Archive for June 2006
Tonight Charity and I finished Colonial House, the latest in a series of reality TV shows produced by PBS. The general outline of a PBS reality show is as follows:
Pick a time period, a location, and a diverse group of normalish people from the 21st century. Then give the participants basic training in the skills of the time needed for survival and guidance on the social laws of the time. Finally, turn them loose for four or five months with following instructions
1) Use only the technology of the time period.
2) Become as functional a replica of the time as your community can (especially in regards to be prepared when winter arrives).
3) Live by the social customs of the time.
Colonial House is set in 1628 New England and is comprised of a Southern Baptist family from Texas, two college professors from California, an atheistic family from Massachusetts, and assorted single folks from New York City, Charleston (SC) and England who are charged with the goal of becoming an economically viable endeavor. On the whole they were a likeable group and the eight part series was an eye raising revisitation of realities of 17th century life. Watching people sleep on dirt, chop their fire wood, and eat peas-porridge hot and cold for months on end makes me very thankful for electricity and grocery stores. Watching them wrestle with state enforced church attendance has sparked much discussion over the last week and listening to the reflections of the visiting Indian tribes will probably spark some reflections on the reading I do for school.
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I keep coming back to these shows. This installment is the third one that we’ve watched over the last year with previous series being Frontier House set in 1883 Montana and Manor House set in 1905 England. I think it’s interesting to learn about the technology of day: and watch people struggle with it while trying to building houses and pigpens or learn to cook. I get squeamish as I watch them mill about uncomfortably as they knock a sheep unconscious, quickly try to slit its throat and then relish and revel in fresh roasted meat. I enjoy the economic, historical and social perspectives of the times. I appreciate how they give voice to all the participants and to people I normal wouldn’t know.
I also find it really interesting to listen to the people reflect on their experiences during the filming of the show after several months back in their regular lives. It’s interesting how over each of the series the participants mourn different parts of the modern world and you can’t help but wonder if the technology and wealth that make our lives easier isn’t part of what keeps us apart.
It’s a close call but after reflecting with Charity I’d say that of the three we’ve seen Colonial House is our favorite. Each are recommendable for their own reasons, but with Colonial House you get to know the characters more closely. The layout of the community provides more interaction between the multiple families and single folks. And I think the issues encountered are larger than the others and have left me thinking more about them. Good television!
The NYTimes ran an article this morning on the effects of ethanol subsidies in
"That the United States is using corn, among the more expensive crops to grow and harvest, to help meet the country's fuel needs is a testament to the politics underlying ethanol's 30-year rise to prominence. Brazilian farmers produce ethanol from sugar at a cost roughly 30 percent less.
But in America's farm belt, politicians have backed the ethanol movement as a way to promote the use of corn, the nation's most plentiful and heavily subsidized crop. Those generous government subsidies have kept corn prices artificially low — at about $2 a bushel — and encouraged flat-out production by farmers, leading to large surpluses symbolized by golden corn piles towering next to grain silos in Iowa and Illinois.
While farmers are seeing little of the huge profits ethanol refiners like Archer Daniels Midland are banking, many farmers are investing in ethanol plants through cooperatives or simply benefiting from the rising demand for corn. With Iowa home to the nation's first presidential caucuses every four years, just about every candidate who visits the state pays obeisance to ethanol."
So let me make sure I get the story straight. Large corporations are lobbying politicians to pass laws that require that my tax dollars fund their business instead of them earning that money by competing in a level market with producers of other crops. How do they do this? By staying out of the spotlight when they can and claiming (falsely) that the subsidies help average American farmers and is good for the environment (debatable).
I'm not sure why the Times has its ear to the ground on the issue of agricultural subsidies as much as it does. Perhaps it's because the US government paid out over 22,900,000,000 dollars in agricultural subsidies in 2000 (though a little less over the last couple of years, closer to $20,000,000,000). Since there are about 300,000,000 Americans we can say that each year each of us writes a $75 check to America's farmers (that includes a check for each of our children) on top of what we pay at the store. I can't help but wonder why I couldn't just pay more for my food.
Ah, you say, but doesn't that just mean that our food is cheaper? Well yes the grains we eat are cheaper and so is the meat from the animals we eat, and so is the food the Japanese and other countries eat. That is because America exports huge amounts of grain and meat each year so our $75 checks (or $300 checks if you're a family of four), in effect, make it cheaper for Japanese consumers to eat our corn and soybeans.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that the government doesn't subsidize fruits and vegetables, so therefore processed foods with all the corn syrup are relatively cheaper in the supermarket than the things that are healthier? In a significant way it's the law, not the market that determines that difference. And let's not start on sugar, politics, poor farmers in other nations, and corn syrup.
But I digress. The point of the article was the effects of subsidizing ethanol. The article does a good job of talking about the pure politics of it.
Thinking about the whole situation raises my blood pressure.
Tonight Charity is on the phone and I am downstairs with a glass of red wine, the computer and the hum of the air conditioner keeping me company as I mull over the future of my knees.
In the fall of 2002, after having experienced sharp pain in my knees over the course of the preceding year, I had two surgeries performed in fairly quick succession which were designed to lessen the pain and reduce the chances of further injury. The good news from the surgeries was that they were successful and my initial tissue recovery was remarkably good. I was able to walk again quickly and have recovered much of the strength in my thighs, though they still give me trouble. The bad news was that during the surgery the surgeon discovered deep cracks in the meniscus of one knee and significant deterioration in the other.
Afterwards the doctor was clear in his explanation. My knees were old, well beyond my years, and I faced significant future deterioration. With proper care they would last a while, with abuse they would deteriorate faster. The end was something to be prolonged as long as possible since there isn't a good medical solution to this problem and the consequences will be very painful.
This was bad news and I heard it first four years ago. As recovered I changed the way I live. The changes seem small things to those around me and probably go unheeded but I notice the regularity of them, how many times a day I do something different than I used to: I always take the elevator down instead of the stairs and when I must I take them I do so slowly; I don't run for fun and try to stay on soft surfaces on the occasions when I play sports; my once frequent backpacking trips have subsided; deep knee bends are painful and highly discouraged so I try to transfer much of my efforts standing up and kneeling down to my arms or always use both my knees if I cannot; I bend over to pick up things instead of kneeling; I'm a frequent consumer of hand rails, tables, sinks and chairs.
Over the preceding years I've known these bleak facts about myself, but two weekends ago I had an experience that has begun to make me realize more what this will mean for the future. During a visit to Clemson I played ultimate with the group of college friends who had assembled for the wedding which brought me back to my alma mater. It was a grand time, the most fun I have had in a long time, and for someone who hadn't played in almost two years I played well and I loved it. I loved the camaraderie. I relished in the characteristic heat and how appropriate it was for a Clemson experience. And I loved the beauty of the game. It revived in me the joy of former years I used to get from pounding sprints I gave, up and down the grassy fields under the South Carolina heat, in pursuit of a disc.
On the following Monday I could barely walk, not from muscle soreness as I had expected but instead from a frighting pain in my knees which cursed my every step. Tuesday brought no relief and by Thursday the bleak prognosis of the past felt as if had prematurely descended upon me. Thankfully since then the pain has subsided, but the experience has left me remembering the past prognosis and the present reality in a way that I haven't felt before. And that has proved very hard.
I think part of what makes it so hard is the juxtaposition: participating so fully in something I loved and experiencing so much pain as a consequence. I'm beginning for the firs time to internalize the reality of what this prognosis means and in doing so I feel the sharpness which I feel cut off from living the way I want to, the way I used to. My body that is failing, although in a non-fatal way.
On the one hand the current consequences are mundane, elevator instead of stairs, swimming instead of ultimate, but on the other the consequences are several dozen changes a day, each one a result of what I shouldn't or can't do; each one reminding me of this reality that is mine until I pass away; and each one tapping me again and again about the future, reminding me that this will never get better, it can, by definition, only be maintained or get worse.
All this seems very hard and as I write I can't help but think of friends with chronic conditions. I wonder for how many years they have thought these same thoughts, had similar experiences, suffered similar changes. As a classmate once pointed out: when your eyes are opened to a new reality you see it everywhere. And so I do as I think of those friends.
As I played tennis with Charity today I bent over and listened to my creaking knees and wondered how long . . . and wondered about the seemingly inevitable . . . and still, even after writing all, this I don't know how quite how to look it all in the face, though that doesn't lessen the reality of it.
Normally this is Charity’s category, but last night when Charity and I walked downtown to meet some friends we had an interesting experience on the lawn in front of Weaver Street Market. After 15 minutes sitting on the patchy grass and talking to our friends relaxing under the cool breezes of the summer evening we saw something we really weren’t expecting: goats. Two baby goats to be specific. On rope leashes.
They were milling around with a group of slightly earthy looking folk and mainly being doted upon by two blond headed 4 year-olds. And it all seemed a normal activity for them, indeed it must have been considering how the adults ignored the goats in favor of conversation amongst their party in the twilight. The other patrons sat at their tables, typing on their iMacs and drinking their organic wines and fair-trade, decaf cappuccinos and didn’t blink an eye.
Do people bring goats downtown in other places or is this just Carrboro?
Needless to say the dog our friends had went slightly nuts at the sight of the two goats and we really wished we had our camera so we could document the experience. We should know better than to walk downtown without it. You never know what you’ll see.
I sat down at noon today in the student union full of hope and walked out with a sour taste in my mouth that still lingers tonight. Why you ask? Because I watched the USA lose 0-3 to the Czech Republic in their opening match of the 2006 World Cup.
Loosing our first game greatly reduces the USA's chances of advancing to the next round but what's worse, the entire team looked terrible, from front to back. We couldn't pass, managed two legitimate shots on goal, were uninspired, played timidly and generally looked like we shouldn't have qualified to play in the tournament. It's hard to convey how disappointingly awful the team's performance was but it was bad.
If we can't secure a win against Italy on Saturday then we will be unlikely to advance and for the national team followers like myself, whose hopes were high enough to be still be disappointed tonight, the sour taste of poor play will linger for a while.
Yesterday I attended the wedding of a dear friend who I've gotten to know over my three years in Chapel Hill. It was a great pleasure to meet his family, watch him wed his bride and celebrate their wedding with many mutual friends on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Theirs was the second of many weddings this summer. Both the ones so far have been great parties, not just in the sense that the food was fabulous, the locations beautiful and the music good, but more so because there was a clear intent to celebrate.
As I think about the weddings I've been to in the past I don't recall the celebration part as well as I do the event itself. Perhaps they weren't less celebratory. Perhaps, as with many things, it's my point of view that has let me to notice the celebration part better. For the ability to value a party I'm grateful and when I finally leave the Chapel Hill area I think that knowing the value of celebrating good things will be a major lesson from my years here.
Below are some pictures of the interesting sights to be found around the garden center where the reception was held. The weather was beautiful, just cool enough for us to be comfortable in the breeze of a low humidity June day in Central North Carolina.