Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

Silence

May 21, 2009

Today, The Alder Fork presents another piece of the mighty National Film Board of Canada collection.  Julian Bigg’s 23 Skidoo is an eeire look at the possible devestation of a neutron bomb.   If you are familiar with Montreal’s downtown than this film will be even creepier to you.

The basic premise of the film, that a neutron bomb has killed everyone in the city, while leaving everything intact, represents two realities. The first is the Cold War fear that the entire world would be destroyed by nuclear weapons.  That concern is less present today, as people seem to be more afraid of viruses and terrorism than nuclear war.  In fact, for younger generations, the cold war worldview is more of a historical curiousity than a reality.  The destruction of society in this film is caused by an accident, as a by product of a test gone wrong.  That plot twist is intriguing because it departs from the standard mutually assured destruction model.  By the 1960’s people were beginning to oppose the testing of nuclear weapons because of the potential dangers.

The second reality in this film is the understanding that a neutron bomb would only kill people.  Since the technology was brand new in 1964, it’s understandable that the filmmaker wouldn’t know the way these weapons were later utilized.  Indeed, a neutron bomb still yields in the kiloton range and would cause sizable material damage.

The phrase “23 Skidoo” was popular in 1920’s America as a way of implying that someone was going to “get while the getting is good.”  What a witty choice for a film about the death of everyone.

This film won awards from the UN and BAFTA.  It’s striking message, creepy soundtrack, and stiring visuals bring the extinction of humanity into focus.  It is still shocking today, and were it not for the teletype machines and old tv monitors it could be from 2009.  23 Skidoo asks, where are we going and how soon will we get there?

I Make The Dough And You Get The Glory

May 14, 2009

The news media in Canada, and in particular my hometown of Hamilton, has been buzzing about the possibility of an NHL team moving into our Copps Coliseum.  This very blog has featured my argument in favour of moving more teams to Canada.  On Tuesday word leaked, or was announced, that Jim Balsille would invest $30 million to improve the arena in downtown Hamilton.  That is great news for HECFI.  He also announced that he will seek government support to pay the additional $120 million or so needed to fully upgrade that facility.  It is at this point that I depart the “let’s bring a team to Hamilton” train.  I support infrastructure investment when it will demonstrably improve our community.  Highways, roads, parks, hospitals, housing, shelters, utilities, and even cultural institutions are some examples of prudent government investment.  I am also in favour of putting more money into eliminating poverty in our country, which has been at an unacceptable level for over 30 years. Our health care system has issues, and according to a recent Hamilton Spectator series, childhood mental illnesses are dangerously underfunded.  I could make a list of 50 other programs, services, or projects that should get $130 million of government money before Copps Coliseum.  Politicians like the good publicity of large scale projects like arena improvements, but all too often they end up as loses on the ledger book, and fail to provide the expected boost.  The argument that having an NHL team will somehow spur on the Hamilton economy is, based on all available research into this topic, a fantasy.  I am in favour of moving a hockey team into this city if it is fully supported by private money. Jim Balsille is a very wealthy man and since he seems to want a team in his own backyard, he should pay for that privilege.  Local hockey fans will have to pay for the joy of seeing his team in action, we should not have to pay to improve the arena for his use.  Save taxpayer money for cash strapped services that improve the quality of life for Hamiltonians, Ontarians and Canadians.

We All Live

May 1, 2009

Brand new podcast up tonight. As always you can find it over there –> or here. I talk about community, which was inspired by Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human.  The music is provided by Madison Violet and The Mighty Blue Ford. These two Canadian acts are quite enjoyable.  Madison Violet has been around for awhile, but they are putting out their first new album in 3 years.  They have a number of upcoming shows in southern Ontario (and one in Scotland) and I definitely recommend checking out their sweet folky charm.  The Mighty Blue Ford is a side project with a definite nod to the music of Bruce Cockburn (intentional or not).  The Winnipeg-based artist has certainly caught my ear.

Do You Have Some Time?

April 21, 2009

New podcast up tonight.  It’s National Volunteer Week here in Canada and I have Jen Grebeldinger from Timeraiser Hamilton. The May 9th event is an art auction where volunteer hours act as currency.  This unique event began in Toronto and has grown to many communities across the country.  This is the first Hamilton edition and you can get ticket information at the website. I also expand on the topic of volunteerism and my involvement with the Change the World Ontario Youth Challenge.

Over 12 million Canadians volunteer every year.  Advocates, like myself, point out to anyone who will listen that volunteerism is an integral part of this country.  It is strange to think that in many countries people aren’t giving as much of their free time to improve their society.  It is perhaps even more impressive because of the diverse nature of Canada. People from all over the world come here and many find themselves sharing in the spirit of volunteerism.

Music by two Canadian groups that need little introduction,  Great Lake Swimmers and The Stills.

Zap

March 30, 2009

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight.

The power went out for awhile today, so I haven’t had as much time to write a blog post as usual.  It’s kind of odd that after last night’s Earth Hour, which I passed playing Yahtzee by candlelight, that we would spend some time in the dark this afternoon.  I suppose the city of Hamilton was catching up with the many people who have embraced this symbolic event.  Fortunately, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon so I was able to go outside.

Speaking of Earth Hour, the newspaper suggested going outside to gaze at the stars during the hour. Since the street lights remained on, unlike during the great blackout of 2003, the light pollution still made the sky a bright mess.  It was also a partly cloudy night, so there was little for the average person to enjoy.  Although I have grown up in the city I absolutely hate the fact that I can only see a handful of stars at night.  I long for a time when the full majesty of the sky is available to me.  I am far from the first person to make a plea for reclaiming the darkness.  There are obvious pros and cons to making that kind of drastic change to urban life.  I know that at least one city in Ontario has changed their by-laws concerning outdoor lighting.  They require that any external light is diffused in such a way that it doesn’t send any light upwards.  I’m sure there is a very expensive proposition, but it definitely makes for happy astronomers. The night sky can be a major source of inspiration for children and dreamers alike.  I think its time that as a society we gave those in the inner city a chance to flex their imaginations.

In other news, I had an interesting chat the other day about my vision for The Alder Fork.  I brought up the fact that I laid out my plans both on the blog and during an episode of the podcast.  Perhaps someday in the next week or so I will sit down and really sort this whole thing out.  I have a lot of wild ideas, and this is one I’d like to work with for awhile.

Duck and Cover

March 9, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available. more about “If You Love This Planet by Terre Nash…“, posted with vodpod

This 1982 video is a stark reminder of the reality of nuclear annihilation that reached its zenith during the Cold War.  Dr. Helen Caldicott was exetremly passionate about nuclear proliferation.  Although it is a long film (25 minutes) it is worth a watch, especially for those who don’t know much about life before 1991.

I think it could be argued that the potential for an all out nuclear war has greatly diminished in the last 20 or so years.  It is certainly possible that India and Pakistan, or perhaps the U.S. and a future Russia could engage in some limited attacks using hydrogen bombs, but it is not likely.  Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly in the last few years, nations have generally backed off their efforts to create massive weapons which are capable of killing millions or billions of people.  This is partly due to the new relationships between larger world powers, such as the occasionally tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Putin’s Russia.  But the emergence of terrorism as the main opponent in global conflicts has also been a major factor.  Nuclear weapons are essentially useless in fighting an enemy who works in small numbers and without held territory.

The National Film Board of Canada featured this video on its main page in part to highlight International Women’s Day and the role of women in changing the world. Certainly Dr. Caldicott’s battle against nuclear proliferation is a shining example.  I have chosen to embed this video because it is a reminder of what life was like just 20 years ago, when many humans feared for the future of the species.  Now we are more afraid of killer viruses, asteroid collisions and limited terrorist attacks than ICBM’s with megaton payloads.  I’m not sure which alternative is better, but I do know I hate the vision of the future painted by Dr. Caldicott.

Custom Kitchen, Delivery

March 7, 2009

That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it, get money for nothing and your chicks for free.

Dire Straits

Money for Nothing

I hope you guessed from the title of this post that I was going quote Dire Straits, and I hope you figured out that I am going to write about our current economic crisis.  Regular readers may wonder why I would take on such a topical item that is way out of my range of expertise.  For fun really, though there is little that is fun about the crisis.

I have some common sense thoughts that I’d like to put out there so they can be refuted or supported by people who know more about business than I do.  To be completely open, I have not taken many business courses, and I have only worked in the not-for-profit sector.  I do not own or run any business other than The Alder Fork related enterprises, which don’t make any money.

A couple of items that are on my mind. The first has to do with the many company’s that have lavishly thrown money at executives in both good times and bad.  I wonder why shareholders and decision makers are so concerned with keeping “highly talented” people (by paying them loads of money) when most of these people failed miserably at their jobs. Wouldn’t you be better off paying someone else less to ruin your business? They certainly can’t do any worse.

That line of thinking leads me to wonder what are the best attributes for a CEO or other top executive.  It seems that especially in recent years companies have sought out greedy folks whose many interest is making as much money as possible as fast as they can.  Obviously, this is not true of all executives, but certainly seems to be the case with those who have created our current situation.  In my uneducated view a business is first about survival. If I own or am a shareholder of a company I want to know that I can still derive income from it many years down the road.  That enterprise is a security blanket for me in the future. Businesses, much like humans, rely on survival first and abundance second.  We can get by in lean times, particularly if we are wise in rich times.  I won’t even bother to tell you the story of the chipmunk and the grasshopper, or of Joseph’s adventures in the Bible.  If I was going to hire an executive to run my company I would want someone who was first and foremost interested in having the business survive well into the future.  I know that the days of a life long career with one company have mostly passed, but that is the kind of attitude that gets you to your 50th anniversary.

This leads to my next point, with companies floundering into bankruptcy and asking for government money, I think a decent place to start the rebuilding phase is making most if not all employees equal in terms of pay and benefits. I actually stole this idea in part from Mark Cuban who demanded that of the small companies he has been financing.  Of course, I am suggesting this for much larger entities.  I was quite angry when I heard that GM executives had suggested cutting benefits for all hourly workers while only giving themselves a 10% pay cut. So a middle class family can no longer afford to send their kids to the dentist or doctor, but an executive need only buy a slightly smaller house, or take fewer vacations to Europe? If they needed to prove that they deserved taxpayer money, I think they failed.  The benefit of this idea is job saving.  More people an work for less money, at least until the company is out of debt.  It may not save everyone’s job, but it will likely save more than the current alternative.

My last point has to do with the illusion of knowledge.  There have been many stories lately of Ponzi-like scams that have collapsed, Bernie Madoff comes to mind.  In those cases the idea of “too good to be true” proved correct.  But I also wonder what role perceived knowledge, in the form of education plays a role. Earning a degree means demonstrating knowledge and its application in a controlled setting under stressful conditions.  Working requires using and adapting that information in uncontrolled and changing circumstances, particularly in the business world.  There are thousands if not millions of companies in the world, each with their own culture and range of characters to interact with.  Just earning a degree in any subject does not guarantee you are good at what you do.  In fact, even demonstrating some success with another operation proves very little.  Success is best judged by reflecting on recent and measurable acehivement.  I think many owners/shareholders have been convinced that strong education is the most necessary credential to being a good business manager, when it is likely not.  If I am running a company I want to know that my executives can adapt to my needs and the needs of the organization. Then we might be getting somewhere.

Please take issue with this post and let me know what you think.

Give It Up

March 6, 2009

Before I get into today’s post I have a bit of an ad.  I need some musicians for a show on Sept. 12th. I am particularly looking for a pianist, drummer, bassist, and violinist. If you or anyone you know is interested you can reach me here.

I recently began a new job that has me encouraging young people to volunteer in their community.  It also has me working in downtown Hamilton.  I have enjoyed the experience of working right in the core because it’s quite unique.  From my desk I can see out our main window and into the street. All day long a diverse cast passes by, some noticing I’m there, but most not.  Hamilton’s downtown has such a wide range of people that no one looks out of place.  It’s exciting that many of the downtown buildings are being improved so that the entire area is more alive and exciting.

My main point today concerns the idea of engaging youth in social action, primarily through volunteering.  Currently in Ontario, high school students are obligated to complete 40 hours of community service in order to receive their diplomas.  This is primarily the reason why youth now have the greatest total number of volunteers out of any age category in Canada (a country with 12 million volunteers by the way).  Yet senior citizens still perform more hours of service than anyone else.  The loss of a large chunk of volunteer hours as our aging population passes away is one of the great fears in the not-for-profit community.  Middle-aged volunteers have typically been less committed than their parents or grandparents. This means that many are only around for a limited period of time to perform a specific task, and aren’t interested in giving multiple years to an organization, something that was the norm 20 years ago.

The main solution, as I see it, is to change the next generations relationship to volunteering.  When I was in high school, only 8 years ago, many of my friends spent hundreds of hours volunteering for various agencies ranging from soup kitchens to theatre companies to sports leagues.  The same holds true of my university friends. I have faith that my own generation and the one that is growing up now will be able to step up and take responsibility for providing the billions of dollars of free labour that volunteers provide each year.  Does my optimism have a source?  Well yes, agencies like Volunteer Hamilton are making a conscious effort (perhaps unique in all of human history) to encourage volunteerism among youth by presenting with compelling reasons to get involved.  New Canadians are also being told that volunteering is a part of the fabric of our society.  It seems likely that Canada will continue to be a world leader in volunteerism.

Spend Some Time Love

February 26, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends.

The Beatles

With a Little Help From My Friends

The conversation about the future of music continues today. I was listening to Bill Simmons’ podcast from the other day, and he was discussing how music had changed with his friend Jacko.  They are both excited about the new U2 album (one that I’m not that interested in for reasons I can go into another time) and they lamented that in 20 years no one will be that excited about the new releases from current popular bands.  It is probably valid to ask which bands that have formed in the last 10 years will still be beloved in 20 years.  I tried to come up with a list but was pretty unsuccessful. Maybe someone out there has a better idea about this than me.

I have just started a brand new job, well a 10 week contract job, working on a big youth volunteer challenge.  It’s a fairly exciting way of promoting volunteerism among young people.  I have talked at length about volunteering on a couple episodes of the podcast because I think it is an important part of creating a quality society. Some interesting Canadian volunteer facts:

12 million people in Canada volunteer and provide two billion hours of service each year

Canada has the second largest number of volunteers in the world

Volunteers contribute the equivalent of $26 Billion dollars worth of labour and services

Without volunteer service Canada would not be the country it is today, and the fact is we could do even more with a larger percentage of the population chipping in. If you haven’t put in some free hours lately, consider it. I think the world will be better for it, and so will you.

Looking Back

February 22, 2009

One of my favourite blogs linked to an interesting site the other day. Among other things this site has a collection of pictures depicting old mailboxes in New York. I was recently discussing the number of old milk slots that remain on the houses in my neighbourhood. Ours was removed in a renovation before we bought the house, but many of my neighbours have simply boarded up the inside without changing the outside appearance.  This particular area of Hamilton contains homes built in the 1950’s so some now archaic elements were included.  Down in the city you can still find the odd coal shoot, or other now useless bit of historical architecture.  It always makes me think about the ways our society has changed in the last 60 years, and how to some degree we are trying to move back to the past.  For example, increased promotion of farmer’s markets and eating locally is an attempt to rekindle agriculture near urban areas.  My grandparents had their milk and eggs delivered by the farmers who produced them.  Thus they had a relationship with the person who brought them their food. They also knew their local butcher, and even the baker who made their bread.  Part of urban life was interacting with the people who produced and prepared much of your food.  Obviously with mass chain grocery stores we no longer have those kinds of relationships.

It may be obvious to people who read my blog regularly but I believe that improved interpersonal relationships are a key part of creating a better society.  I expect consumers to find greater respect for producers by reconnecting with the people who provide goods and services, especially food. There have been reports that this relationship is deteriorating more and more every year.  Along with all the environmental and economic benefits of eat locally, perhaps it is time to start fixing some of the stress generated in the retail world.  The past can’t always help us fix our society, but perhaps this is one case where it can have an impact.