a small community called Lac-Megantic.

When your rolling stock can become an IED somewhere between the Bakken formation and a refinery you have a fucking problem. The problems with the rail infrastructure were known for months ahead of the incident, but that wasn’t stopping one of Canada’s most malignant families from pounding oil through on the way to their St. John, NB refinery. The Irvings too will be returning to the blog because seriously fuck them, but even those greased-up bastards are only part of a story that killed 47 and nuked a town’s core. This is a story of egregious, tremendous failure that touches international shitty business, the strange anti-labor attitudes that cakers adore, and Canada’s refusal to enforce tolerable and safe infrastructure maintenance because doing so costs caker business money.

The story of Lac-Megantic is the most tragic story of explosive rail failure caused by Canada’s lack of co-ordination, but it is by no means the only one. This is also not a problem exclusively experienced by Canada, although that fact of course excuses nothing. But holy Christ is it impressive that Canada is so heavily oriented to extractive industry and so impossibly unable to give a shit about what risks might come from actually transporting the extracted stuff that 1200 trains derailed in 2015 – years after a derailment took out an entire town. The bomb train is perhaps the greatest manifestion of the blatent contempt that Canadian business and government has for its people and its dependents. Cakers are being played, and they love it!

It’s not just the rails that are failing Canadians. Canada’s mindless negligence of essential infrastructure means that almost 75% of Canada’s 13,500 grain cars will have to be forcibly retired in ten years. But that’s okay – grains are merely one of the West’s most important exports. At-grade and other railroad crossings are plagued with “widespread design flaws“, because why plan infrastructure properly when you can fuck around and kill people instead, right? Caker business takes a swing at failure – after a massive uptick in derailments on CNR’s lines in 2014, the company chose to lay people off in 2015 and look like they’ll maintain their dangerous strategy of reducing the number of workers available to maintain rails in 2016. In the caker business world, anything is worth doing in the name of immediate-term profit margins!

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(S) “Can we make the cars out of cardboard? It’s cheaper!” CN Head Office, probably

Rail is often invisible for the average caker, who doesn’t bother to think about how Canada’s extractive economy even gets to market because thinking is hard. Unfortunately for Canadians, trains are kind of important. While train traffic is mythologized in Canada as being the backbone of the country, a lack of spine and concern amongst cakers means that the worst kinds of caker business are permitted to oversee looming rot and decline of an essential piece of infrastructure. Even when people die due to negligence, the response is to point at other countries and hope for the issue to disappear again under a blanket of feels and myths. It’s textbook Canada, right down to the disappearing act.

Because why worry about infrastructure that you proclaim to be essential for the creation of the country, right? In modern Canada, product moves on feels and not giving a shit.

 

 

#17 – The Circle of Suck, Fort McMurray Edition

Resource extraction in Canada invariably ends up with broken communities and shattered dreams. It’s a tale as old as Canada – a city finds itself rich with a certain resource and then proceeds to build an entire town devoted to that function over to then watch that town fail when the extractive industry bites the big one. It’s a carryover mentality from Canada’s colonial days which has never really changed; the land, the people, and the community established by the confluence of the two are less important than maintaining profits. These one-industry towns, usually finding themselves on the wrong side of the newest idiotic extraction trend before slowly, painfully twisting into obscurity and decay.

The Circle of Suck, as I’ve taken to calling this cycle of meteoric rise, gratuitous construction without regard for longevity, and brutal decline is on full display at Fort McMurray, a distant hellhole and extraction center for Canadian oil. A city where six-figure salaries ruled the roost while oil prices were sky-high, Fort McMurray drew in victims of previous resource crashes like Newfies and proceeded to build itself with no regard for the future. A city where drug use and pickup trucks are the primary sources of entertainment built itself into a concrete grave. What happens after the oil runs out? Who cares! Build more shit! More condos! More parking!

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(s) We’ll build our economy on novelty truck balls after the oil dies!

Mindless booming contrasts with other, saner techniques. Like Norway, which chose to forego the bumper stickers of Calvin pissing on a truck logo in favor of investing the money into a trust fund. This wild and insane idea allows Norway wiggle room while it retools itself when oil prices crash. It also means that Norway isn’t tempted to do what Canada invariably does when the lights at the caker party start to flicker and hand concession after subsidy to the industry in a desperate attempt to keep the lights on. The revenues gleaned from Alberta’s royalty system depend on, among other elements, “the price of oil, natural gas and other liquids; the production levels of an individual well; the age of a well; the depth of a well; the capital costs of an oilsands project; the value of the Canadian dollar; and the return on a Canadian government bond”. In Norway they tax corporate income around 78%, which total of which depends on…income. That’s it.

With plenty of beg-out options through the confusing-as-fuck royalty system the oil sands shockingly failed to provide the kind of revenue that would allow Alberta to retool itself after the price of oil inevitably crashed. Never mind the whoopsie miscalculation errors that the Alberta Tories loved so much – these people chose to let corporate bodies hold massive profits over figuring out what to do with overbuilt places like Fort McMurray. Does anyone expect that city to remain at its current size when the work dies off? What’s the degrowth plan? How is it funded? Fuck if we know! Surprisingly, giving the Suncors of the world a tax break they didn’t need somehow didn’t translate into a tenable Fort McMurray or a way for that city to keep existing when the industry finally fails.

And what happens on the downswing? When prices suddenly fall and the place depopulates for want of work or function the overbuilt Fort McMurray and the toys and the drugs won’t save it. Where Norway is currently doing just fine for itself Alberta is struggling to break both the culture of non-taxation that comes from constantly decrying taxation as “dangerous for the industry” and the monoculture that was the Alberta economy. Undoubtedly this translates as real pain for Albertans and for people who moved there to ride the wave only to find themselves mired in debt.

The natural predisposition of Albertans is of course to cry caker – it’s Quebec’s fault because they take equalization money! Rather than addressing the problem as the lights go out cakers opt for hand-wringing and pointing the finger of blame elsewhere. But the real problem is a Canadian one – the Circle of Suck is timeless and merciless, and only a cultural shift towards tenable construction and careful economic development will end it.

With this lot, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.