Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Gift of Death

The Gift of Death:

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2012

Pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it.
There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.
They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.
Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).
But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.
The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2). We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.
People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.
In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot(4). No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It’s grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.
This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask “spending on what?”. When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.
Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing this rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator(5). An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features(6). The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you.
The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population(7). The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash. For a few decades of extra enrichment for those who already possess more money than they know how to spend, the prospects of everyone else who will live on this earth are diminished.
So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. Witness last week’s Moral Maze programme, in which most of the panel lined up to decry the idea of consuming less, and to associate it, somehow, with authoritarianism(8). When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics.
Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.
www.monbiot.com
3. See the film Blood in the Mobile. http://bloodinthemobile.org/
7. Emmanuel Saez, 2nd March 2012. Striking it Richer: the Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2009 and 2010 estimates). http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2010.pdf

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things" from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Don’t Make These Common Writing Mistakes

People judge you by your writing, so getting a word wrong can make you look bad. Be sure to avoid these common writing errors in your next email:

Affect/Effect: Affect is a verb; effect is a noun. It affected him. The effect was startling.

All Right/Alright: Although alright is gaining ground, the correct choice is still all right.

A Lot: A lot is two words, not one. Allot means “to parcel out.”

Between You and I: Nope. Between you and me is the correct phrase.

Complement/Compliment: Things that work well together complement each other. Compliments are a form of praise.

Farther/Further: Farther is for physical distance; further is for metaphorical distance. How much farther? Our plan can’t go any further.

Lay/Lie: Subjects lie down; objects are laiddown. He should lie down. Lay the reports there.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dragon Arlene Dickinson’s simple secrets for financial success

Toronto Star

Business / Personal Finance

Dragon Arlene Dickinson’s simple secrets for financial success: Mayers

Dragon’s Den co-host talks about her attitudes towards money and why material trappings can be a trap.
Dragon Arlene Dickinson’s simple secrets for financial success: Mayers
CODY STORM COOPER / FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Former Dragon's Den co-host Arlene in the garden of her Blue Mountain cottage: Beware that the trappings of wealth don't trap you, she says.
Arlene Dickinson is best known as one of the tough-talking, no-nonsense venture capitalist co-hosts of CBC’s Dragon’s Den.
The highly successful businesswoman, who the broadcaster bills as a multi-millionaire, came by her success the hard way. She arrived in Calgary as a three-year-old with her immigrant parents, who were fleeing South Africa for a brighter future in Canada.
“My father and mother wanted us to have a better place to live,” she says. “But we were the typical immigrant family, with five dollars in our pocket. Growing up, we had very little.”
That upbringing has influenced Dickinson’s attitudes toward money, the trappings of material wealth and the things she is trying to pass along to her five grandchildren.
Dickinson left the Den in January after eight seasons, and now shuttles between Calgary, Toronto and a cottage in Collingwood. She runs marketing communications firm Venture Communications, and as a result of her Dragon’s Den experience launched YouInc., which invests in and encourages entrepreneurs.
I asked her about a mistake that taught a memorable lesson and what advice she has for her grandchildren.
Your money mistake is connected to flowers. Can you explain?
Growing up, we had very little, and so buying flowers was an extravagance. I have always loved them, and when I first became successful, I started buying flowers every week for my home. It was something that illustrated to me my success.
But after a while, I asked myself: Why are you doing this every week? The proof of your success should not be in the things you acquire. It should be that your success gives you the ability to do what you want.
So I stopped buying them every week. Flowers are wonderful and I still buy them, but because I love them, not because they prove something.
What is your biggest lesson?
When I was younger, I thought success showed up in certain ways — the home you had, the car you drove, the jewelry you wore, etc. The lesson as I have gotten older — and hopefully wiser — is that material trappings are just that. They trap some of your money and are not what’s important.
My grandma taught me to love people and like things. She’s right. It’s not about accumulating things with your money, but accumulating memories. That doesn’t mean you can’t have nice stuff, you just don’t need a lot of it.
What common mistakes do you see?
People start out with good intentions to save, but get distracted and spend money on the wrong things. Then they get discouraged. It’s like weight loss. You just have to keep at it.
What else do you see?
Many people are afraid to seek advice. They’re afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers and so they end up spending money on the wrong things. A good place to start is your bank.
What advice do you give to your grandchildren?
Take 10 per cent of your allowance, or birthday money, and put it away. As you get older, give another 10 per cent of what you make to charity. Live on the rest.
My oldest grandson is 14 and he learned a good lesson recently. He’s just finished Grade 8 and received some money as gifts. He told me he really wanted an Apple Watch and if he saved 10 per cent of the money he had been given he wouldn’t be able to afford it.
He bought the watch. Two weeks later he told me he regretted it. It was cool, but not really worth the big price tag. He said he’d be more careful next time. It was a good lesson.
The other lesson he’s learned is about how small things add up. We have a deal that he can have all the change he can find in the bottom of my purse. We put it away. At the end of the year he had $600. Even I thought: Holy Cow!
Any concluding thoughts?
Good money management starts with education. You can’t manage what you don’t understand, so become literate about financial matters. Learning the language of money management is a critical lesson for all ages. Ask questions, read a lot, get advice. Study money the same way you study anything you are passionate about. Take control and remember to save. That 10 per cent adds up in a meaningful way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Abeyance

 By Rebecca Faust

letter to my transgender daughter

I made soup tonight, with cabbage, chard
and thyme picked outside our back door. 
For this moment the room is warm and light,
and I can presume you safe somewhere.
I know the night lives inside you. I know grave,
sad errors were made, dividing you, and hiding
you from you inside. I know a girl like you
was knifed last week, another set aflame.
I know I lack the words, or all the words I say
are wrong. I know I’ll call and you won’t answer,
and still I’ll call. I want to tell you 
you were loved with all I had, recklessly,
and with abandon, loved the way the cabbage
in my garden near-inverts itself, splayed
to catch each last ray of sun. And how
the feeling furling-in only makes the heart
more dense and green. Tonight it seems like
something one could bear.

Guess what, Dad and I finally figured out Pandora,
and after all those years of silence, our old music
fills the air. It fills the air, and somehow, here,
at this instant and for this instant only
—perhaps three bars—what I recall
equals all I feel, and I remember all the words.

Copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Foust. Used with permission of the author.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Qualifying regret

I'm sorry if I caused confusion.
Yes, everything is OK. The regret was about missing the flexibility the old job gave me to be where I was, when I wanted, which is impossible now with days just filled with meetings.
I missed being able to play with the kittens, sleep in with D. But I don't miss the anxiety and bullying and intimidation at the University. As dysfunctional as the public service may seem at times, it matters that you're not alone in it, and it isn't personal...
I know I made the right move. It's a forward in life, not work.
No regrets, just this temporary tinge, and then it passed...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On regret

"A tinge is to be expected. There are few decisions that come completely cleanly - most have pros & cons. Important thing is to learn from past & look ahead ."

Shared with me by J Aloisi this unsettling morning.

Monday, April 20, 2015

From my Ma (10 March 2015)

I found this beautiful so am sharing 😊

My Child

My child isn't my easel to paint,
Nor my diamond to polish!
My child isn't my trophy to flaunt,
Nor my dummy to taunt!
My child isn't my badge or my honour,
Nor my respect that he/she must protect!
My child isn't an idea or a fantasy,
Nor my reflection or legacy!
My child isn't my puppet or my project,
Nor my pawn or my cadet!

My child is here to fumble & stumble
To get in & out of trouble!
My child is here to try,
To fall & to cry!
My child is here to unravel the mysteries,
To educate oneself & rewrite histories!
My child is here to make his/her own choices,
To exercise his/her freewill & experience the consequences!

As a Parent,
My task is to make my child able & capable,
To keep aside my ego & be by his/her side!
My task is to guide & educate,
To let be & not frustrate!
My task is allow him/her to ponder,
And see my child grow into a Wonder!

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Love

After stepping into the world again,
there is that question of how to love,
how to bundle yourself against the frosted morning—
the crunch of icy grass underfoot, the scrape
of cold wipers along the windshield—
and convert time into distance.

What song to sing down an empty road
as you begin your morning commute?
And is there enough in you to see, really see,
the three wild turkeys crossing the street
with their featherless heads and stilt-like legs
in search of a morning meal? Nothing to do
but hunker down, wait for them to safely cross.

As they amble away, you wonder if they want
to be startled back into this world. Maybe you do, too,
waiting for all this to give way to love itself,
to look into the eyes of another and feel something—
the pleasure of a new lover in the unbroken night,
your wings folded around him, on the other side
of this ragged January, as if a long sleep has ended.

- by January Gill O’Niel


For D,

... this poem, chanced into my mailbox this morning... Jeanette Winterson, when I heard her speak a few years ago, recommended reading a poem a day to keep the soul alive. I subscribe to a daily poetry post, and there are misses at times, and then there are hits like this one...

The long sleep has ended. I have stepped back into, no, I have been startled back into this world... I can see you, fingers red with strawberry juice.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Spirits of the Dead


Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.
The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.
Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.
The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

- Edgar Allan Poe