Sunday, April 28, 2013

I'm the 1% and That's Okay

Working Man - Rita MacNeil
Rita MacNeil released this tribute to coal miners in 1990 remembering too many who die not just on the job but as a result of the job. She has gone now to sing with the choirs of angels. RIP Rita (April 16, 2013)

The horrific building collapse in Bangladesh on Thursday April 25, 2013, which has thus far claimed hundreds of innocent lives is very sad. Anytime someone leaves their home to go to work, it is with the expectation that they will come home at the end of the day. But that expectation is not always a reality, just ask the family of Toronto Police Department Sergeant Ryan Russell about their experience. In the quest to serve and protect, he was run down and killed and never went home again. Each year an average of 68 teenagers die on the job in Canada. Each day at least 5 Canadians die on the job. Granted that doesn't compare with the catastrophic numbers accumulated in one instance in Bangladesh, but the point is that it is a global tragedy not a "one of". 

The reason the whole issue has become blog fodder is the media response to the situation. Close up images of clothing labels that were destined for the Canadian market led to calls for the companies to do something. My question is why? The companies approached garment factories with fair market offers to provide jobs. Nowhere is it said that workers in other countries are eligible for the benefits and standards of Canadians. Employee wages and benefits are not the responsibility of the company doing the outsourcing. In this case, it was the building that was substandard. The owner knew it had structural flaws and chose to ignore it. Should the Canadian company start a process of building inspection and then do they have the authority to send workers home (with pay?) when a crack in the foundation is detected? If I am indirectly going to pay for these expenses, then I would like the option to return these jobs to my neighbourhood instead.

Compassion is a wonderful thing and something I like to ascribe my own life and values to, but I can't be financially or morally responsible for everyone in the world. Disasters (both natural and man-made) happen. California has spent ungodly amounts of money ensuring that buildings will withstand earthquakes as much as possible. Some other earthquake prone areas in the world have not done the same. So when an earthquake occurs, globally we rush to do what we can for the survivors. Should we have been there before shelling out billions of dollars to make the buildings more stable? The country itself needs to take some responsibility for its citizens also. As does Bangladesh with it's presumably deplorable working conditions for its' factory workers. As soon as you make the Canadian company responsible, I become financially responsible with every subsequent purchase. The standards in working conditions and pay that we enjoy in this country, did not come by expecting handouts from other countries. Our ancestors fought the system and paid a price to have what we have here. Workers rights, womens rights...none of it comes easy or free. 

In my small community there are many people I know personally who are living at or below the poverty level. No one in Bangladesh (for example) is going to be assisting them to have a better life. As long as there is one person living on the streets of my country because they can no longer afford to survive, my charitable dollars need to be here. It may not be a building collapse (although that did happen in Eliot Lake Ontario), but it can be a flood, explosion, tornado or other natural disaster or even God forbid, the after effects of a terrorist attack. People in my backyard need help. The injured innocent of Boston Massachusetts bombing who have the sudden unexpected expense of prosthetic limbs and extended hospital stay, loss of income - because of the selfishness of zealots. The generosity afforded those heathens is evident with their admittance into the country. That needs to stop too!

The 8-storey building collapsed in Bangladesh housed several business including what we would consider to be sweat-shop clothing factories. Some reports suggest that as many as 2000 people were in the building at the time, the last report I saw had the death toll count up to nearly 350** and the search was continuing. But the search has widened beyond the crumbled walls of the building. The owner and several family members are also being sought, for they ignored warnings of critical structural flaws. I don't know the age of the building or if shoddy workmanship in the initial construction of the building played any part in the disaster, but I can attest to the quality of workmanship in some of the garments I have purchased labeled "Made in Bangladesh". You get what you pay for. And sometimes that is okay.

With apologies, I find that the compassion and empathy I once had for society in general is waning in leaps and bounds with each new threat of terror or terrorist act perpetrated against the innocent. I don't want to live in fear and I resent every person with a gun or a grudge who lash out in the name of religion or their skewed view of justice. ENOUGH! 

**final death toll as of May 13, 2013 is 1127. Miraculously 1 survivor after 17 days in the makeshift concrete tomb.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

It is the Truth and It is Inconvenient

I Need To Wake Up - Melissa Etheridge

This is crazy. We need to stop hating on the poor little groundhog. He is a rodent not a meteorologist! I think I made my view fairly clear in a previous blog that I really feel that the whole Groundhog Day ritual borders on animal abuse and is certainly cruel. The only reason the barbaric ritual continues is the money. Rest assured if you pulled me out of my warm bed in the middle of winter, I would tell you whatever you wanted to hear and do whatever it takes to be returned to my slumber. Seeing his shadow on February 2nd of any given year only tells us if that day was sunny or cloudy. Now, I'm not university educated in weather matters or any form of the wild animal kingdom (okay maybe a bit) but not a rodent - but I will go out on a limb and make a prediction for February 2nd 2014. On that day, 10 months into the future, I hearby predict that if it is sunny I will see my shadow. However, if it is cloudy I will not see my shadow. There will be no need for you to wake up at an inconvenient hour and stand in the cold to hear my news. I will let you know whenever I happen to wake that day. All I can promise is that it will be daytime and not the middle of the night (sun can't shine then silly). 

That was making light of a serious situation. Why are people really hating on the groundhog? It is simply because winter seems to be never ending. It can be fixed in one of two ways. Either we move Groundhog Day to March 2 or we wake up and realize that our weather patterns are changing. It is the truth and it is Inconvenient. The only problem with Al Gore's message is that he was so passionate about the cause that some people interpreted it as fear mongering. In the book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth, the blame for climate change is placed squarely on our shoulders (where it belongs I might personally add). But along with the fear and doom and gloom, there is a message of hope. We can effect change. But no, we would rather sit back and blame a rodent rather than look in the mirror at ourselves. And yes, I do believe that referring to the whole phenomenon as Global Warming was a mistake. When it is snowing in April it is hard to relate to the concept of Global Warming. 

But call it what you will, the weather patterns are changing and there is a reason for it. In my generation, the changes are dramatic. 35 years ago, I could guarantee that I would be skiing on my birthday in late November in Thunder Bay Ontario. In the 1970's there were no less than 5 ski hills. Candy Mountain, the iconic Mount McKay and Mount Norway/Big Thunder have all closed. Big Thunder is where I schussed down the snow covered slopes and it was a world class training facility for ski jumping. A lot of money was spent to make it so and it brought in a lot of tourism dollars to the area with events that it hosted. But why did all these facilities close? The population still exists in the same numbers to support all the ski hills. The sport of downhill skiing was never an inexpensive one and the least costly way to partake was a membership for the season. If you had a good season you skied from mid November to March. But weather patterns changed and there was no guarantee of snow by Christmas and if there was, there was suddenly an inevitable thaw in January. The cost of making snow just to keep a minimum ski base was not financially sound and the ski hills just couldn't afford to keep running. People stopped buying seasons passes because they weren't able to ski enough to make it worth it. Twenty-five years ago, I could count on a winter sledding or outdoor skating party for my daughters birthday in late January. By the time she was ten, we had to plan two parties - one indoor just in case. Snow in April is not normal but neither is no snow in December and January in Canada. 

Seasons have shifted in Canada but our mind-set has not. Winter in Thunder Bay where I grew up, was thought to be from November to March. Spring was March, April, May and June. Summer was June to August and Fall was September to November. Yes some overlap and if you were really lucky you might get an "Indian Summer" in September. With a little less snow and some date variations, it wasn't too different in Southern Ontario where I am now. 

Photo Credit Ashley E Duncan Taken in
Thunder Bay Ontario April 19, 2013

Like last years winter, our memory of it seems to be also short and sweet. It should have been a real eye-opener, not only for the lack of snow but the record breaking high temperatures. I bought a new shovel and it never saw snow. At most we got a light dusting which melted as quickly as it fell. The few times we did get some accumulation, warmer temps were forecasted and melted it quickly. A local television station had a snowfall contest, awarding a snow-blower for the prediction of the first 5 cm snowfall day. It finally came on February 18, 2012. In fact by mid-January there were only 11 days with temperature below the freezing mark and the top news stories was the "Winter That Wasn't". Ski hill operators were crying over the red ink in their ledgers and winter sports enthusiasts every where were resigned to holding down the couch. The meager snowfall in late February quickly gave way to thermometer boiling temperatures more common for July and August. Mid-March broke heat records never before seen. Scenes of people kicking up their flop-flop clad feet were everywhere. But this isn't good people. Flowers and trees were blooming, birds and insects were awakening and continuing the cycle of life - only to be cut short in an unexpected freeze and return to winter temps. Today, we had a snowfall here in the Toronto area, yesterday I was admiring the daffodils that were in bloom. We have nothing to complain about, Thunder Bay received so much snow yesterday that schools, transit, city services were canceled, businesses were closed, area highways were shut down and trucks and their drivers hunkered down in deserted shopping mall parking lots. Snowdrifts were as high as 8 feet - normal in December or January - freakish for the end of April. 
It's all abnormal and not what we are used to or expect. So instead of calling a freak dusting of snow an April Fools Day joke, we should be getting used to it and accept that the change has come and unless we act - it's not going back to what it once was. These freaks of nature abnormal weather patterns cannot be blamed on a rodent nor should we be questioning the sanity of Mother Nature or calling into question her advanced age and menopausal symptoms. And yes, our weather does indeed have similarities to menopause.

Mother Nature is Menopausal 
Mood swings = fluctuating temperatures not seasonally normal
Irregular menstruation = no reliability in beginning and ending of seasons
Hot flashes = random bursts of hot air 
Irritability = more intense storm activity and occurring more frequently
Mental Confusion = snow and hail in areas closer to the equator, icebergs melting in the polar regions.

Honestly, this is a very serious issue and The Inconvenient Truth of what we have done and continue to do to our planet is cause for concern. I watch most documentaries with a leaning towards skepticism and understanding that there are two sides to every story. I just want people to start thinking about the possibility instead of searching for groundhog recipes. 
Sometimes I think we need to clone Erin Brokovich 1,000 fold. I wish that the population understood that under the guise of a movie it was really a documentary based on reality. Not to be forgotten after a night of the the Oscars. Today, as we prepare to celebrate another Earth Day, take a moment to consider the facts and evidence in front of you. 

1. The climate and seasonal patterns of the world are changing.
2. Natural disasters are hitting with more frequency and increased intensity.
3. Incidences of cancer are increasing at a frightening pace and we are seemingly all vulnerable.
4. Alzheimers, diabetes and obesity are plaguing the young, middle aged and old. Our diet and lifestyles are killing us. Fast food creates too much waist/waste.
5. Whether it is caused by stress or some other chemical factor, mental illness is becoming as common as the cold. At least 1 of your neighbours suffers from depression or other mental impairment.
6. Just because we can doesn't mean we should. Can someone please explain how it is logical that GMO food is okay for me to consume. GMO food is Genetically Modified Organisms and any living thing that has had its genetic material altered through scientific interference. One thing changes another, changes another and the snowball effect begins. 
7. Ask yourself - where were all the kids with life-threatening allergies when you were growing up in the 60's? 70's? And the kids with autism, ADD, OCD and every other new age disorder?
8. Is there enough water in the world? Look at the globe and you see the majority is water covered, but it's not suitable for drinking. Removing the salt is a costly venture. In our stupidity we are using potable water to flush our toilets and make grass green, we build massive cities in the middle of a desert (Las Vegas, Nevada) where the only viable source of water is being consumed faster than it can replenish. 
9. What we do to the animal kingdom we do to ourselves. We cannot continue on this road of medicating farm animals to ensure an increased financial profit without effecting the rest of the food chain. For a real eye opener, read up on factory farming and ask yourself what exactly happens to the waste these large numbers of animals in a small area produce. Consider the amount of methane produced in one acre of a factory farm vs the amount of methane on the same size family farm. Want to move next door? Share the underground water source? Swim in the local watering hole? 
10. Become a locavore, choose food that comes within a 100 mile radius where possible. Eat seasonally and support local farmers. 

I am including a small exert from by Earth Day Blog of last year. It is still relevant today and something I am proud to have penned. Feel free to read the blog post in its entirety.

Raping the Earth is not Consequence-free (April 21 2012)

I think that people are really starting to get the idea that resources are limited and conservation is key. Whether you subscribe to the Global Warming Theory or not you cannot deny that everything we do impacts the health of our planet, some of which can never be repaired or recovered. Newtons' Third Law of Physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Law of Karma states that every action in life creates another reaction which produces another action and so on. Even the Bible itself supports this notion in "as ye sow, so also shall ye reap". They are all saying the same thing. What we do today will affect our tomorrow. If we want a tomorrow as glorious, bountiful and plentiful as our today we must be aware of how are actions will impact the future. The future for those who will still be here after we have gone and for those yet to come.

Credit where credit is due:
The Inconvenient Truth - movie and documentary by Al Gore
Erin Brokovich - movie and activist and lawyer
One Drop - documentary about the water crisis
The World According to Monsanto - documentary on GMO's
World Watch Institute - visions for a sustainable world
Ashley E. Duncan - photographer and resident of Thunder Bay

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"To See or not to See" THAT is the real question! part 1

Doctor My Eyes - Jackson Browne

I just want us to do all that we can to be peaceful and caring. 

Shakespeare got it wrong "To See or Not to See" THAT is the real question! It seems to me that people in general are becoming blind to what is going on around them. Tunnel vision perhaps is a good label for it. While Bullying has become the hot topic for politicians and the media to jump on, incidents of bullying are becoming worse and more prevalent. Part of this is a perception brought about by increased media attention. People are becoming more aware of what it is and how to identify it, and that is a good thing. It is far more than the School yard bully wanting your lunch money. It is the boss who consistently and constantly belittles your character because they can and your job performance doesn't warrant reprimand. It is the driver who uses their vehicle as a tool to control your behaviour. It is the corporation that would rather you made decisions based on their own belief of inferiority of another - like belonging to the right crowd in high school by having the "right name on their clothes and material goods". It is the media that tells us what movies are good and that everything else isn't worthy. It is everyone who attempts to elevate their standing by climbing over another that they have knocked down. 

So now that we have decided that bullying is much more than child's play, we can see that it is all around us and it indeed has gotten worse and we are becoming less sensitized to it and more accepting of it. Consider the following scenarios and decide for yourself if you see the bully.

1. Courtesy Driving. You are driving down the road and behold the road ahead is going down from two lanes to one. Many people who drive this route on a regular basis, all merge well ahead of time in anticipation. So you are left with one backed up lane of traffic and one perfectly usable lane that might ease some traffic congestion but is empty - and some intelligent drivers see this and drive in that soon to end lane.  Nothing wrong with it, in fact it would be the legal and proper thing to do. However, some people including at least one I know and have driven with, take it as a personal affront that someone is trying to get ahead of them when their lane is ending in 500 meters/1 kilometre? And this person gets angry, livid and stressed out. It's kind of funny to me, but there are times when bulling comes into this picture too. As you are driving past the drivers who chose to stop, they glare at you menacingly or worse, use their vehicle to straddle two lanes. In essence, using their vehicle as a weapon, to control your behaviour because THEY don't like it. Bullying? You need to step back people and ask yourself, is it really that terrible that I have chosen the wrong lane and someone has gotten in front of me. Like the grocery/department store, we pick a lane and then watch the one we debated move quicker. Do we start pushing people with our shopping cart because they chose differently? This form of road rage become acceptable modern day bullying even though it is not viewed as such. In fact there is a facebook group dedicated to the belittling of people who in are obeying the laws of the road. They are celebrating their inappropriate behaviour. 

2. Commercials on TV and TV programming. I don't watch a lot of programs so I won't speak to those but there are some commercials that make me crazy. There was a time when companies would compare each other by name during their advertisements. Then that comparison was outlawed and consumers were allowed to absorb information and make up their own minds. But we've reverted back, maybe not in specifically naming competitors but very blatantly bashing the rival. There are many very successful marketing ploys that take the moral high road and I applaud them and financially support them. On the other side, there are companies like Charmin that openly compares itself to the "bird brand." And yet not too effective since one quick search on the internet proves that there are a lot of people who don't even know what the bird brand is. Not the bird brand, but Bounty very effectively proves their prowess and effectiveness with over-sized "sponge people" running around absorbing liquids. Love the slurping noise when it's cleaning the dogs dirty paw prints! :) I get that this paper towel will do the job. 

But if there was an award for the most annoying commercials ever, it would be for me Rogers. Rogers is a company that started off a century ago with one small radio station in Toronto and has grown since the 1960's into a corporation to be reckoned with in the global communications market. They have interests in radio, television stations, wireless and home phone, cable companies, publishing, internet providing, home alarm systems and sports  (sorry, it's still the SkyDome to me!) That alone tells you that you are bound to see a multitude of commercials for Rogers Telecommunications. So much so, that I would wager that if you are watching a Rogers TV station, you will see at least one Rogers commercial on every break! And that wouldn't be so bad except for the content of most of them. Stealing an old concept from Polaroid that used James Garner and Mariette Hartley posing as a married couple for a run of very successful ad campaigns, Rogers has done the same. The difference being that Rogers varies from commercials that tout the benefits of the product to the detriment of its rivals, to those that either belittle the "wife" or ones that bash the "husband". The latest, has the wife showing off a tablet as a remote control, then makes fun of her husbands choices of favourite shows in front of an unknown couple. He is clearly uncomfortable and she is oblivious. I can't support this malicious form of advertising. Just this past week, I put call in to a cable company that came to my door and told me that the choices I had made were the wrong ones because their employer was superior and I was wasting my money. I phoned the complaints department to thank them for questioning my intelligence level. They shouldn't be knocking on my door any time soon.

3. Politics and politicians. I have a very hard time during the campaigning process trying to ascertain the best candidate for my community, provincial or federal needs. I have some political party preferences but I like to also keep an open mind. It is increasingly difficult to do this when most advertisements on print and TV are nothing more than attack ads. There was barely a peep in the news about the recent elections for Liberal party leader here in Canada. But it was tough to escape notice when the Conservative Party came out within hours on the decision being announced with ads attacking the newly elected leader Justin Trudeau. What was the purpose of that besides the misguided attempt to elevate their standing by stepping on Mr Trudeau. It's not even election time between the parties. So degrade him and his choices for sport? I wonder if they had similar attack ads at the ready with the names of all the other candidates? By supporting this tactic by the Conservative party we are saying that it is okay. But it's not. There is no need to put down others to elevate our own standing. We should be able to stand on our own merits. Unless perhaps we don't have any worthy of mentioning. Conservative or Liberal leaning, I shout "Shame on you, Conservative Party of Canada." 

I am enclosing this video not because I endorse it in any way but I think you should be free to make up your own mind. I would encourage you to go to YouTube and like or dislike the ad and make your views known in any way you see fit. Average Canadian citizen Chris Gougeon is making his own stand protesting these ads...people are talking about it. I'm not alone is my displeasure. 

4. Celebrity Status. Just recently an entertainment magazine released a list of the top hated celebrities. A lot of feather were ruffled upon learning that Gwyneth Paltrow was on top of the list. One report I heard was that she was selected as most hated because she was so perfect. There is some logic that escapes me! How can I hate her, she has done nothing to me to warrant such a strong negative emotion. I understand that celebrities put themselves out there and open themselves up to criticism and yes some even seek out publicity (either positive or negative) to keep themselves in the public eye. I have no problem forming an opinion regarding the performance of a specific star. But it is not the person who should be trashed but rather their actions. Justin Bieber, for example, has made some very poor behavioural choices of late and I personally am not a fan of the nature of pictures that he posts to Twitter or other social media sites, but he himself is not an inherently bad person. He is the same talent that he was when he was adored by the media a few short months ago. His entourage of paid promoters should perhaps be a little more vigilant in their guidance and protection (even if from himself and his own immaturity).

These put downs go for other musicians and celebrities as well. I am tired of people openly hating on Nickelback. You don't have to be a fan or even like their music but can't you just not listen without putting them down or me if my views and tastes in music are different then yours. I am not a fan of Prince (or whatever name he is going by these days) but I will not discount his musical ability/showmanship/or self-promotional abilities. I don't like his music, I don't want to listen to it, or financially support it, I don't have to. I can however change the station. I don't have to bash him to every person I encounter. I do not need to tell you that your musical tastes are less than mine because we have different opinions. 

5. A little Good News. One word...Dove! It isn't only because it is a campaign that is trying to smash all the ill-conceived projections of mass media about what women should look like but because it is doing it without trashing the competition. I think that the "You are more beautiful than you think" campaign is one to be applauded. But let's not be naive, Dove is owned by the Unilever Corporation who freely uses sex and the "perfect" female form to sell its other products like Axe body spray. Baby steps I guess are better than going backwards or standing still.

A Final Thought.
I think society as a whole needs to learn that you do not elevate yourself by belittling others. Self-love and self-esteem is a good practice and necessary. Yes, even in politics and business there is a need to try and elevate yourself above the competition to gain profits or supports but it can be done in the marketplace and in the workplace without stepping on other people. Take the moral high ground and be nice. It really doesn't take a lot of effort or financial expense but the rewards can be great. The notion of a random act of kindness is a great concept but flawed in that people tend to believe that it is an "act" and not a lifestyle. A lifestyle choice that cannot be counted in instances or specific acts. 

The goodness that we all appreciate and embrace when a tragedy befalls members of our race needs to be appreciated and recognized on a daily basis. Not just because they were innocent bystanders that were hurt or emergency service personal who gave their all nor even someone who was diagnosed with a medical ailment. But everyone we encounter in our daily lives each and every day.  

The true humanitarian 

- will hold the door open for the person behind them, 
- will donate to the food bank even when it isn't a food drive, 
- will say thank you to the person who is serving them (even thought it is their job to serve), 
- will allow another motorist to pass without taking it as a personal attack,
- will consider their consumer habits based on the behaviour in their advertisements,
- will make it known that negative promotion is not acceptable,
- will make up their own minds to the goodness of others without belittling the choice of another
- will lead by example and practice what they preach.

I am not perfect, but I do try and live my life in accordance with the morals and values I have held for a lifetime. But, having said me wrong and I'll have no problem speaking the truth as I see it. I respected and valued my neighbours until they started damaging my property and tossing my mail. I had a great employer until I experienced their hypocrisy - preach anti-bullying and then bully your employees. Shame on Irene and Harold and shame on the DPCDSB.