October 31, 2010

Beware Of Scary Cheap Halloween Candy

Beware of the cheap Halloween Candy (especially Nestle products)

Now that Halloween is almost over one has to be prepared for all the scary half price candy in the stores. It may be hard to resist all those big boxes of individually wrapped chocolate bars, for example. 50% off Nestle Favorites gives you 54 Coffee Crisp, Smarties, KitKat, and Aero bars for less than a ten spot. And no hassle of dressing up and going trick or treating.

It seems to be an irresistible bargain. "What harm can it do?" you ask yourself as you clutch the box of bite size bars against your growling stomach. 

A great deal of harm, as it turns out. Concerns with Nestle Corporation's business practices have lead to the company being one of the most boycotted, along with Nike, Coca Cola, and McDonald's.

Concerns with Nestle include:

    * aggressive marketing of baby milks and foods undermining breastfeeding;
    * According to the WHO, 1.5 million infants die every year because they are not breastfed;
    * trade union busting and failing to act on related court decisions;
    * failure to act on child labour and slavery in its cocoa supply chain;
    * exploitation of farmers, particularly in the dairy and coffee sectors;
    * environmental degradation, particularly of water resources;  (http://www.nestlecritics.org/)

Not wanting to add to the global misery by padding the profits of Nestle Corp., and others like it, caused my household to adopt a new rule governing the acquisition and consumption of sweets (coffee as well - we only buy Fair Trade). 

The NBA Rule Of Sweet Treats is simple and straightforward:
  • If you want a sweet treat you have to make it yourself
 Most homes already contain many of the ingredients required to make a host of dessert delights. More or less all you need are a few basics including:
  1. Sugar, honey, or other form of sweetener
  2. Shortening such as butter, margarine, or vegetable oils
  3. flour
  4. nuts and dried fruit
  5. chocolate chips or chunks
Sticking to our rule has enabled us to largely side step unethical, environmentally damaging companies that exploit workers, use child labour, don't compensate farmers fairly, use unhealthy ingredients in their products, and/or cause ecological harm.

It may not be as easy as grabbing a bit of candy in the check out lane at the grocery or convenience store, but making all your sweets is an excellent way to moderate their intake, and make sure that what you are eating is maximally good for you.

This Halloween instead of succumbing to a box of Big Business Bad Boy Bars, I made two dozen cinnamon rolls. There is nothing that Nestle makes that is as good as fresh, warm, homemade cinnamon rolls straight out of my oven. Or peanut brittle. Or custom made chocolates. Or cookies, cakes, pies, and crumbles.

And if all that is not enough, making desserts and snacks yourself will also save you money. Plus it can be immensely rewarding to learn how to make your favorite treats. 

Beware the lure of seemingly cheap and easy corporate candy. It can be more scary than you think. Try the NBA Rule Of Sweet Treats and make your favourite sweets yourself, just like grandma did. Save money, lose weight, enjoy more, and send a message to nefarious corporate entities that you will not be supporting their damaging actions any more.

October 27, 2010

Let's Look At Our Own Radicalization

 Image from: RadicalGraphics

Omar Khadr is in the news again and it made me think of radicalization in a broader sense. I decided that if The West weren't so radicalized itself, individuals like Khadr (if he is indeed guilty) wouldn't be so driven to take action against us. Consider our own radical tendencies, for they are numerous.

We are Radical Capitalists and Consumers, and we are waging a Jihad against Nature. Our maintenance of an extreme system of global inequality perpetuates the conditions that force desperate individuals to take action against our brand of materialistic militancy.

Wikipedia has a bit of information on radicalization, and it made me think of how the term affects our own notions of freedom, capitalism, and consumerism:
Radicalization is the process in which an individual changes from passiveness or activism to become more revolutionary, militant, or extreme. Radicalization is often associated with youth, adversity, alienation,  social exclusion, poverty, or the perception of injustice to self or others.
This definition sounds like a description of the conditions and effects of the last 60 or 70 years of Radical Capitalism on individuals in our society. The 'youth market' is worth many billions of dollars per year. As a culture we increasingly face adversity, alienation, social exclusion, poverty, and the feeling that something is not quite fair in our free market utopia.
The U.S. Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 defines "Violent Radicalization" as the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
 Again, this sounds like Western radicalized culture - we are promoting our extremest belief system for the purpose of facilitating our ideology of Radical Consumerism - "cheap, plastic crap for everyone".

Our environmental jihad has effects on the dispossessed in other countries, and they are forced to formulate a counter movement to balance things out simply so they can survive. Some day we may need to call on the Act of 2007 to save us from ourselves in our campaign to do violence to life everywhere.
The U.S. National Counter-terrorism Center states that there are no visible outward signs of radicalization. Changes in appearance during different stages of radicalization often are the same changes seen in individuals  who are not being radicalized, making it difficult to identify visible markers.
Look out - Radical Capitalists and Consumers look just like you and me! How do we identify those who wage war on the environment and the poor? Number of credit cards? MBA degree? Amount of off-site storage space? They could be driving hybrids to blend in with non-Jihadists.

According to the New York City Police Department, radicalization has a number of stages. Most Westerners have been through them all:
  • Pre-radicalization: ordinary life prior to radicalization (like England before Enclosure and Industrialization, or North America at the beginning of the 1900s)
  • Self-identification: individual comes to identify with the radical movement (I am a: capitalist, consumer, rugged individual, member of the middle class, perpetrator of progress...)
  • Indoctrination: they intensify and focus their beliefs (the lobbying, advertising, and media industries are richly funded organs of mass indoctrination that focus us on one belief - "You can buy anything you want... NOW")
  • Jihadization: start to take actions based on their beliefs (GOING SHOPPING regardless of inequality or environmental destruction, looking for a new planet, strong sense of entitlement leads to taking more than our fair share, profit above all, pump CO2 into the deep biosphere)
If we abandoned our Radical Capitalism and Consumerism, stopped our Jihad against Nature, and took only our fair share, perhaps the counter-radicals that are trying to keep the balance wouldn't feel that they need to hate and kill us.

The good news is that a recent study found that de-radicalization programs "can make a difference". There may be hope yet. For us, our brothers and sisters around the world, and the natural order.

Radical Capitalism and Consumerism are ideologies, after all. Not just simple facts. We can be successfully deprogrammed.

October 25, 2010

No Mischief Monday

"It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit."  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

October 21, 2010

Stay Home - Save The World

The original staycation

Activist Gary Snyder once gave the shortest answer ever when asked what people should do to save the environment: "Stay home." This solution fits with NBA's philosophy - stay close to home, consume no more than our fair share, and learn to survive and flourish in the local ecosystem.

Snyder's brand of environmental activism is based on "reinhabitation" and "wild mind".

Reinhabitation deals with committing to life in a specific place, and growing to understand oneself as a part of a community with local plant and animal life. Wild mind for Snyder means "elegantly self-disciplined and self-regulating." Nature takes care of itself, and so should we be taking care of ourselves. So far we haven't been.

Citizens of rich countries will have to become self-disciplined and self-regulated so that the rest of the world does not need to suffer the results of our high consumption habits. If we only took our fair share of the world's resources many of the problems experienced by less affluent nations would disappear.

If we limited our use of oil, for example, things would automatically improve in a nation like Nigeria, a place that has been greatly affected by Shell Oil drilling.

One part is easy. Stay close to home, just like we used to before, and will again some day, even if a small group does manage to escape to start over and plunder another planet somewhere. The harder part will be learning to control ourselves.

October 20, 2010

Simple Pleasures: Sleep

Before the invention of the light bulb 131 years ago, people slept about 10 hours per night. Dark meant time to go to bed. Today the world is always on, and sleep experts warn that the majority of us are sleep deprived.

Fatigued Americans getting some shuteye behind the wheel cause 100,000 motor vehicle accidents per year. Lack of sleep is clouding our brains, and in some cases is killing us.

The Dalai Lama knows that sleep is a great way to clear your head. It has to do with "grosser states of awareness going dormant and the more subtle state of purely mental awareness becoming evident". That makes sense - the only time most of us non-meditators shut down is during non-dreaming sleep. All the other time our minds are going at the same pace as the rest of life - full speed ahead.

Living a more simple life has taught me about slowing down, and listening to my body. And my body has been telling me I need a good 7 - 10 hours of sleep every night. Especially now that the seasons are changing and we begin the rapid slide into winter. The early setting sun upsets internal rhythms, and the old bio clock needs to be reset. That requires sleep. Lots of sleep.

Do yourself a favour - kill the lights, and sleep like it's 1860. It will do you good.

My new favourite simple pleasure is sleep. I am glad it's free. Good night. Click.


October 18, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Gen Y: Not Buying The Work World

Slackers not buying the work world

Teenage participation rate in the work force is at a low not seen for decades. Some have used this fact to predict the demise of the world as we know it. They should relax.

Generation Y, or Slackers as they have been called by the more work-obsessed, have been slagged for a variety of sins, like having a poor work ethic. They don't seem to be playing the wage drudgery game, and that makes some people upset.

I, on the other hand, am with the Slackers all the way. "Go, Slackers, go"... or should that should be, "stop, Slackers, stop"? Whatever it takes, I hope they keep sticking it to the system in the greatest exodus from wage labour since the hippies turned into suit-wearing soldiers of capitalism.

But just because Gen Y is not participating in the labour force does not necessarily mean they are lazy. Maybe they are valuing other parts of their lives more than workin' for the man. Are they volunteering in their communities? Traveling? Helping out at home? Or maybe they are just enjoying being kids.

These kids may be the ones that make a break from our current soul sucking system. A system that awards a good work ethic with longer hours, worse conditions, and declining pay.

And besides, I thought the whole idea was to reduce the number of hours we had to work in the future. Isn't that what time-saving convenience technology and mechanization promised? Don't we all dream of a 3 hour work day, and shouldn't it be possible after two hundred years of industrial 'progress'? Why isn't increased efficiency freeing us from the drudgery?

Labour activist Paul Lafargue (1842-1912) thought God was the ultimate Idler: “After six days of work, he rests for all eternity.” And we get two weeks of holidays a year, if we even choose to take them. We are suffering from Idleness Deficit Disorder, and it is making us very sick.

I hope Gen Y is simply creating more balance in their lives - and releasing their inner idler. That is something I would support. If I could get off the couch. Go Slackers!

October 15, 2010

Make It Last: Item #5 - Shaving Supplies

North Americans are completely Trichophobic - we have a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of hair. I must have trichophobia , too, because I keep on scraping my face with sharpened pieces of metal. Expensive sharpened pieces of metal.

I have made my razor last for so long that I can't remember how old it is. It only has a double blade, so that puts it into historical perspective. Since I bought it the triple and quadruple-bladed razors have been on offer to the hair-phobic masses.

I have resisted making the upgrade, but the other day my old razor handle finally wore to the point that it would no longer hold the blade on. But I still had a stash of blades. They would be useless, because you can't buy the handles any more. Did I mention that blades are expensive?

The thing that ticked me off the most was if the handle of the razor had been constructed out of metal it would probably last for generations, or at least my lifetime. But that would not be profitable. It is simple planned obsolescence.

Razor handles are pretty much given away by companies to get trichophobic men hooked on the really expensive part - the blades. And the more cutting edges per blade, the more expensive. When does it stop? Can Octo-blades be far away? Will the shave be twice as good as the quad? I don't want to support this kind of insanity. It was time to get creative.

MacGyver was TV's go-to guy when it came to doing what you had to do, with what you had on hand, wherever you were. I fully appreciated his use of imagination in dealing with challenges:
“When something's broken, the easiest thing is to throw it away, forget about it. But if you just step back and take a look at what you've got, you find a totally different way for it to work.”.
At first I could not imagine how I might affix the blade to the handle as worn out as it was. But when I stepped back and looked at what I had to work with, I found a way. A small piece of bent paper clip, a candle, a pair of pliers, patience, a steady hand, and in 5 minutes I was looking at my New, old razor.

It would have been easier to throw my old razor (and blades) in the garbage, and go shopping for a new and improved shaving system. Apparently that is what we call a razor these days. I guess it helps justify the stratoshperic cost when you feel that you are getting an entire system for dealing with your cultural anti-hair phobia.

I am not buying all the sleek, modern, aerodynamic hair removal systems being offered non-bearded men (100 times better than a sharp stone!). I will make my current outdated 'system' last for a while longer, then decide how to proceed.

I will either pull a Grizzly Adams and grow a big bushy beard, or buy a straight blade and strop that will provide clean shaves for the rest of my life.

I like to think that MacGyver would appreciate my razor repair, and creative use of the resources on hand in solving my latest make it last challenge.

October 11, 2010

October 10, 2010

The NBA Rules Of Acquisition

The morally bankrupt Ferengi are a fictional race of ultra-capitalistic traders from Star Trek. They have 285 Rules of Acquisition that govern all of their interactions. For example, the first rule is, "Once you have their money, you never give it back", and the twenty-first rule is, "Never place friendship above profit". They must teach this stuff in MBA programs.

The greedy, conniving Ferengi describe the acquisition experience in their "5 Stages of Acquisition":
  1. Infatuation: An unreasoning love or attraction for an object… "I want it."
  2. Justification:  Fabricated moral justification for possessing  object… "I must have it because __________ (eg. I deserve it)."
  3. Appropriation: To take in to one's private domain in exclusion of all others … "It's MINE at last." 
  4. Obsession: A compulsive or irrational preoccupation with things … "My Precious!"
  5. Resale: Coming down from purchase high and selling object… "Make me an offer."
The NBA rules of acquisition are a little different, although the Ferengi five stages of acquisition are probably universal, and must be contended with on a regular basis in a consumer society. The NBA rules help in this regard, and allow me to avoid the temptation to acquire more stuff and needlessly complicate my life.

The NBA Rules Of Acquisition
  1. No possessions shall be replaced until broken.
  2. Broken possessions shall be repaired (DIY whenever possible).
  3. If item can not be repaired, is it really necessary to replace it?
  4. If item is deemed necessary, item can be replaced.
  5. Purchase used item, if available. Is there a free alternative?
  6. Replace item only after an appropriate waiting period (to see if item is really required).
Using the above rules I maximize on the resources I consume, and lower my footprint. I avoid endless upgrades and storage or disposal of unused items. Limiting the turnover of a vast array of consumer items keeps my living space manageable, and my life uncomplicated. As if that is not enough, following these rules helps me save money.

The rules also help me to honour the sacredness of all that comes from our bountiful earth. This pretty much includes everything.

So I honour my toaster oven with the paper clip for a handle. I honour my still-working microwave oven that is several decades old (turn it on, and run). I honour my 23 year old bicycle, my old iBook G4 (on its 2nd hard drive), my first-generation iPod, and the 16 year old truck I sometimes drive.

The NBA Rules Of Acquisition help me to limit my impact on the environment while teaching me to be thankful for the things I have. I am more appreciative of my stuff because there is less of it. An uncomplicated life with less increases clarity, and allows me to focus on the important stuff - which is not stuff.

Someone should tell the Ferengi (and MBAs) that.

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart."  - Helen Keller

October 7, 2010

Time To Honour Your Priorities

What good is a career if it gets you more money, but less enjoyment of life? I would rather live less profitably, but more happily, honouring my priorities and doing what fills my soul. I look for my satisfaction to come from people and experiences, not material goods, and that is why I am not buying anything.

One of the highlights of living with less is an increase in the amount of time to be. To be you, and do things you are most passionate about. Things that may not have any economic benefit, but that benefit your overall well-being in important and vital ways.

Since my own downsizing conversion experience I have enjoyed many non-profitable, and awesome activities. Learning to play guitar is one of them. It was something I gave up decades earlier, and I feared that I would never get around to it again. I am glad I was wrong.

Learning to cook and bake have yielded hours of enjoyment, and have improved my health while saving me money. Also, just sitting and experiencing life is now possible, and I have found that watching the grass grow has definite meditative benefits.

On a more active note, two of my favorite passions are walking and being in nature. When I was younger I spent most of my free time outside adventuring, and sleeping under the stars. As my friends and I got older careers became the focus, and outdoor adventure was more of a luxury.

View from a hilltop overlooking home, sweet home.

But my yearning for natural places did not diminish. Now I am able to immerse myself in the beauty of nature more often. The photo above was taken on a hike I went on yesterday. I did not sit at the top of the hill in the sun thinking I would rather be at work. I may not have a million bucks, but up there I felt like a million. Priceless.

Living with less stuff means less work, and that means more time. More time to help a friend move, hang out with family, or enjoy the quiet of natural places. More time to grow a garden, or bird watch, sew, can, fix things, read, or lend a hand to those in need. More time to do nothing, if that is what you choose.

Are you honouring your priorities? Or is the profit-driven model driving your life? If so, living more simply may be the answer to the time deficit problem that goes hand in hand with working for the money.

What would you do if you had more time?

October 4, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Pictured above is some of the bounty harvested from the 2010 Not Buying Anything 1 square foot garden. I already had the container, and the soil, and I planted kidney beans from the kitchen. What we lacked in quantity was easily made up in taste. Giant, beany taste, and more or less, free. Magical.

October 1, 2010

Venturing Into The Habitat Of The Consumasaurus

"Shopping is serious business." (so is extinction)

The last time I was in a large mall was in Istanbul almost 10 years ago. But today, I ventured into one again. I was on my way to the Government of Canada passport office which happens to be in a massive monument to shopping.

The Bay Centre in downtown Victoria, B.C. is four floors of glitzy enticements spread over 2 whole city blocks. How would I react after all these years of being deprived of status-conferring shiny new Stuff?

As I walked through happy crowds of shoppers I noticed a distinct smell - the smell of new stuff. It was just as I remembered it, except now I know that that alluring odour is the smell of off-gassing industrial products. I looked around me and wondered what the attraction was that kept so many people spellbound on a such a beautiful day.

Everything was clean - it didn't look like a battle ground. People were sitting and resting everywhere. How many were here because they were lonely, or because there was nothing better to do?

There weren't any entertaining touts, like in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (quality shopping since 1461). There they honestly asked if I, "needed any help spending my money". However, the intent of our malls is exactly the same. We just have more subtle and subversive ways of separating people from their money.

Large, brightly lit advertisements vied for my attention. Piles of things tottered on tables promising terrific prices. "Let us help you spend your money", they cooed, "you'll be happy you did".

What I quickly found, though, was that I was feeling impervious to their game. I felt no yearnings to purchase, no desire for anything except to conduct my business, and get out alive with all my money. Am I evolving into a simple living human? Or is that devolving?

I felt like an intrepid explorer that had thrown himself back in time to experience the death throws of the once mighty species known as Consumasaurus. Here they were, foraging in their natural habitat, while the comet of debt, greed, inequality and environmental destruction hurtled toward them. I quickened my step - I wanted to get out before the comet hit.

After walking the length of the mall, taking an elevator to the fourth floor, then traversing the entire food court, I found the passport office. Looking through the glass doors I could see that the large waiting area was packed with hot, bedraggled passport applicants. I didn't even go in.

I had a sudden urge to be outside in the sunshine, to smell the ocean breeze and see the green and blue hills. I turned around and fled. Was I disoriented, or do they make it easier to get into malls than out of them? Help - I have entered a mall and can't get out! I found an elevator, and hit the button. One floor up the elevator doors opened and disgorged me directly onto the street.

I was disoriented, but victorious. I escaped before the comet struck. I had all the money I walked in with. I had been thrust back out into the real world - spit out by a machine that I was no longer a cog within. I was free of the desire to shop.

I felt the sun on my face, and a breeze rustled my hair. I half expected that if I turned around and looked the elevator doors would be gone and a blank brick wall would be there instead. It felt like a slightly disturbing dream. I checked to make sure I had clothes on.

I didn't push my luck and look back. Instead, I looked toward the hills, laughed, and ran.