Posts Tagged ‘amusing myself’

Added value

Well, it’s the end of April, which means that if you’re like me, you’ve left your taxes until the last minute and are now staring at a screen full of incomprehensible formulae and sweating tiny drops of blood from your forehead. Outside the sun is shining and people with more organizational skills, or possibly their own accountants, are playing frisbee in the park. I am strongly tempted to just go back to bed and give up this whole “responsible adult” thing as a bad idea.

So, in a futile effort at procrastination, here are some interesting tax-related links for y’all:

You probably already know about Conscience Canada, which supports a Peace Tax Trust Fund, allowing people “to divert the military portion of their taxes, to be held in trust until there is a law respecting conscientious objection to military taxation.” They have things you can send in with your taxes if you just want to make a symbolic objection, or if you actually want to withhold money from the government. Either way, a good cause.

Here’s a breakdown of the US Federal Budget for 2009 from PhD Comics, for those Americans who are interested in where their money actually goes. (For instance, some of it goes to the National Helium Reserve, which is $1.6 billion in debt. Feel proud!)

The Green Party explains how a carbon tax would work. This is a lot clearer than most explanations I’ve run across.

I tried to find something amusing to end with, but you know what, all the tax jokes on the internet are deeply sad, so never mind.

And…action!

So I’m watching the hockey game the other night (go Habs!) and a commercial comes on for the Conservative government’s “Economic Action Plan”. (They’ve decided to spend our tax money making ads telling us how wonderful they are, you see.) So the announcer’s listing off all the ways the Conservatives are helping the economy, and one of the things he mentioned was “We’re improving roads and bridges!”

Sorry…roads and bridges? You’re bragging about that? Isn’t that, I don’t know, one of the absolute basic things the government is supposed to take care of? That’s like me expecting to be congratulated for showing up at the office in the morning and opening my mail. When did fulfilling the minimum expectations of your job become something to be singled out for special praise?

Of course, the sad part is, given the catastrophic failure of foresight that the Conservatives’ “environmental policy”, maybe this really is the best they can manage.

In other news, check out this article from Examiner.com mentioning Right Relationship!

Oh, and the STM (the Montreal public transit authority) has just announced that it will now be announcing service outages via Twitter. So if you get a tweet saying “Attention a tous les voyageurs: Mmph mrph mrmble mrph mph” you’ll know why.

Update

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

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.

New Year News

So here are some interesting things from around the internet on this the first EcoMonday of the new year:

Other Worlds Are Possible: the sixth report from the New Economics Foundation. If you’re looking for something to read that isn’t wholly pessimistic, this is pretty interesting stuff. Note that it’s a PDF download and pretty big.

Law requiring solar energy heaters in new homes – well, I guess if any state was going to do this, Hawaii’s the one to start it.

Chemical regulations that might actually work: the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog discusses the EPA’s new “Chemical Action Plans”.

Peace Teaching: stories from North Kivu, the Congo – by Zawadi Nikuze.

The Obligatory Bicycle-Related Link.

Finally, things to write to your MP about! Here are some private members’ bills you may be interested in.

Establishing a National Ecosystems Council

Prohibiting the Export of Water

Establishing an Oil and Gas Ombudsman

And then there’s The Tartan Day Act – yeah, I don’t know either.

Circles of concern, circles of influence

I just read an article in the current issue of The Canadian Friend that resonated very strongly with me. In “Making Peace With Our Place on the Planet”, Tony McQuail of Kitchener Monthly Meeting writes:

Something that has been helpful to me is distinguishing between my circle of concern and my circle of influence. If I spend a vast amount of time and energy worrying about the things out in my circle of concern, I can get pretty wound up, frustrated, and lose my inner peace. When I concentrate on my circle of influence I feel far more positive, and bring a hopeful and constructive energy to bear on situations where I actually have some impact. It helps me work on what I can do, rather than worry about what I can’t.

This is a very helpful way of thinking, to me. I spend a lot of time in this job listening to bad news, much of it coming from distant places where I can’t have much if any direct impact, or occurring on a scale too vast to be affected by individual will. This is generally the point where despair sets in.

It’s sometimes hard, too, to figure out what exactly my “circle of influence” is. I know that I could be doing more than I am. I could put in more volunteer hours than I do. I could donate more money to causes I care about. I could, when my current job ends, go and join the Peace Corps and spend the next few years building schools in Africa or whatever. The point is, there’s this large nebulous zone just outside the things I can currently have a positive impact on, full of things I could have a positive impact on if I had more strength, more willpower, more energy, less time commitments, less emotional entanglements, less ties to the place where I live – if I were, in short, a different person altogether. For me, that leads to more guilt than it probably ought to, and that feeds the despair too.

Maybe it’s helpful to remind myself what exactly my circle of influence is.

My garden is the first thing that comes to mind. A large part of Tony McQuail’s article is about his farm, and the ways in which food production is linked to oil and thence to war and violence. I don’t have the skill to grow some things (celery, so far, has been a dismal failure) or the environment to grow other things (chickens, say, or pineapples – damn you, delicious pineapples, and your inability to thrive in the St. Lawrence Lowlands!), but my boyfriend and I can generally get our quota of vegetables entirely from the garden during the peak tomato-producing months.

Another group within my circle of influence is my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, with whom I walk a fine line between wanting to mention when they’re doing something environmentally terrible (“You know you shouldn’t be seting Styrofoam on fire, right?”) and wanting to actually keep said friends. Generally I find perky enthusiasm a lot more helpful than nagging. (“Guess what I saw today! Recycled paper coffee filters! Those used to be impossible to find! Isn’t it great how many more recycled products you can get these days? I feel so much less guilty going shopping when I can get recycled stuff, don’t you?”)

Then there’s the other people in my environment, who I don’t necessarily know but who can see me bicycling, or using a refillable mug, or darning my socks on the bus, or whatever, and might think it’s a good idea. I don’t know how much that actually happens, but it’s certainly happened to me a few times. Besides, it’s a critical mass thing – how many people do you see now using reusable grocery bags? Practically everyone. There’s social pressure about it now. Several times in the past month I’ve seen people apologize (to the cashier, or to the other customers at large) for taking plastic bags. This is a positive step. (The next step is for the supermarkets to just stop offering plastic bags altogether. They’re already doing it in Halifax. Come on, Montreal, do you always want to be trailing behind Halifax??)

There’s my government, of course. Sometimes, like everyone else, I feel I have next to no impact on the decisions of the government that theoretically represents me. But I write letters to them anyway. And hey, we finally got Peter McQueen elected; that has to do some good.

There are my consumer decisions – what to buy, what to wear, where to shop. I’ve finally got my clothes-buying algorithm mostly figured out. (The Salvation Army figures prominently.)

Finally (and by “finally” I mean “I’m probably forgetting something”), there’s this blog, and its literally tens of readers (“Dozens! Baker’s dozens! They come in thirteens.”). Writing for a living has always been my goal, though admittedly I usually visualise that as involving fiction. But I’ve always thought writing was one of our most powerful tools for shaping the world. The amount of positive response that Right Relationship has received over the past year has been truly staggering, and I want to make sure to keep that firmly in mind as I continue in my own writing career in the months and years ahead. I know I now have the skill to write well enough to get people interested in what I have to say; now let’s see if I can make sure I’m saying something worth reading.

And so it begins…

Greenpeace Canada marked the opening of the Copenhagen talks yesterday in their usual fashion: by doing an awesome stunt and having a bunch of their members arrested for mischief.