Our incredible accident of birth

As many of you know, I work with refugees. On a daily basis I come face to face with my incredible privilege of being born in Canada. Every day, I am grateful for the fact that I have always felt relatively safe in Canada. While I have dealt with discrimination being a fat lesbian, I have never known actual fear for my life based on my opinions, political beliefs, or lack of religious belief. I have always felt free to express my views and beliefs and, as my blog will attest, I have been doing this since 2007 with almost 1100 posts.

On Wednesday, The Current on CBC Radio One, broadcasted some interviews from 2 individuals one either side of the Israel/Gaza conflict. I am not going to get into the particulars or my opinions on this conflict as it is a quagmire and not really relevant to this post. What struck me was the absolute terror both people felt at the bombing going on in their countries, places where they should have the right to feel safe.

First up they spoke with a man who lived in the Gaza Strip. He had children and Israeli bombs had fallen within 60 metres of his home. They had been with electricity for days, which was impacting their ability to get fresh water into their homes. Every day he has to go out and try to find food and water for his family; every day he feared he would come home and his house and family would be gone. He just wanted a safe place to raise his family where he could provide food and water for his children.

Next they interviewed a woman who lived in a city close to the border with Gaza. The woman worked at a university in a city about close to the border. She expressed gratitude that she lived 40 km from her work as the missiles were unlikely to hit her home. She then relayed the process everyone goes through when the air raid sirens sound while they are driving. They have to pull over, get out of their cars and seek cover. She said this had happened on her way to work that day. The only thing I could think of was how I would not even consider going to work if this was happening where I live. She also mentioned a co-worker who sent an email saying she couldn’t leave her house until this was over as she was too afraid.

Engaging with people’s stories from war torn regions is worthwhile process. It puts things in perspective for us as we imagine, for just a moment, what that might be like. I wonder quite often how refugees cope with having to uproot and leave everything they have ever known and come to our strange, cold country. Where do they find the strength? The only thing I can think of is that out of great fear and persecution, a strength is born. Sometimes I wonder if I would have that strength; could I endure what other people have to in their lives?

Published in: on November 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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CBC’s Marketplace lacks perspective

I watched Marketplace’s assessment of hotel room cleanliness broadcasted on Friday. I was quite interested in this episode as I am immune-compromised and I stay at hotels periodically. This piece traded on scare mongering instead of providing good information for the consumer. The Marketplace piece completely lacked perspective and credibility.

The crew set up hidden cameras in the hotel rooms to determine how the housekeeping staff performs their duties. We saw one cleaner clean the toilet and then wipe the bathroom counter. Now, this is gross. No one really wants to know that there could be toilet germs on the counter where they are putting their toothbrush. We also saw another cleaner use hand soap to clean the drinking glasses. I am always suspect of hotel glasses and quite often I will rinse them out again to make sure they are clean. None of this is new; we have known for a long time that hotel room glasses are not always clean.

A black light was used throughout the rooms, ostensibly to demonstrate colonies of bacteria and bodily fluids. What they do not tell us that any substance that has fluorescence will be lit up by a black light. In one hotel room the black light finds that a liquid substance has been dribbled down a wall. The scientist states it could be a beverage but eventually states it could be urine. The use of the black light was just another way to get sensationalist coverage.

The worst part of this expose was the use of a device that counted numbers of germs/bacteria on surfaces. We are told that anything under 300 is a pass, between 300-900 is a caution and over 1,000 is a fail. They go around the rooms taking swabs of high contact surfaces. Of course most of the swabs fail. Some of the largest readings occur in the bathroom of a high end hotel with readings in excel of 60,000. But they never really tell us what this all means. We are being led to the conclusion that these numbers indicate large proliferations of bacteria.

A lack of context makes these results unreliable. I can remember other studies of germs that showed there are more germs on your average office worker’s desk than on a toilet seat. It would have been more useful if they had tested some home environments to see what was lurking on those toilet seats. I suspect our homes have way more bacteria than your average hotel room.

There was also some straight up misinformation in this piece. The scientist said that someone could pick up a sexually transmitted disease from the toilet seat. Correct me if I am wrong but if the name of the disease states how it is transmitted how can you get it from a toilet seat? Public health professionals have been very clear that you cannot get a sexually transmitted disease from a toilet seat.

Finally, they gathered some bacterial samplings from the room. These samples were then taken back to the lab and cultured. Not surprisingly, they found MRSA and C. Difficile. We have known for a long time that these 2 bacteria have been showing up outside of hospitals for a very long time. Finding them in hotel rooms should not surprise anyone.

Our society has become far too focused on germs and eradicating them. We use antibacterial soaps trying to kill any microorganisms lest they get into our bodies. What we are missing is the understanding that living in a sterile world is bad for us. The rise of autoimmune diseases is showing us the error of our ways.[1] As an immune compromised person the only thing I took away from this episode was to not put my toothbrush down on a bathroom counter in a hotel. Living in fear that there could be bacteria on a toilet seat or something spilled down the wall of my hotel room does not concern me at all.

Marketplace really disappointed me this week. I have come to expect high quality journalism from the CBC not fear mongering.


[1] Check out the hygiene hypothesis.

Published in: on November 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘it’s over’ edition

  • Piper had her surgery early this afternoon. She pulled through like a trooper. She only needed to have some of her soft palate cut away. There could have 3 other things that needed to be done but we caught it early before a lot of damage was done to the rest of her throat tissues. She is at Can-West for tonight and we will be able to pick her up tomorrow if all goes well. I was quite confident with the surgeon although he has some outdated ideas about feeding raw food. I am so tired of hearing that dogs can’t handle food with a little salmonella or E. Coli on it. However, as Deb astutely noticed there was an anatomy book there published by Hill’s the makers of Science Diet.
  • I will be so glad when the whole HST thing is over. SFU economics professor, Krishna Pendakur, was on the radio for a call in show. He was extremely biased towards keeping the HST and made sure everyone knew how stupid he thought we all were for choosing the PST. I get that there are arguments why the HST is better i.e. it is a value added tax but the public made a democratic decision. It is over now they lost. I answered every single question he did without the bias. I am not an economist[1] and I have not done a great deal of research about the HST. I am just one of those dumb members of the public who shouldn’t be allowed to decide tax policy. Give me a break.
  • There are some seriously impressive women playing hockey for 10 days, 24 hours a day. They are playing in 4-hour blocks all day and night. Why are they doing this? They are raising money for Cystic Fibrosis. When I first heard that Dr. Beth from NTBTWK was doing this I was seriously impressed. Then I started thinking about other fundraisers where women perform amazing feats of physical endurance. I know someone who did the walk to end women’s cancers – 60 km a day, in the blazing heat for 2 days. What possess women to do these things? Sure the have been some great feats by men like Terry Fox and Rick Hanson running and wheeling across Canada respectively. However it does seem to be women who make these incredible commitments. If you haven’t donated please think about doing it.

[1] I’m an historian by training. I hate economics.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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Chris’s iPod

I think I started this feature some time ago and never really followed up on it. So, without further ado I shall begin with what my friend Joe terms: my musical imperialism!

Matthew Barber

I first heard Matthew Barber on CBC’s On the Coast. Stephen Quinn played ‘I miss you when you’re gone’ and I was hooked. I am not quite sure how to describe Barber. I hear some Dustin Bentall reflected in his music along with that strong Canadian singer-songwriter tradition. Some of his songs are a little alt-country for me. My favourite songs on his self-titled album released this year are ‘Man in a Movie’ and ‘Lexi.’ ‘Man in a Movie’ has excellent, resonating lyrics that I fell in love with the first time I heard it. ‘Lexi’ is a musical triumph. Barber uses guitar and piano to build layers into the song that work really well. I recommend Barber to anyone who loves Canadian singer-songwriter, roots music. You won’t be disappointed.

Natalie Merchant

I love Natalie Merchant’s voice. I have listened to her over the years and just recently added her back into my main playlist. I really enjoy her live stuff like ‘Dust Bowl’ and her cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity.’ I remember first hearing Natalie Merchant when she sang lead vocals for the 10,000 Maniacs. There is a quality to her voice that gives anything she sings a great edge.

Adele

What is there to say about Adele? She is absolutely phenomenal. I have never heard an artist with a voice like hers. She also knows how to use it like an instrument. Her new album ‘21’ is great. Her songwriting is very mature for her age. I just hope she doesn’t continue to name her albums based on age!

Published in: on August 25, 2011 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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It’s a Ranty Kind of Day – Smoking in Metro Vancouver Parks

There are so many things I could rant about today like my mother, work, illness, traffic, life in general. Sadly, I am not free to rant about what I really want to rant about unless I password protect it and I don’t really like to do that. So, I will rant about yet another CBC BC Almanac call in program. Generally, the quality of these programs is a little bit higher than you would normally hear on commercial radio. That statement was true until today. I really felt bad for Mark Forsythe today!

The topic of the second part of the show was Metro Vancouver considering a ban on smoking in all parks, beaches and campgrounds. (you can listen here) The guest Mark had on was Langely City Councillor Gayle Martin who chairs the parks committee. After Mark introduced her and her position, he asked her to comment on the issue. It went downhill from there… Her first response was that she was against it – plain and simple. She sees it as an imposition on the rights of people to do something that is legal. She actually used the following analogy: you wouldn’t tell a fat person to stay off the trails because they sweat and then they smell would you? I just about choked.

Then the calls started. Most callers did not agree with the ban and saw no reason for it. What really struck me was the complete lack of sophistication in the views being put forth. Martin kept saying things like: most smokers would not light up in front of a swing set in a kids’ park. When the issue of allergies was brought up she asked why should someone with health issues trump a smoker’s right to smoke? It was utterly bizarre. She could not seem to figure out that for some people, cigarette smoke is a serious hazard. Then there were the people who equated smoking with driving a car. If you drive a car, their argument goes then you have no right to criticize a smoker. Other callers suggested that tobacco companies be outlawed and tobacco made illegal if people were not going to be allowed to smoke wherever they want.

One of the things that was completely missed was the effect on children seeing people smoke. If I had children, there is no way I would want them to be anywhere someone was smoking. It just would not happen. I wouldn’t want them breathing in second-hand smoke, nor would I want them thinking that smoking was acceptable. I am an ex-smoker so I really do not buy into the idea that smokers can be considerate with their addiction. I was a smoker and I was never considerate to anyone. It was clear to me that if you were in my car or my house I was going to smoke and I didn’t really care if you objected.

I hope Metro Vancouver adopts a bylaw that bans smoking in parks, campgrounds and beaches. We do not need the next generation thinking that smoking is cool. People should be free to go to public areas, all supported by our mutual tax dollars, and not have to risk their health so that addicts can engage in their addiction.

Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 9:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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One or two?

I was already to wade in on the great debate about one or two spaces after a period. I am a confirmed one spacer and I just don’t understand people who use two. I missed the great debate on ‘Q’ and was excited about listening to it today while I geeked out with my new Neat Desk Scanner for the Mac. Honestly, I found the debate to be too full of testosterone for my liking. Seriously, it was  three pompous asses, Jian Ghomeshi included, talking louder and louder.

I can remember learning to type on a typewriter. I was taught to put two spaces after a period. Interestingly, I failed Typing 10. Once I got onto a computer keyboard, I learned to type properly. On a good day, I type about 80 wpm. I was a committed two spacer when I went to university. Part way through my first degree, I was shown the light about spaces after a period. I was so used to putting two spaces after a period that I would have to use search and replace to make sure there was only one space. Eventually, I stopped using two spaces altogether.

I was actually surprised to hear that this debate was raging anew. I have not really noticed a lot of two spacers recently. Although, if someone uses two spaces, I actually feel like it is harder to read. It really seems like there is something wrong when I see two spaces.

As I listened to all of their reasons, which ranged from the real (we no longer use monospaced fonts and typographers say so) to the ridiculous (it saves trees), I couldn’t help but think they missed real reason why one space is right. That reason? Apple says so. If you type two spaces on an iPhone or iPad, a period and one space appear. So the argument has been solved – let the one spacers reign supreme!

So? Are you a one spacer or a two spacer? Why?

Published in: on January 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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Miscarriage of Justice

Mayerthorpe, AB

Mayerthorpe, AB

As I was driving home from work on Friday, I happened to catch a segment on ‘As it Happens’ about one of the two men convicted in the Mayerthorpe RCMP shooting. The host[1] interviewed the father of Shawn Hennessey, one of the two men[2] convicted of manslaughter in this horrific crime committed by James Roszko. What is interesting is that neither of these men was actually involved in killing the RCMP officers. As I listened to Barry Hennessey talk, I was completely shocked at what he had to say and how it was that his son ended up with a sentence of ten years.[3]

The public inquiry into this tragedy is due to start on Monday in Alberta. Barry Hennessey’s appearance on ‘As it Happens’ was related to the inquiry. He described his son’s involvement. But before we get to that, I think it is important to understand a little about James Roszko.

By all accounts, Roszko was a bully and had a history of violent and sexual attacks. He was unable to legally possess firearms. He was also suspected of property crimes. The RCMP had been investigating him this time as they suspected he was growing marijuana on his property. I remember the event well and the comments that were made by various people that Roszko was dangerous and people in town were afraid of him

Enter Shawn Hennessey on March 3, 2005. Apparently, Roszko went to Hennessey’s house and demanded a rifle and a ride back to his farm. His plan, as he relayed it to Hennessey, was that he intended to blow up his Quonset shed by shooting a tank of fuel that was beside it. Given Roszko’s reputation and the fact that he had a gun in the waist of his pants, Hennessey felt he had no choice but to help Roszko, according to his father.

I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that a young man would not be able to refuse to do something for Roszko, a man with a proven reputation as a bully while he was armed! I really do not see how there could be any legal culpability for Hennessey. After all, had he refused there may have been even more lives lost that day. Another interesting fact is that the gun he was given by Hennessey was never even used in the attack.

My opinion is that the only one responsible for the deaths of the four Mounties was James Roszko. He was a proven bully and was feared by people in the town of Mayerthorpe. To expect that people would refuse to do his bidding when his was armed is completely unreasonable. Apparently there was an opportunity where Hennessey could have called the RCMP and didn’t. How many people have done that? While it is not right, many people fear getting involved – especially when you are dealing with someone like Roszko. I think both Hennessey and Cheeseman were charged because someone had to be held accountable for the death of the RCMP officers. While I can understand that, I think the only one truly responsible was James Roszko.


[1] I can’t remember which one.

[2] Dennis Cheeseman was the other man.

[3] Dennis Cheeseman will serve 7 years in jail.

Published in: on January 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It’s a Ranty Kind of Day!

At least 3 topics have crossed my mind for a rant today. The first and second topics would have been driving rants. However, there was something much more pressing today. Once again, this rant is courtesy of the CBC and its BC Almanac program.

At the top of the hour, Susan McNamee was interviewing Lembi Buchanan from the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform.[1] The coalition would like to see the price of 7% alcohol content coolers raised to reflect the alcohol content. The argument they are using is that it is generally young women who are drinking the coolers with the 7% alcohol content while their boyfriends are drinking 5% beer. Buchanan pointed out that women metabolize alcohol differently[2] and the increased alcohol content jeopardizes their safety. She argues that if the price was increased the amount of alcohol consumed by young people would decrease. She also believes that strategic price increases on easy to drink, sweet beverages will reduce binge drinking.

There are an incredible number of assumptions made by Buchanan and her coalition. The idea that young women have no idea that they are consuming more alcohol than their boyfriends is insulting. Does she seriously think they are that stupid?  Almost all of the callers completely disagreed with Buchanan. They cited teenage behavior, correctly pointing out, that teens will continue to drink regardless of the price. Teens continue to smoke no matter how much they cost.

After several callers had disagreed with her she pointed to a study that was done in Saskatchewan. It was at this point it appeared that the real reason for raising the price of the ciders and coolers was to reduce drunk and disorderly issues in low-income housing areas. Apparently, SK has introduced and they noticed, very quickly, that police did not attend as many times for alcohol related issues in low-income areas.

Personally, I find it very insulting that people who are less affluent should not have free access to alcohol. They were certainly not talking about raising the price on wines and spirits that ‘other’ people drink. It would seem that the whole argument about binge drinking and teenage girls was a ruse to further control the poor. Not having enough money in this society means that your power and choices are systematically eroded.

First there is the welfare system, which is incredibly punitive and intrusive. The very act of deciding if someone should receive money from the state involves a great deal of power. The civil servants making these decisions try to be unbiased however it is pretty much impossible.[3] Discrimination against the poor is pervasive in this country courtesy of the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ upon which this country formed. Many people believe that the poor are not deserving of any kind of compassion and that they just need to ‘pull themselves up by the bootstraps.’ Enter the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform who now wants to try to prevent them from consuming inexpensive alcohol. Heaven forbid the poor be able to relax and enjoy a drink! Lembi Buchanan also regaled the CBC listeners with tales of her own alcohol assumption, which included frequent glasses of Jack Daniels and wine every night with dinner. I find it interesting that Buchanan consumes copious amounts of expensive alcohol while trying to restrict access to others in a presumably lower socio-economic class. Perhaps she believes that her alcohol consumption is civilized while downing several 7% alcohol vodka coolers.

The bottom line is that income status is irrelevant when it comes to alcohol abuse. Excessive drinking has the same consequences and effects on families regardless of socio-economic class. In fact, they may be worse in affluent families who are trying to avoid the stigma of alcohol related issues affecting their families.

If we, as a society, are to get serious about alcohol reform we need to look at a continuum of care. We need to focus on education and prevention. Children need to understand the effects of binge drinking and parents must ensure that their drinking is not adversely affecting their families. Finally, the government can do its part and raise the price of all alcohol. The money raised from the extra taxes can then be used to fund alcohol treatment programs and other services to assist families impacted by alcohol.

I am unclear what is motivating the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform. Their lack of website does not help in trying to figure out what they are trying to accomplish. I would also be very interested to find out what is motivating them, who funds them and what they want to accomplish besides controlling the poor. If the callers on BC Almanac are any indication, it seems that people are not buying what the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform is selling.


[1] I cannot seem to find a website for these people.

[2] She never says how women metabolize alcohol differently.

[3] I worked in a welfare office for 7 years.

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Call me a Cynic…

It was a very interesting day in BC politics. Former Energy Minister Bill Bennett has been kicked out of caucus for saying what everyone is thinking. He has accused Gordon Campbell of being abusive to Cabinet Members and that many seem to have ‘battered wife syndrome.’ I think that most people who follow BC politics closely would not be at all surprised to learn that Campbell is abusive. I think this is probably the worst kept secret of BC Liberals. Bennett wants Campbell to go now and not wait for a leadership convention.

Colin Hanson was on the CBC afternoon show ‘On the Coast’ today and he defended Campbell’s right to stay on. He argued that political parties choose a new leader before the old one steps down. According to Hanson – this is how it is done. This is patently false. The BC NDP had several interim leaders; Joy MacPhail and Dan Miller come to mind. Many other parties in power have also done the same thing. Basically, there is no reason Gordon Campbell can’t vacate the position and have the caucus appoint someone else. After all isn’t that how Michael Ignatieff first became the leader of the federal Liberals.

In addition to kicking Bill Bennett out of cabinet today, they also rolled back the 15% tax cut that was announced a couple of weeks ago. Colin Hanson babbled on about in times of uncertainty in politics, cabinet needs more flexibility to ensure that services are delivered. I am sure this is code for the tax cut did not turn things around for Gordon Campbell so we are going to save it for our new leader to announce once s/he is chosen.

Most likely the next leader will be a man. After all, according to Bill Bennett, Gordon Campbell has driven all the women out of the Liberal caucus. He cited women like Christy Clarke and Carole Taylor, two strong, innovative women who brought a lot of great ideas to the party. If Bill Bennett is right about the abusive atmosphere Campbell created, it is no wonder they left politics all together. No one can forget how combative the provincial legislature was when the Liberals were first elected and it was only Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan standing against all those Liberals. They did an amazing job holding the BC Liberals to account in those first four years in a very raucous, perhaps bordering on abusive, provincial legislature.

I am not sure why Bill Bennett has broken the cabinet agreement about ‘no surprises.’ I suspect he will also be kicked out of caucus. This will then position him as a whistle-blower on Campbell’s 10-year reign of abuse, should he decide to run for the leadership. Personally, I think the only hope the BC Liberals have is bringing in an outsider. They need someone who can distance him/herself from all of the scandals and absolute disregard for some of the most vulnerable and downtrodden people in this province. I sincerely hope that whoever becomes leader has a little sympathy and genuinely cares about the people in this province. After all these years, we need this change.

Why does it matter?

Today on BC Almanac, Mark Forsyth was interviewing an historian. Being one myself my ears always perk up. This woman was talking about a female immigrant to Canada who walked great distances. I didn’t quite catch all of the information but it is not really germane to my issue. As this historian was describing her subject she stated that we have a picture of her so we know she was thin and attractive. I was shocked.

What does her physical appearance have to do with her accomplishments? This focus on appearance as a measure of a woman’s value is the root of all that is wrong with how women are treated in our society. Women are judged, even by other women, on how they look. It does not matter how accomplished we are or what we achieve it is only valid if we are thin and attractive.

This can be taken a step further without too much difficulty. If thin and attractive women are valued more than those women who are not what is the likely outcome? Women who do not meet expectations of thinness and attractiveness can have many problems in our society. These problems can stem from finding a mate, to employment even to credibility when reporting rapes. The focus on outward appearance and its presence in the popular discourse endorses the expectation that is ok to judge women this way.

As an historian, I bristle at the presentism in this historian’s work. It is a faux pas within the discipline of history to apply the values of today to the past. Certainly in the 1800s women were not judged on appearance to the same degree they are today. Women in rugged British Columbia needed to be strong and resourceful. They needed to be able to endure hard winters and work all summer to prepare. Women who were on their own for whatever reason had to look after themselves as there was no social safety net. In fact, the woman she was talking about had walked all the way from the lower mainland to Prince George. She was clearly a survivor and able to look after herself.

Personally, I am sick to death of this stuff. We need to start questioning this focus on the appearance of women as it is this that allows women to be commodities. As women, we must stop judging each other on appearance. We need to change the discourse. Talking about women in positive ways, focusing on accomplishments and personality rather than dress and bra size. Women together are a strong and powerful group. Let’s use our power and see if we can cause change.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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