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the chronicles.

The milk of human elitism.

Okay, it's been eight months or whatever since I have updated this thing, but finally I am irritated enough to rise from my slumber, so to speak.

The issue is milk. It's an issue that has "captured the imagination" of the people of Toronto, or so the newspapers claim. I actually have not heard a single person mention it outside of the newspapers, but then the general public usually doesn't care about the issues the newspapers obsess over.

The issue is basically this: a farmer has been selling raw (unpasteurised). He and his customers have tried various ways to get around the legislation that prevents roadside sales of milk (which have less to do with the health issues surrounding pasteurisation, and more to do with the marketing board maintaining it's monopoly on sales), but have nonetheless run afoul of the law. Some people say they have the right to drink raw milk. The farmer says he should have the right to farm the way he chooses (note: his farming practice has never actually under dispute. He can raise his cows as organically as he wants, as long as he sells the resulting milk through the marketing board). Columnists have wrung their hands in despair over this for weeks, as there are no wars or elections or tragic deaths or other issues to report on. Others have lamented the foolhardiness of people choosing to ingest something potentially ridden with e-coli and other deadly bugs.

Now, I am as fond of good healthy food as the next person. That is why I currently have a freezer full of approximately 170 pounds of free-range organic beef, purchased from a farm outside my home town. It is tastier, and there are no lingering worries about weird hormones and other disturbing chemicals that haven't been around long enough for us to know their long-term effects. That is why I like to stock up on Mennonite butter when I'm up at the cottage. I would happily buy all my food straight from the farm if it were feasible. I am lucky in that I have the opporunity to do that - someone without a car and the money to spend doesn't have that opportunity, just as someone without $300 to invest in a "share" of Michael Schmidt's cows and the ability to drive up to the 905 regularly to pick up their quarts, isn't going to get a taste of his raw milk.

But as far as considering it a "right" to get all riled up about?

I guess if you've few real worries in life - if you have a secure job, a roof over your head, and a spare $300 to invest in a cow - then such issues can seem to have paramount importance. Plus, there is the philosophical issue - you should have the right to choose what is best for you. It's the same argument made by people who fight for their right to smoke, or their right to choose not to wear a seatbelt. If these rights are taken away, it's a slippery slope to the total loss of individual freedom. Soon, people won't have the right to a minimum wage that isn't far below the poverty level! Or they'll lose the right to basic needs like food and shelter! Or the right to access to abortion! Or the right to speedy access to essential healthcare services! Or -

Oh, but wait a minute. There are already thousands of people in this country who are getting by without these rights and more (for example, according to the Daily Bread Food Bank study Who's Hungry: 2006 Profile of Hunger in the GTA (pdf), 38% of food bank clients in the GTA are children). Not to mention the rest of the world, for example the terrible health threat of the recent flooding in Ethiopia, and their desparate need for clean water, measles vaccines, etc. etc. Really, who can get worked up about yuppies trying to out-organic each other, when there are so many larger, more fundamentally urgent problems? I wonder how the people of Davis Inlet feel about the raw milk issue. Or how any of the working people forced into shelters by lack of affordable housing feel about the raw milk issue. Or how any of the women facing difficult choices in an unwanted pregnancy feel about th raw milk issue.

Maybe they're shaking their heads, asking: this is how the people with money and power spend their time? This is what they consider important?

More likely, though, they're too busy trying to get through the day to notice the kerfuffle at all.

rant updated 9 december 2006. permalink

Oof.

Years ago, the great Bill Furlonger shared some of his wisdom with me.

"You know what the heaviest substance known to man is?"

"Lead?"

"Books."

As I moved my belongings from apartment to apartment over the years, I often reflected on the truth in this.

Now, I have left the rental world behind, and settled into a house. And I have discovered that Furlonger was mistaken.

The heaviest substance isn't books. It's sod.

Finally, after weeks of being out of town, or heavy rain, or the threat of having our front yard torn up by city workers, I got a chance to do some gardening. My seedlings were long overdue to get transplanted outside (some had gotten trampled when one of the stupid cats got into my sewing room where I was germinating). Our front yard had been a plain patch of grass with a huge maple tree in the middle, with two should-have-been flower beds, one a strip next to our front walk, one a strip along the front porch. Instead of planting flowers in these places, like a normal person would have, the previous owner had filled them with cedar chips. So decorative! I dug all the chips out of the front-path bed (they more than filled a large garbage bag), worked the earth, and planted marigolds, snapdragons, and sunflowers (only the marigolds look like real plants, so far). Step two: pulling up the sod to create a larger flower bed in front of the porch, and a path (stepping stones soon to come) to get from the walk to the side of the house.

Easy, right?

First of all, I should have gone to Lee Valley yesterday like I meant to, and gotten proper tools. The $6 lawn edger I picked up at Loblaws failed before I'd been working for three minutes. This after a heavy rain, when the ground is as soft as it's going to get.

Second of all, I should have though more about how much sod weighs. And thought of a way to get it moved before I started looking into it.

Looking under your sod is educational. The previous owner apparently laid the sod over what was there without any prep: sandy clay, scattered with detritus (including two spent batteries and a pop can!). It's amazing the grass was green at all. I did find three earthworms though, a very good sign.

Now I have a lovely wee path lined with relocated cedar chips, edged with a pretty ground cover with white flowers. All I want is the extra sod gone with now effort on my part. Please, help. I need to lie down.

rant updated 4 june 2006. permalink

Childcare again.

Last december I ranted on a bit about childcare. How $1200 isn't a drop in the bucket of what childcare truly costs, and the only parents it will allow to stay at home are those who are married to people who make piles of money already.

Here's a headline from the Globe & Mail: Child-care proposal gives least to poorest

The headline alone sums up the problem perfectly.

So - what to do?

There is an open letter being presented in Parliament in May. The coalition presenting the letter hopes to have 100,000 signatures attached to it. So far, they've got 31,563.

Please, take a minute to visit the website, and sign the petition.

Whether you have kids or not, your future depends on the success of children being born today. The idea that children need to be cared for only by there own parents is not only erroneous, it's impossible for the vast majority of the population. I know I certainly don't make enough money for my husband to stay home with the kids if we have any. Most families need two incomes to survive and thrive. If you want to own a house, providing financial security for your children's future, you need two incomes. If you want to set aside savings for your children's post-secondary education, you need two incomes.

Obviously none of the above applies to the wealthy, but that's my point. Harper's bonus cheque will only be enjoyed by the wealthy. For the rest of us, it will be clawed back in taxes.

Canada needs a national child-care programme, but this isn't it. What we need is a system of regulated child-care centres where the workers are payed a fair wage. Isn't it funny how people talk a lot about "raising a child is the most important job in the world" but the people who do it - whether they are early-childhood education specialists or nannies - are underpaid and underappreciated?

Canada needs to recognize the importance of raising children right by paying those people fairly - not by giving play money to the rich.

rant updated 27 april 2006. permalink

Tired, but feeling good.

Yesterday was Community Clean Up Day in Toronto, and I decided to organize our street!

Really, I could have done a better job. I had grand plans of getting local businesses to donate work gloves and coffee and treats, but in the end I was too busy with work in the past few weeks, so I just ended up making a pot of coffee and buying muffins and rubber gloves myself.

The day started out pretty horrible. Cold, rainy, miserable - the worst weather for any kind of outdoor activity. I really didn't expect anyone to show up at all, but to my surprise and delight, we had fifteen people show up! We used up all of the bags the City donated (somehow, I was expecting more than just one lousy box of garbage bags - Councillor Giambrone will be hearing from me), and more.

The job was disgusting. Condoms galore (looking on the bright side, maybe that means the street walkers are practising safe sex?). Lighters galore. A spoon wrapped in aluminum foil. Clothing. Tiny little glass vials, of the kind you see filled with ginseng drink at convenience stores, all burnt-looking. Shingles and other building supplies. A pair of pants with half a safe injection kit in the pocket (I guess they kept the needles, but they left the disinfectant and bandages behind). Only one syringe, needle missing, which I found comforting at first, but I guess it just means people are re-using their needles. Not good. The vast majority of the junkies and dealers who come here don't even live here - why can't they go away and ruin their own neighbourhoods?

But it's better now. The alley is clean and clear, not a speck of trash the length of it. Now that it's really clean, it will be easier to keep that way. And well-maintained public spaces do not attract the criminal element. By the end of the day we were tired, sore, cold, and feeling great.

Best of all, it was a chance to connect with some of our new neighbours. Almost all of the people who came out to help were couples and singles around our age, many of them, like us, new to the whole householder thing. It's great to know we've got a like-minded community of peers here, willing and able to pitch in and get involved.

Next up: community garage sale! Stay tuned.

rant updated 23 april 2006. permalink

One year.

Tomorrow, it will be one year since The Wedding.

I am determined to get the thankyou notes done tonight.

It's been a pretty crazy time. Driving in Paris. Driving over a moose. Seeing three more weddings among our friends. Buying a house.

Speaking of house, we've really been enjoying it lately more than ever. It's finally spring, so I've been planting flowers, TG has been setting up a workshop in the garage, we've started hanging the laundry out on the line (sunshine smells so good!), and last night we hosted a dozen or so members of our collected families for dinner. It's so wonderful to have this whole new family to enjoy - new cousins in our age group, new aunties and uncles - and a place to host them all. I used to have dinner parties regularly when I lived alone, but drifted away from that due to various roommates and an apartment that didn't have room for a dinner party (except outside on the deck in summer). Several of the aunties and uncles commented last night on how nice it was to see "the next generation" hosting a big family get-together. And it is nice. I feel almost like a real grownup.

But completely aside from this great new family I've gained, I just really like being married to TG. He's calm when I'm cranky. He surprises me with treats. He makes me feel loved like never before. And even if we're just sitting around reading the Sunday paper or something, there's an extra layer of contentment on top of everything, that just makes life easier to deal with.

So happy anniversary us, and congrats to all of our friends and family who have joined the married club. It's better than I could have imagined.

rant updated 5 february 2006. permalink

Another year, another year older.

Yesterday was my birthday. I ate way too much cake.

It's so strange to think I am actually thirty-five years old. Fully middle-aged and no doubt about it. I mean, I've been calling myself middle-aged for a while, but I don't think I really believed it until now. It's really hitting me in a way that birthdays haven't in the past. I guess the only milestone birthday I've had so far is the big three-oh, and that's not a "yikes" milestone so much as a "finally I'm a grownup" milestone. And most of my birthdays in the last decade or so have been spent worrying about The Birthday Curse more than anything.

By thirty-five you're supposed to have achieved something. You're supposed to have done things. No more messing around.

Last month I was at the TIFF launch party for Film Circuit, and I started feeling really old. 990 was packed with filmmakers, all of them working on interesting projects, all of them doing interesting things, all of them young. (I'm sure there were exceptions to the rule, but you get the idea.) I was chatting with David Alpay and a couple of his filmmaker friends Seth and Adam. They're all around twenty-five or something. When I was that age I was busy deciding I had gone to school for the wrong thing and I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life - there were a lot of things I was toying with, but I couldn't settle down and focus on any one thing. I was working retail and going out too much. I was in a miserable long-distance relationship that was all stress and no joy. And these kids - kids, I tell you! - were pursuing careers and networking and making films and interested and involved in the world. I wished for a moment that I could go back to that age and do some things differently - spen more time doing things and less time fooling around and worrying about my social life and dating fools.

But then it occurred to me - these kids were at an event where they could do some valuable networking, and they were choosing to talk to me. Because I know and work with some of the filmmakers who were honoured that night. Because fair number of them got their funding through us, and we helped get them into the hands of the festival programmers.

So maybe I just need to get over myself and my pointless angst. Maybe I'm farther ahead than I realise. In any case, if I'm not, it's no one's fault but my own, and a bunch of self-pity certainly isn't going to help things.

rant updated 12 april 2006. permalink

Another unhappy ending.

The destruction of older buildings in Toronto has really been getting me down lately. Queen Street has been decimated Š it seems another notice of demolition goes up every week. Once the vile yuppie scum at American Apparel moved in to the relatively untouched area between Spadina and Bathurst, the deluge began. A bunch of fabric shops closed (good bye, history of the rag trade district!). A couple of vintage shops have gone down. The worst part is that the renos and new buildings are not well-made. They wonÕt last for a hundred years Š they probably wonÕt last for ten. ItÕs been barely a year since the Beverly Tavern was remade into East, and already the cheap wood siding is showing its age, and the shiny metal fa¨ade at the front is sagging droopily. ItÕs sickening.

I guess their crime was Failure to be Expensive. Older buildings not only have character, they also tend to be less expensive for a would-be small buisiness owner to rent. Chain stores and condo-owners want something shinier. Of course, the chain stores and condo-dwellers wouldnÕt want to move into these neighbourhoods had it not been for the quirky atmosphere that lower rents allow. But I digress.

Maybe none of these old buildings were distinctive in and of themselves, but as a group the rows of two- and three-storey Victorian brick storefronts had value, both as heritage properties and aesthetically. There was a visual consistency to the streetscape. The buildings were old enough that the trees in front had had time to grow to a decent height. Every time I walk down Queen Street, I notice something I hadnÕt noticed before Š some gingerbread trim, some detail in the brickwork, a weathered frieze.

The sad part is that once itÕs gone, itÕs gone Š there arenÕt a lot of heritage stonemasons left, and the vast majority of developers arenÕt willing to pay the cost of good quality craftsmanship.

More important than the aesthetics, though, is the history. When I first moved to Toronto, I worked at a store on Queen Street. It was weirdly laid out, because the building had been through many incarnations Š delicatessen, bookstore, social club Š the back room had a sprung hardwood floor for dancing, and there were the remnants of a projectionsistÕs booth. All of that has been ripped out now and replaced with concrete (thanks, Aritzia). All of that history is gone. And itÕs happened to dozens if not hundreds of buildings, the history stripped away.

Saddest to me is CrangleÕs Collision. I remember the first time I went to CrangleÕs, after an idiot on a motorcycle (wearing shorts and a tank top, no less!) rear-ended me and I needed a new bumper. The offices were all the original art deco with oak partitions. There was a gorgeous staircase. And it was a family-owned garage, run by a great bunch of guys. Honest, helpful, hardworking. I mentioned it to my cousin, and she exclaimed, ŅthatÕs where my dad used to work forty years ago when it was International Harvester! They still have the same deco interior?Ó So of course the next time I went in, I mentioned it to Gary (or was it Fred?) and he said, ŅI probably met your uncle then, because when I was a kid, I used to come down here to International Harvester to beg for spare parts, for building go-carts and stuff.Ó

I loved that garage. Now itÕs gone, and all its history with it, to make room for insular yuppies. They donÕt know what theyÕre missing.

rant updated 4 april 2006. permalink

When I was a kid

I thought that pneumonia and pyoo-nomia were two different diseases. I learned about pyoo-nomia first, because one of my friends in kindergarten had it. Pneumonia I learned about later. I don't remember when I figured out they were the same thing.

Anyway, however you mispronounce it, I've got it. I've spent the last two weeks (!) sick at home, with only a few excursions for work (before I realised how foolish I was to try), doctor visits, and the visitation for TG's uncle Cliff.

Other than that, it's been home in bed, with the humidifier misting away in the corner, a couple of dozen tulips in a vase on the window sill, living on chicken soup and cinnamon toast and sleepytime tea and chocolate-dipped digestive biscuits, attired in flannel pyjamas (it's a good thing I have about six sets!), under the duvet, propped up with half a dozen pillows. The sun comes in through the curtains in the morning to wake me up, I take a handful of pills (supplements, including lots of vitamin C, an antibiotic, occasionally Tylenol depending on how my head hurts), a hopeful spoonful of cough syrup, and crawl back into bed with my newspapers, knitting, and a stack of back issues of the Sunday New York Times magazines with the crosswords still to do.

You know, when I type it out, it sounds like a nice way to spend the day, except for the pills and the coughing and headaches and bodyaches and the crushing sleepiness and inability to breathe deeply. And, now that I've been sick for a fortnight, boredom.

But my doctor promises I'll be better soon! And I am going to hold her to that.

rant updated 10 march 2006. permalink

All good things must come to an end.

I first heard about freecycle about a year or so ago. It seemed like such a great yet simple idea: got something you don't want? Post it on an email list, and see if anyone is willing to take it off your hands. I got rid of a few things that way, all things that I didn't need, wasn't using, but were too useful to throw away, and I was too lazy or ill-equipped to haul them to Goodwill. I got rid of things and I also picked up a few things - a tennis racket, a patio umbrella - both in good condition, both kicking around someone else's house without being put to use. Perfect!

The first indication that nothing could ever be that simple occurred last year when someone posted archery supplies, and someone else insisted that such things were not "sporting goods" but actually "weapons," and as such, against the freecycle rules. There was also some debate about whether gmail invites and coupons should be posted.

The net result of that kerfuffle was a split - the Toronto group broke away from freecycle, renamed itself free TO reuse, and carried on largely unchanged (to me, at least).

New year, new kerfuffle.

A year and a half ago, TFN (the group that started the original freecycle in Arizona) applied to make the name "freecycle" a registered trademark - a reasonable thing to do, especially when a commercial outfit has already bought the domain freecycle.com to use as a shopping search engine. Trademarking the name would ensure that the only people using the name freecycle were genuine freecyclers, giving and getting stuff for free.

One member of the freecycle network, in Sunnyvale California, had created a "FreecycleSunnyvale" logo based on the TFN logo, with the encouragement of TFN itself. Last fall, TFN told them to stop using it. This is not surprising; if TFN wants to claim the right to protect their name as a registered trademark, they also have the responsibility to ensure that it is protected. So TFN says "stop using the logo," Sunnyvale refuses to comply, TFN complains to Yahoo!, and the Sunnyvale Yahoo! group is shut down.

(Sunnyvale and other groups had previously had fallings-out with TFN when TFN decided to accept corporate sponsorship from Waste Management, and TFN founder Deron Beal became the group's only paid employee, earning $45,000 annually.)

Now it's all in the hands of lawyers. TFN is wringing its hands about how they will be destroyed by the lawsuit, having no resources to speak of (they don't mention it, but I'm guessing the real problem is that, if US laws regarding incorporated non-profits is similar to the law in Canada, the Board of Directors will have to take financial responsibility for the damages, if TFN doesn't have enough assets of its own), and if TFN goes, every single free-swap-reuse-recycle-whatever group in the world will go down with them. Sunnyvale has got itslef some high-powered pro-bono lawyers, insists that they are in the right, that "freecycle" (a totally made up word coined by TFN) is a generic term, and that the very spirit of freecycling demands that the term stay uncopyrightable.

I sense there's not a lot of actual swapping going on with those guys anymore.

Good grief. When the Toronto group went through archery-gmail-gate, it decided to change its name and become its own entity. It's still going strong, without the bacing of a big network, or the name "freecycle" attached to it anywhere. Thus proving both TFN and Sunnyvale to be wrong.

The desire to register "freecycle" as a trademark is understandable and necessary. But why come down heavy on Sunnyvale? Why not just write up a contract licencing the group's use of the word and logo as long as they stayed non-commercial? And why did Sunnyvale feel the need to come down heavy as well?

Both of these groups are missing the point. And now that lawyers are involved, both groups will likely go down in flames.

Oh well, all the grand claims aside, it has no effect on giving and receiving trash and treasure in the real world.

The Sunnyvale complaint

The Sunnyvale opposition to TFN's trademark application

Green Ribbon, a site maintained by the Sunnyvale group with more legal documents

rant updated 5 february 2006. permalink

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