01 February 2014

Sochi Olympics - To Play Or Not To Play?

The 2014 Sochi Olympics are just around the corner, and the world is up at arms about what to do in light of Vladimir Putin's vicious laws denigrating and punishing LBGTQ Russians and their supporters.

Most people agree that something needs to be done to address it, but the actual solution is muddled. Boycott Russian vodka? Boycott the Olympics? What pressure can the rest of the world put on this man?

There are four ways to make a global statement that is historically significant at the Olympics. Athletes protesting, countries boycotting, IOC banning countries and IOC cancelling the event.

Putin has made it illegal to protest at the Olympics in Sochi. It's unclear whether or not a silent demonstration like the 1968 "Power to the People" will be permitted, but it's likely that the athletes will have a difficult time in Russia during their stay if they step out of line.

Countries can boycott for a variety of reasons that all point to disagreeing with other countries' behaviours. There hasn't been a boycott by a country in 25 years (North Korea in 1988).

Countries can be banned for violating sections of the Olympic charter, which Russia has done (despite their assertions that they haven't). If the IOC wants to make a truly powerful statement, they can ban Russia from participating as the host country. This would probably lead to Russia disallowing the Olympics in Sochi, but that's a tough decision for them because it generates a huge amount of commerce.

If the IOC feels that it's too late to move them, then this round should be canceled. There hasn't been an Olympics canceled since 1916 with the outbreak of World War I. Think of the political statement that would make to Putin. You are enacting policies and treating you citizens poorly, and this is how we will stop rewarding you.

Boycotting or cancelling the Olympics is a great hardship for the athletes who have trained for four years and, indeed, most of their lives for this opportunity to compete on the world stage. But I think it's the best way to economically and politically say, "You are wrong."

Since the countries won't cancel or boycott these Olympics, the next best solution is to boycott the sponsors. Protest with your bucks. I am boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics sponsors for the duration of the Olympics. Some sponsors won't notice (Omega, ATOS), but there will be dollars speaking for several sponsors.

To do it right, I have to boycott my beloved Dr Pepper, which is produced by Coca-Cola in the UK.

The toughest one is probably P&G brands, because they have products all over the place, but it's going to be worth it to me to say they are wrong to sponsor this sports. We'll be avoiding MEXX, Bounty towels, Puffs tissues, Duracell, Mr. Clean, Crest and Oral-B. These are all brands we use weekly in the house and need constant restocking. But I'll be using alternatives for the next month, and if I like the alternatives, it will be a permanent change.

What products do you use? Can you give them up for a few weeks to make a point?

30 January 2014

Vehicle Envy

So much change!

I've been a bad blogger. Since my last post, I've had a baby, become a WAHM, and reset my life goals. We'll see how things go now that I'm avoiding an 8-5 grind.

A friend sent me a blog link on Facebook that I found interesting. It gave helpful advice on how to pick a vehicle when considering the for for your kids' car seats.


What I found interesting was how many of the vehicles with problems are SUVs and trucks. In Canada, most of the parents I know insist they need a bigger vehicle for their kids, even of they only have one or two. This both fascinates and troubles me.

When I was pregnant, one of the first things people asked me was when I'd get a new vehicle. I'd just bought my first new-from-a-dealership-wow-I'm-the-first-owner car, a zippy Mazda 3GT, and it was only two years old. It gets great fuel economy, isn't super expensive to insure, and has a great maintenance warranty. I put on winter tires so I drive city roads and highways like I'm on rails. The cabin warms up fast because it's small. I park in stalls that make sedans cringe. I love this car.

And I have to give it up because I'm having a kid? I thought this was funny. "You'll see, they said knowingly, "Your car is so small, you won't fit a car seat! And all the baby stuff you have to carry, and then if it's a boy and he gets into sports... You'll be a minivan mom before you know it."

At this point the conversation would go on a tangent about why only a boy would get into sports or would get into sports that required a lot of equipment. But later I'd consider what they said, with a fair bit of dread.  I love my little car. A minivan? Ew. My mom had two kids, and the biggest vehicle we had was a small sedan. Also, I'm what I like to call a Prepared Minimalist Packer. Sort of a Girl Guide/Macguyver. I don't carry a ton of stuff; I improvise or I make do without, but I always carry safety/emergency stuff, especially in my car . How would that change with a baby?

It turns out that once I found my stride as a new parent, it didn't change how I pack. I carry a car seat, a stroller, a small or medium diaper bag, a baby car bag, and my emergency kit. My car seat is a Diono Radian RXT, so it's tall, narrow and will convert to a booster seat as my Minion grows. My stroller folds down very flat; it's a Bugaboo Chameleon so it separates into 2 pieces. I have a cargo box hoisted over the car from the rafters on case I need to carry a bunch more. I lower it on ratchet straps and clamp it on fast. No big deal.

But it made me think about Canadian's obsession with having a bigger vehicle. This is a fairly new trend. I think it started in the 1980s with the emergence of the minivan. The car companies marketed it as a perfect vehicle for families. That covered the Yuppies who wanted a new type of vehicle. What about the Dinks (Dual Income, No Kids. Don't get offended. I was proudly one until a year ago.) in comes the SUV. Bigger than a jeep and with a permanent roof. Enter the prevalence of the aptly-named Suburban.

Then in the following years, the two vehicle types sort of merged together to form a hybrid, 'mid-sized' vehicle. At the same time, despite populations moving from rural

Take the folks who "need" a giant truck for the occasional weekend pulling an RV. Renting a truck for that weekend is cheaper than the increase to your lease payments over one year, let alone three or five, and there's no wear on your own vehicle.

Consider the parents who "need" an SUV or minivan to haul their kids and their sports equipment around. A cargo box on top of a car does that just fine. That includes carpooling 2-3 kids and their hockey bags.

Is a Costco run the reason to supersize your vehicle? I do a Costco run with a car seat and stroller every week in a car. If we're getting something large, I get help hauling it. That happens once or twice a year, maybe.

And let's not start with the 4x4 argument. Most people don't know how to use 4x4 and rarely use it. Climb a lot of rough terrain in towns and cities, do you? For winter driving, you're better off to invest in winter tires than 4x4. Neither helps you drive to road conditions. Many people I know drive beyond road conditions, thinking their 4x4 makes them safer

Canadians are generally spoiled when it comes to our vehicles. That's good. But the "I need" conversation really needs to be changed. Marketing and the luxury makes people spend far more on their vehicle than they need to, making them a pain to drive or park. SUVs and truck "ride higher" but have weird blind spots that give them trouble. They are beasts to park; you don't see as many a-hole cars taking two stalls or park over the front or side lines.

Winter tires and a cargo box on a car with better fuel economy is cheaper to run and maintain, and easier to drive. Consider that there's a lot more families in Europe under similar driving and family conditions as North America, and a lot fewer trucks and SUVs. All I'm saying.

11 June 2011

Guitar Luv: KT Tunstall

KT Tunstall is an amazing artist. Coming up the hard way, busking and touring small clubs, she worked her butt off even after signing a record contract before they'd let her record.

The result is a live act that leaves people with their jaws dropped. This was best seen in her stunning performance on "Later... With Jools Holldand" in 2004. Her last minute replacement of Nas left her with only 24 hours to prepare for a live UK national debut that left other acts speechless. (Check out the members of Embrace at 3:24)

I've always loved this live version even better than the album version, just for the sheer surprise of it. The recorded show version had the second verse sliced out, but it's still great.

This performance introduced the non-musical world to the Akai E2 Headrush loop pedal, which she has dubbed the "Wee Bastard," as a tool that does more than just echoes the chorus. Here is a vid KT did for Akai showing how easily she can use the loop pedal.

And my favourite song from her debut album, Eye to the Telescope, is not Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, but Suddenly I See. There are two official releases for this, and in my house we're split over which is better. My sweetie loves the "Standard Version," a more traditional "band plays in a darkly-lit warehouse" vid with the twist that KT joins herself mid-song and sings harmonies... with herself. I'm torn but I give the edge to the "Larger Than Life" version, a trippy vid that shows KT as a normal-sized person and a giant moving through a trainset diorama. It fits the jumpy rhythm of the song and it's charming.

Pick one for yourself!

After four million album sales, KT has stayed true to herself and hasn't let her success go to her head. She's political and she has no delusions of grandeur. My kind of artist!

11 April 2011

I had vague ambitions of being an actress when I was younger (who didn't?). Alas, it was not to be, mostly due to my brutal stage fright.

I did all kinds of things to get over it. I joined the school choir, public theatre groups, sold sex toys at home parties. Try being shy when you have to describe the function of a Kegel exerciser to a room of giggling couples. I dare you. Even so, I had too many nerves and not enough talent.

But apparently, I could have just done Daytime TV soaps. This quick acting lesson is courtesy of my favourite Edmontonian in LA, Nathan Fillion of ABC's Castle, but more importantly Malcolm Reynolds of Joss Whedon's Firefly.

08 March 2011

Gender Equality: An Obsolete Concept?

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. It's a day for focusing on equality for women in this world.

A lot of my friends (okay, Caucasian males) comment that we don't need these kinds of focuses anymore. They think the world is fair enough. Well, if that's the case, then we should find equality is drastically better than it was 20 years ago, right?

Not in the movies. In 2009, women directed 7 per cent of the top-grossing films, the same amount as in 1989. After Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar last year for best director, I expected to see women nominated again this year. Especially with two Best Picture films that were directed by women. I was disappointed that there were none.

Well then, at least Canada is an example of gender equality for the world to follow, right? According to IndexMundi.com, the Canadian sex ratio (males/females) is 0.98, so we're almost evenly divided men to women. And don't forget:
"Canada was among the first countries to sign Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the principles of gender equality in employment, public life, and education in Part I, section 15. These principles are also reflected in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the 1998 Multiculturalism Act, which introduced measures to protect and promote the rights of aboriginal women and foreigners." Wikigender.org
So how does Canada measure up?

I checked with the World Economic Forum, which selects the top countries in terms of gender equity by comparing 1) income and employment, 2) participation in higher education, 3) health, and 4) political involvement. Here's the top 15 countries for 2010:


Wait, where's Canada?

We're 20th. Out of 134 countries, we came in 20th. Not bad, but not great for a country that prides itself on being the vanguard for human rights and peacekeeping.

So where does Canada excel? Umm... socialism.
"One bright spot in terms of women’s equality is in the results found for women who work in unionized environments. Women make 82% of men’s incomes in such environments – even when comparing full time, full year employment. When assessing the impact of unionization, the study reveals that non-unionized environments create a wider gender gap – women make only 72% of men’s incomes in such environments." Center for Social Justice
"Women aged 25 to 29 employed on a full-time, full-year basis earned 85 cents for each dollar received by their male counterparts in 2005.
In 2005, the gender income gap was narrower for those new entrants that had achieved higher levels of education than for their less-educated counterparts:
  • Women aged 25 to 29 holding a graduate or professional diploma and working on a full-time, full-year basis earned 96 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2005.

  • Women with a bachelor’s degree earned 89 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

  • Women with a registered apprenticeship or trades certificate earned only 65 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

  • Young women with no high school diploma earned 67 cents for every dollar earned by young men with the same level of education.

For the most highly educated Canadian women, gender differences in earnings within identical occupations are generally very small among new entrants to the labour force... Two exceptions are management occupations and sales and service occupations, where Canadian women consistently earn far less than their male counterparts. Young women employed in management occupations earned 86 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2005. In sales and service occupations, the gap was even larger, at 72 cents for every dollar. Canadian women continue to be overrepresented in low-paying occupations in Canada." Conference Board of Canada
Wait, so women making at least 20 per cent less than men is pretty good? Awesome. And where are we failing?
"Statistics Canada's 1998 report Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, which analysed data provided by 154 reporting police agencies, shows that:
  • Women continue to outnumber men nine to one as victims of assault by a spouse or partner;
    in 1996 half of all family homicides involved spouses;

  • Between 1977 and 1996, three times as many women were killed by their spouses as were men killed by their spouses;

  • Girls are at greatest risk of sexual assault by a family member while between 12 and 15 years of age;

  • In 1996 nine of ten crimes committed against older adults by family members were physical assaults.
Violence is a major factor in women's health and well-being. The measurable health-related costs of violence against women in Canada exceed $1.5 billion a year. These costs include short-term medical and dental treatment for injuries, long-term physical and psychological care, lost time at work, and use of transition homes and crisis centres" Health Canada
Oh, and Canadian women have only 22% representation in government. And that's an all-time record.

So when I hear my friends say that they're pissed off that women and visible minorities get special programs and scholarships, I sort of want to punch them in the stomach. Not in the nuts. That's sexist. But hard. In the stomach.

31 January 2011

Link Love: Goodnews.com

As someone who surfs the internet a lot, I see a lot of discount offers. There are tons of programs that offer to send you local deals. All you have to do is submit some personal information.

This is my favourite of these offerings. Goodnews.com donates a portion of their proceeds to a local charity.

First, they are partnering with Edmonton Food Bank, who will receive 5% of all sales generated from January 25 to February 27, 2011.

Send your friends to the website, because the discounts only happen if enough people apply for them.

09 January 2011

Unproductive or not?

Today, I gave up on plans to go cross-country skiing and spent most of the day in bed finishing The Hunger Games trilogy. It's something I've been putting off for a couple of months, and I always find a good reason to do something more "productive."

"I have to paint the bathroom."

"There's Christmas shopping to do."

"I need to clean out my closet."

It feels like I've been going non-stop for months. Even the Christmas holiday was an exercise in constant motion. I try to maintain work and life balance, but there's always something to do. I came back from a week off work feeling like I hadn't had any time off. And to make matters worse, I'm so distracted by all the things I should be doing that I have trouble focusing when I read a book. So finishing a book takes a while, and I seem to find reasons not to read.

But today? Edmonton received a great snow dump this weekend. The snow is fresh and almost 30 cm deep (that's over a foot for the non-metric) and the weather is -16 degrees Celsius. It's a little too deep and kind of cold for cross country skiing. Also, my once-a-week meds have 12-hour side effects that are pretty much like being hella-drunk: dizziness, balance issues & nausea. So naturally, I took them last night and forgot how I'd feel this morning.

That makes it a stay-home day. Now, the house could use a good post-Christmas scrubbing, and I'm still cleaning out my closets for the clothing drive I'm running at work. Since Ukrainian Christmas is over, I should probably take down the Christmas tree.

But I woke up to the bright post-snowfall sunlight streaming into my bedroom window. My hon was already up and playing Call of Duty downstairs. So instead of rushing to get the day going, I said screw it and stayed in bed all morning and most of the afternoon, and read until the daylight started to fade. Like most Sundays, I wasn't hungry in the morning. Let's face it: I eat plenty as a middle-income Canadian, so skipping one meal won't be the end of the world.

And when I was done? My side effects had passed. I came downstairs and made a really tasty meal of leek soup and pan-fried pork loin and finished it off with a homemade latte. I'd finished the book series I've been really excited to finish. And I felt more relaxed than I have in months. One day did more to relax me than a whole week away from work.

It would be easy to dismiss today as an unproductive day. Oxford Dictionary defines unproductive as "(of an activity or period) not achieving much; not very useful." I could have been doing a lot of things. Instead, I see today as productive by just giving me time to breath and accomplish one of those "less important" things on my to do list that's been nagging at me.

By bringing down my stress levels, today was definitely useful.