Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Democracy by sound bite"

As soon as I can figure out how to load pictures from my digital camera onto my PC, I'm switching to a photo format instead of all this blah, blah, blah.

I like ideas and information, it's the way my brain's wired. For about 10 years now--the length of time I've been really using this interwebnet thing--I've found myself increasingly sucked into the vortex of ideas and information the Internet offers.

If I'm bored with what I'm working on, I just jog on over to a news site. (If I'm bored but not feeling very awake, I'll check out a snark site like Overheard in New York or Go Fug Yourself, or I'll visit my various and manifold fashion sites.)

My brain gets nicely filled with ideas. I feel more knowledgeable. I'm in touch with my world. I'm participating in the democracy of information that is the Internet.

But does it really help me or enrich my life in any way, or does it just keep me occupied (And seated. On my expanding, pregnant ass.) ? Because, despite all these ideas and information circulating online, I don't know if I'm getting any more enlightened.

I have a sinking feeling that enlightenment requires the precise opposite of the quick-and-dirty info promise of the Internet: it requires slow, deep, focused thought. It requires...(gasp!) limitations. (And maybe...books? Sorry, Internet. Sorry, forests.)

So I was kind of tweaked when I heard about BigThink.com on last weekend's CBC Sunday. I was a little dubious about the founder's claim that they were doing something different or new--I mean, is that really possible on the Web these days? I wondered.

I've been spending some time on BigThink and I have to say, I remain undecided.

One of their feature videos right now is a heavily edited pastiche of opinions from American politicians and assorted brainiacs on whether "the American political system is broken."

Ironically, one of the commentors (his clip flashed by so fast that I didn't catch his name) makes the blunt statement that America is about "democracy by sound bite" today. I think he's right, but maybe it's not just America's political system that's suffering this sickness--maybe it's larger than that. Much larger. And that certainly includes the very format BigThink is using.

Is the Internet, and especially sites like BigThink, simultaneously making us more broadly informed yet factually dumber? Do we really make political decisions on the basis of sound bites? God help me, I hope I don't...but maybe I do. Bottom line: does it do us any good, and if so, what good does it do us? I ask that earnestly, not facetiously.

Another commentor said something that caught my attention: "I am so sick of politicians running on a platform 'against government.'" That rang a few bells with me. But what exactly does she mean? I'll never know.

Because BigThink is just a bunch of sound bites.

So stay tuned for some lovely photos of my recent walk to the mailbox...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coffee? Tea? Baby?

Did you drink coffee while pregnant? Or tea? Or anything with caffeine?

All the stuff I've been reading has said that you should limit your caffeine intake in pregnancy to 300 milligrams a day or less (that's basically a cup of coffee a day).

A new study suggests that this amount may be too high and that pregnant women should try to eliminate caffeine to avoid miscarriage.

Something like 90% of miscarriages happen in the first 3 or 4 months of pregnancy and something like 1 in 4 pregnancies miscarry, so it's hard for researchers to figure out exactly what role caffeine plays--they just know that it does.

Personally, I could not walk within 10 feet of a coffee bean in my first trimester. Or really until my 6th month. Now I'm 7 months and my intake is creeping up again...as I write this, I'm sipping a decaf tea and contemplating chocolate...

Was just curious about those of you who've had babies...what was your experience?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finally showing their true colours

What a disgusting display of political interference in judicial matters by a right-wing conservative government: no, I'm not talking about the Bush administration, I'm talking about the Canadian government.

The Chalk River nuclear plant in Chalk River, Ontario is about 180 km from where I live. It supplies something like two-thirds of the world's medical radioisotopes, used for cancer diagnosis and treatment. In 2007, the plant was shut down temporarily for maintenance, but when the arms-length agencies that govern peaceful use of atomic energy in Canada saw that part of the plant's safety system wasn't working, they extended the shutdown until the problem was fixed.

The "problem" was that the plant was missing some key safety features that would prevent a meltdown in the event of an earthquake. My understanding is that the plant, like much of this region, sits on a major fault line. It's not as active as the San Andreas fault in California, for example, but it's just as major. A condition of the Chalk River plant's operating license is that it has to have this seismic backup system. So the experts shut it down in order to deal with the problem.

Well, our wonderful Conservative government, which has been really good at stealthily and quietly spending all of our tax surpluses and generally escaping public notice for its entire time in office, decided to interfere and override the decision of the two major nuclear governing bodies in Canada. Because we all know what scientific geniuses government ministers are. So yeah, they're definitely qualified to make that decision above the outcry of the scientific community.

The government claimed it was taking exceptional action in order to save lives, but their constant reference to the nuclear watchdog bodies as "Liberal-appointed" organizations shows their true colours: the Conservatives are putting politics ahead of safety. And I (along with a lot of other Canadians, I imagine) ask them: what about the lives of those whose world would be obliterated in the event of a meltdown? Like, the residents of Ontario within the fallout zone, for example. And the lives of all those who need isotopes and would now have to wait for a new facility to be set up? And on top of that, what ever happened to rule of law? Since when is the government allowed to interfere in the decisions of judicial bodies in this country?

My life has been affected by cancer, just like the lives of pretty much everyone I know. I don't want people to die. I've lost people I love. I thought I was going to lose my dad this year. But I'm telling you, if we don't have rule of law, we have less than nothing.

But here's where the scary part comes in. The president of one of the bodies that made the decision to shut down the reactor, Linda Keen, is one of the country's key watchdogs for nuclear safety. She was supposed to testify before a parliamentary committee today about this whole mess. Only it looks like she may not be able to do that now. You see, she was fired. Last night. At literally the 11th hour--11 p.m.

THAT's what kind of government the Conservatives are. Moderates, my ass. I never thought I'd see the day when our government started to resemble the Bushies. This story's gonna explode like a mushroom cloud.

Read more here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Congrats Gizzy and Cellobetty!

Congrats to our good friends on the birth of their second little boy...two weeks early, what a lovely surprise!


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008: International Year of "Oh, I give up"

Nobody really makes New Years resolutions anymore, do they?

We had some friends over on NYE (New Year's Eve) and one pal raised the issue of resolutions. "So," she said hesitantly, "...I guess we're supposed to, uh, say what our resolutions are. Or, you know, something."

From around the table: silence, blank stares.

"You know...." ventured another friend, "I've sort of given up on the whole resolution thing."

"Me too," echoed...everyone else. Then the floodgates opened:

"I mean, what's the point?"

"You never stick to them anyways."


"Moderation. That's the answer. You got that, you don't need resolutions."

I found the conversation refreshingly honest, and also interesting. Think of all the promises to self made around midnight a few days ago. In my mind's eye, I see all the thought bubbles floating up from a map of Canada and the U.S.:

"I'll lose 50 pounds... I'll start going to the gym... I'll get a new job...I'll be nicer...I'll invite the neighbours to tea...I'll declutter my life... I'll save for retirement...I won't buy so much crap..."

I see them float up, up...and...drift away...into the sun...where they are blasted to oblivion by February.

We all know that resolutions rarely get kept, so there's no revelation here. That they're usually about giving something up is a little more interesting. Even promises to start doing stuff...like working out, for example...are, in a sense, about giving something up. When you resolve to start working out, you're resolving to give up some time that would otherwise be spent on your butt. It's a sacrifice.

The hilarious irony of resolutions is that every year we get fatter and more weighted down by stuff than ever. The average American now consumes as much food, clothing, electronics, household goods..."stuff"...as 32 Kenyans, despite the fact that the American population is only 10 times larger than the Kenyan population.

North America is the world's most fascinating socio-bio-psycho laboratory for human behaviour. Today's experiment: How does the human animal deal with excess resources? We seem to respond with two conflicting impulses: stockpiling and streamlining.

We're a society where people can get pretty much anything they want. Even people with little or no money. We have so much stuff that we need to buy stuff in order to contain our stuff, just giving us more stuff. Usually both container and contained end up piled on a shelf, forgotten.

We have so much stuff that we have absolutely no mechanism for keeping track of what we own. The human mind itself does not have sufficient storage capacity to recall what we have hidden away in the nooks and crannies of our homes. I believe that this incapacity is the single biggest driver of sales of corkscrews and canned tuna.

I was at my mom's on Boxing Day (aka..."Buy Stuff Day") and I mentioned that I seemed to have inherited her tendency to acquire dish sets in multiples. I own an everyday set, a slightly fancier set that I'd put on my wedding registry, and a third set I inherited from my great-grandmother and which is presently sealed up in a box in the basement (I'll take it out when I buy a china cabinet to store it in...see how stuff breeds itself?).

"I don't know," my mom said, chewing her turkey thoughtfully. "I only really have those two sets over there." She pointed at one of her two china cabinets.

She glanced down at her plate. "Oh, and this set of Christmas dishes." She took another bite and considered her china cabinet again, squinting a little. "And, uh...I guess there's also that everyday set in the kitchen. And the new white set I've been collecting. How many does that make again?"

Five. It makes five, mom.

And I don't fault her one little bit. I'm well on the road to five sets of china myself. But it made me think. About stuff. About acquiring less of it. And then, in rapid succession, about maybe even making a resolution of it and the futility of resolutions in a society where one is surrounded by stuff you can, should, need to, want to buy. So much stuff. Wonderful, beautiful stuff all holding the promise of a better life.

We recently renovated our kitchen. Well, it's not completely finished yet. I'm going for "retro glam" and the glam part will come in once I receive the hardware, tiles, and other STUFF I've purchased to make the finished product sparkle. I think we single-handedly doubled the country's landfill in the process of this reno. The old kitchen wasn't easily salvageable, so...we threw it out. I have lost sleep over this wastefulness, if that helps at all. Please don't hate me.

But the thing is, the old kitchen was inefficient. It forced me to buy stuff to deal with the inefficiency. It was the kitchen's fault.

My new kitchen, though, is pared down, fine-tuned like a German engine, it will result in me needing to buy less stuff, honestly. Once I replace the old stuff that doesn't really go anymore.

So back to the resolutions. How do I make a resolution to start acquiring less stuff in a year when I know for a fact that I will be: 1) completing a kitchen renovation, 2) completing a bathroom renovation, and 3) having a baby (they are little stuff machines, I hear)?

Do I go ahead and make the resolution knowing that it will be dead by February anyways? Do I stop fighting this acquisition impulse and just buy the life I want already? Will I actually buy less if I just go out there and buy exactly what I want, once, instead of trying to make due with what I have (and inevitably having to supplement it to make it work)?

Being an overfed, overprivileged, comfortable North American can be so hard sometimes.

On the subject of stuff...here are two great NYTimes.com articles from today: one, two.