Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Cars PT 1: Long commutes lead to more than congestion

[“The survey found that traffic congestion is the biggest frustration for all commuters. More public transit means less congestion, another message that has to be delivered forcefully and effectively.” Aug. 27, J. Hendry, London Free Press]

Each year many of us are spending more and more time in our cars. We love them.

We’re driving more miles in more comfort than ever before now that car seat warmers are becoming standard fare. Our rear ends love them.

Urban sprawl has created longer commuting times and the automobile is seemingly the fastest and most convenient method of travel for most workers. The economy loves them.

Cars come equipped with so many other creature comforts (“Kids, wanna watch a movie?”) and conveniences (“The bus stop is three blocks away. The car sits outside my front door, waiting to serve.”) most people will never give them up. Our addiction level is in the red zone.

So, when city leaders wonder how they will ever get commuters out of cars and onto electric trolleys or diesel-fueled buses in order to reduce congestion and pollution levels, they’re up against the power of love, comfort, convenience and addiction.

["The Falcon came with its own beer fridge!": photo link]

Yes, city leaders, along with urban thinkers, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts, and other concerned citizens, will all face a great challenge when attempting to reduce the number of drivers on the road.

One writer, Jim Hendry, suggests ‘forceful messaging’ and a “well-publicized 50% off day - or even ride free day” to get people to try public transit.

About that, all I can say is, “Good try, Jim.”

Recent discussion about commuting times and costs have caused me to rethink my own relationship with the 2005 Honda Civic that sits outside my own front door. I don’t love it, but I do like it enough to keep feeding it. Where did this connection all start?

Like many other boomers (people born between 1947 and 1966) I developed an appreciation for the auto back in my teens. My dad’s 1957 Dodge and 1961 Falcon stand out in my memories, cars that didn’t suck in appearance or performance and got me around town and to the movies in a very reliable and fun-filled manner. (The Falcon had a cool air-venting system that included a small box - with a fairly easy-to-reach door near the driver’s left knee - that was big enough in which to hide two beers in stubby bottles. Put them in warm, pull them out cool, even cold, after a short drive. That feature is one I’ll never forget).

The first car I bought - to get to work across town - was a well-used 1964 Volkswagen, for $400, with no working heater or gas gauge. My wife and I rubbed our hands together a lot in the winter, kept the defroster on high, and, because the reserve tank didn’t work, checked the fuel level by sticking the butt end of a hockey stick into the gas tank.

Later cars were in better shape but, if given the opportunity to get one of my earlier cars back, I’d ask for the Volkswagen, dented hood and all.

Twice in my life I’ve tried living without a car, the first time (mid-1970s) because money was really tight, the second time (about 7 - 8 years ago) in order to see if my wife and I could survive without one. Both instances ended with another car purchase, for reasons that seem applicable to the current discussion about commuting and public transit.

My feelings: Long commutes lead to more than congestion, but there will be some winners in the debate.

More to follow.


Please click here for another very exciting series about very relevant issues!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bird Watching: I’ll be as industrious as an ant this winter

On a recent bicycle outing through Greenway Park I spotted a kestrel atop a signpost.

["Atop a signpost, mere steps from the bike path"]

Fortunately I was carrying a pocket camera and snapped a photo before the bird flew across to sit upon a soccer goal post.

After I returned home I Googled ‘kestrel’ and read the following:

“North America’s littlest falcon, the American Kestrel packs a predator’s fierce intensity into its small body. It's one of the most colorful of all raptors: the male’s slate-blue head and wings contrast elegantly with his rusty-red back and tail... Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles... Kestrels are declining in parts of their range; you can help them by putting up nest boxes.” [link to more kestrel information]

["American Kestrel atop Greenway goal post": photos by GH]

Once I gather information re kestrel nest boxes and check my lumber supply I may draw up another project. Not ‘my next project’ because I have a few on the go and more on the list.

However, if I keep my nose to the grindstone, stay as industrious as an ant, I may have a nest box or two ready for spring.

Have you made a nest box for a falcon? Any tips?


Please click here for more about a recent birdhouse project.


Austerity Without Anxiety (most of the time): Two people live in this one house

Granted, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Sometimes, they’re from farther away than that.

Daily I’m reminded that two very different people live in my house. Sorry, our house.

He gets up in the morning, showers, dresses, makes coffee and then hunts and gathers for breakfast before sitting down to think or write.

["He leaves items on the counter to share with her": photos GH]

She rises a bit later, showers, dresses, dries her hair, puts on makeup while listening to CBC Radio news, then thinks about breakfast, often one that includes his leftover coffee (“Drat!”) followed by a toasted bagel from the nearby Little Red Roaster.

Coffee, refills and toast or bagel don’t cost much on a daily basis but over the course of a month or year can top out at a surprisingly high number.

He thinks about the cost everyday and eats the expensive PC Meusli she buys topped with the cheaper, crappier Cheerios on occasion (in his mind and wallet, closely linked, this makes the cost per bowl cheaper than straight PC Meusli). He often hopes she will do the same.

She has been cooking meals for 41 years and more often that not prefers to pay for someone else to toast and butter her bagel even though she buys two or three kinds of cereal just to have something on hand and (possibly) irritate her husband.

He often leaves leftovers out on the kitchen counter near the coffee pot to tempt her to the eat at home and save money. She knows this and thinks he’s a goof (though still quite the catch) and that nothing has really changed since they married in 1970.

He tries not to worry that the two of them aren’t always on the same page. Life is a journey and she recently made great homemade soup and muffins so nutritious and inexpensive lunches would be on hand.

And how much can fresh blueberries cost? (He doesn’t really want to know).


To keep the peace - and keep from blowing a gasket - I remind myself often of the things I buy primarily for me, e.g., gas and insurance for the motorcycle, tools for the workshop, bargain books, used T-shirts...

That reminds me, I need a good used, sweatshirt for fall.

Please click here for more Austerity Without Anxiety.


Cartoons in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 25

“Ben was delighted that his body had a mind of its own. That his mind had a body was troubling.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 24.


Monday, August 29, 2011

The Workshop: The 'treetop trilogy' will soon be complete

When I first started building large bird condos (4 - 6 units above a feeding platform) I had three projects in mind:

["Birdy B & B under construction last winter"]

1. The Villa w four units

2. The Birdy B & B w six units

[Photos by G. Harrison]

3. The Something Else but I Don't Know What.

Well, after a relaxing weekend in Fenelon Falls caring for and chasing (in several directions at once) my twin grand-daughters, I've come home to the workshop with some sort of plan for condo three, but only in my head. I plan to build a taller unit, including 8 condos and large feeding surface, with indoor plumbing and outdoor pool. In Fenelon Falls, birds love the water, and I bet they will here in London too.

However, due to restrictive building codes in my area, I may have to forget the plumbing. Or just wing it.


Please click here for more news from The Workshop.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

It Strikes Me Funny: Got a hobby? Why not talk about it?

The first group of people I met this morning (a dog washer in a blue swim suit, a brown retriever getting a bath, the retriever's owners who could afford the dog but didn't care to wash it themselves) were funny enough to rate a lengthy mention here but they seemed a bit skeptical about photos and an interview for my blog.

"So, do you know that guy?" I asked the couple who weren't even willing to dry their dog off. (I pointed down the beach to my left).

"That guy? That's Harvey Johnson." (Author's note - that's not his real name. He turned out to be a crank).

"Fine then. I'll talk to him for my blog," I said, and approached Harvey.

"Harvey. Hi. Can I ask you a few questions for 'It Strikes Me Funny'?" I said as an ice breaker.

He turned my way but saw the camera and began to walk toward the shore. Rather hastily, I might add.

"Do you look for stuff on the beach or in the water as a hobby? Is it a vocation? What?" I asked. (Harvey covered a lot of ground, and water, in just a few seconds).

He didn't respond so I said, "Did you find something interesting this morning? A gold ring, some loose change, anything to help pay off your gear? Is it paid off already? How much did it cost?"

Harvey didn't look my way again or answer my warm up questions.

[Photos by G. Harrison for It Strikes Me Funny.]

"So, you're done for the day? Isn't it early yet? I just got here myself. How much did your headset cost?" I asked as Harvey walked across a children's playground toward a parking lot and a blue Plymouth Neon.

Harvey Johnson exitted the building in 30 seconds or less.

What's up with that? I mean, if you have a cool hobby, why not talk about it?


Please click here for another exciting episode of It Strikes Me Funny.


Zoom w a View: Over my head in the water

While sittin' on a dock on a river and sittin' atop my favourite perch I had my camera handy.

The water, though colder than during July's visit, still finds a way to relax my weary bones.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view more Zoom w a View near the water.


Fenelon Falls PT 3: Photos from my favourite perch

About 30 seconds after the new addition was finished on my son's house the second floor ceased to be used except by company.

Company - read the in-laws, both sides of the family.

I love the upstairs. It's quiet, home to my old Mac computer, and allows access to a second floor balcony almost no one remembers.

But me and my camera remember. It's my favourite perch in Fenelon Falls.

["When it warms up, I'll descend to my favourite deck chair": photos GH]

Don't tell anybody.


Please click here to view


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fenelon Falls PT 2: "I must be getting old... or something"

I must have needed a break. I've had two naps in two days.

Usually, I take about two naps per year, but after driving to Fenelon Falls yesterday I feel asleep during a lull in a conversation. And this morning I grabbed 40 winks after a hearty breakfast.

Maybe I fell asleep so easily this morning because I didn't have my usual two or three cups of coffee with breakfast. Yesterday's nap I blame on the long drive and fresh air blowing through the car. Or maybe it's something else.

I overheard my wife explaining my sleepyhead ways to my son and his wife in the following ways:

"Well, your dad has been working nonstop in the workshop for the last several weeks."

(Well, there is that.)

"He had a birdhouse sale recently. He's been getting back into jogging too. He was out for two hours on Tuesday night."

(Sure, I've been busy... but napping? What's with that?)

"He's not as young as he used to be... but he doesn't know that, I guess."

["Wake up. People will start to talk.": photos by GH]

(Hey, I know I have another birthday coming. But I bet it's something else.)

Maybe it's because I've been swimming in the channel, and the water is colder than last time up here. I mean, even the ducks are tired.

It's gotta be the cold water.


Please click here to read Fenelon Falls PT 1.


Fenelon Falls PT 1: "I think I deserve a day off"

My dad was an expert at creating meaningful slogans.

"Fight your own battles" still comes to mind after I first heard it fifty years ago.

Here's one I came up with a few years ago at my youngest son's wedding:

"You won't be remembered for the commitments you make but for the ones you keep."

On my way to Fenelon Falls yesterday to visit my son, his wife and twin grand-daughters, I came up with a very fitting slogan for the weekend:

"Every person must have a day off - hey, maybe two or three - now and again."

["Give me a chair, a Mad Tom IPA, turn on some music": photos GH]


Would you raise a glass to that one?

Please click here to view photos from an earlier trip to Fenelon Falls.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Zoom w a View: PT 4 Sittin' on the dock on the river

Time - Shortly after supper tonight

Place - Same dock as in an earlier post, but later

Assignment - None that I know of

Photo 1 - "Water on the rocks"

Photo 2 - "Water on a leaf"

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view PT 3 "Sittin' on the dock"


"IT STRIKES" Again: Where's the chicken in my packet of chicken gravy?

[The following story was first published in THE LONDONER in Feb., 2003. It is repeated here so that you can enjoy it again and again. I'm still looking for the chicken. gah]

Where's the chicken in my packet of chicken gravy?

On Tupperware Fridays you will find me gazing into the fridge, thoughtfully scanning its contents, hands busy with judicious sorting.

I gladly do the cooking a few days each week. I get to shop, chop, slice, dice, boil or bake. I am allowed to play with sharp knives in a safe, controlled environment and use as much PC Szechwan Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce as I want. When the meal involves driving to Harvey's for a healthy dose of cheeseburgers I'' happily raise my hand and volunteer.

Except on Fridays.

On that day I sift through the leftovers preserved in plastic containers (including Tupperware from many a party in the 1970s), and arrange choices on the counter that would go well together. This instinct to hunt and gather is alive and well in the Harrison family. Several exciting new recipes have been developed over the last few months that have caused my wife to exclaim, "Gee, what is this?"

Last Friday, because I could only spot one serving of Pat's goulash (the best in town) I settled on combining leftover chicken ("Smells okay to me."), baked potatoes ("Still seem fresh.") and steamed veggies (Hey, can't go wrong.") after popping 16 plastic lids. Because I've overused the PC Szechwan Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce in the past I searched for gravy.

["Yeh, this looks awesome."]

I poked my finger into two squishy substances that appeared gravy-like but were probably cranberry jelly or pea soup. After other samples failed the taste and texture test I turned to the cupboard above the stove. Before long I found a packet of hot chicken gravy mix.

The picture of a hot chicken sandwich smothered in two cups of creamy gravy with a side of crisp vegetables had me sold almost instantly. If I could understand easily the 'mode d'emploi' I would be off to the races. I could and I was. Soon I had everything under control. Gravy was simmering, potatoes were re-heating, veggies were steaming and chicken was sizzling in soy sauce. I leaned back and admired my handiwork.

Then my eyes wandered to the list of ingredients on the empty gravy mix pouch. (I regularly examine ingredients in packaged foods to see if I recognize anything from my high school chemistry class.) There were a couple of interesting entries on the back of the pouch.

'Wheat flour, modified cornstarch, hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat protein, salt, potato starch, yeast extract, soybean and cottonseed oil shortening, beef fat, onion powder, spice, flavour, caramel colour, disodium inosinate and guanylate,'

Anything pique your interest?

I noticed that chicken wasn't listed. Yet I looked closely at the picture on the pouch and there appears to be a chicken beak poking out from under a slice of bread. Somebody missed it.

Have you ever wondered what part of a cow tastes most like chicken? The answer is beef fat. I'm not sure what chicken fat tastes like but it flunked someone else's taste and texture test. The cow wins.

The 12th ingredient is 'flavour'. When I close my eyes and think of 'flavour' I see a large guy in a white shirt (sleeves rolled up past the elbows) telling the sweeper at a chemical plant not to throw out anything. Then they throw their heads back and laugh.

The last two items sound scary enough to keep me simmering the gravy for 20 extra minutes so I'm sure it's really done.

Supper's ready!



Please click here to read another exciting episode of "IT STRIKES" Again.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

1996 Everest disaster: Was it preventable?

The last book I read that mentioned climbing disasters on Mt. Everest was entitled The Boys of Everest by Clint Willis. 516 pages. I couldn’t put it down.

[Photo of book cover by GH]

It reminded me of a three-part series I wrote about the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, as featured in Jon Krakauer's gripping novel Into Thin Air. I repeat the series here.

1996 Everest disaster: Was it preventable?

Part 1

My oldest son bought me three used books by Jon Krakauer for Christmas gifts and I was unable to put the first one down once I’d read the first page.

Into Thin Air, a personal account of a 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, sounded familiar, perhaps because I’d seen TV shows in the last few years about the same event, and I was immediately hooked even though I remembered many details related to the outcome.

I wasn’t hooked because I’m a mountain climber.

[Mt. Everest from space: Photo credit NASA]

Far from it. My low tolerance for risk wouldn’t allow me to climb higher than Base Camp (17,600 ft.) on Everest (29,028 ft.).

Of course, if I became light-headed and left unwatched, I might try for Camp One (19,500 ft.) or Camp Two (21,300 ft.).

However, as a former marathoner - 13 marathons in all - I’m not confident I could develop suitable strength and endurance to even reach the Base Camp.

I wasn’t hooked because I wanted to revisit the disaster and read about gory details.

My main reason was to see if there were answers to questions I had about the climb:

What drives people beyond a point of, what I consider, reasonable risk?

Could the disaster, in which several lives were lost, have been prevented?

Would I even try to reach Base Camp?

My curiosity was partially satisfied with the following from Ch. 17, Summit, 3:40 P.M., May 10, 29,028 Feet:

[Everest route photo link]

“Shortly after Fischer (USA, leader, head guide) left the top, Gau (Taiwan, leader) and his Sherpas departed as well, and finally Lopsang (Fischer’s Sherpa climbing leader) headed down - leaving Hall (New Zealand, leader, head guide) alone on the summit awaiting Hansen (USA, Hall’s client).”

“A moment after Lopsang started down, about 4:00, Hansen at last appeared, toughing it out, moving painfully slowly over the last bump on the ridge. As soon as he saw Hansen, Hall hurried down to meet him.”

“Hall’s obligatory turn-around time had come and gone a full two hours earlier.”

When Krakauer wrote that last line I was reminded that earlier in the book Rob Hall, the leader of a large group of guides, staff and paying clients, had told everyone, no matter where they were in the last leg of the ascent, to turn around at 2 P.M. and return to Camp Four, their closest refuge.

Turning around any later would severely hurt their chances of a safe return to their highest camp.

Why had Hall waited until 4 P.M. for Hansen, the last climber on his team, knowing the risks to himself and his client were so high?

“Given the guide’s conservative, exceedingly methodical nature, many of his colleagues have expressed puzzlement at his uncharacteristic lapse of judgment. Why, they wondered, didn’t he turn Hansen around much lower on the mountain, as soon as it became obvious that the American climber was running late?”

Hall’s lapse of judgment brought about the worst of consequences.


1996 Everest disaster: Was it preventable?


Part 2

If you haven’t read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, a personal account of a 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, you should.

Because if you were ever to climb a mountain, or apply its lessons to other areas of life, you would be the wiser for it.

I read it recently and learned a bit about why Rob Hall, a very responsible, skilled leader from New Zealand, made a tragic mistake on Everest’s summit.

[Mt. Everest from space: Photo credit NASA]

Many of his colleagues have wondered: “Why didn’t he turn Hansen (a client) around much lower on the mountain, as soon as it became obvious that the American climber was running late?”

Here’s what Krakauer reveals:

Exactly one year earlier, Hall had turned Hansen around on the South Summit at 2:30 P.M., and to be denied so close to the top was a crushing disappointment to Hansen. He told me several times that he’d returned to Everest in 1996 largely as a result of Hall’s advocacy - he said Rob had called him from New Zealand “a dozen times” urging him to give it another try - and this time Doug was absolutely determined to bag the top.

“I want to get this thing done and out of my life,” he’d told me three days earlier at Camp Two. “I don’t want to have to come back here. I’m getting too old for this shit.”

It doesn’t seem far-fetched to speculate that because Hall had talked Hansen into coming back to Everest, it would have been especially hard for him to deny Hansen the summit a second time. (pg. 293)

Guy Cotter, a NZ guide, said this:

“It’s very difficult to turn someone around high on the mountain. If a client sees that the summit is close and they’re dead-set on getting there, they’re going to laugh in your face and keep going up.”

Peter Lev, veteran US guide, said this:

“We think that people pay us to make good decisions, but what people really pay for is to get to the top.”

Those who say that death is too high a price to pay to get to the top of the world’s highest peak are, in my opinion, absolutely right.

When Rob Hall (an accomplished climbing guide) did not turn himself or a client around near Everest’s summit to make a safe retreat toward their nearest refuge (as previously arranged), I felt that was an instance that reveals human beings and their systems fail - on mountaintops, high seas, farms, cities, Wall St. and Main St. - for some of the same reasons.

Krakauer writes:

“In any case, Hall did not turn Hansen around at 2:00 P.M. - or, for that matter, at 4:00, when he met his client just below the top. Instead, according to Lopsang (Sherpa climber), Hall placed Hansen’s arm around his neck and assisted the weary client up the final forty feet to the summit.”

“They stayed only a minute or two, then turned to begin the long descent.”

Later events conspired to make their descent extremely difficult, then impossible.

Hansen was never heard from or seen again.

[Hansen’s grave: photo link]

A lone ice ax, found near the end of fixed ropes above a 7,000 foot sheer drop, bore testimony to his fate.

Hall was heard from later that day and into the night but never seen alive again [except possibly by Harold Harris, a young NZ climber and guide, who attempted to rescue Hall and Hansen - and paid the price with his own life].

Rob Hall’s frozen body, however, remained visible to future climbers for some time near the summit.


Personal and system failures can be tragic.

What causes tragic failures?


1996 Everest disaster: Was it preventable?

Part 3

Lives were lost in 1996 near Everest’s summit, for reasons not all found in Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air.

Two men, perhaps more, are dead because they would not turn around and try another day.

I feel that lesson should not be lost on us - even though most will never set foot near Mount Everest.

Our daily lives are affected by social, political, physical, religious, economic, environmental (and other) frameworks, and within each we at times drive or push too far beyond our limits.

As well, we ignore our conscience or other guides, fail to make a safe retreat when the possibility exists, miss the opportunity to replenish essential resources, and subsequently find ourselves without strength or much hope for survival.

For example, here are a few sentences from A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright that reveal we may have pushed past the Earth’s economic limits:

“During the twentieth century, the world’s population multiplied by four and the economy by more than forty. If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature (but) markers suggest that in 1999 we were at 125 per cent (of nature’s yearly output).”

And is it not logical to suggest that if we push past our economic limits we slowly bleed the environment dry?

An oft-used quote from Barry Commoner tells me the environment will surely suffer as we push past the planet’s economic limits:

“Sooner or later, wittingly or unwittingly, we must pay for every intrusion on the natural environment.”

[Illustration by G. Harrison]

So, in the political, corporate and personal sphere, firm policies must be put in place and/or limits set to ensure resources are used in a sustainable manner, for the benefit of all now and in the future.

On a personal note:

While training for and running 13 marathons, I often strayed beyond my physical limits or ran at someone else’s chosen pace, then barely survived several of the 26.2 mile events. I hit the wall and became - on a few occasions - an ugly companion for running mates.

["Staying within my physical limits": BOSTON MARATHON, GAH]

Whether we address social relationships (marriages, friendships), economic, environmental policies, et al, we tend to push limits to the extreme and suffer the consequences.

By reading Into Thin Air, I was forced to think a bit more about where we are now, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there.


The book, and life itself, are gripping adventures, are they not?

Please click here to read another Series of Significance.


Cartoons in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 24

“The long-lost identical twins left the Loobert family reunion with a few concerns.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 23.


Austerity Without Anxiety: A cheap apple and lemon drink

If I keep this up for another 25 years (or so), I’ll be as healthy as a horse and rolling in the money I save.

["Professional-type photo by GH"]

To a tall glass of tap water I add a titch of apple juice (they say it’s 100% juice and low in acid right on the bottle - how healthy is that!) and a few drops of pure lemon juice (squeezed in an economical fashion from 21 lemons).

The apple-lemon combination is tasty and bound to be good for me. Plus, the bottles last for a long time, saving me countless trips to the corner market.

My wife thinks I’m a cheap old cuss, and she’s right, as usual.


Some will say I could save more money if I didn't buy juice in plastic bottles but two people live at my house. Sorry, "our" house.

Please click here for another round of Austerity Without Anxiety.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Workshop: It’s a small house in Norwich

While building an outdoor storage unit and compost bin recently I also continued work on a unique birdhouse that is patterned after my family home (circa 1955 - 68 for me, my formative years) in Norwich, Ontario.

["Should I add a TV aerial?"]

I applied linseed oil yesterday, then attached six windows and the front door, all the while wondering if I should add the porch roof, the bathroom’s double window unit and a TV aerial for the sake of realism.

["Should I add a porch roof?"]

After all, at age six, I added several gray hairs to my mother’s head after climbing out the second-floor bathroom window, shinny-ing down the aerial and hitchhiking 5 miles to Burgessville to visit my bestest buddy Danny Bucholtz.

["Should I add the bathroom windows?"

I was six. Didn’t tell my mom what I was up to (or down to). Danny’s mother made a significant phone call - as far as my hinder part were concerned - shortly after I showed up at her door.

Yes, I should at least add the aerial. The birds could perch on it. Might help with reception.

["Family home, from 1955 - 2003 approx., Norwich": photo GH]


PS The one piece of faded plywood (front left on birdhouse) comes from one of my dad’s old white-paint birdhouses, one I found in bits a few weeks ago at the foot of a steel post he hammered into the ground in the 1990s. He’s gone now but I think he would have liked my idea of using rescued lumber to build birdhouses in my spare time.

If I add an aerial, I’ll use metal bits and learn how to use a blow torch and solder. Just listen for the sirens!

Please click here for more from The Workshop.


Zoom w a View: PT3 - Sittin’ on the dock on the river

Time - I’m not sure if I can find out. Time will tell.

Place - The very edge of a dock, Fenelon Falls.

Assignment - Put one toe in the water.

Photo 1 - "Some river, with toes nearby"

Photo 2 - “More river, no toes”

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view Zoom w a View PT2.


Series of Significance: Catch-44, the progress trap and the greedy monkey

[The following five posts were originally published separately in November and December 2010. With unemployment in the US and my own city at 9%-plus and another recession on the horizon (coming soon to a region near you), the message is particularly timely. The posts are now collected in one place for your convenience. No extra charge.]

PT 1 Catch-44, the progress trap and the greedy monkey

I recently discovered that the term Catch-44 is pretty popular.

(By ‘recently’ I mean within the last few hours.)

Not only have I used the term twice today - thinking it was a product of my own imagination - but a Google search reveals Catch .44 is an indie crime drama filmed in Shreveport, LA., starring Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker.

Stink. I wanted the term all to myself, just like the litre of ice-cream loaded with Smarties I found in the downstairs freezer a few days ago. (Somehow my wife knew about it!)

I like the term Catch-44 because it conjures up memories of Catch-22 (a gripping book and film with later connections to the movie and TV show M*A*S*H).

Feelings that I would describe as Catch-44-ish come up almost every day. Sometimes early in the morning before I’m even out of bed.

I used the term first while describing our predicament with rising costs - and not just related to hydro, which much on the minds of many Ontarians.

I said:

“Because no government is effectively encouraging the move toward smaller cars, homes and lifestyles, our roads will continue to support more cars per capita (and the related expense), our homes will continue to grow and demand more energy and production of household goods, and the associated costs of our lifestyle will increase."

It’s a Catch-44, which is twice as shocking and frustrating as a Catch-22 and any hydro bill.

I elaborated a bit on my use of the term in a later post when I said, “In other words, we’re in a Catch-44, a bad trap, twice as bad as a Catch-22. We’re building and paving roads today that we’ll never repair or replace in the future as far as present home owners are concerned, because they’ll be dead.”

Now, where did I get the idea that we’re in a bad trap?

Stay tuned.


PT 2 Catch-44, the progress trap and the greedy monkey

The popular term Catch-44 not only conjures up memories of Catch-22 (a gripping book and film with a M*A*S*H connection) but infers there are troubles that are twice as bad.

I also relate Catch-44 back to another term - a progress trap. Illustrative examples are found in the book A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright (see Read This, right margin).

In it he writes:

“Since the early 1900s, the world’s population has multiplied by four and its economy - a rough measure of the human load on nature - by more than forty. We have reached a stage where we must bring the experiment under rational control, and guard against present and potential dangers,” (pg. 31) i.e., lest we fall into a progress trap.

“We have already caused so many extinctions that our dominion over the earth will appear in the fossil record like the impact of an asteroid... a bad smell of extinction follows Homo sapiens around the world.”

["Asteroids - like the blunt fist of mankind"]

In Chapter 2 he reveals “what we can deduce from the first progress trap - the perfection of hunting, which ended the Stone Age - and how our escape from that trap by the invention of farming led to our greatest experiment: worldwide civilization. We then have to ask ourselves this urgent question: Could civilization itself be another and much greater trap?”

What a great question.

The book is a real page turner.

I highly recommend it, but don’t expect a happy ending a la Walt Disney, e.g., Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The tone of the book is reflected in Wright’s thoughts about some of the roots of modern civilization.

“From ancient times until today, civilized people have believed they behave better, and are better, than so-called savages. But he moral values attached to civilization are specious: too often used to justify attacking and dominating other, less powerful, societies. In their imperial heyday, the French had their “civilizing mission” and the British their “white man’s burden” - the bearing of which was eased by automatic weapons. As Hilaire Belloc wrote in 1898: “Whatever happens, we have got / The Maxim gun, and they have not.” Nowadays, Washington claims to lead and safeguard “the civilized world,” a tradition in American rhetoric that began with the uprooting and exterminating of that country’s first inhabitants.” (pg. 33)

So, about that first progress trap mentioned earlier...


PT 3 Catch-44, the progress trap and the greedy monkey

About an early progress trap Ronald Wright writes the following:

“Modern hunter-gatherers - Amazonians, Australian Aboriginals, Inuit, Kalahari bushmen - are wise stewards of their ecologies, limiting their own numbers, treading lightly on the land.”

I know, you’re already ahead of me. You’ve deduced that early man did not tread lightly, were not good stewards. You may also have jumper farther ahead to modern day, our wastefulness, the corner we have painted ourselves into quite nicely.

Hey, not so fast.

["Are we nothing more than a greedy monkey?": photo by GH]

Wright continues:

“It is often assumed that ancient hunters would have been equally wise. But archaeological evidence does not support this view. Palaeolithic hunting was the mainstream livelihood, done in the richest environments on a seemingly boundless earth.”

Stop it. Already you’re thinking about how unwisely modern corporations have decimated the seemingly boundless forests and salmon stocks in the NW region of the US, aka ‘the Pacific North-west.' Let Wright finish.

“(Palaeolithic hunting was) done, we have to infer from the profligate remains, with the stock-trader’s optimism that there would always be another big killing just over the next hill. In the last and best-documented mass extinctions - the loss of flightless birds and other animals from New Zealand and Madagascar - there is no room for doubt that people were to blame. The Australian biologist Tim Flannery has called human beings the “future-eaters.” Each extinction is a death of possibility.”

Okay, it’s my turn to openly reflect on a related matter.

This from an essay I read last night from a book entitled Moral Ground (K.D. Moore, M.P. Nelson):

“We are indeed experiencing the greatest wave of extinctions since the disappearance of the dinosaurs,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the UN convention on biological diversity. “Extinction rates are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour, three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct,” he said. “The cause: human activities.”

Sorry, I digress.

Wright says:

“So among the things we need to know about ourselves is that the Upper Paleaolithic period, which may well have begun in genocide, ended with an all-you-can-kill wildlife barbecue. The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game. Most of the great human migrations across the world at this time must have been driven by want, as we bankrupted the land with our moveable feasts... the hunters at the end of the Stone Age were certainly not clumsy, but they were bad because they broke rule one for any prudent parasite: Don’t kill off your host.”

“As they drove species after species to extinction, they walked into the first progress trap.”

“Some of their descendants - the hunter-gatherer societies that have survived into recent times - would learn in the school of hard knocks to restrain themselves.”

Question: Does modern man restrain himself?

Wright concludes:

“But the rest of us found a way to raise the stakes: that great change known to hindsight as the Farming or Neolithic “Revolution.”

And how is that going for us?

We’re inflicting other progress traps upon ourselves.

Now we’re burning rain forests to plant soy for beef cattle.

Now we’re stripping ancient forests in the Pacific NW - at the same time destroying salmon stocks - to send raw wood and jobs to Asia.

Your turn.

Do you know of other examples of Catch-44s, other progress traps?

Are we nothing but greedy monkeys?


PT 4 Catch-44, the progress trap and the greedy monkey

You may wonder where “the greedy monkey” fits in when encountering the title to my posts.

Well may you ask, as per the conclusion to PT 3, “Are we nothing but greedy monkeys?”

No, I say. We're worse.

And from an anthropomorphic point of view, I even think any self-respecting monkey would agree with me.

Though monkeys are greedy, they will never be as greedy as humankind. Though easily trapped because of their greed, their weakness is a mere nothing in comparison to our own.

For example, all one requires to catch a monkey in some regions of the world are the following materials:

A wooden stake,

a length of rope,

a hollowed out coconut shell with a 1-inch hole,

a few sweet candies.

Then follow the following instructions:

Drive the stake into the ground,

attach the stake securely to one end of the rope and the coconut to the other,

toss the candies into the coconut,

and wait for a greedy monkey.

What will happen once a monkey smells the sweets?

It will reach inside the hole and grab them. And when approached by the trap-setter, it will make a tight fist around the candies and attempt to flee.

However, can you see the monkey’s problem?

Its fist, full of candy, will now be larger than the 1-inch hole, and it can only escape from being caught by releasing its treasure.

Any greedy monkey will soon find itself inside a cage or soup pot. Many do. They are too greedy to release the prize and are held in place by their own hand.

Greed may cost the monkey its life, but the level of greed demonstrated is a mere nothing to that shown by humankind in many instances, because our collective greed can lead not just to the loss of one life but many, and to the extinction of many plant and animal species at the same time.

We know that modern man can barely restrain himself in the use of earth’s resources. Sustainable use of water, land, trees, minerals, fuels and multiple food sources is not practiced.

Though through the centuries humankind has moved from hunting and hunting-gathering to (predominantly) farming because of progress traps (we hunted so well many types of game were hunted to extinction), we’re inflicting other progress traps upon ourselves as we extensively farm around the world.

I wrote in an earlier post, “Now we’re burning rain forests to plant soy for beef cattle.”

About life on the largest scale, A Short History of Progress presents the following:

“Richard Alley points out what should be obvious: humans have built a civilization adapted to the climate we have. Increasingly, humanity is using everything (e.g., renewable and non-renewable resources) this climate provides... (and) the climate of the last few thousand years is about as good as it gets.” (pg. 52)

Ronald Wright continues:

“(Climate) change is not in our interest. Our only rational policy is not to risk provoking it. Yet we face abundant evidence that civilization itself, through fossil-fuel emissions and other disturbances, is upsetting the long calm in which we grew. Ice sheets at both poles are breaking up. Glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas are thawing (we now know that Canada’s north and Greenland are loosing their ice layers quickly); some have disappeared in only twenty-five years. Droughts and unusually hot weather (Canada has experienced its hottest year on record) have already caused world grain output to fall or stagnate for eight years in a row. During the same eight years, the number of mouths to feed went up by 600 million.”

“Steady warming will be bad enough, but the worst outcome would be a sudden overturning of earth’s climatic balance - back to its old regime of sweats and chills. If that happens, crops will fail everywhere and the great experiment of civilization will come to a catastrophic end.”

“In the matter of our food, we have grown as specialized, and therefore as vulnerable, as a sabre-toothed cat.”

Talk about your Catch-44, your progress trap, your greedy monkey.

Will humankind suffer through vast changes associated with climate change with its greedy fist caught in a trap of its own making?


PT 5 Catch-44, the progress trap and the greedy monkey

Being a man of few words, I was able to explain the meaning of the title in only 4 posts.

Though we will find ourselves in many predicaments in the near future, the greatest will be because of climate change. Our role in our own demise is now and will be indisputable.

Catch-44, progress trap, greedy monkey and countless other terms, I’m sure, will be used to describe our inability to solve a solvable problem.

It seems, though “our only rational policy is not to risk provoking it” (i.e., the near-perfect climate in which 6.7 billion of us live), we poke it with a sharp stick - our motive relates to greed in many instances - at almost every opportunity.

I concluded Pt 4 by asking, “Will humankind suffer through vast changes associated with climate change with its greedy fist caught in a trap of its own making?”

Though I said ‘no’ when wondering aloud if we are like a greedy monkey (we are far worse than any monkey), I say ‘yes’ to the above.

Consider humankind’s carbon emissions related to its pursuit of what many call the essentials of life, i.e., food, clothing and shelter, as well as a few systems upon which we have grown dependent, i.e., transportation, communication and recreation. (There are others, of course. There is no end to our pursuits).

About Canada I would say the following:

On average, bellies are getting bigger. Unnecessarily so.

Closets are getting bigger. Unnecessarily so.

Homes are getting bigger. Unnecessarily so.

The number of cars per capita is growing. Comfort and convenience wins over conservation.

The number of electronic communication devices is growing. Convenience wins again.

The number of recreational opportunities is growing, though almost no one plays checkers anymore.

Related carbon emissions are growing.

According to recent news, ‘countries that signed (the Kyoto Protocol in 1997) were supposed to cut their emissions from 1990 levels, but Canada’s have risen 24%.’ (Dec. 7, London Free Press)

The Canadian government allows emissions to grow.

So do so many other governments on planet Earth. So, climate change advances. Total calories, cotton shirts, square feet per person, cars, cells and play times advance further.

Will we slow the amassing of material goods for the sake of the present and any future generations?

Not at this time. Methinks our greed will not allow it.

Catch-44. Progress trap. Greedy monkey. All apply.

We may be at the point when only a series of major economic set backs or environmental disasters will force us to release our tight grip on a multitude of sweet treasures of so little value when compared to life itself.

Intriguing times we live in, are they not?


Will curved glass make the NHL game safer? No!

[“We’ve been working since the Pacioretty incident to better protect our players through the environment.” Kris King, Aug. 18, London Free Press]

NHL executives have been working overtime to protect its players for the upcoming NHL season.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

They talked about beefed up padding.

They tossed crash test dummies (not the musical group) in several directions at once.

They created deflection areas using spring-loaded systems and curved glass (thus allowing “a player to deflect off a surface rather than hit it solid”).

Termination points, such as benches, will be rounded.

They shrank “the size of the camera hole in the corner boards by about an inch” so noses, at least the occasional nostril, wouldn’t get ripped.

It all sounds pretty exciting, except for one thing. The NHL game won’t get any safer while players continue to grow taller, wider, heavier and faster, and play on the same-sized ice surface as Canadian and American Junior hockey and my 50-plus men’s league.

["When small, I didn't mind a small ice pad": photo G.Harrison, 1950s]

The NHL squeezes too many big players onto a small ice surface. The league should either continue the evolution of the game - from nine on nine to four on four - or expand the ice surface by 10% in length and width, or more.

Please click here to read about the evolution of the game from seven skaters per team to five and the growth of the players in overall size and weight.


Should we demand tax freezes above all else?

According to a recent Letter to the Editor in the London Free Press, “before we roll over and accept more taxes as the mandate of heaven, let’s ask three questions.” (Aug. 18, D. Steers)

“Families, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, are forking over 40% of their incomes to governments. What level, if any, is too high? 60%? 100%?”

Let’s answer the last question for Mr. Steers first, i.e., is 100% too high?

Let’s say ‘yes.’ How could we buy toiletries if all our money was forked over to a rapacious government? I for one would say 100% is too high.

About the middle question... 60%. I don’t know. Depends on the circumstances.

["When dealing with Canadian badgers, stay way back!"]

Say we were under attack, say by the US after that country was completely out of oil and we wanted the last of the Tar Sands to ourselves. Say we needed bigger, hungrier dogs to protect the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. Would we balk at paying 60% until the ‘superdogs’ were trained and at their posts? I think I’d pay, but (and leave it to me to think of a better plan) I’d be recommending ‘superskunks’ and a phalanx of badgers.

(Sure, some will think that if we have ‘superskunks’ we don’t need no stinkin’ badgers, but I disagree. They’d be a perfect compliment. Sorry, I digress).

With all of the above in mind, is 40% too high? Again, it depends on the circumstances.

Instead of demanding a tax freeze just because the Canadian Taxpayers Federation drops stats in our lap, let’s demand more information.

Please click here to explore some of the different questions we should be asking. Tell me what you think... even about the badgers.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Zoom w a View: PT2 - Sittin’ on the dock on the river

Time - I still don’t know. Do I even own a watch?

Place - Still on my older son’s dock, Fenelon Falls

Assignment - Sit, relax, point, shoot

Photo 1 - "Some river, some rock, some dock"

Photo 2 - “More river, more rock, more dock”

['Sittin' in the mornin' sun...": photos by GH]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View by the river.


It’s not just “Another Saturday Night.”

"It's another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody,
I got no money though I just got paid.."

[“Chinese fishermen on an almost dried up irrigation canal”: photo by David Gray, Reuters]


Please click here to read a ‘series of significance’ concerning the water and food bubble facing present and future generations.


Cartoons in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 23

“Jerry reacted immediately to the baby’s piecing scream.”


Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 22.


The Workshop: Compost bin from rescued lumber

Company sitting on the back deck will hardly notice the lovely new compost bin (light blue cedar tongue and groove, stained spruce, old gas can on top for flavour) hiding behind my blue spruce.

["I'm not sure what flavour the gas can adds, but it's something.": photos GH]

Upon closer inspection they’ll see a box made from scrap that will last 30 years.

Note to self: “The lower door is a bit narrow, so don’t ever throw out that skinny spade you have in The Annex.”



Where’s the metal hoot owl?

Not needed. I made sturdy latches for the top hatch.

Squirrel and raccoon proof?

We’ll see.

Please click here to see more from The Workshop.