The Worst Ever!

For Goodness Sake, Read History (Part 2)

A few days ago I received an interesting phone call from some lady wanting to share a few Bible verses with me. She started out by quoting Jeremiah 29:11-12, then began talking about having peace during these troubled times. Especially with this pandemic – the worst that’s ever been!

Reader of history that I am, I reminded her of the Black Death. In the 1300’s the Bubonic Plague was brought back to Italy by sailors returning from the orient; it subsequently swept through Europe in several waves and wiped out about a third of the population of the western world. A person could argue that Covid-19 could have been as bad; however, we’ve taken extreme precautions and also have access to an infinitely better health care system.

Plus, our lot is easier because we have less corruption. I read once that in some Italian cities men were hired to go house to house and bring out any that were diseased. These toughs were given free rein to “diagnose” and haul away anyone they didn’t like or demand payment – in whatever form – from the home’s occupants. Occupants unwilling to pay risked being tossed on the cart with those already infected and/or dying.

Pardon me, but the only reason anyone can say this is the worst pandemic in history is because they don’t know history. Even the Spanish ‘flu was worse, as health care was limited and whole families sometimes died. People may be pretty panicked now, but there’s nothing like the superstition of the Middle Ages. No one has resorted to self-flagellation as some did during the Bubonic plague, going from town to town whipping and slashing themselves to gain the sympathy of the gods in hopes of averting the plague.

Climatic Disaster and Famine

Last night in Bible Study we were going over Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt and Pharoah’s dream, which Joseph interpreted. (Genesis Ch.41) Joseph predicted seven years of plenty, followed by seven lean years. According to the Bible account, this was a widespread catastrophe. It dawned on me that the drought and famine in Egypt would have been a lot like our “Dirty thirties” years.

People in the Thirties may have said, “This is the worst climatic disaster in history,” but I suspect there have been various climatic disasters before that one. Most of us have never heard about them. In most cases records weren’t kept; the accounts became simple folklore.

Thankfully, the Great Plains people learned a lot from those dry years; farming practices have changed drastically since the drought and soil moisture conservation has become a priority.

As to the Middle East famine, Joseph was able to guide Egypt through those years and preserve his own family as well. But over all, the land that was once a breadbasket is now desert sand.

Buying, Selling, and Lessons Learned

One good thing is that Egypt didn’t have a stock market to crash like ours did in 1929. In that sense the Thirties delivered a double-whammy here in North America. Then with a war looming — things must have looked pretty bleak indeed to our grandparents.

In the 1920s the sale of stocks was booming, investors were making piles, and bankers came under pressure to make collateral-free loans to wannabe stock-buyers. All these new players drove the price of stocks up, but seasoned traders were keeping a nervous eye on the trading, knowing stock prices had to level off and maybe even drop.

On “Black Tuesday” Oct 29, 1929 someone(s) got so nervous he/they dumped thousands of stocks on the market. Others investors saw this and figured, “Ah! Someone knows something. Prices are going to drop. We’re selling, too!” Sixteen million shares were thrown on the market that day and more during the rest of the week. By Friday the market was flooded with shares no one wanted to buy. The rest is history.

In the 1990’s the US government, under pressure from builders, increased the sale of new houses by urging bankers to give collateral-free loans with very low interest rates. Mortgages were contracted right and left; new home buyers gave the housing market the shot in the arm builders were hoping for. But when those mortgages came up for renewal at the regular interest rate… The rest is history.

The housing market crash and ensuing depression didn’t hit us as hard here in Canada because a) Canadian bankers are far too cautious to make collateral-free loans and b) you can’t legally walk away from a mortgage you’ve contracted here in Canada. If the mortgage holder defaults, the bank may repossess and sell the house but the holder is legally liable to pay whatever is still owing.

Fifty years from now will someone again come up with some new purchase people must make and urge bankers to make low-interest, collateral-free loans so people can have this new necessity? And it will lead to another depression? Or will our descendants read these histories and learn that this hasn’t worked well in the past?

Confessions of an Inured Earthling

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is INURED

Traveling through northern Ontario by train years ago, I’d get whiffs of the putrid sulfur fumes spewing from paper mills along Lake Superior. The joke in those places was, “You don’t need to put meat in your sandwiches. Just open your slices of bread and close them over that rich aroma.”

I felt sorry for the poor folks who lived and worked there. Wouldn’t it be great if these smog-belching, mercury-dumping factories were shut down? But then… Hold on here! I read books, magazines, catalogues. I use printer paper, paper towels, tissues, toilet paper… On second thought, keep on spewing, guys. (Try to contain the mercury, though.)

This morning I went into the kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee, which came from plantations in South America, harvested by laborers there and shipped here by boat. The beans are then roasted and packaged in Canadian factories – in foil packages made in other factories – then trucked to my local supermarket. I may grumble about pollution from factories, but this might seem hypocritical if I’m the one buying their products.

I spread my toast with margarine made from canola oil (once commonly known as rapeseed oil.) I know something about canola – it’s grown in the fields around us. In the spring our water pressure goes through some dips during seeding as our farmer neighbor fills his sprayer in preparation for seeding. Then he gets into his factory-made, fuel-consuming tractor and roars off to seed his grain.

To get good crops, and thus feed the world, farmers may use fertilizers, pre- and post-emergent herbicides, insecticides. In the case of canola, the use of desiccants at harvest is common. I like to wear cotton, but I understand cotton’s a heavily insecticide-sprayed crop. I am concerned about the effects of all these chemicals on our poor old Earth, but I also want to eat and wear clothes. And growers want to earn a living. So what’s the answer?

One day shortly after a power outage here, I was talking with a friend in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario and we discussed how we’d ever survive without electricity. She assured we that we could if we had to – we just would. “But how?” I asked. She answered, “We’d just have to leave the city and go back to the land.” And I thought, You don’t know what you’re saying!

“Think of the hundreds of seniors in your apartment building alone,” I told her. “And the millions of people in your city. Our lives are built on having a reliable source of power. Heating, air-conditioning, traffic control, gas pumps, street lights, water purification and circulation, all depend on power. You just can’t move city dwellers back into the woods, have them build log cabins and expect they’ll survive.”

The fact is, without a fairly steady power supply millions of people across our country would die. Sorry about the pollution, but keep those hydro-electric generators running, churning out power.

When I read fellow blogger Judy D-B’s response to this prompt, mainly the lines about “…the factories smudging the skies with their waste…,” I had to admit my guilt. Paper mills, cotton mills, steel mills – I buy the products of these factories. I use planes that probably pollute the atmosphere. Why, if it were a free trip I might even like to check out one of those fuel-guzzling, pollution-generating behemoths a.k.a an ocean liner. (Just once.)

I can do without flyers, go totally to e-mail, cut back on my purchases. But at our age, I hope we never have to go back to a log cabin in the bush, use candles or kerosine lamps, pump water from a well, chop firewood, wrap up in lots of blankets in winter, hitch the horses to go to town, or use an outdoor biffy where autumn leaves serve as T.P. What about you? Are you willing to give up cell phones, travel, new clothes and paper products in order to save the environment?

Because we seem to really like the life we have now, I don’t see any end to growing practices or factories. (And I really don’t support shutting down factories here, putting our own people out of work because pollution controls are too costly, then buying from countries that produce cheap goods because they ignore pollution issues.)

I do want to be aware, to curb my hunger for “the latest” and not be wasteful. But I don’t see many options, so in the end I go with common sense and have probably inured myself somewhat to how the earth suffers for my sake. As the saying goes…

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Rosy Outlook in the Distance

Good morning everyone,

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is ROSY HUES

I arose just before 6 am this morning, but the rosy hues of dawn were long gone. The sky was bright, the birds going about their business, and the temp was just above freezing. But the predicted high is 25 C and the sky is blue above us: the makings of a warm spring day.

Perhaps the prompt-giver was thinking of other ROSY HUES — figurative ones — which I also thought of this morning. A few days ago my husband informed me his favorite book store in the city plans to open next week, along with other stores. Access limited to fifteen people at a time, but still.. The dawning of a new era.

one by one restrictions lift
people begin to breathe
to move about, to gather
cautiously at first

stores open their doors
employees take their places
the world faces a new dawn
its
rosy hues
still in the distance

Dawn.analogicus
             Image by analogicus from Pixabay

Too Easy To Toss Our Stuff

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is CINCH.

Since few people ride a horse today, the first definition of CINCH: a strap that fastens around the horse’s belly and holds the saddle of a horse, is not so commonly known.

The second meaning, something easily done, is still in use, but other expressions have crowded in. You’ll often hear, “It was a breeze” or “a snap,” “easy-peasy,” “a cakewalk” or “a piece of cake.” Merriam-Webster lists one I haven’t heard, “duck soup.”

I can’t imagine what’s so easy about duck soup, but no one asked me before making it up.

I do know one thing that has become far too easy— I was reading a post about it yesterday. It’s a shame to us in North America just how easy this has become.

Our North American dilemma: What to do with the clothing we’ve worn five-ten times and now it’s SO out of fashion we have to get rid of it?

Oh, that’s a cinch! Donate it to some second hand clothing store like Value Village, Goodwill, or some charity shop. And feel good. “Some needy person…” and all that.

Sad to say, only about 20% of the clothing that’s donated is sold. So what do they do with the 80% of the used clothing  they can’t sell? Easy-peasy. Bundle it up and send it to some third-world country. And feel good. “Some needy people…etc.”

According to this article — Click HERE to READ — the U.S. sends away over a billion pounds of used clothing every year, mainly to East Africa. And having been manager of an MCC Thrift Shop myself, I can verify that here in Canada we aren’t doing anything different; what we couldn’t sell we packed up and sent to the local Value Village, or to one woman who collected our stuff, bundled it up, and sent to her African home country.

It’s not hard to grasp that countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda are feeling SWAMPED and are actually considering banning our stuff. Oh NO! If they won’t take it, we’ll have to make more and bigger landfill sites.

Many voices are raised in protest against pollution and global warming, but we are the recipients of, the ones whose lifestyle is supporting, all this pollution. I read an article a few days ago about the industrial wastes produced in China — and dumped into a huge toxic tailing pond — to make the components for our cell phone and other electronics. Yet the demand continues around the world for newer and better.

I’ve read many articles insisting, or wailing, that “The government needs to do something…” But I’m thinking the answer to cutting back on pollution may be found where we don’t want to look: in our own personal budget. Cinch it a bit. (re: def #1)

Do take time to read this article. I think the writer is giving a good overall picture, plus some practical answers with regard to choosing clothing for long-term wear. And I don’t want to discourage anyone from recycling by making charitable donations; this avenue is definitely worthwhile. Sales generate income for various charitable organizations.

The bigger problem I’m seeing is that we’ve built our world on consuming. Things aren’t built to last. And what would stores do if they couldn’t sell us all that stuff we’re going to throw away? Businesses would go bankrupt; workers would be laid off. Even a short-term dip like production in China slowing down because of the Coronavirus has led US and Canadian banks to drop interest rates in order to stimulate the economy.

How to get back from this point, that is the question. Would a grassroots movement work or wreak havoc? Could each of us do more to stop pollution by buying less new stuff, without throwing the country into a major recession? Important questions to ask. Yet it seems most of us have the vague sense that somehow, someday, our consumption-driven society is going to crash.

Those Seasonal Sales

Today’s Word of the Day prompt is WRINKLE. Coupled with the inspiration from my recent shopping adventure, I’ve composed this poem. (You may call it a consumer rant if you wish. 😉 )

Seasonal Sales

In the blink of an eye,
the wrinkle of a brow,
another sale—limited time offer!—
kicks off with spectacular
savings you can’t miss.

First New Year’s sales, then Spring
with its end-of-winter-clearance,
followed by ready-for-Easter sales
with prices so low you have to
spend and stock up.

In the blink of an eye,
the wrinkle of a brow,
summer sale are upon us:
holidays, barbecues, cottages;
you need to buy all kinds of stuff!
Suntan lotion, insect repellent
by the gallon, at low, low price!

In the blink of an eye,
the wrinkle of a brow,
the back-to-school sales start
abutting nicely, while you’re there,
with end-of-summer clearances
that lawn mower you wanted
back in spring, now price-reduced
and ready for that fall clean-up.
Yes, you can spend—and save big time—
all in the blink of an eye.

Parents shopping for school books
are greeted by goblins, masks
and shelves of lanterns, because Halloween
is just around the corner. And fall’s the time
to plant those shrubs and bulbs
now on sale at half price.

In the blink of an eye,
the wrinkle of a brow,
Thanksgiving adds pumpkins, pilgrims
Black Friday and pre-Christmas sales
to keep the economy afloat.

Up go the calendar displays,
offering convenient gifts to please
those “impossible-to-buy-for”
bosses, uncles and aunts.
At the Super-Fall-Clearance table,
shoppers eye a book that offers to explain
how to reduce clutter and stress—
“Half price this week” —and sigh.

In the blink of an eye,
the wrinkle of a brow,
Christmas season’s upon us;
trees and lights go up and last year’s
decorations are on sale for a steal
and merchants pray for snow.
“Remember those folks on your lists,”
competes with “Jingle Bells”
to jingle tills, while shoppers
wander the aisles in a daze.

The first week in December
Boxing Day fliers arrive, awash
with after-Christmas bargains on
those gifts not bought, left-over
boxed cards and wrap, 60% off!

Eyes blinking, brows wrinkling,
and wallets seriously depleted,
consumers take a deep breath
and wait for the New Year
and the next onslaught of sales.

Of Chemicals and Consumers

Fandango’s prompt today: CHEMICAL

I wonder if this word, for most of us, doesn’t bring up negative connotations? We have a love-hate, relationship with the things. Like the old English song about the wife, “You can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.”

Pollution of land, air, sea, and body — this all stems from chemicals, right? They’re keeping us alive longer and at the same time making us more sickly. We want our strawberry ice cream to be pink, our blueberry jelly to be blue, our white flour to be white. Which means we are, by default, consuming dyes and bleaches.

Even with death, we prefer the chemical version. When my birth mother died here in Saskatchewan the family opted to have her cremated. Our family doesn’t really do death and funerals well, so the children opted against having a viewing, so there was no cosmetology used. But I was coming from Quebec and my sister from Alberta, and neither of us had seen her for a good while — in my case it was over fifteen years — and we wanted one last goodbye.

So the funeral home prepared her for viewing that morning. When my birth father heard that I was going to view the body, he decided to go, too. We got there and looked down in her in the coffin they’d put her in, and she looked…well…dead. Her skin tone starting to degenerate in the way dead skin does.

My Dad was okay with it and so was I. He patted her hand and said his good-bye. But I made the mistake of saying in front of my sister, “I guess this is what the Bible means when it says, ‘From dust thou art and to dust though shalt return’.” And my sister burst into tears.

If given a choice, most of us prefer attractive to plain, enhanced to reality, bleached white paper to the natural colour that would come off the rollers in paper mills. But we fuss about pollution and climate change. Over the years we’ve come up with a delightful — at least to the employed — alternative. Companies in North America have shipped their manufacturing jobs to countries where pollution control and worker safety concerns barely affect the product or its cost.

We buy cheap; pollution, wages — or lack of — and safety issues are someone else’s problem. What’s not to love?

The trade deficit, you say? Forgot about that. (Thankfully my own country, Canada, has natural resources to sell, so our deficit isn’t so bad at present.) Immigrants flowing in the front door while jobs are flowing out the back could be an issue, too. However, I’ve heard some people emphatically deny that there’s a lack of jobs for the incoming crowd.

Which brings me to the dilemma I see in North America today: should consumers insist on buying items produced here in our own countries and pay the price — pollution control, wages, company pensions, and public safety costs included? Which means doing with fewer choices and a LOT less stuff. Or shall we continue to support overseas production and let those countries deal with the consequences? (And keep on borrowing from international money lenders to cover trade deficits.)

A person’s answer may well depend on what income bracket they are in.

And I have wandered far off the prompt topic of chemicals.

As I type this, I have bun dough rising in a warm spot. Yeast is a bacteria, not a chemical, so I can’t exactly call dough rising a chemical reaction. But the effect of warm cinnamon rolls on the human palate could maybe be explained as a chemical reaction.