HOW CORN FLAKES WAS INVENTED

 

THE CONTRARIAN

This is a fictional story, set in 1965.

It starts with a bright young fellow (BYF) entering his bank managers office. “Thank you for taking the time to hear my idea”, he says.  “I have developed this recipe, it’s mostly ground up corn and other stuff, I mix it up like waffle dough, and when I pour it out real thin on a really hot grill, it cooks and dries into a sheet which cracks up into pieces, like flakes, like this sample here” Offers sample to manager.  Manager tastes it, looks non-committal, bright young fellow says “Well, it’s a lot better in a bowl, with some sugar, that healthy natural brown stuff of course, maybe slice up a banana on it, or a handful of blueberries, slosh on some 2% homo.  People are too busy to cook breakfast these days, and here is a balanced nutritious breakfast in seconds.  I think there will be unlimited market for it”

So what do you want from me”, says the manager.

“Well, I have designed up a rotary dryer-flaker”, here BYF produces some neatly drafted plans for a mechanical contraption, “and Mr. Jim Cutsteel over at the blacksmith shop says he will build one for me for $3000. I would need an institutional – size mixer, and that costs $2000.  I can buy the corn and stuff already ground up, and my dad says I can set the whole thing up in his garage.  So I want to borrow $5000 to buy the mixer and dryer, then I can start boxing the stuff up and sell it.  As the market develops, I can work into a more industrial scale operation.  I need $5000” he says looking up expectantly.

Now we split into two scenarios. First, BYF is a Canadian.  He is talking to Cuthbert Pinstripe, manager of the local small-town (perhaps a northern Ontario mill town) branch of a national institution with branches all across the country; whose shareholders are mostly Canada’s wealthy leading families.

Cuthbert is a young bureaucrat on his way up, looking to be promoted to manage bigger branches, or an older bureaucrat already passed over for promotion and on his way down, either way not interested in anything out of the way which might put a blot on his resume. Cuthbert says, a little snootily “we only make business loans to proven businesses, and in any case we would need at least a mortgage on your dad’s house for security.  If you have political connections, you might get a grant somewhere.  Seriously, I suggest you get out of the kitchen and go get a real job, maybe working in the mill like everybody else.”

Now we will look at the second scenario, where BYF is an American. He is talking to Flashy Jack Shortnote, manager, proprietor, sometimes teller, and even occasionally janitor of his local, one-branch privately owned bank.

Flashy Jack says “Why, Billy Kellogg, I am sure happy to see a young fellow with some independent spirit and new ideas. I know your daddy and grand-daddy, and they are men of honour who do what they say they will do, and I am sure you are cut from the same cloth.  So let’s see, what can we do for you?”  Thinks for a minute, then goes on “I won’t lend you that money, because worrying about having to pay it back is too much of a burden on a start-up business.   Let me see, here is what I will do.  You will need working capital, so I will give you a revolving line of credit for $1000, so you can pay for your supplies until your sales receipts come in.  I will invest $1000 in your idea, and I will find 4 other investors with $1000 each.  Doug Pillpopper, over at the drugstore will come in, and I bet Bill Shortbottle at the liquor store would too.  If I lean on old Jim Cutsteel, he will probably take shares for $1000 of his bill.  We will incorporate a company.  It’s your idea, and your hard work to make it go, so you get 75% of the shares, and we will put up the money, so we get 5% of the shares each.  How does that sound?”

Bright young fellow, overwhelmed, says “Mr. Shortnote, that sounds just fine. Thank you so much for your help and generosity”, to which Flashy Jack replies, “Oh, it’s not generosity, it’s just business.  If you succeed, we might make a lot of money, and if you fail, the tax system takes some of the bite out of our loss.  Four out of five new businesses fail, but if we keep investing in bright young fellows like you, the winners more than offset the losers.  Good luck to you, now get out there and sell corn flakes”.

Remember, this fictional account is set in 1965. In today’s Canada, Cuthbert is gone, and BYF would have been dealing with Patty Puffdegree, Small Business Loans Manager, who would have had him fill out a multitude of forms and forwarded these to a central computer which would have issued BYF his rejection notice. And cancelled his credit card.  Even in the US, BYF might be rejected; independent bankers like Flashy Jack are becoming rare; most of their banks are bureaucracies like ours.

But let’s extend the story by adding another chapter. Suppose BYF was able to raise the capital he needed, perhaps a rich uncle lends him the money, and he actually gets into business.  In today’s world, he will face unbelievable hurdles in terms of food safety regulations, marketing boards, supermarket shelf space politics, all designed to preserve the market for the presently rich and keep the serf class in their place.  Unless his uncle also has political connections, BYF would be bankrupted without ever really understanding what happened to him.

So it’s a good thing Corn Flakes was invented in the US a long time ago.

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LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

THE CONTRARIAN

So, Little Red Riding Hood is tripping along through the forest on her way to her grandma’s house, enjoying the scenery and the birdies and bunnies who seem to follow her everywhere, red hooded cape unbuttoned, red hair flying, not a care in the world. She is carrying the basket of eggs she gathered in her barnyard this morning, eggs from heritage breed hens, happily scratching and foraging around the barnyard, and fed farm-produced naturally grown grains.  Eggs she carefully candled this morning –eggs occasionally have a defect, a form of blood clot in them.  Candling means holding each one up to a light in a box so she can see through the translucent shell and see if this defect is there.  It is not toxic or anything like that, but not very appetizing and these defective eggs are fed to the dog or the cat or the pigs or even back to the hens.

As she gets to grandma’s house she notices that the door is open a bit, and no lights on, she gets worried and rushes in shouting “Grandma, are you OK?” The door slams behind her, and the Big Bad Wolf behind the door gruffs “Your grandma is OK, but you are in big trouble!”  She looks again, and the Big Bad Wolf is a bit different, looks sort of like a government bureaucrat.  She asks “what have I done wrong?”

Big bad wolf says “You are illegally transporting eggs!” “But how can that be”, says LRRH, “Grandma usually comes for her eggs and she would never do anything illegal.  She isn’t feeling well, so I am bringing them to her.” The wolf gruffs “Oh, your grandma is OK, it is legal for the customer to pick up her eggs at the farm, but it is against the law for the farmer to bring the eggs to the customer.  I will have to write you a ticket!”

LRRH says “So, what would I have to do to be able to legally transport eggs?” Big bad wolf answers firstly; you need a government –approved Egg Grading Station.  Then he asks “How many hens do you have?” Red answers with “I really don’t know, do I have to include my bantam hens?  They are really hard to keep track of, must be a hundred or more if I include them, but my cousin in Alberta says I only need a quota from the Marketing board if I have over 500, so I am OK.”  “But this is Ontario”, from the bureaucrat/wolf, “I will have to write you up another ticket, you are only allowed one hundred hens without a quota.”

“So I will have to kill my banty’s, they are really just pets you know, about the size of a crow. Anyway we already have an egg grading station, I just set up my basin of water to wash off any spots beside my candling light and weigh scale on the kitchen table.”

“Well, no, your Egg Grading Station is OK, but it will have to be in a separate building, not in your house or barn.” “OK”, from Little Red Riding Hood, “We have a shed we don’t use; I will just move my stuff over there.”  The wolf replies “no, the building plans will have to be approved, and the building will require its own separate electrical service, heating plant, water supply approved by the board of health, and sewage disposal system.  You could probably build it for $60 000, depending how deep you have to drill the well.”

LRRH is getting visibly upset now, and asks “So I can’t just run an extension cord for one light bulb, I can’t wash the eggs with the water I drink every day, I can’t just flush the basinful of slightly soiled wash water down the toilet, I have to spend $60 000. What health or safety or environmental purpose can that possibly serve?”

The wolf is also losing it, and just gruffs “you don’t get to ask questions”.  But LRRH is a feisty chick, and she goes on “A few hens is a big help to anybody wanting to start a family-scale natural farm, but these rules makes it way too expensive, so this is all just to prevent new farmers getting started, nothing to do with the public good!”  The wolf growls “Now I am going to have to write a ticket for you obstructing a Provincial Officer just trying to do his duty. Stick out your arms for these handcuffs; we are going downtown; with three tickets you are going away for a while.”

Grandma stuck her head out the door as they were leaving, and said “Sorry, Red, I wish I could have warned you, but they said they would put me in jail if I did, and I am too old for that. I hope you get out soon!”

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CLASSY GOGETTERS

THE CONTRARIAN

I was a bit taken aback. I don’t remember his exact words, but what I got was that the Go-Getters is not for the ‘upper class’. Upper class, in little Dryden?

By coincidence, not long after that conversation, a fellow told me he finds it hard to take the Go-Getters seriously, after all, such a silly name. I choked, and replied that mostly we just refer to ourselves as ‘the Dryden Senior’s Drop-In Center’.

Another coincidence, the next day I bumped into an old friend in the Dollar Store. “How’ya doin’?” from me, and “Sensational” from her.  “Really, that good?” from me, and “Well, the whole world hates a complainer” from her.  I said I know, even if I feel like I have been run over by a bus I usually say I am ‘just a-rarin’ to go’.  Of course that is kind of dumb, I don’t suppose anybody younger than about 60 has any idea as to what that means.

She replied that she had just seen an email joke, a list of words we old-timers use which younger folks don’t understand, and it is quite a long list.

Thinking about it, the Go-Getters are folks retired from all walks of life, professionals and janitors, wealthy and poor. We like old things, we play games and cards and bingo, we do carpentry and crafts.  We run small programs or courses to help us cope with modern life.  We like to dance, and we prefer the waltzes and polka’s we learned before rock ‘n’ roll was invented (and the music world has gone downhill ever since, try writing down the words to any modern rap song, and finding any poetic merit in them).  Mostly, we like to visit and have lived enough life to know that each of us, educated or not, wealthy or not, has something interesting to say if we will only listen.  But I suppose someone who is very ‘class-conscious’ might have trouble with mixing with the hoi polloi like that.  Of course that means they are not genuinely classy at all, think “Mrs Bucket”.

Anyway, a hundred years ago, when the spirited young horse was hitched to the buggy and the trip was delayed he would be so anxious to go on a run he would be pushing and dancing and even rearing up on his hind legs, hence ‘Rarin’ to go’. Of course he could also be ‘chompin’ at the bit’, but that is a story for another day.

And when my parents’ generation were talking about a high-spirited hardworking person anxious to get things done and change the world, they would say he is a “Real Go-Getter”. The Go-Getters club was started and named in their day, over 60 years ago, when most folks knew what a Go-Getter was.  And the good news is that the club is embarking on a program to bring its facility up to date and in line with today’s needs – they are indeed ‘Real Go-Getters’.

 

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CORPORATE AGRICULTURE AND GLOBAL WARMING

 

THE CONTRARIAN

The following is an excerpt from an article in The Guardian, a British paper, which I have copied from a Canadian blog called “Local Food News – World”, Dec 12/16 issue. It was addressing the problem of human activities releasing carbon dioxide into the air, thereby causing Climate Change and other unspecified disasters.

As some readers know I have been a student of agriculture since we moved to Oxdrift at age 8; I still bring my vegetables to the farmers markets every week. This article very accurately expresses my opinions.

(Begin Quote) There is, however, a solution. Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The science on this is quite exciting. A study published recently by the US National Academy of Sciences claims that regenerative farming can sequester 3% of our global carbon emissions. An article in Science suggests it could be up to 15%. And new research from the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, although not yet peer-reviewed, says sequestration rates could be as high as 40%. The same report argues that if we apply regenerative techniques to the world’s pastureland as well, we could capture more than 100% of global emissions. In other words, regenerative farming may be our best shot at actually cooling the planet.

Yet despite having the evidence on their side, proponents of regenerative farming – like the international farmers’ association La Via Campesina – are fighting an uphill battle. The multinational corporations that run the industrial food system seem to be dead set against it because it threatens their monopoly power – power that relies on seeds linked to patented chemical fertilisers and pesticides. They are well aware that their methods are causing climate change, but they insist that it’s a necessary evil: if we want to feed the world’s growing population, we don’t have a choice – it’s the only way to secure high yields.

Scientists are calling their bluff. First of all, feeding the world isn’t about higher yields; it’s about fairer distribution. We already grow enough food for 10 billion people. In any case, it can be argued that regenerative farming actually increases crop yields over the long term by enhancing soil fertility and improving resilience against drought and flooding. So as climate change makes farming more difficult, this may be our best bet for food security, too.

The battle here is not just between two different methods. It is between two different ways of relating to the land: one that sees the soil as an object from which profit must be extracted at all costs, and one that recognizes the interdependence of living systems and honours the principles of balance and harmony. (End Quote)

The Dryden farm community did not get into modern corporate agriculture; our fields are too small, for one reason. However, we have been caught in the crossfire of the big ag, corporate/government forces putting all kinds of roadblocks in the way of the traditional, sustainable agriculture supported in this article, and which is what we practice.  That is where we shine and where our future lies.  So we have a local stake in such as La Via Campesina succeeding.

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FERAL CATS

THE CONTRARIAN

 

A page from Willie Brant’s diary — “Talk about Nero fiddles while Rome burns,” says Joe.  “Look at all the problems we got shaping up on the horizon, with Russia and China rattling swords, and Turkey re-arming.  With Iran and North Korea coming up with nuclear rockets.  But what has our Politically Correct Insiders all in a snit?  Worrying about what to do with all the feral cats in our cities!”

“What exactly is a ‘feral cat’?” from me, and Joe answers “Well, when pets run away or get lost, and survive on their own and raise offspring, they are called feral, another way of saying wild animal.” So I say, well obviously you can’t have a whole lot of wild animals running around in the city, but the problem ought to be self-limiting, after all nature dictates that wild animal populations only grow to what the food supply will support!

“That’s where the situation gets a bit murky,” says Joe. Most people today have grown up remote from nature, and look at animals as though they are a person, sort of a Bambi syndrome.  So the animals have a right to live to a ripe old age, and folks get out and feed the poor starving cats, which of course results in more cats.”

“Let me get this straight”, I ask “So the insiders think we have too many people in the world, and some countries are solving the ‘problem’ by putting old people to sleep, they call it ‘assisted suicide’. All the smart young people have stopped having babies to save the planet, and have pets to satisfy their parenting instincts.  At the same time wild animals taking over our cities is seen as OK.  So, people are disposable, but animals have a right to life?”

Joe went on to say it gets even dumber than that. The extremists have invented a new crime, called “Species-ism”  If you do not accept that all animals have the same rights as humans, you are guilty of species-ism, and they want to make it just as unacceptable as ‘racism’ or ‘sexism’.  “Good grief”, from me, “now we are going to give the geese and the rats and the worms and the germs the same rights as humans?  Don’t they realize that if we stopped persecuting them, rats would completely take over the cities in a matter of a few years?”

Joe went on “Yeah, well’, I don’t think they are including germs, not sure about rats. Anyway, getting back to the feral cats, some cities have a TNR program, Trap the cat, Neuter it, and Release it.  So instead of a 5 cents fatal injection, we spend maybe $50 on sterilization surgery, then turn the critter loose and hope the do-gooders will feed it.”  He hesitated, and then added that feral cat populations seem to stay down where there are feral coyotes in the city.

From me, “Well, things must be pretty good in the city if folks can afford to feed wild cats so the coyotes have a regular diet. Wonder what they will do about the rats.”  Joe was silent on that, so I added “Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole, and Wonderland is Canada”.

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NATURAL DISASTERS

THE CONTRARIAN

Hurricane after hurricane, then the volcano disaster in Mexico makes one think about world-changing natural events in the past.

EARTHQUAKES AND VOLCANOES — Mount Tambora is a giant apparently dormant volcano in what is now Indonesia.  On April 5, 1815, it erupted. It was a monster, putting so much dirt and smoke into the air that there was no summer that year and no crops for 3 years, world-wide.  It directly killed 90 000 people in Indonesia alone, and the resulting world-wide famine killed millions more.

Change subject – it can be argued that our modern way of life, democracy, equality, freedom has its roots in the Puritans in New England some 250 years ago. This was the first society completely based on the notion of private property, each nuclear family owning and being responsible for its own piece of land (as opposed to nobility owning all).  And to fully embrace the notion of democracy, each land-owning nuclear family having one vote in deciding the rules under which they will live (as opposed to nobility deciding all).  A huge change, from serfs to free men.

If anything good came out of that 1815 natural disaster, it could be argued that the crop failures and hardship caused those Yankees to expand out of their complacent communities and spread that foundation of modern society, their freedom ethic, over a bigger chunk of what is now the US, and eventually much of the world, what we call ‘western society’. Personal freedom and entrepreneurship flowered and created the huge progress in technology and standard of living that we have enjoyed.  That is not as easy as it sounds; human nature is to value security over freedom.  There is security in being a serf, that is, nobility or the state is responsible.  As opposed to freedom, where you are responsible.

It can even be argued that by encouraging spread of the freedom ethic this 1815 natural disaster gave a big impetus to the move to eradicate the world-wide practice of slavery; after all freed serfs are by nature abolitionists.

Much of our world is subject to earthquakes and volcanos. I personally experienced an earthquake in Chile bigger than the recent Mexican one, earthquakes are not uncommon.  We are told that Yellowstone is overdue to erupt, and might be even bigger than the 1815 event.  The west coast of North America is subject to earthquake/volcano/flood every 500 years like clockwork, and it is 500 years since the last one.  And so on, around the world.

SOLAR FLARE — Remember that grade 11 experiment, where you put a magnet under a piece of paper and sprinkled iron filings over it?  Like magic, they organized themselves into lines, making a pattern of big curves looping over the paper from one end of the magnet to the other.  This was to demonstrate there is a magnetic field or flux between a magnet’s poles.  Field, flux, if you give something a name it has been explained even if you really don’t know what it is.  The other half of the experiment was to move a metal wire back and forth in that magnetic field, and see voltage is induced in it.  This principle of electricity and magnets working together is at the heart of our whole electric technology.

The earth is really just a big ball of molten iron with a thin skin of solid rock over it, sort of like the skin on an onion but thinner.   The iron core works as a magnet, and if you could somehow sprinkle iron filings in space around it they would organise themselves into lines running in big loops through space from Pole to Pole, just like that high school experiment.  So the earth sails through space surrounded by that magnetic field or flux.

The sun works more like a pocketful of firecrackers than like a candle, there are storms and explosions happening on its surface all the time. At intervals giant bursts of radiation are shot from its surface into space. That magnetic field around the earth deflects this radiation, otherwise we would all be toast, but those bursts of solar energy push on that field, sort of like blowing on a candle flame pushes it away.  A big enough solar flare will completely blow the magnetic field away, like blowing out the candle, and that will induce a voltage surge in our power and telephone lines.

On Sept 1, 1859, the biggest solar flare on record completely blew away the earth’s magnetic field. There was no power grid in 1859; the only wires on poles were the telegraph lines along the railways.  The flare induced such a high voltage in these long wires that there were sparks and shocks and equipment damage all over, and even some telegraph stations set afire.  Experts say that such a flare can happen anytime; there was nothing special about 1859.  If one occurred now, it would disrupt the GPS systems and satellite communication on which so much of our commerce depends.  It would shut down the power grids for weeks, maybe months, as safety switches would trip and equipment be burned out.

That’s what experts say – I think they are wrong; it is more serious than that. The power grid is so big and so interconnected and so dependent on computers and the internet that I think the system might never be restored; food shortages, riots, social upheaval might prevent it.  Water supply and waste treatment requires power, without them disease epidemics will happen in the cities.  I think it could even be the end of civilization.

Our rock here in Northwestern Ontario is among the oldest in the world and no volcano or significant earthquake has ever been recorded on our Canadian Shield. And we are too far from the sea to worry about hurricanes or tsunami’s or tidal waves.

Our northwestern hydro grid can easily be isolated from the wider world, and we are blessed with abundant fresh water and lots of old waterpower electricity generating plants which can function very well without computers. So when a giant solar flare strikes, we might get power back again quite quickly, while big cities go on indefinitely with no light, no heat, no water, no food, pestilence and disease.  With lakes full of fish and forests full of meat, we in this favoured area might be able to maintain a civilized lifestyle, maybe we will end up the new center of the civilized world, while our big cities die in riot and hardship.  Or maybe not.

So we can feel extra secure, living close to nature on the Great Canadian Shield, isolated in Ontario’s northwest. But don’t be too sanguine; remember the fellow who, worried about impending war, moved to the Falkland Islands as the place on earth most unlikely to ever see war.  The very next war was, you guessed it, in the Falkland Islands.

 

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HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION

THE CONTRARIAN

I try to stay out of current affairs, but I think an exception is OK where I have some specific knowledge. I was amused to see our federal member punishing our province on the highway project, even though both are the same party.  A good thing, puts party politics aside, and says what needs to be said. This is to add my comments.

Our Northern Ontario section of the TransCanada is an insult to the rest of Canada. It has been at least 20 years behind the rest of Canada for the 40 years that I have been involved with local politics.  Drive the TransCanada outside Northern Ontario, and most of the highway is divided, 4 lanes, much of it to freeway standards.  Even in the lesser travelled part east of Montreal it is a much higher standard, with almost continuous passing lanes and improved intersections. We all know folks who live in the east and visit relatives in the west, or vice versa, who drive through here once and after that always take the US route to avoid our highway.  Northern municipalities have been pointing this out for at least those 40 years, dismissed by Toronto as mutterings of rustic rubes and safely ignored.

About fifteen years ago the Ontario long-haul truckers association published a study which showed that fully 70% of large truck traffic between the Golden Horseshoe and the Golden West went by way of the United States to avoid our inadequate section of the TransCanada. Since that study was done it has become more difficult to cross the US border, so more of this traffic stays in Canada and we have more trucks on our highway, with devastating results in terms of number and seriousness of accidents.  Even so, much, perhaps most of Canada’s long haul traffic still goes through the US.  This is at huge economic cost to Northern Ontario, and to Canada.

After that truckers study was reported, we were taken a bit more seriously, and a long-term Highway Development Plan was announced. Yes, the traffic jam from Winnipeg to Kenora is horrendous at times, but that is perhaps 30 days per year; the real problem with our highway is much bigger; it is grossly inadequate for trans-national traffic all year. The Kenora West project is just the next stage in the Development Plan after the Nipigon Bridge and Thunder Bay East projects.

This project has been delayed for at least five years while the Province fiddled around, latching on to any excuse to delay. The Premier’s announcement that the project might get going in 2021 is not announcing progress, but announcing a further 4 years delay!

To our federal member’s credit, he has been pushing for highway construction in our area for his entire career. If he wants to speed up the improvement of our highway, perhaps in addition to calling out the Premier’s grandstanding he could push the Federal Government to involve itself in advancing the planning for the next stage of the Development Plan.  That is the 4 lane Dryden Bypass with freeway-standard intersections.  This would advance the overall project and make up for some of the years lost by delaying the Kenora West project. Just saying.

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