January 31, 2011

No Mischief Monday

Beware of predators wearing business suits

The Adventures Of Unemployed Man

I love a good laugh, as most of us do. Martin Luther King said, "I think a great deal of truth often comes through laughter." Indeed. The moment we lose our sense of humour is the moment we are in deep trouble. We need to laugh at the world, and at ourselves. When we let mirth into our lives, new ideas emerge.

And boy, when it comes to the economy and unemployment, we need new ideas. In The Adventures of Unemployed Man by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, we laugh while realizing the truths about the unemployed uncovered by the main superhero character as he confronts the evil Just Us League.

The Ultimatum - Dark Night of Self Help - starts out admonishing the unemployed to overcome the laziness that he thinks is holding them back from achieving The American Dream. But soon he learns about how the economic game is structured, and realizes that his motivational vigilantism and self help slogans won't be enough.

Ultimatum's day job as alter ego millionaire Bruce Paine has him overseeing Paincorp, the empire left to him by his father. When Paine confronts the board with what he has found out about the poor treatment of their workers, the board - chaired by The Man - oust him. As one of the unemployed now, Ultimatum begins to see the world through different eyes.

No more butternut Manhattan leather recliner from Pottery Barn in a 100 room mansion. Ultimatum's new digs are a tent in a tent city. But the residents there enlighten him further on the plight of the unemployed, and the evil evilness of the all powerful Just Us League that keeps them in their place.

Before long the big U on ex-millionaire Bruce Paine's chest stands for "Unemployed Man". And now instead of blaming the unemployed he is fighting the powers that are exploiting the common people for their own evil purposes.

Want to laugh while learning truths about distinctly unfunny things such as the disintegrating global economy, unchecked capitalism, and rampant inequality? Check out The Adventures of Unemployed Man.

Will Ultimatum motivate and inspire positive change? Will the people overcome The Invisible Hand and SuperMax? Will the dreaded Debt Blob eat everything in sight? Visit your public library to find out.

Fantastic Facts
"Thirty years ago, corporate CEOs were paid only around 78 times more than minimum wage earners. Today's CEOs earn over 4000 times more! In fact, they can make more in one year than average earners (not the lowest) make in 90 years! They're that good."

"If the USA maintained the same income distribution we had in the 1970s, the work force would earn at least three times as much as they do today - averaging about $120,000 instead of today's $40,000. As of 2007, income inequality was higher than any year on record, save one: 1928. Happy days are here again."
From: The Adventures of Unemployed Man

Funny, eh? It might be time for all of us to be superheros and have our own Ultimatum-approved revolution. I am sure the elites in the Just Us League would get a kick out of that.

January 29, 2011

Give Beans A Chance

If there were ever a time to channel your inner hippie, grab a big bag of beans and try some vegetarian cookery, now is the time.

Beans are one of the most nutritious and versatile foods known to the human race. They may also be the most misunderstood and maligned.

Most people in the meat-centric world know beans as the magical fruit that makes one toot, or they may associate beans with poverty. Either way, many steer clear of this healthy, frugal, and sustainable food source. The lowly bean just can't get no respect.

It must be some sort of meaty conspiracy with meat merchants planting misinformation that goes viral, eventually to become an urban myth that supports their fleshy agenda.

Take the case of a 'news report' of a man sleeping in a small, poorly ventilated room gassing himself to death with his own flatus. As the story goes, he ate a lot of beans and cabbage. However, researchers looking to dispel flatulent fallacies tossed this story in the methane myth bin.

It is true that as one increases the consumption of beans they may make you toot. This is due to components of beans interacting with your unique digestive system. However, after your body adjusts to the glories of the magic bean, the effect diminishes for fart-free fun with this most sensible of foods.

Beans vs. Meat

Meat production is one of the most environmentally damaging activities humans engage in. It consumes enormous amounts of energy and other resources, including rain forests being destroyed to make way for more livestock. Growing and killing meat animals accounts for more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector.
"It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of animal flesh. It's shockingly inefficient to feed plant foods to farmed animals and consume their flesh rather than eating the plant foods ourselves."

"The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth."
Western Diet Syndrome causes a wide range of ailments resulting from a diet heavy in meat, fat, and processed foods. This includes diabetes, stroke, heart attack, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome... and the list goes on. That alone is enough to drive a person to beans, farts or no farts.
"People should eat according to the dietary guidelines for Americans, which is a diet rich in plant foods. I don't oppose meat, but they should consume red and processed meat once or twice a week, not once or twice a day." - Dr. Steffen
With advice like that coming from the medical field, it is time to give meat a miss, and beans a break. Not only are beans healthy, but they store well, can be purchased in bulk, and often at a discount. And there is more - beans can be used to make very tasty dishes.

When cooking dry beans, planning ahead is of the essence. It is going to take about an hour on the stove top, and several hours in a slow cooker. Pick through your beans - they come straight from the fields, tiny rocks and chunks of dirt and all. After picking through, rinse. You can cover beans in water and soak over night if you want. This will reduce the cooking time and, some say, the farting fun. Drain when ready to cook.

Place rinsed beans in a pot and cover with water up till 2.5 cm (1 inch) above the top of the beans. Bring to a boil and boil hard for a minute or so, then turn to simmer. Cook until tender (should be soft enough to squish a bean between your tongue and the roof of your mouth). DO NOT throw out the liquid after. The boiling water is nutrient rich, and makes an outstanding gravy.

I will be posting some recipes for bean dishes in the coming weeks. Two of my favourites are bean gravy, which is so much better than it sounds, and mexican refried beans that I eat by the litre. Our refried beans taste better and are so much less expensive than any canned varieties we have tried.

The much maligned and ignored bean. If only John Lennon had favoured them rather than peas.

Give beans a chance.

January 26, 2011

Of Mice And Men And Simple Living

My mom is good for sending me letters packed full of clippings, cartoons, and words of wisdom. I am surprised how many of these little nuggets have been surfacing as I go through my stuff in the on-going effort to create a world with no possessions. Well, at least a home with fewer possessions.

One of the items mom sent that I hung on to was a short story about finding meaning and purpose in life, and how living simply can facilitate both. There was nothing on the page giving authorship to anyone, so I am not sure who to attribute this to.

It is a nice reminder to keep things simple, quiet, and calm.

Of Mice And Men And Simple Living

A young man asked a sage what he should do to find meaning and purpose in life. "Live simply," the holy man told him. "Have only this small hut and the meager loincloth you wear. Keep the hut clean, your life orderly, and your mind quiet.

The holy man went on his way, vowing to return sometime to see how he was progressing. And this earnest young man began living his simple life.

After some time, he was distracted by the holes he found in his loincloth, and complained of it to his neighbor.

"You've got mice. Get a cat," advised the neighbor.

So he got a cat to get rid of the mice, but found himself having to borrow milk to feed the cat.

"Get a cow," suggested his helpful neighbor.

And he did. But then he had to find hay for the cow, until the neighbor counseled him, "Get a field and grow your own." The man did that, too. Before long, he acquired an estate, a wife, children, herds of cattle, machinery, servants, merchants to pay, profits to invest. His life was anything but simple.

One day, as promised, the sage returned and inquired of a farmhand about the young man. The servant had no idea who the holy man was searching for, so he took him to his master.

At the sages approach, the master of the estate vaguely recognized this tranquil man, who carried nothing but a staff, a pot of water, and the clothes on his back.

"What happened?" the holy man asked. "I left you here in a plain hut with a loincloth and instructions to quiet your mind."

The other man racked his brains to remember. He thought of his fine house, his servants in the fields, his splendid clothes. And he reflected on all the worries that accompanied them; the bills and duties and never-ceasing schemes for getting more things.

At last he remembered and blurted out, "I had mice."

January 23, 2011

Earth's Ten Commandments

Ernest Callenbach, American author of Ecotopia (1975) and other green books, has long been passionate about environmental issues and their connections to human value systems, social patterns, and the way we live our lives. He was ahead of most on the sustainability learning curve, and has good things to share as we begin to adopt 1 earth lifestyles.

The following are Callenbach's wonderful Earth-friendly commandments to live by. 

Earth's Ten Commandments

1. Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.

2. Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.

3. Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.

4. Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.

5. Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.

6. Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth's riches upon weapons of war.

7. Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth's expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.

8. Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.

9. Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.

10. Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth's bounty.

January 22, 2011

Grey Gardens - The Simple Life In A 28-Room Mansion

“The simple life is not understood in America. They’re all so rich and spoiled." - Edith Beale
I just watched the movie Grey Gardens that introduced me to the amazing, memorable story of one time socialites Edith Beale and her daughter of the same name. Big and Little Edie, relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, lived in a 28-room mansion (Grey Gardens) in the East Hamptons for decades. The mansion was bought for Big Edie in 1923, and she lived there till her death in 1977. For many of the later years mother and daughter lived in a state of poverty. However, compared to their upper crust neighbours, most people live in a state of poverty.

Some say the Edie's riveting story is about mental illness, fear, and co-dependence. I choose to focus on the more positive aspects of their tale. I saw two women determined to live simple lives free and clear of the expectations of the patriarchy and society at large. It was only because they were seen as 'unconventional' that they ended up living in almost total isolation. But these gals didn't seem to mind too much.

The quirky mother and daughter didn't aspire to meet anyone's expectations other than their own. They seemed to enjoy shocking the high society types that lived around them. Their crumbling mansion and unkempt yard was like a big middle finger flipped at the crusty elites suffocating under puffy duvets, class obligations and excess.

Both women were free-spirited artists that had a passion for music, dance, and life. Big Edie had an excellent singing voice that she often used to entertained guests in her earlier, more connected and financially lucrative days. Little Edie had a flair for fashion, fancied herself a dancer, and wished to be an actress and cabaret singer. She was an accomplished poet.

In 1931, when Big Edie was 35 years old, her husband abandoned her and the children. Mrs. Beale had a trust fund from her grandfather, but it was reportedly stolen by Beale's brother, Jack Bouvier, who wanted it for his daughters Jacqueline and Lee. He put his sister on a $300 dollar a month allowance, even though Jack himself was a wealthy Wall Street broker. The small allowance was insufficient for the two women to live on. Big Edie took to selling her possessions over the years to finance her unusual simple life.

Little Edie was a very physical woman that swam nearly every day till her death in 2002 at age 84. She also enjoyed walking. The family's lonely 1937 Cadillac sat broken down in the front yard for years with tangled growth almost obscuring it.

The Beale's disused car melting into the yard.
What Edie didn't enjoy were the stares from all the people driving by. "They look at you like you are crazy if you walk around here", she complained. Most of the time, though, the Edies stayed home, occupying 3 or 4 rooms in their aging, character-laden mansion.

These tough, resilient ladies did what they needed to do, with what they had on hand, where they were at. Because they were so strapped for cash they became experts at making do. Little Edie had a condition that caused her hair to fall out, and therefore wore turban-like head dressings all the time.

She went beyond silk scarves though, and used shirts, skirts, and whatever else was in the mansion's closets, often securing the unusual head coverings with a big, showy brooch. When her skirt became too small at the waste she wore it upside down with a large pin holding it closed. This kind of creativity, adaptability and playfulness allowed the mother and daughter team to happily survive harsh conditions as the mansion crumbled around them.

Were Big and Little Edie living simply, or simply surviving? It is hard to say, but what I can say is that these women were not willing to limit themselves to the roles and expectations outlined for them by culture and high society. They were fiercely independent and completely unafraid to be who they wanted to be. They were rebels, and their cause was freedom and living life with abandon and enthusiasm.

If you are living an unconventional lifestyle, or want to, the story and the dignity of the Beales will be an inspiration.

January 20, 2011

A World Where Everyone Wins

"Victory breeds hatred. He who has given up both victory and defeat, 
he is contented and happy." - Dhammapada

One reason I have spent most of my life not buying much is that the act of acquiring stuff usually forces one into the Ponzi scheme that is our economy. I have never felt comfortable buying and selling because I can not bring myself to adopt the killer instinct required to play the game. I would rather live without things than have to wonder if I won or lost every time money changed hands. Either way I feel uneasy afterward, and kind of tainted by the interaction.

Most people would agree that win/win situations are best. This is because cooperation is built into our genetic material. Cooperation, historically, is what has brought humanity to the modern age. It is that urge that we all have when we see someone in need. It is why we rush into burning buildings, and explains how moms can lift the family mini van off their child trapped underneath. It is why we come together in an infinite number of mutually positive exchanges every day. It is the best of what we have to offer. 

Hyper-capitalism is an adversarial business that demands winners, and losers, and that is what it manufactures the most efficiently. This competitive system is being artificially imposed upon convivial creatures in a bad experiment that is destined to never produce the promised results of plenty for everyone. Understandably, we are not responding well to this dog-eat-dog exploitative existence, and neither is the planet. We have too few winners, and too many losers. 

In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%. This is what the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat looks like under global capitalism. Those of us in the wealthiest 20% had best remember that "victory breeds hatred".

Bertrand Russell realized that we had not been honoring our innate drive to help each other, and that it had landed us in trouble. His conclusion? He said, "The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation". Cooperation is our natural state, and it is the only thing that can bring equality to all.

I hope to help attain a more equitable world by limiting my personal consumption. Lowering consumption requires a sense of cooperation because it is about living with less so that others may have more. It is about about everybody having 'enough'.

Together, we can create a world beyond victory and defeat. A world where everyone wins. That is where contentedness and happiness will be found.

January 17, 2011

No Mischief Monday

Click on image for larger version, from:  http://zoneofthefree.blogspot.com

A House Is A Pile Of Stuff With A Cover On It

"That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time."
Today's post is courtesy of the very funny and wise George Carlin (1937-2008). The following is an excerpt from his classic piece on stuff. I have looked at stuff differently ever since seeing him perform this years ago.
"A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!

Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else's house, you never quite feel a hundred percent at home? You know why? No room for your stuff. Somebody else's stuff is all over the goddamn place! And if you stay overnight, unexpectedly, they give you a little bedroom to sleep in. Bedroom they haven't used in about eleven years. Someone died in it, eleven years ago. And they haven't moved any of his stuff! Right next to the bed there's usually a dresser or a bureau of some kind, and there's NO ROOM for your stuff on it. Somebody else's shit is on the dresser.

Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? God! And you say, "Get that shit offa there and let me put my stuff down!""

"I think the human race has squandered its gift, and I think this country has squandered its promise, for the sake of cell phones and Jet Skis."
 You can read the entire transcript here. If you prefer video see it here.

January 15, 2011

Are You Outraged Yet?

I like to be as positive and optimistic as I can, but at times a bit of outrage can propel me into action faster. And it seems like there is more and more to be outraged about all the time.

A growing income gap between rich and poor, an economic system based on greed and exploitation, human-induced environmental collapse, and ineffective governments bought out by big business, are only some examples of outrageous situations that should be activating us in our quest for what we know to be fair and right. But it takes a lot to motivate the average North American, now weighed down by record amounts of fat and stuff.

When I was in Spain in 2002 thousands protested in the streets because the price of wine had gone up a bit. I remember thinking that such a thing would never happen back at home. We would just take the increase in stride and vow to work harder and make more money so we could still afford our favourite bottle.

Why aren't more of us outraged enough to take action against self-serving individuals who sacrifice the environment, their fellow humans, and plain decency in their quest for more? I wonder what it will take to jar us out of our comfortable complacency. I am not interested in inciting riots (much), but I would like to incite a bit of change.

Time to get outraged. Time to get busy.

January 13, 2011

Embracing Change

Japanese Kanji symbol for Change

Fear often causes us to resist change, even if adopting the change results in positive benefits for us. People get paralyzed by familiarity and the illusion of security, or by blind adherence to antiquated modes of being. This often prevents us from adopting change that is good and right.

But if western civilization is a loaded gun pointed at the head of the planet, as Terence McKenna has suggested, then we must embrace change before we lose our hostage. We need changes, big changes, and we need them to happen relatively quickly.

"In order to cut CO2 emissions to the levels that would be necessary to prevent drastic climate change, many details of the modern American lifestyle have to change – not sometime off in the future, but right now. The automobile needs to become much less pervasive than it is today; even an electric car has to get its electricity from somewhere, and for the time being, that “somewhere” is going to be a power plant that burns coal or natural gas. Air travel needs to become a very occasional luxury at most. The McMansion with its cathedral ceilings and blind disregard for energy efficiency needs to give way to much more modest structures. Energy efficiency needs to become at least as central to daily life as it was during the last round of energy crises."  - John Michael Greer

But were do we begin when so much needs to be done? How do we change our 5 planet lifestyles back to 1 planet ones? Leo Tolstoy keenly observed that, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." Change must begin by first looking in the mirror.

I take change very seriously for if I can't change myself, how can I expect to instigate change in anyone else? I must ask, "How can I change myself to help create a better world?" As I change my own behaviour, I begin to help change the world through my fearless (and possibly misguided) example.

So I take on challenges that require me to change in order to create the better world I envision. Sometimes, I react with fear and resistance as I ask myself to do more, or less. But I try to focus on the larger picture of 7 generations, or 70 generations, or 700.

Not using toilet paper, walking and biking to reduce reliance on oil, eating low on the food chain, and traveling less are all examples of changes that I have made in my life while trying to find the good and the right thing to do.

Kanji symbol for Fear or Terror

Are they good and right? Only time will tell, but in the process of trying them I am freeing myself to respond to situations with creativity and a sense of curiosity and experimentation. Fear and the status quo detract us from moving ahead, and they must be balanced with confidence and a vision for a more equitable, more sustainable world.

Change is the only sure thing in the years ahead, and the sooner we embrace the changes that need to be made, the better off our planet will be. And what is good for the planet is good for us. How are you changing in response to our planetary hostage-taking?

January 10, 2011

No Mischief Monday

"We want you to wake up, to wake others up. To know you are free, to think for yourself. To protect your rights and to resist tyranny." From: Zone of The Free

January 9, 2011

Taking A Break From The News

Hiking by the Sooke River near Victoria, B.C.

I am taking a break from the news for a while. I'll get my news from the sun and the moon, the ducks, otters, and trees. I will listen to what the wind and waves are saying. In the quiet I will be able to hear what I need to hear.

January 8, 2011

Working Together

Once my father accused me of being "so damn independent". I didn't think it was possible to be too independent. Don't parents want kids to be independent as soon as possible?

"Ok, now that you are walking can we get a little hand with moving the furniture?"

My dad was frustrated because he wanted to help me, and I was pretty low maintenance and self-contained. But I was missing balance.

I was missing the fact that one needs to be able to incorporate both giving and receiving. Most of us have difficulty with receiving, giving, or both, but it seems that in our culture, with so much emphasis on individualism, more of us have problems with receiving comfortably.

Giving is associated with positive attributes like generosity and strength. Cultural conditioning has prepared us to see the act of receiving in a different light. We may think of selfishness, neediness, or vulnerability. But it is not this way in healthy human interactions. We need both. We need each other.

If my dad were still around, in addition to helping him out, I would be more accepting of his help. This cycle is as natural as exhaling and inhaling.

Things work out best when we freely receive and give in a natural flow of energy and life. Our collective liberation depends on it.

January 5, 2011

Top 10 Most Read NBA Posts Of 2010

Last year the NBA blog hosted 3 800 visits from 73 countries. My analytics service doesn't start charging until one million visits per year, so I don't have anything to worry about yet.

However, visits have been growing nicely over the past year, and especially since November. Even better, return visits are growing with a full 25% of visits being people kind or brave enough to come back for more. Just over half of Canadian visits were return visits, making them the kindest or bravest of all.

The following were the top 10 most read NBA posts of 2010:
(Click on title to read more)

    1.    Simple Pleasures: Sleep
    2.    Extreme Frugal Living: The Ultimate Budget
    3.    Happy In A Hole In The Ground
    4.    Simple Living Lessons Out Of The Back Pack
    5.    After Reaching Peak Speed We're Slowing Down
    6.    The Gift of Being Present
    7.    Stay Home And Save The World
    8.    Is Greed Still Good?
    9.    There's No Garbage, Only Resources
    10.  Bake Your Own Daily Bread

Thanks for visiting our corner of the blogosphere.

Gregg and Linda

January 3, 2011

No Mischief Monday

Wanted: Brave people willing to activate and help change the world.