Tag: Agriculture

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

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The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 866: Blessed Be This House Of Poop

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People often ask me whether or not I worry about running out of interesting topics before this thousand days is up. My response is always the same. “Of course not,” I tell them. “I haven’t yet written about toilet gods.”

Well, today I throw caution at the swirling fan and cash in on one of our species’ most notably bizarre predilections: assigning a higher power to the place where we poop.

Modern religions have spent too long on the proverbial fence, blindly adhering to its monotheistic principles and paying no mind to our spiritual doody needs. There is no patron saint of having eaten too many spicy enchiladas last night, nor am I aware of any Hebrew or Muslim prayer to combat lactose intolerance. We must look to the faiths of the ancients for this.

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In old-timey Japan, bodily waste wasn’t buried underground and forgotten. It would be collected and spread around the fields, acting as a fertilizer and completing that grand circle of life that most of us would rather not think about. For this reason, the kawaya kami (toilet god) was a god of fertility. Not the fun kind of fertility that we usually (but not always) reserve for another room in the house, but the food/crop sort of fertility. Sometimes family members would sit in front of the toilet and eat a bowl of rice in order to appease the god.

The other big plus in praying to kawaya kami was for protection. Collecting fertilizer material from toilet basins was dirty work, but also a bit on the dangerous side. There was the risk of tumbling into the muck and drowning, which is probably the worst way to die this side of inhaling next to Ann Coulter. Kawaya kami – if properly appeased by your consumption of malodorous rice – can save you from such a fetid fate. Read more…

Day 770: The Summerless Summer

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This year the news has been splattered by alarming weather reports like a silent film soundstage wall after take thirteen of an epic pie fight. Much of the western world has been grappling with weather that we in Edmonton call ‘regular winter’. I’m not trying to minimize the unusual meteorological hip-check nature has bestowed upon my more southernly friends – after all, up here we’re well stocked with snow tires, city plows and vehicle block heaters. The folks in Texas, not so much.

Perhaps the most common and least valuable platitude here is “it could be worse.” The bone-scraping cold and soul-squishing wind are brutal, but at least they’re unleashing their fury during the vacuum of the winter months. When the silver light of spring shows up, nature’s insipid polar fart will be nothing more than a series of old photos, buried deep in the tomb of distant newsfeeds.

In 1816, there was no such relief. The winter was winter, but spring and summer were slaughtered like calves en route to becoming veal marsala, cut down in the prime of youth. Historically they call it the Year Without A Summer. Its effects were cruel but the wonky residue may have given birth to the Old West, the Model T, the Book of Mormon and the Depression-era fad of spooky horror flicks. That’s a hell of a weather pattern.

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It all began with the massive eruption of Mount Tambora, located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. This was one of only two VEI-7 eruptions in the past millennium – and that scale only goes up to 8. This occurred on April 15, 1815, and while the 100 cubic kilometers of solid earth the volcano blasted into neighboring communities caused a virtual apocalypse for locals, the ash and toxins pumped into the atmosphere would sneak up and bitch-slap the rest of the planet several months later. Read more…

Day 697: The Gnarly Green Road, Part 1

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Children, pull up a spot o’ rug and pass the old man his USS Enterprise-shaped bong. I’d like to tell you a tale of corruption and weirdness, of cruel and unusual punishment and a nation that has only recently begun to peel back the charred scab of failed policy and misdirected prosecution.

Most committed connoisseurs of the cannabinical arts (you probably know them as ‘potheads’) will tell you that marijuana is illegal due to a conspiracy. Some will blame the alcohol industry, others point their finger at William Randolph Hearst. No doubt some will ascribe some sort of otherworldly shenanigans that extend as far up the ladder as FDR’s personal toenail buffer. The reality is more complex, but well worthy of your suspicion.

So let’s see if we can’t untangle this murky monkey’s fist and come up with some semblance of the truth, hopefully before I get distracted by that bag of Cheetos over there. The beginning of this tale takes us back to colonial times, back before the D.E.A., before the F.B.N., even before Willie Nelson.

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King James I – you know, the guy whose stamp of A-OK approval is all over that Bible in your hotel room drawer – decreed via the Virginia Company that every colonist in the New World was to grow 100 hemp plants specifically for export to England. Hemp was used extensively for rope, blankets and Phish t-shirts all over the world at that time, but it was a savvy young Irishman named William Brooke O’Shaughnessy – whose research would eventually lead to the invention of intravenous therapy – who first came up with the idea to use cannabis sativa for medicinal purposes. Read more…

Day 618: Immaculate Conceptions, Part 2 – The Independents

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In an effort to make this weekend’s topic of automobiles more relatable to a lifelong non-car-guy like myself, I’m going to draw a simplistic parallel to the world of movies. The majority of what the big auto-makers put out are akin to the majority of big-studio movies that populate our theatres. The boring sedan is the formula rom-com, the minivan is a cliché-ridden kids’ movie, the SUV is your typical political thriller, and the jacked-up pickup truck is the brawn-heavy, brains-light action flick. Oh and your Hummer? That’s a soulless Michael Bay CGI piece of crap.

But concept cars are the one-off studio epiphanies – the brilliant films unlike anything that had come before. These are the Inceptions, the Dr. Strangeloves of the auto world. The difference being that we can all experience those movies, while concept cars are out of reach to everyone, apart from inviting puddles of drool at auto shows. Hey, even a half-decent metaphor can only be stretched so far.

But I’m not interested in the big-studio one-offs; I wrote about those yesterday. A movie fan has to keep one eye on the independents, just as a car-lover should keep track of what folks outside the corporate sphere are cooking up. Today I’m throwing the spotlight on those innovative forward-thinkers who don’t have corporate backing fuelling their fingers.

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The Rinspeed Presto, which is really fun to say, emerged from Switzerland in 2002. With the push of a button, this two-seater stretches its innards (and its outards) and becomes a four-seater. It boots around like a roadster, but as with most concept vehicles from this century, the focus is on fuel efficiency. The Presto makes the most of this with an unusual 60/40 diesel / natural gas power system. Read more…

Day 563: Why The Little Guy Keeps Picking On Monsanto

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If you’re like me, you probably have at least two or three friends on your Facebook feed who periodically vomit a string of ‘awareness’ or ‘activist’ posts. You’ll read the first couple, then your scrolling will gradually increase speed until you thankfully land on a photo of some friend’s friend’s funny-looking baby. A lot of those posts you skipped will be about the evils of Monsanto, a company so aptly named to sound like a Bond villain it’s almost too perfect.

Monsanto is evil – that’s the gist of pretty much all of those posts. And Wikipedia – known for being edited by the same public that dispatches a number of its minions to make those Facebook posts – says pretty much the same thing.

For the benefit of those who don’t feel like waving the flag of online activism in your friends’ faces, but who still want to be informed, I’ll give you a quick rundown on the guy Bond won’t kill until the third act.

MonsantoAsVillain

First I’ll set the stage – Monsanto started off as a tiny dream in St. Louis by founder John Francis Queeny. I’m not sure what that dream specifically was, but I think it had something to do with using chemicals to make food more chemical-laden, preferably in exchange for truckfuls of money. Read more…

Day 514: Full Metal Emu

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For most nations, the years between the two World Wars was a time of boom and bust, a time when the economy trumped politics on the tips of citizens’ tongues. And when the call came for a new generation to pick up arms and fight for the cause, they were refreshed and ready, either too young to have battled the Kaiser or well-rested and eager to bring the fight to the Fuhrer.

But on the other side of the world from anywhere, in a land where women glow and men plunder, the Australian armed forces were still healing from a conflict less than a decade old. It was a dark time, as much of the world was still trying to claw their way out of an economic cave-in, but when Aussies grimly honored their duty and served their country, whatever the cost.

It was the Great Emu War of 1932.

Cue the music.

"There's something happenin' here. What it is ain't exactly clear..."

“There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…”

We open on a barren wheat farm near the coast of Western Australia. It’s October, and already the weather is stifling and oppressive. This was the site of the first bloodshed, the first casualty of this inevitable war. Only the blood was not that of a human, nor was it even the blood of an emu. It was the blood of wheat. Wheat which was plucked before its time. Read more…