Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Defense of Fiction

I'm over at Life as a Human discussing why fiction is important.

And, in celebration of spring, and also for some thought provoking reflection on the state of humanity here is William Wordsworth's poem "Written in Early Spring." With spring erupting in Vancouver now, and with all the horrors going on around the world it seems a fitting piece for the present day.

I heard a thousand blended notes
While in a grove I sat reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What Man has made of Man.

Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure -
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What Man has made of Man?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Worm Day 2011

For more information on Worm Day please see the following post from 2009:

This year's Worm Day is quite late compared to 2008 and 2009 (somehow I missed Worm Day in 2010--I must have been distracted with wedding plans) but this morning I finally encountered a world inundated with the drowned, squished, and sodden worms taking to the pavement to avoid their flooded homes. Spring may bring cherry blossoms to Vancouver but it also brings dead worms.

Spring unfolds slowly in this city. The first flower stalks reach up from the ground as early as January while the rest of the country is still buried in three feet of snow. The spring here is a mixture of intense beauty and extended dreariness. While the cherry trees spread their blossoms over the world like a pink fluffy duvet the skies remain resolutely grey and the rain is relentless. But the temperatures are warmer, sometimes up to 15 degrees and there is a feeling that summer is not far off. The beach calls to me, the trails at the dog park are busier and I can say with certainty that winter, in its dark fury, is over.

The worms always get to me. It's something about the carnage of their soft boneless bodies on the cruel concrete. They remind me of human vulnerability. Particularly in love we lay ourselves bare, coming up from the depths of ourselves gasping for air and begging for the light of our lover's gaze. In our defenseless state we are often trampled, crushed beneath the weight of rejection, sent back to the earth broken and alone. But sometimes when we come up to the surface we find the world bright and shining. We live in the clear glow of love for a time, until our soft bodies return to the earth from which we came.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


First of all, I love this song. And I love this video in all its '80s glory. And I love Alice Cooper in all his make-up covered weirdness. So here's an oldy, but goody for your listening enjoyment.

Second, our band--Ginger and Pimm's--is working on a cover of this song. So one day soon you may get to hear Alice Cooper's Poison on harp, ukulele, violin, and U-Bass with two female singers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Agriculture, Food, and Ridiculous Oxymorons

I was reading the Vancouver Sun today and stumbled upon an article entitled: "Food Firms Go High-Tech, to Get Back to Natural." Follow the link for the full story.

Wait, huh? I'm definitely confused, but I decide to read the article to see what this is about. The first line reads, "Food companies are using a growing arsenal of technological advances to try to make what we eat closer to nature." My blood starts to boil a little bit. I continue reading:

"From sweeteners to proteins to texturizes, companies such as PepsiCo Inc, Cargill Inc and Burcon Nutrascience Corp are employing an army of food scientists to help make the next generation of foods healthier and tastier, with a more understandable ingredient list.
"We are trying to make our products much more simple, much closer to nature," said Kerr Dow, Cargill's vicepresident of global food technology.
"What is great for technology is that that is really quite difficult," Dow said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit, held this week in London, Paris, Singapore and Chicago."

Now I'm getting ready to pack my bags and move to an acreage somewhere in the remote north where I can homestead. This article is beyond ridiculous. And all this "getting back to nature" stuff is actually a form of clever marketing and deception. People are tricked into thinking that sugary beverages and junk food are now "healthy" because some of the ingredients are derived from "natural" sources, like soy beans:

"Burcon Nutrascience, a Vancouver-based research and development company, recently signed a deal with Archer Daniels Midland Co to sell a soybean protein it developed that can boost the nutritional value of baby formula, sports drinks and juices without a "beany" taste or texture."

But just because an ingredient comes from a recognizably edible food source doesn't mean that it's good for you. Cyanide comes from almonds but you wouldn't want to drink a big batch of cyanide laced soda. It seems to me that the food industry wants to put highly processed, unhealthy ingredients in their products and market them as "natural". A soybean processed beyond all recognition through chemical means is no more "natural" than the other unpronouceable ingredients on a can of soda. Michael Pollan has been passionately pointing out that foods in their most unprocessed state are the ones that we should be eating. An "apple drink" made from sugar, water, and "natural apple flavouring" is not an apple! Nor does it contain any of the nutritional value of an apple, but food corporations would like you to think that it does.

I start to feel a sense of rage as I read that making products "closer to really quite difficult" technologically. Wait a second, no it isn't! Eating a food that is close to nature is as easy as going outside in Vancouver in August and plucking a blackberry off one of the thousands of prickly blackberry bushes that grow wild in the city; it's as easy as eating an apple rather than buying a highly processed apple turnover that's frozen in a box; it's as easy as using honey as a sweetener rather than white sugar; it's as easy as eating whole grain bread and fruit for breakfast rather than Wonder bread and Froot Loops. A can of pop is not good for you no matter how many "naturally derived" ingredients are put in it. It's still a sugary drink with no  nutritional value.

The article goes on to say that food companies are increasing their budgets for research and development in order to develop high-tech (read--more expensive) ways to make their ingredients more natural. The article goes on to say that:

"By 2050 we will need 100 per cent more food and 70 per cent of that will come from new technology," said Tim Hassinger, vice-president of the Crops Global Business Unit of Dow AgroSciences, which is part of Dow Chemical Co. "We believe that."

I'm pretty sure that the world isn't going to live on soft drinks, sports drinks, and baby formula, no matter how many natural ingredients are put in them. Companies are spending insane amounts of money trying to make calorie free cola taste good at the same time that the world is entering a global food crisis. Why not put some money into things that will actually feed the world? If I were starving I'm pretty sure I would rather be given brown rice and some fresh vegetables and some high quality protein instead of a can of fake sugar water that has been "naturally" enhanced so it tastes like real sugar water.

And here's the kicker--at the end of the article I read this:

John Ramsay, chief financial officer for Swiss agricultural company Syngenta, said future generations will likely consume more meat and genetically modified wheat.

What? And this is going to  make us healthier how? Picture this--the world of the future is a glorious place where we all dine on GM wheat permeated with toxic pesticides with a side of hormone injected, anti-biotic filled beef that was fed a completely unnatural diet of grains and soy, and to wash it all down we have a tall glass of saccharin liquid made from a no-calorie sweetener and pumped up with some "naturally derived" ingredients that give it a palatable taste and texture. Yup, technology is going to save the world. If anyone is looking for me I'll be taking up residence in the Arctic where I hope that arable land will be abundant in a few years when climate change melts the ice. Feel free to send supplies for a small cabin.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Amusing Facebook Updates

I have now been on Facebook for less than 24 hours. I already have 61 friends and no doubt, in a few hours I'll have more. It startled me to find that my friend requests were approved at nearly light speed. I mean some were literally approved within seconds!

After amassing some friends I started adding a few details to my profile. Things like school and city were straightforward, but then I tried to state that I'm in a relationship with my husband. Under relationship status I chose "married" then under "to" I typed in my husband's name. I hit enter to send him the relationship status request to approve. But the request wouldn't go through! A big red X showed up and beside it was this message:

M. is already in a relationship.

What?! There's apparently a small glitch in the way Facebook operates. M. has his relationship status set to "married" but since I wasn't a Facebook member until yesterday he couldn't say that he was married to me. When I sent the request the system saw that he was already married and didn't seem to comprehend that it could be me that he was married to. *sigh* *shakes head* Remind me why I'm doing this to myself?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mission Facebook Rejection: Failed

Awhile ago I tried a Facebook shunning experiment. I shut down my account and lived a life disconnected from the world’s biggest social network. And for the most part, I enjoyed my Facebook free life. I avoided meaningless distractions, I avoided Farmville, I avoided what Chris Hedges in his book Empire of Illusion refers to as this generation’s obsession with visibility and celebrity. But I also found that I was missing important information. Facebook has become a pervasive and central forum for information dissemination. Some organizations are beginning to use Facebook as their primary mechanism for advertising events and if I’m not logged in I can’t get access to times, dates, and places. I also discovered that a group of friends had used Facebook to organize a reunion and since I wasn’t logged in I didn’t hear anything about it. No other contact mechanisms were used. Finally, I discovered that the number of people reading my blog on a regular basis declined significantly after I stopped posting update links on Facebook.

So as sad as I am to admit this I have come to the conclusion that Facebook has entrenched itself into our ways of interacting and obtaining information so strongly that to decline to participate is to decline membership in an increasingly centralized community. More and more social transactions occur in the Facebook “marketplace”. That marketplace is becoming a monopoly and monopolys are dangerous. Facebook now controls, to a large extent, how we communicate with friends and family. It created a new vocabulary for social acceptance with the “like” button and the advent of status updates.

When we log in to the Facebook marketplace we are salespeople hawking our wares and the wares are ourselves. The goal is to gain currency through “likes” and accruing the most “friends”. What we are selling is an image of ourselves as we would like to be seen to the public and responses to our endless status updates fuel the contention that we can avoid anonymity by broadcasting what we had for breakfast. But we don’t own or control the marketplace--the Facebook corporation does and what they gain is access to an astoundingly huge database of consumers who provide personal information freely and are easily subjected to exploitation. While we are busy selling ourselves to the world at large we are also buying into an emerging paradigm about how the world functions, how personal value is constructed, and how to communicate with friends and acquaintances. There’s no doubt that Facebook is changing the way we interact with each other and while many of the changes disturb me I can’t deny that it’s a convenient way to keep in touch and make sure that people don’t disappear into the ether. It’s also becoming a necessary venue for gaining important information if you can manage to find it buried under the irrelevance.

So while I am very much conflicted about Facebook, I find that rejecting membership has a negative impact on my ability to participate in the communication structures of my friends and family. It is also preventing me from accessing information about local events and with this in mind I think I will have to bite the bullet and set up a new profile. I will do so, however, with a critical eye. I want to remain vigilant about what I am posting and why I am doing so. I want to control how I spend my time on Facebook and remain aware of how the content I post participates in the cult of visibility. I think if I can maintain an investigative stance when it comes to Facebook I may be able to use the good parts of it and avoid some of the more negative aspects. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I would like to try not to be subsumed by its templates and formulaic modes of personal character. I don’t want to be a series of boxes: gender, religious views, birthday, relationship status, favourite movies...But providing information is scarily unavoidable. As I tried to sign up for a new account I found that you are not allowed to register without providing your full birthday and your sex (the only choices are male and female). This bothers me. Maybe I don’t want to say how old I am and I should have the right not to provide that information. And for many “sex” is not a simple matter of choosing “male or female.” Facebook assumes a cookie cutter world in which human beings fit into one of these two categories and ignores the reality that while sex may be biological gender is a totally different thing and falls along a vast continuum, not into two distinct categories. So just on the “create account” page there are two examples of the way Facebook writes human reality and traps us all into pre-made narrative about our lives that may not in any way reflect our reality as human beings living in the world. But perhaps Facebook can still be used to say something more, something beyond what I had for breakfast.

Soul of Orkney

Shorn Sheep

Sheep on Hoy, Orkney. Andrea Paterson. 2010.

I'm at Life as Human today talking about the Orkney Islands and their power to capture the imagination.