Category Archives: Ideas

A new flag for Ontario

With Scotland threatening to leave the United Kingdom, We Made This mused about what the new Union Flag, sans St. Andrew’s Cross of Scotland but finally adding Wales, would look like:

They were not entirely serious.

They concluded with this thought:

Just spare a thought for all the flag-makers, and not just the ones for the UK, but for all the other nations and colonies that feature the Union Flag in the canton (the upper left hand quadrant) of their flags.

Fortunately for Canada, Pearson took us through the flag debate back in 1964. But wait, Manitoba and Ontario (loyal she remains) weren’t too happy with our modern Maple Leaf and decided to get their own red ensigns. B.C., in 1960, got its own flag based on the coat of arms which also contains a Union Flag!

Uh oh

Well let’s see what we can do about that. We all like a maple leaf, right? Even Americans, supposedly, slap one on their backpacks. Well, if one maple leaf is good, how about 3?!

Isn’t that just the Pearson Pennant? Shut up, no. It follows the 1:2:1 Canadian triband and isn’t blue. Jerk.

Ontario! Fuck yeah! Straight from our coat of arms! Or maybe we want to try the modern treatment? What’s more modern than Switzerland?

Sexy! But wait, we don’t want the other provinces to think that we’re getting all “Centre of Confederation” again. Don’t we have a botanical symbol of our very own, maybe one that’s ridiculously sensitive and pretty rare? Maybe it serves as our provincial symbol and went through an unnecessary and ill-advised redesign which we’ll ignore?

Well, that looks a bit familiar, doesn’t it? If you’ve been an Ontarian for more than a decade maybe it’s giving you a bit of warmth in your heart or head? Maybe you’re swelling a bit of pride, or is that just your sinuses?

Yes, the old OHIP card is a bit of an obsession.

Did you know that Ontario probably derives from the Wyandot Ontarí:io meaning “great lake” or Iroquoian skanadario, “beautiful water?” The lake, of course. The province takes its name from the lake. Of course. I guess we’re lucky we don’t live in Toronto, Erie. Well, how about some of that beautiful water?

Hudson’s Bay on the top, the Great Lakes down below. Symbolism everyone!

Oh, what’s that British Columbia and New Brunswick? You’ve already got waves on your flags? Yeah, let’s talk about it when yours represent anything potable.

Hmm. Well, did you know that Ontario’s colours are green and gold? Apparently. Not that we’ve used it anywhere except the coat-of-arms. Well, why not the flag?

It’s yellow on the inside because of stamen. The stamen are very big because… fertility? Symbolism?

Wait, what are we, Saskatchewan?

If we get too close to Saskatchewan, will Manitoba feel uncomfortable?


I know what you’re saying. “Well, none of these makes me want to repel a Fenian raid or anything. But can’t you show me something that’s more… trainwreck?” Why yes, yes I can:

Vexillological joke! If that doesn’t get me laid, nothing will!

The Vegetarian’s Dilemma

I was trying to finish Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma last night and, while reading the chapter on vegetarianism, I was stopped by a moral question.  The set up is based on Pollan’s summary of an ethical argument against eating meat:

  1. People vary wildly; some are cuter, funnier, smarter, etc.
  2. Smarter people don’t (as a matter of course) have the right to exploit those not as smart
  3. Any moral argument for meat-eating that relies on human ‘superiority’ runs in to #2.  Any argument that relies on a ‘difference in kind’ is speciesist (which might sound fine now, but might be as hard to justify as racism to your grandkids and their pet space-capybara).
Island Fox

Lunch. (wikipedia)

“Okay, great,” say the vegetarians between spoonfuls of granola, “what’s the problem?”  Pollan goes on to talk about a population of feral pigs on Santa Cruz Island, whose delectable piglets attracted a now-booming population of golden eagles who waltzed in to the vacuum left by the DDT-extinction of their cousins, the bald eagle.  Bald eagles (apparently, I’m going by Pollan here) mostly dine on seafood; golden eagles are huge and scary and dine on land animals like piglets… and the slower, smaller, critically endangered island fox.

Well, the foxes and bald eagles were there first, and the foxes are critically endangered which means, to those not familiar with the IUCN classification,  someone will shoot you in the face for sneezing in its direction because it is more important than you.  Well they are: there are only 125 Santa Cruz foxes.  And that’s why there are snipers hunting down the pigs and trapping the golden eagles – we have lots of pigs.

More important than fluffy kittens. (CC-SA, flickr:whereisbrent)

Sounds reasonable, right?  Well, let’s do the same thing with cats.  In Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams’ and Mark Carwardine’s travelogue of endangered species, is the story of a program to protect the kakapo.   Isolated, New Zealand had lots of bizarre birds happily living on the ground (this being New Zealand, I use the term in a way unfamiliar to Southern Ontarians; there are lots of fjords and sundry cliffs) because there weren’t many other animals there – even the Maori were fairly recent.  More recent still were the European sailors, and the animals they brought with them: rats, possums, and, yes, cats, all of whom would quite enjoy a meal of slow, fat bird or its eggs and were quite able to get them.  Thus the government of New Zealand, killed off all the rats and possums and cats over a few islands, and brought every kakapo (and other endangered island birds) they could find to live on them.

So that’s Fluffy – is that fine too?  If it’s not, is it fine to leave these species to extinction?  There aren’t that many of them, and a single pregnant cat and her offspring could probably get to them quite easily.  If it is fine, then where do we draw that line?  The komodo dragon lives on inhabited islands, and they are not good neighbours.

So here’s the point: if we believe in “animal rights,” do those rights belong to the individual (as do human rights) or the species?  The ethical argument for veganism is that the individual animal has a right to live, and live freely.  But then the morally consistent stand would be to support the pigs and the cats – Pollan recounts a Save the Pigs campaign which flew plane-trailed banners.  On the other hand, domesticated animals only exist because we’ve bred them for captivity over millenia (or have we, as Pollan argues, grown together to a form of mutualism?) and wouldn’t exist otherwise.  In fact, as long as they’re treated well, the life of a farm-raised chicken or cow is generally much more pleasant than a life in the wild spent scrounging for food and fearful of… foxes.

Half of Omnivore’s Dilemma is actually devoted to telling the story of just such a farm.   On Polyface, it reads at length, cattle, chickens, pigs and grass formed an ecosystem that produced better beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and (via manure) vegetables.  Let’s imagine a future where this is the norm – living on abundantly fertile and wide-open Ontario soil, this shouldn’t be hard.  If the individual animal has a right to live, and live free, then this is still slavery, albeit a form of slavery some might choose over a cubicle farm, even if it ends in baconizing, as long as it includes a period of stud-ing.  The alternative for us though, given the number of human mouths to feed, is a plant-only agriculture that relies on fossil-fuel fertilizers (still much reduced, given everything that goes in to corn and soy for animal feed).  Other cities, in hillier climes, would have to continue to rely on intensive planting (and energy-intensive transportation) elsewhere.  At our current technology and infrastructure, that’s a recipe for continued (maybe worsening) climate change, condemning huge numbers of species to stress and extinction.

I actually don’t have a dilemma – I’m happy to live in moral inconsistency if it lets me fawn over individual puppies and piglets, express disgust over Chinese supermarket fishtanks, and still choose to eat local fish in the Yukon (there were no local fish, due to overfishing in Alaska, so I enjoyed non-local asparagus parmesan on fettuccine instead).   But there’s certainly an inconsistency there, and thus a question: Do animal rights belong to the individual or the species?  If the individual, what do we do about re-nativization and sustainable food?  If the group, is vegetarianism justifiable?  Is liberalism?

(link) The effects of objectification

This study uses a darn clever way of quantifying the effects of objectification, something that seemed strictly qualitative.  The blog post (and, I assume, the paper too) implies that reactions were gender innate, I think that might be an over-reach. I’d be curious whether (in a different experiment) the camera positions might actually embolden some participants and whether the effects remain over time.