Friday, November 8, 2013

Why Benefits Matter

When you listen to the Conservative's government hate campaign against the Canadian public service, who want to cut out benefits and sick days, undermine the ability of workers to refuse potentially dangerous or hazardous work, think of this:

Hate and dissent is like butter. It's very easy to spread and once it does spread, it's really hard to un-spread. It's a lot easier to spread the misery to the masses, feed them the image of fat, bloated, lazy civil servants, than it is for the government to attack your neighbours, the real people who work in the public service. The hardworking, tax-paying families who go out for a beer on Thursday are the real people who work in the public service, just people trying to make a living and do a little better than the rest. But instead of thinking of it that way, it's just easier to paint them all with the same lazy brush- as if sick days were a luxury and refusing dangerous work was a sign of 'lack of initiative'.

This hate-mongering is a tool used by the elites. Anyone who knows anything about history knows this for a fact. The top 1% always manages to keep more of their wealth by not sharing with the masses, seeding discord amongst them and letting them fight each other for the scraps like snarling dogs under the dinner table. As long as we fight each other under the table, we're never going to be the people who sit at it.

The thing that elites fear the most is seeing the underpriviledged gather together and fight for a greater or equal share of the wealth.

They know this, so their hate campaign is relentless. Where is all this hate going to lead? The Dark Ages. The more it spreads, the more it affects all other sectors of employment. Stripping workers of their rights at the highest level of the mid-income people is going to lead to a situation where there are going to be less and less for the lower level people as well. The only people who will benefit are the people who already benefit the most and they will steamroll everyone else as long as they can. There is no limit to how deep in the mud they will push our faces in with their boots.

Benefits are hard won and they need to be protected for the sake of all workers. We should be working harder to keep benefits and to spread them around to others. Because we all know that there's more than enough misery to go around.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Racist Man Looking for Love

Sleepless in Austin might be a lifelong insomniac after a controversial offer of $1500 to anyone who can find him a thin, chaste, white girlfriend. You'd think that wouldn't be a very tall order, but Romeo Rose, who claims that this is his real name, has some outspoken views on race and interracial relationships. To add to his charm, he also doesn't like 'slutty' girls or 'fat' girls.

Now this is a man who knows what he wants.

Thin, chaste, white- it would probably also be safe to assume that the successful candidate will be a Christian, right winger, domestically-minded and probably hot. Unfortunately, the profile that Romeo Rose provided is centered mostly on exclusions, ie, the things that he hates and doesn't highlight any of the things that he loves, which actually makes sense when you consider that hate is probably a big part of this man's life. Wouldn't it be natural that he would scour the world looking for someone who hates everything he hates too? Isn't that part of what makes compatibility?

Somewhere out there, on this planet of 6 billion people, there must be at least one lonely single white female who's looking for a man that shares her views of a segregated, white supremacist world. The kind who can keep their whites the whitest for their KKK meetings, who separates the white bread from the brown bread when it's time to make bologna sandwiches for lunch. The kind who loves being white and loves being in love. The kind who wants to build a home on the foundation of their natural-born superiority and nestle together in a little hate nest somewhere.

Never fear Sleepless; even Hitler found love after vetting his dates by running their hair through fire to make sure they were truly Aryan. And what could be more romantic than a geneological quiz on your racial purity on a first date? Or a deep, embarassing look into your sexual history to ensure that all your past hook ups were lily white? Or better yet, a weigh in for pure white candidates who don't live up to the distinction of 'thin'. After all, white girls can diet, even if they can't change their pigmentation. Unless they get jaundice from a carrot juice fast that they submit to in order to please him, at which point, they may be too Asian.

A matchmaker once said that everyone deserves love. But in the meantime, it looks like hate is going to have to keep this man warm.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A few thoughts on Quebec Separation

Without knowing it, I became political pretty early on in my life. I grew up in an English minority Quebec town during the last Quebec Referendum, and I remember well how the topic of Quebec sovereignty dominated classrooms, grocery check out lines and dinner tables. I remember my half Irish cousins demanding to be served in both official languages even when in small Quebec towns and the amount of public servants talking about having to take 'stupid French lessons' to advance in their career. The political was very personal.

'Separation' to me always brought forth ridiculous images of toll booths on the inter provincial bridges, something tangible and silly since Ontario, that other province, was within a stone's throw. Border crossing was something my parents did every day, usually on the way to work. The thought of this becoming a passport check was always strange, and even without understanding the full implications of government at the time, I knew that this was a problem.

Government for me at that age was a chart composed of boxes representing various levels- the Parliament, the Senate, the provinces, etc. But then came the awareness that government affects pretty much everything you do: where you work, what you eat, what you drive, your health and welfare, your daily choices. I've heard those people who say 'politics don't affect me' or 'politics don't interest me' and you're wrong on both counts; everything is political, everything affects you and everything SHOULD interest you. Unless you're a mindless slug, it all matters.

That point was driven home by the Referendum. My father told me his story of immigrating to Canada through Quebec City, and how he remembers mounting all of those stairs to get into the province to start his new life in Canada. It's a poignant image of the dedication and sheer work that it takes to make a new beginning and he has never looked back since. The thought of seeing his Canada disappear through a crucial vote upset him.

My parents weren't the only people upset by this vision. Businesses left Quebec in droves, as did other immigrants and anglophones who imagined a troubled province, should the vote go through. Does anyone remember how the house prices crashed during the Referendum? Does anyone remember the mass exodus of businesses, most of whom simply shipped to Toronto? Does anyone outside of Montreal remember this?

If the current situation in Quebec veers back in the direction of the Referendum of the 1990s, they can count on a lot of those things happening again. Unrest, departures and economic crash are just a couple of the concerns they should have. Beyond that, they should also consider the very real and dangerous implications of the proposed Quebec Values Charter. It's a slippery slope when you begin to protect culture through discrimination. Today it's religious symbols, but what will it be tomorrow? What else will be perceived as 'ostentatious' or a threat to Quebecois culture? Who else is going to be a problem group?

Quebec is taking a lot of its cues from France, a country not known for its diversity or tolerance. A lot of France's cultural protectionists are now setting their eyes on China and similar Asian countries that are seen to be 'taking over' the global economy. Will Quebec take a page from that song book as well, and start denouncing Asian symbols? True, most Asians don't run around with 'ostentatious' marks of their 'Asianness' on them, but will people be offended by Asian writing characters on t-shirts, silk dresses, chopsticks in the hair, Hello Kitty bags?

What about 'black' culture? Will the next roll out of ostentatiousness include dreads? A young straight A student in the USA has already been sent home for violating the school dress code by wearing dreads. It may not be threatening, but it does seem inherently not Quebecois purelaine. The line is pretty hard to tell between protecting and promoting the culture, and outright surpressing and eliminating the other.

What frightens me most about the possible aftermath of a separatist Quebec the way it stands now is that an insular Quebec will one day actively root out all the un-Quebec things within it. Its focus on maintaining its culture may come at the cost of the expulsion of others. I fear that the good people of Quebec will simply leave the province, unwilling to stay and fight, unwilling to see their tax dollars promote cultural exclusion and pursue a separatist agenda.

It may appear too early or over-reactionary to think these things, but history has shown that cultural preservation can often give way to the notion of cultural and racial purity. This is not a sign to ring all the alarm bells, but maybe a sign to ring at least one.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Many Means More

I don't understand why people think multiculturalism has failed. There are proponents of this thinking, such as Angela Merkel of Germany and more recently, Pauline Marois of Quebec. But what exactly constitutes as failure? They point to the loss of traditional cultural values and identity, as well as violent enclaves and the always fear-mongering idea of conversion, dissent and possibly takeover.

But what about all the things that multiculturalism has given us? For many Canadians, multiculturalism is a big part of the Canadian fabric. What do I love most about Canada? Multiculturalism, hockey, our ability to laugh at ourselves, humility, comedy and our universal health care system. All of these things are, to me, a part of our values, this idea that we don't have to be scared of another, that we can learn from each other and we all have rights, regardless of race, religion or gender. That's what the Canadian dream really is, not the ability to own a microwave or identify icing. Human rights. Respect. Dignity. Peace.

Wouldn't it be terrible to live in a world without diversity? Isn't part of the joy of living in Canada the ability to go down the street and hear or see something new or different? Whatever happened to embracing difference? What ever happened to curiosity and opening up our minds to another culture, recognizing that the world is diverse and that there are many different ways to see the very same things?

The most tangible example of what multiculturarism gives us: food. Delicious, diverse, exotic food. Maybe some people enjoy eating the same ham and cheese sandwich every day, but how much richer are we for the fact of having lots of restaurants? Some countries make incredible food. In one week, you can go for Italian, Chinese, Jamaican, you name it. They may not all be authentic, but everyone understands the common language of delicious.

And then there's language. Language is more than just the spoken word. It's a way of perceiving the world. Some cultures have words that others could never imagine, because they reflect ideas that are most relevant to them. What is more mind boggling than learning a new language and a new way of being? It's stimulating and exciting, not something to be feared. And it's a challenge. People with emotional maturity, perspective and intelligence see challenge as a good thing.

And what about fashion? Clothes are a big part of self expression and creativity. The world would be a dull place without colours. It's good to see people wear ironic t-shirts, silk saris, weaves and pigtails, colourful scarves. Jeans and t-shirts could be made the official clothes of the human race, but there would always be someone doing it differently, mixing it up with a red scarf or ripping the jeans. We don't need to be the same.

Even exposure to other religions is a good thing, as long as they're treated respectfully and presented with context. People should question their beliefs system, people should think about what faith means to them personally. Most people blindly follow the system that they're raised with, or in absence of that, never ask if they have a faith. The blind followers are nowhere near as devout as the educated child who questions and then chooses whether or not to believe. Your faith is only as strong as you make it, and choosing makes it stronger still.

Multiculturalism works and if it has 'failed', it's because we have failed it. If we fail to believe, to approach things from a rational and mature point of view, or come to the table with closed minds, then it's us who have failed, and not multiculturalism. Multi means many, and that means more- more problems, more work, more explanations needed, more time cultivating and adapting. We can do it. We have done it. We fail when we abandon it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

'Jobs' Works, but doesn't Satisfy

Some critics have said that the new 'Jobs' film is a more like a movie about the Apple company than it is about the man, Steve Jobs, its late founder and sometimes CEO. While this may be true, it also makes sense; Jobs and his products for Apple were so clearly a part of each other that they can't be disassociated. So the criticism is fair, but so is the rationale behind it.

For a film about innovation, 'Jobs' is surprisingly formulaic. It works mostly on montages and follows a chronological storyline that covers the early years of Jobs and Apple rising from the obscurity of his parents' garage with a ragtag gang of miscellaneous computer geeks- the pre-Big Bang Theory group. There are some truly humourous moments and Ashton Kutcher puts in a solid performance, getting the jitters, the hunched walk and the dead shark eyes when he conducts business, down pat.

The film succeeds in showing the struggles and easy charm of Jobs as he tried desperately to hold onto Apple in the early years. His ambition and disregard for all others who didn't share his vision, caused countless problems for investors and board members, who effectively ousted him from his own company. It's the part of the story that most of us forget. For many, Jobs is an unparalleled success story, the American dream, the mad genius. The film shows the truth of the matter, which is that Jobs was the charm, but Wozniak was the true genius. Wozniak slaved away on the technology that Jobs sold, lending it a mystique and a veneer that would later be perfected in his partnership with Jonathon Ive. Wozniak was the sweat and Jobs was the polish.

He's also the heart of the film. No matter how many times Ashton Kutcher is made to cry in this film, somehow, the audience never feels any closer to him. Even in his pain, he seems aloof. Josh Gad as Wozniak steals the show emotionally in this film, giving more heart in 5 minutes than the entire film does in over 2 hours. It's probably because he's so real- frank, approachable, geeky, in love with what he does, shy, uncertain, so very human. His departure speech to Jobs is heartbreakingly sincere and simple, probably a reflection of the man himself.

This is not a film that creates sympathy for Jobs, but it also doesn't allow you to know him. Perhaps it's because the veneer and mystery of Apple covers Jobs so completely, the same way that you can't see into an iphone. Or maybe it's the mad genius part; perhaps the most frustrating part about 'Jobs' is the fact that genius can be witnessed, but never truly understood.

It's a stark reminder that there are those exceptional people out there, people who write history and change the world. They change perspectives and challenge the status quo and turn things on their head. We can see it happen, but we can't come any closer to genius ourselves. The unsettled feeling that we, the audience, belongs in the 'everyone else' category, may be the unsatisfactory part about 'Jobs. Just like it's the unsatisfactory part about life.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Don't See you in September

The summer is winding down and everyone's scrambling to get one more drink on a terrasse, one more BBQ, and all the ice cream and watermelon they can handle before going back to the doldrums of work and school. One thing that isn't coming back in September is Parliament, which PM Stephen Harper will prorogue until October.

Most working stiffs are already upset that Parliament is closed for the summer, but now they're getting an extra long vacation during a year that's been plagued by expense scandals and dubious dealings. Heck, that's even longer than the kids get, which should lead to many cries of 'no fair!' across the nation.

Indeed, it's hard to think of anything about this situation that's fair. In any other enterprise which has failed to live up the public's standard, the punishment would not be more paid leave; somehow, though, it makes sense to politicos. Here's the explanation that the PM gave to the Globe and Mail:

"We will come back in October, [that] is our tentative timing.

"We remain in a very difficult, fragile and competitive global marketplace and we think there is much more to be done to secure Canada's economic potential and economic future."

Well, many Canadians could have told you THAT. But isn't that more reason to get back to work? After all, when the house is a mess and the kitchen table is overflowing with unpaid bills, this isn't usually the ideal moment to stop and make a sandwich. Waiting isn't going to help matters and sometimes, when faced with a tough task, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do some hard work. It's like when your parents tell you that math isn't going to get any easier if you avoid doing your homework- you have to FACE the problem and actually squint your little brows and try your hardest, even though it all looks like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to you.

The sneaky little message in this statement, though, for those who understand the implications of proroguing Parliament, is that something is doing to get done to secure Canada's economic potential and economic future. That something will likely not be done with the rest of Parliament, which includes, conveniently, all of their opposition. So the new agenda setting and reframing and all that wonderful stuff that's going to happen during this month long staycation is likely going to be the result of one party. And we're all pretty sure which party that will be.

So while the opposition will be paid to take a long spa day, the Canadian public will probably be expected to bask in the fall colours and watch leaves falling under crab apple trees and hopefully forget all that silliness with the PMO and the Senate scandals- just to name a few of the more recent maddening events. Or maybe we'll be too busy marvelling at Agents of SHIELD to think about the economy, or the Senate, or the musical chairs that have been played recently with the MPs, or the billion dollars we somehow 'lost' at the Department of National Defense, all while cutting benefits to actual war veterans. Or the fact that many Canadians live under the poverty line and use food banks on a monthly basis, even while employed.

But in October, this Parliament will be back to work, fresh-faced and repackaged, probably with more Economic Action Plan ads featuring minorities looking forward to their job in construction. For a month's worth of extra vacation, I expect those workers to look at least 25% happier about that in October.

This current government's avoidance agenda applies the same logic to running the country as a person in serious consumer debt does when they decide to pay off their Visa with their Mastercard. An extra month is not going to be enough to scratch the surface of everything that's wrong. And don't think Canadians are going to be setting up hockey pools and knitting scarves for winter while thinking that everything's fine. I can stay mad until October. There are still things that I'm sure I haven't forgotten or forgiven that date back years. Some of it, I've probably forgotten.

So if you're mad with the Canadian government, folks, stay mad. Hold your grudge, choose the issue that's really ticked you off, and keep it close. Spend the extra month making new picket signs or online petitions. The Parliament says it should be ready in October. We should be too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chivalry or Equality?

Some things change and some things just stay the same, stubbornly, stupidly, with no logical explanation kind of same. A recent poll indicated that women are still expecting men to pick up the tab when they date, almost 50% of respondents, with a whopping 44% who claim that they would not go on a second date if they had to pay their own way. Men, for their part, said that they expected to pay for dates in just about the same numbers, but added a caveat to that- they want women to contribute. A comparable 40% or so stated that they would stop dating a woman if she expected them to pay all of the time.

There's nothing logical about the dating world and this is further proof. While women are making strides in being equal, (believe me honey, we are NOT there yet), some of us are still holding onto old notions passed on by grandma and these are not the helpful 'wearing oven mitts when taking pies out' kind of advice. While most of us would say that having a man pay on the date is 'nice', what it actually reveals is that we're holding on to old notions of chivalry, chilvary being the practice of being a gentleman to a lady.

But let's not forget that chivalry also means that men are being nice to us because we're women, the fairer, weaker sex that needs to be taken care of. Let's face it, most of us don't need or want to be taken care of, and others among us wouldn't want to be a financial burden on the one we love. So maybe chivalry is dead and maybe that's a good thing.

Chivalry's ugly downside is that it often leads to a power dynamic that creates expectations which are more indicative of the world's oldest profession rather than a healthy human couple. In one particularly biting and entertaining episode of the Big Bang Theory, Leonard and Penny hang out 'as friends' one night, doing things that most couples would do on a date: go to a movie, have a drink and a snack at the pub and then head home. In this 'not a date' scenario, Leonard finally gets the upper hand in the relationship, stating that all the things that he used to do, was to get Penny to sleep with him. This list includes: paying for everything, letting her choose the awful movie, and sharing his fries.

While the episode spirals down from there with cheap shots about sexual performance and attempting to pick up other people at the bar later on, the point it makes is pretty spot on. Dating, for the most part, sees couples holding Aces in badly balanced relationships: women, with the sex card and men, with the credit card.

This doesn't mean it's time to bring calculators out, since money is a romance killer (math on a first date? No second date). But maybe sharing is fair. Equality for women means our half of the privileges, so it should mean our half of the responsibilities. An easy way to avoid this? Take turns choosing where to go and the chooser pays.

And remember- cheapskates of both gender- equally unsexy.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Snakes vs Rocks

A pet snake makes about as much sense as a pet rock. Surprisingly, they stack up about the same. What do these two unusual pet choices have in common? More than you would think.

The snake: does not perform tricks, is not nice to pet.

The rock: pretty much the same.

The snake: freaks people out, makes the gerbil nervous.

The rock: makes people ask questions about you, for sure, but the gerbil seems to mind it a lot less.

The snake: unlike other pets, does not require walking or bath time with soap.

The rock: the same.

The snake: spends a lot of time seemingly still.

The rock: oh, it's got staying still down.

The snake: will definitely scare away a lot of people, including potential friends and Jehovah's witnesses who unknowingly show up to the door. Can be quite useful in such situations.

The rock: effective when wielded over head. Otherwise, not.

One important distinction between these two curious pet types: the rock will not decide in the middle of the night to escape and choke you to death. There are many things that the rock cannot do to amuse or entertain you or keep you company, but death is also on the list of things that the rock will never attempt as you sleep peacefully nearby. The same cannot be said for the wild creature that you harbour in its glass cage, biding its time.

Sure, one can make the argument that the little wolves and panthers we keep as companions could also bite and attack us. It's a sure bet that if we die in the house with no rescue, Fluffy and Mittens will probably eat us. But those domesticated creatures that we feed out of bowls on the floor are evolution's losers, the meekest of their kind who can't survive in the actual wilderness and rely on humans for survival and treats. We also know about their evolutionary weaknesses: their common foe, the vacuum cleaner and bathtime. We can control those, but there is no domesticating a snake, no more than you can teach the pet rock to fetch.

Exotic pets are dangerous and should not kept as pets in households that contain humans, particularly little humans. It is also not your right to own whatever creature you want because you think you can handle it. This is not a case of the big bad government telling you what to do. Just like you think you can drive while drunk, your right to do what you think you can do is counterbalanced by the need to protect people from what might turn out to be your gross overestimation of yourself. So you can 'handle' your liquor, so you can 'handle' your illegal pet. Doesn't mean you should.

So let's give this one over to the rocks. Those things know how to behave.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Job Ads Should Look Like

Jobseekers have all my sympathy.

It's a tough market out there and there are so few good jobs and so many people attempting to fill them. And most of these people are the ones who tried to do everything right: go to school, get an education that's highly overpriced, learn to make a resume, get an interview suit, practice saying over and over again that your weakness is that you're a perfectionist without sounding like a teacher's pet (most of us fail). But the reality is that there are not a lot of great opportunities and that the job market is more about who you know rather than what you know.

To compound this already sore situation, all the job help articles online are centered around employers. Rather than have information that is directly relevant to employees looking for a better situation, most of the time, it's holier than thou employers and out of touch HR personnel who write the articles about 'how to get that great job', 'what not to discuss in an interview' and '10 ways you may be sabotaging your chances.'

A lot of these articles underline positivity. All would-be employees are encouraged to use 'positive language' or do 'positive spins' on negative situations that they may have encountered in past jobs to help them seem like the best fit for the job.

While we can all agree that employers would rather not hire Debbie Downer, it seems a bit ridiculous to think that honesty and skills are less important than cheerfullness. Is this survival of the cheeriest? All it brings to mind for me is that one person who wears bright colours and loudly proclaims 'HELLO!' when they walk into a room with a bag of bagels who circulates emails with life-affirming messages and pictures of kittens.

This may be the ideal employee for an employer, but it is generally the nightmare employee for other employees. Some of us just don't have it in us to be bootlickers and Happy-go-lucky silver lining chips off the old block. That doesn't make us poison in the workplace or unproductive gollums. While some people have a toxic effect on their workplace with unreasonable levels of negativity, most of us are in the middle ground of people who just want to work somewhere so that they can pay for their lives.

Wouldn't it be something if job ads were honest? They might look something like this:

Seeking candidates for a job that's already been filled by our boss' friend Bob. You are not Bob. Candidates must be available to participate in a song and dance hiring process for show so that we can prove that we followed the appropriate hiring process and are deemed competitive. Must have nowhere to be on Tuesday from 9am to noon.

Seeking bootlicking positive company man or woman who will accept all managerial decisions without question and bring a smile to the workplace. Proof of positive aura deemed an asset.

Seeking highly-motivated professional to work ungodly hours and be available on call via Blackberry. Lots of travel required. Lack of attachments deemed an asset.

Seeking incompetent middle management to make senior management look good. Assets include inconsistent behavior and nepotism. Inappropriate sense of humour and social awkwardness an asset, but not a requirement, for this job.

Seeking low level maggots to show up on time and wear deoderant. Minimum wage. Your jobs will one day be replaced by India, China or the Cashier 3000. Apply within, you're all disposable anyway.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


It's been over 10,000 reads and 3 years, 282 posts for the Mikey Rants and Raves blog. A big thank you to all the readers and followers who have laughed or been appalled by my biting literary style.

Based on the reads, the most popular topics in the past have been:

Hating Yoga
Turning 30
Bachelorette Parties
Angelina Jolie

Quite a few political and social pieces have been written, but there is definitely an appetite out there for lighter fare and one can hardly argue with that. The news baffles me on a regular basis and the whole bit about life being stranger than fiction is unequivocally true.

When I started my blog in 2010, I needed a creative outlet that was short and sweet. The immediate gratification of expressing oneself and then getting it out there to a potential audience around the world is one of the modern world's miracles. There's also a lot of competition in this virtual space and I know my site is never going to be as cute as cats in boxes, so 10,000 reads is a pretty big deal. And I love cats in boxes.

So thank you to everyone who supported me in my artistic endeavours. I will keep up this blog from time to time, and my past projects are listed on my website For my current projects, you can Follow me on Twitter, as I work on new books. And my two self-published novels are available for sale in various formats on Amazon and Chapters. Armchair Senators will be back in the fall, for you sports fans.

Thanks for everything.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Suzuki's 'Scandalous' Anti-Immigration Views

I had to look twice at the title of the article when I saw that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was taking David Suzuki to task about his anti-immigration comments. At first, I thought that it was impossible that the beloved environmentalist and The Nature of Things host that we remember from our childhood could be opposed to immigration, considering his own roots in Canada. But a closer look at the article from which the comments originate show that there is a nuanced, more complex version of Suzuki's comments, a context that is important, and was obviously missed by the Minister.

Here's the excerpt according to a translation by the National Post:

"Canada is full too!Although it’s the second largest country in the world, our useful area has been reduced.

Our immigration policy is disgusting: We plunder southern countries by depriving them of future leaders, and we want to increase our population to support economic growth. It’s crazy!"

On the one hand, this looks like a terrible thing to say. The interviewer for the French magazine l'Express, then proceeds to ask Suzuki if this is an unfair attitude to take, shutting the door on others when he himself is one of the fortunate few to make their lives in Canada. Suzuki then responds that Canada should always open its door for humanitarian reasons, and even refers to a time when Canada allowed the boat people into the country and refers to this moment as a moment he was the most proud to be Canadian.

It helps to read the entire article before taking to Twitter to make comments about how anti-immigration Suzuki is. First of all, he does not believe that immigration itself is wrong, but is probably an opponent of how immigration is currently being done by the conservative government, which has focused its agenda around attracting business class immigrants who will better the economy. Suzuki also points out in this article that the Metis and Aboriginal population are some of the worst treated in Canada, which is probably an extension of this thought that the government should focus on taking care of its own people, rather than recruiting more business people.

Suzuki's comments about the government's bad sense of priorities is probably the real issue. He is highly justified in his criticisms of the government's refusal to keep to its promises and help protect the environment. As such, it makes sense that the Minister would jump on any occasion to twist his views and make him seem like an anti-immigration monster. Kenney also wants to know why the media's not having a field day with this; maybe the media bothered to read the entire interview before making the decision that this was not newsworthy.

Kenney himself is making an error if he thinks that directing attention to this issue is going to help his cause. If anything, it will encourage people to read the interview in its entirety and realize what a failure this government is on the world stage in regards to its environmental track record. Suzuki does not mince words in his criticism and the shame really belongs to the government.

Misplaced Blame in the Obesity Game

It's incredibly shocking to know that 90% of Americans recently surveyed think that schools have a responsibility to fight childhood obesity, but only a slim 19% believe that it is a personal issue. Where is the sense of personal responsibility? Could it be that overworked, guilt-ridden parents would prefer to pass on their responsibility to schools when it comes to their children's health? So much easier to blame the cafeteria lunch of pogos and fries rather than admit that you don't like brocolli anymore than your kid does.

It may be that not everyone has the common sense health knowledge that they should have, such as eat your veggies and fruits, drink water, exercise, try to get a decent amount of sleep every night. And even those who know the basic rules are not so good at applying them. Fair enough. But to think that it isn't a personal issue to deal with obesity is just plain stupid.

Of all the things that you can control in your life, what you consume is about as close to 100% as you can get. Sure, make the arguments that food companies are evil, food is not as good as it used to be, farming is going out of business in favour of products, produce is too costly- but take the blame for the choices that you make. In North America, there is an abundance of fresh food- fruits, veggies, fish, lean meat, eggs, meat alternatives, bread, etc. Generally we get water out of a tap and don't have to walk a few miles a day with a bucket on our head. So let's drop the excuses, because we have the choices.

Education starts at home. No matter how much parents rally for gym classes, play parks at recess, sports, better quality lunches and ban soda machines, it is still what they are taught at home which is the most important life lesson. Children generally become the adults that they grew up with, which means that if you are setting a bad example as an adult, namely, eating bad food and not exercising, they are likely to do the same.

Obesity is very much a personal issue. If you do not take personal responsibility for your own health, you will never become a healthy person. You will never shake yourself of the excuses or the obstacles, and you will be your own worst enemy when it comes to positive change. It is what every athlete and personal trainer will tell you: they cannot MAKE you do anything. The food industry is not force feeding you. The treadmill is not making itself inaccessible. YOU have to be the change. YOU have to make the choice. And you are 100% liable for the choices you make when it comes to what you put in your mouth.

Obesity is quickly becoming a public health issue as well, with the overwhelming costs of healthcare due to issues directly related to obesity. But it is first and foremost a personal issue and if we're looking for the source of the problems associated to our body weight, all we need to do is look in the mirror.

You don't have to follow a supermodel diet or run a few miles to make things better for your health. Just make better choices and stop shifting the blame. Be a better example for your kids and the people around you. You may not be able to fight climate change, bring justice to the world, make policy in a foreign country, but you absolutely 100% can make better choices for yourself and your body and the trickle down effects into other aspects of your life will be incredible.

It really is that simple.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Be Canada

The conservative government's latest decision to remove the maple leaf from the uniform of the Armed Forces and reinstate British ranking, terminology and designations is not making big headlines across the country, but it should. Not just because this is a costly and unnecessary change that appears wasteful in a time of fiscal constraint, but also because it shows just how out of touch the conservative government is with Canadians.

We are not British. We do not need to pay tribute to our British roots beyond what we already have. Sure, we all pay passing attention to Kate and Will and their baby when we stand in the grocery store check out line. We hardly pay any attention at all when we hand over bills with the Queen on it- how many of us actually use cash anyway? But for the most part, Canadians feel Canadian, not British. And that's the right way to feel.

The conservative government has been trying to rally Canadians around this idea of our shared past with the British, like being a colony was some kind of honour. Canada didn't need a bloody revolution to separate itself from the British like our American counterparts, but that's also a part of who we are: a well-governed nation that doesn't need to be defined by glory in battle or a glorious past.

If the government was truly interested in what makes people feel Canadian, they could just ask us. And the majority of us will not say our British colonial past nor our non-Americanness. A lot of us will say that the things that define Canada are its most understated and least glorified things about it; our universal healthcare, immigration, multiculturalism, religious tolerance, peacekeeping, hockey, enduring winters, being a hardworking group of people who pay a lot of taxes so that the collective can benefit. Most of us are proud that our famous Canadians are smart, inventive, diplomatic and just good people with a wicked sense of humour.

Why is it so hard for Canada to just be Canada? Why do we define ourselves around our colonial past and our neighbours to the South? Why do we think that we're going to be better defined through corporate marketing for bad coffee and diluted beer? Is it because it's so hard to sift through the many cultures and little known contributions to the world, or because it's not glamourous to be a good person?

The maple leaf is humble, but it's proud, and it's an internationally respected symbol. It used to be that if you sewed a Canadian maple leaf patch on your backpack while you travelled, people would think, hey, there's a nice guy right there. The kind you can trust to watch your bag if you go to the washroom, the kind who will not give you the cold shoulder if you have a question.

I think the main problem is that this government is neither interested in what we want or who we are or what we want to be known as. There's nothing glorious about being a good guy; they want glory for this country by extolling its history in battles like 1812 and through association with a greater empire, namely the British. There's nothing glorious about goodness. Goodness, to me, is what defines Canada, the fact that we want our society to be inclusive and our people to be taken care of and recognized. Goodness is what we are. And I see no reason to be ashamed of that.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What People Actually Want from Airlines

The airline industry is on the rise and on the decline at the same time. While it's become (somewhat) more affordable to fly to more and more destinations, the lure of travel is such that many of us are willing to put up with a lot to see the world. It's not just the trial of security screenings and sneaky fuel and airport improvement charges that balloon discount pricing on advertisements; so much of the travel experience today is downright awful.

Which is why it's mind-boggling, to say the least, to see airlines revert back to sexist policies regarding their attendants. Recently, GoAir has decided to implement a policy that they will only hire women attendants, seemingly because of weight restrictions. Others have enforced strict makeup and weight restrictions to keep their attendants attractive and somehow happier, perpetuating the old 'sky waitress' stereotype of Pan Am days.

This sounds a lot like one of those policies that only applies to business class douches. While they recline and ogle pretty women with trays of champagne, the rest of us are crammed like cattle in ever smaller cabins with virtually no aisle room. Our luggage is misplaced or abused, the airline wants credit cards for movies and pillows and people of average height finally get to experience what life would be like as an accordion.

Look, the public is not hard to please. While it may seem like we're a sweating mass of lowlifes who need to be medicated, our demands are not terrible. Most of the public can agree that they just want the following 3 things out of a flight:

1- Get us and our luggage to our destination relatively on time.
2- Don't kill us.
3- A sky toilet.

Nowhere on that list are there demands for attractive wait staff. Quite frankly, most of us would be happy with vending machines on board, so long as they didn't take up too much space. If it wasn't for the fact that they are supposedly trained to assist us in emergencies, we wouldn't bother with staff at all. But the very fact that they can assist in emergencies makes them so much more valuable than sky waitresses. So maybe they should use those qualifications instead.

Nobody ever says this after a flight:

"Man, that was horrible! We were 6 hours late, a baby screamed in my ear and I paid 6 bucks for a soda. But man, did you see how hot that stewardess was?"

The hunt for profit in the airline industry is killing it. Lower fares are not the answer when you oversell flights, cram people and their stuff on too small planes causing weight issues, and undercut your staff because you think of them as smiling serving trays.

Personally, I would pay more money and go on less and better trips if only the airlines would make the trip worthwhile. Widen the aisles, put in less and more spacious seats, make the sky toilet slightly larger than a Manhattan apartment and stop cheaping out on extras that make flying tolerable, like movies and pillows.

Normally, I would add 'treat us like human beings' on the list, but really, that's not all that important. If the flight is (relatively) on time, the luggage makes it as safe as I do, the seat and aisles have space, the toilet is clean and the plane arrives without exploding, I don't really care if the attendants answer my questions or bring me potato chips. That is all I'm paying for and that is what I'd like in return. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No Wedding Bells Please

Let's all agree to stop going to weddings.

Cheers will abound to cover the shocked gasps. There is not a single person on earth who has not been to a wedding that was either a disaster, a fiasco, a dramatic affair, a disappointment or flat out boring. There are probably millions who have suffered from impossible expectations, hostility over bonbons, family fights for no particular good reason at all, and a whopping bill at the end that could have put a serious dent into a mortgage.

It used to be that a wedding was a special day for friends and family to witness a blissful union made in love which will probably result in children and house renovations for the next 20 years. Weddings have now become a spectacle, a reality television special and a spread in a glossy magazine. Brides have gone from blushing princesses to Hollywood style divas on a bluetooth device, yelling for exactly 14 petals on every rose. And the bills associated with these extravagant one day circuses are landing newly-wed couples, who have probably never discussed money before, into debt.

It's exhausting to even think about it.

And it's not just the bride and groom. It's the family and the wedding party and the guests. Everyone experiences some form of wedding headache or angst, and is more the poorer for it. The expectations and the demands have spiralled out of control, and this once-in-a-lifetime milestone is often anything but these days.

Your graduation from high school is likely an once-in-a-lifetime affair. You went, you did the work, you earned. You're not likely going back to high school. Your first job is a once-in-a-lifetime affair; you're not going to get two cracks at the first job. Sadly, marriage is not proving to be once for many people, and that is just fact, not a judgement. So let's get over this concept that this is a magical ever after story where we all get to be princesses for the day.

Think about it: there are very few days in your life which turned out to be as special as people told you they would. Most of us are incredibly underwhelmed when things happen to us. That's also because we're not likely to know the glories of winning an Oscar or seeing the sun rise over the Himalayan Mountains. The amount of truly amazing experiences we common folk have in life are not very numerous. People will overpromise- those people who claim that the wedding will be the best day of your life are usually the vendors who want to be there for it.

They are the true winners of your wedding day. While you scramble to roll up enough pennies to pay for that open bar you promised your sports team for when they show up at the midnight buffet, which only happened because you were peer-pressured that one time at the party where you were cornered near the biscuits, and while your parents squabble over who should sit next to your estranged aunt Edna who can't even remember anymore what caused her estrangement, the vendors will be smiling all the way to the bank.

And while your friends grit their teeth during the various glorified gift grabs which are showers, parties and stags, all the while resenting the fact that they're going to spend a week eating bag lunches to pay for some obnoxiously-priced blender, the handful of people who really truly know and love you will take a thousand pictures and wonder why everyone looks so stiff.

And let's not forget how the industry plays on your vanity and insecurity by insisting that you special day will only be more special if you just buy more things. How they always remind you that this is going to be the most special day of your life and don't you just want everything to be perfect?

Look, marriage is a beautiful thing. It's so difficult to find another human being you want to spend more than a few hours with without punching them in the side, it's a near miracle that anyone finds anyone that they want to wake up to each morning. Despite all our dumbness and neuroses and the stupid things we do when we think nobody's looking, we still find it within ourselves to love each other and accept each other for life.

That's pretty special. Let's not ruin that milestone by turning it into a gala of sparkles and flat speeches. Let's not allow a billion dollar industry to make suckers out of us by feeding us the notion that we're Beyonce and Jay-Z for a day. Let's celebrate in a dignified, intimate and classy way that doesn't involve consultations and agendas. People who are disappointed that there won't be some flashy show with free drinks will just have to get over that. They're not the ones who are truly happy for you in the first place.

If the sight of two people pledging love and fidelity to each other in words is not enough to make you happy for them, then you shouldn't go to weddings. If you're more interested in seeing what designer dress the bride has or glazing over the vows until you can get a cocktail, then you shouldn't go to weddings. Let's be honest when we look at weddings and recognize that it is first and foremost an industry and old-fashioned social conventions that serve no particular purpose anymore.

Get married. Love each other. The people who will be truly happy for you don't need a wedding to prove anything. And at the end of the day, all you will have, other than the bills to pay, will be each other.

Monday, June 10, 2013

National Public Non-Service Week

Does anyone remember that awards show when Fiona Apple got on stage and mumbled that strange 'acceptance' speech where she basically said that it made no sense for her to exist? That was the speech that threw her credibility right out the window with her music career, but she didn't leave without making an impression.

It was short, like a teenage 'life sucks' retort, and highly unconventional, since she basically thanked noone. Granted, it was refreshing to see someone give a speech where they didn't prattle on about God or the fans or their agent and roll off names that nobody knows; but we don't want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

What does this have to do with the National Public Service Week? At first glance, nothing. But then consider the messaging of the Conservative government during this so-called appreciation week. The Statement by the Prime Minister talks about the dedication of public servants and how fitting this year's theme is: 'Proudly Serving Canadians'. But this line was the true coup de grace: "I look forward to continuing to work with our public service to enhance the prosperity and well-being of Canadians.”

If by 'working with' you mean cutting jobs, removing severance, slashing budgets, and the newly-minted attack on sick days which is about to be announced sometime today to align with the ceremonial kick off of our 'appreciation' week, then this government has really outdone itself. How ironic to start a day meant to honour the public service with a kick off that is a ceremonial punting of our benefits.

It's a lot like waking up on Mother's Day and having to put out the fire in the kitchen that the kids started while trying to make breakfast in bed for you. Except in that scenario, there are nothing but good intentions. It baffles me that the government would choose to introduce this measure in a week that's dedicated to us. Did they really think that we would be too busy beaming from self-importance to realize that our benefits were being slashed? That we would all be grazing on smiley cookies and applause, oblivious to the fact that the measures designed to make us more 'effective' like the private sector are going to diminish our quality of life?

It's not certain what form this 'effectiveness' will be, but it's a pretty safe bet that the government will seek to reduce sick days for the public service, regardless of how the policy will be rolled out or presented. Every time this government has wanted the public service to be more effective, cutting back on budgets, staff and benefits has been the name of the game.

So in a way, this is a lot like the Fiona Apple speech: short, highly unconventional, thanking noone. And very likely to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Remember public servants based in Ottawa: when you go to the National Public Service Week barbecue which is supposed to be a symbolic gesture to thank you for your dedication and professionalism, and all the insincere words cause you to choke just a little bit on your badly charred hamburger- take a sick day. While you still have them.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Stamp it Out

Canada Post wants people to accept junk mail again. They claim that people will benefit by being closer to their community if they accept junk mail, when this is a pitiful last-ditch attempt to make paper mail relevant again to an online and paperless society. While it's understandable that Canada Post has to do something to keep it alive and kicking, this is definitely a step in the wrong direction.

The organization is delusional if they think that anyone in their right mind believes that junk mail will link them into their community. Saving 50 cents on soup doesn't make you an engaged citizen. Junk mail is just that: junk. It's stuff that nobody wants to know that they couldn't figure out on their own if they just searched on Google. It's a tired medium that people have no time for and just adds to the recycling bins at the end of the week.

It also perpetuates the notion that Canada Post exists so that grandma can send you a birthday card once a year with a $5 bill in it. The image of people eagerly awaiting and sifting through junk mail belongs to another era.

If Canada Post wants to stay relevant, they need to do it in a way that is actually relevant. They had the right idea when they thought that people want to be linked in to their community- that bit is true. So they should be innovating off this idea that you can engage meaningfully through the mail.

The future of Canada Post is not going to be in delivering letters, it will be through delivery. With more and more people online, more of us order online and those things need to get to us somehow. While FedEx and UPS lead the pack, let's be realistic: how many of us are home Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm? It's far more reasonable to think that we can get to a Canada Post outlet and pick things up ourselves or that smaller things will show in our boxes.

The best innovation by far that Canada Post has had in recent years was their Christmas Turtles promotion, where you could send a pack of Turtles chocolates anywhere in Canada. The idea was sweet, cute and easy. It tapped into that idea of engaging with others through the mail and sending a thought, a treat, a surprise. More ideas like this year round would make more of us willing to head to a post office.

Canada Post should also aggressively recruit local Canadian-based businesses in order to be their exclusive carrier. We shop online a lot more now and the appetite to support local is there. This organization is going to have to compete and that would not be a bad thing for Canadians. But junk mail? Recycle that idea.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sharing the Misery

Today, I read with interest, a column by a New York family undertaking the "Live Below the Line" challenge, spending a week living on $1.50 per day of food to get a sense of the extreme poverty line according to the World Bank. The couple decided to keep their young children out of the challenge and opted to try it for themselves, with cheat items like seasonings and cereal, and gladly accepting donations in the forms of cookies at work, when they were offered by friends.

The intention of the couple after this exercise is to donate the money that they would have otherwise spent on themselves during the course of a regular weeks' worth of groceries and have a greater awareness of how hard things can be for other people. It's a laudable goal, a good cause and it's probably a good example to their children so that they can learn and appreciate all that they have. But what really surprised me were the comments.

What could be so offensive about trying to live on a reduced budget and help other people in need? Apparently, it's the very fact that this couple even had the choice which is the problem. The backlash came from those people who have lived this way themselves, have been forced to include their children because there simply was no money available, and who couldn't afford in any way to cheat with seasonings or cream cheese. The tone of the article may have come across particularly bad when the author referred to this process as trying to solve a puzzle and trying to get it right- as if this was a game, when for many, this is a question of basic survival.

While this probably and justifiably caused the backlash, in the author's defense, I would like to say that this is still a good thing to do. Many anti-poverty movements are based on sharing the wealth, but it's not such a bad thing to share the misery, either. On the one hand, it causes increased awareness of what other people go through, empathy, relativity towards food and our attitude towards it and a general feeling against waste.

When you're forced to see food as a necessity and not a luxury and think about what you CAN have rather than what you would LIKE to have, it brings home the basic message that everyone has to eat and make good, responsible choices. You get a greater appreciation of the wealth and abundance that exists in the Western world and how this enriches your life. You also don't waste a scrap or conveniently 'forget' about lettuce. A reduced budget also means that you don't have access to convenience foods which are pre-packaged, meaning that you have to think and plan out your meals. This exercise teaches us to be more reasonable in our needs and many would agree that this is a lesson that people in the Western world sorely need.

So perhaps this couple should not be patting itself on its backs or making a big show of all that they have learned, although the article doesn't reek of self-congratulations, as some commentators suggest. A week of poverty living doesn't exactly make you Jesus or 'one of the people.' It can make you more aware and more responsible. It's a small lesson and a good reminder- and nothing to sniff at. Sacrifice, however small, is still sacrifice. These people aren't throwing caviar out the window. And you can bet that they're looking around the grocery store with very different, more considerate, eyes.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Asking for It- A Little Respect, that is

It's amusing that a Slovakian cyclist decided to celebrate his second place in the Tour of Flandrs in Belgium by pinching the backside of a 'podium girl' over the weekend, but it's a lot less amusing when you consider the implications of his 'joke.' While this has caused laughs, speculation, criticism and debate, it has also brought up another interesting point, much more galling, as cited from the Yahoo story: "More than a few people have pointed out that the woman in question was planting a wet one on the cheek of winner Fabian Cancellara, as if that meant she were somehow asking for it."

'Asking for it'- this is probably one of the more problematic things that could be said. Let's consider this: 'asking for it' is commonly used in what some of us consider the outdated vocabulary of 'blaming the victim' which used to be quite popular in early sexual assault and rape cases. Most of us in the Western world consider this expression to be extremely offensive, most of us, being, you know, women.

'Asking for it' implies that women dress provocatively and make themselves attractive for the sole purpose of being grabbed and assaulted, that they can't and don't say no, and that flaunting of certain physical traits is an open invitation. This assumes the absolute worse in women and fans the flames of misogyny previously trumpeted by moralists, men, conservatives and those women who judge all other women by their own terrible examples.

It may be time for us, as a civilized society with half a brain, to let go of this term. Sexual freedom and the right to dress the way we want are hallmarks of women's rights, not running around with signs that say men are bad. It is generally accepted that if a woman dresses in a sexy manner, it's actually the responsibility of the men around her to show some restraint, decency and civility by not assaulting her- not the other way around. It is not the responsibility of a woman to dress conservatively to properly demonstrate that she does not want to be sexually assaulted. These are the basics. It's a shame that not everyone gets this.

So while this situation is amusing, awkward, silly, probably misunderstood, it's a good reminder that maybe we should re-evaluate old traditions and expressions. Podium girls are probably not a necessary part of the sport of cycling, much in the same way that cheerleaders generally don't add anything to the sporting events they attend. It's also funny in the reporting of this event that there is no name for the podium girl- she's just a backside, as far as the stories are concerned. It's what they hired her for, right? Maybe that's bad job criteria.

As summer rolls around, with temptation abounding from all sides, let's put out this reminder of look, but don't touch. A woman with a beautiful body is a beautiful sight, but she is not 'asking for it' by wearing short shorts. What we are asking for is a little respect and a little space. When we dress to show off our bodies or let our legs breathe in the summertime, it means we're comfortable with ourselves and we trust in the freedom and protection of our civil rights which entitles us to feel that way. Can't the rest of the world show us that they feel the same way?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The International Day of Happiness

When I got into work today, I saw brightly coloured balloons on a sign that proclaimed today as the International Day of Happiness. When I looked up what this meant, I came across this statement:

"The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well being of all peoples.

By designating a special day for happiness, the UN aims to focus world attention on the idea that economic growth must be inclusive, equitable, and balanced, such that it promotes sustainable development, and alleviates poverty. Additionally the UN acknowledges that in order to attain global happiness, economic development must be accompanied by social and environmental well being." (

While most of us would have that first instinct of 'oh, how nice,' my second, more suspicious analytical mind kicked in with, 'so what?'

The International Day of Happiness doesn't actually do anything. One could argue that most days are the same, and while they don't achieve any specific objectives, they raise awareness, in the same vein that tomorrow, for example, is the International Day for the Elimination of Racism (March 21st). One of the primary differences is that racism is a tangible issue with a generally well-accepted definition; happiness, on other hand, is a more slippery concept.

To think that this is a notion to raise awareness about the pursuit of happiness as being a fundamental human goal rings hollow when people don't fundamentally agree what happiness is or what is required to get there. Declaring a special day to think about it doesn't make it more relevant or less true, than, say, for example, proclaiming an international food appreciation day. Consider this slightly modified version:

"The day recognizes that food is a fundamental human goal and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well being of all peoples.

By designating a special day for food, the UN aims to focus world attention on the idea that economic growth must be inclusive, equitable, and balanced, such that it promotes sustainable development, and alleviates poverty. Additionally the UN acknowledges that in order to attain food, economic development must be accompanied by social and environmental well being."

By replacing the exact same statement with the word 'food' instead of 'happiness', this message seems even more hollow. Actions are going to be the real determinant of whether or not certain designated days are successful and those actions are not going to be limited to putting up balloons. If the International Food Appreciation Day was accompanied by a global campaign to get food donations for needy countries or fill the stores of food banks in small communities, then it would mean something. Just as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism includes awareness campaigns, remembrance and important history lessons, as well as current examples of racist practices and how they can be stopped or mitigated.

So what exactly does the International Day of Happiness promise, other than balloons and the celebration of a highly Western concept that is ill-defined at the best of times? Nicely encouraging world governments to be mindful of the welfare of its citizens when making its policies is not really doing anything. In fact, it's laughable when you consider that Cyprus proposed to take money from citizens individual savings account to bail the country out, Canada is about to release yet another draconian budget, the European Union is headed for collapse, environmental policies are being written by oil and gas corporations and Chinese factory workers are throwing themselves off buildings while making ipads.

But let's all take a moment to enjoy some balloons.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Overtime Silliness

A police officer in Chicago is suing for overtime that he put in for answering emails while off-duty. While this case has been dismissed as 'silliness' by a former mayor of Chicago, this attitude is just indicative of the 24-hour work culture that North Americans are living every day- and not getting paid for.

There are many factors in this particular case that will have to be reviewed to determine its' success or not, but regardless of the outcome, people should be thinking about the amount of time they're putting into work and never getting back. Despite the argument that Blackberry-strapped employees can choose to turn off their machines when they leave the office, the truth of the matter is that many employers expect their employees to be available around the clock- and this expectation is the problem.

Every workplace is supposedly committed to the idea of 'worklife balance'. Despite this PR motto, most workers live the reality of the unspoken demands of their office. The pressure is more or less constant and employees who don't respond after hours are often overlooked for promotions or perceived as less reliable workers than their email happy counterparts. The virtual desktop also brings it unspoken pressures with it to keep producing, while travelling, sick, or even, at times, on vacation.

Before people dismiss this item as silliness or anti-capitalist, people should remember that it was not that long ago when workers' demands for weekends was also considered 'silliness'. North Americans have seen a steady increase of heart attacks, cancer rates and the cost of living, all part of a perfect storm that predicts early death, mostly caused by work pressures, poor diets and inordinate amounts of time sitting. This is not a hard puzzle to put together.

The constant demands of work and home life have many of us feeling like hamsters caught in a wheel- running and getting no further ahead. We should start re-claiming our time and our quality of life. Our relationships, our private time, our health- these are the 'silly' things that we are trying to protect and preserve. Our jobs are not worth everything.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thou Shall Not Tip

It started off as a funny post, but ended with someone losing their job. Applebee's has fired the waitress at the heart of the 'God Tip' controversy, after the pastor complained to the manager of the restaurant. Many have already seen the 'I give God 10%, why should I give you 18?' which was scrawled on the receipt with an emphatic 0 in the spot for a tip.

Does anyone else find it strange that a pastor would only give 10% of their energy to God? I'm not up on my Church organizational chart, but I'm pretty sure that if you're a pastor, you're expected to take on holy duties as your career and most of us, if I'm not entirely mistaken, are expected to give more than 10% to our jobs. It's an odd calculation and I'm a little more than curious to see the math behind it. Beyond the concerns regarding the insulting jab and no tip, I have to wonder what kind of perfomance evaluation at the end of the year God is going to give this person.

It is off-putting in the first place that someone would use God as an excuse to not tip someone in the service industry, although I bet that people who work in the service industry have heard it all before. A similar case occurred years back when a high end customer at a nice restaurant left the wait staff an unusual 'tip' writing 'get a real job' in the tip line provided. While getting stiffed on tips is something of an occupational hazard in North America, it seems unacceptable to my mind that we continue to undermine people in the service industry by not providing them a decent living wage.

Now I understand that the North American attitude towards service is that tips are incentives. Economists and sociologists have demonstrated that people respond to financial incentives, and this can often encourage them to do more diligent and courteous work. Understood. One only needs to look towards Europe, with their snooty nose-in-the-air wait staff who grudgingly serve you both hot coffee and looks of disdain. Nobody wants to go to that model. What Europe does provide is a living wage to their servers, as TVA (the taxes automatically put on your bill) include service.

This means that the waiter in Europe know that they don't have to cozy up to you for a tip and they don't bother. It also prevents waiters falling all over themselves to provide excellent service to cheap nasty people. It may be possible to avoid both pitfalls if we would get rid of the notion of tip-based wages and just give servers minimum wage. Tip-based wages are often lower than the minimum wage with the idea that incentives will follow from the customers themselves. But what we should strive for is a minimum wage so that waitstaff can live and a tip option so that they can thrive.

The shift in the culture will then veer away from the 'I will tip you if you're nice to me, but you've earned nothing from me yet', or the 'I don't tip people' approach. Wait staff will then know that they can get more mileage if they provide good service, but also, that they won't be insulted at the end of the night by someone who had to be served. And then we could all avoid scenarios like this one, when a waiter/waitress turns to the internet for sympathy for something they shouldn't have been made to suffer in the first place, and then be fired when their employer refuses to back them up and protect them as their employee.