7.29.2022

the great canadian sox shop for quality products made in canada

Add the Great Canadian Sox Shop to the list of companies I'm happy to have found. 

I am so, so, so tired of buying things that instantly fall apart. I'll absolutely pay higher prices to avoid that. The worst is when you opt for higher prices, and the damn thing still falls apart after only a few uses. Future landfill.

In my experience, socks are very prone to this syndrome. As holes started to appear in the last batch of socks I bought, I started looking online for a better alternative. The only thing we can buy locally is crap, and of course made in Bangladesh, Cambodia, or China. Crap made in China that needs constant replacing comes with a mighty big carbon footprint.

There are many places online to buy socks. Why did I choose the Great Canadian Sox Shop?

* They have a huge selection.

* Most of their products are made in Canada. Actually in Toronto!

* They are a family-run business. I don't know what their labour practices are, but they must treat their 40 employees better than the Asian sweatshops do.

* They have a loyalty program. (Not a deciding factor, but a plus.)

* They have an option to ship with minimal packaging.

* For woolen socks, they follow the Responsible Wool Standards.

* And most importantly, everything I've purchased from them has been very high quality. On their own brand, J. B. Fields, they actually have a no-risk guarantee, good for a full year. 

My first purchase included an eye-catching postcard telling me I was supporting a small, family-run, Canadian business, plus a little "how to care for your socks" piece. It said, "Socks last longer if you don't put them in the dryer." I decided to try that. I purchased a second drying rack, and started hanging the socks to dry. And guess what? My electricity bill went down!

(This drying rack is stainless steel, comes already assembled, folds flat, and is both sturdy and lightweight. If you're into laundry, this may be your new favourite thing.)

7.27.2022

the game report: an update that is not completely analog

Back in December of last year, I blogged about starting a game night at home, rotating every-other week between games and music. I was super happy about it. 

Seven months later, I can report mixed results -- mostly mixed because my partner really doesn't like games. This has always been a source of frustration for me. For some reason (unknown to me) he decided to give it a try, but doing something you really don't like on a regular basis is not much fun. 

It hasn't been a total washout. Plus... we've become addicted to a new-to-us videogame.

Not a gamer, but I love games

We don't have a gaming system and generally don't play videogames -- not because I'm opposed to them (or think they're evil, as some people seem to), but because I know I would find videogames incredibly addictive. I'd rather use my screen time watching movies or series. But there have been some exceptions.

Sometime in the early 2010s, we stumbled on Angry Birds on our Roku. We really enjoyed it and played the full game (with no power-ups) for three stars. Recently, I tried to get the newer Angry Birds Reloaded on our AppleTV. It wouldn't play properly, and apparently it never has on AppleTV, for anyone, ever. 

But while trying to make that work, we stumbled on Badland. Now we're hooked. At least I am. Allan claims to be ambivalent, but he looks pretty hooked to me.

The internet tells me Badland is an adventure/platforming game. You guide a character (called a clone) through a series of challenges (called checkpoints). Each checkpoint requires different strategies and you have to figure out what they are. This is the kind of simple but challenging game I enjoy. 

I love Badland's steampunk-style graphics and sound effects. It's very challenging and endlessly frustrating, which of course makes it very satisfying. 

Although I am addicted to Badland, I don't want to play it alone. Allan and I play as a team, taking turns, or handing off the controller when a checkpoint gets too frustrating. Sometimes we'll watch a one-hour episode of a series, then play Badland for the rest of the evening.

Allan and I have three nights each week together, and I'm confining my videogame play to those. Althought this conflicts with my movement towards digital minimalism, I'm enjoying it too much to care.

Tabletop games: how we fared

Here are the games we played and the results - good, bad and mixed.

  • Qwirkle. This is the game we've played the most because it's the one Allan likes best -- or at least dislikes least. It's fast, fun, a little challenging but not mind-bending. A good combination of luck and strategy.
  • Ticket to Ride. This is my favourite of the new games we acquired. There are decisions to make and things to think about, yet it moves along quickly. I'm hoping Allan will still agree to play it once in a while.
  • Pandemic. This game appears to be impossible to win, at least with two players. It's a cooperative (not competitive) game, and I want to play it with all hands -- Allan and I together playing six different players. Allan finds it too much work. I understand that, as I've been introduced to board games that I feel that way about. I'm holding out hope that we will play again, or will play with friends/visitors. 
  • Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. This was the game I was most looking forward to, and it's turned out to be a total bust. It's beautifully designed, and the story and clues are very well written. But the entire game consists of reading (voluminous) clues -- and nothing else. There are no actions or decisions or movement. Just a lot of reading. It feels more like an assignment than a game. This was an expensive disappointment. I now also see that reviews of board games may be not be useful to me, as this game got rave reviews.
  • Banagrams. I love anagrams, but it turns out you can get too much of a good thing. I play (and am obsessed with) the New York Times' Spelling Bee daily, and I also play Wordscapes, and that's plenty of word games for now. It's possible when I finish Wordscapes -- I'm on level 5,400-something out of 6,000 -- I'll like Banagrams more.
  • Rummikub. I looked for games that are similar to Qwirkle, and ended up with Rummikub. Azul was also in the running, but the price was prohibitive. We haven't played this one yet, and I'm looking forward to it.

7.24.2022

the unscented company for greener, scent-free products

I highly recommend The Unscented Company! Here's why.

Looking for a pump-bottle liquid soap, I was very surprised to find a total absence of unscented soap where I live. In a large supermarket and two drugstores, there was no unscented hand soap! I was even more surprised -- and disgusted -- to see that even baby products were not unscented. Why would you put artificial scents on a baby's skin??

I tried a hand soap that claimed to be lightly scented, but it was still too much scent -- which was predictable. Fibromyalgia gives me a hypersensitive sense of smell, plus scents bother my respiratory system, plus I have very sensitive skin. Plus I find the artificial scents used in most scented products unpleasant.

I gave the supposedly lightly scented product to a co-worker and my quest continued. 

In a neighbouring town -- which means 40 minutes away by car -- I stumbled on The Unscented Company's hand soap. It is (of course) unscented, contains no dyes, cleans well, rinses easily, and wasn't expensive, even in the small, independent drugstore.

When the bottle was almost empty, I found The Unscented Company's products at a few online retailers, but even better, I found that they sell direct as well! 

What really clinched it for me: they sell refills. This is something that should be so commonplace, yet is almost unheard of. To summarize:
* quality products
* no scent
* no dyes
* refillable containers
* no animal testing
* independent company
* made in Canada
* full ingredient disclosure

I compared prices, and some, such as laundry detergent, were a bit higher -- but only for the first purchase. Refills are very economical. And although it's not difficult to find unscented dish soap or laundry detergent in our area, I'd rather buy from a Canadian company that sells refillable products, than P&G or Unilever.

I bought:
- hand soap
- laundry detergent
- liquid dish soap
- refill packs for all of the above
- dishwasher pod

Everything has been very nice. I have the refill boxes in our big pantry. Each box has the number of plastic bottles that have been replaced. 

A reminder note about this blog: it is always ad-free. I do not post "affiliate links" or get freebies from companies I write about. Just the occasional thank you.

7.22.2022

follow-up: response from pacific coastal airlines

This is a follow-up post to getting home: horrific customer service from pacific coastal airlines.

Tl;dr: Those are the rules. Too bad for you. Next time buy travel insurance.

Good afternoon, Laura

I wanted to write today to let you know your letters to [company's principals] were all received and forwarded to me so I could respond and address your concerns.

When I look at your letter and how your travel day unfolded, I can certainly appreciate that it must have been incredibly stressful, starting with checking in, in SFO, only to find your terminal had been changed.  I’m happy to see that United was able to find you another flight at 1130, but this certainly put a strain on your ability to make the flight out of the South Terminal.  Waiting for an hour for your baggage also didn’t help, and I’m sorry to see you had to wait that long to get your luggage.

As a traveller on 2 separate tickets (United and Pacific Coastal), unfortunately, neither airline is aware of the other booking and in each respective case, even though to you your itinerary has you going from San Francisco to Port Hardy, United sees you going from SFO to YVR and we see you as going from YVR to YZT.  Unfortunately, if one causes you to miss the other flight (even if the situation was reversed), the circumstances you were under, do not factor into the cancellation or check-in policy of the airline.

Attached is our rules around check-in close times (the same that were presented to you).  The reason we close check-in at 40 minutes, is so we can ensure an on-time departure.  It is at this time, that our pilots begin to finalize the flight details, looking at the  number of passengers checked in,  the checked bags and their weight, as well as any cargo and its weight.  Based on calculations they make, they then order fuel, the fuel truck comes (while bags are loaded) and then we board and depart.

Accepting new check-ins after the flight closes, would require them to start again and this would ultimately cause a delay.  If we miss our take-off slot at YVR, we could be waiting another 20-25 minutes on the ground, waiting for an opening, from Air Traffic Control.  This would burn fuel and also delay everyone on the plane into their final destination and could have a domino effect of people missing ferries or perhaps now a rental car office is closed etc.  As you can see, there are a lot of factors at play and we have to draw the line somewhere.  The line is 40 minutes and yes, we have denied someone check-in because they missed it by 1 minute.  As you were 10-minutes after flight-close time, while it may not seem like much, in the context of preparing the aircraft for departure, it is VERY late. 

I certainly sympathize and understand that why you arrived late was not your own fault, but rather that of the circumstances of your earlier travel in the day.  That, however, does not play a role in how our agents will (and did, in this case) handle your reservation.  For them to rebook you and collect the reservation reactivation fee is correct.  The alternative would have been a full forteiture of the ticket.  So that fee is actually a service to prevent that from happening. 

What we have here is what travel insurance is for.  Specifically trip interruption insurance.  This is for when a passenger has unforeseen expenses as a result of certain travel being disrupted (Cruise, train, ferry, airline) whereby the reason of the disruption is not attributable to the transportation provider but rather simply ‘circumstance’ – you having to take a later flight, bags taking 1 hour to come out etc.

Again, I’m sorry that we were not able to transport you to Port Hardy on June 12th.  Unfortunately, I am not able to oblige your request for a refund of the reactivation fee or reimburse you for your accommodation.

Respectfully,

[name]

Customer Relations

I give them points for writing a personal letter that clearly shows that someone read my complaint, rather than a form letter, and for explaining why the rules exist, rather than just repeating the rule. 

The worst part of this is that I have to continue to fly on this airline, as they're the only one with service to Port Hardy. I'll be using them again in October, and it's going to hurt!

7.19.2022

what i'm reading: four fish: the future of the last wild food

After reading a review of Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food when it was published in 2010, I added the title to The List. When I read it recently, more than 10 years later, the subject matter had become so much more relevant to me, in a way I could not have imagined in 2010.

In Four Fish, Greenberg unpacks the histories of the salmon, bass, cod, and tuna -- the physical and biological histories of those animals, and the cultural, social, economic, and political histories of human's interactions with them. 

Each fish's story is told through a human element that brings it to life, and through Greenberg's personal connection to fish and fishing, making the stories accessible and engaging. 

And each story is complex and circuitous. Greenberg has a deft touch for imparting the salient bits, (mostly) without getting too bogged down in detail.

I live in salmon country

In the chapter on salmon, Greenberg travels to a remote area of Alaska, where an Indigenous nation is involved in the wild-salmon trade, attempting both sustainability and profitability. 

The story could have taken place in my own community. Living on Canada's far west coast, the salmon and the many ways people's lives are linked to it are ever-present.

Indigenous fishers; non-Indigenous fishers, both commercial and sport; the aquaculture (fish-farm) industry; government regulatory bodies (almost universally hated); conservationists; the tourism and hospitality industry; the food industry; casual environmentalists -- all have a stake in the future of this iconic fish, and each has a different perspective. And other than rapacious Food Inc companies whose practices are completely unsustainable, none of them is wrong. It's complicated, and there are no easy answers. 

Bluefin is the new whale

Greenberg argues passionately that the bluefin tuna should be a protected species, the way whales and dolphins are -- animals no longer thought of as legitimate targets for either hunting or food. The bluefin -- which is but a distant relative of the tuna many of us (including me) eat -- is almost extinct. 
The bluefin conservation advocates, often former tuna fishermen who have been able to pull themselves away from the lure of tuna's silver-ingot bodies and marbled-sirloin flesh, have tried all manner of spells to get those who eat tuna or those officials who legislate over them to somehow sit up and take similar notice -- to abstain from eating them or to pass enforceable regulation for the sake of their preciousness. It is this often-futile battle that is the most telling part of the tuna fishery today. It is the battle with ourselves. A battle between the altruism toward other species that we know we can muster and the primitive greed that lies beneath our relationship with the creatures of the sea.
Greenberg reviews how hunting whales -- how humans' very concept of the whale -- has changed over time, culminating in the end of whaling.
It was the broadest and most far-reaching act of kindness humanity has ever bestowed on another group of species. Though contested and embattled and fraught with disagreements that result in violations, this kindness has persisted. The whaling moratorium remains in effect to this day.
Shifting baselines

Four Fish gave me a name for a concept I have thought about many times: shifting baselines. Greenberg credits marine biologist Daniel Pauly with the term, and says he was struck by
both the profound significance as well as its relative invisibility in the contemporary news cycle.

The idea of shifting baseline is this: Every generation has its own, specific expectations of what "normal" is for nature, a baseline. One generation has one baseline for abundance while the next has a reduced version and the next reduced even more, and so on and so on until expectations of abundance are pathetically low.

Before Daniel Pauly expressed this generational memory loss as a scientific thesis, the fantastical catches of older fishermen could be written off as time-warped nostalgia. But Pauly has tabulated the historical catch data and shown that the good old days were in fact often much better. This is not nostalgia on the part of the old or lack of empathy on the part of the young. It is almost a willful forgetting -- the means by which our species, generation by generation, finds reasonableness amid the irrational destruction of the greatest natural food system on earth.
I can think of a dozen other applications of shifting baselines, from the price of gas to the health of public services to originality in writing and music. Applied to the wild, it is very, very sad.

Q: Which fish should you eat? A: It hardly matters.

Greenberg notes that the issues of the future of fish cannot be managed -- or even significantly impacted -- on the consumer level. I share this perspective on most environmental issues, and I appreciated the validation. 

If you eat fish and care about the planet, you are probably familiar with the Seafood Choices Alliance ratings of fish: fish designated environmentally safe to eat, fish that are on the brink of danger and should be eaten only rarely, and fish you should not eat at all. Greenberg reviews the positive impact this has made and concludes:
For in the end, this somewhat passive response to the global crisis in fisheries robs the conservation movement of the will to stage more radical, directed, and passionate action. Daniel Pauly, the author of the shifting-baselines theory and frequent critic of the limited views of the sustainable seafood movement, said as much in a recent paper. "The current faith in the magic of free-market mechanisms must be questioned," Pauly wrote. "Consumers should not be misled that a system of management or conservation based on purchasing power alone will adequately address the present dilemma facing fisheries globally."
Greenbery notes that when he would say he was writing a book about the future of fish, people everywhere would inevitably ask, "Which fish should I eat?" 

His conclusion: it doesn't much matter. Action must be taken far upstream, and on a much grander scale.

Practical suggestions and solutions

Greenberg closes the book with a set of principles that could steer humans away from the total destruction of the world's fish, while allowing us to harvest and consume fish sustainably. He writes:
For too long it has been entrepreneurs who have decided which species to domesticate and which to leave wild. Their decisions have been based on market principles and profit, and they have historically not consulted with the managers and biologists who study wild-fish dynamics. This is senseless. If we continue along this pathway, we will only destroy one food system and replace it with another, inferior one, just as we have already done in most of the world's freshwater lakes and rivers. We therefore need a set of principles that guide us forward with domestication, one that is inclusive of impacts on wild oceans. 
He then sets out five principles that would guide aquaculture into a new era. Much of it is already taking place, in tiny enterprises scattered around the globe. Will this trend reach a point of global sustainability? Is it even enough to be considered a trend?

The giant web that holds us all

Similar to another book I recently read and reviewedAnimal, Vegetable, Junk by Mark Bittman, Four Fish speaks to the interconnectedness of all living organisms on our planet. Both books reveal the utter foolishness of humans' attempts to interfere with that connectedness, and of the human belief that only more interference, often in the form of technology, can solve the problems that humans have created. 

Like Animal, Vegetable, JunkFour Fish reveals the breadth and depth of how humans have poisoned the Earth, or as Greenberg writes, "the loss of abundance and the greedy privatization, monopolization, and industrialization of fishing that caused it."

7.14.2022

rotd: feminism is an endeavor to change

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Feminism is an endeavor to change something very old, widespread, and deeply rooted in many, perhaps most, cultures around the world, innumerable institutions, and most households on Earth -- and in our minds, where it all begins and ends. That so much change has been made in four or five decades is amazing; that everything is not permanently, definitively, irrevocably changed is not a sign of failure. A woman goes walking down a thousand-mile road. Twenty minutes after she steps forth, they proclaim that she still has nine hundred ninty-nine miles to go and will never get anywhere.

-- Rebecca Solnit, from "Pandora's Box and the Volunteer Police Force", 2014

7.11.2022

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #34

A customer said this.
I tell my daughter I love her every day. I told my mother on her death bed, I'm not going to do what you did. I'm going to raise my daughter with love. 

My mother told me she hated me. She told me I ruined her life. She told me I was worthless and stupid. This is what they told her in the residential school. This was all she knew.

She would make me clean. She would force me down on my hands and knees to scrub the floor with my bare hands. She would push my face in the bucket with detergent and yell that it wasn't clean enough yet, push my face into the floor, and shout, look what you did, look what you did, you worthless slob.

To this day the smell of Pinesol turns my stomach. It can trigger my PTSD. My house is very dirty! I don't care. My daughter and I clean it together once in a while. We try to make it fun.

It took a lot of therapy and reading and hard work to find my way past that. But I am determined not to pass this to my daughter. I raised her with love.

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #33

As I sat down to write this, I searched for the last "things i heard at the library" post, to get the number. Amazingly, today's post turns out to be a follow-up to the previous TIH! That was a surprise! And it makes writing this much easier.

July 2020:
I just heard a heartbreaking lament from one of our regular customers, who was here for curbside.

She told us that most people she knows do not have internet access or any TV service, and many do not have phones. They rely on library staff to suggest and order materials for them.

We assured her that we can still do that. We asked her to encourage folks to show up during curbside hours and we will find books and DVDs for them.

Then she said, "It's not just the boredom. It's the isolation. It's the friendship. We are a poor community, and this library is our lifeline. I would work on the jigsaw puzzle or read a magazine, but that was just an excuse to be among people, to see friendly faces, to connect. The other place we would hang out is the Salvation Army – also closed. Many people go to church for that reason only, to connect with people – also closed. We've been cut adrift. People are depressed and they're suffering."

She understands why we can't open our doors yet. She just wants us to know how much the library space is missed.

I share this [with library management] as a reminder, both of the great need for physical materials – a need not likely to go away, and of the service we provide that cannot fit through the takeout window.
July 2022:

I hadn't seen that customer again -- until yesterday. I hustled over to her, and greeted her warmly. We chatted a bit, and when it seemed appropriate, I reminded her of that conversation.
LK: Last time I saw you, you mentioned how difficult it was not to have the library and other places to hang out. All during the lockdown, I thought about you, wondered how you were doing. How did you end up getting through covid?

Customer: Do you know what I did? I adapted. I started watching Kanopy, I used all the stuff you can use at home. I started learning Spanish on Mango, looked for crafts in Creativebug, watched The Knowledge Network. I just started doing all the at-home library things I could find. It's still really hard. People have died. Our old routines are gone. But keeping my brain active -- that has really helped a lot. 
I could scarcely express how happy that made me! 

I knew that many library customers turned to online services and e-resources during covid. But although that occured throughout our regional system, I've always wondered if customers in our remote locations shared that experience. (I do see statistics, but that can't account for individual customers.) While our most vulnerable customers -- people without internet at home, and people without homes -- couldn't, this woman is not among the affluent and well-connected. And somehow, she did this. Our library helped her get through. So, so, so wonderful.

I told her we have in-person programming again, and invited her to stop by on a Wednesday night, when we always have something for adults -- a movie, or board games, puzzles, sometimes a special event. She was skeptical, unsure if she was ready for that -- which was also good information for me to have -- as we struggle with low turnout. But wow, did this ever make my day!

7.06.2022

so many left behind: the ever-widening digital divide

Last year, while attempting to get a parking pass during our vacation -- without a phone, my phone having been fried by an update -- I got caught in a circuitous and frustrating encounter with information and technology gaps.

About a year later, navigating the brave new world of do-it-yourself airport screening, I used quite a few resources -- skills, devices, time, and patience -- to find, navigate, and complete the covid requirements for both US and Canada cross-border travel.

I deal with technology every day, and I'm about as confident a tech user as you will find. Yet each of these experiences was complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating.

The digital divide is an abyss

How do people without digital skills get by? What happens to folks who can't navigate these mazes? 

There are some analog workarounds, required by accessibility laws, but can you find them? How do you find them if you aren't online?

There are people you can hire to expedite these steps for you. But if you're not digitally literate, you probably can't find them and you almost certainly can't afford them.

There may be someone in your life who can ask for help. But what if everyone in your life is from a similar background and social standing, and also lack these skills? 

If you're lucky, someone will suggest you go to the public library. You can try that, and hope that resources haven't been slashed to such an extent that no one has the time and focus to help you. (Remember the scene in "I, Daniel Blake," where other library users help Daniel get online?) 

These not-really-options don't factor in the shame and embarrassment that, for so many people, comes with asking for help, and they certainly don't factor in anxiety, mental confusion, and the exhaustion of poverty.

The digital divide is not about age

In library school, we talked a lot about the "digital divide" -- the gap between those who have access to technology and those who don't. As time goes on, this gap has become a canyon, and it's getting wider and deeper all the time. 

There's a mistaken impression that the digital divide is one of age, with seniors on the have-not side. This is an ageist assumption that should have been retired a long time ago. Baby boomers are in their late 60s and 70s now!

Research (in a US context) shows the percentage of tech users over 65 is still slightly lower than that of other age groups, but the gap is shrinking all the time. In Canada, the percentage of people over the age of 65 using the internet doubled between 2007 and 2016. Stats Can notes (emphasis mine):

The findings suggest that age is a primary determinant of Internet use among seniors, but that differences in educational attainment and other demographic characteristics are also important. . . .  Among young seniors with more advantaged characteristics, Internet use is presently at near-saturation levels and is comparatively high among their counterparts in older age groups as well. Among disadvantaged seniors, Internet use is far lower among younger seniors and sharply declines among older groups.

There's also an assumption that "young people" are somehow born knowing how to use technology. This assumption is even less valid than the one about seniors. Ask anyone who teaches in a low-income area. Knowing how to use a smartphone and check Facebook does not constitute digital literacy.

None of us are born with skills. If you grow up in a home without internet access and computers -- or you don't even have a home to grow up in -- how would you become digitally literate? 

The American Library Association defines digital literacy as "the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills." This includes:

  • How to type on a keyboard
  • How to use a basic word-processing program
  • How to save a document and how to find it later
  • How to search the internet – not Facebook. Indeed, understanding the difference between the internet and Facebook requires digital literacy. Facebook has capitalized on the general lack of digital skills by creating an environment that requires skills to leave

It's all the same divide

The digital divide is the same divide that plagues all aspects of our capitalist society. It all comes down to money.

For a time I worked in a library in one of the lowest-income areas of Ontario. Families would rush to the library after work -- because the children's homework was only available online. 

Every day, I would watch in horror and frustration as children and teens would lose their work because they didn't know how to save a document, or didn't remember that their work wouldn't be saved on a public computer. Of course library staff tried to help, but there are many customers, not many staff.

Analog shouldn't be dead, but it is

Obviously, services of every kind have moved online. This has many positive impacts, as the internet has expanded our reach in ways unimaginable only decades earlier. 

But at the same time, analog options have disappeared, and this trend continues to accelerate and expand. Some more recent developments include:

  • Two-step verification, requiring internet access and a mobile phone. These are both expensive propositions, out of reach of many.
  • Needing an email address to open an email account. What do first-time emailers do? Librarians have collected some solutions, but most people don't have that information.
  • In Canada, printed tax forms are no longer available publicly. They are available by special request only. 
  • To enter Canada from another country (including if you are Canadian), you must use an app. Not can use an app; you must use it. Using the app requires a truckload of embedded competencies: you have to scan your passport and upload your covid passport, among other things. Like most apps, there are recursive pieces, opaque bits, decisions to be made -- and frustration, including for the most adept users.
  • The analog tax: making a flight reservation or booking a rental car by phone costs more than booking it yourself online. 

  • Pay-for-tech-help. Have you bought a TV lately? You can't just plug it in and watch TV. You need an app, an account, and -- if you're not careful and savvy -- you are giving a tech giant access to all your data. Without digital skills, chances are you can't even navigate the landing page, and think you have access only through the tech company's portal.
  • And of course, covid. As public schools went online, what happened to students without home internet access? Mostly, they disappeared.

This is a safety issue, as people without digital skills are infinitely more vulnerable to phishing and other fraud.

This is a poverty issue, as children from less advantaged families will fall ever-farther behind, until the gap is simply insurmountable to all but the extremely gifted. This is the creation of a new kind of underclass.

This is a labour issue, as companies find ever more ways to hire fewer people and force consumers to do unpaid work. You may be so accustomed to this that you don't even realize it's happened. People used to answer the phone and ask "How may I direct your call?". Self-checkout would have been unthinkable. Who wants to work as an unpaid cashier?

But more than anything, this is an issue of social exclusion. Those without digital skills are increasingly confined to a smaller range of options, and that sphere only continues to shrink.

I am not anti technology. I'm anti exclusion and anti poverty.

Those of us who use computers as part of our jobs, and are privileged to have leisure time, have picked up our digital skills over time, often barely registering that it was happening. 

People who don't encounter computer skills on a regular basis, and whose use is limited to time in a public library -- or not all -- don't get the sustained, daily repetition that builds solid competencies. These may be tradespeople, people who work outdoors, or people who grew up in homes where parents did not use technology.

In a society that valued all people equally, it would not be difficult to change this. It would be complex and multifaceted, but we could significantly shrink the gap. 

We would need:

  • Double or triple or quadruple funding for the public library, and use most of it for high-speed internet and public-use computers.
  • Require governments and companies to always retain analog options, and provide disincentives to do otherwise.
  • Require businesses to maintain minimum staffing levels at touchpoints that currently assume that everyone is DIY.

As a librarian, I am aware of many programs, funded by sources such as the United Way or directly from the province, that address these issues. They are excellent and important programs, but they are short-term, and very limited in scope and reach. They are a tiny drop in an ocean of need.

7.04.2022

electoral reform is way overdue (but ranked ballots won't help)

Canada's 2021 federal election made the case for proportional representation very plain. 

While Canada's electoral system isn't as insanely nondemocratic as the US's winner-take-all (or "first-past-the-post")  by state, with the antiquated and antidemocratic electoral college intervening, it is still FPTP by riding.

For US readers, ridings are roughly the equivalent of congressional districts. So while a 51% vote doesn't rake in all of Ontario, Saskatchewan, or Quebec, it does win a seat in any given riding. And the other 49% of you can all go to hell.

A recent disastrous election in Ontario underscored this further. 


With slightly less than 41% of the vote, Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives were able to declare a "majority" government, meaning they have carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want. 

And in this case, what they want is ever more privatization -- of Ontario's healthcare system, education, transit, and any public service that can possibly be privatized. 

And that means higher fees for every taxpayer, lower-quality service, less oversight in how finances are managed, and a great increase in profits for a well-placed few. Those few will have connections to Conservative governments and to the Ford family personally. In other words, a transfer of wealth from the public to already-wealthy private shareholders.

It also means drastic cutbacks in services and cancellations of many planned programs -- in a province that where public services are already tissue-thin.

This is from an analysis of the 2022 Ontario election from Fair Vote Canada (in part, emphasis added):

-- The PCs got a landslide majority with just 40.84% of the vote. They won a whopping 83 seats ― that's 7 more seats than 2018 with only 0.34 points more of the popular vote. 

-- The Liberal Party earned more of the popular vote than the NDP ― 23.85% vs 23.73%―but the NDP’s voters elected 31 MPPs and Liberal voters only elected 8. 

-- 54% of voters ― 2,531,087 ― cast wasted votes that elected no-one.

-- Thresholds of 3-5% are common in countries with proportional systems and any PR system for Canada wouldn't deliver perfectly proportional results. For example, see here how smaller parties would have fared in the recent federal election.

-- In an Ontario PR system with a 3% threshold, the results would have been:

Progressive Conservative: 53

Liberal Party: 31

NDP: 31

Green Party of Ontario: 8

Independent: 1

-- Voter turnout fell to 43.54%. That means the current "majority" government is supported by 17.78% of eligible voters. In a winner-take-all electoral system, many people feel they must vote for the lesser evil, or are discouraged from voting at all. 

--- The Ontario Liberal Party's proposed "reform"― a winner-take-all ranked ballot ― wouldn't have solved any of the glaring problems with Ontario's voting system. A simulation shows that a winner-take-all ranked ballot would have led to the same outcome: a PC "majority" with only a minority of the popular vote. Australia has been using winner-take-all ranked ballot for 100 years and almost always elects a false majority government.

In May of this year, Members of Parliament from the Green and New Democrat parties called for a Citizens' Assembly on proportional representation. I was so pleased and proud that my own MP, Rachel Blaney, is one of those. Rachel said, in part:

When we talk about things like proportional representation, we really are talking about making sure that every vote counts, that the voices of the collective are reflective in our House of Commons.

As a person who, as I said earlier, really represents rural and remote communities, we wanted to make sure that there were opportunities for those voices to be heard and that the process of a proportional system would not lose those voices. They want to see that the local representation and that those voices are heard in the House of Commons. They want it to be fair.

There is room to have those discussions, but sadly, the Liberals ignored that opportunity. I really feel, and I have heard this after every election, that there is a sense of cynicism that we are never going to get to a place where those voices are heard and where we actually create a system that is more proportional.

The member for Elmwood-Transcona did put forward a motion in PROC to discuss the important idea of having a citizens' assembly on electoral reform in the last Parliament. It passed, but unfortunately, because of the election called, a completely uncalled for election in my opinion, the study never happened. We now have to go back to the writing board.

What is so important about having a citizens' assembly on electoral reform is we need to see citizens engaged. We need to hear those voices and maybe we need to take it out of the political realm and give voices to people across this country.

What I think is so important, and what I have heard from constituents across the board, is they want to explore this. They want to make sure their vote counts. They want to be able to vote as they feel, even if that vote will not get them a seat in Parliament. They do not want to feel like that vote is something they throw away.

Constituents also want to make sure that areas are represented fairly. For my riding, like I said earlier, they do not want to feel like the cities of our country are the ones making the decisions. The realities for rural and remote communities can be very different than those of larger cities. That is not to dishonour any one of them, but it is to make sure that those voices are heard.

You can watch Rachel's full speech here. 

Rachel also supports lowering the voting age to 16, which we urgently need.

I was surprised to learn that the Toronto Star published an editorial calling for electoral reform -- surprised, that is, until I realized that this time around, Ontario's Liberal Party was negatively affected by FPTP. During the 2007 Ontario referendum on electoral reform -- when the Liberal Party was in power -- the Star, always a Liberal mouthpiece, opposed reform, citing "the way we've always done things," don't you know.

Therein lies the reason Canada doesn't have proportional representation: because the two governing parties are more interested in getting in power and keeping that power than in the people they are meant to serve. And obviously more interested in power than in democracy.

Although moving to a proportional representation system often seems like an impossible dream, it's a dream worth fighting for -- a dream we must never give up.

in which i remember the pitfalls of creating rules, or, painting myself into a corner (again)

In our last episode of Laura's Reading Plan, I posted a very long list for 2022. On that 2022 reading plan post, I wrote:

This year's plan is much longer. This is probably a bad idea.

I also wrote: 

One thing is obvious: this plan is too long! I hope I can use it without feeling defeated, because I can't narrow it down any further right now.
Well, I called it. The overly long reading plan has become a problem in ways that are very recognizable to me, if not downright predictable. ("Problem" in the #firstworldproblems sense of the word.)

* * * *

To review:

May 2017: a list of authors and titles that keep appearing on The List* but which I haven't read.

December 2017: sub-lists of The List: a more focused to-read list, which led to. . . 

January 2019: my first reading plan.

March 2020: extending the reading plan for a second year; reading plan, part two.

September 2020: reading plan, part three. This worked less well, because it was a little too vague. That led to...

January 2021: reading plan for 2021. This worked beautifully. It was motivating, and I enjoyed the focus, the way having a plan drew me from one book to the next. I also read off-plan, and that was fine, too. 

When something works, why not do more of it? Bzzzt! Mistake. Which brings me to. . . 

* * * * 

January 2022: a reading plan for 2022, plus how the 2021 plan fared

As I said above, I called it.

I felt pressured. Felt like I had to read faster, read more, and worst of all, read exclusively from the plan. As in, I'm not "allowed" to read a book that's not on the plan. 

This is ridiculous. Why take something that is pure pleasure and a great passion, and turn it into a pressured obligation? 

Why indeed. Although it's been a while since I did this, I am all too familiar with this pattern. I create a rule -- my own rule -- then feel pressured to adhere to it, and feel I have failed if I don't. In my 20s I called it painting myself into a corner. Well here I am, in my freaking 60s, at it again! 

The ludicrous nature of this inflexibility became crystalline when I thought, It's time to finally read Thomas Piketty! Then immediately thought, But he's not on the plan. Can I do that? 

"Can I do that?" Well, of course I can! It's entirely up to me! Why do I need permission?

With that thought, I hereby release myself from the plan becoming An Obligation. The plan must go back to being a guide, an idea, a focus -- but not An Obligation, and certainly not A Rule.

* * * 

This is what I've read so far on the 2022 reading plan.

I did not finish every book that is crossed off, especially the fiction. That's not a reflection of the book; it's a my own personal threshold for when I do or don't continue reading a book. I'm always glad to try a book and know something about it, even if I don't finish it, both as a reader and as a librarian. Reading is never wasted time.

Nonfiction

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliott

Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions, Rebecca Solnit essay collections

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells (review)

A Primate's Memoir, Robert Sapolsky

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, Patrick Radden Keefe (review)

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, Andrés Reséndez

Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, Annalee Newitz (review)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann (just finished, review to follow)

The Turning Point: 1851: A Year That Changed Charles Dickens and The World, Robert Douglas Fairhurst (review)

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal, Mark Bittman (review)

Galileo and the Science Deniers, Mario Livio

Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Always, John McWhorter

Four Fish: the Future of the Last Wild Food, Paul Greenberg (review to follow)

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine, Janice P. Nimura

Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, Nadine Strossen

Permanent Record, Edward Snowden

Bob Dylan: Behind The Shades Revisited, Clinton Heylin

The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison "Promiscuous" Women, Scott W. Stern 

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods, Amelia Pang

Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century, Charles King

The Escape Artist, Helen Fremont

The Last Job: "The Bad Grandpas" and the Hatton Garden Heist, Dan Bilefsky

Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America, Scott Borchert

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, Barbara Ehrenreich

Fiction 

Charlie Savage, Roddy Doyle

The Resisters, Gish Jen

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo

Razorblade Tears, S. A. Cosby

Marley, Jon Clinch

Christine Falls, John Banville as Benjamin Black

Stay and Fight, Madeline ffitch

Gods With A Little G, Tupelo Hassmann

The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa

The Electric Hotel, Dominic Smith

Against the Loveless World, Susan Abulhawa

Simon the Fiddler, Paulette Jiles

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Moon of the Crusted Snow, Waubgeshig Rice

Damnation Spring, Ash Davidson

The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich

The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence

YA

One of Us is Next, Karen M. McManus

Children's

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood, Gary Paulsen (review)

The Leak, Kate Reed Perry

Kaleidoscope, Brian Selznick

Pumpkinheads, Rainbow Rowell 

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, Jason Reynolds

To give my brain a break (I let both of these go. I am just not interested in reading series.)

Harlem Detective series, Chester Himes

John le Carré re-reads

Long-term goal (I am doing this! Loving it! Post to follow, eventually.)

Weekly chapters of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace) and Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 (Mike Wallace).

I still want to use an annual reading plan. I enjoyed it in 2020 and 2021, so I'll continue, but with less of it, and without obligation.

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* The universe of books I might read; the central list. The place to go for "what to read next" but not a To Read list.