Archive for August, 2010

Water off a duck’s back

August 31, 2010

The rains have started falling here in Vancouver. It’s the kind of rain that brings with it a feeling it won’t end any time soon. My two youngest children are at a neighbour’s house playing inside with their kids, and two neighbourhood kids are here inside playing with my oldest. We’re all inside today.

We took advantage of the weather and cleaned the aquarium, after a month or so of neglect. This summer has been a whirlwind of daily activity. It’s a local motto “If the sun is shining, we go outside.” or “the tv is off” there are local variants to the motto, but the point is, sunshine is a precious resource not to be squandered.  Greenie, however, seems to enjoy her overgrown space. Greenie is a five year old Green Terror. She lives alone. Here’s another lesson picked up quite spontaneously by a five year old, “If you don’t want to be lonely, don’t eat your friends.” That sort of sums up the long and sordid tale of our aquarium’s inhabitants.

Greenie, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

And now I’m taking advantage of the weather to catch up on some writing. I tend to plan to write more than I ever in fact write. I even write about what I plan to write instead of actually writing, but those who write know planning is the easy part, actual writing is hard and takes time. Writers love rainy climates. Tom Robbins writes an ode to the writerly Northwestern climate in his Ducks Flying Backwards. If you live on the wet coast and write, you should read this.

I’ve been meaning for months to write up Alternatives to Growth. The praise for the book is on its website, and inside the book’s front cover, so I don’t need to add to that. What I’d like to do right now is situate it in a discussion of the Left about the Left. I say “like to” because I don’t think I’m quite capable of doing that sufficiently, but I have a vague idea, and we’ll find out soon enough just how inarticulable it is.

I’m a lay-writer,meaning not part of the academic left, not an expert/master, so the left I will be writing of may be neither the common nor the academic concept of left.  There’s nothing more common than newspaper columnists, so when I came across Rick Salutin’s article on the Left, I suffered that motion sickness so often caused by immaterial logic. In this article, Salutin holds a concept of the left, he looks in two places, doesn’t see his concept of the left and in newspaper writer style concludes in his opening that the left doesn’t exist; equating the left with a phantom limb.

For Salutin the Left is manifest in a political party and plays its role of difference within the hierarchy.

More marginal parties, like the old Reform or the old CCF-NDP, play a different role: they float innovative ideas like populist democracy or socialism. But a narrow focus on power means a shrinking focus on those ideas. Why notions like democracy or socialism, which have (or had) lots of general appeal, fare so poorly in an electoral context is a mystery I’ll leave for a more contemplative time.

The left is a historical concept for Salutin. It would be too simple to dismiss Salutin as a relic, because upon a deeper reading this little article totally blows my mind. Someone once said that we see things as we are. You can follow that line to a conclusion that to know the world you must know yourself. This line is often corrupted by new age spiritualists who fixate on knowing your true self, and then discounted as new age spiritualism by more realistic thinkers who fixate on objective reality. Salutin’s writing shows this type of error. He holds an idea of a real left. When he looks in the world for this reality he can’t perceive it.

There’s an old anarchist line that the problem with scientists is that there are too few of them. Salutin could benefit from a more scientific method in his writing. This article is exemplary. It’s incredibly short, but contains a whole world of conceptual confusion. Salutin is literally writing down things he can’t see. The concept he’s looking for is blocking his vision, but his senses are in working order.

If you’re a genuine left commentator like Yves Engler (Who? you say) with four good books to your credit, you probably financed your magnum opus on Canadian foreign policy by working nights at a Montreal hotel and only rarely sneak onto those left-wing channels.

Here Salutin reveals a “genuine left commentator” but because this writer is rarely published in the mainstream, and because right wing confusionists complain of the left wing mainstream, Salutin concluded that there is no left wing media, and this is generalized into no left, even though he can clearly see Yves Engler.

He introduces us to one of the left and then asks:

where is the phantom Canadian left? Who is it? Is it?

Then he goes on to say that “there’s lots of left activity but not much definition.” I’m not exactly sure how to read this. There is “left activity” but no left? Whose definition is at issue here?

The old centrepiece of socialism is either missing or under heavy, tentative reconstruction. (I’d put my money on an anarchist version.) Unions, once the left’s backbone, are in serious decline precisely when most working people need a way to resist the power of an increasingly compact corporate sector. It’s unclear whether labour can rejig itself to meet that need. There’s lots of disparate activism to support foreign “struggles” (Haiti, Free Gaza) along with environmentalism, save public health care, etc. But in mainstream party politics, or in the mainstream media — Poof! Now you see them, now you don’t.

He again tells of left actions but that they’re not mainstream, or even acknowledged by the mainstream he can’t see a left. What’s amazing is that the mainstream media’s trick of denying dissent any logic or rationale, and sometimes the very existence of dissent, this form of magic, this slight of mind has confused Salutin to the point that he can’t even see what he’s written down.

It’s within this confusion that I will be discussing, another genuine left commentator, Conrad Schmidt’s work. (at some point in the future).

Grease Monkey Sunday

August 29, 2010

flat tire, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

gripshifters, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

It started with a flat tire. I’ve been filling my tire with air every few days for a couple weeks now. It was initially a slow leak needing attention on a weekly basis. Over the past couple days it’s been going flat over night. So I got out the patch kit and we set to work fixing it up.

Handlebars, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

It only takes a few minutes to fix a flat, so since the tools were out we put the Adams Tremor on the stand. (The Adams Tremor is an older Norco Model similar to this one. We bought it very used last year for $25.) The grip shifters weren’t working, so we took one off and took it apart to see the problem. I think something had gone missing, because the shifter couldn’t hold tension. The tension holding mechanism didn’t even exist. Notice the Our Community Bikes stickers on the “O”s. This made their number easily available so I called them to see if they were open and if they had the parts we needed. They were and they did. So we rode over.
For an eight year old, digging through bins of used parts looking for what we need, is a special sort of joy. We found more or less what we needed. And then I decided that now is the time to take the child seat off my bike. So I looked for the parts to add the handlebar to my seatpost. We put that together right in the shop. I didn’t take the seat off, because to our youngest this is her bike, and removing the seat from our bike is something we are going to do together.
We took the working grip shifters home and got them working for us. And then went for a test ride. I had to return a few things to friends so we did a test ride errand combo. The front derailleur hadn’t been moved in years so it’s too stiff for a kid to shift. I oiled it and shifted it a number of times to try to loosen it up, but it may take a while. The rear derailleur is working perfectly.

Communal Fire

August 26, 2010

Kate had a meeting about one thing or another on Salt Spring Island, so we decided to take the opportunity to camp out on another island. We spent the night at Ruckle provincial Park .

We drove to Tsawwassen and took the ferry to Swartz Bay and a ferry from there to Salt Spring Island. The camp sites at Ruckle Park are walk in. So we parked the truck in a parking lot and walked our gear to site 44. H picked the site. Near, but not too near, the toilets, and close to the water. H knows that you don’t want to be too near the toilets because they smell. The day was spent swimming and hiking. And at the end of the day the moon rising over the water was beautiful. I tried to take a picture, but I only had my cell phone and couldn’t capture anything.

There was a fire ban, so the Shared Fire Rings were empty, but I like the idea.

I think this place would be a great destination for our next bike trip. We haven’t ridden to Tsawwassen yet. I think it’s around 30k. The ride once you get on Salt Spring is 10k. I’m thinking it would make a great weekend bike trip. There’s no reason to only take bike trips in the summer. Summer is the time for longer tours, but overnight trips would be great preparation. You’d need to carry less clothing, and food on an overnight trip. And sleeping on the ocean in different types of weather would be great experiences.

Bike touring is a long term family project. Weekend rides would be good practice. For camping to be enjoyable, I think you need to do it well. What I’m going to start working on is creative cooking. Cooking well is part of living well. Tasty meals are a reason to live. And as we continue to camp/tour/travel I’d like to develop cooking skills that travel.

Moose sighting

August 21, 2010
Starting out, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.
We left for our bike camping trip to Newcastle Island on Tuesday morning at about 10:45 am. Not the earliest get away, and this is after a Monday night of packing. At about midnight when the packing was not just a creative editing process, but continual additions I started to get a little cranky. (We’ll deal with this in an upcoming post, but let’s just make the note here that I can get cranky.)

The top of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

The ride from East Van to Horseshoe Bay is a pretty good pedal for anyone, but load camping gear and supplies for a  family of five and a dog on your bike and that ride, at least for this 40 year old, is daunting. I do have a bit of a sense of humour, or more accurately a sense of the ridiculous, so I could crack a smile after a bit of time passed.

This is the second year for the bike trip, and there is a philosophy, or an ethic behind the trip. After reading Hold on to Your Kids, a few years ago, I started thinking about things we could do as a family. Camping is an easy one. Kids love it and I’m a fan myself, but I have issues with car camping. I do it, I car camp, but I have issues with burning gas and the militarized capitalist system in general. So the idea of bike camping had appeal.

Problem is that we have 3 children under 8. The two little ones can’t pedal their own weight, so we’ve got to carry them and all their stuff. Luckily in 35km we can pedal to some sweet campgrounds. We ride to Horseshoe Bay, take the ferry to Departure Bay, ride a kilometre or so and take a small ferry to Newcastle Island.

Last year I carried two kids and gear on my bike. This year one was on a trail-a-bike. This made room in the trailer for a cooler. At some point the kids will be on their own bikes and we can disperse the weight, but for now I’m carrying pretty much everything.

There’s a tent, sleeping bags (5), sleeping pads, towels, clothing, a kitchen, cups, bowls, plates, cutlery, a cooler with food for 4 days. There’s not a way I can think to bring less than this. But the little ones brought their suitcases filled with toys. I could have saved a little weight by packing for the girls, but there’s an area that’s tough at this age. The kids love packing their own bags.

Our son rides his own bike. He packed and carried his own bag. He gets the idea that you only bring what you need. He also revels in wearing the same clothes for days on end. He loves the idea of washing your clothes as you ride. Check out Return of the Scorcher, for among other things, some tips on bike touring. Eventually the girls will understand the need for less, but you see the picture, the toys are the least of my worries.

Moose sighting, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

Beach, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

Horseshoe Bay Village, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

There are no cars on the Island so that is a plus. There are good biking trails and hiking trails and beaches. We take a day to get there, and a day to get home, and spent two full days exploring the island. The day we left, the kids wanted to stay. That’s a good sign. As we were packing up to leave, the kids were talking about coming back. I think we’ve found something we can do together that we all enjoy.

We didn’t bring anything we didn’t use, and there were things we didn’t bring that we could have used. There is an idea of practice here. We want to be a bike camping/touring/travelling family. As the kids get older we will go further, for longer periods.

Last year we rode multiple days to Porpoise Bay, we stayed in hotels, backpacker hostels (there’s a picture of us on this page, Rene was 7 here, notice one girl in the trailer and one in the seat), and campgrounds. We mostly ate at restaurants. This year we brought the cooler so eating wouldn’t be as expensive. We’re hoping to learn over the years, to become better touring cyclists. The cooler idea comes from a session with Gwendal Castellan at the Bike Doctor on Broadway last summer. We also learned to use a pressure cooker to make a camp stove much more efficient. That was a good session to attend. Later we saw his bike at the Museum of Vancouver during their bike show.

One trap I want to try to overcome is the gearhead trap. Camping can be a consumerist event. This pull to purchase your way into a lifestyle, is a tendency I need to be on guard against. Our bikes and trailers are not just for touring, but our main everyday mode of transportation.

My bike is 10 years old. My xtracycle kit is 4 years old. and our trailer/stroller is 5 years old. The stroller was used daily the first 4 years of its life. We have literally worn the wheels off the thing. The first set of stroller wheels failed after about 2 years, and were replaced free of charge by Cambie Cycle. That replacement set just failed. We now use the jogging wheel attachment for hauling groceries. Like I said we used it as a cart everyday. We have regularly overloaded the thing. You can see from the picture here that it can handle quite a bit of weight. We don’t use it to carry kids anymore, so I’m more apt to treat it with a little less respect for stated limits.

I’m going in to detail about this trailer because while the chariot is a purchased solution, and it can be the mark of a gearhead (obssessive-compulsive consumer), it can also be the mark of a greasemonkey (hacker/tinkerer/smith). The chariot is a smooth moving piece of machinery that you can actually use. I’m eventually going to fashion it into a touring trailer at some point. This is an area I want to stick with in my posts. Camping/touring is a consumer field, like pretty much all fields. What I’m interested in is ways of purchasing that are not wasteful.

backyard bikes and dirt

August 16, 2010

simple machines and dirt, originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque.

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

I took this picture after attaching the trail-a-bike a friend had lent us. We are heading out on a camping trip in a couple days.

Notice the little garden plot in the back corner. We used this article as a guide. We’ve planted a row of spinach, parsnips, swiss chard and beets. And then filled in between the path stones with onions and pac choi. The links are to the seeds we used. I lost the parsnips package, so can’t be sure which seeds we used, but the row is also too close to the house and gets very little sun, so I’m not expecting much from them. This is our first year so I’m not expecting much any way, except a learning experiment. The kids are involved and excited.

We’ve also got a package of snow peas that we need to find/make a space to plant.

And then there’s the wheelbarrow. One thing missing is the chickens, but we are planning to build a coop this fall.

Clearing my head…

August 15, 2010

One writing trap I fall into is cooking up the infinite idea of a post. I’ve been doing a lot of swimming, pedaling, reading on beaches, conversing with friends and following links all over the internet over the past month and the connections are infinite. One idea rolls into the next and back until the possibility of writing anything is lost in the chaos. What I’ve learned from reading Latour is to write the chaos.

Years, many years ago while editing a piece for a local newspaper, I called for the assistance of another editor. We sat staring at the screen, sort of wondering how to salvage the piece when the other editor said, “This guy has absolutely no control.” In that moment it was possibly the most hilarious thing anyone had ever said about anything, and we killed ourselves laughing. Eventually I settled myself enough to make some sense of the writing. That line has stayed with me, and the need for control, has in some ways, stifled my ability to write. But there is a difference between controlled sentences and control of the material, one is possible, easily possible, and the other, even the attempt is a recipe for madness.
Even a limited line of the flow of contact gives an idea of my inability to synthesize all of the internet into one blog post. It’s kind of embarrassing to even write about succumbing to this drive, but this is a drive I’ve succumbed to. This column about the left in Canada came to my attention. I’d just started reading Conrad Schmidt’s Alternatives to Growth and the final preparations for G20 demonstrations were all over the internet. What happened in Toronto set off a tidal wave of digitized documentation and opinion. It seems we’re all still wading in it. I eventually got back to Schmidt’s book and this article crossed my path. I was also coincidentally and simultaneously reading Nowtopia and it turn out Carlsson was at Matt Hern’s house here in Vancouver over that time, and that Matt Hern has written a book dealing with the same themes. Carlsson reviews the book here. ( you need to go to June 16 on his calendar/archive?) And then Carlsson referenced Richard Day’s. Gramsci is Dead, so I read that, and now clearly I am overwhelmed.

And then there’s my domestic situation, which is in total transition, but informing my opinions and all this is reforming my next series of tricks, (Bullwinkle: Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. Rocky: Again! That trick never works.) which will of course, reform my opinions once again. Which leads me to this link which was thrown into my digital path. But the limited thinking in this digitally lobbed post and it’s discounting of what i think is potentially a great part of the action needed to improve our lives. Which brings me back to Schmidt and Salutin above mentioned work. What action is needed to improve our lives?

Domestic Science 2010

August 15, 2010

Considering a warm science infused with an exploration of everyday life.

How am I living? How do I want to live?

I’m at a point where I can consider these questions, and by point I mean not only a very recent settling of a massive domestic upheaval, but a settled moment from which I must continue to live, with all that that entails.

10 years ago I went through a similar upheaval. Whether or not I learned anything from the previous situation who can tell. I recently read an article I’d written those ten years ago and in it I mention the criminalization of dissent. Right now I mention again being at a point, because there’s definitely an economic necessity to charge ahead, and charging ahead is not conducive to thinking things through. The recent criminalization of dissent surrounding the G20 is a recent spectacle, but domestic/everyday life is a non-spectacle driven by an economic necessity that makes stopping to think a form of dissent. And this form of dissent is punished economically. Like I said, I don’t think I learned anything from my last upheaval, but this time around, I’m going to take notes. If I can’t stop and think, I’ll try thinking on the run…

This is an experiment in living well. I started earlier a study of Aristotle’s Ethics which I’ve since abandoned… But I’ve started gardening, baking bread, volunteering, riding my bike, and looking for work. And all of this with kids around. And now I’m going to start making notes. Everything is Data!

Domestic Science Curriculum 1920

Everything is Data

August 11, 2010

The importance of where an idea is coming from (Latour’s notebooks) Keep track of all our moves. Everything is data. Keep four notebooks, keep to description. nb1. log of enquiry itself. nb2. gathering information. nb3. writing trials nb4. register effects of written account.

This last notebooks suggests an ethic of concern, commitment, continuance.

This ethic of concern also contradicts the common notion of scientific experiment. If someone told you he was experimenting on his friends you’d think — borderline personality disorder, etc. etc. To treat your friends as objects to be manipulated, as data…

This brings up the notion of common understanding, meaning, language, sense. One argument holds that if a word has a meaning it must keep the meaning. You must use words as they are understood if you hope to communicate. If the word has a meaning, don’t change it, find a word that means what you want to say or in other words if you want to say something different say what you want with different words.

In common understanding, science is a cold data based study of a sub-field of matter. But for the social scientist who tries to reduce  the object of study to a cold data, this mode of study is based on selected data, and more accurately the scientist is reduced. Latour brings in everything, of course this is impossible, but it’s not impossible to bring more of your story to the study. Social science becomes a warm science, the science of living. Domestic science could be a warm and intimate science of daily living.