Archive for March, 2006

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Community Peak Oil Prep

March 30, 2006

It’s becoming more and more apparent that living in a small town might be the best bet for coping with Peak Oil and Steven over at Deconsumption has just written a useful article outlining the criteria by which someone might choose a small town to live in. However, for those of us who already live in a small town that fits the bill there is the next stage to consider. 

My town Raglan (score 9.5 out of 10 on Steven’s criteria) is indeed well suited. I’ve talked before about  the changes that Raglan needs to make to get ready. Essentially they can be listed as; Ensure a wide spread of permaculture knowledge, start seedbanking, start a farmer’s market, get a few people exploring alternative fuels, start a green dollar system and take the banking system out of the picture by extracting locally owned investment money from the corporate system and investing it in local people. Continue the great recycling scheme we already have. 

What’s great about this stuff is that even without peak oil we’d be better off making these changes. What’s also great is that many of these changes/initiatives can be made without having to waste energy on getting the local council on board. 

Having said that though there is a small town in Ireland that is preparing for peak oil and they do have the local council on board. My hat’s well-off to Rob Hopkins and the students of Kinsale Further Education College for their Energy Decent Action Plan and especially for the community consultation process that they used and especially-especially for being able to communicate their ideas to the council. 

The section on food is particularly good with ideas like planting food forests on every available patch of public land (another thing that would make a town a better place right now) and encouraging slow-food and organic agriculture – with a detailed strategy. 

I do have some criticisms but as the report was successful at swaying their local council the following comments must be read with the understanding that they are the sort of ideas that might put a council off and even though its important to consider them I myself would take them out if I was having to deal with an organisation like that. 

The best example of what I am talking about is in their youth section. I’m not happy with some of their plans to ‘engage’ youth in the changes that need to be made – especially the ‘young mayor’ idea. This is exactly the sort of fakery that is a contributing factor in the troubled lives of young people in our culture. Teenagers are dying for something real to do and here we are with an emergency on our hands and we’re giving them more pretend stuff. I would rather see their energy put in to something that matters. 

Most of the ideas are very directive which is typical of civilised thinking. I’m not sure how quickly teenagers raised in civilisation can get out of old habits (probably quite quickly if they are taken seriously) but I’d prefer to see them given a lot more leeway to come up with creative solutions to peak oil problems. Then rather than adults expending energy to keep them busy the teenagers (who have the most spare time and energy anyway) could be a net contributor to the problem solving. I’m not sure how this would work in practice but I know that we need to change our approach to this age group if we want to have a successful community. 

As for Education – I’d love to see the schools closed down, the kids put through a permaculture course and the school grounds planted with a food forest. I don’t expect many people would agree with that but at the very least the teaching of permaculture could become a focus of the curriculum and rather than leaving it to the transition year like the Action Plan suggests I’d start teaching it at kindergarten age – judging by my 3 year old’s enthusiasm for the garden this would be very successful (do we need reminding that ‘garten’ is German for garden?). This way the children could plant their school grounds into a food forest themselves. Once they’d done that each class could also become responsible for getting a food forest planted on a patch of public land near the school.  This would be a wonderful way of getting permaculture knowledge into all the homes in the town too, the kids could teach their parents! – how’s that for a revolution? 

I don’t know what to do with their Housing section. I think what they suggest is good but the building industry is so closely tied to the economic growth engine that I think this area is going to be a really unpredictable one. I also worry that too many of our houses will be impossible to get right for a low/no energy future. Even here in the north of New Zealand where we have a benign temperate climate I feel that some houses will become dangerously cold in winter. I shudder to think what will happen in other parts of the world. 

I have no major complaints about the rest of the report, I was surprised to see a section on tourism but upon reading it I can see what they are planning makes some sense. What I really should do now is get off my butt and start talking to other like minded people in town about the report and see what we can get happening.

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I am not deficient

March 29, 2006

I should mention that the results of a second blood test came back and I am not deficient.

For the uninitiated, I previously thought, courtesy of the medical profession, that I might be deficient in Intrinsic Factor (stuff made by the stomach that helps up-take of Vitamin B12). Anyway it turns out I’m not which is good really, otherwise it means I would have a problem with my immune system, and a problem with doctors wanting to jab me with needles.

The reason I am short on Vitamin B12 must be to do with my diet. The doctor was convinced I was eating enough meat – roughly two times a week – to provide adequate B12, I pointed out that I was having virutually no dairy or eggs but he was still sure the problem was not my diet. All I can conclude is that meat from cows raised on conventional fertiliser-fed grass is even more nutritionally deficient than originally thought.

Anyways, in our house we are working on improving our diets (for this and other reasons). Karen is expermenting with sour dough and I have tracked down a farmer who is happy to sell us whole milk. We pay him less than half what we would pay for un-wholey milk in a shop and he gets, I dunno, lot’s more than the dairy company would pay him. Turns out in New Zealand that a farmer can sell 5 litres per person, per day, from the farm. We’re going to get our first delivery this afternoon.

Oh yes, and we’re working on finding recipes for making liver palatable so I can send those B12 levels through the roof.

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Mower Man

March 29, 2006

I spent more time than I care to remember during my childhood mowing lawns. Even the brief jubilation of owning a ride-on at 15 quickly faded – probably due to the fact that my Dad got an under powered machine that I then had to use on our over sized property. There’s probabaly a whole of lot childhood ‘issue’ stuff mixed up with mowing for me but I’ll just keep on supressing that for the moment.Bascially it’s taken me a long time as an adult to get into lawn mowing – I still can only bring myself to mow once a month and even then that’s only because the kids are in danger of getting bee stings from the clover that took over from the proper lawn that I seeded.

There is one thing that I like about mowing though and that’s mowing gorse. For those of you unfamiliar with New Zealand, gorse is one of those introduced species that really likes the climate and is attempting a take-over of the entire country. It’s a nasty prickly plant and needless to say I had a bad experience with it as a child and ever since I can’t stand the stuff. I think the feeling is mutual. Anyway there’s nothing more satisfying than mowing down young gorse plants. Mature ones are a bit too big for the domestic mower. As a kind of joke I sent a short video of myself mowing chest high gorse to a friend in the UK. My friend called it Extreme Mowing.

Here’s where I get to the point: A few days after the extreme mowing incident it began to dawn on me that there was something about mowing that seemed to be representative of mainstream New Zealand culture as a whole. The repressive domination of things natural. The extreme control for the sake of control that made our country what it is today. The sheer pointless waste of energy.

Only now I discover that lawns and the mowing there-of is just one more piece of cultural imperialism from the USA. Via the Anthropik Network I discovered this brilliant article; ‘Why Mow‘ by Michael Pollan, which explains everything.

BTW I wonder if it’s significant that my current mower was a gift from my father?

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bits and pieces

March 25, 2006

Our 1 year old chose today to reveal that her spoken vocabulary is actually about 3 times as large as we had thought, all of a sudden she started trying out new words. She also decided to start experimenting with walking with her eyes closed! These are the things that I love about being a parent. Kids from the age of about 1 through to 3 years old are absolutely riveting – and hilarious too. You’ll often find a room full of adults goes totally quiet while all eyes focus on the toddler as they do, well, as the do nothing in particular.I’ve noticed that everywhere I go on the net lately people are saying how they wish they could find people in their area who were into the same things. Be it parents practicing alternative methods of parenting or the crowd at Anthropik looking to form tribes the theme is the same. We’re certainly feeling the same thing here in Raglan. There is one other couple here who parent like us and they’re moving away for a few months. We’ll cope but it won’t be the same.

Incidentally, where I have been today is checking out some of the blogs by young mothers. I always find myself drawn to mothers of young children, as a group they impress me more than any other in my culture. I’ve been through a fairly intense few years the last 5 years and I’ve had to change to survive. I don’t want to get into the details but one of the results is that I seem to be much more interested in talking to women than men, who, apart from a few exceptions, seem to mostly talk about kind of boring inconsequential stuff. I wonder if this is how women generally see men?

The latest topic of discussion at our place has been about home schooling. We’ve read some of John Taylor Gatto’s articles and we’ve poured over The Teenage Liberation Handbook, now we just need to figure out how we are going to do it here. One of our biggest problems is trying to enourage other people around us to homeschool as well so that there are friends around for our kids to play with. My big fear is that our kids will want to go to school just to be with their mates. I’m sure that’s what I would have been like in the same situation. We’re also worried that it will be hard work – based on the fact that it is hard work right now with a 3 yo and a 1 yo. This is not necessarily very logical. The problem is we don’t know people in our area who home school yet (there we go again). So we’ve decide we’ll order one of John Holt’s books from Amazon, sign up with Growing Without Schooling magazine and then put an add in the local paper in order to hook up with a few hopefully like-minded people. Once again I figure this would be less of a problem if we were in a village. And yes, I’m starting to sound like a stuck record with that comment ‘n all.

Damn, I’ve just discovered that GWS magazine stopped back in 2001. I wonder if there are any websites or blogs that are doing a similar job these days?

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GE Hearing

March 23, 2006

We had our GE hearing yesterday. I haven’t yet heard which way the council went but I’m not overly hopeful. Although I was surprised at just how well our presentation came together we had one more or less tedious presenter who irritated the councillors and despite our belief that the facts should decide the outcome this slip may have been enough for them to decide they didn’t like us. They mayor revealed himself to be boorish and arrogant by telling the presenter to hurry up since he was ‘bored as hell’ – I felt like leaping up and giving him a good slap. I’m sure that’s not how his mother raised him to behave.

Just before the hearing I received a posting from Joy with some good advice on how to deal with a council composed mostly of retired farmers.

…appeal to farmers’ repressed frustration with the current system; appeal to their memory of life before it; appeal to modern examples of success – small sustainable farms that are turning a profit and rebuilding their communities.

I didn’t have time to rewrite my presentation so I just tried to carry the attitude with me while I spoke but I was delighted when the speaker after me, an organic farmer, spoke about exactly this issue. His was a great presentation. He emphasised how with organic farming the farms are able to support a larger number of families and help to bring people back into the rural areas.

He was rewarded with a question from the oldest of the retired farmers about weed management under an organic regime. Our farmer gave us a better answer to this question after the hearing than he gave at the time. Apparently a lot of the weeds are dealt with by reclassification. That is, organic farmers view many weeds as beneficial to care of the land and care of the animals.

It sounds good, although I’m also aware from the US how there is a huge growth in Industrial scale organic farms but I have hope that down here we’ll be a little more immune to it.

Oh yes, I’ve just remembered, there were two unknown gentlemen sitting in the back of the hearing who I mistakenly though were supporters but actually turned out to be lawyers who work for the big agricultural research institute (Agresearch) that operates in our area. Since Agresearch’s opposition to our position consisted of a brief letter to the hearing I presume they didn’t take us very seriously and that their lawyers probably got a bit of a fright at how thorough we were. Either that or they already have the whole thing sewn up via back room deals.

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Miracle of Modern Medicince

March 18, 2006

It is a characteristic of our abusive culture to blame the victim and so it should be no surprise that the medical establishment which must, by definition, be inherently abusive ends up giving it’s patients the message that they are to blame for their predicament. 

The fact that the system of conventional medicine only wants a solution that involves a saleable drug and therefore is not interested in finding the root cause of the problem is never mentioned. Neither is the fact that they need to blame you for your poor health because the truth is too challenging for the rest of the establishment. 

Combine this with the current ‘fad’ of genetic medicine where scientists think they will help make people better by fixing their faulty genes (although so far they have only killed people) and everyone I talk to lately is left with the impression that their chronic health problem is their own stoopid fault. 

I have a Vitamin B12 deficiency. What causes it? “Well it might be that the cells in the stomach that should produce a substance that aids the uptake of vitamin B12 aren’t doing their job”. Why aren’t they? “Well, the immune system is attacking these cells”. Why is the immune system doing that? “It’s an automimmune problem.” Yes but why do I have that problem. “We don’t know”. 

I have cancer (figuratively speaking). What causes it? “Don’t know – but here’s some mustard gas to destroy the cancer.” 

I have a heart problem (figuratively speaking). “Oh yes, we know about that, it’s caused by a little muscle at the back of the heart malfunctioning.” Why does it malfunction?. Oh, well we don’t know why that happens but here’s a very expensive drug that will suppress the muscle. Only thing is it has a side effect of giving thyroid problems, but don’t worry we have a drug that will suppress the thyroid problem.” Any side effects with that? “Um yes, it causes your heart to malfunction” 

Fabulous. These are real examples that have been happening around me lately. Having written it out like that I now understand why there is the current obsession with genetics. A health system that can’t see the patient as a whole and always needs to find a patentable solution to health problems can’t ever get to the bottom of chronic illness so it needs to be able to blame genetics for our ill health otherwise it would have to own up to it’s own ignorance. What they will turn to when gene therapy fails I can only guess – maybe nano-medicine? 

Now it is true that people are genetically predisposed to certain types of chronic health complaints but this predisposition is merely the indication of their body’s weakest link. Their/Your/My problem is that the body and it’s systems are generally run down and/or overloaded with toxins and like a chain the weakest link shows signs of stress first. 

If a conventional doctor were to examine a broken chain they would zero in on the broken link, examine and test it, determine that the link was deficient in some way and decide that it should be remade with greater tensile strength or some such so it could be put back out to work. Because the load on the chain was too great for it’s abilities in the first place all that will happen is that he chain will just break somewhere lese. And the doctor who thinks he ‘fixed’ the first problem will come in to fix the next one, never stopping to assess the overall situation where he might see that there is just too much stress on the patient and that they need to take the load off their bodies. 

After the discovery of my own deficient state last week I was talking to a friend and she has been told that she has a chronic health problem, the doctors don’t know specifically what causes but say that ‘it is a genetic problem’. She’s been made to feel like she is the problem, not her environment, even though environmental causes are positively screaming at us for attention at the moment. 

Is it pure coincidence that allopathic medicine which rose to the top of the pile because of it’s ability to serve our abusive empire culture ends blaming the patient for their state of health?  Occasionally you do get an explanation such as ‘you don’t eat enough fruit and veges’ and while it’s true that we choose what we put in our mouths what is never mentioned is the huge efforts made by advertising and our highly pressured culture to affect the choices we make.  In short the explanation serves to increase the blame. 

If the medical establishment was honest they would say “We don’t really know what causes chronic health problems so we’ll just make the symptoms go away with these expensive drugs. Other symptoms will eventually return along with symptoms caused by the drug itself but really we don’t know why the body gets sick and to be honest we don’t want to know because the current system is doing the job it’s supposed to. That’s the job whereby we increase our status and wealth whilst keeping you (and ourselves) ignorant of information that would empower you to improve your health for free.

Needless to say the media aids and abets this process in it’s demonising of alternative medicine and the promotion of the mainstream form. Is it a conspiracy?  No.  Just business as usual in a well functioning system of empire.

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Stir Crazy

March 18, 2006

I didn’t intend for this blog to be a catalogue of nuclear family strife but unfortunately that’s where my life is at right now – it’s bugging me a lot at the moment because the realisation is hitting home that despite doing a whole lot of things right in the way of attachment parenting it’s pretty clear from our kids that they’re still suffering from being raised in civilisation.

Unfortunately (but also fortunately) it is true that a lot of nuclear family strife would evaporate if we lived in a village. I’m sure not all of it will since we bring civilisation with us where ever we go but let’s dwell on the possibilities for the moment.

One of our current problems is that our oldest (at 3 and a half) is going stir crazy being stuck at home. We were out last night visiting friends who’ve got kids as well and the place was a mad house. In the midst of this was our daughter being incredibly calm and independent, totally different to when we are at home where the atmosphere is very calm and quiet and she feels compelled to create a mad house to bring the stimulation levels up to meet her developmental needs (at least that’s my theory).

She generally wants an adult nearby at all times. It’s fine if I am working outside, both the kids come out and muck around somewhere within sight of me but if I am spending the day on the computer – look out! Either I get constantly interrupted or Karen gets very little done.

The continuum concept discussion list has been discussing just this issue. One writer reminded us that in a stone-age village, small children would be able to wander around finding new and stimulating things to do without needing to drag an adult with them because there would be a variety of adults doing a variety of activities in a variety of places. Our daughter needs to be self directed at the moment but still wants an adult nearby so her solution is to try to get one of us to come with her. We of course resist and either go about our own work or try to direct her into another task.

Directing her into another task produces the best immediate result and for a while peace reigns throughout the house. Unfortunately we are once again reverting to civilised parenting techniques whereby we rob our kids of the ability to think for themselves and to learn about themselves. What our daughter is doing when she is bored is entering a ‘search pattern’ of behaviour. She is trying to find her own way and then we come along and treat her like she can’t figure out things for herself and give her an officially sanctioned activity to do. The central message of this approach is that she couldn’t possibly know what is right and therefore needs someone in authority to direct her.

This message is one of the most insidious that a child receives and one that John Taylor Gatto emphasises in his writings. Next time you’re at an adventure playground where under-fives are playing – go and observe the parents, in my experience they will almost all be telling their kids where to climb next rather than letting them explore. The constant dishing out of instructions seems to be almost instinctual amongst modern parents.

Now, at last, to the positive side of the post. The village vision/fantasy I have is that there will be the options necessary for self directed play. Children can play where ever they like; little kids can play in the central areas which most of the buildings look out to, the older ones can go explore the forest up the back of the village land (or the older ones can take the younger ones to explore the forest). Alternatively they can go hang out with adults doing work in the gardens and learn how to do permaculture, or they can stay inside and help an adult with whatever is going on there. They could go hang out with the elders and listen to stories or perhaps they will have arranged for one of the adults to teach them something that day and there will be a group doing that.

We are determined that we want nothing to do with organised schooling but worry that home-schooling could be as stressful as having little ones at home. Even if we make it work, it’s entirely likely that they’ll end up wanting to go to school anyway since that’s where many of their friends will be. But not if we live in a village. A village should be a safe environment and I really like the idea of just letting the kids run wild. Anything else would involve a degree of coercion and coercion is always so exhausting – for both parties concerned. I’m also very confident that children left to their own devices will learn most everything they need to know.

In the meantime, while we’re not in a village we have to work on building a community around us anyway, one where there are similar options for our kids – we’ll just have to connect up those options with out cars.

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