Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Only tough on other people’s crimes

You know, I’m more than a little tired of our “law and order” federal government gleefully breaking the law.

Just sayin’.


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Ontario votes

My bold predication for the Ontario election: Elizabeth Witmer, MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, will retain her seat.

When voters turned against the Mike Harris, when they ran from John Tory’s school funding proposal, Ms Witmer, Progressive Conservative, still handily won her seat. She’s been in there for something like 21 years. She certainly not going to lose now, when the PCs are riding a “we’re tired of the Liberals!” wave.

This means, under our most undemocratic of electoral systems, me voting is just a waste of time. I am not voting PC, but whether I vote Green, Liberal, NDP, or Marxist-Leninist, whether I spoil my ballot or just sit at home watching TV, the result will the same. Ms. Witmer’s most votes will give the whole seat, and the choice I made will make no difference at all in who runs Ontario.

I will say I don’t have any particular issues with Ms. Witmer. Generally, I think she has been a good representative. And if Ontarians had been smart enough to change their electoral system four years ago, when they had a chance, I might have even have considered voting for her as my MPP, while selecting another party with my second vote.

But, Ontarians didn’t want more democracy, so we have the system we have, and a vote for Ms. Witmer is a vote for Tim Hudak. And I can’t do that.

I’ll grant that my distaste for Mr. Hudak was perhaps not on the most solid basis, initially: The man is just horribly boring to listen to. All he does is repeat sound bites, that nearly always contain the word “tax”. Tax grab. Sneaky eco-tax. Taxman. Tax on home heating.

It’s the most excruciating thing to listen to. (I’ve heard that Queen’s Parks reporters routinely leave his press conferences early, since all he does is repeat his boring lines over and over.) Four years of that? Not sure I can handle it.

Since then, though, he’s given some reasons of more substance to not vote for his party.

The numbers don’t work

As pointed out by that paragon of lefty, socialist thinking, The Toronto Sun, the PC’s economic plan doesn’t add up. Tax reductions and no cuts to education and health sounds great, but how do you pay for it? Truth is that after education and health, there isn’t a whole lot left to cut. So what’s the plan, here? Letting the deficit rise exponentially? Praying for miraculous growth in Ontario’s economy?

(Yes, all the parties are being somewhat unrealistic in their fiscal promises. The PCs are just the most so.)

Update: A rather damning and very detailed examination of just how much the numbers don’t work, courtesy of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Graphs in Conservative Changebook misleading: At least three of the graphs present data that is clearly false. All of the others contain major errors.

Taxes probably will go up under Hudak

I’m not saying he’ll raise provincial taxes or the HST. But as several have pointed, he will not say whether he will continue to take over the cost of certain municipal programs, as the Liberals plan to do. If he does not (and remember he does have to cut somewhere), it is likely our municipal taxes will increase. OK, they always increase. But they will increase more. And unlike with provincial and federal taxes, which give credits for things like RRSP and charitable donations, there’s nothing you can do to protect your income against those ones.

Addition: The anti-green energy stance

Mr. Hudak wants a better world for his daughter (which I believe), but he’d cancel every green energy project he could? While there do seem to be some flaws in the Liberals handling of the alternative energy file, from what I’ve read, I still applaud the general direction. I believe it’s one of the most progressive in North America. It’s even earned a rare, specific endorsement from David Suzuki!

Xenophobia

Why are politicians allowed to bald-faced lie during elections campaigns, again? In election ads, which can’t be dismissed as an unfortunate slip of the tongue?

Because nothing, nothing has been more appalling to me than this party’s response to the Liberals plans to give tax credits for immigrants who are having trouble finding jobs in their field.

Hudak calls them “foreign workers”. He says the funding will go “outside Ontario”. “Ontarians need not apply.”

But only Canadian citizens would qualify for this tax credit—being a landed immigrant would not be enough. And it’s only for jobs in Ontario.

Hudak is just lying, and in the most xenophobic, divisive, hateful way possible.

Now, I don’t know that the Liberal plan is that wonderful. That professionals who immigrate have trouble finding work in their field is a real problem; I’m not sure how much this would solve it. And I don’t think comparing the PCs to the Tea Party is all that helpful a response, either.

But I do know that all Canadians are equal, no matter how long they’ve been Canadian. And if one group is being particularly discriminated against, it is reasonable for the government to see if something can be done to rectify that.

I won’t vote a party that promotes near-racism.

Unfortunately, what I do won’t make a difference.

Rest of Ontario: Good luck to you. Sorry I can’t be more help.


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Commuter challenged

Last week I attempted, for the first time, to participate in the Commuter Challenge. More people than I expected haven’t heard of this before, but the idea is that, for a week, you try to get to work by some way other than by driving yourself there. As part of the company “Green Team”, I felt I should try to participate, even though I really like the convenience of driving myself to work and back.

I don’t live far from work — Googlemaps reports that it’s 3.7 km, one way. Cycling would be the most logical alternative mode of transport, likely not taking much longer than the drive in rush hour.

The problem is, I’m not much of a cyclist. I don’t feel in shape for the activity, I do not like driving on the sides of city streets, I don’t want to feel sweaty at work all day, I don’t want to feel obliged to have to bike home again if it’s raining by then.

Next up: the bus. Grand River Transit has developed a new EasyGo system that is pretty cool. You enter your start and end locations and times; it gives you the full bus route to take. Unfortunately, that also revealed a slightly absurd, 30-40 minute itinerary, with one or two transfers.

Telework was an option. While I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to work at home the whole week, I did have a laptop and a method of connecting to the work network, so that was my method for a couple of the days. For the others? I finally went with “get a ride with husband” (which he helpfully pointed out just meant that he had to drive a little farther before going to work), combined with walking. Which took me 40 minutes.

Happy news was that I did get my exercise in, and on days I probably otherwise would not have. The weather proved to be cooperative — didn’t get rained on, wasn’t ever excessively hot or cold. Except for the one spot with the pond Canada geese and their chicks, and the (live) groundhog I saw one day, the walk route itself was rather uninspiring, even boring. But the iPod proved a helpful tool for dealing with that.

The challenges? Well, it made doing errands pretty tricky. Cats ended up chowing down on yellowfish tuna in olive oil because I wasn’t about to cart home a bunch of can cat food from the store near the office, as I usually do. Telework Monday I drove myself to a medical appointment and back; otherwise I would have missed too much work time. Right after walk-home Tuesday I got into my car for an event in downtown. Though the bus route to there was very good, the bus options home were not. Wine bottles to return to the Beer Store near work? That didn’t happen either.

I also had to really downsize the amount of stuff I normally carry. For the most part, this just proves I normally carry way more than I need. But keeping a bag lunch at proper temperature and weight — tricky. The glass bottled water I used as an alternative to plastic? Too heavy to consider. Carrying my laptop and accessories and papers so I can work effectively at home? Not practical — hence my using the ride option as well.

So, unfortunately, I’m unlikely to stay with regular alternative commuting options. But I will work at home more often, as possible. It’s good to know that walking — and even transit — are actually possible on days the car is in for servicing, or whatever. And walking made it clear that plenty of people deal with the busy city streets by riding their bikes on the sidewalk, so though you’re not supposed to do that, it maybe makes biking an option.

It was good to try it out. If you didn’t participate this year, look out for out next time. Gas ain’t getting any cheaper…


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Airlines are evil

It’s not news that gone are the days when flying, being at an airport, was actually kind of fun. Security and loss of competition have ended that. But when exactly did the airline experience change from being merely unpleasant to actively evil?

Let start with the computer glitch that inconvenienced thousands of Air Canada travellers. Now, I’m sure Air Canada didn’t do this on purpose. But the way they handled is just so typical of the lack of caring with this airline. As just one case, the Globe and Mail’s Stephanie Nolan reports not being called out of the huge lineup (though other people were), and therefore missing her flight; receiving no apology for this; not being rebooked onto another flight (though the people behind her in line, at the counter beside her, were); boarding a plane and waiting an hour on the tarmac, only to be told to de-plane; and of Air Canada losing her luggage, though she never left the ground.

She finally flew, luggage-less, on West Jet.

But maybe that’s not evil. Maybe it’s just callous, bad customer service.

Well, how about acceleration the destruction of the planet? Airplane emissions are a considerable contributor to global warming. Some environmentalists feel we should basically stop flying altogether. It’s hard not to feel some guilt in boarding a plane, since you know that when planes aren’t full enough, flights are cancelled.

Or are they?

Last week it was reported that British Airways “has flown dozens of empty planes across the Atlantic Ocean in the past two weeks to avoid losing valuable runway slots at London’s airports.” London has a use it or lose policy, and they chose to use it. Isn’t that charming?

But one man who won’t have to face the upcoming global warming apocalypse is poor Robert Dziekanski, the Polish man who died after being tasered twice by RCMP officers at Vancouver Airport. Most of the attention has been directed to the actions of the RCMP in this cases, and the question of whether tasers should continue to be allowed. And it’s very appropriate to look into both of these—the incident truly puts Canada in a bad light.

But I think some attention should also be given to what led to Mr. Dziekanski being in such an agitated state, and that is the callousness or incompetence of airport staff. Mr Dziekanski, flying for the first time, out of Poland for the first time, had been trying to reach his mother for 10 hours. His mother, who was indeed in a different part of the airport, had asked repeatedly for help in finding her son, only to be told he was not there. Meantime, apparently no one noticed or cared that this man had been wandering, lost, in the secure immigration area for such a long time.

Airline staff did not kill Mr. Dziekanski, but they certainly led him to slaughter.

“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.|— Helen Keller


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Environmentalist? Who, me?

Bit of a family weekend, what with it being Canadian Thanksgiving and all. And with an Ontario election on, talk at times naturally turned to that subject.

Both my Dad and my sister expressed surprise that I was not voting for the Green Party.

Dad also commented that he was surprised I didn’t have those cloth shopping bags. Well, in this case I could assure him I did, but still needed to gather some plastic bags to put cat litter in, because nothing else will do.

But the point is… I’ve somehow developed the reputation of being the family environmentalist.

This is a bit alarming, as I was feel sorry for environmentalists. They have an important message to impart, but their opponents can always attack something they did as being “harmful to the environment”. David Suzuki had too many kids. Al Gore drives a big car and lives in a big house. Stéphane Dion flies a lot. Cameron Diaz’ shirt is politically insensitive. Etc.

I do care about the environment. I think it’s the most important issue of our time. I get frustrated the more isn’t being done about it, faster.

But… I’m also conscious that I live in a pretty big house for two people, that we each have a car, that I drive to work even though it’s well within biking distance, and we like to fly places for vacation…

We do all the “easy” stuff, certainly. We have the fluorescent light bulbs, the programmable thermostat (never set to extreme temperatures), the composter, the recycle bins. I do cold water wash when I can. I walk to the store when I’m not getting more than I’ll be able carry back. (My husband says we should get bonus points because we’ve been doing most of this for quite some time, well before it become trendy.)

But all in all, I’m sure the ecological footprint isn’t the greatest.

Maybe it would help if I voted Green…