Friday, September 15, 2023

Ducks: My first graphic novel

 I try to catch the Canada Reads contest each year.  Only got sections of it and was surprised to learn that a graphic novel won the 2023 prize.  I am classifying this as fiction, but it is pretty obvious it contains a lot of personal content--Kate Beaton uses her real name and those of others.

Up until my teen years I read lots of comics, mostly about the super heroes, but also Classics Illustrated.  By high school I had transitioned to hard cover books and taken a snobby view of comics.  Graphic novels tackle adult themes and offer another platform for serious matters.

For instance, rape.  The author admits to suffering two rapes and both are referred to in the novel. 

The main thrust of the novel reflects a current reality.  Adolescents are encouraged to get a university education.  All too often they end up with a lot of debt and poor job prospects.  If they happen to live in the eastern part of Canada job prospects are even more precarious.  The author from Cape Breton felt overwhelmed with her debt and had heard from Maritimers that high paying jobs were available at the Alberta oil sands.

One aspect of working in the Oil Sands is that there are very few women.  Rape was a relatively rare event, but sexual harassment was very common.  Lewd comments were almost taken for granted.  Kate tried to recognize a male perspective.  Many of the men had left wives and children and had little contact with women.  They did not go to such an isolated place to meet women.  Men without women are different creatures.  Loneliness was common and with little mental health support, drugs and alcohol were common

The big driving force was money.  One outcome was the desire for overtime and taking on second jobs (to make up for mandatory rest times).  For some the extra money causes extra consumption.  Kate resisted going home to save money, but did take off a year to work in Victoria at a lower paying job, but closer to her interests.

The title "Ducks" refers to the environmental problem.  At one point newspapers were publicizing dead ducks due to chemical leaks. Kate pointed out that there were plenty of meetings regarding safety, but not as much emphasis on environmental concerns.  

Although people from all parts of Canada worked in the Oil Sands the culture was most effected by a lot of Newfoundlanders and Maritimers.  Apart from their unique cultures perhaps mostly expressed in musical tastes they share a history of jobs disappearing such as from fishing and mining.

In an afterward Kate admits her consciousness of indigenous issues came from her experiences in Alberta.  She got special permission to use the words and likeness of Celina Harpe an elder of the Cree community of Fort McKay in the narrative. 

The book gives me no desire to visit the Oil Sands, but she wrote about time in Cape Breton and Victoria, two places I have visited and loved.  Too bad we can't spend all our time in such places.

Are graphic novels for you?  It depends.  For me the subject and the credibility of the author would be critical.  This was an encouraging venture and many of you might have gotten some value out of it.

The book reminds me of my efforts to be an environmentalist in conflict with my desire to retire.

My experience with Suncor didn't start out to support the Oil Sands.  One of the retailers I sold to was Ontario Co-ops who had an arrangement with Sunoco (part of the Suncor corporation) to blend in ethanol to gasoline served at many of their locations.  Ethanol was supposed to give improved engine efficiency and was natural being derived from corn.  Seemed like a good thing to invest in and I wrote away for an annual report from Suncor.  I spent a lot of time looking for any mention of ethanol and finally found it, but it was pretty miniscule.  Still I thought I was very clever and bought shares in my self-directed pension fund.

Ethanol became more common, but more importantly Suncor turned out to be the most successful investment I ever made.  The dividends at first were small, but I  bought a few more shares, then noticed it seemed to split every few years.  A few times thinking I was ahead of the game I took the profits after a split to diversify into a few other stocks, some of which did ok, but none performed as well as Suncor.  I became more conscious of the Oil Sands, but still saw ethanol as my motivating driver.  Oil from the Oil Sands was much more expensive to extract, but Suncor and others invested large amounts of money for what was seen as the inevitable rise in prices.  Lots of political turmoil had made both Canada and the United States dependent on foreign countries and in fact our purchase of gas seemed to be financing lots of Mid-East jihadists.

The dividends from Suncor became significant and while interest rates declined my income and capital gains from Suncor was more critical to retirement plans. Another thing I noticed on a few day trips to the States and a major trip to New Zealand was that the Canadian currency had more power than earlier.  The Canadian dollar seemed to track the price of oil.

I would like to think I am both smart and ethical.  The smart part of me thought although fossil fuels were bad, nothing I did would change their power, so I might as well keep the stock.  I had some advice that reinforced that thinking.  Later spurred by my son Michael I started voting for the Green Party and in general became more concerned and informed about Climate Change, but still clung to Suncor.  Eventually my conscience troubled me more and I began to believe that renewables would eventually conquer the fossil fuels.  I sold my Suncor shares, though I confess I timed it until just after the date of record for dividends. 

In total my Suncor investment increased by well over 10 fold.  I used to drive more than the average person because of my jobs ( that has already been curbed.  The Canadian currency has become weaker and that will also affect my travels and probably even local purchases. Hopefully the air will be nicer and perhaps the climate more controllable, but both are long term projects.

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