Off White

Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X was released in 1992 when I was just 14 years old. Denzel Washington’s performance was powerful and it struck me. I became very interested in Malcolm X. During a trip to a nearby city I bought one of those X caps. The next week I wore it to school. I was a young white kid in a rural mountain town that was overwhelmingly white. My highschool went from grade 8 to 12. I was in grade 9, and let me tell you, some of the older non-white kids did not appreciate my expression of solidarity. I suffered at their hands. Although I did know that racial hierarchy was wrong, at 14 I did not have the sophistication to know how to navigate it.

From this incident I took the wrong lesson — a lesson that I think many white Canadians learn at a young age — when it comes to race: keep your opinions to yourself.

Canada has over 200 ethnic groups, but is 80% “white.” Canadian policies make it easy to ignore our race problems. The multiculturalism policies enacted since 1971 allow us to hide under a veneer of inclusionism. The truth is since we don’t collect data on race we have no idea how big our race problem is. Canada’s last segregated school was closed in Nova Scotia in 1983! In 2016 we are more integrationist than the United States. Our government has a dedicated foundation to dealing with racism that nobody has heard of, and we have hundreds of years of discriminatory policy towards the indigenous population.

angus reid chart

As the majority, white people have a responsibility to stand up. The first step is confronting whiteness.
Continue reading “Off White”

Top of the bottom

“Why don’t you show them something Japanese?” the teacher suggested.

Each week at the private school, a parent comes into class to talk about what they do. There is a wide variety of professions to expose the kids to. There is the dad who is a musician. One mom taught the kids some yoga. Then there is my friend: a businesswoman who happens to be Japanese.

The school is predominantly white, well-to-do, and teaches an alternative pedagogy to the public school where my kids go (mixed race mingling with a blend of ethnic and economic heritages all lumped together). My friend is probably the only Asian in that school of privilege. She stands out. When it comes to her turn to talk to the children about what she does, she is stripped of her years of experience and skills and reduced to what she is.

“Why don’t you show them something Japanese?”

Upon hearing this I snarked, “You should tell the teacher you are gonna teach the kids how to make maple syrup! Or, teach them the rules of hockey! Show them white people what for!”
Continue reading “Top of the bottom”

Quarterly review: FY16Q3

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.


★★★★☆ Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

★★★☆☆ Canticle

★★☆☆☆ Zero K

★★★★☆ If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

★★★★★ The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

★★★☆☆ The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)

★★★☆☆ The Men Who Stare at Goats


★★½☆☆ The Men Who Stare at Goats

★★☆☆☆ The Good Dinosaur

I didn’t write a review, but I enjoyed Oliver Stone’s new film Snowden and also the Adam Curtis documentary The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom which you can see for free online at Thought Maybe.

Thoughts on Citizen Energy

The “right to the city” is described by David Harvey as:

The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.

Although it was a bit of a slog, I enjoyed the ideas presented in his book Rebel Cities, and have continued to think about how I as a citizen can play an active role in the shaping of my city’s development. Thus, I was very excited to welcome Kusunoki Masashi of Citizen Energy Ikoma to come and speak about how his group put solar panels on the rooves of public buildings. see previous post about the talk.

What Japan and Germany have been doing

Japan is particularly vulnerable when it comes to energy disruption since it needs to import more than 80% of its energy requirements (if you want to know more in excruciating detail, see my master’s thesis on the topic). But the 2011 Fukushima disaster was a massive blow. The 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake caused a tsunami which triggered the nuclear meltdown causing nearly 16,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. Five years later, Japan is still heavily engaged in the cleanup. In the wake of the disaster, all 50 of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down. Starting last year, despite much public protest, the Abe Administration has begun restarting nuclear power plants.

In the meantime there have been a number of citizen-led movements for safer, more resilient energy resources similar to Citizen Energy Ikoma. Many are inspired by the experience of Germany. As part of the Energiewende (“Energy Transition”), decentralizing and democratizing energy production has been a key effort. Municipalities and citizens have been taking back energy utilities and in 2012, one in sixty Germans was an energy producer. The number of energy coops has risen to over 1000 in 2015.


The Energiewende policy started in 2010, but after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany set policy to shut off all its nuclear reactors by 2022. (The Energiewende is a very complex topic beyond the scope of this post. If you want an overview, check out this dispatch in FP and this National Geographic piece.)

Using our right to our city

Distributed energy supply, disaster-proofing resilient communities, and fighting climate change at the local level… it is all pretty inspiring stuff and makes me think about how this can be applied to my own city.

Kelowna gets about 305 days of sun a year, with 1950 hours of bright sunshine. Plus it gets very little snowfall: only about 5 days a year with more than 5cm, and 1.4 days with more than 10. (data) What this means is that we have a lot of flat rooves. All that flat area and all that sunshine makes for a good argument for putting solar panels everywhere.

Just this summer Kelowna City Hall replaced its roof. What if they had installed solar panels up there? Scratch that: what if we installed solar panels up there? How many other public buildings, schools and open areas could be used towards these ends? If the city does not have the capacity to do this, Ikoma and all the other cities in Japan and Germany prove that we as citizens can. They serve as examples of how to use our right to the city.

Citizen Energy

On Sunday (18 Sep) we had a special guest give a talk about how citizens installed solar panels on public institutions in Ikoma City, Japan. Kusunoki Tadashi is a boardmember of Citizen Energy Ikoma (市民エネルギー生駒), a citizens group who took the fight against climate change into their own hands by leveraging public space to produce electricity locally. They put solar panels on the rooves of public buildings decreasing the local carbon footprint, and used the profits of the excess electricity sold back to the utility into other public projects. Mr Kusunoki spoke for about 30 minutes telling us about the groups story, its objectives and business model, and the status of the three projects that they have completed so far.

ikoma map

Ikoma, a 200,000 person bedroom town between Osaka and Nara City, has a particularly eco-friendly history. It is aiming to be the most most energy efficient municipality in Japan. Citizen Energy Ikoma (CEI) was founded in 2013 and was the first in Nara Prefecture to execute such an energy initiative. They set out on this program with a few things in mind: First, they wanted the initiative to be citizen-funded. There was to be no money from government agencies or banks, and no corporate interests at play. They collected a lot of small contributions (in about $1000 increments) from private citizens. More than 70% of the contributions were from Ikoma locals. A second point was to involve retirees, to use “Silver Human Resources” (シルバー人材) as Mr Kusunoki put it. They wanted to empower retirees and show how they could give back to younger generations.

CEI worked with the city and secured space on the roof of a building at a local water treatment plant. They installed 273 solar panels at the cost of 17M yen (about $220K CAD). The installation was completed in March of 2014 and produces about 50kW of electricity.

The business plan was developed to extend over a 20 year period. The original citizen donors are able to get a small return (better than bank interest says Mr Kusunoki) on their $1000 investment. Profits from selling electricity back to the electricity utility go into new projects or programs. So far they have paid for signage at the children’s facility, power conditioners for the seniors home, and sponsored a number of environmental education initiatives including workshops for kids to learn how to make solar-powered cars and trains.

The success of the first installation lead to the development of two more facilities. In 2015 a new children’s facility (南こども園) was being built, and CEI was able to install 297 panels on the roof.

CEI also installed 224 panels on an open bank behind a senior’s facility. Both of these installations can produce about 50kW each, bring the combined total of all three facilities to 150kW. This removes about 55,000 kilograms of CO2 out of the air, and saves on about 40,000 barrels of oil per year.

The children’s facility was of particular interest to the CEI. It is an official Emergency Muster Point, meaning in the case of a disaster like an earthquake, it is deemed a safe place for people to retreat to. Having a ready-made energy supply at such a muster point is pragmatic strategy.

Mr. Kusunoki said that the future is bright for the children of Ikoma. They are trying to make Ikoma a model and promote it as the best place to live in the Kansai region. Their goal is to show how empowered citizens can create safe, local energy and contribute to a more resilient distributed energy supply chain in the case of a natural disaster. In the future the CEI is looking at how these initiatives can turn into second careers for retired people. Furthermore, they are exploring more ways having for citizens become local energy producers.

It was a pleasure to have Mr Kusunoki speak to us. It definitely encouraged me to think more about what we could do in our own communities (see my next post Thoughts on Citizen Energy). You can read more about what the CEI is doing in Ikoma here:

Nostalgic utopianism — a review of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus


Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity  by Douglas Rushkoff

Power corrupts and money ruins everything. These are basically the premises that Douglas Rushkoff starts from in his latest book, a critique of the concentration of power in the digital economy and the inequality it breeds. He uses the protests targeting private Google buses in 2013 to highlight the inequality driven by the US economy dominated by the monopolous forerunners of the digital economy. I was in SF at the time, and commented on what I saw:

I was struck by how conflicted the city is. The chasm between those in tech and those not in tech is nearly at class-warfare levels. Almost daily there are articles about the chasm widening (eg. the recent Google Bus demonstration). To get better sense of the civic strife, read the following link-filled article: Silicon Valley Is Living Inside A Bubble Of Tone-Deaf Arrogance.

Rushkoff has always been writing on the edges of technology and society. Now he tries his hand at technology and economics. His argument is that the digital economy is not a disruption, but merely an extension of the industrial age, with the problematic bits of that era even more acute. He takes great pains to show the monopolistic tendencies of networks and the ill effects of “digitally accelerated capitalism.” The evidence that he provides is damning, but his framework of analysis is not particularly convincing. His mistake is to analyze corporations using McLuhan’s tetrad of media effects, which ends up looking like this:

  1. What does the corporation enhance?
  2. What does the corporation make obsolete?
  3. What does the corporation retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  4. What does the corporation flip into when pushed to extremes?

It is an interesting thought experiment, but ultimately fails where more traditional economic arguments would succeed. The results are muddled. For example in chapter 21 he criticizes mainstream economic education, yet nowhere in the book does he name alternative economic models. The terms “neoliberalism”, “socialism”, “socialist democracy” never appear in the book. “Communism” pops up a handful of times, but only in a defensive matter:

For a business to find its appropriate size even if this means scaling down is not a Communist Plot. [pp. 105]

Rushkoff fears being accused as “communist” above all else, and that ends up undermining his argument. For Rushkoff, there is only Capitalism and Communism. His understanding of political theory comes off as unsubtle, but maybe it is the the limited of understanding of his audience that is influencing him, aka. the big tech CEOs that ask him for advice running their companies or hire him for highly paid corporate speaking engagements. This economic calculus might be the reason for Rushkoff’s lukewarm critique. He is not willing to go to the radical, or use radical language for fear of alienating his audience (née customers). The result is a fuzzy, friendly, plush toy critical theory. He is good at pointing out how damaging capitalism is, but instead of rejecting it, he dreams of a more “conscious” capitalism, a more “humane” capitalism. His solution is go back to a pre-industrial economic model, like the putting out system. Imagine a massive distributed network of makers 3D printing bespoke items for their neighbours out of their handmade cottages. This is how it should have been. Rushkoff is a nostalgic utopian, and this is further evidenced by his analysis of the internet.

Many of the greatest hits of 1990s internet theory are covered in this book, each critiqued and shown how they were not bourne out in the past decade and a half. Rushkoff gives a recent history lesson, showing how terrible things currently are, but then wishes things were like the old theorists thought it would be. Rushkoff is an early model cyberutopian.

However, there is a difference: the saviour of our society is not necessarily technology(!). In fact, Rushkoff argues that it comes down to how we structure our firms and our economy that will save society (aka. politics). That being said, he still thinks that distributed technologies can play a big role in achieving a less centralized system. Thus, Rushkoff’s view might be categorized alongside Steven Johnson’s peer progressivism (see some of my old thinking about PP here).

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus might not be the final wrench in the gears of our system of unfettered cyber-capitalism, but it is still worth the read. There are some excellent arguments in here against our addiction to growth, some cool examples of alternative transaction systems (local currencies, time dollars, LETS), and a spectacular takedown of startups and venture capital near the end of the book. Despite coming up short in its overall analysis, it is a good book to recommend to a friend who has just started to smell something bad in tech, knows something wrong, but is not quite ready for a full-blown attack on the real underlying problem: capitalism itself.

A short trip to the Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast is a region of mainland British Columbia just up the coast from Vancouver. Originally inhabited by the shíshálh people, the area was settled by westerners in the mid-nineteenth century. Now, about 27,000 people live there. The Sunshine Coast is less than two hours from downtown Vancouver, accessible by transit, and gets just half the rain of Vancouver. Its small-town feel, yet nearness to the city makes it popular with retirees.

My wife and I visited the region for the first time. I took almost 500 photos and videos. I put some of them up on Flickr, splitting them into albums for each leg of the trip, as detailed below.

sunshine_coast-horseshoeWe took the Greyhound to Vancouver ($34), then a city bus from downtown to Horseshoe Bay ($3.75). From there we walked on to the ferry ($7.50), and after crossing over took a short bus ride ($2) into Gibsons. Once in Gibsons we used the Coast Car Co-op, a carsharing outfit partnered with our local OGO Carshare Co-op. It was nice since I just used my regular fob to get into the vehicles.

sunshine_coast-gibsonsWe spent just two nights at the Sunshine Coast. We were based in Gibsons, and explored the area including the marina where Molly’s Reach is located. This is the restaurant featured in the long-running CBC show The Beachcombers which was set in Gibsons. We drove around the various neighborhoods, checking out the town, and down to the beach at Chaster’s park. My wife was so happy to see the ocean. I am always amazed at how green and verdant the coast is with its temperate rainforest. Even the rocks on the beach were green with seaweed and moss. The whole area is teeming with life, especially when contrasted with dry Okanagan.

sunshine_coast-davisUnfortunately it rained heavily the second day. We drove to Davis Bay, where the weather started to clear up. There is a long sandbar jutting out into the ocean at low tide, and a number of people were fishing at the tip, where a freshwater stream emptied into the ocean. I asked a fisherman what people were catching and he replied with a smile, “Salmon!” Of course… why didn’t I think of that.

sunshine_coast-secheltThe weather started to clear and we visited Sechelt, the center of the Sunshine Coast district. I had caught a cold in Vancouver on the first day of our trip and was feeling pretty terrible. We viewed a number of totem poles, and enjoyed the waterfront as it started to warm up. Unfortunately the shíshálh museum was closed. I was looking forward to learning more about the nation and the original four settlements in the region.

sunshine_coast-smugglersWe drove east to Halfmoon Bay and the sun started shining. Finally, the Sunshine Coast we came to see! There are a bunch of hiking trails so we took one into Smuggler’s Cove, the location of an aboriginal settlement which was later used to smuggle alcohol during the the prohibition years. The hike only took an hour or so, and there was a surprising number of people we met along the way.

Davis Bay, Sechelt and hiking to Smuggler’s Cove made for a busy day. We headed back to the Garden Cottage B&B (which I highly recommend, see my tour video here) and relaxed, viewing the stars as they came out. The next day we headed back to Vancouver via ferry and bus, and then back to Kelowna. It was a whirlwind trip, and we enjoyed it so much that we plan on going back next spring.

All 99 photos and videos can be viewed here →

Listening in — a short review of “Between the World and Me”


When I think of my long struggle to “try and be a writer”, my confidence is shattered upon reading such a poetic, insightful, heartfelt piece as this. This is writing — the naked intimacy of it. Even if I cannot fully grasp the primordial fear documented in this book, Coates’s excellent writing gives me a peek into a world I cannot — by definition of my class and race — ever truly know.

I cannot know the fear, but I can understand it. And it can move me.

The message of this book will certainly have different effects on each reader. Had I read this in my younger years, I might have had more difficulty in understanding. But after a decade and a half of being married to — and properly educated by — a feminist, living every day in an immigrant family, and being a father to two multiracial girls, I have a much better sense of how those who think of themselves as white are so blind to the system that their ancestors put in place, and that they propagate every day at work, at school, at the supermarket, on the bus, and in their homes. Ever since returning to Canada five years ago, I have struggled with my own whiteness, struggled with the strained politeness of a country that is multicultural by policy yet not by practice, keenly aware of that sickly sweet, maple-scented smugness.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has touched me with this book, likely in an unexpected way. I do not know if this book will touch you in quite the same way, but it is a powerful and beautifully written message that we should all heed and consider, and hopefully some day act upon.


The War on Cash is an informative piece about the battle against the cashless society. I have been cash-only for a few years, mainly for two reasons: protecting my personal information and financial discipline.

In the old days, a transaction would involve two parties: a merchant and a customer. Nowadays, barely a transaction is processed where a third, invisible party benefits — and more than by simply providing a convenient transaction process. I became more sensitive to protecting my information leading up to and in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Having worked in the online ads industry for the last three years (today is my final day, in fact), I have become even more aware of all the tracking, repackaging and reselling of personal data that goes on. Therefore, I choose to opt out of the personal information industrial complex that powers so much of our world today. 

In 2010 I quit Facebook. In my browser I use prophylactic extensions like Privacy Badger. I use services that protect me and opt out of information-sharing and activity tracking wherever possible. I delete cookies.

In the real world, your credit card is your cookies.

I stopped using credit cards and refuse networked loyalty points cards. I even switched cellphone providers, once I learned how my old one was tracking me.

It is nearly impossible to live completely cash-only in this world. A few years ago reporter Janet Vertesi tried to hide her pregnancy from the “big data dragnet” and found out how difficult opting out really is.

Mine is not a perfect system, but I do what I can.

“Cash-centric” is probably a better descriptor, since I use non-cash options sometimes. Large payments (eg. rent) I pay through online debit. Online shopping can be done with anonymous, rechargeable credit cards. And sometimes I want the card companies to become aware of the services I buy or subscribe to. I want them to be aware of a specific customer segment, and I use my credit card to pay for those items. For example, every month I let Visa and all its data-sharing marketing and consumer intelligence partners know about Ogo Carshare Co-op. If they are market other co-ops to me or people like me… victory?

Productivity hack: Use notes to keep track of things

The second reason I went cash-only is related to our downsizing journey, and our attempt at financial freedom by ridding ourselves of debt. Not using credit cards is the first step, and you will find no budgeting tool works as well as a limited supply of cash in your wallet. Each payday I take out a specific budgeted amount of cash from the bank, turn most of it over to my wife to run the household with, and am left over with a very limited amount which much last me to the next payday. The scarcity is corporeal. Every time I open my wallet, I know how I am doing in regards to my budget.

It is actually a very Japanese thing to do. I remember being in Japan in the late nineties and early oughts, and agreeing with all the neoliberal riducule of Japan’s cash-centric society as being backwards and inefficient. Now I understand the value in such a system, and have adopted it here in Canada. Just like not having a Facebook account, always using cash confuses people, but it sparks some meaningful conversations.

These are the main reasons for my choice to be cash-centric. I have not touched at all upon the impact of a cashless society on minority communities and the poor, and all the other reasons to continue carrying cash until the morally right solution comes along. To learn more about these issues, there is no better place to start than the article: The War on Cash.

Clausewitz Roundtable released as book

Many years ago I participated in an inter-blog (and very detailed!) discussion of the military classic On War by Carl von Clausewitz. The proceedings of that endeavour have been collated into 553 page book, released this week by Ever Victorious Press.

I submitted three chapters under my alias at the time “Sir Francis Younghusband.” My bio from that time was appropriately ridiculous:


If you are very interested in CvC, you can get the book from all the usual places. Below are the links to my minor contributions:

My thanks to Michael Lotus and Mark Safranski for their work.