Little Monsters In Your Kitchen


keurigI’m absolutely crazy about those one serving coffee machines … Nespresso, Keurig, Tassimo … such luxury! A cup of this java is a perfect caffeine jewel to start the day.

Over the last few years, many of my friends have either purchased a single serve pod machine, or been gifted one, and I always enjoy the flavours they present, whether to start the day, or complete a meal.

keurig podsThe price for the convenience of the elegant brewing machines is fairly low, and getting even more affordable. During the holiday season, some were $50.00 or less. The price for those little pod cups of wonderfulness, though… Not so cheap. In fact, even at a deep discount, you’re still paying anywhere from .30 cents per cup, to a high of over a dollar. Depending on the brand of coffee, you can count on spending about $50.00 per pound of coffee.

In contrast, your “Mr Coffee” type family pot of traditional fresh-brewed java will cost you about .13cents per cup, even after factoring in the cost of coffee pots and filters.

brew and saveKerry K. Taylor did a great cost analysis on her page, squawkfox.com. Among other money saving ideas, she advocates Brew & Save Refillable K-Cups. She’s got some great tips, but also offers this cautionary note:

“Shelves and shelves and more shelves stocked full of single serve coffee pods. Once brewed, where do all those pods go?

Mother Jones has the answer. In Your Coffee Pods’ Dirty Secret, MoJo does some alarming math and calculates that all of the K-Cups sold in 2013 would wrap around the Earth 10.5 times.

Our coffee habits are leaving a big hug of garbage wrapped around the planet. I do love hugs, but that’s not the kind of grip I want to leave the youngins when I’m gone.”

Read more about this and other clever hacks for modern life at http://www.squawkfox.com/2014/04/03/kcup/

k-cup-monster-vpt-screenshot-20140112Meanwhile, Halifax‘s Egg Studios in a partnership with the Bayside, N.S. coffee shop Social Bean, created this satirical short video, which asked the question – how long can the planet survive before being inundated with the Cups?. (There is also a website for the Kill the K-Cup campaign.)   

The Keurig company got the joke,  and says the company plans to make its cups recyclable by 2020. Admirable – but not soon enough.

Don’t let your little cup of morning coffee create monster-sized problems for the planet! Watch, laugh, and then tell the makers of the pods that we love the coffee, but we need the pods to be recyclable NOW.

A Real Woman


I”m working on a blog that’s going to take quite some time to put together. I do a lot of research on stats, and this subject will take several more hours.

So in the meantime, here’s some food for thought.

a real woman

Running On Empty


It’s minus -21C today – that’s 5 below zero in Fahrenheit – and it’s so cold my cats have cat I has a sadgone beyond being angry and have become despondent, either staring sadly into space or denying the existence of the world with their heads smacked up against a wall. I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in a black flannel poncho, and wondering where I’ve left my fingerless gloves.

I sprang from my bed this morning, rested and brimming with ideas of ‘great social and political import,’ but instead of researching, I’m waiting for oatmeal to cook – this is not the sort of day you face on an empty stomach.

On days like this I am very grateful for the science and technology that allows me to stay warm. I’m over the moon that I can flip a switch and have light to see by, and flip another switch to start up my computer and read mail and messages from family and friends. I’m really pleased that I have warm clothing that just rests in my closet until I want to wear it, and I’m grateful for the closet being part of a house that has walls and a roof that keep out the worst of the cold.

Silly-HolidaysWe often take for granted what less fortunate people would consider luxuries. We set aside a day here and a day there to give lip service to the giving of thanks, the honouring of lovers, parents, veterans and a host of others to whom we see fit to throw a bone. “Here you go, secretaries. It’s not much, but we’re calling today National Secretary Day! As soon as you’ve read that card, I’ll have a coffee with two sugars. Thanks for being you!”

Our culture has moulded us into people that can never have enough. Everywhere we turn we’re told that we’re missing out on something – a new power drill, an iPhone6, a bigger or tidier home, a more luxurious car, vacations in the sun, and most importantly … money, money, money!

and then we'll get himEven though studies have definitively shown that those with heaps of money are not significantly happier than those with enough to comfortably cover their needs, we’re still told that it is only with the amassing of wealth that we can really be content.

In reality, rich people are not all tanning by their dollar-shaped pools while chatting casually with the men and women we’ve elevated to media stardom. They’re far more likely to be spending their time trying to get yet more money, in any way possible, and are probably more anxious and hostile than you are when trying to decide whether to go with a name brand tin of peas or the generic house brand.

Scrooge-PorpoiseBeing addicted to money is like being addicted to drugs; at first, a small amount gives you a buzz, but as time goes by, you need higher and higher doses to maintain the high. And if money is your drug, that upward spiral contains another component – a need to have more than anyone else, to have it all, regardless of whom it damages. Exorbitant, mindless wealth precludes empathy towards those who struggle to survive on minimum wage or government assistance.

“The peasants have no bread!” “Then let them eat cake,” tittered Queen Marie Antoinette. Her joke, rather than having them rolling in the aisles, soon had heads rolling from the guillotine instead.

That anecdote is likely only the fabrication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiographical, “Confessions,” but has been used ever since as a cautionary tale of the perils of great wealth and self-indulgence in the face of social unrest. One would think the lesson would be self-explanatory, but apparently the accumulation of wealth does not always translate to the accumulation of historical knowledge.

In Canada, we can point to arriviste Kevin O’Leary, who, with a net worth of US$300 million that the true 1% would consider pocket change, can’t seem to stop patting himself on the back. When he’s not crowing over his own wealth, he’s exhorting the poor of the world to pull themselves up by their socks – even if they don’t own any socks.

But of course, that’s the dream we’ve been sold since the Industrial Revolution. “Come, work for me, make me wealthy and I will share my largesse. You too can be like me, all you need do is work hard, save your money, and keep your nose to the grindstone.” And we bought it, for decades. We called it the Protestant work ethic, and called anyone who didn’t agree lazy and stupid.

scrooge silly pleasures“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904–5 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” (Wikipedia.org)

We forget that his essay was his observations on the Germany of his time, and not a ‘how-to’ manual. Weber considered himself agnostic. His argument was that Catholicism, with its emphasis on doing good works in the hope of eternal salvation, rather than pursuing wealth for its own sake, impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West.

Capitalism depends upon everyone in the society believing in the same goals. When the West had a booming middle class, there was room within the prosperity to dream of a country free of traditional constraints. We could reach out a hand to those who needed help, be they poor or infirm, or young or old. That sense of community resulted in government safety nets and a surge of infrastructure building that connected and included all of the people, regardless of their economic place.

North America looked at what they had wrought in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and found it good. Good enough to not make a priority again until it started to collapse around us.

glittering TorontoIt’s been decades since the roads and bridges and communities were put in place, decades in which the needs of the wealthy became more important in politics than the needs of the tax payer. In Toronto, once Canada’s most glittering city, our highways are clogged with commuters, while our transit system is woefully inadequate to shuttle workers from their homes to their jobs. The local politicians have been arguing about whether to tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway since the 1990’s. And the majority of our subway system, which opened in 1954, is held together with patches and prayers.

business and politicsThere’s blame enough for everyone at this sorry state. Although we love to complain about ‘the system,’ every aspiring politician has to present a platform that will be seen to not only address community issues, but cost the tax payer less. Once in office, the newly elected official can point to budgetary concerns, and remind us all that there aren’t any funds since he’s cut taxes, just as we requested. Or that they are working on a solution, but we mustn’t hope to see real change until some year in the future where they will hopefully no longer be held accountable for the project and the additional costs incurred during the delay.

Politics on crosswordFor corporations, political concerns are less about the community, and more about expediting the accumulation of more wealth. Despite needing an infrastructure that allows workers to arrive at the work place on time, and roads and other delivery systems to get product to consumers, the emphasis is placed squarely on tax cuts that they have convinced politicians, and even many consumers, will result in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Corporations spend billions on pushing forward measures that will deny workers fair wages and benefits, and will spend yet more on media essentially blackmailing consumers into giving them what they demand. Health care, no. More tax cuts, yes. Or we’ll take our ball (company, franchise) and go home. Many even believe that we have no other alternative but to agree.

The last several decades of austerity for the general public, but unheard of wealth for the few, is slowly shaping us into a timid, obedient mass, who are only valued as long as we are able to further enrich business through our labour and consumption of goods and services.

hedonic-treadmillThe pursuit of happiness has become a joyless pursuit of money, dooming its followers to an endless treadmill of greed and desperation. You’ll never catch up to the 1%, no matter how hard you try, but real happiness and satisfaction can be had in a life that encompasses empathy, generosity, and gratitude for what you’ve achieved.

Smoke and Mirrors and Politics Oh My!


Pull the curtain back to reveal the secrets behind the Wizard of Oz. Pull the camera back to reveal how public relations imaging massages a wonderful picture of solidarity. paris leaders march PR

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s terrific that more than 40 world leaders linked arms and joined a march of solidarity in Paris following the death of 17 people during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket.

At the head of the parade were French leader Francois Hollande led the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Hollande had actually originally asked not to attend, feeling that Netanyahu’s presence might be ‘divisive.’

After a minute’s silence, the march began. One and a half million people walked behind the dignitaries, who did not stay for the entire length of the march from Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, about 2km or 1.2 miles.

Joining the leaders’ own security staffs were about 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops.

So when this photo emerged today, I was not at all surprised. paris leaders march real

A wide angle shot, taken from a nearby rooftop, showed that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows of other dignitaries and officials. Following them was a large security presence keeping the leaders separated from the throngs of other marchers.

World leaders want to look as though they are down to earth, and just one of the people, but in actual fact, they are kept fairly isolated from their citizens. They spend a lot of taxpayer money on keeping taxpayers out of their way through security forces. Even the most innocuous photo op involves days of preparation. The kiss that politician just gave that baby was not spontaneous. Leaders must be kept from both intentional and unintentional attack and surprises.

In March 2014, the National Post noted that the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s RCMP personal security team has more than doubled since 2005, when the annual budget for the PM’s protection detail was $8.8 million, to the 2013-14 cost of $19.6 million, an increase of 122% between 2006 and 2014. It costs a lot of money to be that unpopular.

Security aside, heads of countries spend a lot of money and time on image. Specialists in public relations matters, aka “spin doctors,’ work closely with anyone who needs to present themselves, and politicians are no different. They are groomed in how to speak, behave, and maintain a positive public image.

Probably one of the first cases in which style over content ruled was the Nixon/Kennedy television debates of 1960. U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice-President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, were filmed at CBS’s WBBM-TV studio in Chicago.

“Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By 1960, 88% of American households had televisions — up from just 11% the decade before. The number of viewers who tuned in to the debate has been estimated as high as 74 million, by the Nielsen of the day, Broadcast Magazine. Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night. Sorensen says the Kennedy team didn’t realize what a game changer the debate was until the following day at a campaign event in Ohio. “The crowds for his motorcade were much larger than they’d ever been,” he says. “That’s when we knew that, if nothing else, Kennedy had firmed up support for himself in the Democratic party.” (Time Magazine)

Technology has made it harder for aspiring and incumbent political aspirants to present an always positive image. With social media, a politician’s message can be blasted over Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, creating a more human image. But it can also be used against them, as they are shown to make just as many embarrassing mistakes as any other human.

Mandela funeral selfieI’m sure that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama would like to forget their selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Anthony Weiner had to resign his position as a member of the United States House of Representatives after getting caught sexting in 2011, and didn’t he do it all again during his attempted run for the Mayoralty of New York City in 2013!

ford mocks drunk driverAnd then there’s our own Rob Ford. Nearly everything he did during his term as Toronto Mayor was embarrassing, not only for him, but for the city.

So it’s not too surprising that the world leaders staged a photo-op. What is surprising is that so many people were shocked to discover, less than 24 hours later, that they’d been once again set up to see what politicians wanted them to see.

crisis up my sleevePerhaps it’s an object lesson that people of all countries should consider; the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy to ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain‘, because in reality, he was just be a regular guy hiding behind a machine to create a mighty and powerful display.

But Does CANADA Have Freedom of Expression?


On Thursday, while discussing the world’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I said, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect.”

Canada freedom of Expression3I need to correct that, as in fact, Mr. Harper did later add, When a trio of hooded men struck at some of our most cherished democratic principles – freedom of expression, freedom of the press – they assaulted democracy everywhere.”

His original official statement released Wednesday morning, however, lacked those sentiments.

Which is why I was not at all surprised to hear that the Conservatives immediately doubled down on the macho, creating a web page that asked for Canadian support, i.e. a continued dependence upon the Conservative Party in general, and Stephen Harper specifically.

Cons web pageAgainst a background of sepia toned armed men, and headed “Standing Up Against Terrorism,” the message reads, in part, “Canadians can count on Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative Government to ensure the safety of Canadians while protecting their rights. Add your name to support strong leadership:”

Until Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau took to Twitter to complain that “Conservatives fundraising off an ongoing terrorist act is offensive and totally crass,” the page also included a large “Donate Now” button.

When interviewed, NDP MP Charlie Angus added, “They are using for their own political advantage the deaths of innocent people in other countries.”

The button has since been removed, “to avoid confusion,” according to Cory Hann, the Tories director of communications. “This was not, and is not, a fundraising campaign,” he added. “This was to inform Canadians about the Prime Minister’s strong remarks yesterday against the despicable terrorism in Paris.”

To be fair, both the Liberal and NDP main pages also featured donation request buttons above their leaders’ words on the tragedy, although those were quickly removed after the outcry. Yes, all three parties took the opportunity to beg for support and donations for their own cause as the world mourned the dead, and Canadian politicians pumped up their mailing lists for the next election.

But lost in all of the rhetoric over the tempest in a Twitter cup is the hypocrisy of the government in rushing to be seen to protect the rights of people anywhere in the world while denying those same rights to their own citizens.

Harper You Won't Recognize CanadaHarper has consistently used the court system to silence his foes and critics, while implementing funding cuts to groups that would allow ordinary Canadians to have access to legal representation. The national press corps have been controlled and managed, and any dissenters that might shed light on opposing views silenced and arrested. His own cabinet know that to disagree with the Party is to court reprisal.

In 2013, under Harper, Canada removed Section 13(1), the anti-hate provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), which prohibited hate speech on grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., in the name of Freedom of Expression. Canada has stood by while the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled that Al-Jazeera Arabic TV could not be shown in Canada without a censorship mechanism to censor unacceptable or anti-Semitic speech, despite the fact that the service is broadcast in 50 nations, including Israel, without such restrictions.

In 2014, Harper addressed the Israeli Knesset, and equated criticisms of the Israeli state and its policies with anti-Semitism, which raises serious concerns about his government’s commitment to protecting political speech in Canada.

Under the Harper government, Canada freedom of expression2media policies were introduced to tightly control access to Canada’s federal scientists. Once allowed to openly discuss their work with the media and public, interviews must now be approved ahead of time, the scientists’ responses monitored, and in several documented cases, researchers have been prevented from giving interviews on the order of ministers office’s.

The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques won the 14th annual Press Freedom Award in 2012 for their work in exposing how the government has silenced scientists.

PQ Quebec CharterIn Quebec, free speech is a joke under the guise of the Charter of Quebec Values. It’s the Canadian French as decided by the Parti Québécois Way or the highway.

For Harper to declare, as Canada’s representative, Canada freedom of expressionthat he will fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, while denying Canadians such rights, is hypocritical and self-serving.

And ultimately, what is happening in Canada and around the world proves that it is the rich and the powerful that have true freedoms. Those vulnerable groups who need it the most just can’t afford it.

Writing? Me Arse!


Some days I wake up charged with ideas and passion, unable to sleep as I mentally write the day’s blog. Other days, I’m like the Marion Keyes’ character in “The Woman Who Stole My Life,” who, while trying to begin a woman who stole my lifesecond book, finds herself spending hours in front of the keyboard, only to finally type just one word … arse.

This is an arse day.

charlie-hebdo-cartoon2Oh, I have lots of thoughts reeling through my mind, on many subjects. I’m trying to parse my feelings about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and reading compelling follow up articles that have different takes on the ongoing siege and tragedy. I’m listening to what others have to say, whether they come from a militant or pacifist angle.

I’m receiving mail and messages commenting on the role of empathy in a democratic society, and decrying the position the Far Right has taken in regards to the less fortunate. The loudest voices always seem to demand more for those that already have so much, and less for those with basic needs.

I’m contemplating the ‘bad eggs’ in society, those who continually get away with actions that would land an ordinary citizen in jail, but whose allegiances with corporate or political factions keep them safe and in powerful positions. speak the truthAnd, despite the world’s embracing of the “I Am Charlie” manifesto, and the vaunted demand for freedom of expression, I’m a little frightened myself to talk against those in power, for fear of reprisals.

I’m inwardly chuckling over people who use their 15 seconds sarah palin ebolaof fame to insert their feet so thoughtfully into their mouths. What would we do without the Rob Fords, Sarah Palins and Kardashians of the world? They seem to exist solely to play the role of court jester in the mainstream media.

I’m mulling over how easy it is to be misunderstood when presenting one’s ideas. MISUNDERSTANDING-facebookWith few cues in the printed word beyond exclamation marks and emoticons, communication can become muddied through what is written, and how it is perceived. A simple sentence, tossed away in easy face to face conversation, can be taken in social media as a declaration of war. Perhaps the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. wink smiley

Certainly there are days when a winky smiley face can defuse a hothead.

I’m also feeling very grateful that I can count so many intelligent, creative and fascinating people amongst my friends, both on social media and in real life. Not everyone agrees with what I have to say, but that’s a good thing – if we all spent time in complete agreement on every subject, we would soon be bored. The key to understanding any part of life is listening to all sides of the story. As long as we can listen to other viewpoints without losing our tempers and stalking away, we keep the dialogue open and let fresh air into our minds.

So perhaps it’s not so much an ‘arse’ day as it is a day to regroup one’s thoughts, and decide where energies should be concentrated. mental-health-dayWriting clarifies thinking, and concentrates random concepts so that they can hopefully be understood both by the writer and the reader. In order to present ideas that are ideally both important and well-expressed, the odd ‘arse’ day may be as necessary to a writer as a mental health day to those more gainfully employed.

At least that’s today’s excuse. (insert winky smiley face.)

ThinkingClearly Mitch Blunt

We Are Charlie


As many a politician and popular figure has discovered the hard way, the right to free speech is a double-edged sword.

Certainly, every democratic country guarantees your right to speak your mind. It does not, however, protect you from being ridiculed or despised by those who disagree with your opinions. free speech

I had an entirely different blog in mind for today, but the events in France yesterday preclude anyone who values freedom of expression from talking about anything but the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo. (‘hebdo’ is a term used in French to mean weekly journal.)

On January 7, two masked gunmen carrying Kalashnikovs, and identifying themselves as al-Qaeda, entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, opened fire on an editorial meeting, and murdered 12 people – eight journalists, two office staff, and two police officers.

Among the dead are some of France’s most beloveJe Suis Charlied and well-known cartoonists and writers, including Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, 47, artist and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, and Jean ‘Cabu’ Cabut, 76, Charlie Hebdo’s lead cartoonist, who was given the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration, in 2005.

Also slain were Georges Wolinski, 80, previously of Hara-Kiri, a satirical magazine; Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verlhac, 57, a member of a group of artists called ‘Cartoonists for Peace’; Bernard Maris – known as ‘Uncle Bernard’, 68, economic journalist; Phillipe ‘Honore’ Honore, 73, cartoonist, for Charlie Hebdo since 1992; Michel Renaud, former journalist and political staffer; Mustapha Ourrad, copy editor; and Elsa Cayat, analyst and columnist. hebdo weapons

This was not the first time Charlie Hebdo had come under attack. Its offices were firebombed in November of 2011, after the magazine published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed, and even French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once famously asked the magazine, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

France, with a Muslim population of 5 million, the largest in Europe, has faced decades of internal tensions. Charlie Hebdo’s satirical covers and cartoons were famous for provocatively lampooning religion, with a special emphasis on Muslim extremism.

Regardless of the gunmen’s religious views, 12 people were murdered, and the men who committed the crime need to be caught and punished. And certainly, no one in a democratic country should fear a penalty of death for speaking their mind.

The national motto of France originates from the French Revolution. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.)  charlie-hebdo-3On Wednesday night, thousands of Parisians showed solidarity with the victims by attending a vigil on the Place de la Republique, holding up homemade signs with the word, “Je Suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie) and spelling out the words in votive candles.

French police continue to search for the gunmen, one of whom has confirmed jihadist links. It is feared the fugitives could be planning another terrorist attack.

The world is in shock. Tributes and support have flooded into France as the Free World mourns the vicious attack. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, joined the outcry, saying, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.” Je Suis Charlie2

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the murders as an attack on “freedom of expression — a key component of our free democratic culture.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect. “Canada and its allies will not be intimidated and will continue to stand firmly together against terrorists who would threaten the peace, freedom and democracy our countries so dearly value.”

Freedom of Expression is not just a North American or European belief.  human rightsThe United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The response to offensive but non-violent speech is more speech, not violence or legal reprisals. The response to unprovoked violence is legal pursuit and justice being served upon the perpetrators.

Despite our horror and condemnation of this act, we must understand that murdering innocent people in the name of some ‘noble cause’ is still murder. A few madmen extremists who hope to be martyred in the name of their religion cannot take away our rights. But it is down to every citizen of every democratic country to continue to demand the right to freedom of expression, and to never take that right for granted.

Freedom-of-Speech

Empathy By Degrees


My cats hate each other, but they hate winter more. cats fightingBoth Big Blonde and the Black Whiner have finally come to one agreement; cold and snow are not to be tolerated.

My cats are very lucky. They live lives of relative luxury; they are loved, well-fed, and taken care of when they are ill or needy.

The two homeless men that died in Toronto during the cold snap of this week were not so lucky. As temperatures plummeted, the men – one found dead in a downtown bus shelter wearing only jeans, a T-shirt, and a hospital bracelet; the other found dead in an abandoned delivery truck parked in the city’s west end on Monday – were 55 and 60 years old.

There hasn’t been a lot of information released yet on these men’s backgrounds. homeless in toronto winterIt seems they’ve already been filed underhomeless,’ and for many people, that’s enough to make a judgment. “Those” people – those that have fallen through society’s cracks and who bother us by begging for spare change, or whom we step over as they sleep on heating grates in one of North America’s richest cities – rarely elicit more than a ‘tsk’ from those who have jobs, families, friends, and societal approval.

In Toronto, the Mayor’s office issues an extreme cold weather alert when the temperature plummets to –15 C, (5 below, in Fahrenheit,) or when Environment Canada‘s forecast includes factors like wind chill and precipitation. The city has to do so, as even if there were enough shelters to hold our most vulnerable residents, there are many who would still brave the cold rather than seek shelter. The cold weather alert releases additional resources, like warming centres, in those cases. homelessDSC00414

Despite the cold snap that descended on Toronto on Monday morning, the city did not call an alert. On Tuesday morning, temperatures reached -20 C with wind chill, but the actual temperature was -14 C, just above the range. Imagine being outside and homeless, chilled to the bone, teeth rattling as you shiver, and contemplating that one degree of separation.

Even though an extreme cold weather alert had not been issued by Toronto Public Health (TPH,) Mayor John Tory requested last night that the city manager open Toronto’s two 24-hour warming centres.

toronto-homeless1-622x414TWO warming centres, in a city with an estimated population of more than 2800 people living on the streets on any given night.

On the bright side, during an extreme cold weather alert, shelters are directed to relax service restrictions, allowing some homeless, known to be mentally unstable or disruptive, a chance to “warm up.” Transit tokens are made available at drop-in centres so that people can reach shelters, additional shelter spaces are made available, and there is an increase in street outreach and transportation services.

Gaetan Heroux, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, organized a protest at City Hall yesterday, as the hashtag #CallTheAlert trended on Twitter. Toronto residents calling for action gathered outside the Mayor’s office criticized the city’s policy of 15C below. With two dead in two days, Toronto Public Health (TPH) still defended the -15 C threshold, saying that their conclusions are appropriate, and based on science.

Meanwhile, local radio and television statements urged pet owners to be diligent in keeping their furry friends indoors, as the cold could lead to frostbite and long-term health problems.

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather warning for today, forecasting that the wind chill will make it feel like close to –30 in the afternoon and overnight.

My cats are lucky; they’ll be safe and warm, well-fed, and being cared for by people that love them. homeless in Toronto2But for the homeless in Toronto, there’ll be two warming shelters, begrudgingly allowing its citizens with physical, emotional or financial problems to “warm up,” – but only when it’s below 15C.

From the City of Toronto’s website: “If you see someone whom you think requires street outreach assistance, call 311. Note that 311 is not an emergency number. In an emergency, dial 911.”

The Short-Sightedness of Corporate Greed


In the midst of those post-holiday, January credit card blues, the Toronto Star business section headline on New Year’s Day trumpeted, “CEO pay returns to ‘glory days.’ Canada’s top 100 CEOs earned an average of $9.2 million in 2013, hitting pre-recession highs.”

While I’m sure the 100 families who benefited from those riches preened in delight, I thought the timing a little harsh for the rest of the country. The average Canadian worker has received little to no raises in the last ten years, and even those on a yearly review schedule can rarely bank on more than a pitiable 2-4% increase.

The average Canadian earned $47,358 in 2013.  ceo-salary-cdn

“The list of high-flying executives was led by Gerald Schwarz, CEO of Onex Corp., who earned $87.9 million in 2013, most of it in stock options. Nadir Mohamed, who was then CEO of Rogers Communications Inc., earned $26.7 million. Michael M. Wilson, of Agrium Inc., earned $23.8 million. All five CEOs of Canada’s biggest banks were in the top 30.(Toronto Star, Jan 1, 2015)

I don’t begrudge anyone a good income. But these figures are insane by any measure. While it must be said that the CEO’s earning these high wages did so through stock options, and hopefully, good corporate leadership, there is another side to their recompense; the people who work – or used to work – in the companies they manage.

“Canada’s highest-paid CEOs earned 195 times the average Canadian in 2013. That’s up from 105 times in 1998, the oldest date for which comparable figures are available. … However, even the lowest-paid CEO on the list earned more in 2013 than in 2008. While little data is available on CEO pay prior to the 1990s, it is generally accepted that the ratio of executive pay to average pay in the late 1980s was 40:1 in the U.S. and somewhat lower in Canada.” (Toronto Star)

There are only a few ways that a business can continually increase profit over previous years, which increases the value of the stock, and thereby compels the Board of Directors to approve a CEO’s earnings (which include options and bonuses); by introducing a new product so fantastic and coveted that consumers flock to purchase the item, or by reducing assets and/or staff and/or increasing prices.

That’s where the human toll comes in.

(In the 1990’s) “compensation experts came up with the idea of granting a portion of CEO pay in stock options, in which executives are granted options to buy shares at a “strike” price, usually the current market value of the share. Executives can’t “exercise” the option until a future date, at which time the share might be worth more or less than the original strike price. If the shares are worth more, the executive can opt to “buy” the stock and then immediately sell it at the new, higher value. If they are worth less, he or she can simply let the option expire at no cost to them.

Boards of directors were sold on the idea that options would more closely link executive pay to company performance. Instead, the practice encouraged share price volatility at the expense of long-term value, critics say. Among other things, they say, stock options have encouraged executives to cut costs, lay off staff, sell assets and merge with other firms — all to boost the share price in the short term, often at the expense of the company’s future value. They have also led to the rise of activist investors and hedge funds that buy shares in companies with the goal of splitting them up in order to unlock shareholder value.” (Toronto Star)

I suppose the greed is understandable, even though at that level, money becomes little more than paper to be shuffled about. Greed, accompanied by hubris and a massive sense of self-satisfaction, coupled with a belief that the party will never end, and bolstered by his/her cronies in the same tax bracket, good lawyers and accountants, and a taxation system that treats stock options as capital gains, despite stock options carrying none of the risk associated with normal stock purchases.

A dollar earned through a stock option is worth two dollars of salary income. The difference amounts to a public subsidy paid to these already highly compensated executives.” (author, economist Hugh Mackenzie, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

These executives would also have superior benefits, perks befitting their pedestaled positions, and a golden handshake agreement that would see them being even better recompensed should they ever be asked to leave the corporation. In contrast, the staff remaining after deep cuts and asset sales would find themselves clinging desperately to their jobs, despite usually having to shoulder the additional responsibilities of their now dispatched former co-workers.

In the long term, that corporate greed that has created such high unemployment in Canada (about 6.6% as of November of 2014, which will drop after seasonal positions are gone,) translates to nearly 1.3 million potential clients and customers who no longer have the income to purchase goods or services from the purveyors. 90% off store

(That figure only includes Canadians who continue to actively seek employment. It does not include those who are underemployed, or who have given up on ever finding another salaried position. To put it yet another way, in a population of 35.16 million, only 17.7 million have jobs.)

Between the shrinking job force, smaller cash reserves available for purchases, and an aging population, the wealthier of whom may move to a warmer country or the poorer who may have to rely solely on government support during their old age, it soon becomes clear that the highest paid executives are playing a zero-sum game.

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(added Jan. 7/15 – from Huffington Post: “Some 70 per cent of businesses expect growth this year, but only half of them will hire. The result? Stress and burnout for workers…

National Bank chief economist Stefane Marion says Ontario’s growth will be slowed by the fact that the manufacturing sector was gutted during the financial crisis and recession. During previous economic recoveries, Ontario had excess capacity in its factories and could quickly benefit from an increased demand for exports.However, much of that capacity was lost after the last recession and will take some time to rebuild, Marion says.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/06/hiring-canada-employee-burnout-hays_n_6424332.html

Learning Social Media Etiquette – Friends


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A few years ago I met and befriended a fellow woman musician who was in her mid-50’s. We both went to jams around town, and seemed like-minded. She was divorced, with a teenaged daughter, and was only able to carve out small, usually daytime, opportunities to play and sing her own material or cover songs.

She was really friendly, in a new-agey way, smelled of patchouli oil, and yearned to be part of the inner circle that were regularly called on to perform at or attend gigs of a more professional calibre. She also painted, made lovely crafty items, and had self-published a romance novel. I felt I had found a kindred soul.

One late afternoon, under the influence of a few beers, she and I chatted with a fellow we’d never seen at the jams before. He was very tall, had a British accent and a lovely sense of humour. We three shared a drink, and then went our separate ways.

That night I was on Facebook, and thought I’d see if he was part of any of the musical circles I knew. I could only remember that his first name was David, so I combed through the likeliest suspects, and sent a friend request to one of the umpteen Davids. He accepted my friendship, at which time I discovered that he was not the fellow I had been looking for. But – a friend is a friend, and he did seem to be a good-hearted sort; comfortably married, retired, with a history of pleasant status updates.

A few days later, my girlfriend confronted me, clearly agitated. She asked why I’d befriended this David. I was puzzled, but explained, as above, that I thought he’d been the fellow at the jam, and that I’d made a mistake, but he seemed alright.

As it turned out, the David I’d chosen was a long time personal friend of her family. She accused me of cruising through her friend list, in an attempt to ‘steal’ her friends. I was surprised, but being new to Facebook, apologized. After all, she had more experience in social media, and I was fairly new to the scene.

Over the next year, as I got to know her better, I realized that she had a few issues that I couldn’t deal with, including a tendency to be very jealous of anyone I spoke to whom she’d known first. Still, we stayed friendly, until we had a serious misunderstanding which she responded to with a string of accusations and scathing contempt. I didn’t speak to her for several years after that.

Recently, a very dear old friend, who’d moved back to the States 40 years ago, joined Facebook. I was delighted to chat with her again, and we often spend hours messaging back and forth about our good old days on the road. As time went by, I’d see her name pop up in a friend’s Facebook postings, and think what a small world we lived in, that we had so many friends in common.

It wasn’t until I noticed that she’d gone from less than 100 friends four months earlier to almost 400 friends – 132 of them mutual – that I realized that she’d befriended a lot of my own friends while reading responses I’d posted on a status.

But here’s the thing – I’m glad she’s in the same loop as I am. We all have similar slightly off-kilter interests, we all spend a lot of time on social media, and life is easier when you don’t have to tell a story to multiple ears. I can reference people she might never have met, and introduce her to talented and fascinating people I’ve encountered in my journey through life. She’s encouraged me to befriend some of her own friends, and to join groups where we can discuss music amongst other professionals. To me, it’s a win-win situation, and the idealized reason I joined Facebook in the first place.

The ironic thing is that the first woman, who didn’t want to share her friends, is a highly vocal proponent of the Law of Attraction, where one is meant to put forward what one wants from the universe in order to receive its bounties. It would seem that the simple joy of like-minded acquaintances doesn’t rate high on her list of acceptable gifts.

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