Posted by: Rob | March 20, 2008

Critical Thinking

Before my late wife was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, I was very much a news watcher and follower. Most mornings I would be parked in front of the television with my cup of coffee and four slices of toast having a quick breakfast while I watched CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet. In the car while going to and from work, or anywhere really, I would be tuned into news or talk radio. I was also reading a lot of non-fiction as well. Depressing stuff, mostly, to anyone who has an awareness of where our world is likely headed. I say depressing, but it was also enlightening; books by writers like James Howard Kunstler, Tim Flannery and Devra Davis. I thought it was important to stay abreast of current events. I also thought it was important to learn as much as I could in order to blend my concern for our world’s end of cheap energy supply with my dream of building sustainable dwellings.

Much of this – no, all of this – went on hold once we learned Shelley’s diagnosis and throughout her entire struggle to overcome melanoma. After she died, I was not interested in much of anything, naturally. That pretty much comes with the territory when you’ve been widowed. I watched some television, mostly movies – chick-flicks, if you can believe it – but I didn’t watch news, I didn’t read books or newspapers either. I couldn’t. I just didn’t have the attention span it required. I did develop a dependence upon an on-line support bulletin board for young widoweds, however. That became the extent of my reading – and my writing for that matter.

As they say, life goes on. Eventually I was able to start reading again. My first post-loss book was a fiction work by Stephen King. I have read nearly all of King’s published works and I would have to place Cell in the bottom quartile. Pretty unoriginal. I next read Lisey’s Story and found this to be a pretty good story, reminiscent of the Stephen King of old and, appropriately enough, the main character is a widow. I’m back to tackling non-fiction books, but haven’t succeeded yet in completing one before they are due or overdue at the library. Works I am trying to finish are Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Devra Davis’ History of the Secret War on Cancer and Matthew Simmons’ Twilight in the Desert.

I started reading Internet news sites again. And the newspaper. My wife Ann is a self-proclaimed news junkie. She picks up at least one newspaper every day; right now her favourite is The Globe and Mail. Since Ann moved in with me, there has been an unbelievable increase in the quantity of newspaper to recycle. I haven’t seen this much used newsprint since…well, I’ve never seen this much. I was accustomed to recycling the twice per week local rag that just shows up in my mailbox, along with its allotment of marketing flyers, so you could say that there’s been a bit of an adjustment for me. I wonder if the trash man noticed also? (Newspaper for recycling is set out with the regular trash in plastic shopping bags here. I presume that it gets separated out somewhere, like at the Cloverbar landfill site.) But, I digress. Just this week I’ve noticed that I’ve grown weary of the XM radio comedy stations. Aside from clever commentators disguised as comedians – guys like George Carlin (a classic) and Lewis Black – the line up has gotten pretty stale. And so I hit the category button, found “News” and started listening to the “talking heads” of cable network news.

Ann likes to say that I’m big on “back story” and that’s what you’ve been reading so far. Now to the real point of this post. Critical thinking. It’s a skill or an ability that is sadly lacking in most people these days. If you’re easily swept up and along with the tide, our current times are reason for great fear and anguish. The financial crisis in US home mortgages is deepening, the American dollar is dropping like a rock against other currencies, energy futures are going through the roof, high-paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing from North America as corporations move everything they can off-shore, and US trade deficits are going up. Put all of this (and more) in front of the back drop of the war in Iraq and you’ve got the makings for quite a horror show.

But it doesn’t have to be. I might be oversimplifying here, but when I hear things like the US trade deficit with China is increasing, the US dollar is losing value against the Euro, the deflated value of the US dollar is making it more costly to purchase foreign crude oil, I can only wonder why the answer isn’t obvious to all. For example, China refuses to let the value of its yuan float against other major world currencies. I heard it described today that the value of the US dollar is a measure of the American economy. The American economy is in a bit of a slump right now and so its value, along with its dollar, is down. It’s my understanding that if the yuan was truly a measure of the Chinese economy, rather than being propped up by its government, then the differential in trade balances might not be so marked. I also heard that Europe (those countries using the Euro) are bearing the brunt of the devalued greenback opposite the US trade deficit with China, since China’s yuan does not really float on the world market. Truthfully, much of this is more than I understand, but still, the solutions seem pretty obvious to me: if your country has a huge trade imbalance – and it’s negative – then individuals need to take note of this, change their habits and reduce or stop buying goods from the nation with which you are out of balance. If enough people took concerted action, it would soon be noticeable that shipping containers full of unsold goods were piling up on the shores of North America. Not even a Liquidation World on every corner could move that much stuff, especially if no one was buying. The same holds true for energy, whether it’s crude oil or natural gas or whatever. If a majority of people opted to use less of the stuff – by whatever means – then demand would drop. Even if the developing world took up the slack and maintained demand equal to available supply, well those countries would be mortgaging their futures while we worked on saving ours.

I know. I know. It’s more complicated than that. But, even as I contemplated the temptation to be drawn again into the worrywart, sky-is-falling, glass is half-empy maelstrom, I realized something. Even if there is a recession in North America, it won’t last long. And here’s why: there are a lot of people of here, especially in the US. People have basic needs. Needs for housing. Needs for food. Needs for clothing. Basic needs. These needs will have to be met. And we have a system in place that can meet those needs. It’s the basis for our economy. It’s how the whole works got started in the first place, don’t you think? What we may have to change in the future, however, is our expectations. We’ve become pretty accustomed to the good life. Have become pretty spoiled. We have gotten used to having it all. To having it now. If our economy contracts a little bit, it’s not going to make a huge difference in our basic lives. Sure, we might have to forgo some of the luxury things we’d gotten used to. But we don’t have to live in log cabins with dirt floors, no running water and no electricity, do we? You know what is probably going to happen? The rich are just not going to be getting as rich. And, gee, that’s too bad for them, isn’t it? You know they’ve only been getting rich off the backs of the poor and middle class, right? So, don’t buy into their doomsday scenarios. Take a look around at your life. Think a little bit about what you really need. Think about what you want – not materially -but out of life. Think. And then…act. It’s up to you.



  1. I’m giggling–and you gave me guff for my long posts??? :oD

    Welcome to the blogosphere.

  2. TGLB,

    Thanks for the welcome. And…yes…chagrined. Although I didn’t exactly give you guff about long posts; I merely stated that I did not appear to have the attention span to read an entire post in one sitting. A subtle difference, but a difference none the less! (That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!)


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