Friday, January 29, 2010

President’s State of the Union Wasn’t Very Stately

American President Barack Obama says his citizens aren’t suffering from a deficit of dollars, but also one in terms of confidence in government.

This stems from the U.S. leader’s annual State of the Union Address, televised across the States and around the world on Wednesday night. The annual speech is a long running tradition in American politics, where the president provides some insights into what he and his ruling government hope to accomplish in the coming year.

Ranking high on that priority list, as per previous leader’s addresses: the economy and healthcare.

In fact, for a world leader who just a year ago was so high atop a pedestal he had a rock star-like Obamamania following, there wasn’t really anything all that rock shattering in this President’s plans for his people.

Last year, on the weeks and days leading up to his inauguration ceremony, there was a distinct buzz around the world, as the United States of America – the most powerful nation on the planet – was about to swear in their first non-White president.

Millions of people from all over the world filled planes, trains and buses, overbooking hotels, and flooded America’s capital city, all for the chance to just be where history was to be made. Most had high hopes that it wasn’t just his skin color that got him the job, but his innovative ideas, his unique vision of where he could lead the United States of America.

President Obama has put forward reforms which are controversial, including his economic and healthcare plans. He even has done something no other world leader has done in less than a year in power – taking home the great honor of winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

But what exactly has the American leader done which really stands out? What has President Obama actually done to the betterment of humankind?

Since the invention of the soapbox, there have been many people taking the opportunity to stand on said soapbox, screaming at the top of their lungs about the horrid state of the world, and what they can do to make things right. But few have actually taken the time to step off that soapbox, and act on those thoughts making a real difference.

Everything was flawlessly spotless for the international television audience tuning into President Obama and his Sate of the Union Address. The American people have been holding these things for so long, they had better be able to produce them without a hitch.

What wasn’t so flawless was the message underlying all the spit and shine on the surface. That message was one of commonality, sameness, blandness, and perhaps worse of all, lacking on any real ways to make things right.

President Obama talked about increasing confidence in government, claiming there is a serious lack of common sense in the way things are run.

Well done, fist identify a big stinky issue, such as the public’s continued loss of faith in their governmental leaders, and then admit that common sense just doesn’t exist in government. Why don’t you just toss your hands in the air exclaiming “I give up?”

That’s what it sounds like the President was doing – because he certainly didn’t mention any realistically achievable solutions to bringing common sense, order, and other respectable work practices to his publicly failing administration.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Toyota an Example of a Failing Global Village

Today, Japanese auto giant Toyota announced another series of recalls which could lead to the injury or death of drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians.

Today’s recall affects over a million vehicles in the States – previously the automaker announced a similar recall affecting about 270,000 cars in Canada and 2.3 million cars in the States. The problem – a faulty gas pedal which could stick, propelling the vehicle into oncoming traffic, people, or whatever else happens to be in the path of destruction.

Toyota says they may be recalling vehicles in China and Europe as well, making this a problem of global proportions.

Which is fitting of sorts, the problem is global in nature – outsourcing parts and manufacturing operations to other countries, where labor is cheap and quality assurance doesn’t exist.

You don’t have to be an academic to see the troubling trend, just reviewing the headlines in the major newspapers around the world reveals all.

We’re seeing more recalls and consumer alerts for faulty products every year, as companies continue to cut corners to save money.

In recent years, food producer Maple Leaf Foods had numerous Listeria outbreaks – a deadly bacteria which snuck into their processing plants. Over a dozen people died, many more reported possible contamination, and the company’s reputation sunk quicker than a sunset.

Pet food made in China was linked to numerous dog and cat deaths around the world – it had anti-freeze in it. If you have a dog or cat feeding dish made in China, you may want to toss it, some have caused serious illnesses because of lead-based paint.

Lead-based paints in children’s toys proudly boasting a “Made in China” label have also caused health scares across the globe.

Toyota’s recent recalls are just the latest in a very public series of events showing a serious failing of our global village – quality control.

For the past decade many companies have been farming out their products and services to other countries, where wages are lower, saving them money. The problem is, as is always the case, you get what you pay for.

When wages are low, so too is the way the company treats its employees. And when companies don’t treat their employees well, quality doesn’t matter.

Sure, it may cost less to make a widget in Mexico than in North America – but if that widget falls off while you are driving over a 100 KM/Hour down the highway, and you can’t stop, that cost savings just cost a lot more – your life.

But that’s assuming companies that cut these cost savings corners actually care about you in the first place.

A lot of the heads running these global organizations just don’t appear to care – that is until it is their good company’s name making the horrible headlines about faulty products and services, recalls, or in some cases, even the death of their customers or others.

Do people have to die before a company wakes up, and realizes the ultimate cost of using cheaply made products and services?

Sadly, even death doesn’t influence the corporate movers and shakers anymore. Less than a year after the deadly Listeria outbreaks at Maple Leaf Foods, despite a large-scale media campaign where the company president appeared on television, radio and full-page newspaper ads assuring us it wouldn’t happen again – it did.

Toyota’s recent recall isn’t the first for the automaker, and it isn’t the first for any automaker. All the car companies have had recalls of varying degrees.

However a truly global village example may be a recall that you’ve never heard of before, but could affect you or the ones you love.

The average commercial jumbo jet has thousands of parts, many made all over the world. There have been instances where an airplane manufacturer, or in some cases even the manufacturer of a specific part or series of parts, have recalled the part, or issued a service bulletin advising of specific maintenance which must be done, to ensure the part or series of parts doesn’t fail. Some of these bulletins have even been issued by governments – in the United States they are issued by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and called “Air Worthiness Directives.”

When the FAA issues an Air Worthiness Directive, it must be followed. It’s the American government’s way of saying this must be done, if you want to continue to fly your planes in our airspace.

There have been instances where an airline hasn’t followed an FAA Air Worthiness Directive, resulting in a faulty part, which has brought down an airliner, and caused numerous deaths and injuries.

As consumers, we have no way of knowing about these internal airline documents – the average person doesn’t even know they exist. Yet these product recalls and fixes affect all of us who fly, and all the families and friends of those soaring in the sky.

Where does it end?

Again we have to ask, do people have to die before the corporate minds providing us with the products and services we depend on change their ways?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It’s Not Fine Dining, But Just Ok

Ordering in fast food has never been the most healthy choice, but it sure has changed over the years – and we’re not talking just product selection.

I remember back in the 1980’s when a pizza place opened up, whose slogan was “buy one, always get one free.” This started a trend, where all the pizza places followed suit, offering cheap deals on buying multiple pizza pies.

These days, you never get a free pizza, they just knock off a few dollars from each pizza when you buy more than one.

The pizza places and many other fast food restaurants also used to offer speedy delivery. One place’s famous slogan “30 minutes or it’s free” still rings in my memories. It even got to the point where rumors circulated about what the company did to delivery drivers not meeting the tight timelines. Such as taking the cost of the order out of the driver’s pay, or worse – firing the driver. Some restaurants even printed on their boxes “we care about your safety, our drivers never have to pay for a late order.”

Time may constantly move forward, but times have gone back to the dark ages in terms of speedy fast food delivery. When I order from a big chain chicken and ribs place, I used to always get a guaranteed to arrive time for the order. Now they always tell me that my order is on a “no time guarantee delivery, we’ll get you your order as fast as we can.”

As fast as we can? Hello! When I order fast food it’s not because of a future need, I’m hungry NOW. I know I can’t have it instantly, but just how long is “as fast as we can?”

Very rarely do you get your order for free if they do promise a time of delivery which isn’t met. Most places only will refund you the cost of delivery, which usually is only a couple of dollars.

Sure, fast food has other benefits still – it takes less time as you don’t have to prepare it yourself, and there is less clean up afterwards as all you need are the dishes and utensils for eating the meal. And when you order from a big chain, you are almost always guaranteed to get exactly what you ordered, they occasionally make mistakes, but usually they are consistent in terms of what they offer and how.

But once you offer something to the customer, it pains us when you take it away. Or confuses us when you add things that – well – that we’d never thought you would.

Like when McDonald’s started selling pizza’s in the late 1990’s. Who would have thought that a burger joint would start selling pizza? McPizza didn’t last too long – though it wasn’t that bad. Like the Big Mac, it had a distinct flavor all its own.
But it usually took longer to make than a burger, so often you’d get your hot pizza just as your friends had finished their meals and were ready to leave.

And now many pizza places have added French fries and onion rings to their menus. I remember years ago when they had potato wedges – don’t see those too often anymore. Guess they just swapped one form of greasy food with another.

Now when the fast food restaurants start selling fine steak dinners, with a nice bottle dry Chardonnay – that’ll be when I really cross over and start ordering more often!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti’s In Our Hearts, While Iraq is Just a Blur

Over a dozen people, representing countries across the globe met in Montreal, Canada yesterday to discuss a long-term redevelopment plan for earthquake ravaged Haiti.

Almost two-weeks after the earthquake measuring 7.3 destroyed much of the country, killing an estimated 200,000 people, Haiti’s prime minister met with these representatives from various countries, and charitable organizations to plan relief efforts.

Experts are warning it could take at least ten years to re-build Haiti. Interestingly enough, that’s about the same amount of time estimate to re-build Iraq.
However, the civil unrest in Iraq has been an on-going war for several years – and is still in a state of chaos – yet the international community hasn’t met to bring about calm to the Iraqi cause.

Political favoritism must have quite the pull over Haiti versus Iraq. Granted, Haiti’s fiasco took the world by surprise, as many natural disasters do, while the war in Iraq was caused by an American leader no longer in office – George W. Bush -- over control of the rich oil resources in the Middle East.

Iraq is an American problem, but the American war machine, along with all the different factions and wars among the Iraqi people, has destroyed so much of the country, it will take more than just the American’s to repair and rebuild the country.

Yet no other country has offered aid to Iraq, nor has any – not even the United Nations – attempted to bring about peace.

And there lies the real problem, because Iraq can’t be re-built until peace has been reached. There’s no point in re-building a bridge, if that bridge will be blown up shortly after being built.

The Americans and their allies in the war effort – such as the British – can’t be part of the negotiation team to bring about peace. You can’t have one side in a war trying to act as unbiased negotiator – which is partly why Iraq is still a war zone.

The Americans want to have their cake and eat it too – they want to put a leader of their choice in charge of the country, and have the country’s ruler answer to America’s wishes. Though America is the country which attacked Iraq in the first place, so that just wouldn’t be fair.

The United Nations and many other countries have stayed out of the American-Iraq war, because they never agreed to America’s initial reasons for starting it in the first place – which were later proved to be false. Iraq never did have weapons of mass destruction – despite former U.S. President George W. Bush’s evidence put forward by his administration. Later is was revealed that the evidence was false – made up, a direct lie.

Iraq is a messy war, and sadly, unlike Haiti, the world’s leaders have turned a blind eye away from the conflict in Iraq, letting the American’s essentially do as they want – which isn’t in either their own, Iraq’s or the world’s best interests.

Years ago, experts estimated once the war stopped in Iraq, it would take at least a decade to re-build the infrastructure and restore dignity to the impoverished war battered people. That’s supposing other countries come to the aid of Iraq – like they are for Haiti.

But as the world’s attention focuses on Haiti, the sounds of death and disease continue to ring louder and louder in Iraq.

Both Haiti and Iraq need international support, but so far, it looks like Haiti has lucked out and won the hearts and minds of the people of the planet, as it has become “trendy” to donate to Haiti, as celebrities in Canada and the States held separate, back-to-back telethons for Haiti.

The world moves and shakes with the mammoth movements of the United States of America – but just because America does something, doesn’t always make it just or right.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Canadian Transit System Doesn’t Listen – Spends Thousands Instead

Canada’s largest transit system – always begging and pleading with governments for funding – is about to drop tens of thousands of dollars for no good reason.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is turning to third-party private consultants to investigate and solve its customer service problems. Last year, the TTC says it received about 31,000 complaints, an increase of 15 percent from the year before that. Fare increases, delays, rude employees and restrictions on token purchases are among the top complaints according to the transit operator.

However the biggest problem with Canada’s largest transit system won’t be resolved by spending the estimated tens of thousands of dollars on these private consultants.

A world-class city, such as Toronto, can afford to spend the big bucks to bring in only the best of the best to listen, consult and then advise the TTC on how to improve their customer service.

And when you pay the big bucks, you usually get what you pay for – exceptional advice.

But that’s just the problem with the TTC – they don’t listen to, or act on the advice from their customers. So spending tens of thousands of dollars they don’t have – they probably will raise fares to cover this expense – is money in, money out, and money gone without any result.

Many companies hire consultants to research, investigate, and resolve their various issues and concerns. But it is up to the company to implement the solutions their consultants suggested. And there are infinite examples of companies spending mega-bucks on high-priced consultants, only to ignore those consultants, try their own fixes, or worse, just continue doing business as they always have been.

Now no one can predict the future, so maybe – just maybe – the TTC will actually take their consultants word as the new way to win back customers.

But stop and think for a second, according to the TTC, they admit to receiving over 31,000 complaints from their customers. Not every complaint comes with a solution, and many of those complaints may be unjustified, or unfair. We all have bad days, and sometimes all it takes is that one last straw to break, and we’ll go off venting our rage, digging into whoever or whatever happens to be around at the time.

Though when you get about 31,000 complaints, some of them are bound to be valid, and many of those valid complaints may even have solutions impeded within them.

And that is the real cause for all the fuss – a serious lack of listening.

Canada’s largest public transit operator just doesn’t listen to its customers. You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on complete strangers to figure out what is wrong with the system, and how to fix it.

If even just a handful of people call in to complain about a bus route which never follows the posted schedule, do you really need to spend thousands of dollars to figure out what to do? The solutions are simple – ride with the drivers on that route to figure out if the schedule is out of whack with reality, change it, and post the new schedule so that passengers know it.

If a number of people complain that a specific bus driver on a specific bus route is always rude, drives dangerously, and freaks out the passengers with sudden stops, running red lights and other pleasantries, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to solve this problem. Replace the bus driver – simple – done and it didn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars in consultation fees.

Companies which listen to their customers – their complaints, concerns and kudos – succeed. They are the ones that know their customers, and know what they are doing right and wrong, so they can continue to do the right things, while working to improve the things which their customers can’t stand.

If anyone at the TTC is listening – which would be a pleasant surprise – don’t spend money on consultants to tell you what you already know or have access too. Just take the time to listen to your customers, and do what you can to make things right with them.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

End of Snail Mail – Not Quite

Despite the increase in electronic forms of communications over the years, the price of so-called “snail mail” continues to rise in Canada and around the world.

Earlier this week, Canada Post raised increased the price for sending a first-class letter within Canada from 54 cents to 57 cents. Letters to our neighbours in the United States now cost a whole dollar (an increase of two-cents) and all other letters from Canada to any other country on Earth now cost an additional five-cents, for a price of $1.70.

Usually the free market determines the costs of goods and services within that market – so in theory, you’d expect the costs of sending physical letters to drop, as everyone – even the youngest of children – use more immediate forms of communications, such as email, instant message, chat rooms, even posting a comment or question on a publicly available Internet forum is faster than the postie.

Ah the postie – traditional Canadian lingo for the man or woman that drudges through the rain, snow, sleet and hail to deliver our letter mail.

Posties are a dying breed in a nation which was in large part built by ‘em. Back in the 1980’s, long before everyone except that creepy uncle no one wants to talk about but does had a computer in their home, the nation’s postal service, Canada Post, introduced something they called “the super mailbox.”

As Canadian cities, towns and villages continued burst beyond their borders, there simply weren’t enough men and women around to deliver the mail. So Canada Post created these giant “super” mail boxes – big honking metal containers housing several independently locked mail boxes, each one belonging to all the residents or businesses on a specific street or set of streets. Now, one letter carrier would simply go to the super mailbox, unlock the back, and put each letter in the appropriate slot for the person or persons named on the letter.

To check your mail, you merely wander up to this mammoth mailbox, unlock your specific slot on the mailbox with your key, and grab your mail.

These super mailboxes began popping up in new residential and business areas from the 1980’s on. The only place letter carriers deliver door-to-door anymore in Canada, are those areas which always had door-to-door delivery, long before the super mailboxes came to be.

But one would expect that even those areas may one day be subjected to the super mailboxes, as technological communications further entrenches itself into our already very wired lives.

Not so according to Canada Post – hence their reasoning for raising the costs to send letter mail. The Canadian Federal government owned postal service says it delivers to about 15 million addresses across the country, with an additional 200, 000 addresses added every year. The government owned company says its mail processing equipment has been stretched beyond capacity, so the additional funds from the rates increases will offset the costs of bolstering its ability to keep up with demand.

The lone facsimile machine has almost completely died a slow death, as it is quicker and easier to just attach your documents to an email message, and click send. You can even send that document via instant message depending on the program, and if that’s not an option, and if you know the person well, you can even send documents directly to their computer over a peer-to-peer application, which lets you connect to someone else’s computer directly over the Internet.
With all the electronic forms of communication becoming more mobile-friendly, you can not only send and receive emails from most mobile devices (like cell phones and smart phones) but you can often send and receive documents, view presentations, and more.

The one thing electronic communications hasn’t replaced, is where documents have to be the original, authentic, or legal forms, with actual signatures. Until that happens, I suppose we’ll still need posties and super mailboxes to deliver our mail.

That, and for all those items we order online on places like eBay and other online stores. Until they figure out a way to send me my new network hard drive electronically, or that cool LCD high-def television – we’ll still need someone to deliver it right to our front doors.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mashed Potato Wrestling, Scantily Glad Women, and Local Television – What Matters?

Maybe it is just part of being Canadian, to automatically denounce anything coming directly from our home and native land – that is until that thing makes it big down south.

Canadian actors, singers, song writers and other famous people from North of the American border never seem to make it big in Canada, until they garner recognition outside of Canada. Then, all of a sudden, our eyes open big and wide, and we proudly proclaim “he’s Canadian, eh?”

From Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Shania Twain and The Bare Naked Ladies, to Elisha Cuthbert and her 24 co-star Kiefer Sutherland (who’s dad is also a famed Canuck – Donald) – all these famous Canadians make us home-grown-proud. But that hometown-pride never surfaced until they became known in the big U.S of Eh, eh?
Local Canadian television is falling victim to our fascination with American programming traveling over airwaves, digital cable and satellite signals.

Just this past Wednesday, Rogers Broadcasting killed 60 local Canadian television jobs, when they laid off these people from their recently purchased CityTV stations in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and their flagship station which started it all, CityTV Toronto.

Rogers Broadcasting which owns CityTV, claims the ‘restructuring’ was necessary in the highly competitive industry.

Although the hardest hit are those whose jobs are no more, when a broadcaster cuts people, everyone sees it. The local lunch, evening and late night newscasts are gone from all stations except for the flagship station in Toronto, which still has both a dinner-hour newscast and their late night news. All stations were lucky to keep their morning programs.

Be Thy Own Enemy Be True

Local programming is under attack in Canada – but we are our own enemies.

Thanks to digital television signals, we are no longer limited to a mere twelve channels – for those of us old enough to remember those dark and grainy television days. Remember when your TV only had channels two to twelve, and you had to turn the knob to “UHF” (for Ultra High Frequency) to get any remnants of ghosting channels, often fuzzy at best, from beyond the basic twelve?

These days, we hook up a digital receiver, which is magically connected to either a digital cable outlet, or a digital television “co-ax” cable which is attached to a microwave satellite dish, bouncing digital signals to the stars.

There is literally no limit to the number of channels these digital signals can receive, so in theory, the sky really is the limit.

And that has created a whole new way of broadcasting – narrowcasting – and this is what is killing local television on both sides of North America, and probably elsewhere these digital signals soar.

Narrowcasting is the ability to create targeted television stations – not just programs, but complete television stations – geared towards specific demographics.

Back in the late 1980’s, we were introduced to the first of this kind of station – MTV. MTV was the first station to cater specifically to teenagers and their musical tastes, creating a whole new form of broadcasting, the music video.

Speed jump to present day, and we have several music video channels, each one playing videos for specific musical tastes. From metal to smooth jazz, to country – but these narrow focused stations aren’t limited to just music.

Shop-a-holics can rejoice on the shopping channels, techies can swoon in on the latest techy toys on their own channels, there are movie channels for movie lovers, History Television for history buffs, even Book Television for those who wish they were reading something instead of sitting in front of the tube. . .

For every culture, religion, special interest group, demographic – some of the many channels I’ve seen pop-up on my digital box: NASA TV (for us astronomy/science buffs), Discovery Health (for medical/fitness buffs), Canadian Odds Channel (for those who want to bet on the horses, but don’t want to deal with a slimy bookie at the track), The Game Show Channel (for those who like to yell out answers at their TVs), Teletoon Retro (showing us old folks classic cartoons) . . . the list goes on and on and . . .

Before all of this, we all watched the same local twelve channels. Not everything appealed to everyone, and the biggest gripe was “there never is anything interesting on TV,” but at least we all watched. Thanks to narrowcasting, we all watch different channels, often leaving the general interest local stations fending all alone for viewers.

Local stations were a bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of everything, because they could never narrowfocus on any one thing. Their audience was the mass appeal of television – back in the days when there were so few television stations, we were subjected to whatever the television executives thought we wanted to see.

Now the tables have turned, and by our tuning in – or more likely out – we dictate what the television executives run, else they are forced to do what Rogers Broadcasting’s executives did, and slash programs and jobs which just aren’t capturing the viewers.

But the real problem is us.

We don’t care enough about what goes on in our own backyards – how could we when we are drawn to scantily glad women wrestling in a vat of mashed potatoes on the Mens channel, or that hypnotizing infomercial for the Sham WOW?

Hmm. . . learn about a six car pile-up on the local news, or watch mashed potato wrestling chics? What a world we live in.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Longevity and Fast Food Nation?

Maybe fast food isn’t all that bad for you? Glen W. Bell Jr., the founder of the Taco-Bell restaurant chain died this past Monday at 86. He passed away at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, no cause of death was available at press time. Though for most of us, if we eat fast food on a regular basis, we’d be lucky to reach half Bell’s age.

There’s no question we live in a fast-paced world, where fast food dominates. It is far too easy these days to hit the local Burger King, quiet the kids while enjoying some family time by going to McDonald’s with a Playland, or satisfying a quick hunger with a quick taco at Taco-Bell.

These places were designed for our rapid-fire lifestyles. McDonald’s even has a university to train their managers and front-line staff, so that you are in and out of the line-up within a heartbeat.

But if you down too many Big Macs, chocolate Frosty’s, or enjoy too many Finger Lickin’ chicken meals, you may not have a heartbeat yourself.

Heart disease is still one of the top killers of North Americans, along with cancer (lung, skin, breast and prostate among the high ranking cancers).

You are four-times more likely to die from heart disease than a car crash in Canada, yet there are more licensed drivers on Canadian roads (some arguably should never have got their licenses in the first place) than there are Taco-Bell restaurants dotting those roads.

Maybe it was just a matter of coincidence that the founder of the largest Mexican fast food restaurant chain in North America died during the month when many have made New Years resolutions to shed excess pounds and get healthy? Or maybe it is a sign of our high calorie, drive-through eating culture?

Bell isn’t the first of the mighty fast food tycoons to pass away. The founder of burger giant Wendy’s died a few years ago, as did ice cream cone icons Ben and Jerry. One of those ice cream icon’s sons actually has come out on American television claiming his father’s product impacted his dad’s health.

Life isn’t forever, despite all the potions, lotions and magic concoctions you see advertising the eternal fountain of youth on late night infomercials. But we don’t have to die from eating poor diets, made of nothing good for our bodies.

That slice of processed cheese in your Big Mac has gone through so many chemical processes by the time it lands on your bun, it is anything but natural.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock coined the very appropriate phrase “Franken food,” in his documentary Super Size Me, where he shows us what a constant diet of McDonald’s will do to the human body.

We may not see cures for cancer in our lifetime, and we can’t control whether or not we are run over by a car, dying in a plane crash, or even simply slipping in the shower. But we can control what we put into our bodies, and that is a start.

I’ve often wondered if they put some magical secret ingredient in fast food products which cause us to suddenly have these cravings where we just have to have one.

But those cravings aren’t anything more than our own laziness in making our own healthy home cooking, or our thriftiness in search of the fastest and cheapest meal, rather than taking the time to invest in healthier choices.

It always amazes me, how people are so willing to drop thousands of dollars they don’t have to secure loans for high-end luxury cars which they’ll drive for a handful of years, yet they are too cheap to spend the few dollars they do have in their pocket on some fresh, natural, wholesome and healthy food choices for their bodies, which they will have for life. Their lives. That is if they live long enough to keep ‘em.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cry Me a Haitian River – Relief Workers Stop Complaining and Do Your Job

Today’s headlines were mostly about the earthquake-ravaged Haiti – as they should be. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake is a phenomenal natural event – anything ranked five and higher is usually a killer quake.

Amidst the intense sense of complete hopelessness as search and rescue efforts turn into salvage, clean-up and restoration of one of the poorest places on the planet, one disturbing trend began showing up in the news stories – the unprepared and somewhat surprisingly daft response from relief workers.

Relief workers are complaining that they can’t do their job, because of disorganization, violence and looting.

But aren’t relief workers – from organizations supposedly ready and waiting to jump into action for just these sorts of things – supposed to know how to manage the chaos to do their jobs?

This isn’t the first large-scale relief effort for these organizations. The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, even the United Nations itself, have all been involved in natural and man-made disasters as larger, and in some cases larger, than Haiti’s current state of unrest.

Yes, every situation is different, but what the relief agencies are moaning about are situations encountered in most natural disasters – and some man-made ones.

Lawlessness, looting, and everyone fighting for themselves with little to no regard for their fellow citizens has happened in the United States during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, famines in Ethiopia, wars in the former Soviet Union and many other places where these non-profit humanitarian agencies have already been.

And that is something we do have to remember, most of these agencies are non-profit groups doing human good, out of the goodness of their hearts. So we aren’t chastising them for their life-giving good work.

But one must question the value of these efforts – and whether or not donating food, money, medical supplies, volunteer time and other tangibles – is worth it, if these organizations just can’t cut it.

Millions of dollars worth of life-saving food, clean drinking water and medical supplies are reportedly sitting in makeshift storage areas at the airport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, because of this disorganization.

Doctors Without Borders has told the media that given the current situation, there is little sign of significant aid distribution.

Meaning that the donations people all over the world have made to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti may never reach the intended recipients.

Or worse, they will be the cause of even more human suffering, as the desperate people of Haiti continue the chaos by killing each other, just to keep alive.

The situation in Haiti is of a similar size to the Boxing Day Tsunami which roared across the Indian Ocean in 2004, killing about 230,000 people in 14 countries.
About $7USD billion was donated in total to assist with the Tsunami relief efforts. Current estimates put the death toll in Haiti at about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths from the earthquake.

Again, many of the non-profit relief agencies working to restore life in Haiti, were involved in the relief efforts during the Boxing Day Tsunami, so why are they still complaining about the same things?

One would have figured that in the time since the Boxing Day Tsunami, and all the other disasters these relief agencies have helped in since, that they would be better able to handle similar situation.

Although life-saving supplies such as food, clean drinking water, shelter, clothing and other such basics, are in dire need in Haiti, I personally feel uncomfortable making any donation, knowing it could end up sitting in an airport’s hanger, or worse, being the cause of someone’s death because a bunch of unprepared aid workers were ambushed by a group of disloyal dissidents.

Something to think about next time you are approached for a donation.
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Friday, January 15, 2010

What Your Online Name Says About You

What’s in a name? This timeless question has been asked by many a parent, trying to figure out what to call their future son or daughter, a child that just got a cute puppy dog, and now, by me, trying to figure out my home on the worldwide web.

Recently I bought my own name and – the thought of having to pay money for my own name is fodder for another blog. It wasn’t really hard coming up with a name for my soon-to-be home on the net. Just use what your mother gave you – so I did.

Where the name question came up was, what first-level domain should I use? Do I want to look all slick and professional with a .com? How about being all patriotic by going under Canada’s country-specific first-level domain .ca? I could sound all big and impressive using .net, or .org. Then there is .biz, .info, .name, .pro, there is even a .me – but no .i.

Careful thought is required here, because once something is up on the Internet, even if you take it down yourself, chances are somewhere, someone has a copy floating around on their computer. The shelf life of the online world never expires.
When the Internet was in its infancy, the choices weren’t as vast as they are today. If you were registering a company, you used .com.

Non-profit organizations would use .org, while primary conduits hosting connecting networks to the Internet (such as America Online, and the once all mighty CompuServe) would use .net. Government organizations kept to .gov, and schools used .edu.

And if the choice isn’t enough to throw you, what each category actually means does. Many getting started in television choose .tv for their online presence, but for those in the know, .tv is actually the country-specific domain for the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu. Some in Toronto, Canada have opted for .to showing some hometown pride, but .to is actually the country-specific domain for the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago of 169 islands in the South Pacific. Confusion about these things is far and wide -- .si has been used by Hispanic websites for it’s translation of “yes” (which is si in Spanish). But .si actually represents Slovenia.

So, based in Toronto, I could have chosen – but many may think I’m actually in Tuvalu. Wanting to sound big and impressive, I may have gone with, but I’m no AOL.

And then there are these online auctions. People with too much time on their hands spend their entire lives online, buying domain names, so that when you search for yours, you have to purchase it an outrageously inflated price.

I originally was nervous typing in my own name into the WHOIS search engines to find out if my own name was available. I was very lucky, and it was – but I had to think of other alternatives just in case.

The last thing you want your online address to be is something like – who’s going to remember that?

Other alternatives I came up with were the short and sweet, and the slick

Sometimes, people – often I think in a drunken stupor – create domains for themselves based on a nickname, or some random thought they have in their mind. Homer Simpson once told someone to email him at

Phew! It is like naming a kid or a pet. Only you have to contend with all those who may have taken it already, and are willing to put up a financial fight to keep it.

Like the time a few years ago, when some brainiac registered and computer giant Microsoft lost the domain bid, so the software company followed-up with a law suit to secure that domain because of their Windows operating system.

Shortly after that, Microsoft tried to copyright the term “windows,” but lucky for those of us with windows in our homes, the judge presiding over the case threw it out.

In the end, I went with obviously the best choice – or at least best in my mind’s eye – and

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Disgraced World of America’s Favorite Past Time

Earlier this week, the world of professional sport was rocked by Mark McGwire’s public confession that he was on the juice.

The former Major League Baseball player, who’s professional career included the awe inspiring 70-home run recording breaking summer in 1998, announced that he was in fact on anabolic steroids, for that glorious summer, and during much of the later part of his baseball career.

McGwire retired from the sport and from public life in 2001, but suddenly this week, he pops out of nowhere to unload his great big secret.

Was it a sense of guilt that prompted McGwire to come out of hiding and tell the world he cheated?


He accepted a job offer to coach one of his former teams, the St. Louis Cardinals which led to his public confession. Although he will no longer be whacking balls out of the park, as a coach on a Major League Baseball team, he will no doubt be once again in the public eye.

And it was that fear of coming back into the public spotlight which prompted McGwire to come out with his confession.

I remember during that fateful summer of 1998, as he and fellow teammate Jose Canseco, under the guidance and leadership of the Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa were having a slug-fest. Both McGwire and Canseco were in a tight home run race, each with a dedicated smattering of fans cheering their respective players on, as they both edged ever nearer the all-time home run record set originally by the Babe himself, Babe Ruth.

During this home run derby, just as many theories about how the two ballplayers were able to hit so many home runs surfaced, as fans were drawn to the stands to watch the balls fly.

Some said it was because of the hot and dry summer, claiming baseballs fly further when hit in warm atmospheric conditions than colder ones (which actually has been proved true). More fanatical fans claimed the two baseball players were under the influence of the ghost of the Babe.

A more likely reason the home run record had never been broken since Babe Ruth’s time, was because the game of baseball had changed so much. Back in the Babe’s day, ballparks were smaller, so it was easier to hit home runs.

Also, back in the days of the Babe, professional athletes weren’t managed and trained in the same intense manner. The players back in the old days often just showed up at the ballpark, got into uniform, and played ball. These days, the players go through rigorous individual and team fitness programs, led by some of the best and most sought after professional trainers. By the time you are in your hard uncomfortable seat at the ballpark with your hotdog dripping mustard on your neighbors lap, the players have usually just wrapped up their second or third-hour of training.

That said, and despite the questionable behavior of using performance enhancing drugs, just as McGwire said – sometimes while he was on those drugs he had bad days, and sometimes while he was on those drugs he had good days. There’s no question Mark McGwire is a very talented ballplayer, with the lightening quick reflexes, sharp eye for pitches, and all the other skills and attributes he needed to make it in the big leagues.

The use of the juice just gave him an edge – albeit an unfair edge over the other players.

Although in the end, the choice whether to take or not to take performance enhancing drugs is a decision which McGwire and other athletes must make on their own, part of the blame does come from you and me.

When we cheer on the monstrous players as they grow bigger, stronger, and run, jump, pitch and hit faster and further, we are driving them closer to taking those drugs.

We aren’t so much yelling at them to take the drugs directly, but there must come a point in time where they know they just can’t physically do any better on their own. The human body is an incredibly agile machine, but all machines have their limits.

When an athlete reaches that limit, he or she must be under enormous pressure to find a way to pass his or her own physical limitations.

With steroids and other illegal substances constantly hovering off in the distance, it doesn’t take much to push someone over the edge, to do the wrong thing.

Taking performance enhancing drugs is wrong – just ask Ben Johnson. He was the fastest man in the world for the briefest of times. As soon as it was discovered that he had taken performance enhancing drugs, they took away the famed Canadian’s Olympic sprinter’s medal, and he – and his country – were disgraced.

Mark McGwire shouldn’t be allowed to coach, or do anything else in any professional sport – now that he’s confessed his sin. As soon as he spoke out, he disgraced himself, his sport and his country, because he’s not just admitting he took these performance enhancing drugs, indirectly, he’s admitting there was and most likely still is a drug problem in his sport, and his country.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We’re All Environmentalists – When It Costs Money

Sure you use your office’s blue boxes for recycling paper at work, and you probably separate your trash, recyclables and in some municipalities, even your compost materials at home.

These are things we do because we have too – most offices and municipalities have strict policies on what can and can’t be put out for garbage, often with consequences.

Municipal governments can fine and in some cases jail you for failing to recycle. Some offices have environmental cops, which leave nasty Post-It Notes on your desk if you’re caught trashing that stash of old papers, instead of recycling them.
One office I worked at, if you got three or more notices from the environmental cops, you had to wear a giant green witch’s hat for an entire day, as punishment for your green sin. The idea is that you’re so embarrassed by being singled with the giant green hat out as the one who doesn’t recycle, you’ll start too.

But nothing can make us more green for the planet, than money. When it simply costs more to do the non-environmentally-friendly thing, suddenly we’ll go green.

Take one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions in North America – to lose weight –and combine it with this winter’s brutal El Nino cold spell circulating the globe. Many parts of the world are experiencing unusually brisk temperatures, affecting regional growing crops.

In Mexico City, kids played in the snow for the first time ever, while Florida farmers have been watering their fruit crops non-stop to prevent them from freezing over due to below freezing temperatures.

This means one of the world’s staple food crops – sugar – is suffering. Mother Nature just didn’t design the sugar cane for a cold climate.

So all those people that made a promise to themselves to drop some excess weight this year are in luck – foods with sugar are starting to cost more at the store, thanks to a global shortage of sugar, brought about by an environmental mess.

Though fresh fruit – especially world famous Florida oranges – are also costing us more at the grocery store. And fresh fruit is good for you – an apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so the saying goes.

But too much of a good thing can harm you. If you drink too much fruit juice, or even if you eat too many fresh fruits in a day, you can increase your triglycerides by consuming all that natural fruit sugar, which can lead to diabetes, or even stroke and heart disease.

Still, the most influential factor in making us see green is in many cases green.
Major metropolitan areas such as New York City, U.S.A or Toronto, Canada report a direct correlation between increased ridership on their public transit systems when gas prices climb, and a similar reduction in ridership when gas prices decrease. So when it costs more to fill up your gas tank, you are more likely to take public transit.

Public transit, although not the best environmental solution, is better for the environment, as most of us drive all alone to work and back in our personal vehicles. But when you hop on a streetcar, bus or subway train, suddenly you are doing a very environmentally-friendly thing, as you’re taking your single occupant vehicle off the road, and replacing it with one multi-occupant vehicle. So instead of having thousands of single occupant vehicles on the road, you end up with one big vehicle with many occupants.

But the greatest cause for the fluctuations in public transit passenger load are money-based.

Kind of sad when you think about it. Although we all know being environmental citizens is good for all of us that call this planet home, it still takes money to make most of us be those good environmental citizens.

Be it a fine from your local town or city, or the cost at the pumps to fuel your car, money makes anyone an instant environmentalist.

Watch, as sugar prices rise, causing a jump in sugary food costs, more of us will be on diets . And those diets won’t necessarily be due to a New Year’s Resolution.

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