Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy the Daily News

I've been watching the "Occupy Wall Street" and its hundreds of spin-off demonstrations with great interest.

We watch two channels for news, the CBC for national and international News and Global TV (for local and national news). The CBC usually has a fair and balanced approach to almost any story on the national level. Global TV in Calgary has an ethnically diverse news team and fair coverage regardless of race, economic status or the usual factors which news channels often use to drum up controversy.

So it's been interesting to see the coverage of the "Occupy" movement and compare it to the many YouTube clips coming from the different protest sites. Global TV visited the "Occupy Calgary" site several days before the protest was scheduled to begin and focused on the fact that it was not protesters, but street people, in particular trouble-makers who have been expelled from the shelters who had set up camp.

Most news clips of "Occupiers" have focused on the heavily tattooed & dreadlocked drummer, a yawner, those lounging in conversation. One "live" reporter in Toronto said "Oh, maybe 150 people here," and 10 minutes later another reporter, across the square said, "There are 1000 people here".

In a shocking interview CBC commentator Kevin O'Leary accosted Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and economist Chris Hedges, referring to him as a "Left-wing Nutbar". As Hedges said, "I'd expect such behaviour from a Fox News commentator, which is why I don't go on Fox, but not from the CBC." He ended his interview by saying he would not be returning to the CBC. In general media coverage has been pretty dismal.

Apparently TV stations don't understand that social media is as useful at getting out the real news in North America as it is in the Middle East. The real news here is that TV "news" is a five minute clip designed to manipulate you into tut-tutting about the awful things happening elsewhere while you wait for the next round of commercials for anti-wrinkle cream and pizza to begin.

In my senior year of high school my English teacher had us read and discuss two books by Vance Packard one called The Hidden Persuaders on how advertising agencies use psychology to make you want their products and how voters are manipulated into choosing candidates; and another called The Waste Makers which criticizes how companies build planned obsolescence into products to encourage customers to discard functioning items in favour of a new "improved" version which offers little real increase in value.

As a 17-year-old high school student I was disgusted. I threw my "Seventeen" magazines, with their ads for clothes and hair products and perfumes and make-up, in the garbage. Without knowing what it was I adopted the philosophy of voluntary simplicity then.

So it is, that a good many decades later I have no more use for the advertising industry than I do for a three-legged jumping horse, and I have even less tolerance for "news" programs which purport to offer viewers facts which allow them to make up their own minds but instead manipulate information to serve their own purposes.

The message is clear. Politicians and corporations have formed an increasingly unholy and incestuous relationship for the past 30 years. During that time 99% of us have been sold down the river to the greed of the 1% at the top. Rules governing the behaviour of banks and other financial institutions have been relaxed to the point of paralysis.

My elderly neighbour came one day, white-faced and trembling, after a visit to her bank. After her husband's death the year before she had put her investment portfolio in the hands of the bank's investment manager, with strict instructions that she was financially conservative and invested only in bonds and safe markets. Reassurances were made. Papers were signed.

The bank's investment manager had called her in to tell her that they had invested 90% of her money in a risky South American currency exchange, which had been making fabulous profit - until the country defaulted on its IMF loans and went bankrupt. They said they were sorry but they had lost 90% of her money for her. That's investing for you, win some and lose some. Good-day madam. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.

"How am I to live?" she asked me, "I told them I depend on the interest from my investments as my income. How could they do that to me without any consequences?"

The bank took her money, gambled with it, and lost. They suffered no consequences (and made over a BILLION dollars profit that quarter) while she was left trying to figure out how to afford food and pay her electricity bill. BTW, she was a veteran as was her husband. Both had medals for heroism for their service in WWII.

What can we do? I can't occupy much besides my rocking chair, but there are several avenues, some of which may be open to you and some of which may not.

1) We can stop buying those things which are unnecessary to life and health

2) We can move bank accounts to local banks or credit unions

3) We can refuse to vote for any candidate who now holds political office and begin NOW to organize a party of independent candidates who are known by, selected from and accountable to the people of their districts. Campaigning need not be expensive if done on a grass-roots level. Scare the sh*t out of Washington, Ottawa and every other government who has been profligate enough to favour greed over the common good.

4) Be prepared to cinch in the belt - no one is entitled to live above his means - even those in the 99%

5) And let your "news" channel know that you are capable of making up your own mind if they will just present the facts.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Discovered in a Far Country

The web takes us places and introduces us to people we'd never meet in the tightly confined routines of our little lives. I've been fascinated by Japanese culture since reading Will and Ariel Durant's massive tome Our Oriental History as a teenager. It was the first of the 11 volume set of Will and Ariel Durant's series The Story of Civilization. I bought a 40-year-old (and 40 lb) set in 2005 at a booksale, and then found my old eyes couldn't read the six point type font they were set in.

Now what that has to do with the price of corn in Topeka escapes me, but I believe I was thinking along the lines of being interested in Japanese culture, ah yes, that was it. I knew there was a thread in there somewhere. And also a fan of delicious writing.

Trust me, there aren't that many wonderful writers around. So I was delighted to discover, a blog written by Robert Brady, an American in his 60s who has made his home in Japan since the early 70s. His work is sage, laugh-out-loud funny in places and recognizable as an American who has lived in another culture long enough to identify with it.

Just read his post on Simple Vegetarian Recipes and see if you don't view the preparation of simple food in a whole new light.

To whet your appetite and encourage you to visit for yourself I am going to include a snippet of one of his pieces, on elderhood. I have read my way through dozens of entries in one sitting though that is not the way to read his work. I have to go back and read it slowly. It should be savoured, like a perfectly ripe peach, letting the juice run to your elbows.

"...genuine elders aren't enticed by the culture of youth: because they see right through it, how short-lived and time-blind it necessarily is. They know the portals one must pass through to get beyond that stage of life and, if one is truly alive and not asleep or otherwise spiritually sightless or habituated, the lessons that await and must be learned at each stage. That, in its totality, is life; it is not life if one somnambulates through the whole thing, or tries to stay young forever, or mature quickly. A life thus true is all the more a life the closer it approaches its entirety."

Oh, just read it for yourself. It's delish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October KIVA Loan

Though we've made at least one, and sometimes two KIVA loans each month, I've been negligent in posting them recently. But I shouldn't be. I hope by seeing what a difference loaning even a small amount of money can make to the life of a hard-working person somewhere else my readers will be encouraged to think about loaning to a Third World business person.

This is our 30th KIVA loan and it goes to Dilbar, a widow who is the loving mother of two children, a daughter and a son. Dilbar lives in Tajikistan, a country with a captivating Silk Road history and a rich cultural heritage. It is also the poorest of the former Soviet republics. A mountainous state where only six percent of the land is arable, its economy was damaged by a destructive 1990s civil war from which it is still recovering.

Dilbar is smart and hard-working. She is a farmer who primarily grows wheat, which yields her a good income, and she also raises livestock. She asked for a loan of $1500 to have capital to buy mineral fertilizers, wheat seeds and livestock to expand her business. She wants to increase her income so she can provide a nice wedding for her daughter.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The New Social Revolution

1:00 am, Thanksgiving morning. The pie is made, the yams are roasted, cranberry sauce chilling, the cornbread and wild rice and ready to join hands with celery, onions and mushrooms to create "stuffing" for the turkey. The turkey is defrosting in the fridge. The salad greens wait, the potatoes will know the kiss of sour cream and butter, baby peas and carrots will snuggle up together as they lightly steam. We'll groan afterwards that we ate too much, we always do.

We are on every side surrounded by plenty. Food, clothing, comfort, love - what blessings flow around us like an ever surging stream.

Our home is small and simply furnished but there's been a certain amount of expense with setting up housekeeping all over again. It's high time we climbed back on the very careful financial wagon and built up the savings account. Not just wise from a financial point of view, but from a philosophical and political one too.

One reason I love Rhonda Jean Hetzel's blog Down to Earth so much is that she and her husband Hanno are our age and are very self sufficient. They are both in good health and capable of much more physically than we are, with our genetically wonky muscles, but she makes her own soap, sews up her own clothes, knits and crochets, has a big garden and chickens (I have chicken envy), preserves and cans her own foods and bottles up beverages like cordials. Rhonda is the kind of all-round competent captain of the household that my grandmother was.

My mother knew how to do all these things, and did them in her early married life, but by the time I came along my parents were in their 40s and after the deprivations of WWII having store-bought was a mark that you'd arrived.

As time has gone by we've collectively given over our competence to the corporation, who is all too eager to do everything for us, at a price. I feel guilty buying things I could be making on my own, but I need a little pinstick of motivation to get me moving, so I was glad to run onto this post by a favorite "political" blogger of mine. If you like his take go read his blog, he's "older", and right on the mark (as far as I'm concerned anyway) and I enjoy what he has to say.

Repost from: Blogger William "Papa" Meloney's blog PA^2 Patois

Call to non-violent revolution: the New Social Revolution

We must first as individuals and then as a body enter into a non-violent insurgency against forces that remove our self-worth, our self-respect and most importantly our dignity.

The corner stone of our non-violent revolution will be: Living within our needs.

When we break the cycle of desire we will begin to escape the trap of materialism. When we live within our needs we begin to escape the trap that our profit driven captors hold us in. Succumbing to their fabricated crises of fake hunger and contrived vanity we willingly allow their influence to color our otherwise healthy decision making process.

We must allow ourselves to make better, healthy decisions.

We must live intentional lives, accepting personal responsibility by living to the measure of our needs.

When we deny supporting the driving efforts of desire-driven profiteers we throw off the yoke of their false desires.

- Papa

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Trumpets Please!

I've been in a bit of a green funk since our move. Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I witter on annoyingly and at great length about conserving energy, water, recycling, growing your own food, etc.

And moving from a place where we minimized our consumption and were able to do all those things to a city of 1 M+ sort of harshed my buzz, to quote the younger generation.

But I am not just old, I am also cunning. The condo's annual general meeting was the night after we moved in. And though I could barely put a foot in front of the next, when a nice young man knocked on the door and begged that one of us come down to the lobby for the meeting so it could reach a quorum and proceed, I went. And when they asked for volunteers to sit on the board for the coming year, I put my hand up.

I admit to an agenda, and if you can't guess what it is you haven't been paying attention. But in the commission of her duties this old girl has learned some very interesting and highly encouraging information.

This building has 183 units of various sizes, each of which has its own washer/drier. Fifty of those units have heated underground parking in the parkade. It's a nice building, not fancy by any means, but interesting architecturally, as it's laid out in three "wings", which come together in a central lobby. The roof has dormers and gables, it's not your ugly flat "apartment-style" block. It's got four floors and because it has level entries and two elevators it's accessible.

I look at the long hallways, with a light fixture every 15 feet and groan at the power consumption. (All replaced with CFL bulbs thank you very much.)

But all those TVs, all those washing machines and dishwashers churning away. I can just see the planet going up in smoke and flames. I look at the financials and see how much we spent on electricity and gas last year and think, we have to bring that down!

So I dive in and figure out how much each unit on average each unit consumes in electricity and natural gas for the year. Hmmmmm... that can't be right..... recheck figures. Turns out we use less power and heat here than we did in the Tin Palace. And the average unit here is at the very bottom of the consumption scale compared to other buildings of its type.

Okay, this doesn't mean we still shouldn't try to cut down, and my next newsletter will talk about how to reduce consumption so we can keep our condo fees (which include our electricity, heat, and water) down.

I also got permission to set up "Freecyling Stations" on each floor, in the room where the garbage chute is located. It's clean and well-lit, lots of room, and people often leave things there they no longer want but are still usable. We're just going to "Official" it, with boxes and signs, and encourage people to recycle clean, useful items rather than throwing them away.

And the coup de grace - (Trumpets please!) I got condo board approval to try to organize a community garden in the back corner of the property. The corner has a six foot fence on two sides and parking lot on the third. It's triangular in size with sun all day, and a few small insignificant trees spaced widely apart. Now to begin to recruit other gardeners.

Sigh - That feels better....