Friday, April 30, 2010

Toronto’s On-Again-Off-Again Plans a Sign of Lying Leaders

Over fifteen years ago, Canada’s largest city had a massive public transit plan to keep gridlock at bay, and move the then 2.5 million residents around the city.

Back then, the province of Ontario made big sweeping announcements, including it's boldest promise -- to have a one-fare system across several regional transit authorities, so that you could ride public transit from Mississauga in the west, all the way to Pickering in the east, and only pay one fare.

That never happened, nor did most of those big sweeping plans.

Over fifteen years later, despite numerous plans since, nothing has been done to move the now over five million people around, and gridlock is a nightmare most of our waking lives.

Today, the province re-instated it’s funding for the latest massive public transit plan – Transit City. In a letter to the city, they promised all four light rail lines would go ahead, however the letter has no mention of how the province will accomplish this, failing to provide a breakdown of funding for the 10-years of the plan.

It is so typically predictable that politicians hand out mega sums of money for massive projects just prior to an election, only to somehow forget their promises once re-elected, that people have become cynical, jaded and frustrated with the constant on-again-off-again promises.

If politicians want to really win re-elections, maybe they should stop making promises they have absolutely no intentions of fulfilling – for one – and actually living up to the promises they do make prior to an election – for two.

That’s it, it isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to spend a million dollars on some third-party consultancy composed of recent MBA graduates to conduct a study about how to win back public support and trust – just do what you said you would.


Worse part about the constant on-again-off-again planning of our lying politicians – because that IS what they are – is by putting off good sound planning, our cities, towns and villages – the places we eat, sleep, live, work and play – continue to erode.

Regardless of whether you drive a big honkin’ gas guzzling four-by-four SUV, or take public transit, by not funding mass public transit plans, you – and everyone else – suffers.

Without a proper public transit system in place, growing in step with the growth of the city, town or village where you live, that means everyone will drive. And that means when you hop in your car to go to work, so will everyone else. And that means you’ll have to either constantly arrive late for work, or leave early, just to sit in traffic, so that everyone can get to work. Going home later will be the same mess, just a different direction – and you always want to get home faster than you do to work.

By continuing to fail to live up to their public transit plans, our politicians also show us their true environmental face – and it is anything but green.

Obviously, if the politicians use the environment to get elected, they know it matters to most of us. But by quickly using the funding they promised for environmental initiatives – like public transit – for other uses, it shows they themselves really don’t care about the environment.

Guess lying to their constituents – like you – just comes natural for our donut dunking drones in political office?

Who’s willing to bet that the Transit City plan for Toronto will suddenly disappear AFTER the next provincial election?

Put my name on that list -- I like easy money.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Monkey Meatballs – What’s In Your Food?

Yesterday, Indonesian police arrested two cooks for serving up meatballs made from the flesh of endangered monkeys.

About a dozen Silver-Leaf monkeys were poached from Baluran National Park, in Java Island by these “chefs” and the meat was used to make meatball soup (known locally as “bakso”) which is a local delicacy.

The rare monkeys were used because the pair couldn’t afford the more expensive beef or chicken usually used in the meatballs.

Here in North America, we’re more fortunate to have better controls on what goes on in our local eateries.

Or are we?

Just last week, a cop in Vancouver, Washington, USA found a big gob of spit on his burger, from the local Burger King. DNA testing was used on the burger, and matched up with the burger giant’s employee who made the burger. The burger flipper pleaded guilty to assault and the matter is before the courts.

A few years back, an Alberta, Canada food inspector found four skinned and gutted canines in a Chinese restaurant’s freezer. The inspector wasn’t able to determine from the carcasses if they were dogs or coyotes.

When we go out for a night on the town, or stop off at a fast food joint for a quick bite, we never really think about what we are putting into our bodies.

We don’t stop to think about whether the chef that tossed your salad washed his or her hands, if the kid that asked if you wanted fries with that spat in your burger, or if that burger itself is made from monkey, dog, or some other stuff, which might not be what we intended to consume.

Often we can’t see the food in a restaurant being prepared, usually we’re engaged in a social situation, and involved with the discussions with those at our table, instead of keeping a close eye on the cook.

The best advice is if something just doesn’t seem right, don’t eat it. If your beef burger doesn’t taste like what other beef burgers taste like, don’t eat it. If something which is supposed to be served cold isn’t refrigerator cold, don’t eat it. If something which is supposed to be served hot isn’t hot-from-the-oven hot, don’t eat it.

We can’t always control what goes into our food, but we can always control what goes into our mouths.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Anti-Environmentalism? Only in Canada

Today, hundreds of angry protesters demonstrated outside the Ontario legislator. It isn’t all that uncommon to see people stomping their feet, yelling and screaming while holding up signs of protest in front of government buildings.

That’s one of our fundamental freedoms in our democratic society – freedom of expression.

However, WHAT they were protesting is anything but common.

The group assembled in front of Canada’s largest provincial ruling body was protesting wind farms – large swaths of land, filled with clean, environmentally-friendly wind turbines, to power our world.

“Stop the Wind” and “No Industrial Wind Turbines” read some of the many signs being carted around by the protesters. How they intend the government to “stop the wind” remains to be seen.

Seriously, they claim that large-scale wind turbine facilities are an eye soar and lower local property values around the wind farm. They also claim they aren’t cost effective, costing more to build than the revenues they provide.

Could this be the start of the anti-environmental movement?

Are nuclear power plants, with their enormous concrete domes any less of an eye soar? What about coal-fired power plants, with their tall smoke stacks coughing up stinky sulfur-smelling swirls of smoke? Would you rather live next to one of those?

Wind turbines don’t give off any pollutants, have no hazardous bi-products – like radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant – and some have even commented that the low hum sound the turbines make in the wind are peaceful, and soothing.

Though sounds and sights are individualistic opinions – one person’s art is another's junk.

The real issue here isn’t whether or not wind power is better for the planet – academics, scientists, politicians; even the suits and ties behind big business have all gone on the record promoting alternative green sources of energy, such as solar and wind power.

The problem is our old friend Mr. NIMBY.

Perhaps you met Mr. NIMBY before?

Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) was a term coined in the 1980’s by a British politician for people that don’t want something built close to their homes or businesses. It has been used extensively to refer to residents that don’t want a landfill site in their neighborhood, but our friend, Mr. NIMBY appears to have reared his ugly head once again, this time over wind turbines.

No one wants a garbage dump in their backyard, or even a nuclear power plant. And it makes sense that some wouldn’t want a wind farm in their field of view either.

But as our population continues to grow and cities and towns expand, we’ll need more of the supporting infrastructure in place to accommodate this growth. This means, we’ll need more waste water/sewage facilities, more garbage and recycling facilities and more power generation facilities.

Given the choice, I’d rather look out my window and see a bunch of wind turbines off in the distance, instead of a giant nuclear power plant, a coal-fired power plant, or a landfill site.

It might not be as pretty as the hundred acre wood, but it sure beats waking up to the smell of sulfur or rotting trash.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Have We Lost that Caring Feeling?

In both Canada and America’s largest cities, on two separate incidents over the weekend, innocent people were left struggling for their lives in public, yet passersby didn’t bother to help. One even took a cell phone photo, and just kept walking.

Last Saturday, a 79-year-old man was robbed by two young men on a busy subway car in Toronto, Canada. He says he called out to those around him on the half-full car for help, but everyone simply ignored him. All he wanted was for someone to press the emergency yellow alarm tape which would have alerted authorities that there was trouble in that subway car, but instead everyone just sat and watched as he struggled with two younger men.

The senior citizen chased after the two thugs, but they got away with his wallet. All the man had to show for his efforts, was a small cut on his nose.

Then the next day in New York City, USA a man went to help a person who was getting mugged. The Good Samaritan was stabbed, and fell to the ground bleeding. Security video shows at least 25 people passing by – one even stopped to take a picture with his cell phone – but no one called 9-1-1 or offered to help the man.

About 30-minutes later, firefighters arrived only to pronounce the man dead – when all he did was try to help a now long gone victim.

If you saw someone in trouble, would you stop to render assistance?
It is easy to say “yes” when asked, but would you really do so if actually facing a life and death situation?

Or would you just stop to watch, snap a few photos for YouTube, and then go about your own business?

It’s a tough call to make – by offering assistance, you could put your own life on the line. But by ignoring the situation completely, you are being heartless, cold and uncaring.

Not to even call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number is ruthless – in most places calling 9-1-1 doesn’t cost anything, so you won’t use up valuable air time.

Perhaps we have become too desensitized to everything, thanks in part to movies and television where violence just happens to be routine? Or maybe we’ve become too fearful of being sued if the aid we render isn’t perfect, in our sue-happy society? Or maybe, we’ve just lost that caring feeling?

You know that feeling you get when you see someone in need, and you feel compelled to stop and help?

Or, maybe you don’t.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Ensuring Your Facebook Account Doesn’t Harm You

Over the weekend, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart expressed concerns in a newspaper story about the world’s most popular social networking site, Facebook.

Last week, Facebook changed the way its estimated 400-million members could share information – most without really knowing it. The thumbs-up symbol with the innocuous “like” next to it has been a familiar and easy way for Facebook users to positively comment on a friend’s posting on the social networking site.
But as of last week, that like symbol will not be exclusive to the Facebook domain – now anyone on any partnering Internet site can click that symbol.

For Step-By-Step Instructions on How to Protect Your Private Personal Information on Facebook, scroll down to the end of this article.

At first glance, it seems pretty harmless -- if you like something on your travels through cyberspace, what’s the harm in telling your Facebook friends?

But just by clicking that thumbs-up symbol you are automatically linking your Facebook account to that participating site’s, and the next thing you know, someone you don’t know has access to information all about you – from your name, age and sex, to your hometown, even your email address, and telephone numbers, if you provided that information to Facebook when you initially joined.

“I’m very concerned about these changes,” Stoddart says in the article. “More than half-a-million developers will have access to this data.”

Stoddart goes on to explain how unlike previously, where Facebook’s policies forced developers to delete this personal information within 24-hours, the new changes allow developers, and many other partner companies participating in the new “like” program, to retain personal information indefinitely.

Unscrupulous marketers could use this personal information for any reason beyond the traditional marketing of goods and services for sale.

It could increase the amount of scams, trying to lure unsuspecting Facebook users away from their hard earned coin. We’ve all seen those annoyingly obvious emails from some long lost relative in some third-world country, trying desperately to contact us about collecting an outrageously large inheritance.
Those scams may not be so obvious if the scam artists have obtained your personal information – in fact it could look very legitimate. All the worse – you voluntarily gave these scum bags your personal private information just by using Facebook’s “like” feature.

Other malicious uses could be to blackmail you, or to harass you, forcing you to pay up just to get those you willingly and without thinking gave your personal private information too, off your back.

Not that the partner companies are all bad seeds, but that could change. Partner companies can keep your personal private information forever – even when the company changes hands, or ceases to function.

Think a disgruntled employee can cause a lot of harm? What about a disgruntled employee with yours and millions of other Facebook users addresses, phone numbers, email accounts, and other personal information.

And it isn’t just those partner companies you have to worry about, Facebook isn’t exactly harmless either.

Last year, Stoddart accused Facebook of breaching Canadian privacy laws, by holding onto personal information from deactivated accounts. After a lengthy Canadian government probe, Stoddart’s office made a series of recommendations last July, to assist the American-based company in complying with Canadian privacy laws.

Almost a year later, Facebook has not complied fully with Canadian privacy laws. The recent changes only further complicate the issue, showing that profits over privacy, it is profits that win out at Facebook.

There hasn’t been any word yet from American legislators on Facebook’s privacy rules, and until then, it is up to you to take an active role in protecting your own personal information, or else “facebook” the consequences.

How To Protect Yourself

The best way is simply NOT to click on any thumbs-up “like” icons outside of the Facebook domain( – if you are not on Facebook, no matter how tempting, don’t do it!

As a further way to protect yourself, you should make sure your privacy settings prohibit anyone but those you want (such as your friends) to know your likes and interests. To change these settings:

1. Log In
Login to your Facebook account as you normally do, with your email address and password.

2. Go to the Privacy Settings
From the top-right, click the Accounts drop-down menu, and then select Privacy.
The Privacy Settings options appear.

3. Go to the Privacy Settings for Profile Information
Click the very first item from the top – Profile Information.
The Privacy Settings – Profile Information page appears.

4. Change the Privacy Settings Affecting Likes and Interests
The second item from the top – Likes and Interests – displays who can access your personal profile information every time you click the thumbs-up “like” button, regardless of whether or not you are on the Facebook site. Change this setting to what you are comfortable with from the drop-down menu to the right. For interacting with your Facebook friends, select Only Friends, or for total security (and what we recommend), you can select Customize and limit this to just yourself, or to specific Facebook friends.

5. Save Your Changes and Return Home
Click on the Facebook logo at the top-left to save your changes and return you to your Facebook home page.

You should go through all your privacy settings, to make sure you aren’t sharing personal private information with anyone you don’t feel comfortable with.

Just follow step two above to get to the privacy settings, and go through every single menu, choice and option – if you can select it, and change it – do so.

The most secure options (where available) are None or No One But Me but these will seriously limit your ability to interact with anyone on Facebook. A happy middle-ground is selecting Only Friends which limits the information being shared to only those you are friends with on Facebook, but if the option is available, select Customize and specifically choose which friends or groups of friends to share the information with (this option isn’t available for all settings, though it should be).

There are also settings under the Accounts section, from the Accounts drop-down menu which also affect how your image and personal information are shared with Facebook advertisers and partners.

By limiting these settings to restrict access to your profile, you are going a long way towards protecting the most important asset you have – yourself.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Sex In The Classroom – But I Still Haven’t Finished My Pacifier

When is the right age to teach about the birds and the bees in school?

Some say never – they believe parents should teach these things to their kids themselves. Others thank their local school boards, because they fear getting into an awkward and uncomfortable frank discussion with their own child.

In Canada’s largest province of Ontario, the politicians were thinking first grade was a good age to begin.

Public uneasiness about having kids barely weaned off of Barney learning about the differences between boys and girls has since led the provincial government to rethink the proposed new policy, delaying its implementation.

The proposed policy would have introduced sexual identity orientation in grade three, learning about masturbation in grade six, and lessons about anal and oral sex in grades seven and eight.

So, who is right and who is wrong? When are kids too young to learn about this stuff? When is it too late?

The problem isn’t so much a thing of age and time, but lack of cooperation between parents and public institutions.

Kids are naturally curious, and with technologies like smart phones, the Internet and our ever expanding digital television universe, they are going to explore and discover sex and other adult subjects eventually on their own – regardless of all the parental protections put in place.

It is better that kids learn about sex from a parent or teacher, than from flipping on a porn video at a friend’s house.

But then, how are you going to prevent your son or daughter from catching a porno at a friend’s place? You can’t be everywhere – can you?

You can forbid your child from playing at friends places, but then your children won’t develop the social skills they need to live happy, healthy lives.

Maybe instead of having specific classroom sessions on sex, each school board should have sex educators on staff. It would be no different from the child psychologists, developmental specialists, and other specialists many school boards already retain.

So that faithful day, when you learn that the reason your son has been spending so much time over at the Jone’s is because they have the porn channels available all the time, you can talk to your kid’s teacher about seeing the school’s sex educator.

And the school’s sex educator would work with you, your kid, and your teacher, to properly provide the information and counseling for all parties concerned.

That’s the real solution to sex education – it is a partnership with parents, their kids and their teachers.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

OK its Earth Day – Now What?

Happy Earth Day, are you wearing your environmentally-friendly hemp t-shirt, while standing on that rug made from recycled tires? Did you go out and hug a tree?

No – I didn’t think so.

You don’t have to do wild, crazy or zany things to celebrate Earth Day – a day marked on the calendar since the 1970’s to promote the environmental movement.

Little simple things make a world of difference.

Just take a stroll through your home to start. Look up at that bright thing – no not the sun, your lights. Are you using low energy florescent bulbs, or the older, more power-hungry incandescent ones? Today would be a great day to change all your old light bulbs to the newer, greener versions – and that won’t cost a whole lot, or take a lot of time.

While passing through your kitchen or bathroom, think about paper. Do you use recycled paper products for such things as toilet paper and paper towel? No? Go out and get some, if you have the non-recycled stuff you can compare the two and see there really isn’t much difference, aside from one being better for the planet and our home, the Earth.

Speaking of towels, what do you use to clean your home? Do you use environmentally-friendly all natural products, or ones courtesy of the chemical industry? Earth Day is a great excuse to change your cleaning ways, by getting all natural cleaning agents (you’d be surprised how much you can clean with a little white vinegar and some baking soda).

And while you are replacing your cleaning agents, you can take away all your hazardous waste to proper hazardous waste recycling facilities – most municipalities have these, allowing you to freely drop-off toxins so they don’t end up in our landfills. They take things like ammonia, paints and paint thinner, old batteries, some even take old and broken computers and other techno-toys which don’t work anymore, but contain heavy metals that could contaminate our world if just tossed in the trash. Contact your local government for information about local hazardous material recycling or reclamation programs today, to celebrate Earth Day.

Good thing Earth Day happens in spring, ‘cause you can do a lot of environmental spring cleaning right from your home. You could even call up a charity or two, and donate all your old clothes that you were going to throw out – lots of fabrics have been treated with dyes and chemicals which contaminate local water tables when thrown out. By donating them, you help others, while keeping your drinking water clean.

Water – it is a fundamental resource for all life to exist, just look at all those water bottles lying around. What a waste. Wouldn’t it be easier – and better for the environment to get a water filtration system, than purchasing water bottles en mass? You can install a water filter on your kitchen and bathroom faucets, or even simpler, buy a water filtration pitcher and just fill it up from the tap. Either way, you’ll have fresh, clean water, and only have to toss out a water filter every couple of months, instead of going through on average about 25 plastic water bottles per person per month.

While we’re in the wet works, take a look at your toilet – is it one of those old clunkers that takes forever to refill after a flush? You can save on your water bills, and help the planet by purchasing a low-flush toilet. Some local municipalities will even give you a rebate on your water bill when you send them a copy of your invoice showing you purchased one, so you’ll not only use less water, but get back some of the initial funds you spent to get the new toilet.

Don’t forget to wash your hands – are you using environmentally-friendly, biodegradable soaps? No?

See – there are lots of little things you can do right at home, to better your world on this Earth Day.

Happy Earth Day!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Canada’s Biggest Environmental Challenge – Ourselves

Ironic – a day before Earth Day, our dependence on fossil fuels is evidently echoed across Canada’s largest city.

Today, the world’s largest automaker, General Motors (GM) announced it has repaid the $1.4CDN billion in loans it received from the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments – which the company’s president says is a sign the company is recovering from the recession. GM also repaid the $6.7CDN billion in loans it received from the American federal government’s bailout package.

Also happening today in Toronto, Canada, the city says it is expanding bike lanes in the downtown core along some of the major routes, despite a growing divide.

Much like the battle for and against bike lanes in Toronto, the street where they are going this summer -- University Avenue -- is split down the middle by beautiful gardens and statues – it is one of the widest streets in Canada’s largest city.

So why the division?

Some see the addition of bike lanes as an attack against drivers, as one of their lanes in either direction will disappear, causing more traffic headaches.

Others see the new bike lanes as a step forward for the environment and personal health and fitness.

Despite the greater good – for the environment – adding bike lanes in Canada’s largest city won’t amount to a hell of beans, to paraphrase a famous American general.

For some, it will encourage them to use peddle-power instead of gas-power. For those that already do ride their bike wherever they go it will make their life a lot easier.

But the real problem isn’t really being addressed – lifestyle.

In other urban centers, such as New York, Chicago and London, it isn’t uncommon for people to take public transit, walk, or bike wherever they go. Hailing a cab in Manhattan may make you feel like you’re in the middle of a Woody Allen movie, but with gridlock, you’d probably get to where you were going faster if you were on a bike, or even walked.

In most cities around the world, if you arrive anyway other than by your own personal vehicle, there isn’t anything seen as odd or wrong with that – that’s life living in the big city.

But in Canada’s largest city, if you happen to mention you took public transit or rode your bike, people look down on you, as if there is something wrong with you.

“You can’t afford a car?”

Automatically, people in Canada’s largest city assume that if you didn’t drive, there is something wrong with you. You’re not normal, you are an outcast.

Statistics back this up – or at least the part about those who drive versus those who don’t in the city of Toronto. In Canada’s largest city, over 70 percent of the adult population drives.

Politicians buy into these stats too – over past two decades, federal, provincial and municipal politicians have made – and more importantly broken – their promises to expand public transit.

Back in the mid 1990’s, when I was a reporter, I watched as then-Ontario Transportation Minister Al Palladini, sporting a gold-colored hard hat and shovel, broke the ground at was to become the Downsview subway station, along with several other politicos.

Although the Downsview subway station was built, and stands today, I’ll never forget what Palladini said. He proudly declared that this was the start of a massive initiative to get Ontario moving.

His major transit initiatives, aside from the lone Downsview subway station, never materialized. He had plans to expand the subway to York University in the north-west corner of Toronto, and to create a single-fare system across the municipalities outside of Toronto, currently you have to pay two fares.

Thanks to budget cuts, changes in government, and lack of public and political interest, those green transportation plans got shelved.

More recently, just this past month, the province of Ontario took away funding from TransitCity, another massive government plan to expand public transit across Toronto. TransitCity was going to fund the expansion of transit for the next decade – they tossed everything into it but the kitchen sink. From funding for replacing old, outdated, and costly to maintain buses and streetcars with new ones, to increasing bus route services, to building new light rail lines – including one much needed connecting Toronto’s downtown to the airport – were all a part of this big plan.

That plan too sits on a shelf, collecting dust, as the politicians at the provincial level bailed out – transit costs too much, and they’d rather put their funding into what the voters want.

Ah yes, that’s what it always comes down too. It never really comes down to the greater good for the environment, or even to really seriously reduce gridlock – which costs Canadians a billion dollars due to lost productivity. What really matters is buying voters with policies and plans catered to them.

Never mind that part of public life is to do the right thing, if I were a politician, I’d probably do the same – worry about pleasing those who gave me m job, so I could get re-elected.

Or would I?

Actually, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to keep your job, please the voters and do the right thing. All you have to do is lead by example.

If our leaders at all levels of government took public transit, road bicycles, even drove around in environmentally-friendly electric prototype vehicles, then it wouldn’t seem so outrageous a thing to you and me.

Instead, our leaders travel like royalty, in luxury late model vehicles – the American Presidential car is even nicknamed “the Beast.”

That’s why GM is able to pay back it loans – cars versus taking the bus – cars win hands down. When was the last time you saw Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper riding a bike, or standing in a busy subway train during rush hour?

Love them or hate them, we do follow our leaders. That’s human nature, and until our leaders change their ways, it doesn’t matter how many bike lanes they put in Toronto, or any other Canadian city – they won’t get the use they could, had our leaders used them to show us the way.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Everyday Should Be Earth Day

Only two days to go until Earth Day – the spot on the calendar when the world recognizes the need to be more environmentally-friendly.

First held on April 22, 1970 by a group of hippies hip to the need to generate more interest in our home, planet Earth, it has since been celebrated in over 170 countries across the globe, by billions of people. Some consider Earth Day the birthday of the environmental movement, some use it to begin their own environmentally-friendly resolutions, and some just go on not knowing or caring.

Truth is Earth Day should be every day – well to a degree. While any excuse for a party is often said to be a good excuse, we shouldn’t need to party to think of the Earth.

When our homes are in need of cleaning or repair, we don’t think twice about it, we just do it. That should be the same sort of thought process for being environmentally-friendly – when we do things which affect our home, planet Earth, we shouldn’t need to think about it, we should naturally just do what is best for our home.

As advanced as space travel has come in over four decades, we still have nowhere to live but here on planet Earth. Missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond are still in their infancy – actually American President Barack Obama canceled the mission to the Moon just last week, during his re-tooling of the American Space Program and NASA’s funding.

So finding another planet to live on isn’t in the cards, at least not in our lifetimes, or even the lifetimes of our kid’s kids, and maybe not even then.

Over the course of this week, the media will sing and dance with stories about the environment. There is a story today on about a man not only trying to sell electric cars, but trying to create changes in society to put in place the infrastructure to support those fully electric cars (by having charging stations at all work places, and even having robotic battery swapping stations to swap out discharged batteries for fully charged ones.)

Saw an advertisement the other day for a special Earth Day Brita Water Filtration Pitcher – nothing really different about it other than it is green in color. The ad didn’t specify if the company was donating any of the proceeds of the sales to an environmental cause.

Even locally here, recently there was a story about how the Mayor of Toronto, Canada, was holding his annual city clean-up, where the city supplies garbage bags free to residents volunteering to pick up litter.

All of these are great at getting our minds into the environmental framework – but in order for us to really achieve a liveable city, town, or village, our daily actions need to always be environmentally-friendly.

We need to constantly act in the best interests of ourselves, and our planet.
From simple every day purchases such as light bulbs, batteries, and dish washing soap, to the big ticket purchases such as cars, homes, and appliances, they all need to be products which are environmentally-friendly. Instead of letting the water run, leaving the lights on when no one is around, or even just leaving your battery chargers plugged into the wall when nothing is being charged, even the teeny-tiny things make a world of difference.

Earth Day is a great excuse for a party, so let’s celebrate. But don’t leave behind your environmentally-friendly thinking cap.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Public Transits Canadian Iron Curtain

It’s been almost 23-years since American President Ronald Reagan’s famous foretelling words: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” yet an Iron Curtains till abounds. President Reagan was speaking in front of the Berlin Wall, in an address targeted towards Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in an attempt to end Communism.

With the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union collapsed and so did many of the Communistic societies that were once part of that regime.

However, after witnessing a so-called public meeting to discuss public transit in Canada’s largest city, one may think the Iron Curtain is still very much alive.

Toronto’s transit system has taken much bad press the past several months. A YouTube video of a Toronto transit subway taker sleeping on the job was followed not too long after by another video of a bus operator taking an unscheduled stop at a local donut shop. Numerous events since have further eroded the public’s view of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) which operates and manages public transit in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The most recent event occurred last week, when a TTC bus driver attacked a young adult over what appears to be a fare dispute. Allegedly, the bus driver tossed the young man so hard against the bus, a bus window was shattered.

To alleviate the bad press, the TTC’s union, Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing the bus, subway, streetcar, wheel transit operators and support staff, has been holding public town hall style meetings throughout Toronto.

The notion of these town halls is to provide an opportunity for the public to voice their comments, concerns and questions to the TTC’s union.

However, it was clear from the very start of yesterday’s town hall that this was anything but a public meeting.

Oh the public was there, seated in the auditorium of Stephen Leacock Collegiate. And a microphone was paraded around, allowing people to stand up and have their say.

But the answers were obviously spun to send one message and one message only to the TTC’s management – we need more public funding.

Although the TTC needs more public funding – all transit systems require public funding, and the amount of this funding in Canada over the years continues to drop -- the point of the town hall was to provide an opportunity for public voices to be heard. Not for the union to use the public to bolster its position against management.

But that’s exactly what happened. Every question from the public was used to forward the unions specific concerns with management – they never really acknowledged or accepted responsibility for anything, placing most blame on management’s shoulders.

It wasn’t until the very end, where one of the TTC’s operators on stage publicly apologized on behalf of her fellow bus drivers, for the physical assault of the young man by one of her colleagues. Not that this incident is a representation of her, or her co-workers typical behavior – it is a rare occurrence -- but instead of spending time addressing the causes which may have lead to this incident, those representing the union on stage kept sweeping the blame onto management’s shoulders.

Wait a sec . . . isn’t it the union which represents bus drivers – like the bus driver that attacked a young man over a bus fare?

SLAM went the Iron Curtain of the TTC’s union. All the TTC’s problems smeared across the globe via the mass media and social networking sites like YouTube come down to a lack of government funding.

Or at least that’s what they want you to believe. And they have been holding public meetings to use you to get that message out.

Pretty sneaky. Maybe they got Gorbachev to teach them how to run these things?

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Online Shopping Companies That Don’t Deliver

The Internet has created a whole new way to shop – online. For many of us, the added ease of being able to browse an online store from the comfort of our homes, in our pjays has even become an addiction.

Online shopping is a highly competitive field, worth an estimated $1CDN billion in North America, which is why most companies offering online deals toss in various incentives to get you to buy from their virtual stores.

I enjoy online shopping – it is so much easier comparing prices from different merchants without having to deal with pesky commission-based sales people constantly pestering me. Also, I like the ability to order something one day, and have it delivered to my front door the next – it’s just like ordering a pizza, without the anchovies.

As competitive as the online shopping world is, there are still some bad seeds out there – it is a buyer beware world.

Recently I had two very bad experiences shopping online, and although I usually devote this blog to news and current affairs commentary, by sharing my experiences – both with major Canadian retailers -- hopefully others won’t encounter the same difficulties.

Before I delve into the dirty details, let me preface this sordid tale – I have bought many things online and never had a problem. There are plenty of quality places that deliver on their promises.

My first really negative online shopping experience actually involves a medium other than the Internet, but just as popular – television.

The Shopping Channel ( boasts wonderful deals 24 hours per day, seven days per week on their Canada-wide television broadcasts.
They have highly engaging hosts, skilled in the art of selling anything to anyone.
My mom is even addicted to watching this channel, and I must confess to occasionally becoming intrigued by some of their sales pitches.

Sometimes I scoff at the slick way they present low-end electronics based on their cosmetic appeal, such as their mini-lap tops which they often refer to as great fashion accessories. When a computer is sold to go along with a pair of shoes, one has to seriously question just how useful that computer will actually be.

Other times I marvel at the inner workings of some of their audio components, such as the Bose Wave Music system. It looks really cool, but they make up every excuse in the book to avoid telling you just how powerful it really is, so there is no way to compare it with other audio systems.

Then there are times such as happened a couple of weeks ago, when I happened to be flipping around the digital television universe, and my eyes happened upon a sleek set of solar powered garden lights. For a mere $30CDN plus shipping, handling and taxes, you get ten stainless steel solar garden lights.

I thought this was a great deal, and happened to really like the modern styling of the product. Also, the lights were solid – glass and steel, not plastic, which many of these are. So, I picked up my phone, dialed the number on the screen and placed my order.

I was offered what they call “Easy Pay” – their installment plan, which would have spanned three-months, but made the payments under $20 on my credit card.

I could have easily paid the total all at once, but opted for their installment plan – why not, it was a smaller financial amount at once, and didn’t cost anything extra.

Three days later, I receive a call from the Shopping Channel telling me that they made a mistake and didn’t put it on their installment plan, so the full amount would be billed to my credit card. I told them that was fine, so long as the order would be sent out that day – I was supposed to get it within ten business days, three had passed, and they were still waiting to authorize my credit card.

The Shopping Channel’s representative assured me everything was okay, that my card would be authorized right away and the order would go out by the end of the day.

The next day, my credit card still hadn’t been authorized – I check these things online – so I called The Shopping Channel back, and got a different representative. He was very courteous and professional, but was equally as confused with my question as to what was happening with my order. He saw in their system that I had talked with someone, and authorized the full amount, but didn’t know why it still hadn’t gone through. He said he left a message for the person I originally talked to, and once she got back to him, he’d get back to me.
I didn’t want to wait for them to figure out why their system wasn’t working – so I immediately canceled my order, and vowed never to order from them again.

Signs that a company may or may not be a legitimate, honest, or reliable company to do business with – no one knows what’s going on.

Granted, this is a Canada-wide television station, owned by one of the largest broadcasting companies in the country – Rogers Broadcasting – but even the big guys can appear all shining and spotless on the outside, but rotten to the core inside.

Had the customer service representative I talked with been able to get the answers to my questions right then and there – I am always willing to wait, no matter how long it takes to get to the bottom of any issues – I would have not felt uneasy about doing business with that company. But instead, he just left it at “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.”

Sorry, in this high-tech, information overloaded world, “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you,” just doesn’t cut it.

Today, I was forced to cancel an order with because they kept making promises, but not delivering – literally.

I ordered a webcam and wireless printer from their online site on Tuesday, and according to their own terms and conditions, was to receive the order the next day. I placed the order well before their early evening next-day delivery cut-off – I placed my order in the morning, and both items were in stock, according to their website.

SO, I should have received both the webcam and the printer this past Wednesday, between the hours of 9am and 5pm. I even made sure I was around and available for the order, constantly watching my building’s in-house security cameras for the delivery driver.

While I was putting my life on hold for a couple of small items, I get a call from telling me that the printer was out of stock, but would be sent the next day. The camera was still on its way for delivery that day (Wednesday). As the person who called was professional and apologetic, I understood, and was okay with this, although I wondered why it wasn’t reporting as out of stock on their website (I checked after the call, it was still listed as available).

I waited all stinkin’ day for that webcam – no one came. I called, and they told me someone did come around 10:45am, but I wasn’t home. I scoffed back that I was home all day, and had anyone attempted to ring up to my place, I would have answered. Had anyone knocked on my door, I would have answered, no one came by at all.

Usually when I’m away and a package comes for me – as for most of us – the delivery person will leave a missed delivery slip on the door, or in the lobby of the building. There were no such slips anywhere to be seen.

The representative apologized for “her mistake” – seems like more of an outright lie – and assured me she was putting “notes” into the system to ensure I received both items the next business day.

SO, again, I waited all day for both items to arrive, and again no one showed up. For next-day delivery, this would be fine if I was in some different time zone, but next day it wasn’t.

I called and politely asked about my order. The person I got, different from the first two, apologized and said she didn’t know what happened.

Sound like a familiar excuse? Big flashing red warning alarms went off in my mind’s eye.

The customer service representative at tells me she’s putting “notes” into the system to ensure I get my complete order the next business day. I complained that the previous person I talked to at her “wonderful” company did just that the day before, and that was unacceptable.

She offered me a ten percent discount on my order, and promised me both the webcam and the printer would arrive together tomorrow first-thing – “I’ll make your delivery a priority” she promised.

Originally ordered on Tuesday, should have arrived on Wednesday, it was now looking like I wouldn’t receive the order until Friday, but I do get a discount . . .
OKAY, I told her I accept her terms.

Today, a delivery driver shows up at my door with the webcam, no printer. I ask him where my printer is. He shows me on the invoice that I am not being billed for it because it is out of stock.

My credit card had already been authorized for the total amount, and hadn’t been reduced by the cost of the printer. And the customer service rep I talked with the day before didn’t live up to her end of the deal – both the printer and the webcam were to be delivered TOGETHER first-thing.

I asked the delivery driver what would become of the printer, and he tells me because it is out of stock I have to re-order it.

Re-order this.

I canceled the whole damn order, refused the delivery of the webcam, and will never do business with Staples retail stores, or ever again.

Although they were always polite, they were caught in several lies, and never fulfilled the terms of their own policies clearly shown on their website. And, they made promises they either couldn’t offer (so they shouldn’t have made those promises in the first place) or just didn’t honor.

Buyer be warned – The Shopping Channel and Staples may appear reliable, honest and credible places to do your online and retail shopping. But appearances are misleading.

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