Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Election? Election!

All right, the Budget has come down and the Opposition Parties are in a right froth over it. All claim it is doing nothing for the average Canadian. Although some would say there is going to be some nice savings for the average Canadian. One article stated there are no new taxes for the average Canadian. It's amazing how much ink is split dealing with the average Canadian. In fact we are usually the best treated part of society, until reality hits and its usually the middle class that gets hit.

I wondered though, with all the opposition if this wasn't a ploy by the Conservatives. They've got the nastiness of the contempt of Parliament charges, which will not be good.

Yet, I wondered, then I thought about the reasons for the election. The Liberals probably figure it will be a good way to get rid of Iggy, without the messiness of a palace coup. Best that on election night, he simply stands up and concedes the election and announces he is stepping down as leader of the Liberal Party. While the Liberals have no problems knifing people in the back, it's far better and cleaner this way.

The BQ, well, they're never happy.

The NDP, again, this is the enigmatic party of Canadian politics. Jack Layton is personable, respected and likeable, but he can't break the 18% mark, in fact I believe the last poll put the party at 13%. What can they get out of an election, perhaps the chance to break through to Leader of the Opposition. If the Liberal strategy consists of getting rid of Iggy, then the centre-left is open for them to manoeuvre.

So unless people come to their senses and realize they are being exploited by Stephen Harper, we're going to have an election.

Should be fun.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tapped: The Movie

This is one of the reasons why I enjoy watching, if 'enjoy' is the right word, documentaries. There are times I find them annoying, since they tend to be strident, preachy and always going on about how bad things are, and how they are going from bad to worse.

Yet for all that, one of the great purposes of documentaries, besides being ways of challenging our thinking is to teach us a few things. My last blog was about Bottled Water Free Day, a movement that wants to liberate people from the scourge of bottled water. I have been aware that many municipalities are interested in enacting by-laws that would ban either the sale of bottled water in the community, or at least ensuring the municipality would not purchase bottled water for the every day operations of the city.

There's a lot of good reasons for this, one is of course, the bottled water industry is built upon one massive sham. The sham is simple, that this is the safest and best water you can have.

The movie Tapped wants to blow that concept right out of the water. The producers demonstrate a few things, the first is bottled water is a multi-billion dollar industry, so naturally, there is a lot of money being used to make sure people understand this and are filled with the sights of healthy active people drinking the product. To get people to drink it, they have to convince us all of one major fact, that tap water is evil. Of course the movie has a few interviews of prominent people in the industry claiming that tap water is not the enemy, and why should they, most of the water in bottles is tap water. The only difference is that bottled water has gone through a few more processes. What is a bit interesting is that most companies will never produce reports as to the safety of their product. I suspect they would claim such things as being company secrets. The film makers point out that municipal water is checked multiple times during the day.

Here in Ontario, we have the "Clean Water Act", which has as its stated purpose:
he purpose of this Act is to protect existing and future sources of drinking water.

This may be the clearest, most straightforward purpose ever given to any government act in the history of government acts. It is there to protect all sources of drinking water. The Province does continue and gives a website that looks at the safety of drinking water in Ontario. Besides reading a few things, you can go and learn how safe your water truly is, there is a page that gives the percentage of tests that met government standards, in Brantford, its 99.77%. In other words, it meets government standards all the time. I know the people who are doing the tests are very diligent, hey I've got to trust my own brother on this thing. Yes he is a provincial tester of water. He also drinks water. Got to trust someone who does all that.

Seriously, since Walkerton, Ontario has taken safe water very seriously. The group that watches our water is the Ontario Clean Water Agency, its mission to monitor our water.

With all this documentation available, including annual reports, we must ask ourselves why is private industry so reticent to give us their annual reports and their water study reports.

Of course, the documentary doesn't just deal with water, it considers the industry as a whole, including the packaging, which is the ubiquitous plastic bottle. They consider the source of the plastic, which is, of course, petroleum and does a study as to the various toxins which make up the plastic. One of the nastiest, and this only appears in hard plastic bottles is BPA. It appears in a lot of places and its so bad that it has been declared a toxic substance, which is probably why there are new style of plastic bottles available out there. Notice how the industry doesn't tell us anything about it. If it wasn't for government occasionally watching out for us, this could be worse. Actually I can't complain, for all we say, our governments do a pretty good job looking after our interests.

Besides this, the question continues, where does all those plastic bottles go? We like to think we all do our part and recycle, but again, it pointed out in most cases bottled water is a point of sale, one way product, you buy it, you drink it and you toss it. If there is some sort of recycling receptacle, it will go there, if not then its straight in the trash, or it will be tossed to the curb, wayside, ditch, park or where ever we find ourselves. In other words, it's not recycled and that's another problem. It now enters the ecosystem and causes even greater havoc. That's why we see them floating around. With 29 billion bottles used each year in the US and probably some sort of proportion in Canada, let alone the rest of the world, that's a lot of plastic that ends up somewhere. If its in the water, it goes into the lakes and from there, the oceans and from there, well, that's another problem altogether.

The water industry is mining water from anywhere they want, but its usually a few places and they honestly don't care about the local people or the local environment.

It's a movie worth watching. I picked up my copy from the local library and I suspect a lot of local libraries will have the same DVD. So go out, rent it, check it out and watch it. I think one result will be you will never buy another bottle of water again. Which could be a good thing. If you get thirsty the best thing to do is become friends with a local water fountain and if that's not possible, bring your own water, from your own tap, with your own reuseable bottle.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bottled Water Freedom Day

I suppose it would be easy to dismiss this day as one of those 'trendier then thou' movement amongst the liberals that surround us and want to go out of their way to ban everything. However, it's an issue that may be very important to us all.

I would say one of the main problems of bottled water is that it is based upon some deception and subterfuge. The premise of bottled water is that our tap water is horribly dangerous and when we drink it, we are filling our bodies with poison. Things like chlorine and fluoride, the latter is, of course either a commie plot or an act of terrorism.

A few have pointed out that the bottled water industry was totally an invention of marketing and because of this, we are told how much we need to invest in bottled water. I came across a blog that had at its title: "Myths, Lies, & Freedom: 5 Reasons Bottled Water Is Superior To Tap Water".

While tongue in cheek, there is a lot of interesting facts, and we should consider a few of them. Perhaps the chief one is the fact that there is a lot of plastic already in our environment and truly do we need more? The convenience of carrying water is of course important for people who exercise, walk about for some shopping outside, or just enjoying the outside world. Since we need to drink 8 8oz glasses of water every day to stay hydrated, carrying it around is good. After all, can we trust drinking fountains? Actually we can.

The main site Bottled Water Free Day, gives us some examples as to why bottled water exist:
Just a decade ago bottled water was a novelty. Now, bottled water is seen as a necessity as water fountains have disappeared and multi-million dollar marketing campaigns have convinced us that bottled water is the only safe way to consume water.

This comes despite the fact that the bottled water industry is less regulated than municipal water systems, consumes more energy and releases more harmful toxins into the environment than tap water.

When we begin to accept that the only way to get drinking water is to buy it in a packaged form, it is easy to accept that water--whether from a tap or from a bottle--is a commodity to be bought and. A system is emerging where we will have two water systems: one for the world's wealthy and one for everyone else.

In recent years, citizens have started to fight back against the false claims and manipulation of the bottled water industry, who are are being forced under a public microscope as people question:
The safety of bottled water.
The growing corporate control of water resources
. The use of misleading bottled water marketing .

The heavy social and ecological toll that the commodification of water has had around the world.

The good news is that anyone can help stop the corporate control of water by joining the movement to ban bottled water and secure access to public water by creating Bottled Water Free Zones and getting your community to kick the bottle and back the tap!

The movement against bottled water is growing, many municipalities are considering banning sale, or at least having them around.

One of the scariest part of this entire argument has to do with the privatization of water; while water is still in the control of municipalities and it is doubtful any city or county would consider selling water control to, say, Coke or Pepsi, but its the reality in the third world. Water distribution is in the hands of multinationals and it is having negative effects on the communities of those nations.
Commodifying and privatizing water contributes to a divide between those who can and cannot pay for water. Examples of water privatization in the Global South provide evidence in support of this concern.

The bottled water industry affirms water as a commodity; privately owned, bought and sold for a profit. Cultivating consumers' willingness to pay more for a litre of bottled water than for a litre of gas helps set the stage for the public acceptance of the privatization of water services.

We are living through one of the most alarming and critical issues of our times: the global water crisis. Evidence abounds of the beginnings of an environmental catastrophe. Aquifers, rivers and lakes are drying up an alarming rate. This is due to overexploitation, and the pollution and contamination of fresh water systems and watersheds. Bottled water is a big part of the problem.

Bottled water companies have targeted their marketing towards convincing the public that the only safe water to drink, is that which comes in a bottle. This has contributed to diminished confidence in public water systems, which threatens to make badly needed investments in public water infrastructure less of a priority for government.

Serious questions and concerns are raised where water is privatized. Should the ability to pay define who can access clean water? What are the impacts of this kind of price value? Should profit guide the use of finite water resources that are essential to life itself? Water service cut-offs and pre-paid water metres are examples of how privatizing water can cause barriers to accessing it. When this happens, health can deteriorate, household tasks become more burdensome and people go thirsty. Inequalities between people of different class, race and gender confound these effects.

Water is rightfully considered part of the ‘commons’ and managed for the benefit of all people. This is based on the understanding that there are some areas that should not be left to the whims of the market, but rather should be managed as a social good.and that water resource management is environmentally sustainable.

In addition, once water supplies become open to the market, free trade agreements open them up even further, making it far more difficult for countries to later restrict their trade.

I guess it comes down to whether this is a huge issue or not to you. At work I have access to drinking fountains, I also fill up a bike bottle from home and bring it with me. Is this just as bad? I'm not buying anymore plastic, it is re-usable and I'm not paying the big dollars for a bottle of water.

So tomorrow it will be the same for me, I'm bringing my own water.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Starbucks at 40

As I entered my favourite Starbucks this evening, to enjoy my cup of Awake tea and to work on my blog, I spied the display, Starbucks is 40. This is quite a anniversary when you think about it. I suppose I should say something like "from humble beginnings, it has become the friendly behemoth, changing the coffee tastes of not only North America, but around the globe". I can say it has changed my coffee tastes, namely that it has given me a coffee taste.

I would like to say I had my first espresso drink at a Starbucks, but that would not be correct, it actually happened at this small coffee bar on Grandview Avenue in Vancouver. I was surprised to see how small an espresso drink is, until I tasted it, and wondered why I didn't sleep that night.

Starbucks and me go back a few years, to Vancouver. I remember when Starbucks attempted to open a store on Grandview Avenue (aka Java Drive), there was the usually anti-huge corporation vitriol, including a few paint bomb attacks to the logos. Yet it opened and survived, just as all the other coffee shops, including the roaster across the street. I have sat in the store in Vancouver where you could look across the street and see another Starbucks.

I have sat outside enjoying the warm February afternoon with a Cappuccino with my good friend Ed. I still have the photograph some place.

I have sat in the Pike Place Market Store, Starbucks #1 and enjoyed a coffee there.

Now thanks to Starbucks, I have a regular coffee every Saturday morning. It's as much a part of that routine as waffles and listening to NPR on XM radio. It's the only place I can listen to Car Talk and Wait, wait don't tell me.

As I write this, I'm wondering if there is any other anniversary things I could or should buy. I already own two mugs. I really shouldn't buy any more, since I tend to complain when others buy an abundance of mugs. Now if only they had a tee shirt, but then again I've been told to cull my tee shirt collection. Still I won't give up my collection of Starbucks gift cards.

Monday, March 07, 2011

South Side Y

After lunch, I had a few errands to walk to in the downtown, so I did them and strolled over to the Laurier Carnegie Building. The reason for this walk, wasn't so much for the exercise, however it was a nice walk, but to get information about the new Y-Laurier complex that is going to be built in Brantford. While there, I took out my cellphone and took a few pictures of the work that was portrayed.

Unfortunately I missed any opening remarks, so I just took the pictures and then this evening did the reading.

Right off the bat, the concept drawings are quite impressive. It is going to be a fantastic structure on the south side, right across the street from Harmony Square. I imagine the plan and hope is to have both facilities draw off from each other to create a truly harmonic part of the downtown.

What is also interesting is the fact that part of the roof will be even with Colborne Street, thus creating a plaza that is easily accessible from the downtown, and while there is going to be activity on the roof, it will also be a place to relax and enjoy the view of the city.

Part of the local paper gave this quote from the spokesperson of the company that designed the concept:
Plans call for the 115,000-square-foot building to include: a double gym with retractable bleachers; a multi-purpose gym; a six-lane, 25-metre pool; and an aquatic "teach tank" with moveable floor.

There also would be a student lounge, yoga studio, and open green areas that could incorporate indigenous plants and public art.

Space would be reserved for a possible third gym, said Ross Carter-Wingrove, associate vice-president of Cannon Design.

"It is an extremely unique site. It's almost an escarpment. (The designs) nestle the building into the surroundings with terraced landscaping."

Sounds great, it is good the designers decided to incorporate what they have to work with, rather then forcing something to fit. It will be a boon to the downtown to have a nice place to exercise and enjoy the outdoors, especially in the warm weather.

The article goes on to state that it will be a 115,000 sq foot building. The price tag for it will be $50,000,000- fifty million dollars.

However there is one major problem for this project, and it is the same problem that has dogged it almost from the beginning- its all dependent on the various levels of government pitching in. One of the photographs shows the logo for the Canadian Economic Action Plan, the program of the federal government to provide stimulus funding to get the local economies going again after the recession. The question is, the logo, is it wishful thinking, or was it for the concept development only, or is there a chance that a cheque will be cut to pay for a fair percentage of the project.

The vice-president of facility development at the Y said it clearly:
It all hinges on funding. We will be going to all levels of government and the community for support. It's going to take all of us to do this.

In other words, no money, no Y, without funding it remains simply very nice drawings.

This could be a problem. To date funding has not been coming, in fact funding for projects that has to do with the University has been slow; the Academic and Research Centre was only started when funding finally came through, for a time it was simply a very large hole in the ground along Dalhousie. Is there any guarantees? Perhaps if Phil McColeman and Dave Levac could do another one of their 'bringing big cheques' together there is hope. Then again with at least one election coming up, the provincial, and another on the way, maybe, the federal, it will be a nice backdrop for both of them. I think if they could do this, they will guarantee each other's re-election for many years to come.

It does sound and look fantastic. However it is the question of funding that is the sticker isn't it. While it will cover, if the article is correct about half of the south side, what can be developed with the rest of the land?

There are still a lot of questions that will be asked and hopefully a few answers will come our way.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Dignity Project- Class Warfare

Some may wonder what the Dignity Project has to do with Class Warfare, but it is a document that articulates the fact Class Warfare exists and is doing very well in Canada, thank you so much. To re-iterate, the overall comments towards those who live in poverty is negative. It is usually their fault they are poor- either through bad choices, addiction and substance abuse or the catchall category, lazy.

To give the definition:
Class conflict refers to the concept of underlying tensions or antagonisms which exist in society due to conflicting interests that arise from different socioeconomic positions and dispositions. Class conflict is thought to play a pivotal role in history of class societies (such as capitalism and feudalism) by Marxists[1] who refer to its overt manifestations as class war, a struggle whose resolution in favor of the working class is viewed by them as inevitable under capitalism.

It's usually the term used by the underclasses and their political representatives to inspire them to overthrow the overlords. Things have changed, now we expect the underclasses to mind their position and take the abuse.

I was standing in line at the local social service office, I had to drop off some information to one of the executive, I was not applying. As I stood there, this young woman, I'm going to say probably early 20's came storming out of the back part of the office, cursing and swearing. No idea what her problem was but I`m going to think she didn`t receive the answer or help she was looking for or requesting. She continued her tirade and kicked a few doors as she left the place. I want to suggest here is another soldier or perhaps one of the `walking wounded` in the class war. For some reason she now has to be dependent on the welfare system, it may be for a few years or that through the auspices of Ontario Works, some sort of educational program could be implemented.

It seems the system, which is constructed to help people such as herself, is so overworked and over burdened that there are cracks and people are reacting in less then helpful ways. I am certain the local workers at Ontario Workers are not callous individuals who are indifferent to the concerns of their fellow humans, it just the system is such that humanity and humanism is stripped out and tossed out. This is class warfare.

So what can be done? The Dignity Project has made a manifesto:
I believe that:

* Everyone should have access to life’s basic necessities
* Poverty is a scourge on society that puts dignity out of reach
* People’s lives change when they are treated with dignity
* Everyone has a right to a sense of dignity
* The fight against poverty deserves my personal attention

By the way, as a bit of history, this is not the first manifesto from The Salvation Army, William Booth in his book: In Darkest England and the Way Out came up with the Cab Horse Manifesto or Charter:
It is the standard of the London Cab Horse. When in the streets of London a Cab Horse, weary or careless or stupid, trips and falls and lies stretched out in the midst of the traffic there is no question of debating how he came to stumble before we try to get him on his legs again. The Cab Horse is a very real illustration of poor broken-down humanity; he usually falls down because of overwork and underfeeding. If you put him on his feet without altering his conditions, it would only be to give him another dose of agony; but first of all you'll have to pick him up again. It may have been through overwork or underfeeding, or it may have been all his own fault that he has broken his knees and smashed the shafts, but that does not matter. If not for his own sake, then merely in order to prevent an obstruction of the traffic, all attention is concentrated upon the question of how we are to get him on his legs again. Tin load is taken off, the harness is unbuckled, or, if need be, cut, and everything is done to help him up. Then he is put in the shafts again and once more restored to his regular round of work. That is the first point. The second is that every Cab Horse in London has three things; a shelter for the night, food for its stomach, and work allotted to it by which it can earn its corn.

These are the two points of the Cab Horse's Charter. When he is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work. That, although a humble standard, is at present absolutely unattainable by millions—literally by millions—of our fellow-men and women in this country. Can the Cab Horse Charter be gained for human beings? I answer, yes.

Today the class warfare that exists against the submerged tenth, to quote General Booth must end and end today. The attitudes that are so common and popular need to be replaced with a sense of compassion and care. Certainly there needs to be challenges to some people so that they stop the nonsense, but that can only happen when the hand up is offered and not the slap to the face.

Retired General John Gowans had it right when he declared the mission of The Salvation Army to be:
to save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity

I think I`ll end with that comment.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Dignity Project is Launched

Today, the Salvation Army launched the "Dignity Project", an attempt to educate and make Canadians aware of the needs of the very less fortunate in our society. It started with the fundamentals, what do Canadians think about poverty and those who are poor. It would be nice to think we are a very compassionate bunch, however, the numbers, and this was a true survey and not some lame Internet/Facebook thing. It appears Canadians take a very dim view of those who are poor. Some of the results are:
* Nearly 50 percent of Canadians feel that a family of four could get by on $10,000 – $30,000 per year or less
* Nearly half of all Canadians feel that if poor people really want to work, they can always find a job
* Nearly 40 percent believe people who live in poverty in Canada “still have it pretty good”
* 41 percent believe that the poor would “take advantage” of any assistance given and “do nothing” with support provided
* About a quarter of Canadians believe that people are poor because they are lazy and have lower moral values than average
* 96 percent of Canadians believe that everyone deserves a sense of dignity, but only 65 percent believe that being poor can rob you of dignity

Quite the interesting set of statistics, if the report does anything it should give us all pause as to what are our attitudes to the less fortunate. A quick read of some comment sections point out that these are not just people on a bad day, but a reality. I was at the Yahoo Page and the comments were running about 50-50, half were berating poor people as being responsible for their state of being because of the actions they had done, such as, leaving school early, or getting involved in an addiction. While people ranted, the realization is this is not to do with the cause of poverty, that may be for another report.

Of course, I thought the last statement, the belief in dignity may be one of those, 'I better answer the way they want me to answer'. So sure I believe that people should have dignity in their lives, but just because those on welfare are living better then I do, well, that's the real crime.

I wondered why there was this negative feeling, I mean its not a total surprised, there is nothing people have been crabbing about for years. I heard people talk about those in a subsidized housing project yelling at some automakers "keeping working guys, I need the money to buy beer". I did suggest the tale was rather apocalyptic, but it fits the stereotype.

This made me wonder why the prevalence and then I got another document to study, this time in the mail It is called "The Three Cities within Toronto". It's an examination on the development of Income Polarization in Toronto, from 1970-2005. It came with this issue of Spacing Magazine. To give the quick view, Toronto is becoming a very polarized city between the very rich and very poor. While the population of people who are rich has remained stable 15-18%, those who would be considered poor has increased 178% from 19% of population to 54. Meanwhile the Middle class has decreased by 56%, to 29% of the population. While this is sadly not abnormal, I think it may give the basis of the opinion, the Middle class is an endangered species. The adage that people are living pay cheque to pay cheque is not an adage but the truth. The Middle Class is going because the source of the middle class economics and income is disappearing. The Manufacturing Industry is leaving and the service industry is growing. It could be said the age of the $20/hour job is gone, now the $12-15 range is the new reality and new good paying jobs. Couple this with the fact that taxes and everything else is going through the roof. The former middle class is battered to extinction. They are angry but where to release the anger, yes to the government that imposes taxes and seems to squander what people worked hard earn on self-serving projects. But usually the money involved in mind boggling. How do you understand a billion dollar boondoggle. You can't, but if you see a headline that states that it costs governments $55,000/year to house a homeless person, then it becomes personal. That guy on the corner with the sign and the hat bugging you for loose change is costing more then you make. Now understand the front line is probably about $13,000/year but when you put in the nice offices for Ontario Works, well, it begins to add up. Those new business cards cost money after all.

Plus add the fact the recession that is supposed to be a recovery is very fragile, if it exists and you have a very cranky populace.

They can't yell at the Premier, because he's surrounded by security and the only time he comes out is in well stages, well rehearsed 'spontaneous' meeting with the common folk, usually those who are long time supporters of the governing party. Is he approachable, yeah if you don't mind getting tasered if you get too close. So who symbolizes all the waste, the guy in public housing, the mother with a couple of kids trying to live high on the hog on a thousand a month. It's the people who have to go to the food bank each month, hoping there is something new and not the same old stuff. Again, the recession has affected even donations to food banks so people who need the extra food can't get that.

As an aside, I sent an email to Andrew Burditt, asking him if he was surprised at the findings, to date, he has not returned a reply.

It would be easy to blame the people with the negative thoughts, but more important, we need to examine a lot of things, the first thing is the entitlement that seems to flow towards those who are in power with the government or have the very cushy government jobs.

hasta la victoria, siempre!