June 16, 2009

Putting The "Free" in Freedom

Yesterday I was rummaging around various drawers and boxes in my tiny home. I was surprised at all the resources 586 sq.ft. could contain, and I am not talking about a double garage here. I am referring to my entire living space. Although I am no midnight pack rat stocking my home full of back alley and curb-side treasures, I do collect resources that may come in handy in the future. My place is not stuffed to the point of narrow junk corridors leading from room to room, but I do have some drawers that are threatening to explode. It's just that when you buy dill pickles you also get a perfectly good reusable glass jar with them. Something must be done with the jar. We are constantly surrounded by free valuable resources, especially if you are able to appreciate small gifts.

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but it sure would be easy in our over the top throw away society to furnish an entire apartment for free. Buck 65, Canadian rapper, did just that. He furnished his entire apartment with free resources, and can be seen in an episode of MTV's "Cribs". I hate to admit I have watched "Cribs", but the Buck 65 episode is by far the best I have seen. He makes the rest seem, well, quite wasteful with all their money.

Just take a look at the "free" section (found under "for sale") of Craigslist in your community or a community near you. As long as you had a truck to haul free loot, and a roof to stash it under, a person could drive into a community such as Vancouver or Victoria with nothing but the skin on your bones and after a few days have everything you needed. You would be benefiting the community at large because if you don't take that couch it is going to end up being shot full of holes up some logging road by a camouflage mini-skirted AK-47 toting back county Rambette (sad, but true. Her boyfriend posted a video of it on youtube). That perfectly good couch will look much better in your living room.

In my drawer and box rummage-fest I found I that I am "richer than I think" (can I use that or has it been trade marked? I will only use this phrase if it is free). Yes, I found luxurious socks that I have never worn before. I found a free pack of playing cards, still hermetically sealed in cellophane, that I acquired from a case of Pilsner beer back when I used to buy beer. I have books on the shelf I have never read, and clothes I have not worn since the last time the NDP formed the government of BC.

I realized that my modest patio garden all came to me gratis. The many containers were saved from the recycling area of our building. I got the soil from a slump down the beach that would have been eroded away by the next high tide. Actually, I saved some nice flowers from the slump as well, and took those home to relocate into my free containers.

The strawberry plant was given to me by a elderly guerrilla gardener that was busted by her condo strata board. I was hired to tear out her extensive (and illegal, apparently) hard work. We quickly became friends as she, too, recognized the riches that abound where ever we look. She pleaded with me to take all her plants rather than toss them on the compost heap. I filled the back of my truck with her entire guerrilla garden and used what I could at home. The rest I took to a friends acreage where he used up everything else. Right now the strawberry flowers and reddening berries on my patio are reminding me of Elizabeth and Her Fantastic Illegal Garden. And my friend, Michael, enjoyed Elizabeth's wonderful perennials in his front yard. Free.

How can I feel rich when I exist on less than most people pay on their mortgages? Lowering ones expectations helps. Separating wants from needs is beneficial. But the most fun for me is recognizing the power of free. Not wanting makes me free. Anyone want (need?) a deck of brand new playing cards? I am willing to share my wealth... free.

June 1, 2009

Wanted: New Ideas

General Motors is not on the scrap heap yet, but will its make-over save it from ending up there eventually? Will the new leaner, meaner company be different enough to stay on the road, or will the wheels fall off, again, in the near future? My guess is the latter.

The governments of Canada and Ontario have pledged 9.5-billion to help in restructuring the once mighty company. If GM takes our money, then continues with the same ideas, its repeated failure is inevitable. Taxpayers should not be paying to prop up this dinosaur of an industry. The inventors of planned obsolescence have themselves become obsolete. Let them join the eight track and VCR. Their time has come and gone. Go gracefully. Go now. Let's evolve!

Driving a car is convenient and fun, but it is not necessary, and it is very expensive personally and environmentally. We need alternatives to individual large personal vehicles, and we need them now.

The alternative vehicle of today is the bicycle, the most efficient use of energy in the known universe. A quality bicycle will give years of service. Much of the maintenance can be done at home with a few basic tools. The fitness benefits are huge, as is the enjoyment of moving along under your own carbon-free power.

For longer trips, supportive infrastructure such as bicycle racks on hydrogen buses and allowing bikes on solar powered electric rail transit networks will help people get around without cars, and without oil.

At one time many cities in industrialized nations had steetcar, or trolley, systems. America had its systems, too. Today's "Red Rocket" streetcars in Toronto are part of a system that started in 1861 with cars drawn by horses. Major US cities had their own extensive systems. New Orleans has the longest continuously used streetcar system in the world. European cities never gave up their early trolley lines and use them to this day. Melbourne, Australia has the largest network in the world.

Even Sooke had its own passenger rail service between 1922 and 1931 when the Galloping Goose, a 30 passenger car plied the CNR rail line between Victoria and Sooke twice daily. Now the route has been transformed into a trail for cyclists and hikers. What happened in North America?

Partly what happened was the Great Streetcar Conspiracy of the mid-20th century. Between 1936 and 1950 a holding company in the US bought out over 100 electric-powered streetcar rail systems in 45 large cities and replaced them with General Motors buses. The rails were either torn out or paved over and streetcars were scrapped.

The holding company represented big players that would benefit from individualizing and streamlining commuters into buses, and then cars. Corporations such as General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil, and Phillips Petroleum did not single-handedly kill efficient light rail in American cities, but they did not help, either. The Supreme court of the United States found that some charges were warranted.

"In 1949, the defendants were acquitted on the first count of conspiring to monopolize transportation services, but were found guilty on the second count of conspiring to monopolize the provision of parts and supplies to their subsidiary companies. The companies were each fined $5,000, and the directors were each fined one dollar. The verdicts were upheld on appeal in 1951.[1]

The scandal's consequences were the rise of a permanent car culture in the United States and the lack of any cohesive intercity mass transit network." Wikipedia

Our painful addiction to cars is coming to an end, as shown by recent sales numbers. They have changed enough to send one of the largest corporations in the world to the scrap heap. It is time to get out of the Hummer and into a pair of hiking boots. The wonderful book "Wanderlust: A History of Walking" by Rebecca Solnit will make you feel like walking away from your car, GM or otherwise, forever. Cars are a mobility aid we can no longer afford to use.

GM is not a sound investment. We should be investing in new, big ideas. We need to take risks and be willing to try new and exciting things to solve our transportation challenges. We may have to re-uptake old ideas that worked.

Like street cars.