Sunday, January 3, 2021

RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 13 Is Off to a Lousy Start

After watching the first episode of RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 13, I felt moved to write the following email to the production company, World of Wonder.


I watched your Meet the Queens video on YouTube and was excited by what a great lineup you have this year. A transgender man, a natural-hair queen and a figure skater are among this fabulous bunch of talented, fascinating contestants.

So it was all the more disappointing to see them treated with contempt on the very first episode—indeed, on the very first DAY. Six lip-synchs in a row (you know, I have nothing against lip-synchs, but they're not the only thing I want to see!), RuPaul made some pretty random-looking decisions, and seven beautiful, brilliant queens were herded into something called "The Pork Chop Docking Bay," as if they were property rather than people.

Then they were told they must choose one queen to eliminate. They rightly protested that they can't reasonably do that. They don't know each other. Just as RuPaul doesn't know them yet, and had little to no basis to put them in the "docking bay."

It was dehumanizing, insulting and disgusting—to the current queens, and to the eponymous Pork Chop. And it didn't make for great TV either. It was repetitive and tedious.

One of the things I've enjoyed about RuPaul's Drag Race in the past is what sets it apart from most reality TV shows. It's not like Fear Factor, Big Brother or Wipe Out (usually). It's not primarily about pitting people against each other and watching the fur fly. It's about watching the queens being creative, improving their craft, coming to terms with difficult aspects of their past and forging relationships despite the competitive aspect.

Watching the latest degradation of the queens, I wonder if you've ever understood what the strength of your show is. Maybe you really think you should be more like Wipe Out or Fear Factor. Maybe you worry that you don't make your contestants eat enough bugs or hate each other enough.

Reality shows don't have to be like this. Watching people get tormented on TV is a kind of cultural sickness. It's a sad substitute for watching people come together in community.

RuPaul's Drag Race has, in the past, provided glimpses into that better type of reality TV show that is possible. I hope those moments aren't all in the past, but the Pork Chop Docking Bay is a very bad sign.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Want to Vote by Mail in the New Brunswick Snap Election? Good Luck With That

I'm SO angry at Elections NB. Allegedly, if we don't want to endanger ourselves by voting in person, we can apply for a mail-in ballot. That's the theory. The reality is, good luck figuring out how to do that.

At least they have a "Vote by Mail" link right on the home page, not that it's as obvious as it should be. It's in the lower-right corner, under "Quick Links." Or at least, it was. Right now, it seems to have disappeared. I am serious. Fortunately, I've linked to it. So click here, and you get instructions that tell you that you can make that application "once the returning offices have opened."

Have the returning offices opened? Who the fuck knows? It would be helpful if you could click on that part of the instructions and be taken to a page that tells you all about the returning offices, but no. It looks like a link, but it's just underlined.

There is at least a link directly to the Application for a Special Ballot (yes, that's the same as a mail-in ballot, not that Elections NB can be bothered to make that clear). Clicking that link allows you to download the form. Despite the special circumstances (unnecessary election during a pandemic and all that), it's the same old form, featuring Section 7 in which you fill in your reason for wanting to vote by mail, either:

  1. "my own illness or incapacity, or
  2. responsibility to care for another person unable to go the polls."

Really, those are the only reasons? No "I don't want to catch COVID-19 and die"? One would hope the form would at least have something for immuno-compromised people, who are most at risk of severe illness and death. It doesn't.

Well, you can still fill it in, leave Section 7 blank, and hope for the best, right? Except that you then have to figure out where to send it. According to the instructions, you need to mail it to your returning office. You know, that thing that may or may not be open.

I did a search, and it turns out they are open, hallelujah. That's according to this News Release, which is very short, and concludes with, "The locations of each returning office and its hours of operation are posted on the Elections NB website." With a link. Wouldn't it be great if that link took you directly to the page about the returning offices? Ha ha, of course it doesn't. That would be too easy. It just takes you to the Elections NB landing page.

Fortunately, there is a link for that on the home page, although again, not as easy to find as it should be. It's in the upper-right corner, under "General." Or it was. Now it's not, because apparently they redid this page while I was working on this post, with the express purpose of making it worse. Again fortunately for you, I'm linking to it here: Returning Offices. And I literally had to look through my browser history to find it again. You're welcome. So now, all you have to do is click on that link, look up your riding in the list, and there's your returning office and its address. You're good to go.

Oh wait, you don't know what your riding is? Oh honey, you're fucked.

Just kidding, it's OK. All you have to do is go back to the home page, yet again, and click on Provincial Electoral Districts (Maps). Unless, of course, that link has also disappeared. Again, I am NOT EVEN JOKING about this. I wish I was. So for the third time, click here.

If you're lucky, you can maybe figure it out from the crappy, not-very-detailed map image on this page. Or you can check out the slightly-more-detailed-but-still-totally-unhelpful PDF. Or if you can guess which is your riding, you can click on that link and get a map of the riding and try to find your street on there. Or maybe you should just call the toll-free number: 1-888-858-8683. That's probably the best option. Let the lazy buggers do some work for a change.

New Brunswick has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country. How many people will have the ability to go through this process, never mind the patience or the research skills? How about people who live in rural areas and don't have good internet connections? How many people will just give up and go to the polling place in person, or just not vote at all? I expect this election to have very low turnout.

Now, if Chief Electoral Officer Kimberly Poffenroth and Assistant Chief Electoral Officer David Owens had had any real interest in keeping people safe, here's what the would have done.

  1. They would have put a big Vote by Mail link, preferably with an image (like the one above that I stole from Elections Canada), right in the middle of the home page. Click on that, and you get taken to...
  2. A form that you can mail in to ONE CENTRAL ADDRESS. Once the form arrived there, nice people would check your address and postal code, find your riding based on that, and forward it to the correct returning office.

Here's the crazy thing: they actually do have two big images in a slideshow, right in the middle of the page. But they're useless. One of them says, "VOTE NB 2020." The other says, "Covid-19 [sic] & Voting." Neither of them link to anything.

Anyway, all that is what they would have done, if they had any genuine interest ensuring that every single adult New Brunswicker is able to vote in safety. But they didn't, because they don't care.

Update (Aug. 26): Great news! You can, in fact, vote by mail for any reason. If neither of the reasons in Section 7 of the form apply to you, just leave that part blank.

It took me two phone calls to discover this. First I called the toll-free number and left a message, but the person who called back several hours later had "no idea." I had to call the returning office for an answer to this question, she said. I asked her for the phone number for my returning office, and it took her quite some time to find it. First she gave me the wrong one. I asked her if she was looking up the information on the website. When she said no, I assumed she had some other computer system, perhaps a slow and glitchy one, until she added, "I have a pile of paper!"

That's the state-of-the-art system that Elections NB is equipping their employees with. You heard it here first.

Also, I just found out that Elections NB has a form that lets you find your electoral district by entering your address. Much better than trying to figure it out from the maps. Why they don't link to this from the home page, I can't imagine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Shania Twain Had a Point, Or: The Only Way to Beat a Right-Wing Populist

When I heard that Shania Twain got in hot water for saying that she would have liked to vote for Donald Trump if she could, my knee-jerk reaction was to think she was silly and ignorant. But I had to stop and ask myself, what is Trump's appeal? He clearly has some, despite all the awful things he's said and done.

Twain said it herself: "He seemed honest."[1] He isn't of course, but he is a straight talker. Whatever comes into his head is quick to fly out his mouth. No number of handlers can keep him "on message" for long.

Contrast this to what we have come to expect from our politicians. Spin. Talking points. Questions going unanswered. Boring blather. Broken promises (Justin Trudeau being just the latest, most egregious example).

"If I were voting," said Twain, "I just don't want bullshit."[2] Bullshit is exactly what we get from our politicians. We've had decades upon decades of bullshit. Did they think nobody would get tired of it? Fact is, our politicians are the ones responsible for the upswing of right-wing populism around the globe. They built this edifice of Neo-Fascism, brick by bullshit-infused brick.

Twain should be neither vilified nor mocked. She should be lauded for her valuable insight. She told us exactly What Happened, probably better than Hillary Clinton's self-serving, blame-everybody-and-everything-but-Hillary-Clinton book ever can. Let's hail Twain as the prophet of the twenty-first century: voters don't want bullshit, and that's why Trump is the President of the United States.

In the long run, only one thing can beat a right-wing populist, and that's a left-wing populist. Bernie Sanders could have beaten Donald Trump; polls told us that well before the election.[3] Among other things, Clinton wasn't progressive enough to present voters with an exciting alternative to Trump. Sadly, while the Republican Party failed to prevent the nomination of their populist, the Democratic Party succeeded, and Americans are paying the price.

And as long as left-wing parties continue to block their most interesting, populist candidates, the rise of the right will continue. Perhaps that's what we're seeing in New Brunswick, with the NB Green Party's unprecedented ousting of Fredericton North candidate Chris Smissaert. No reason was given.[4]

So it seems our elites have not learned. They continue to want someone controllable, predictable, presentable and safe. Someone who will stay on message. Someone who will bore the living shit out of the voters. This fact puts us in continuing danger of being governed by somebody like Doug Ford.[5]

What can we ordinary people do? My best advice is, stop holding your nose and voting for the safe option. That's not a winning formula. Vote for the left-wing populist. If he gets blocked from running, vote for him when he runs as an independent. Yes, that may split the vote, but what difference does it make if the right-wing populist wins because of vote-splitting or because of the lack of an appealing candidate on the left? The result is the same, so we may as well bet on the only real chance we have.

Fear of vote-splitting is how our overlords keep us under control. It's the reason Justin Trudeau didn't implement Proportional Representation. He doesn't want you to vote for the left-wing populist, he wants you to vote for him, and he's perfectly happy to undermine democracy, trash the environment, and betray Indigenous people and everyone else in order to maximize his chances of winning an unjust majority.

If you rail against the "ignorance" of those who find Trump appealing, you're wasting your breath. Sure, in a perfect world, everyone eligible to vote would make an effort to research the candidates and their policies. Since this is the real world, that's never going to happen.

Another thing that's never going to happen is whipping all left-wing voters into voting for the safe, dull candidate the king-makers (or the queen-makers) have chosen. The Americans have that whipping and bullying routine down to a science. Third parties were scarcely a factor in their last election, and the results were as we have seen. In Canada, the situation is different. This hasn't been a two-party system in a long time, and it will never be again.

We need to thwart the king-makers, and choose the left-wing populist. Business as usual can only doom us.

1. "Shania Twain Apologizes After Saying She Would've Voted for Trump", CBC News. Back

2. Ibid. Back

3. "Bernie Sanders says he consistently beats Donald Trump by bigger margins than Hillary Clinton does", Politifact. Back

4. "N.B Green Party bans candidate from running in provincial election", KHJ Radio. Back

5. "With nine weeks to go, the Ontario election is Doug Ford's to lose", CBC News. Back

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Open Letter to Justin Trudeau - Breaking the Electoral Reform Promise is Unacceptable

I wish to make it clear how unacceptable it is to me that the electoral reform promise is being abandoned.

We came out of 4 years of the high-handed demagoguery of the Harper government only to watch the United States enter 4 years of the even higher-handed demagoguery of the Trump government. Both were elected by a minority of the population. Your election was sandwiched between two of the most compelling arguments for Proportional Representation that history could ever concoct. If this doesn't convince you of the urgent need to pass Proportional Representation, nothing ever could, so clearly your reluctance has nothing to do with what's best for the country.

Nor does it have anything to do with the supposed "lack of engagement" of the Canadian people. Nobody's going to buy that one after well-attended town hall meetings and hearings across Canada at which the overwhelming majority of speakers expressed their support for Proportional Representation.

Why not tell us the real reason? We can't address your fears if we don't know what they are. Some say you don't want to pass Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) because of the larger ridings and large number of list seats. Then pass something else, such as Single Transferable Vote (STV) or Rural-Urban Proportional (RU-PR) or Mixed Multi-Member Proportional (M3P). There are no shortage of options to choose from.

If you still refuse to pass PR, know this: not only will I not vote Liberal in the next election, but I will do everything in my power to prevent the Liberals from winning another majority. And I will not be alone.

Have you already forgotten that you entered power thanks to a nationally co-ordinated strategic-voting campaign? Can you be so arrogant as to imagine that we'll do it again, after this betrayal?

Not a chance. If you force us to strategise again, the next strategy will be a Conservative minority government under Michael Chong with as many Green and NDP seats as possible.

I urge you to reconsider.

Vivian Unger

Friday, January 27, 2017

Proportional Representation: Myths and Misconceptions

The following is an expanded version of a speech I gave before the New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform, on Jan. 20, 2017.

We often hear that there are two types of electoral systems: Majoritarian and Proportional, and that our current system, First Past the Post, is a Majoritarian system.

In fact, there are three types of electoral systems: Plurality, Majoritarian and Proportional. In a plurality system, the candidate need only win more votes than every other candidate. If more than two candidates are running, that percentage will be well less than 50%. For example, if four candidates are running, a candidate could win with a little over 20% of the vote.

In a Majoritarian system, a candidate must win at least 50% of the votes in order to win the election. This is accomplished either with a second, run-off election, as in France, or with a ranked ballot, as in Alternative Vote. More on that later. Majoritarian systems work best in elections that only one person can win, such as presidential elections, or mayoral elections. When used to elect many candidates in many ridings, such as it is in Australia, the results can be even more distorted than they are under First Past the Post, and smaller parties suffer as a consequence.

In a Proportional system, votes are counted in such a way as to reward seats to candidates in proportion to the percentage of votes that they won. This is usually done according to party membership, although one fascinating system, Single Transferable Vote, accomplishes it without considering parties at all. Theoretically, a whole nation of independents could run in an election using this system, and the results would be fair and proportional, although it might be hard to know that.[1]

As you may have realized by now, vote counting is considerably more complex under a proportional system than it is under a Plurality system. We proponents of Proportional Representation think the results are worth it.

The habit, so common to journalists, politicians and other people who should know better, of incorrectly referring to First Past the Post as a Majoritarian system, probably contributes to the common misconception that a candidate must win most of the votes in a riding to win the seat. In fact, the candidate need only win a larger portion than all other candidates—a plurality. His portion of the vote may be well short of 50%. This makes First Past The Post not a Majoritarian system but a Plurality system.

The Majoritarian system Alternative Vote is often called ranked voting or preferential voting. This is the system that the New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform chose for some reason to recommend in its paper: Strengthening New Brunswick's Democracy. As the Commission's own report points out, it can produce results that are even more disproportional than First Past The Post[2]. It doesn't tend to improve voter turnout, and won't increase diversity in the legislature.

I want to point out here that Alternative Vote is not the only system that uses a ranked ballot. Single Transferable Vote is a system of proportional representation that also uses a ranked ballot. So if the New Brunswick government really wants to introduce a ranked ballot, I would suggest implementing Single Transferable Vote.

Myth number two: the false majorities caused by First Past The Post are desirable because they lead to strong leadership. What they really lead to is a phenomenon called "policy lurch." This is when one party with a majority rams through a lot of unpopular legislation until an election comes along. The new party in power sets about undoing everything the previous government put in place. At the next election, the whole process can begin again. This is a massive waste of time and energy and it is the reason why our governments are less effective than proportional governments and take so much longer to progress.[3]

We've seen this most dramatically at the federal level since the Harper government, but here in New Brunswick, we teeter-totter between the Liberal and Conservative parties in a similarly unproductive way.

Myth number three states that governments elected via proportional representation are unstable. Studies show no correlation between stability and electoral systems. One of the most stable governments in the world, the Swiss government, is elected by List Proportional Representation. One of the most unstable governments in the world, the Italian government, is also elected by List Proportional Representation. Government stability is determined by factors other than electoral system. [4]

In any case, if we value stability above all else, we should throw out elections and switch to an oligarchy. In this system, citizens have to wait for the people on top to die before they can have a new government. Barring assassination, it's the most stable system in the world.

Myth number four: "Simple is better." A whole web site has been set up to promote this rather insulting notion: I think the perfect rejoinder comes from David M. Farrell, the author of Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction. He writes that the ballot we're accustomed to, on which one makes a single 'x' next to one preferred candidate, is, "of obvious advantage in highly illiterate societies."[5]

I know that New Brunswick's literacy rates are not what might be desired, but I don't think we qualify as so "highly illiterate" that we can only manage an 'x.' In that case, it would be necessary for each candidate to have an icon printed next to their names. I haven't seen that on a Canadian ballot yet.

Myth number five is one that particularly concerns me. I fear it is preventing Proportional Representation from being accepted at both the provincial and federal levels. It is the idea that First Past The Post is advantageous for the party in power. Stephen Harper endorsed this idea when he told Elizabeth May, "No group of elected representatives is likely to fundamentally change the system by which they were elected".[6]

This notion needs a rethink. The current system is not advantageous to the party in power. It was advantageous to that party—in the last election. How a party did in a past election tells us nothing about how it will do in a future election. If we look at past New Brunswick elections, the government has switched between Liberal and PC majorities since 1999.[7] So if you're really in a gambling mood, bet on the Conservatives winning the next election under our current system. If the current Liberal government is interested in protecting their seats, their best bet is to bring in Proportional Representation. Of course, they won't win back all their current seats under Proportional Representation. But chances are, they won't anyway.

If you want to think of elections as a game, then the best move is Proportional Representation. Ideally though, we would like our representatives to remember that this is not a game. It's our province and our lives they're playing with. We'd like their priority to be what is best for the province. From that point of view, the best choice is still Proportional Representation.

1. For a good summary of the main types of electoral systems, see The Government of Canada's Electoral Systems Factsheet. Back

2. Select Committee on Electoral Reform, Strengthening New Brunswick's Democracy (Fredericton: Government of New Brunswick, 2016), 17. Back

3. Salomon Orellana, Electoral Systems and Governance: How Diversity Can Improve Policy-Making (London: Routledge, 2014), 71. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017 on He writes, "...over the roughly 25-year period considered here, tolerance of homosexuality increased by 0.41 points in proportional multiparty systems and 0.20 points in SMD/two-party systems. Another way to think about this outcome is that if support for homosexuality were to start at zero in a country, it would take approximately 30 years for a majority of the population in a fully proportional/multiparty system to show support for that issue, while it would take over 70 years to reach a majority in an SMD/two-party system.” Back

4. Farrell, p. 195, table 9.1. Back

5. Farrell, p. 64. Back

6. Elizabeth May, Losing Confidence: Politics and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2009), 204. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017 on Back

7. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017. Back

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Children Are Jailed For Their Parents' Crimes in Blame (Book Review)

Blame is a near-future dystopian novel set in the UK. Following a global economic depression, public anger focuses on those who benefited financially from embezzlement, fraud or other crimes. The people want revenge, but in many cases the perpetrators are dead or can't be found. So attention turns to their descendants, and the concept of "heritage crime" is born.

As Abie (a.k.a. Ant) explains it: "People don't like us, Mattie, you know that. Outside it's because we 'got away' with it for so long, because we had this great life we weren't supposed to have…. It makes them feel better if they can blame us for everything. They used to blame black people, refugees, Jews, immigrants, whatever. Then they ran out of people to point fingers at. So now it's us."

Ant, her brother Mattie, and their foster parents Gina and Dan, are all found guilty of having criminal parents, and are put in one of the new "family prisons" in the UK. Their chief tormentor is Assessor Grey, the man who spearheaded the family-jailing movement. He also dreamed up the cruel strap that bolts onto the backs of these "heritage criminals" and prevents them from walking normally. The resultant gait gives them the nickname "strutters."

Ant is a rebel and unwilling to keep her head down until her "debt to society" is paid. She's looking for a way to escape, and not a moment too soon, as conditions are deteriorating, not only in their own prison but in the prison full of actual violent criminals, which, awkwardly enough, connects to their prison via a corridor.

Bizarre circumstances ensue, leading to Ant and her brother finding themselves on the lam with a gang of other strutters. In order to survive, they must commit some minor crimes—a reminder that when we label people as bad, fairly or not, and repeat it over and over again, they tend to oblige us by becoming so.

Other improbable things happen, and it all culminates in a bonanza of triumphant improbability. People who demand realism in their fiction may not be happy with this book. On the other hand, readers who can suspend their disbelief will find it a breathless ride. It is, in fact, much like a Hollywood thriller.

It's also thought-provoking. One is tempted to dismiss the novel's central conceit as something that could never happen in our allegedly enlightened society. But look at what's happening in the world today. Even well-off people are ready to see themselves as the victims of Syrians, Mexicans, etc., who come from other countries in search of a better life. A Trump presidency seemed a laughable impossibility to many just one year ago. Blame is popular right now. The Bible itself gives us a precedent for heritage crime, saying "The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Numbers 14:18).

One of my favorite things about Blame is its sprinkling of foreign languages. Ant and Mattie are half Haitian and sometimes speak Creole to each other. A Creole nursery rhyme that serves as a metaphor for their condition comes up in a couple of places. Creole is a fascinating mix of French and something altogether different.

Another language that comes up in the book is German. Germany is the only country in Europe without heritage crime laws. They have learned from their history and no longer give in to the temptation to blame a group of others for their problems. Thus German is seen by the strutters as the language of freedom. Strutters dream of immigrating to Germany.

Finally, the strutters have their own slang, a glossary to which is provided at the beginning of the book. The author appears to take a special interest in languages. I'm curious to see if he plays with languages in his other novels.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Oh Yeah... Global Warming

I think almost all of us are getting caught up in the American election. It is, after all, the craziest spectacle of an election since Americans first started having elections. Those of us who aren't terrified of the spectre of a Donald Trump presidency think he's he's some sort of orange-haired misogynist superhero who going to Make America Great Again.

Yes, we should be afraid—but not of Donald Trump. We should be afraid of the wildfires raging in California right now, and the wildfires that raged in Alberta last month. We should be scared of reports that the temperature reached 54 degrees Celsius in Mitribah, Kuwait[1] (129 Fahrenheit for you Americans). This is the hottest temperature ever recorded outside of Death Valley (also in California).

The very name "Death Valley" suggests that this is not a climate we want proliferating over the globe. I read somewhere that plants can't live if the average temperature gets above 50 degrees Celsius. If plants can't live, neither can we.

So we should be very scared of global warming, and we should realize that no one is going to save us from it if we don't save ourselves. Here is an idea that is having some difficulty gaining traction. Most people are now at a point where they're willing to consider global warming a problem, and to accept that somebody ought to do something. The thing is, there is no other "somebody" out there. There's only us. We are the ones who need to do something. Not the politicians. (So not the politicians! All they want is our votes.) Not Elon Musk. You and me.

This is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that we can't be lazy and wait for Superman and Wonderwoman to show up. We have to change what we are personally doing.

The good news is that we have that power. We can do it. You're the one you've been waiting for. Isn't that exciting?

I suggest a three-pronged approach, though if you have other ideas, go with them. It's your life.

1. Change your commute

Remember when the car was something you fired up on a pleasant Sunday to go for a drive? Neither do I. The unfortunate norm that has developed is to drive everywhere, for everything. That's not working. To get to the office and the grocery store, walk, bike or take the bus. Do you live in one of those ghastly modern subdivisions with no public transportation and no real infrastructure? There are still things you can do. Contact your ward councilor and tell him you want bus service. While he's working on that, start carpooling with your neighbours. Do everything you have to do in one trip rather than being in and out of the car all day.

2. Change your house

If you live in a northern climate, get your house well insulated and install a heat pump. Yes, there's an initial expenditure, but you'll make it back, and after that, it's sheer savings. We installed a ductless mini-split, and now our electricity bill is about 40% less than it used to be. If you live in a hot climate, you can still benefit from a heat pump. They cool as well as heat, and are more efficient than traditional air conditioners. But don't just rely on heat pumps to manage temperatures. On a hot sunny day, close blinds, curtains and windows to keep your house cooler. On a cold sunny day, throw open the blinds and curtains to let the sun warm the house.

3. Change your vacations

I have long suspected that people in northern climates fly to southern ones in the winter strictly to make their friends jealous. There are better ways to spend your next vacation than lying in the sun working on your skin tumour. Stay closer to home, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at all the fun and interesting things you can do in neighbouring towns, even in your own town. There are a couple of nice things about going to overlooked vacation spots such as small towns. One is the lack of crowds. Another is that the volunteers in the tiny museum will be so happy to see you. They'll give you a tour, and maybe even show you neat stuff they're currently working on in their archives.

And why escape from winter when you can enjoy it? You can snowshoe, skate and ski. Yes, alpine skiing takes fuel and electricity. You have to drive to the hill, and a ski lift hauls you up the montain. That's still better than flying in a plane, or taking a cruise. Cruise ships these days are so gigantic that they're less efficient than airplanes. It's true. Also, they're in the habit of dumping their sewage (which is to say, passenger poop) into the ocean. That's just gross.

Do these three things, and you won't just be saving the world and improving your fitness and health, you'll also be saving money, and lots of it. Who doesn't like saving money?

If you're poor, you're excempt from number 2, and you're already doing numbers 1 and 3 by default. But there's still something you can change.

4. (Optional) Change your dreams for the future

Instead of telling yourself, "One day I'll have a big house and a big car and I'll fly to the Caribbean every year!" tell yourself, "One day I'll have a passive solar house and a tiny electric car, and I'll live simply and non-materialistically, give my money away to causes I care about, and feel really good about myself!" That's a much better dream.

Gandhi is supposed to have said, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."[2] Those are good words to live by. If you prefer to get your inspiration from stories, you might want to get a copy of How the Children Stopped the Wars. I read this book years ago, and it's stayed with me.

It's about a little boy whose father is far away. All the children in his village are missing their fathers--they're off fighting in the war. One day when he's walking by himself, he meets a strange little man who explains to him that the war has been going on for years and years. It's lasted so long that nobody remembers why they're fighting, and many have died.

The little boy asks, "Why doesn't somebody stop it?"

The little man says, "Why don't you?" Then he shrinks into a point and vanishes.

So the little boy gathers together the children of his village, and off they go. They have all kinds of interesting and scary adventures, and eventually find their fathers and stop the war.

That little man has a message for all of us.

1. See Back

2. Or maybe he didn't quite say that. See So what? There's something to be said for pithiness and memorability. Back.