Monday, February 27, 2006

A retrospective

This post is a guided tour through my blog posts since mid-October, intended to show the development of my new determination to live as lightly and locally as I can (within reason).

I'll throw in some links to posts on other blogs that have been a significant influence, as well.

Before I get to all that, I want to mention a couple of my favourite posts from my first few months of blogging. Shadow of a Butterfly was written before I started feeling guilty about the time invested in this hobby. Two posts that help to explain the depth of my concern for the environment are Ocean acidification and Rising CO2: more food, less nourishment?.

Now for the recent developments. At the beginning of November, I was becoming disillusioned with the usual conservation measures promoted by the government. At the end of that month, I started my Advent Calendar (never completed) with a bit of the joy and peace I still find in nature. Then I admitted my diminishing hope that anything significant can be done about human-induced climate change.

By Christmas, the influence of Eleutheros was showing through clearly. I highly recommend starting right at the beginning of his archives, patiently scrolling down to the first post in each month and then working back through them all (as I finally did at the end of January). If you don't have time for that, the selected articles that follow should give you a good summary of his influence on my thinking.
The Beginning of Wisdom
Back Off, Varmint!
Babylonian Implant
A Fortune in your Morsel
Craving a Boon
Therewith to Be Content
Rubik's Cube
Ptocheiopsis (Part 1)
Ptocheiopsis (Part 2)
Ptocheiopsis (Part 3)
Meat Offered to Idols (note the comments to this post as well)
Blogotopia (and note the comments)
If We Had Some Eggs (and note the comments here also)

Speaking of Christmas, here's another aside: on December 24th I made two sombre posts, and the responses were notable. The first post got no response at all in the comments, which I found odd. The second drew a rich warmth of shared feelings, and I was glad that we lonely folks were able to comfort one another a little.

And another aside - my Winter Botany series shows how persistent I can be, just because something is interesting. It also explains where some of my time went in January. Update - an afterthought - I may be persistent, at times, but I'm also aware of the fact that I didn't finish that series. I'm having trouble fitting my native plant enthusiasm into my new framework of priorities.

Some of my time in January went to reading other bloggers' discussions about self sufficiency. I summed up my thinking on these discussions in Regional Insufficiency.

Here at the end of the tour, I am surprised to see how little I have actually written in this blog, regarding the course of my thoughts. Although it might look like a big change to some, I would say that my interest in self sufficiency is really just a settling into place of a lot of pieces that were there all along:
  1. my sense that environmental distress is much greater than just whatever topic is currently making the news, and that most of the old environmental topics are not resolved, just old;
  2. my sense (from experience) that most environmental projects, campaigns, and measures are only slowing or shifting impacts and not eliminating the causes;
  3. and my growing conviction that public education campaigns will never catch up to the growing pressures (and in fact, are often designed to fail by dodging the crucial issue of lifestyle choices, in order to protect revered economic growth).
Greater self sufficiency would accomplish at least three things:
  1. It would reduce our direct contribution to the exploitation of the biosphere and of poor labourers around the world.
  2. It would confront my neighbours with a more effective message than any amount of government advertising and educating about conservation. (If I, being educated about the issues, won't take these steps to conserve, who will?)
  3. It would put us in a better position to weather a collapse in services, which seems increasingly likely as more and more systems are pushed towards their limits.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the challenge and example of Contrary Goddess, the questing wisdom of Jim at Earth Home Garden, the sober reality (sweetened with relentless curiosity) of Wayne at Niches, and the honest day-to-day sharing from Madcap Mum and from Deb at Sand Creek Almanac. Their influence is not as sharply focussed as that of Eleutheros, so I have not attempted to select particular posts from their blogs, but undoubtedly their community has been vital to my growth. Thank you all.

The Right to Offend

Kate has stirred up a lot of discussion with a post about comments from Australia and from the Vatican regarding the conflict between Muslim religious values and Western values of freedom. She criticized Cardinal Angelo Sodano's comment:
"If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us."
Many seemed surprised that she would criticize this remark. In the comments, Kate clarified her point:
In a liberal democracy, no one has the authority to tell others "they do not have a right to offend".
Aside, I ask (because I don't know): Is the Vatican a liberal democracy?

As to the statement itself, I would argue that we routinely grant authority to our courts to limit the "right to offend." You might ask, "What right to offend? Is there any such right?" and I would answer that freedom of expression could be interpreted as a right to offend. However, there are obvious limitations on freedom of expression, such as parts of the Criminal Code dealing with public indecency (this part specifically mentions the intent "to offend") and with incitement or promotion of hatred.

These limitations are controversial, and rightly so. There is not, and cannot be, a natural place to draw the line limiting the freedom. From our Constitution:
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The enduring question is: what are "reasonable limits"? This is why we have an elected Parliament to create and review the laws that prescribe the limits. This is why we have debates in Parliament, in the press, in our communities, and in our homes, about where the limits should be.

It would be convenient to have a tidy statement of the proper relationship between authority and rights, but I don't believe it can ever be effective. I have this image of a child (like one of those who used to call me "Stewpot") telling his teacher, "This is a liberal democracy! I have a right to offend! You have no authority!" Actually, the reality was pretty close to that, simply because the teacher had no idea what was going on.

It's an interesting train of thought. My schoolmates had a right to offend me by taunting, or putting salt in my milk, or knocking me down and kicking snow in my face. I had a right to offend them by fighting back, or by taking it up with the teacher. Could anyone limit my schoolmates' "right to offend" without also limiting mine?

Where is the reasonable limit?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Speaking of the weather...

Please don't drive your car to Regina just to see this, but if you're there anyway, you might want to have a look. I've been longing to spend a whole day at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum ever since the new Life Sciences Gallery opened, but I haven't, and the gallery isn't that new anymore.

I worked on the Learning Centres for that gallery, for eight months, and just the other day I saw my former boss at the airport. I don't think I've ever been to the airport without seeing someone I know (in addition to the person I'm meeting). I find that observation vaguely disturbing.

Moderate Muslims

From the ongoing discussions at Small Dead Animals, a link to a Globe & Mail book review: "The Battle for the Soul of Islam."

Words Meme

Before I left for that songwriting workshop, I was thinking about a post like this. It had faded from my intentions, but then Kate linked to a curling article on Ed Willett's blog. Ed Willett! I remember him talking science on CBC radio in Mom's kitchen. (Er, was it that long ago? I haven't listened to CBC much since.) I was browsing down his wonderfully eclectic blog, and came upon another curling article. Like me, he had people from down south wondering what curling is. And he quipped: "Wait'll I write about sippin' Vi-Co down by the slough, in the shade of a poplar bluff."

At the songwriting workshop, they told us that the craft of songwriting is universal, but when you change genres or markets or even singers, you have to learn a new vocabulary.

I got much of my vocabulary through my voracious teenage reading habit, guessing meanings by context and pronunciations by sheer guts. My meme idea came to me when I was writing "misled," and doubting my spelling because I was hearing in my mind a different word - the one I used to hear whenever I saw that spelling: "MY-zuhld." To me it meant something like "bamboozled" (whatever that means!).

So here's the meme challenge (my answers are below):

Words Meme
1. Some reading pronunciations you've had.
2. Some words you've used wrong (and the consequences!).
3. Favourite obscure words.
4. Words with local meanings that confuse them outsiders.

My answers:

1. Some reading pronunciations you've had.
misled = MY-zuhld
awry = AH-ree
(I still like these better than the correct ones.)
2. Some words you've used wrong (and the consequences!).
(Blush) There was this word that I had heard applied affectionately to a woman's male companion of choice. I was in university, going steady with my first-ever boyfriend. I still remember the raised eyebrow I got when I referred to him as my "hubby."
3. Favourite obscure words.
nugatory: of no consequence whatsoever
4. Words with local meanings that confuse them outsiders.
See the quote from Ed Willett above. My Mom used to tell the story of her parents' first visit to the prairies from Toronto. Mom was playing tour guide on the drive home to the farm, pointing out all the things to see. There was something "over by that bluff," but her father just couldn't see any bluffs at all.
If you've got a word in your mind right now - Tag! You're it. The object of the game is to post your own answers on your own blog and then run back here and post a comment that you've done it. See if you can be the first one back (but make it good!).

Friday, February 24, 2006

By request...

...the lyrics to my latest more-or-less complete song. I hesitate, because I'm sure it's still a work in progress, but I decided it's time for some fresh ears.

It's meant to be sung by a man.

You Already Hold the Truth
© Laura Herman 2006

I looked up from an autograph
and nearly fell into her eyes.
It happens every now and then
and still it gets me by surprise.
I don't want to take it lightly
or tell her how to feel
'cause I've hung my hopes on heroes,
and I know her love is real,
but it's bigger than she's dreaming
and there's more it's meant to be.
I said, "Don't let yourself get hung up
on hanging on to me

'cause you . . .
you already hold the truth.
You hold a little piece of heaven.
Yes, you hold something new -
something no other heart is holding,
something God is still unfolding
and the one who holds that truth
is you."

She looked up from my autograph
and gave a shaky little smile.
It took me back to 'ninety-one,
back when I was still a child,
when I got to meet my hero.
I got to shake his hand,
and he listened to my story,
and he seemed to understand.
I was gonna be just like him.
Could he tell me where to start?
He said, "Don't look to me for answers -
your own are in your heart

'cause you . . .
you already hold the truth.
You hold a little piece of heaven.
Yes, you hold something new -
something no other heart is holding,
something God is still unfolding

in you . . .

you already hold the truth.
You hold a little piece of heaven.
Yes, you hold something new -
something no other heart is holding,
something God is still unfolding
and the one who holds that truth
is you."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Risk and perspective

My Dad taught me, through quiet repetition, about risk. If there was one thing he brought home to me, it was how so many risks pale in comparison to the dangers of one ride in a car. Yet we all ride.

That came to mind as I was reading a journal of a motorcycle ride through the area around Chernobyl. I haven't finished it yet, but it fascinates me. Thanks to Margaret for the link.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

He's home.

I'll talk to you all, oh, next week maybe...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Leave no stone unturned

I have a hunch that some of you may wonder why I link to Kate at SDA. Well, please read this.

My favourite people don't have all the answers. That's why I keep trying to read a little wider than where I'm comfortable.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

"The Land of Bloggerie"

With thanks to Madcap Mum for the title.

A couple of things have got me thinking about the nature of blogging communities. One was the surprising experience of being put on the spot as a sort of "blogging expert" (which I certainly am not, but everything is relative) at the conference I attended last weekend. I found myself describing blogging, not so much from a mechanical how-to angle, but in the sense of the circles of people that develop, and how these circles grow and ebb, intersect and aggregate.

Then there was Madcap Mum's recent post of her fantasies about blog authors being totally different from the personas we see on their blogs.

Finally there was Mary Ann's post, saying she was honoured to see her blog remaining in my sidebar under "Folks with something in common." I was a bit startled, and honoured myself, just to think that having "something in common" with me would be considered an honour! Part of my surprise, though, was due to the fact that Mary Ann and I have not commented back and forth much, so I didn't have any sense that my blog was important to her. How many others read and appreciate it, and never comment? It is a strange feeling. It reminds me of a song I wrote a couple of years ago, when I was asked to sing at the funeral of a woman I scarcely knew.

We gather here:
your family;
neighbours and friends;
Some knew you well;
some said "Hello."
What you meant to them,
you may not know.

For here am I,
a girl from town.
I did not know
you loved my song.

We gather here:
your family;
neighbours and friends;
In thanks and praise,
some heads held high;
some eyes cast down;
we say goodbye.

The life you sang:
the love goes on.
We come to say
we loved your song.


As a side note: the song was warmly received at the funeral - people asked for the music - but the day took a turn to the surreal when I overheard a conversation at the luncheon about how "she loved Laurie's singing." My immediate suspicion was confirmed as the conversation continued: I had been invited to sing by mistake. The beloved singer was Laurie Schmidt, not me. And I love Laurie's singing, too. And I loved my song, but I felt like a fake exposed. Except that I wasn't faking, just misled, and I was only partly exposed, naked to some, and still draped in false honour by others. I couldn't set things straight without spreading embarrassment around. I wanted to sink through the floor. Now in hindsight, I still love the song. It brings to mind that phrase, "God moves in mysterious ways." But it rings a little hollow for me, because I suspect that Laurie really did know that her singing was loved.

I've been writing and writing, and still haven't gotten near the point. I think I want to say something uncomfortable. I want to say that I fear making too many friends out there in the "land of Bloggerie." I fear making new friendships, because, well, how will I let some of the old ones go? In real life there are always excuses to explain the thinning phone calls, the lack of a visit. People move and make new friends closer to home. People take on new activities and don't have time for the old ones, so they don't see the same people anymore. In blogging, the constraints of location and schedule are mostly eliminated. If I stop reading a blog, but I'm still actively posting and commenting elsewhere, my absence might be noticed, and felt.

This probably sounds bizarre to some. I know that many blogs have a rough-and-tumble atmosphere where the message is basically, if you want to keep your feelings safe from hurt, don't comment, or better yet, don't read. I do read and comment on some of those blogs, and I have learned to get along fine, remembering that most of the blows are not aimed personally, or if they are, I can let them go by, knowing that "personally" is a rather distorted construct in a comment thread anyway.

In that rough-and-tumble context, it sounds very odd to be rationing my reading of new blogs for fear of neglecting old friends. Probably I am worrying too much (as usual). I've seen my own blog disappear off a sidebar, and if there was any feeling there at all, it just felt appropriate. I tried imagining how it would feel if a favourite commenter drifted away, and I had the sudden realization that I could probably quit blogging altogether, today, and not be devastated. (Good news, that.) But there are certainly some bloggers I would dearly miss, if they no longer had time for me. There is one right now who has been quiet for a few days, and I don't feel left out, I just quietly wonder if everything is okay.

Ah, community. I think it's time to go and pay some attention to my kids.

Catching up on the Nepal stories

I've posted several more of Garth's weekly articles on his Nepal web page (Weeks 10, 14, and 15 - there was a gap in there when we were waiting for the newspaper to catch up on the publishing, so he didn't write any new articles for awhile). That still leaves you about three weeks behind the present, at his cliff-hanger article just before the municipal elections.

To give you a sneak peek at the present: Garth has finished his work with the credit unions, with a few days left over before his scheduled return flight. He is spending the time by visiting Pokhara, the usual jumping-off point for the mountain hiking circuit. More later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Back in the land of the almost alive

I was looking at a blog I often read, and thinking it's time for another post there. Then I came back to my own blog and realized it's much longer since I posted myself. I was away at a conference in Yorkton (I know, Eleutheros - a bunch of people in a stuffy room tossing bags of air to each other), and then church and catching up at home, and then Monday night I went down with the flu. Ohh, I was out of practise. Kids handle it so much better. Dry heaves were getting me up every hour until I finally sought the Internet's advice, got past all the suggestions that involved doctors and pharmacists, and found out I should be sipping water. Sleep at last. Nothing but water all the next morning, and then a stagger downtown for some apple juice. This morning I tried a little toast. I'm hoping that the lingering headache is just a side effect of fasting.

The conference was fun, anyway. It's a chance to catch up on friendships with like-minded people - "plant nerds," as the seed-testing guy called us. He described himself and his coworkers as "the lab geeks of the plant nerds." He gave a talk on seed testing procedures and regulations, and how native plant seed just doesn't fit the system. Boring? Not at all! He was so warmly engaging and self-deprecating, and he showed up the ironies of his work so well. Seed testing is done with reference to grade tables, which list particular crops and the standards for each. Crested wheat grass, an introduced species that invades native grassland and excludes other species, gradually simplifying the vegetation and reducing the depth and fertility of the soil profile, is a recognized crop species included in the grade tables. It's a crop, but definitely not something that you want to be planting in a native prairie reclamation project. Green needle grass, a native species widely used in seed mixes for reclamation, is not in the grade tables. So, if you send a sample of a native species - say, northern wheatgrass - for testing, the standard procedure would treat any crested wheat grass in the sample as "other crop," and any green needle grass as a "weed."

He got a good laugh with that example. He also described ways that his company will try to work within the grade tables, using alternative procedures, to give the best representation of native seed. For example, if that northern wheatgrass sample has a lot of green needle grass in it, he will look at grading it as a mix, instead of as northern wheatgrass. His name is Morgan Webb, and the company is Seed Check Technologies Inc., in Leduc, Alberta. The website gives a sense of that same warm-hearted, fun-loving spirit that Morgan showed in person. (A tip for navigating the website: no scroll bars appeared in my browser, but I found that I could just click somewhere in the text and then use the up and down arrows to scroll.)

I showed some of my winter botany photos at the members' slide night, but when Morgan mentioned that seed testers have to take 16-hour government exams and be able to identify roughly 2000 species by seed characteristics alone, well, I was humbled.

Speaking of winter, we've had a bit of snow here (just in time to give us some whiteouts and icy snowpack on the drive to Yorkton), but already the fields and ditches are going brown again. We're supposed to get a high of -18°C and a low of -33°C on Friday, but then right back up to near normal temperatures on the weekend. Normal would be a high of -7°C, but for most of this winter, it's been warmer than that. Darn, I'd take a week of -40°C nights, just to kill off some insects, but I'm afraid we aren't going to get it.

Well, if I can sit up and write this long, I must be feeling better. Time to get on with ordering garden seed. Yes, it's a little late, but not as bad as you might think. I see that our southern friends are already well into growing things, but we really shouldn't start here until around March 1st.

Six days till Garth gets home! I owe him another posting on his website, and I really need to clean up my clutter before I have to share the bedroom again. Okay. One feeble step at a time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Camping Stories

I came across some camping stories, and a memory came back.

It was our honeymoon, over sixteen years ago. We didn't have a plan. No exotic hideaway for us, just a room at Kenosee for one night, and after that, the road. Funny, Kenosee is a very short way up the road from my hometown, but we didn't see any Arcola folks there. Instead, when we stumbled over to the Moosehead for some food, we encountered a fellow we both knew vaguely from the dorm at Luther College, U of R. He reminded himself of our names, found out why we were there, and sang out, "So, what did you guys do last night?"

When we packed up the debris from the motel room, we discovered some things missing, and some things extraneous, so we went back to the farm, where the relatives cooed over us and pressed lots of leftover food upon us. Then we made our escape for the second time, and drove from the Moose Mountains to Duck Mountain. We have lots of Mountains in Saskatchewan. I've noticed, though, that if you're not from Saskatchewan, you can't see them.

They assigned us to the overflow camping, which was a lovely meadow in the forest, and if I remember rightly, we had it to ourselves. We walked on the shore by the campground, swam at the main beach, and then decided to hike the trail between the two areas. It was nothing daunting; you might want to bring a water bottle. It roughly paralleled the road, but kept its distance, off in the woods. There was a movement up ahead - another hiker intruding on our idyllic wanderings? No, a bear. It jogged across our path and away toward the lake. I had never seen one at large, but this one didn't seem too terribly large; probably a young one. We consulted and hesitated and worried about mother bears before finally deciding that no more bears seemed to be coming along, so we could probably safely continue across the bear's back trail. Later at the main beach, I found a map that showed all the facilities, including the garbage dump. Aha.

After Duck Mountain, we picked another green spot on the map, Greenwater Lake, but I don't remember our stop there. I remember the narrow iron bridge at St. Louis, but I had to do some Googling just now to find the name of the town, and thus I discovered that a major archeological find was made just a few years ago during assessments related to replacing that bridge. Well, the find is exciting, I'm sure, but I'm sad about the bridge. Safety, convenience, progress. Sigh.

During my Google tangent, I also found a St. Louis ghost story.

But sixteen-plus years ago, we knew none of this; we just drove across the bridge, admiring the broad river below, and continued on our way to Waskesiu.

The overflow camping there was a totally different scene. Again, it was a grassy meadow, but this time jammed with camper trailers and tents so close together that their guy strings overlapped. We hadn't been keeping track of days, let alone noticing the impending August long weekend. How it occurred to us, I don't recall, but we came up with a solution: the backcountry.

We rented an aluminum canoe, and signed up for a campsite out on the west shore of Crean Lake. They warned us that the sites would be primitive, but we were delighted. We piled our car-camping gear and several grocery bags of foodstuffs into the canoe and set forth. It was about four in the afternoon.

The Hanging Heart Lakes were lovely, and Crean Lake was like glass stretching away out of sight. We paddled through the deep green reflection of the shadowy trees and easily found our campsite: three sites together, but we had the place to ourselves. The "primitive" facilities included an outhouse, a nice firepit with a grill, a supply of firewood, and my nemesis: a platform high on some trees, for storing food out of reach of bears.

It's not like I fell off it.

It's just that the tin wrapped around the tree trunks had deep grooves scratched in it.

And the place was so beautifully private.

We drove each other crazy with our half-remembered wisdoms about how to avoid leaving attractive smells around your campsite. If I recall correctly, Garth was fairly unconcerned, but I heard every little sound in that terribly beautiful silence, and the next day, the setting was somewhat less appealing to him because of the bear in his tent (me).

Sometime during our stay there, we took the canoe out on the lake in the moonlight, but all I remember of that jaunt was the mosquitoes. That and wondering if the bears would come to visit our site while we were away, and wondering if bears are fond of swimming.

That must have been the first evening. I don't think we would have stayed a second night willingly.

But in the morning, there were waves crashing onto the shore. We spent the day puttering around the campsite, watching the occasional motorboat as it bounced across the lake and sent up a burst of spray at each wave. That night I couldn't hear the little forest sounds over the roaring from the lake and the trees. I wasn't reassured.

Was it two nights, or three? All I remember is that Garth got anxious about being stranded by the wind for another few days, and being late getting back to work. He decided we should get up before dawn, when the wind should be at its lowest, and paddle out.

The wind was still high when we arose, but Garth was determined, and I was becoming panicky about the imaginary dark forms among the dark trunks of the great dark forest. Again we threw our hodge-podge of gear and groceries in loose bags into the canoe. We very briefly discussed a strategy for orienting the canoe relative to the waves, then dug in our paddles and went.

It wasn't a direct headwind, but we couldn't run with it, either, at least not until we cleared a rocky point perhaps a half mile off. Garth has always been strong for his size, and he's not small, either. I was perhaps a little more experienced than he with paddling, but he managed quite well in the stern, and the first little distance seemed mostly okay. There were moments when he felt he needed to reassure me, though. He told me, "Don't worry; if we capsize, I'll dive down and get some of our stuff."

I just kept paddling. The near-misses with oversized waves wore on my already frazzled nerves, and the shore seemed to be approaching faster than that point where we could clear the rocks and turn down the wind. Garth quit talking and paddled. And we paddled.

And we paddled.

And we made it.

The Hanging Heart Lakes were oh-so lovely.

We returned the canoe and signed out of the backcountry register, and headed for Prince Albert and a hotel.

When we recovered, we realized that we had quite a bit of our vacation time left over, so we turned away from our homeward track and went to surprise the relatives who, by this time, were gathered at Kananaskis in southwest Alberta for a family reunion. We made a stop in Calgary so that Garth could show me the wave pool.

Garth loves water. He once spent several hours swimming across a crater lake in Australia, and back, all by himself. I, on the other hand, had struggled to teach myself to swim during my years at university. The only time in my life that I ever loved water was yet to come, a few years later, when I discovered that pregnancy made me buoyant.

Anyway, the wave pool looked like fun. Garth took me in the shallow end, coaxing me deeper into the waves, and showing me how to drownproof. Then we went to the other pool, where you could sit on a ball suspended from a rope and swing out over the water and then let yourself drop in. That was fun too. Garth, bursting with the joy of water and the pleasure of sharing it with me, led me back toward the wave pool. "Let's go in the deep end," he cried, and off we went.

He went down the ladder first. I had got about halfway down when a wave caught me. Garth must have been closely watching my descending form, because it didn't take him long to get hold of me. I climbed on his head.

I had never felt that way before, and never again since. I knew I was panicking, and I knew it was pointless, but there was not a thing I could do about it.

Like I said, Garth is strong. He put me back on the ladder, climbed out after me, and calmed me down.

Then he stood back, looked at me, and said, "I guess if we'd capsized, I might not have been going after our stuff!"

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Letting Kids Be

Madcap Mum has a post up about her frustration in trying to find local children's programs that aren't infested with nastiness among the children. AnvilCloud commented:
Those kids can be depressing. They are trying so hard to be something, but they're nothing at this point. It's so sad.
I think he nailed it. They are "trying so hard to be something."

At bible study this morning we were talking about changes in the church, and wondering what has changed in the community and the world, that it has become so difficult to get people involved. A couple of things came out:
1) people no longer think that God is taking care of their lives; they make their own lives
2) family life revolves around an exhausting round of kids' activities
3) the time for an individual to take a place in the community has been pushed later and later in life. Whereas a child used to begin to find a place and a role as soon as he or she could lift a basket or a hoe, that time gradually moved to sometime when the child started thinking "I've had enough school, I'm ready to work." Around that time, they would begin to try to impress the elders of the community with their strength or their smarts. Now it's pushed off even farther, and community involvement is just another thing to add to a resume to try to get a scholarship. Everything is focussed on getting into college, and few students even begin to think about their place in a community until they're suddenly convocated and job-hunting and trying to learn to "network." (The effect on the church is that there is no continuity, from Sunday School through confirmation class to a valued role in the church community. After confirmation, the young people leave, and maybe, maybe, they come back to bring their own kids to Sunday School.)

With all the focus on "what will you be when you grow up?", there is a backlash saying "let kids be kids," which translates into a lot of entertainment and recreational events. But there is very little acknowledgement that kids want to be something, now, today. They want to be listened to, and they want to contribute. That is the great gaping hole in their lives, and sadly, many of them don't even know it's there.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

And more of Garth's view

His Week 7 article is up at A Flatland View of Kathmandu. Week 7 was the last week of November.

Another view of Nepal

Sometimes I take a quick peek at one or two of Blogger's featured blogs. Today I discovered Kaura Travels. Normally I wouldn't be much interested in a musical group's tour blog, but this is a little different. For one thing, these musicians seem to be listening and exploring as much or more than they are touting their own stuff. But what really caught my attention was the mention of Nepal. Their posts from December 11th through January 12th, including numerous videos and slideshows set to their own music, describe their journey by bus to Pokhara; their hike on the Annapurna Circuit; and their time in Pokhara and Kathmandu.

I have only watched a couple of the videos. I am ambivalent about world travel. Yes, I'm ambivalent about Garth's travel. It's an ongoing point of strain between us; he wants to see far more of the world than he has to date, and he wants to see Australia again, but I feel almost no desire to see it even for the first time.

I believe there is far more travel going on than there should be, but I'm grateful when those who do travel take the time and effort to share the beauty and the realities of their experience with others. Thanks, Kaura.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A little discussion has developed on the topic of nitrogen fertilizers, in the comments to my January 25th post "Reason Unbound." Back40 has given a quite detailed comment, and I thought it worth bringing up here so it won't be missed.


Update - don't miss Eleutheros' comments to this post, either. This is getting too easy - the commenters are doing all the work! Thanks, everyone.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's dark in here

If you're reading this post, you're having better luck than I am. I can't view my own blog. Please leave a comment for me - it will be forwarded to my email (if the forwarding is still working!) and then I'll know... something.


Update - well, whaddya know? The lights are back on in my little blog world. Why, I don't know.


Update #2 - and poof! The door slams shut and it's dark in here again. Two minutes later. Please do let me know whether you're having any trouble reading my blog, or not.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What is "selfish"? - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I recall my sister musing that, with all the modest lifestyles among her relatives, she might be the only one on either side of her extended family who was paying enough taxes to support the basic services relied upon by said family. Services like roads and schools.

She implied that we were all being selfish.

To avoid being selfish, then, we should all go out and earn more income (to pay more income tax) and buy more goods (to pay more sales tax).

That way there would be more money for schools to teach our children how to clean up the environmental messes we created while earning more income, buying more goods, and driving more often because we'd have such wonderful roads.

I guess it's clear that I don't think we're being selfish by living modestly. My point of view should come as no surprise.

Still, I wonder where the line is. I want to live in a society that maintains sufficient technological and industrial capacity to have dentists, steel roofs, and maybe even satellite imagery. I find it difficult to believe that I must eat takeout pizza rather than homegrown food in order to maintain that society, but I don't know where the balance point might be.

Obviously there won't be a simple answer. Yet as I think about it, I wonder if the answer at the individual level really is fairly simple. There are those who want us all to trust in economic growth as the answer, and they keep pointing out how effectively market forces balance supply and demand. If that's the case, then all an individual needs to worry about is choosing to demand the things that are really needed for life, and refusing to demand things that aren't. The market will take care of the rest.

What is "selfish"?

A couple of years ago, I tried to make an informed decision about whether to give consent for organ donation. There was information available, certainly. It came in the form of pamphlets telling me about the benefits to those who received transplants, and the steps taken to maximize transplant success.

What they didn't tell me was the cost.

Why should I care? We have Medicare, and even if we didn't, obviously my estate wouldn't be picking up the tab for my generous act.

I care because a cost to the health system is a cost to my neighbours, my community, and my world.

Yes, but it saves a life!

Sorry, that's not a good enough argument. Fixing a highway embankment saves lives too, and if it does so at a lower cost, then it should have priority over the transplant program.

Well, okay, but that's easy to say if you're not the one on the waiting list for the transplant.

True, and I don't know how I would act in that situation. But I kept looking for information on costs and benefits of transplants, and as I looked, my thinking evolved. The more I looked (without success), the more convinced I became that I wanted healthcare cost information so that I could make advance decisions and directives, not for the fate of my organs after my death, but for the responsible treatment of my body while I live.

For example, I couldn't find any straightforward information on the full cost of having a kidney transplant, versus managing the disease in other ways, or accepting an earlier death. I did find out that transplant patients would face ongoing health costs associated with immune suppression to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ.

Now in case you're thinking I'm being incredibly callous, remember, I was thinking about what I would want to have happen if I myself should develop kidney disease.

I told Garth about these thoughts, and the idea of refusing a kidney transplant because the long-term cost of such medical intervention seemed irresponsibly high.

He told me I was being selfish.

I mentioned the discussion to a friend, and he agreed with Garth.

I don't.

Here is an analogy. Suppose I was adrift in a lifeboat with two plump people. I myself am on the scrawny side. We have a water purifier, but a limited supply of food. Our best estimate is that there is not enough food for all three of us to last until we reach land. My suspicion is that the two of them could survive together, but there is only enough food for one of me.

Now let's say that all three of us have spouses and children waiting back home.

If I don't drown those other two people to make sure I get home to my family, am I being selfish?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Environmental Scare-Mongering . . .

. . . from a Kyoto critic.

Licia Corbella's doom-and-gloom article appeared in the Calgary Sun on December 11, 2005. She stated that in order to meet our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 270 megatonnes (mt). She then reviewed figures from Environment Canada, presenting them as evidence that the target is impossible to reach.

In 2002, Canada's entire manufacturing sector spewed out 62.9 megatonnes.

Then comes the transportation sector, which includes all those planes, trains and automobiles, pipelines and Paul Martin's tax-exempt Canada Steamship Lines freighters.

Ground, park and dock them all and we would remove 190 mt of GHGs.

Combine those two sectors -- manufacturing and transportation -- and that adds up to 252.9 megatonnes, leaving us short by 17.1 megatonnes.

She goes on to raise the specter of billions of Canadian tax dollars flowing to Russia to buy emissions credits, because, she implies, it's obvious that we can't shut down our entire manufacturing and transportation sectors.

Let's back up to 1990. That's the base year for Canada's Kyoto commitment. Our target is to reduce our emissions to 6% below 1990 levels. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I remember it, Canada did have a manufacturing sector in 1990. Canada also had a transportation sector. If these sectors are the big baddies, obviously we shouldn't need to totally eliminate them to achieve a 6% reduction.

Check the Environment Canada figures for yourself, and see how cleverly Corbella has chosen her sectors. Obviously transportation has to be included, because everybody knows it's the other guy's SUV that's the problem. At 180 mt for 2002, transportation is a big part of the 719 mt total. A big part, yes, but where's the other 539 mt? Clearly it's not all in the manufacturing sector. But manufacturing is the perfect contentious target, vilified by those eager to assign blame for environmental problems, and defended by their opponents as the engine of our economy. Corbella knew exactly what she was doing.

She was scaring people into assuming that they must watch helplessly as government either turns Canada into a have-not country, or backs out of its Kyoto commitment.

In reality, where is the rest of the 539 mt total? For starters, it's in "Electricity and Heat Generation" at 129 mt. That refers to "thermal combustion-derived electricity" - such as the electricity that is powering my computer right now, that runs my refrigerator and my freezer and my washer and dryer and my Christmas lights and the lights that get left on when no-one is in the room. If I reduce my use of this electricity, it won't cripple the economy.

Where else? How about Residential [Energy Use], which refers to fuel combustion in homes, at 44 mt. Turn down your thermostat at night (I have to remember to put some slippers on when blogging after bedtime), invest in some weatherstripping and insulation, maybe upgrade some windows. How will that hurt the economy? Sure, if everybody did enough of it, maybe the demand for natural gas would level off. Drilling in southwest Saskatchewan might slow down a bit.

What about agriculture? We hear so much about belching cows. This appears in the table as "Enteric Fermentation," and it amounts to only 22 mt. Another 8 mt are attributed to "Manure Management." Meeting the targets doesn't mean giving up all our steak and milk. We might do well to look at our crop production practices, though. "Agricultural Soils" refers to emissions of nitrous oxide; this happens when nitrogen from fertilizers of various kinds goes partly into the air instead of the plants. The figures are estimated, with large uncertainties, but the value given is 29 mt. Then you have to consider emissions associated with fertilizer and pesticide production, and fuel combustion to run the tillage and harvest equipment; these figures are hidden in other categories, such as "Industrial Processes" and the already-mentioned "Transportation."

If you're running a total in your head, you know there's still a big chunk missing. The "Industrial Processes" that I just mentioned account for 51 mt. (How many of Corbella's readers would realize that there was an entire category separate from "Manufacturing," called "Industrial Processes"?) "Waste," mostly solid waste disposal on land, gives another 25 mt.

Of particular significance to southeast Saskatchewan, given our economic dependence on the oilfield and on coal-fired power generation, are the categories of "Fossil Fuel Industries" at 73 mt and "Fugitive Emissions" at 55 mt. Not only do we release GHGs when we generate power or drive our cars, we also release them when we produce the fuels in the first place. (In case you're wondering, "Fugitive Emissions" refers to things like spills, leaks, venting and flaring during oil and gas production, plus a much smaller amount of methane released from coal deposits during mining.)

I haven't covered all the categories. Most of the rest are relatively small; "Land Use, Land-Use Change" actually has a negative figure to allow for CO2 uptake during plant growth. As you can plainly see, there are a lot more areas to work on than just transportation and manufacturing. By choosing these two sectors, Corbella skilfully directed attention away from the areas where our own individual initiative could most quickly and painlessly make a difference. If we're merely trying to meet Kyoto targets, the picture is not nearly so bleak as Corbella paints it.

A much more serious criticism of the Kyoto Protocol is that it will merely slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases. Even if all the targets were met around the world, greenhouse gases would continue to rise. And even if we could somehow reverse that trend, and begin to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we would still have a long way to go just to bring them back within the range where these gases have fluctuated over the last 650,000 years. We have already drastically altered the chemistry of our atmosphere, and as I have noted previously, climate change may be the least of our problems.

Not-so-news from Nepal

Long frustrating debates, filled with silences and clicks as the communications system drops whole sections of our rebuttals into some sort of electronic limbo. In between the phone calls, imaginary conversations going sideways into meaningless bitterness. Emails sent, and days spent wondering how they were received, and then another debate about one little aspect of one email, and only occasionally a connection, an understanding.

We are both longing for him to be home.

At the same time, we are both fearing it. We will have to work this stuff out. Not that we have built up enormous differences, but just that we have each found a comfortable way of existing over these last few months, and the reunion will require some adjustment. I've found my own way of relating to the kids. Sometimes Garth gets glimpses of it during a phone call, and sometimes he has a good suggestion, but other times I just suggest that if he wants to do the parenting, he can hurry up and come home!

For now, I am preparing by gently shifting my focus. Perhaps out of self-preservation, I had turned my focus away from him for a while just so I wouldn't miss him so much. I know he did the same with me; he told me he tried not to think about home too much, or look at pictures of us, or that sort of thing.

Now it is time to start including him in our plans again. Not only that, but to make him a part of my thinking as I go through each day. Right away I notice that I have let myself get far behind on posting his weekly columns on his web site. At first I was waiting for the newspaper to publish them, but then a whole month went by when I could have posted some, but didn't get to it. My apologies to his Mom and others who have been waiting.

No time like the present. That's a phrase that has been making me a lot more effective lately (thanks mum!). Today I posted Garth's Week 6 article, from way back in November, which appeared in the Carlyle Observer at the end of December. I plan to keep them coming every couple of days until we are caught up.