Archive for February, 2010

Update

Here is a different link to the Guggenheim Forum that may be more useful. Remember, live chat this Thursday!

For art’s sake

Peter G. Brown, author of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, is going to be serving as moderator of an upcoming forum called “Beyond Material Worth” at the Guggenheim in New York, February 22-26. This forum will include a one-hour live chat on Thursday, February 25, at 2pm EST. Be sure to check it out!

Like I been sayin’…

The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, released an interesting report the other day recommending that the work week be cut to 21 hours.

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources. Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. We could even become better employees – less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.

Which means I’ve finally got documentation to point to when people try to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Ha!

Seriously, though, it sounds like a great idea. I have not yet read the whole report, which is available free as a great big PDF, but the summary is encouraging. Although I do look forward to seeing how they deal with some of the inevitable problems that would arise. For instance, if doctors and nurses were to only work 21 hours a week, we’d need, like, three times as many. (I don’t know what the numbers are like for Britain, but I assume they’re pretty busy over there too.) The NEF talks about encouraging “active training to combat skills shortages and to help long-term unemployed return to the labour force”, but I’m not sure how we’d manage that here with regards to health services, seeing as the government has already been trying to incentivize like mad to get more people to enroll in medical training.

But that’s the kind of thing these think tanks specialize in figuring out, so I’m sure they’ve got answers for it.

Drunk with power

Do you ever just marvel at the sheer amount of stuff available? I don’t mean just weird stuff, like that Slap Chop thing the guy’s always yelling about on TV, or salt shakers shaped like the Statue of Liberty, or Don Cherry’s Rock’Em Sock’Em Hockey videos. I mean just normal stuff.

So I’m at this exhibition of outstanding McGill researchers (this is the actual present tense rather than the narrative present, btw; I’m writing this on the backs of grocery receipts while I wait for coffee [sweet, sweet coffee] to become available) and while I was setting up Peter Brown‘s display table, I managed to tear an embarrassingly large hole in the crotch of my jeans. Hurrah.

As this blog is not the place to discuss conventions of sartorial modesty, I won’t, but I will point out that everyone here is dressed much more nicely than I even without holes in my clothing. In any case, I didn’t want to sit for the next five hours with my underwear peeking out every time I moved my legs, so I went looking for a sewing needle. This is, of course, the one day I forget to bring my sewing kit with me. I’d have made a terrible Boy Scout. (Actually, I was kicked out of Girl Guides for fighting. I’m not a very sociable person. Y’all may have noticed.)

So I found a convenience store and bought one of those little $2.99 sewing kits they have by the cash register. Took it into the washroom, fixed my jeans, and now I’m sitting out here just marvelling at this thing.

Measuring tape. Two safety pins. Four straight pins. Four snaps. Eight buttons. Three needles in a little plastic tube. Threader. Tiny scissors. Ten spools of thread (no white, oddly enough). All in a little plastic box with a latch.

How staggering is it that we live in a place where you can buy this kind of thing in any corner store for less than half an hour’s pay at a minimum wage job? I would want one of these in my lifeboat or my space shuttle or my time machine to the Jurassic. They’re so incredibly useful. (Except the scissors. They couldn’t cut butter.) How much would this have been worth to a pioneer housewife two hundred years ago? How strange is it to realize that it didn’t even occur to me that I might not be able to find one? Of course I would. You can get them everywhere.

How strange is it to think that we live in a place so dependent on imports from other countries? This one is made in China – it could be Thailand or India or Bangladesh or Mexico as easily. How far did it travel to get here? How much more would it cost if it were made here, under our labour and environmental laws?

Who put it together? Who mined the steel and grew the cotton and drilled for the oil, and where? Where were all the pieces spun and molded and forged and dyed? What were the factory conditions like for the workers? How many hours of wages does $2.99 represent for them?

How many people live on less than that every day? How many people die for lack of that much money to buy medicine or water filters or rice? What does it mean that instead of spending that money to help them, I spent it on not being embarrassed at a public function I don’t really want to be at? What does it say about society? What does it say about me?

What am I doing here, sitting in this exhibition hall in my mended jeans while poeple in suits drink wine and eat little nibbly bits of fish on fancy crackers? What’s this all for? What are we contributing here? Events like this should be either useful or fun. Is this fun? I can’t see a single person smiling. Would they be happier if they had more stuff? Would I? Does this cheap sewing kit make me happy? It makes me less embarrassed; is that the same thing? Have I bought $2.99 worth of happiness?

Time to have some wine, I think. Can’t think like this all the time; I will go mad.

Glaciergate

Found a great article today by journalist Gwynne Dyer, Climategate and Disbelief. Y’all know how much I love recommending things for you to read, but this is a good one, and quite short.

The weight of the evidence rests overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that climate change is real and dangerous. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent of scientists active in the relevant fields are convinced of it; all but a couple of the world’s two hundred governments have been persuaded of it; public opinion accepts it almost everywhere except in parts of the “Anglosphere.” The United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, Britain and Canada, are the last bastions of denial.

From being the least ideological countries fifty years ago, when much of the rest of the planet was drunk on Marxist theories, these countries have become the most ideological today. Disbelief in climate change has been turned into an ideological badge worn by the right, and evidence is no longer relevant.

This wouldn’t matter much if the countries in question were Bolivia, Belgium and Burma, but one of them is really important.