Thursday, April 28, 2005

Back home again

Originally uploaded by Dave Traynor.
Hard to believe, but Jaime has finished her first year at the University of Victoria. So now she's back in Hamilton, where she'll be rowing at Leander for the summer. She'll also be putting in some hours at a local grocery store, where she worked last year, and perhaps teaching the "Learn-to-Row" sessions at the Club this summer. And yes, those bags are as heavy as they look!

Her timing is good. Last week, Cory moved out to live with three other guys. They're not too far away, but it's strange not to have him living with us any more.

And the biggest change now that Jaime is home again? Having someone around in the morning to fight with over the Globe and Mail and talk about's nice to have her back.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Did you miss Earth Day?

Earth Day happened this past week. But there didn't seem to be a heck of a lot of fanfare around it, despite the growing uncertainty over the health of our planet. In the Globe and Mail on Saturday, Ken Wiwa has a good column that talks about Earth Day, and what it's become. (You may or may not be able to read the column, depending on whether you have an "Insiders'" subscription.) Here's a bit of what he had to say:

The disturbing thing is that a day founded in the genuine desire to relocate the heart and spirit of the American dream to a more globally aware, environmentally sensitive place is being co-opted in a depressingly familiar tale of cynical manipulation, politics and commerce.

How do you swallow the optics of a U.S. president using the occasion of Earth Day to promote his militarized vision of global security? Or the rhetoric of U.S. Army Earth Day? Yes — U.S. Army Earth Day really does exist. Its slogan, "Sustaining the Environment for a Secure Future," adorns its 2005 Earth Day poster depicting a soldier, armed to the teeth, scoping the planet through his binoculars.

If that scares the bejesus out of you, then stay away from the U.S. Congress. It's currently debating President George Bush's controversial energy bill. On the eve of Earth Day, the House rejected a proposal, by a 254-177 vote, to increase the fuel efficiency of automobiles.

President Bush and his army may insist that rolling back green legislation is enhancing life on Earth. But I prefer to be scaremongered by studies such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a report funded by the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. The four-year study done in 95 countries by 1,300 scientists and experts recently concluded that humans are degrading 60 per cent of the Earth's ecosystem services, such as fresh water, and have had a hand in changing climates. The report concludes that these activities are releasing excess greenhouse gasses, draining underground aquifers, overharvesting forests and oceans, and continuing to dump pollution into them.

But as is usually the case with Wiwa, he ends with a bit of optimism.

He tells us that he was in the US this past week to attend the Goldman Prize, which is awarded annually to six grassroots environmentalists from six regions of the world:
If you're depressed that Earth Day appears, like everything else, to have been co-opted, then take the time to find out about the Goldman Award winners — people such as Kaisha Atakhanova, who is leading the campaign to reduce nuclear pollution in Kazakhstan; Stephanie Roth, for leading protests against a proposed gold and silver mine in Romania and Haitian agronomist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who faced death threats to teach his people sustainable agriculture. Their stories are the ones we should be celebrating on Earth Day every year.

Good advice. Go read the stories for yourself...and celebrate.

Election talk misses the real point

OK, I know that I should be commenting about our PM's special, six-minute TV address the other night. I'm sure that lots of people were interested. Heck, my wife thinks he put on a good show, but she's so dead-set against the Tories that she'll grab any excuse to keep them out of government. She even admitted she might consider voting Liberal, if that's what it takes (something she's never done before.)

I didn't see the PM's address live. I would have, but I had other things to do, something I suspect a great many people did as well. Although the whole point was to avoid the "media filter" that his remarks or comments are always shrouded by, I still didn't take advantage of the opportunity.

I'm waiting for some sanity to come to our federal politicians. I know I may wait in vain, but I am nothing if not optimistic. There is no way we should be heading to an election now. There are significant and serious issues facing Canadians right now, and choosing a new government is not one of them. Let's wait and see what Gomery has to say. If the Liberals are as corrupt and "done" as the Opposition parties say there are, then there is no way they will win another election, whenever it comes. If the charges are true, let's hear the process out, then elect a new majority government, not just another interim minority, of whatever stripe.

There. I don't want to say more. Well, maybe just another sentence or two...

I'm disappointed in what we're hearing about the morality of the Liberal party of Canada and the way that business has been done in Quebec, and I suspect elsewhere. There was (and perhaps still is) a group of morally suspect people running the Liberal party. The status quo is not acceptable. But I worry that the way politics is done is not just a "liberal" way. It's the way of politicians and it needs to be changed.

We need our politicians to rise above day-to-day opportunism and demand that accountability be installed at all levels. We need respect and honour to be re-established as virtues that are important, not something to be laughed at when someone shows some. If Paul Martin is to be believed, he called the Gomery inquiry because it was the right thing to do, not because it was politically opportunistic. In fact, the price he's paying now is perhaps the clearest indication that it was not a smart thing, politically, to have done.

Maybe, just maybe, he's right. Maybe we should wait and see what happens.

UPDATE - April 25 -- A couple of great items in the Globe today. One, by Jim Stanford, puts the cost of ADSCAM into perspective. The other, by John Gray, (his biographer) casts a harsh light on Paul Martin's leadership qualities.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Too much news can be numbing

I'm slipping into news overload these days. I can't help it. I'm starting to feel like there's just been too much...of everything, it seems.

Consider this past week...Gomery, etc. Talk of election. Death of Pope. Burial of Pope. Election of new Pope. More earthquakes in Indonesia. Giant waves in Florida. Abandoned buildings in Hamilton...OK, that last one maybe isn't big news for the rest of you...but you get my point.

One of those "hot spots" that continues to simmer (but without the intense media scrutiny it once had), is Iraq. This week, we've heard that hundreds of people have been taken hostage, but the story is still confused as to whether they've been killed or not. Details are sketchy. And to be honest, most of the time, I don't really care anymore. It doesn't seem "fixable."

Catching glimpses of stories like this, through the lens of a media that's become overloaded with "major" events can be frustrating. If you have time to sit down and work your way through the Internet news sites and various blogs, you can usually find out what's happening but it's not something I can always find the energy for.

But on Tuesday, a story about Iraq in the Globe and Mail caught my eye. "My friend died helping Iraqi civilians" screamed the headline. That got my attention. It was written by Mark MacKinnon, The Globe's mid-east correspondent.

Mark tells us the sad story of his friend, Marla Ruzicka, who was killed on the weekend by a bomb in Baghdad. Hers is a remarkable story and the personal nature of the story brings home the sadness of her death and the impact it will have on a host of people. She sounds like an amazing person. You should read it for yourself.

Stories like this reinforce my faith in journalists and the power of the written word. Stories are the lifeblood of our society and we depend on our media to tell many of them. From time to time, we all suffer from the media's obsession with this or that story, and we like to think we can safely ignore the media because "they" are all off on some crusade or another. But these people are just working like you and me and they're doing what they think needs to be done. And from time to time they let us know just how much they have to deal with on a daily basis.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Should you shop at Wal Mart?

It's an interesting made more interesting after reading this story about Wal-Mart's attempts to refurbish its ailing public image.

Now, this is a company that has never been particularly concerned about what people thought about it -- as long as they kept shopping there. And they have. The statistics cited by Kelly Hearn of Alternet are truly astounding:

A report co-authored by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and citing statistics by Deutsche Bank Securities, shows superstores' chunk of the general merchandise market went from 16 percent in 1992 to 50 percent in 2004. From 1991 to 2004, retail ad growth at newspapers shrunk from 4 percent to 1 percent.

So there's a certain irony in Wal-Mart wanting to get local newspaper support to help it restore it's image.

But what I find interesting about this story is that it challenges me (at least) to wonder about whether I let issues like this influence my buying decisions. Does it matter to me what kind of labour record a company has, or whether they are driving small, locally-owned companies out of business? Apparently not, if I can buy a discounted DVD for a few bucks less. Or pick up a pair of pefectly good jeans for less than I can anywhere else. Certainly, the rate of growth for Wal-Mart, and similar "big-box superstores" shows no signs of abating. Perhaps it won't.

But there's this part of me that keeps wondering whether I should be more concerned. Should I consider larger issues when I spend my hard-earned dollars? Does the fact that I might save a few justify the hardships that, by extension, are exerted on others because of Wal-Mart's success? On the other hand, what about the people that work at Wal-Mart? They seem happy enough with the company they work for. In fact, Wal-Mart ranked #8 on this year's Top 50 Employers in Canada by the Report on Business.

At the end of the day, where you shop and why is a personal decision. But increasingly, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. For a long time, I think most of us simply watched and listened to stories about corporate activities without letting it become personal. But recent events, like the ethical and accounting scandals on Wall St. and Bay St. and at companies like Enron, combined with revelations at home like the Gomery Inquiry into Adscam are making people re-evaluate their personal stake in what's going on around them.

As Bell Canada explains it, "We are all connected."

Monday, April 11, 2005

You know you're getting old when...

Originally uploaded by Dave Traynor.
Well, it's happened. My "baby" has got her driver's license. Yes, Kelly obtained that milestone last week, on her first attempt, no less! So now, she's ready to break free of the parental bonds that tie her, assuming of course, that those same parents keep giving her money, loan her a car and supply the gas, insurance, etc. It's nice to be a kid, isn't it?

Last week was a good week for Kelly. She got her driver's license, and her new boat came in (she's renting a singles scull this year) and her uncle and aunt in Toronto decided to give us their old van, rather than trade it in on a new car. They got the car, and Kelly now has a vehicle to drive all her friends to rowing with! Life is good.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Publication Bans and the Internet

I've always had a problem with the concept of publication bans imposed on legal proceedings. Because they imply a hierarchy of access that is inappropriate and they're doomed to fail. We all know that some people in the courtroom are hearing the evidence, and deciding how to act because of it, but those who depend on the media for information are denied that same right. It's an articifical distinction that isn't appropriate.

So the decision to ban publication of what's been happening at the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal within the Liberal party is wrong, in my view. And in today's world, with the Internet and blogs like this one, etc., it didn't take long for the sheer folly of that ban to become evident.

On Friday, after the latest testimony in Montreal, the buzz started in Ottawa that what was being said was so sensational that we might see a snap federal election because of it. That's pretty sensational, but what made it even sexier (in theory, at least) was the fact that no one could actually talk about what was really said.

Enter the bloggers. Almost immediately, a U.S.-based blog started publishing the details and it didn't take long for a lot of people to start reading about it, throwing the whole question about the relevancy of the original ban into question, as this story in the Globe and Mail points out.

As a confirmed news junkie, I wanted to know what that testimony was and it didn't take me long to find out, or at least to find some comments about it. However, I'm mindful of the ban on coverage, so I hesitate to provide a direct link to what I've found. But I will tell you that I went to Feedster, typed in Gomery Ban in the search button and clicked on the first result. I found what I was looking for right away. You might want to do the same.

But the end result is interesting, because while the testimony does seem sensational, it's posted on a blog that's obviously not a fan of the Liberal party, so you have to ask yourself whether the reports are as accurate as they should be. But until Canadian journalists are allowed to write about what happened, we won't really know whether what we're hearing now is accurate or not.

But it sure is interesting.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Helpful lists to get you through your days

Who says there's nothing helpful on the Internet? Well, no one that I know of. But I like to start posts with a question.

One site that I read faily regularly is called 43 Folders. It's a collection of useful stuff, mostly highlighting programs for the Mac and productivity tips. He's pretty taken with GTD and if you don't know what that stands for, go here.

This past week (the first of the month, actually), it had a helpful list of "hacks" that you could follow to improve your productivity. For example:

1 -- Pencils are a great way to write things down.
2 -- Sharpen new pencils soon after you’ve bought them, so you can use them to write things down more easily.
3 -- Make sure you put gas in your car, or it won’t run very far after you’ve bought it, and then you’ll have trouble getting to work.

There's a lot more on the list. See for yourself.