Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Putting the Brakes on Car Culture

I love biking and walking everywhere, but Waterloo Region - and many other places - sucks for cyclists and pedestrians.  I lived in Ottawa for a year, and it totally ruined me for any other city.  They have off-road bike lanes so cyclists don't have to dodge storm drains, garbage, parked cars, and the ever-feared, sudden and deadly driver-side-door-openings.  And when that wasn't feasible, at the very least they had barriers between bikes and cars (see photo - sweet, eh?).  A recent editorial in the G&M suggests that's most important:
"Designing bike lanes physically separated from other traffic – like those now popping up in Montreal, Vancouver and other cities across Canada – is the key to shifting commuters out of cars or buses and on to bicycles."
But if we can't do that, because we're running out of room on the streets as it is, all it would take to make our city less car-centric is to enforce some existing laws and guidelines that have been forgotten along the way and to stop building multi-lane roundabouts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Nuclear Power

The only safe nuclear reactor is 93-million miles away, the sun -  Daniel Hirsch

We've got record temperatures, and lots of truly frightening climate change data, just in time for a regional by-election.  The Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) is working to make nuclear power an issue this election.  It seems to me that if we want to wean ourselves off nuclear, we all have to vote NDP.

We don't have any recent movies like Silkwood (a true story) or The China Syndrome (in theatres 12 days before the 3-Mile Island accident) to scare the bejesus out of people anymore.

We just have real life.  But some still believe that nuclear is the way to get us out of this greenhouse gas mess we're in.

On Sex and Perversions

I want to revisit one of Freud's ideas further in light of a few news articles from yesterday's paper.  He said,
"The demand for a uniform sexual life for all, which is proclaimed in all these prohibitions, disregards all the disparities, innate and acquired, in the sexual constitution of human beings, thereby depriving fairly large numbers of sexual enjoyment and becoming a source of grave injustice" (C&D 53).
He goes on to discuss not just S&M and, what's old hat now, LGBTQ and "non-genital" sexual experiences, but also our practice of monogamy.  He opens the question of why civilization, it seems, necessarily restricts sexual practices in a way that doesn't happen with most other mammals, but he's at a loss to answer it.  In a previous post, I suggested the following:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

On Work and Love

I’ve been trying to write every day for the 21 days my youngest is at camp, but I missed Friday because it was finally cool enough to do some necessary yard work. But it gave me a chance to further contemplate Freud’s idea that work, not love, is a key to happiness.

My family of four typically produces one milk bag’s worth of garbage each week. How cool is that! I’m careful about what I buy, and I recycle and use the green bin for meat and dairy. And, I think most importantly, I compost. Sure you can put everything in the green bin, then drive to the dump to get compost for your garden, but I like to take out the middleman. It makes sense to compost and use your own garden waste on your gardens. If everyone did it, it would save the city tons of money and energy carting our leaves and orange peels across the city.  Plus, I don’t trust that someone in the region isn’t "green binning" hardy weed seeds or diseased plants or “biodegradable” plastics, which really just decompose into tiny bits and add petroleum to your carrot patch. Bletch.  So, the work...

On Aggression: About Those Shootings

While a tragedy, of course, statistically we're still doing really well compared to others compared by geography or time.  It's frightening when violence strikes so close, but we're still living in a relatively very safe time and place.  BUT, if we want to ensure it stays that way, we feel we have to do something even if it's only to be productive in the face of adversity.  But can we actually create a society where people aren't violent with one another?

Last Wednesday, Margaret Wente suggested that all this gun violence is largely because of single-parent homes: "The evidence is plain that children born to unmarried women – of whatever race – do much worse than children with two married parents."  As a single mom, I'm dubious.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On How to be Happy

At 74, after the roaring twenties came to an end, and the depression was just beginning to settle in a while, Freud wrote Civilization and its Discontents. This was a few years before the Nazis would allow him to leave the country but only after forcing him to sign a statement saying he was not mistreated.  He sarcastically asked if he could add, “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”  This is something to remember:  He was a ballsy guy.  To write the books he wrote at the time he wrote them, took courage. He also famously noted, “What progress we are making.  In the Middle Ages they would have burned me.  Now, they are content with burning my books.”  The following year, after a long struggle with cancer, his doctor helped him die with an overdose of morphine.  He missed all the burning the Nazis did.  This book explores how to be happy in the face of misery, and he espouses a surprisingly open view of sexuality near the end.  (This very well may be the longest post in all the land!)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An Impressive Stupidity: On Sartre and Syria

I don't have a background in English literature, yet I just spent a semester teaching it - poorly.  And it struck me why I love philosophy and hated English.  During my semester I had many instances of doubt in my understanding of certain texts, and I didn't hesitate to ask colleagues for help.  The palm-to-forehead reactions at my ignorance was a set-back. It was insisted that either I DO understand it - surely I must by this point- but somehow I just don't recognize that understanding, or I should ignore this line of questioning completely and focus on the issues in the plot-line.  And I realized that if in studying English I suggest that I don't really grasp the symbolism or the connections in a simpler Shakespearian comedy, it's embarrassing, but if in studying philosophy I'm not entirely solid on Sartre's phenomenology, it's a much more impressive stupidity.  And because of that, I think, we're more free to discuss it at length and really get to the bottom of some understanding of it allowing for the possibility that we might not entirely understand - or I might not.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On A/C and Cars: Luxuries or Necessities?

"If we keep doing what we are now doing, we are screwed. This we know now."  - David Roberts

It's going up to 42 today!  That's really hot.  So far my house is a reasonable 28.  I don't have A/C.   I open the windows only when the temperature outside is cooler than inside; otherwise, I keep them closed.  I keep all the lights off almost all the time, and I avoid cooking.  These three things really help.  

When we were kids and we whined for an air conditioner, my dad insisted that it was his duty as a good father to ensure we were raised to tolerate the temperature extremes of our part of the world so we could learn to adapt to them.  If we were raised with air conditioning, his theory went, we'd grow up intolerant of the heat and then, he assured us, we'd be no good to anybody.  We were allowed to have heat in the winter however (20 max) because even strong healthy people die of the cold, but if you're healthy and fit, you should be able to tolerate whatever heat waves Southern Ontario can deliver.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On the Ethics of Wealth

"There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living." - Thoreau

Tony Shin sent me this info-graphic and asked if I'd add it to my blog.   Of course I have a few things to say about the 1% first.

Paul Feldman did a study in the 80s with bagels being sold on each floor of an office building using an honesty jar and price list.  He tracked who paid the right price for the bagels.  The people in the lowest floor - the mail room - paid about 95%, but as they went up the floors, and up the corporate ladder, the sales were worse and worse.  The richest people paid the least.