3.28.2018

in which i discover jordan's cereal and need to tell everyone about it

We used to eat President's Choice Blue Menu granola. The vanilla-almond flavour was crunchy, delicious, and reasonably healthy. My favourite way to eat it was with plain Greek yogurt and fruit, but it was very good with milk or rice milk as well. Then... it changed. It was no longer crunchy. It was no longer tasty. With a little liquid added, it tasted like soggy cardboard, or what I imagine soggy cardboard would taste like if it were a breakfast cereal. Thanks a lot, Loblaws.

Allan, who does our food shopping, went on the hunt for a cereal that would satisfy all the requirements: whole grain, crunchy, tasty, not overly sweet, and reasonably healthy. Plus I prefer clusters to flakes. It would also be good if the cereal didn't cost $10.00 a box.

This is how I discovered Jordan's Morning Crisp granola, and it has made me very happy.

Morning Crisp is crunchy.

Morning Crisp is delicious.

Morning Crisp comes in a variety of yummy flavours: Wild About Berries, Simply Strawberry, Maple Pecan, Bursting with Nuts, Dark Chocolate (!), and Honey Nut.

Morning Crisp is made from all natural ingredients, with no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives, and it contains lots of whole grains. Look:


The only thing not great is palm oil. But look at this.

President's Choice Blue Menu
"Protein" Whole Grain Cereal, 58 grams
Jordan's Morning Crisp Granola
55 grams

For those of us who regulate our sodium intake, this is amazing. Jordan's contains more sugars, but my overall sugar consumption in a day is very low. Sodium is a greater concern for me -- and it's a massive difference.

Jordan's is a British company. The Jordan's Canada website is not functioning, but their Facebook page is here, and you can follow them on Twitter. I will tweet them this post.

3.27.2018

sheraton hotels' "green choice" is really just precarious work

These days, most hotel rooms contain some sort of green messaging, as companies are expected to show how eco-friendly they are. Usually guests have the option of not having their towels changed daily, which is supposed to yield big energy savings.

Last week at the Sheraton Parkway in Toronto, I learned that Sheraton's green policy is not exactly as advertised. I don't know if this qualifies as greenwashing, but it is certainly not full disclosure. The card reads:
Conserving water, energy and other resources is rewarding for you and great for the environment. Enjoy a $5 voucher at participating food and beverage outlets or 500 Starpoints® awarded at check-out for each night you decline housekeeping (except day of departure). It feels good to conserve.

To participate in the Make a Green Choice program, please tell us at check-in or look for the door hanger in your guestroom.
It may feel good to conserve, but your conservation doesn't feel good to hotel workers. For each guest who uses this program, a worker's hours are cut.

As I looked around my room, I could easily identify many ways Sheraton could be greener. For starters, disposable coffee cups could be replaced with mugs. Tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion could be replaced with hanging dispensers. Why are any hotels using those tiny bottles anymore? That's a lot of plastic.

Sheraton participates in Clean the World, which distributes unused soap and shampoo products to third-world countries. I don't know how effective this program is, or how many Sheraton hotels participate in it, but the best way to cut down on landfill waste is to create less waste.

On this Sheraton's website (scroll down to "Highlights"), there is a list of all their green initiatives. Some are significant, some are just padding. But less impact on the planet shouldn't mean less work for low-wage, precarious workers.

Next time you stay at a Sheraton, please don't Make a Green Choice. Sheraton should find ways to reduce that don't reduce workers' paycheques.

3.26.2018

in the ontario election, the choice is clear. put down the polls and pick up your vote.

I am very frustrated by progressive reaction to Doug Ford becoming the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. People are acting as if Ford has already won an election that is three months away.

I understand there is great -- and well-deserved -- anger against Kathleen Wynne's Liberal party. But are we progressives going to stand helplessly staring at polls as we are thrown from frying pan to fire?

Under 20 years of Liberal governments, public spending has been frozen, resulting in a decrease of more than 40% in public resources. Corporate taxes are at all-time low. Privatization is strangling both services and jobs. And now -- supposedly -- we're all going to vote for more of the same. Either literally more of the same in the Liberals or worse than that in the Conservatives.

And supposedly, we won't vote NDP because the NDP can't win.

We won't vote for a party because the party can't win because not enough people will vote for it. How stupid do you have to be to subscribe to that circular logic?

ONDP leader Andrea Horvath learned an important lesson in the last provincial election. She has returned to the principles that make the NDP the party of progressive people and of labour. The party platform includes full pharmacare, dental benefits, affordable childcare, and relief for student debt. If the 1% and the corporations pay their fair share, it's all within reach.

The brutal effects of corporate tax cuts are all around us. Students graduate college and university with massive debts, but can only find part-time, precarious work. 30,000 seniors are waiting for spaces in long-term care. If they live long enough to get a space, they barely receive minimum standards of care, as private ownership starves facilities of resources. The rise of precarious work means that fewer Ontarians have employer-paid extended health benefits, so people go without "extras" (ha!) like prescription medicine and dental care.

It's been proven beyond all doubt that privatization costs us more and gives us less. So-called public-private partnerships are the same corporate welfare in a different suit.

We need a government that will invest in public services. Healthcare, including dental care, pharmacare, and mental health. Education, including smaller class sizes and an end to student debt. Seniors, including safeguarding pensions and setting minimum standards of care. Publicly-owned transit and utilities.

Don't talk to me about Bob Rae. People who won't vote NDP because of something that a former leader did in the early 1990s are too stupid to be entrusted with the vote.

Don't talk to me about polls. If you read past the headlines, half the poll stories don't even say what you think they do. Fuck the polls. They don't actually predict the future. They just give direction to sheep.

Don't talk to me about strategic voting. You know what that will get you? More of the same.

If you care about public services and you believe in progressive change, there is only one choice this June.

Vote NDP.

But first, get out there and help as many others make that choice as you possibly can.

3.25.2018

marching for their lives: the student activism around gun violence gives us reason to hope

In my continuing (and usually failing) goal of remembering to write about things here, instead of just posting to Facebook, I feel I should write something about the student organizing and activism around gun violence in the US.

This movement is the greatest thing to happen in the US in as long as I can remember. It stands with the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter as the most important movements of our present time.

It has all the hallmarks of a true grassroots revolution.

- It is self-organized.

- Its spokespeople emerged organically.

- It built quickly, because it has tapped into longstanding anger, and it resonates both deeply and broadly.

- It is building on a local level to effect broad social change.

- It is being organized from the bottom up, as opposed to, for example, the organizing around the election of Barack Obama.

- It is using a variety of tools, and it appears to be fluid and agile around using different approaches as needed: walk-outs, public speaking, mainstream media engagement, social media, large-scale public demonstrations, letter writing, lobbying.

And perhaps most significantly, it is being built, grown, and led, by young people, the people most affected by gun violence. Students were on the cutting edge of the US civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Students provided the groundswell that ended the US war in Vietnam. Students led the anti-South African apartheid movement in the 1980s. We have reason to hope.

All power to these courageous, articulate, determined, beautiful young people. Let's support them in any way we can.




Emma Gonzalez, age 17




Naomi Wadler, age 11




Trevon Bosley, age 19, reminds us that gun violence is not only mass shootings.
For many, it is everyday life.

from the 2018 cupe ontario library workers conference: libraries and the opioid crisis

I recently attended the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference, which has become a highlight of my year since I first attended (and was elected to the organizing committee) in 2015. It has eclipsed and replaced the OLA Superconference as the most relevant and enjoyable must-attend conference in my schedule.

When I first got my librarian degree, I was very excited about attending my first "OLA" (as it's always called). But I quickly learned that the sessions are a crap-shoot, sometimes relevant but often obvious and dull. There's also a great deal of boosterism by OLA and the member libraries. For the difference between the two conferences, for OLA, think employers and libraries, for CUPE Ontario, think labour and library workers.

In recent years, our Library Workers Conference has focused on precarious work and health and safety issues, two themes that are inextricably linked. This year's conference was called "Sex, Drugs & Bed Bugs," a light take on very serious health and safety issues. My full report is here on the CUPE 1989 website. (No bed bugs are pictured there.)

* * * * *

The most moving part of the conference -- by far -- was a talk by outreach worker Zoe Dodd. Zoe has worked with marginalized people with HIV and Hepatitis C, and now her work has shifted to the opioid overdose crisis. She and her co-workers -- who are mostly volunteers -- had been telling the government that this crisis was looming for the past decade, but their alarm fell on ears that refused to hear.

Now the deaths from fentanyl overdoses eclipse those from HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis. Last year there was a 52% increase of fentanyl deaths over the previous year. Yet Ontario has refused to call this a public health crisis. British Columbia is the only Canadian province to declare opioid overdoses a public health emergency -- and this has saved thousands of lives.

Zoe Dodd (middle) and co-workers in Moss Park, Toronto
Death by overdose, Zoe told us, is preventable. The majority of those affected are already marginalized people living in poverty. (Indigenous people are 400 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population.) Thousands who survive end up in comas, on life support.

There were coordinated emergency health efforts for both H1N1 and SARS outbreaks; lives were saved by those decisions. But when it comes to drug use, governments spend almost exclusively on enforcement, rather than harm reduction. That is, they treat drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. This is a moralistic decision -- and a lethal one.

Frustrated and angry over both Ontario's and the City of Toronto's inaction, Zoe and her comrades acted on their own. They brought 10,000 vials of naloxone -- the drug that reverses fentanyl overdoses -- into Canada before it was legal. They raised $95,000 online. They pitched a tent and opened a site, staffed entirely by volunteers. At the conference, we were so proud to learn that CUPE Ontario bought the group a trailer, so they could safely serve more people! They did this while it was still illegal, a fact that makes me feel really good about my union.

This intrepid band of volunteers forced Ontario and Canada to change their policies. Now harm reduction sites are opening across the province -- including in Mississauga.

What does this have to do with library workers? Only everything. Libraries, as public spaces, are often places of drug use and of overdose. Library workers across North America are being trained in the use of naloxone, and they are saving lives.


Zoe addressed some myths about naloxone use, demystifying the process for all in the room. Many people -- including 1989 officers -- thought there was a danger of a person coming out of an overdose becoming aggressive and violent. Turns out this is simply untrue. Typically a person coming out of a drug overdose is groggy and confused. Their brain has shut down from lack of oxygen, and naloxone is beginning to restore the flow of oxygen to their brain. Far from being violent, they are only gradually waking up.

Many people believe that administering naloxone is dangerous, as we can be exposed to fentanyl or naloxone. This is also untrue. Fentanyl must be ingested to be harmful. Naloxone, Zoe said, is virtually "idiot proof". If a person is not overdosing, the drug has no effect. But if they are overdosing, it will save their life. (Note that more than one dose of naloxone may be needed.)

The most moving and disturbing part of Zoe's talk was hearing how she and her co-workers have suffered. Outreach workers and the people they serve are often one community. The pain they witness and endure is staggering. In one year, Zoe lost 30 clients and six friends. Outreach workers have committed suicide, overwhelmed by grief. There is a secondary crisis of trauma among the workers who have witnessed so much death. Now these workers are using their grief and anger to drive change. It was incredibly moving and inspiring.

The CUPE 1989 executive wants to get involved. For starters, we've decided on a three-part course of action. One, we'll get trained in the use of naloxone. Two, we will share this education with our members and our employer. And three, we will advocate for a greater role of social services in our libraries. We hope to host Zoe Dodd in our own libraries.

There have been some good stories about Zoe and her co-workers.

Meet the harm reduction worker who called out Trudeau on the opioid crisis in Vice

Front-line workers struggle to cope with opioid crisis in an issue of Now magazine with a great cover, and

'Drowning in all this death': outreach workers want help to fight drug overdose 'emergency' on CBC.ca.

This is the video of Zoe Dodd addressing Justin Trudeau during one of his extended photo-ops.


* * * * *

This year's group exercise at the conference was listing the "Top 10 Crimes" we've witnessed or heard about in our libraries.

Toronto Public Library tops the list with a murder -- by cross-bow. Naturally, theft is big. Sex in the stacks and study rooms. Public masturbation, urination, defecation. Attempted kidnapping. Illegal drug use and drug dealing, of course. Harassment. Sexual assault.

The crimes that appeared on the most lists were crimes against children: abuse, neglect, abandonment.

* * * * *

And since this is, after all, my personal blog, I'll share that I have been elected chairperson of the CUPE Ontario Library Committee. It's not like I need anything else to do! But our long-time chair has stepped down (more on that later), and I felt like I had to step up.

3.13.2018

what i'm reading: brendan's way by matthew bin

Brendan's Way by Matthew Bin is a genre-blending journey story combining adventure, mystery, and conspiracy in a futuristic setting. It's technically science fiction, as it takes place in the future and features some technology that doesn't yet exist. But if, like me, you don't usually read science fiction, don't let that stop you. It's an engrossing story and a satisfying read.

Brendan is immigrating to a new world. As generation upon generation before him have done, he is filled with hope and dreams of a better life. In this case, the travel is intergalactic, but the conditions on Brendan's home planet are familiar to us, as are the difficult conditions onboard the ship.

To win his passage, Brendan is posing as the husband of a political activist who is traveling undercover on some kind of mission. Brendan doesn't know the details, and doesn't want to know. Being granted the unexpected opportunity to begin life anew on a colonial planet is reason enough to spend three months living beside a beautiful woman.

Once onboard, Brendan begins to sense that things are not that simple. His fake wife mistreats him and refuses to give him any explanation or information. As his attempts to investigate are thwarted, he realizes that the ship's destination and its mission may not be what the hopeful immigrants have been told. But how to learn more, and who can be trusted, are not easily sorted.

Most of the action of Brendan's Way takes place on the Imran, the giant ship that is a future version of the great ocean liners of the past. Through vivid descriptions -- the tiny cubicles of the living quarters for the "colonials", a marketplace that is a vast bazaar of delights and dangers, the common area where the colonials scramble for food rations -- the Imran becomes a character in the novel. The sense of place is very strong.

With so many people living in close quarters, and a conspiracy of agents who may be getting closer to the truth, the authoritarian control of the ship becomes harsher and more desperate. The suspense grows, as does the claustrophobia. When Brendan finally discovers the truth, everything is on the line.

3.11.2018

what i'm reading: short reviews of fiction by margaret atwood, madeleine thien, frances itani, elizabeth kostova

I've gathered some thoughts about several novels I read but neglected to write about. I enjoyed them all to varying degrees; all are worth reading if you enjoy the type. This is the first of three posts.

* * * *

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is a subgenre we don't see enough of: the dystopian comedy. We're in the future, one in which the entire economy of the United States has collapsed. Formerly middle-class families are living in their cars. Gangs of menacing scavengers roam the landscape. No one knows what happened -- some complicated financial dirty dealings went awry. It all looks very familiar.

Now some clever entrepreneur offers a solution to hunger, want, and anxiety -- a controlled community where there are jobs for all and every need is met. Well, yes, it partly a penal colony, and no one leaves -- ever. What could possibly go wrong?

As the plot thickens -- and reels, and loops, and spins -- we're treated to a wacky world involving blackmail, espionage, identity theft, human-organ trafficking, sex robots, Elvis impersonators, and some extremely strange extramarital affairs. The book is funnier than it is creepy, but it's plenty creepy, too. There's social commentary to spare woven into the humour, reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut. The Heart Goes Last is bit crazy, maybe a little out of control, but very enjoyable.

* * * *

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a dense blend of history and myth, suspense and adventure, gothic love story and murder-mystery. It's richly descriptive, like a Victorian novel, with a complex plot that keeps you wanting more, even at 650 tightly-packed pages.

The Historian is said to be a re-telling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but to capture the feel, you have to throw in gothic classics like Rebecca, time-traveling magic-book mysteries like Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n's The Shadow of the Wind, and a dash of international intrigue worthy of old-school 007. Kostova brings off an amazing literary sleight-of-hand, seamlessly blending real-world history with the Dracula myth.

There's also a meta theme, exploring how history is written. Even in this world of semi-fantasy, the intellectual detectives insist on primary sources, search for corroboration, and form no assumptions or conclusions without adequate evidence. And if this isn't enough, the immortal Vlad Drakulya has a thing for librarians.

The story is told in several concentric threads of narration. You'll need to suspend disbelief that anyone could have recorded such brilliant detail in a series of letters. But this letter-writing device alleviates the need for an entire novel that is told rather than shown -- something that has ruined more than one book for me. Don't let the vampires stop you; this is a very impressive and enjoyable novel.

* * * *

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien is another dense, multi-generational saga. The narrator, living in present-day Vancouver, relates the story of her father, a brilliant Chinese classical musician who was pushed to suicide by the cruelties of Mao's so-called Cultural Revolution. (File that sanitized expression along with ethnic cleansing, both more properly called genocide.)

The narrator's father, and others like him who have devoted their lives to music, suddenly find themselves branded as enemies of the state. They are arrested, humiliated, sometimes tortured. Thien uses their family saga to tell the stories of the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Both are seen through the lens of musicians and their love for now-forbidden beauty.

There are many plot lines, spanning two continents and several decades, and many reflections about the effect of history -- both global and family -- on our lives.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing was the winner of the 2016 Giller Prize, considered the most prestigious Canadian literary award. It's not an easy novel to read, but it is well worth the effort.

* * * *

Requiem by Frances Itani is also a historical novel. It is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and deeply satisfying read.

The narrator of Requiem, Bin Okuma, is a Japanese-Canadian visual artist recovering from the sudden loss of his beloved wife. As he drives across Canada to reunite with his aging father, he recalls childhood memories when his family was forced out of their fishing village on Vancouver Island -- given two hours to take what they could carry before they were herded into detention camps. While their white neighbours looted their homes, the men and older boys were separated from their families. No one knew where they were being taken or what would happen to them.

From filthy, reeking farm-animal pens to the brutal cold of the northern interior, with no electricity, no running water, and no outside help, tens of thousands of Canadian citizens were forced to live in brutal dislocation. The legacy of unspoken anger and shame forms the powerful emotional undercurrent of this novel. I thought I knew how bad the internment was. I didn't. Itani brings to life the full weight of the injustice, physically and psychologically.

The story cuts back and forth between Bin's present road trip, his childhood memories of the internment, and his more recent memories of his wife. It's highly readable: I found myself wanting to get back to all three timelines.

I haven't yet read the other well-known novels about the Japanese-American or Japanese-Canadian internment -- Obasan by Joy Kogawa and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford -- so I don't know how this compares. (There is also Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.) But Requiem is very immediate and moving, a memorable read.

Locally, Requiem was chosen as the first One Book One Mississauga. It was an enormously successful program, drawing thousands of readers in print, audio, and ebook. I found the huge interest in this novel very encouraging -- a positive force for our understanding of history, for the world we want to build, and for the stubborn persistence of reading as a shared personal and social value.

3.10.2018

rip barry crimmins: call me lucky to have known him

In late 2015, I blogged about a remarkable documentary: "Call Me Lucky," about the life and times of Barry Crimmins. Barry died last week at the age of 64.

Describing Barry as a comedian somehow seems wrong. He was a social critic who used biting humour and righteous anger to enlighten and to skewer. He was a fierce opponent of any system that furthers war, poverty, and repression, and a stalwart advocate for equality, justice, and peace. He was also a master of wicked one-liners, as his thousands of Twitter followers knew.

Barry was in many ways a cynic and a curmudgeon, but that didn't stop him from being an idealist. He constantly called attention to the mistreatment of children, the kind that happens every day in our own communities. Barry went public with his own horrific story of child sexual abuse. In the 1990s, he became an activist against child pornography, after discovering that AOL chat rooms were harboring pedophiles. As Barry often said, "Child pornography is not protected speech. It's evidence of a crime scene."

In my review of "Call Me Lucky," I noted:
Allan and I met Barry through a baseball discussion list in the 90s, quickly bonding over our politics and, for me, a shared identity as survivors of sexual abuse or assault. We stayed at Barry's place on the Cleveland stop of our 1999 rust-belt baseball tour, and went to a few games together in New York. We lost touch until re-connecting on Facebook. Barry is the master of the political one-liner, and his feed keeps me laughing about the things that anger me the most.
I have mixed feelings about Facebook, but re-connecting with Barry Crimmins is one of the best things I've gotten from social media. We caught his act in Toronto last year, and said hi and exchanged hugs after the show. The world is a poorer place without Barry, but call me lucky to have known him.

Barry Crimmins' obit from Rolling Stone, along with a few video clips, here.

beyond #iwd: fight for women by opposing privatization

Visit We Own It for all the facts on privatization.
When public services are privatized, everyone loses -- except, of course, shareholders of a private company, who increase their wealth with our money.

But did you know the pain of privatization hits women disproportionately harder? As this excellent article by Jane Stinson in Canadian Dimension says:
Privatization is not gender-neutral. It threatens advances toward women’s equality in the labour market and in the home.

In the labour market, privatization usually means lower wages for women workers, fewer workplace rights, reduced health and welfare benefits, no pension coverage, less predictable work hours, more precarious employment, a heavier workload and generally more exploitative working conditions.
In addition, in a society where women are still the primary caregivers for both children and the elderly, when services become both scarcer and more expensive, women's burdens grow -- often while their wages are shrinking. This is also a direct impact of privatization.

Here's a terrible, typical example. When the province of British Columbia privatized support services in health care, thousands of women lost their jobs, and those who were still employed saw their wages cut by almost 50%. Naturally, services were greatly reduced, which by definition increases poverty and isolation among seniors and people with disabilities.

The UN found that privatized education "exacerbates gender discrimination."

The International Journal of Political Economy found that privatized social security impacts women twice as hard as it does men.

Canada's National Network on Environments and Women's Health found that water privatization leaves "women – especially Aboriginal women – disproportionately making difficult choices about where money is spent, having to choose among food, shelter, and safe water." Fifty years ago, the very concept of privatized water would have seemed unthinkable. Today, it is a struggle between life and death -- a struggle that hits women much harder than it does men.

Let's make International Women's Day more than a hashtag. The fight for quality public services is the fight for women's rights and gender equity. Many thanks to the good folks at We Own It for making this connection visible!

3.03.2018

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #27

This is a scene played out every day in public libraries all across North America.

I'm at the information desk, and I see a boy, by himself, a chubby little toddler, toddle fast in one direction, then back in the other direction. He can't be much over 12 months old. When I see him cross the floor for the third time, I get up and go to chat with him. "Who are you here with, sweetie? Is your mom here? Where's your mom?"

As I talk, his face starts to pucker, his eyes well up with tears.

"Come with me, let's look for Mommy. I know she's here, let's go find her."

He won't hold my hand, but he walks unsteadily beside me. We go around to different moms, dads, and kids. I'm hoping he'll soon recognize his family and run straight to them. By this time he is full-on crying.

A woman reading with school-age kids asks them to wait and joins me.  He wouldn't take my hand, but she lifts him confidently onto her hip. Maybe she looks more like his mom than I do -- younger, brown, hijab -- or maybe it's a motion he's familiar with. She says, "Come on kiddo, let's go find your mum."

We walk together into a busy activity area, and I announce, "Is everyone's child accounted for? Do you have all your children?" Twice. A woman waves and points to someone else -- a woman sitting by herself, texting. I am standing six inches away from her. I say loudly, "Excuse me." She looks up, uncomprehendingly, then sees her sobbing child, and jumps up, takes him from the other woman.

She says, "They were playing on the computer. His sister and brother were supposed to watch him."

I give her The Talk. You must stay close to your children. Your other children are too young to have that responsibility. You are responsible for all your children while you're here. He was very frightened. You must pay attention. I'm saying these things because I have to, but it feels useless. Maybe the sight of her son's face will make a difference.

We see it every day. We all have stories. The child who crawled out of the library into the mall. The child who was found on the public square outside City Hall. The children who are dropped off in the morning and instructed to say their mom is in the washroom. Not just moms, of course. Dads, too, and all manner of caregivers. Neglect, sometimes to the point of abandonment.

For me, it's the worst part of the job.