Thursday, March 29, 2007


A few weeks ago we had a big snowfall here but I never wrote about it in this blog. It was heaps of fun. Especially because we had a freak winter with barely any snow at all so this was our only chance to play. The snow is already melted now and we have beautiful spring weather (I could wear a t-shirt outside earlier this week). But just three weeks ago this is what St. Paul looked like. Marco and I took these pictures walking back home from the studio after work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Politics - Still an Open Question...

It's funny, I just can't seem to get past the question of politics this year - my own politics that is.

If you've read this blog over the past few months you've heard how I've criticized and rebuked some of the liberal politics of my friends and family. I think anyone close to me here knows I've been a bit cantankerous and scratchy about their leftyism. I guess it's part of me coming home and re-adjusting to the way people think here.

But I think it's more about style than substance. In the end my political beliefs aren't so different from theirs. It's the manner of discussing them and framing them that seemed to get my goat. I feel like their positions are so moral and emotional (which I'm uncomfortable with), and I think my positions so rational and un-emotional (which they're uncomfortable with). But in the past months I've thought a ton about our differences, and had some good talks. I start to readjust to their ways and see validity in them.

On an ironic side note, I also just took a French politics quiz that my French friends were emailing around. Admittedly I wasn't familiar with half the issues (like what level of bureacracy should France get rid of - departments or agglomerations??) but I answered all the questions anyway and it turned out that the presidential candidate that I most resembled was a guy from the LCR party. I looked that up and learned that LCR stands for (if I understood correctly) La Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire - the Communist Revolutionary Party! Blimey!! And I'm trying to say I'm not lefty! That made me laugh. It's probably because I said I supported lowering the famous French 35-hour work week to 32 hours! Hee hee. I can say for the record, however, that I am not too thrilled by revolution, nor by a communist state. Can't say either of those things appeal to me at all actually.

Anyway, that got me thinking that I've written in my blog about what I don't believe in, but not really about specific issues that I do believe in. So here is a short list of three issues I definitely belive in:

1. Environmentalism:

This has always been the one issue that I find the easiest to support and it is the issue that has the most emotional impact on me. I support most political initiatives that seek to minimize human impact on nature and I also stronly support personal changes in lifestyle that lead to sustainability. I rarely favor business interests over the well-being of natural systems. I grew up spending a lot of time in forests and by streams and rivers and I love those places as if they were people. When I return to the stream near my childhood home I feel warmed like seeing an old friend again and I feel very protective of it. Nature means a lot to me.

2. Consumerism:

I find issues that surround how humans consume the material world to be of huge importance. Naturally this is connected to my interest in environmentalism, but I also think that the way we consume has an enormous impact on the relationships between people. Some of the biggest shifts I can think of in American society are directly related to how we consume things - take the adoption of the car as our primary mode of transport for example - it led to suburban flight, the decay of the inner city, and a crumbling of traditional face-to-face community (due to the door-to-door nature of car travel, which lacks human interaction one might find walking in a village full of shops and people). I think it drained away some community that Americans experience on a day-to-day basis and that's in turn led to many other negative social effects.

I started studying how we consume back in my university studies and it has remained at the top of my thoughts and studies to this day. I don't believe we need anywhere near the amount of stuff we own. I am largely anti-stuff.

Paradoxically, however, I am also STRONGLY against ascetic philosophies like Buddhist monks or early American Protestant pilgrims. I don't think sensory deprivation is healthy for the body or the mind. Instead I think we live best when we relish the things we consume, but consume less. Whether it's the flavor of summer bell peppers or pair of jeans that fit perfectly or a delicate Chinese tea cup, I believe we benefit when we savor an object's unique sensual qualities. My theory is this: If people relish all that is material (including things free and available to everyone - like an invigorating stroll, or the smell of spring breeze ) then they feel satiated and appreciative and do not need to consume or buy large quantities of stuff. They are content with small amounts. I think Americans are such bad overconsumers partly because we, as a culture, pay little attention to the quality of what we consume and hence have a large unsatiated vacuum that we compulsively try to fill. We gobble but don't relished. We are almost embarrassed by sensualty. I liked in France how people could eat one or two small squares of delicious rich chocolate and stop there because it was just a perfect sensory moment and they needed no more. In the US you order a desert and you get a monstrosity topped with chocolate syrup, ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry and it's terrible quality and it's too much food for 3 people to finish (and 2/3 of it usually end in the trash). All because people are unaware here of how to use their senses as a tool for good living and to savor in small quanitities.

In sum, less stuff, but better attentiveness to the unique sensory qualities of that stuff.

3. Hierarchy and inequal distribution of wealth:

I believe that highly unequal distributions of power and wealth within a society are destructive to its members. I'd like to reiterate what I said above - I'm certainly no communist and I do not believe that a forced redistribution of wealth works at all. But I do think that when the people at the top of society have hundreds of times more wealth, power and hence freedom than the people at the bottom, this is a wellspring from which numerous social tensions arise. In the end I believe this benefits no-one, not even the wealthy. I've read a study recently that there is a threshold of wealth, where wealthy people actually experience more stress due to their wealth than people with medium income. This comes from primarily from two things: (1) they fear losing their wealth and (2) they have to work increasingly hard to keep up with the upward-spiral of material expectations of their peers (i.e. they have a Mercedes but feel inadequate because their colleague brags about his new rare vintage Bugatti. Then if they get an equally stunning vintage rolls royce or something like it, they find their colleague is getting his pilot license to fly his private jet).

I do think that a society with a relatively even distribution of wealth experiences less tension and more cooperation and social cohesion. At least in theory. Seems better to me.

Well there you go, three of my top political issues.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Spring

Just had to pop in from my weeks of silence to wish everyone a happy first day of spring! This is one of my favorite landmarks of the year. I must have some old bit of pre-christian-era druid in me or something because I'm always disappointed that we, as a society, don't make a big holiday out of the solstices and the equinoxes. It could be so fun, dancing around maypoles or jumping over bonfires or whatever people used to do. Better than Presidents' Day at least...