Thursday, May 15, 2008

Time to Get Dirty

Yup, it's that time of year again. My hands are covered in dirt and I smell like sweat and compost, with a hint of manure. Blessed is the gardening season.

We're tearing up the front yard (slowly and gently) to expand the garden and rid ourselves of that pesky grass. Okay, it's not entirely grass, there's plenty of dandelions, creeping charlie, and various other unwelcome characters living in the lawn. It feels good to end the cycle of mow, fertilize, mow, weed, mow. You get the idea. Our reel mower means we're using human power rather than depending on fossil fuels. Nonetheless, I'd rather be puttering among plants than mowing the lawn. Then there's the water-issue. Apparently in the 'burbs, even when there's a watering ban brown, dormant grass is frowned upon. I've seen neighbours sneak their hoses out, under the cover of darkness, to water their lawn - $5000 fines, be damned.

I cannot remember the last summer when our region did not have a watering ban at some point or another. Dare I say it? The climate is changing, and frankly I'd rather have fresh clean water than a green, fucking lawn. Somebody tell the neighbours...never mind they'll figure it out. They already think we're weirdos for having a "pesticide-free" sign on our lawn. It stands surrounded by toxic Weedman signs on all the other lawns. (I wonder how Weedman will fare now that our town is pesticide-free?)

Back to the pretty new front garden. Well, it won't be too pretty. I'm rather a messy gardener. The plan is to plant mostly native and drought tolerant plants. I remember reading somewhere* a suggestion to plant one-third of the garden with evergreens, one-third with native plants, and one-third with drought tolerant plants. This makes perfect sense for our climate. We'll appreciate the evergreens in the winter and so will the birds. The native plants provide food for a variety of fauna, they are also equipped to thrive in this climate. Drought-tolerant plants are a given, as I said the climate is changing and gone are the days of predictable rainfall. Though I guess it is predictable, we can count on rain not falling in the summer. As far as I can tell this is true for most of the North America. Last year Georgia's Governor prayed for rain in a large ceremony in front of the state building. I can't help but wonder, was he standing on green grass while he prayed?

*I wish I could give proper credit, sadly my memory is not what it used to be.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Where You Find Home

Can you be a suburban environmentalist? Is it an oxymoron?

I'm hoping it isn't. Our green family is happy with the life we have carved for ourselves in this suburban landscape. In the established section of town, away from the "sea of roofs" and acres of big box stores, we've found a home. Our neighbourhood has trees, large maples and oaks. Birch trees. Fruit trees, with lovely pale blossoms. The houses are mostly century homes. The people who love and live in them are usually warm and interesting. They garden, take walks, or sit on porches chatting while kids ride bikes and squeal with delight. But it isn't only the neighbours we love, it's about living in community that is sustainable.

I walk everywhere. The Boy and I walk to school - even when it's minus 20 and the sidewalks are treacherously icy. Then I take the dog on a walk through a park with trails that run along a river. She chases ducks and greets other dogs. We may stop by the library or local shops. There are yoga classes and a dojo for twice weekly karate classes. Weekends mean a visit to the farmers market. But for the absence of a place to buy produce year round, everything we need with within walking distance.

Why isn't everyone demanding communities where we can walk to work, school and shopping? Why buy a home in a lifeless, treeless subdivision without any amenities? Are those people happy with without access to shops, clubs, parks, or schools within walking distance? Would you be happy? In Who's Your City? Richard Florida proposes that where you live is the single most important determinant for personal happiness.

A sustainable community offers members a positive state of being. When the school bell rings in the morning and parents stand around the Boy's school chatting before starting their work day, I feel like I'm living in another era. There is a sense of belonging that comes from seeing and interacting with your neighbours. Living here I enjoy the luxury of decreasing my dependence on the automobile in a time when oil is a declining resource and the effects of climate change are visible.

Which brings me back to the "sea of roofs." I'd like to blame developers for building these monstrous communities at epidemic rates, but who the hell is buying homes in neighbourhoods without trees, stores, places to work, or schools? The growth rate of communities in Ontario is insane. According to Greenbelt Ontario:
At the current rate, an additional 260,000 acres (1,070 km2) of rural land will be urbanized by 2021, almost double the size of the City of Toronto. About 92% of the land is Ontario's best farmland.
I know they are right because I've spent my entire life watching it happen. What will we say when there are no farmers to feed us?

It's time the unchecked growth stops, it's time to build sustainable communties with mixed-use zoning. The days of the subdivision are over. Check out Smart Growth for information on building sustainable communities. Talk to your local politicians. Find a home in a sustainable community. It's time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My footprint

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about my own carbon emissions, resource consumption, and the inheritance I'm leaving for my child and future generations. I look into the lovely face of my boy and wonder about his future - will he have to fight for clean water, will he have enough resources to heat his home, and will he forgive us for our waste and disregard .

We waste fossil fuels to import plastic trinkets (made from fossil fuels) from China to North America. Have you noticed that kids play with a plastic toy a few times and then completely forget about it? They don't need to play with plastic junk, they need the time and freedom for creative play, to run, jump and explore the world around them. Spiderman action figures won't improve their lives, so why do we buy them?

I could, and likely will, go on and on about this subject, but my point today is that I'm leaving behind the political ranting, in favour of a discussion on sustainability from the perspective of a suburban family. This weekend we'll be watching the Human Footprint on the National Geographic channel (Sunday, April 13, 9 PM). In future posts I'll share the ways in which we have worked to reduce our ecological impact. We're far from perfect and have far to go, so please feel free to share your ideas.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Steal this sweater

We would do well to remember that Omar Khadr is still on trial. He's Canadian, he was 15 at the time of his capture, and though he has been held by American authorities since 2002, he has never been found guilty of ANY crime.

To Khadr and his legal team, I say good luck. To the spineless Canadian politicians and bureaucrats in Foreign Affairs, it's my wish that you never have to experience life in a foreign prison, though it is precisely what you deserve for all of the Brenda Martins, Zahra Kazemis, and William Sampsons that you never helped. Lastly to the very cool knitters at Steal This Sweater, I say thanks for reminding me that as long as the "War on Terror" continues we are not free.

(The photo above is from

Friday, March 7, 2008

Are we threatened by debate?

There's a ruckus on the campus of York University over a last minute cancellation of a debate on abortion. The York Federation of Students claimed that debate would threaten the rights of a woman over control of her body.

Is our hold on equality so fragile and tenuous that we have become afraid of any challenge? When a woman's right to choose is questioned, and it always will be questioned by someone, we need to stand up and face-off. (In the case of the nutters at the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, it wouldn't even be challenging - they're comparing abortion to the holocaust, for goodness sake.)

A university campus is the ideal place for discussion, particularly since most students have never known a time when abortion wasn't legal. They need to have debates that challenge their own ideas, morals, and values. Isn't that what university is supposed to be?

Monday, March 3, 2008


Is it possible that I haven't been angry lately? Strange. How can it be that I haven't written an angry tirade in a few weeks? In truth, I'm sure there's some rage hiding away right now. Perhaps it's waiting for the right moment to rear it's ugly head. I'm prepared for the worst.

Until it happens, please check out the new "Act" links in my sidebar. These websites deserve a read.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On sharia and sharing (my soapbox)

Below is my handsome spouse's reaction to The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on religious law, and specifically Sharia law. When he sent me this treatise, I suggested he start a blog, but I know he won't. As such, I plan to periodically feature his writing on these pages. He starts:

My sense is that the uproar caused by these remarks stems from a generalized tension or fear that the multiculturalist approach is eroding the foundations upon which Western civilization rest. Namely, the absolute assurances offered by English common law that all will be treated equally and that there will be only one law applied to everybody, across all linguistic, religious, ethnic and gender lines (ideas Williams refers to as “a very unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies” – please!). Implicit in the drive to introduce alternative precepts of law is the notion that the original precepts are antiquated. Worse, that they don’t apply to certain sectors of the populace. Recall that “non-Western” ideas have been built into Western legal codes (Mohammed figures in more than one frieze within the Supreme Court building for a reason) so the presumption that these codes are not flexible enough or “inclusive” enough to accommodate all people is fallacious. Worse, it is a dangerous expression of the lack of pride and confidence in our own social mores that has become far too prevalent in the past forty-odd years.

One of my problems with this guy is simply that he’s the “second in command” of the Anglican Church, and he’s openly advocating for the implementation of sharia! What the hell is that about? Now that all this has hit the fan, he’s in seclusion, apparently “devastated” that his words have caused such furor. Not to be insensitive, but give me a bloody break. Stand up and take it on the chin! I’m so sick and tired of the vacillation and weak-kneed groveling that define Western “leadership” today. I’ll say one thing for Bush (and you know I’m hardly a fan of his) but he’s definitely stood for what he believes, and for that he deserves some kudos.

Williams says:
so far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote Ramadan again – 'the expression of the universal principles of Islam [and] the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history.
Am I being obtuse, or is the very phrase “universal principles of Islam” indicative of the monolithic system people fear? For me this is not specifically about Islam (although as you know there are certainly aspects of fundamentalist Islam and its cultural expressions I find very troubling), but about any faith or idea which attempts to apply “universality” to its principles.

Later Williams states that:
sharia depends for its legitimacy not on any human decision, not on votes or preferences, but on the conviction that it represents the mind of God; on the other, it is to some extent unfinished business so far as codified and precise provisions are concerned.
Hold on, here. Whenever somebody starts sermonizing about the “mind of God” I get very uneasy. Laws should be based on human decisions; if we start dabbling in “the mind of God” to make our laws, we end up with Mullocracy, the Inquisition, etc. Moreoever, the fact that sharia law is not codified is inherently problematic. Without codification, laws are subject to the whims of jurists who can be swayed by political winds or community feeling.

Using Pakistan and Jordan as examples, he says:
Such societies, while not compromising or weakening the possibility of unqualified belief in the authority and universality of sharia, or even the privileged status of Islam in a nation, recognise that there can be no guarantee that the state is religiously homogeneous and that the relationships in which the individual stands and which define him or her are not exclusively with other Muslims. There has therefore to be some concept of common good that is not prescribed solely in terms of revealed Law.
Ummm. . . .Yes. Substitute “Judeo-Christian values” for “sharia” and he’s describing the systems of constitutional law that already exists in Britain, the U.S. and Canada. So why not just stick with what we’ve got?? It’s worked pretty well for a while now.

The idea that we must allow “scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions,” seems to be the crux of his argument. Discussing some ramifications of Enlightenment thought on pluralistic societies, he writes: “The danger is in acting as if the authority that managed the abstract level of equal citizenship represented a sovereign order which then allowed other levels to exist.” The danger, he asserts, is that some forms of social life are reduced “merely” to private concerns and are never allowed to fully enter into public discourse about the nature of society or the direction it takes. This is the worst sort of pseudo-intellectual rubbish! Guess what: in any group or community, somebody has to be in charge. There will always be privilege, there will always be winners and losers. In the context of these truisms, I firmly believe that that West grants the fullest sanction to all community members to take part, speak out, debate and discuss policies, etc. Of course, there are problems with racism and prejudice. I would argue that these problems are at their most minimal ebb in the past 500 years. Again, witness the ongoing trend to “beat up” on ourselves, to doubt Western successes and minimalize our achievements because of a few who remain unhappy. The very fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury (!!!) is advocating the inclusion of sharia law in British jurisprudence proves beyond a doubt that Muslims have a fairer shake there than they would in most predominantly Muslim societies!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gonna Buy Me Some Ben & Jerry's

In the news today...Monsanto is looking to have labelling laws changed to ensure that Ben & Jerry's cannot claim their ice cream is made from hormone-free milk. Apparently accuracy is a unacceptable on food packaging. The last thing any of us would want is to know what we are ingesting, right?

Readers may recall that this is the same company that accused Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian canola farmer whose fields were contaminated with Monsanto's genetically modified seeds, of patent infringement. Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent infringement! The seeds in questions were blown over from a neighbouring farm. Life cannot and should never be patented. Goodness! How could a farmer prevent seeds from blowing over or cross-pollination? It's bloody impossible.

Schmeiser will be in court again soon, as he's suing Monosanto for contaminating his fields. He's asking for $600, the cost of removing the genetically modified plants. I wish him luck and I wish Ben & Jerry's luck in their battle.

Monsanto needs a kick in the ass.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Wake up Canada

The CBC and Environics have released another new poll. I'll attempt to avoid my usual complaints about the veracity of the answers, whether the questions were skewed, etc. (The questions about nuclear weapons were skewed towards my own world view, making the bias more palatable.) The problem is that Canadians are hypocritical, selfish twits. 91% of those polled felt that they have either a great deal of confidence or some confidence in Canadian NGOs to make a positive difference in the world. This confidence in NGOs is no doubt warranted. Certainly Canadians do not have the same confidence in our own elected officials to make a positive difference in the world (also warranted).

What gets me is that while Canadians (as represented by those polled) believe in NGOs, 60% admit they have not given financial support in the last two years to causes or organizations that address problems or issues in other countries.

So let me get all of this straight:
  1. Canada has a leadership role to play in the global arena.
  2. NGOs are more capable of making a positive contribution than governments, businesses or individuals.
  3. Canadians do not give NGOs the money to allow them to do the work to make the above mentioned positive contributions.
WAKE UP CANADA. It's time to whip out your wallet and make your own positive contribution to an NGO near you. Feel free to start with a few of my favourites:
  1. Doctors Without Borders (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, with volunteers working in some the world's most dangerous regions)
  2. Oxfam (working to end global poverty and injustice)
  3. Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parents Plan)
  4. UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency, not expressly Canadian)
As an aside, check out Doctors Without Borders list of the top ten underreported news stories in 2007.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Goodness! Where to start...

The black-focused school debate, shouldn't even be a debate. The Toronto District School Board needs to wake the hell up! The curriculum and white teachers are not the problem. If they were we'd see an epidemic of failure rates and drop outs by other ethnic groups. Hmm. Could it be that the problems are deeper than a school board can fix? Could it be that the education system is not the problem?

Socio-economic issues are the problem. We must ensure that all students are not going to school hungry, that they have a safe environment in which to learn, and the support (financial, emotional and intellectual) of two parents. That's right two parents. In this debate, no one seems to mention the impact an absentee father has on a student.

Segregation by any name is wrong, wrong, wrong. And it is segregation, regardless of what Angela Wilson calls it. Perhaps every group, ethnic, religious or otherwise, should have their own school. That's sure to lead to a cohesive multicultural society.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

20 years of CHOICE

Monday is the twentieth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion.
I cannot believe it was so recent, within my lifetime. This is certainly a reminder that women's rights are still new and shouldn't be taken for granted. Beware the swinging pendulum.

I'm taking this moment to be thankful to trailblazers who have gone before me, with a promise to continue on this path.

Thank you Supreme Court Chief Justice Dickson for ensuring women have security of person and writing:

Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus a violation of her security of the person.

Thank you Dr. Henry Morgentaler (recently featured in a National Review of Medicine interview) for fighting to give women a safe option.

Thank you to my friends brave and beautiful, who are always honest about their choices.

Thank you ani di franco for inspiration and for making rage so beautiful.
it was just one shot
through the kitchen window
it was just one or two miles from here
if you fly like a crow
a bullet came to visit a doctor
in his one safe place
a bullet insuring the right to life
whizzed past his kid and his wife
and knocked his glasses
right off of his face

and the blood poured off the pulpit
the blood poured down the picket line
yeah, the hatred was immediate
and the vengance was devine
so they went and stuffed god
down the barrel of a gun
and after him
they stuffed his only son

hello birmingham
it's buffalo
i heard you had some trouble
down there again
and i'm just calling to let to know
that somebody understands

i was once escorted
through the doors of a clinic
by a man in a bullet proof vest
and no bombs went off that day
so i am still here to say
i'm wishing you all of my best
oh birmingham
i'm wishing you all of my best
i'm wishing you all of my best
on this election day
Excerpted from hello birmingham © 1999 ani difranco / righteous babe music

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Real Cost of Goods From China

As Ontario is now facing a manufacturing crisis and the threat of global warming looms over us, it's time to rethink trade with China. If you haven't seen Ed Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes, this is the promo.

Continuing on this theme, Mother Jones has a fascinating article on industrialization in China. Read it!

The Wall Street Journal has also been devoting considerable resources to discussing similar themes.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Modest Proposal

No, no, I’m not suggesting eating plump, little babies. There are other ways to fix a faltering economy.

Once again the news is filled with politicians calling for government to prop up the manufacturing industry. (Later perhaps someone can explain to me why Conservatives believe corporate welfare is good, but pubic welfare, i.e. helping families, is not.)

The Premiers of Ontario and Quebec are calling on the Prime Minister to give the sagging manufacturing sector more than just tax breaks. McGuinty says manufacturers need more than tax cuts, but that’s what he’s offering…. Nice spin – tax competitiveness, not tax cuts. Various governments have given generous handouts to the automotive sector. Has it made GM or Ford more competitive?

So what should we be doing about a manufacturing sector under threat from by cheap foreign imports and an impending American recession?
Well, it’s time for Canadians to wake-up. We need to start getting serious about buying local – and not just food. When was the last time you looked for a Made in Canada label?

David Miller, mayor of Toronto, was under attack last year for requiring that new subway cars be purchased from Bombardier. Apparently some couldn't see the benefit of buying Canadian. How would giving money to a German manufacturer to produce subway cars in China help our economy? The price may very well be lower, but what is the real cost to Canadian jobs, our economy, and let’s not forget the greenhouse gasses used to ship cheaper goods from China? If only there were more Canadians with Miller's insight…

Sadly it now appears that only 25% of the new cars will be from Bombardier.

It's time to bring back the pride in the Made in Canada Label.

Should I be worried - Pat Buchanan agrees with me!

So let me say for the record I'm not xenophobic. To modestly quote Jonathan Swift:

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich.