July 27, 2010

It's Dinner Time – Feel the Guilt!

Category: Environment — Cranky @

Recently I began to do some semi-serious research into the food I eat. That’s a damn shame, really, because I think I would rather have remained oblivious to some of the facts.

I usually buy my groceries at supermarket chains like most other people. In some cases the vegetables carry stickers that show their place of origin, but not always. I know that I buy a lot of vegetables from California, but the fact hadn’t really sunk in before. Somebody grows a tomato in the United States, and then it’s carried all the way to me, way up here in Northern Alberta.

Now, no matter what your stance on “climate change” you have to admit that’s kind of stupid, and a terrible use of energy. We can grow a tomato here. It doesn’t make any sense to buy one produced that far away. The same goes for fruit. If I can buy a peach grown in B.C., why would I buy ones from another country?

For lots of people the answer is “price”. I’m not strapped for cash, though. I can afford to pay for local produce, and so I’ve been going to the local farmer’s market and paying more for it. Now, the produce isn’t really “better”, although it’s fresher, but I feel better about supporting local business. I don’t buy organic because the swiss-cheese set of rules that define what can be labelled organic make that designation a complete crock. But globalization in the food market is doing for local farms what Walmart does to local businesses. It can’t be sustained.

Meat… that’s another story. Meat is an environmental disaster. I’m not going to get into the details, but meat is a hideous waste of food energy, at an enormous cost.

I love shrimp, but I’ve learned the real cost of that shrimp dinner. Shrimpers in the Gulf Coast are relatively careful, and for every pound of fish they discard about five pounds of “by-catch” – unintended catch, usually dead or dying, tossed back into the ocean. In China the ratio is much worse. Every pound of shrimp costs up to twenty pounds of sea life.

Fish in general is problematic for me. All commercial fish are transported here over great distances, and are caught in ways that are also by-catch prone. The “Dolphin Safe” label means nothing, and turtles and sharks are commonly caught by accident. A 10 year study published in 2003 found that 90 percent of all large fish have disappeared from the oceans. Trawlers are tearing up vast areas of the sea floor, destroying sea life and leaving the equivalent of gravel roads behind.

Basically, every kind of food that I really like is irresponsibly farmed, unreasonably transported, or environmentally costly. About the only people who can claim their food comes at reasonable cost are vegans who eat only locally grown produce. If you’re one of those people, stop golf-clapping and pick up your teacup poodle and your green tea. I’m not converting.

I will continue to eat meat, but only on weekends. I will cut back on shrimp, but I will still consume it. I will eat fish, but I’ll choose those fish based on their estimated real environmental cost. I should have just ignored the questions. Sometimes I complicate my life unnecessarily.


July 8, 2010

On Being Open-Minded

Category: Life — Cranky @

I’ve got a pretty open mind. Now, instantly there would be several hundred people who would disagree with that, both in person and online, but bear with me. I really am open-minded. I’m open to new ideas and concepts. I’m open to new philosophies and old ones. I’m open to new experiences, new realizations, and new goals. Despite being an agnostic, I’m open to the idea of God. I’m fine with homosexuality and gay marriage. My acceptance of somebody is not based on their race or religion, but on who I perceive them to be in and of themselves.

What I’m not open to is being so open-minded that I believe indiscriminately, and I’m pretty merciless about discarding “bad information”.

If you believe in God, that’s absolutely fine with me. Have at it. But if you try to convince me there’s a God, and your proof is rainbows and baby smiles, well… let’s just say I won’t be swayed.

If you believe in ghosts, that’s cool too. How do I know they don’t exist? They might be all over the place. But if you tell me you took a picture of one, and that picture is clearly just a lampshade in the dark, I’ll be glad to tell you you’re a pinhead.

If you had a dream about an earthquake last year, you aren’t a prophet who predicted the Haiti disaster… unless, of course, somebody in your dream was holding a big sign that said, “Haiti, January 12, 2010”. Earthquakes happen all the time. It’s not proof of anything. If your dream was that precise, and you didn’t record it somewhere in public before the quake, I’ll probably have to conclude you’re self-delusional (or a liar, but we won’t split hairs).

In short, I can be convinced – but don’t try to do it with weak material.

I contend that when it comes to faith, open-mindedness is the sworn enemy of organized religion. The LAST thing that these religions want is for their followers to be open to new ideas, or to the idea of the non-existence of God. The status quo must be maintained at all costs!

Religious people usually paint agnostics with the “closed-minded” brush. The problem is that the agnostic doesn’t know, but could be convinced. A truly religious person cannot be swayed. Whose mind is more closed?


July 5, 2010

The Economy… Again…

Category: Economy — Cranky @

Over the last couple of months I’ve watched the financial news, and I’ve been one confused fellow. I’ve listened to economist after economist talk about how the U.S. has escaped the downturn, and how growth has begun. The light at the end of the tunnel is clearly visible! Sunshine and lollipops for everybody!

Horse shit. They’re either incompetent, or outright liars. Naturally, as economists they could be both. Neither option precludes the other. In fact, that’s likely the truth. I mean, come on… look at the real picture.

Unemployment is not coming down, and it is dramatically higher than the U.S. government has reported. The only reason it hasn’t worsened in the last couple of months is that hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus has artificially raised the headcount – not to mention the hiring of tens of thousands of temporary census workers. Now several million people are dropping off of the unemployment rolls, but only because their benefits have run out and congress hasn’t extended the benefits. Millions of the jobs that have disappeared aren’t just waiting for recovery – they’re gone for good.

The European Union, and subsequently the Euro, is in serious trouble, and that’s hurting everybody. In the face of international instability, even China is alarmed. They’re allowing their currency to float upwards to help other nations. China is not in the habit of doing this – they’ve historically kept their currency artificially low to stimulate trade of their products to other nations.

The DOW has been artificially inflated by unreasonable optimism, and it’s starting to recede. I’m willing to bet we see 7500 before we see 11,000 again. And who cares? It’s a big game of musical chairs. Whoever gets stuck wth the stock when the music stops loses.

Personal and corporate bankruptcies are up this month, Nearly all U.S. states are individually in financial trouble, with 16 of them leading the way, forced into massive spending cuts that will further increase unemployment. Some of them are still attempting to fund their unsustainable spending patterns with the issuance of bonds, but it’s getting hard to find buyers. Nevada, in particular, needs to cut an unbelievable 57% of their spending if they want to balance their budget. I’m going to spend a week in Vegas in early September – I’m willing to bet I find some reasonable deals as they compete for my dollars.

On top of that, the U.S. federal debt is now completely out of control. There is no possible way for them to make good on that obligation. There are only two ways out for them – orderly, selective default, or hyperinflation. Either one will devastate the economic world, but a selective default would be slightly less damaging. They could select some aspects of their debt – like treasury bills – and simply say, “Sorry. We can’t pay. You’re out of luck.”

That option would also have to extend to Medicare and Social Insurance future obligations, which by themselves ensure the future insolvency of the states. Such an option is politically difficult, so the more likely choice is to proceed, business as usual, until hyperinflation tears the heart right out of their economy, completely destroying the liquid wealth of the nation. If the U.S. was evaluated fairly by the credit ratings agencies, they couldn’t be approved for a Best Buy store card.

Most people reading that will think that I might as well be wearing a “The End is Near” sandwich board and shouting from a street corner, but I’m having a real hard time seeing any solution. If there is one, it doesn’t involve more spending, increased debt, and unreasonable optimism. It involves unbelievably hard choices and the acceptance by the average American of the fact that their old way of life is gone.

Of course I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. One thing I know for sure, though… this recession is NOT over.