Monthly Archives: April 2008

A Welfare State of Mind

The BC government thinks they shouldn’t raise the rate for welfare recipients because it might equal the rate of the working poor. Notice that they’re not going to do anything with raising the minimum wage so there are fewer working poor or get rid of their contentious two-tier wage, where younger people can be paid a lower minimum wage.

In any system, whether just paying income tax, being on welfare, unemployment or being employed, there are people who cheat. In all cases, it’s a small number of people. For welfare, most of the people are on it, not because they’re lazy or bilking the system, but because they have to be.

I speak from both sides of the fence. In my twenties I was out of work and putting in fifty applications a month. I had finished high school, graduated from art college and still could not find a job. I lived in a house with two other people. At one point we were all unemployed. Rent was still cheaper than trying to move. With welfare for each of us, we still had to get food from the food bank because welfare barely covered the cost of rent. Any extra bills, and I had fewer then, were beyond the means.

Welfare is designed to belittle, humiliate and keep people impoverished. It used to be, decades ago, that a woman on welfare also had to answer for her social life, everything from who visited to what their boyfriends did, if they were even allowed to have a male visitor. More women than men are on welfare. If a marriage falls apart and the guy is  a deadbeat dad, then the woman is left with trying to get a job, plus raise children and provide childcare, and often childcare amounts to as much as she earns. So she ends up on welfare. Or as a prostitute.

Welfare punishes you if you get a job that doesn’t pay enough or isn’t full time. You’re given a base amount (if you’re single–$610/mo.) but should you make some money, you have to deduct it against the welfare amount. I’m not sure what this is. Navigating through the labyrinth of the BC government’s income assistance site does not net you this information, so I’m presuming it’s the same. If you’re on unemployment I believe you’re allowed to make $50/wk before the amount is deducted against your unemployment amounts. So let’s presume it’s something like this.

What then happens is a person isn’t encouraged to get a part time job, if they still must be on welfare. You end up working for the same amount you would get for not working. When I was in such a situation the only way I survived was by being hired by one company for two days a week. Yes, it was under the table so that I could actually survive on welfare. Eventually, they hired me full time and with great relief I said good bye to the humiliation of welfare.

Many years later I ended up in a situation where I had been freelancing for years, but had lost my clients at the same time. I couldn’t get unemployment because I was freelance. I was $300 short of rent one month as I was looking for more work. I didn’t know what to do so I appealed to welfare. At that point I had about $4,000 in RRSPs, my retirement income, in hopes that I won’t have to live under a bridge in my elder years. All I needed was $300 for one month. I would have even repaid it, but no, I was told I would have to exhaust my RRSPs first. I’m sure if I had owned a house they would have wanted me to sell it. They might have wanted me to sell the car I had but it wasn’t worth much and would have left me more stranded for work.

I found it particularly transparent of a government’s true attitude, where they were willing to bankrupt people completely and leave them destitute in the name of keeping them off welfare. I would have then been a full welfare recipient in my retirement with no resources to fall back on. Somehow, something came through last minute, saving me. But in my desperation I was seriously contemplating prostitution. That’s where the government welfare policies put many people.

And if you get only $610/mo and don’t have several roommates, and perhaps a couple of bill payments, well, then you might end up sleeping on the streets so you can eat and pay those bills. There are people, the working poor, who likewise live on the streets because they can’t afford housing. Eventually that hard living will cause more health problems and then the government will pay out more in health services to heal those people. But it’s much better to keep a person less than poor so that they can never get out of the perpetual welfare state.

I pray that with the cost of housing, heating and the rising price of food, that I don’t eventually retire into abject poverty. I wish I could say this was too far from the truth to consider, but it’s a reality that could just be around the corner. It’s too bad that supposedly progressive governments have such short vision and lack the perspective to take their thinking out of a welfare state.

http://www.policyalternatives.ca/News/2008/04/PressRelease1868/index.cfm?pa=BB736455

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080423.wxbcwelfare23/BNStory/National/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20080423.wxbcwelfare23

http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/2007/increase_table.htm

http://thetyee.ca/News/2008/04/22/Poverty/

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On Editing

I work as senior fantasy editor for Aberrant Dreams http://www.hd-image.com/fiction.htm and have only been senior fantasy editor for a short time. But I did work as slush pile reader for the last year.

I took on this job for several reasons: It would let me see what types of stories are being written these days. I might understand better why some of my own stories don’t sell. And some day I’d like to have my own magazine or anthology to publish. It’s good experience on several levels.

What I found actually amazed me. I was expecting a lot of stories that were rough, missing one of the essential elements of plot, characterization, dialogue, conflict or setting. Most stories were very complete and written well enough. But I could only choose a very few to send on. As senior editor, that number doesn’t change. There are only so many slots in the magazine and unless we want to hold a story for a very long time, in the end I must even reject good ones.

I try when rejecting a story to say what didn’t work. Why am I rejecting this story but not the others? In some cases I can only say, we didn’t have enough room. And if I have too many magical mystery stories, I will choose the best one only. I am down to selecting three out of about twenty sent to me by the readers.

To make it a little easier I ended up making a chart with a section for character, plot, language, setting and uniqueness. This last category can be the idea itself or the way it’s written–the turn of a phrase. As I’ve said before; there are many good stories but a story really has to sing to be accepted. This is the singing category. Then I grade each aspect from 1-5. The top scores then are accepted.

What have I learned so far? It’s tough to choose and tough to reject a perfectly good story. Some of my own stories don’t sing. Some aren’t worth the massive rewriting, some are. And all my new stories must either have that truly unique plot or way of using language. It is both inspirational to see so many good writers, and daunting as a writer to know what I’m up against.

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World Fantasy Convention: Part 2

World Fantasy, because it is made up of editors, publishers and authors, tends to have good panels on the professional aspects of writing. Very enlightening from various viewpoints. I can’t remember how many tracks there are at once, but it’s not as many as the larger fan conventions.

WFC holds about 600 people and maybe three or four tracks at a time. I never tend to make it to too many panels. When I went to New Orleans, like everyone else, I went to the French Quarter and shopped. In the evenings it was going for dinner or going to the parties to schmooze and get free booze and snacks. So I tend to only get to a couple of panels at most.

When I attended WFC in Montreal, it was at the end of October (as it always is) just after September 11, 2001. I’m sure it was one of the few WFCs that did not cover its costs. Many publishers and attendees pulled out because of the rampant fear at that time. This made it quite a small convention. Surprisingly, Montreal had no snow but it was a bit crisp at night.

Rhea and I arrived about 11 on a Thursday night and my friend Melanie was already there in jammies. When we got up to the room I said, “I don’t know what you guys are going to do but I’m going down to have a drink at the lounge.” The three of us went down and I noticed San Francisco bookstore owner Allan Bates (sp?) who I’d met before at a convention.

The lounge closed an hour or so later and Allensaid they were going down to a pub so we joined them. There were about seven of us and it turns out Montreal pubs have a soft closing. We were there till four or five in the morning. And that set the flavour for the whole convention. There wasn’t a night I went to bed earlier and I recall on the last night a group of us wandering about and sneaking glasses of booze out of some pub when they closed down.

It was at one party where of course the booze flowed that we were standing around talking and I think I splashed UK writer Graham Joyce, with a bit of wine, accidentally. Then I was drinking some water and fellow Canuck writer Brett Savory (it’s his fault, really) said I should pour my water on Graham, so I did. It established a friendship for the convention, or at least a camaraderie with the Brit writers. I also met agent Chris Lotts there and still chat with him time to time but book agents are very busy. I met Tina Jens, one of the Twilight Tales founders at one convention too. It’s a great benefit meeting similar thinking minds and establishing friendships that span countries.

There have been conventions that have been nothing but calm as well. It can vary a lot. But you always meet new people and I like the smallness of WFC for that intimacy of getting to know people. It was at one WFC autograph signing that I had my arms signed and freaked out Harlan Ellison. The World Fantasy awards are given the Sunday of the convention. This year it is in Calgary and I’l be going. 2004 was the last one I attended so it’s been a while.

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Writing: World Fantasy Convention Part 1

When conventions are fantasies…or about fantasy.

There are science fiction/fantasy conventions and then there are science fiction/fantasy conventions. Many SF conventions offer a fan track, where fans of novels, writers, movies, TV series or games can gather to meet some of the real-life people behind their entertainment. Often there are numerous fan activities that can involve everything from a costume contest, a masquerade, dance and just good ole fun dressed as your favourite Jedi warrior.

Then there are professional SF conventions. World Fantasy Convention (WFC) is just what is sounds like: a meeting of enthusiasts from around the world (but mostly the English speaking world) who come to discuss the genre, hobnob and award the bright new stars. The world fantasy award is given every year for best novel, novelette, novella, short story, other work, art, etc. at the convention. There is the usual art show and panels on aspects of fantasy.

How it differs from other conventions is that there is no fan track. It is mostly professionals and a few fans but no one wears a costume. Authors, editors, publishers, artists and a few others come together once a year, usually in the US but every third year or so is in an exotic foreign land. This year it’s in Calgary, AB.

I have usually tried to go every second year, which means I’ll be going this year and Calgary is where I grew up. I go to schmooze (I’m a soft-core schmoozer) and party and try to further my career. Schmoozing can be a very in-your-face “you gonna look at my book, I’ll send you my book” kinda way or a very low key thing. I tend rarely to push the editors as I just find it too rude. That’s the Canadian in me I guess.

But at one WFC I was at a writer/editor’s party and talking with several people. Gardner Dozois, then of Asimov‘s was there and somehow we all got talking about submissions and submitting clothing. Now the booze was really flowing so it was hard to remember how we got to that conversation but it was good for a few laughs.

When I next sent a story to Asimov’s, where I had only ever received the photocopied rejections before, I went out to a toy store and bought a cheap set of doll clothes (Barbie sized). I took the bra/bathing suit top and stuck it in the envelope with my story. In my letter to Gardner I mentioned the meeting and conversation at WFC and said, Here’s a piece of my clothing for consideration. I guess it shrunk in the wash.

Well, it didn’t get me an acceptance on my story but it did get me out of the slush pile. From that point on Gardner always read my stories and sent personal rejections. He never did buy any, but my story “Hold Back the Night” that I call my literary lesbian, erotic vampire tale, which doesn’t have an iota of SF in it, received an honorable mention in the Year’s Best SF from Gardner. It made me the Bikini Islands on the map I suppose. Small and not that noticeable. And all because of a funny conversation.

So, the parties at a WFC can be quite worthwhile.

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Medicare: Getting Personal

Over the past year I have known four people who ended up with secondary (and more) infections from being in the hospital. One person had an injury and his infection was more due to that than anything the hospital did, though they almost discovered it too late. One friend had surgery, went home and then developed an infection and had to go back in. I don’t know how the hospital was implicated in that.

Another friend had had hip replacement surgery a couple of years ago (his second). Subsequently the bone around the replacement crumbled and it turned out he had some sort of bone infection picked up at the time of initial surgery. They replaced the ball joint (and built up the pelvis) with an antibiotic version. Within a week it was pulling out and they had to operate again. It was then supposed to be in for a couple of months but I think it was much longer than that. He had the surgery last summer and is just now getting to 50% weight on the leg. They looked at suing the hospital because of the infection but the convoluted way of healthcare in Canada means they would have to sue the doctor too, even if it wasn’t his fault. What doctor would then touch a patient who has sued another one?

The last friend went in for bladder cancer surgery. They were removing his bladder and making a neo-bladder out of intestine. The surgery went well. The bladder was made and my friend started to heal in that first week, still needing catheterising. Eventually, after about two weeks, they sent him home, in time for Christmas. A day nurse came in to attend him and catheterize him every day. Because my friend was a particularly grumpy person, especially when not feeling well, and 6’7″, he intimidated some people. The day nurse never turned on the light in his dark bedroom and never really checked all of his vitals.

It turned out he was getting and infection, his feet had turned purple and his kidneys were shutting down. They put him back in the hospital just before new years and tried to stabilize. He had a shunt somewhere in his neck, for nutrients or something. He got one infection and then within 48 hours of being in the hospital he got C Deficil, the deadly super bacteria. He then suffered a heart attack and his kidneys shut down completely. Two operations of eight hours each then occurred. They removed his intestines and hooked him up to various machines.

Over the months his kidneys started working again but he lost teeth and bone to a parotid artery infection from one vein. He couldn’t eat because it turns out the kidneys change the way you taste food. Or sometimes he was vomitting. Slowly, he wasted a way to a skeletal frame. His veins would collapse. Sometimes he could eat, sometimes he need a gastrointestinal tube. His kidneys never worked right and another surgery was performed in the summer to put a shunt into his ureter or kidneys. He had bags, he had tubes, he had needles.

He did start to eat again, many foods but he was so weak that his hands would shake and it could take up to an hour to eat a chicken leg. I should mention here that the food was often abysmal and in no way nutritional or conducive toward healing. He wouldn’t eat the broccoli because it was cooked to mush. He was celiac (before they decided/determined that he no longer was) and he’d get two pieces of dried out rice bread, with margarin and one thin slab of processed luncheon meat, along with two hard boiled eggs and no fresh vegetables. CBC has done a good series on hospital food (Sounds Like Canada) as well as an expose on the lack of cleanliness (doctors or nurses not washing their hands).

Eventually, he was too weak to recover. He made the choice when they said, we have to put a gastro tube in or you will die and he refused the tube, choosing his time. But he fought a long battle of 14 months where I watched his spirit slowly drain from him and his body collapse upon itself. He died a week before Christmas last year.

I still hold a great anger for the fact that many deaths are needless and could be prevented if cleanliness and hygiene were adhered to in hospitals. As well, with the Campbell government illegally (as the courts did decide) firing unionized hospital workers and farming out the cleaning to the lowest bidder, we now have hospitals being cleaned by people/companies who may not be up on dealing with biohazardous material. Our provincial government is saving money at the expense of lives.

At the same time this is endemic across the country. It’s a criminal tragedy that people are dying because something as simple as washing hands is not followed and super bugs are thriving. The four people I mentioned above all went to the same hospital, one that is supposedly not on the watch list for infections.

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The Slow (and Planned?) Demise of Medicare

I consider the various world governments that have suddenly proclaimed the environment as in dire shape as having really just tried to gain popularity with their voters. They’re not doing this in many cases because it’s right but because it will garner votes. Likewise, I see the present Canadian government as having put out the smokescreen of environmentalism to draw our attention away from the dire straight of our health care system.

Over the years, Alberta went through a stage where the Klein government cut back on many services. My mother, a senior, needed a blood test and there were only two labs in the city of Calgary because the rest had been closed down. She waited eight hours. Other similar cases lead to a crisis, wherein Klein then started letting in privatized clinics because of the waiting lists. Of course he set up the situation in the first place. Gordon Campbell in BC, like Klein, was a Liberal as opposed to a Conservative in sheep’s clothing, did the same thing. They both proved themselves to be the wolves at the doors of the health care system.

Healthcare in Canada is free to everyone. Except in BC and Alberta, richer provinces than any of the Maritime provinces, where people must pay a premium. How is this fair? How is this right?

On top of that, the healthcare system has never considered basic dental care as integral to someone’s health. As anyone who has ever had a toothache, broken tooth, crooked teeth or gum disease can tell you, dental care not only matters for hygiene, it matters for overall physical and mental health. In BC, chiropractic, massage and physiotherapy have been cut out of the system, leaving many people with trying to rely on drugs should they not afford the therapies that help with soft tissue problems. As someone who suffers from this condition it is massage that is most effective and yet denied. Should I even mention that the Liberal government also cut out podiatrists and optometrists, somehow not see foot or eye care (the areas that can have many problems for aging people) from the healthcare system. We’re living in an age of whittling away our healthcare benefits.

Granted it takes a large budget for all the country’s benefits but how is penalizing some people fair? I now know people who exist everyday in pain because they can’t afford the therapy needed to fix their problem. Private clinics won’t change that. It may put the good doctors into the clinics and the specialists, leaving a majority of the public with fewer good resources.

I have many friends in the US. Sometimes they must drive an hour or more to go to their doctor because that doctor is the only one on their company paid healthcare coverage. Others, even working, can only afford to cover their children, not themselves. A friend who is diabetic was paying over $800 a month for healthcare. Another friend who had uterine cancer surgery last year now owes over $20,000 to the hospital. That’s where privatized medicine will get you. Albeit, our system isn’t perfect and you must sometimes wait months for a specialist appointment, it is still better than paying thousands.

This is by far, not the end of this topic. I’ll have more to say and rant about another day.

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Why I Won’t Buy Saturn Again

I have a 2003 Saturn Ion 3. When I bought it in 2004 it was a demo model with about 4,000 km on it. That the salesperson changed three times before I bought it should have been an indicator to me where Saturn was headed, and it seems to be…out of the world.

The dealership then closed. I had a VIP membership for lifetime free oil changes but had to go to the Morrey dealerships for that; Morrey Nissan in Burnaby. But the car was on warranty and I had to go to a Saturn dealership for any warranty work, in Richmond. I live in Vancouver and work in New Westminster.

Under warranty, I took the car in four times because the back passenger door didn’t seal correctly and was most noticeable at high speeds. Four times and they never did fix it correctly. Now, if I open the door I have to push the loose molding back into place before shutting the door to minimize the air blowing through.

Under warranty, I took the car in at least four times because it would idle high when the weather was cold. It would not start this way but after I’d driven it even a few minutes it would idle high when stopped at lights. If I shut off the car, it would reset. It only happened when cold, which told me that there was something wrong with the idle or throttle and cold weather caused it to freeze or stick. I took a small automotive course in high school and have enough of a logical mind that I can figure out basic mechanical. Somehow though, mechanics can’t seem to use a brain to figure out car problems now unless they plug it into a computer.

So I drove the car in one day and didn’t shut it off and lo and behold they could find the problem. It was fixed but then the weather turned warm and I couldn’t test it until the fall when it was cold again. And guess what, problem not fixed. Oh and the car, no longer under warranty and the part isn’t working right and I was told the part has no warranty. So why would I bother to fix the part again, knowing that if it blows it’s still not under any warranty and that I can keep paying and paying for the same part? That’s what the service people told me.

Now my car was at about 70,000 km when the fan in the car stopped working. I could get heat but no fan to blow it around. But of course it wasn’t the fan itself that wasn’t working. It was the computer component and would cost over $600 to fix. On top of that, I made an appointment and had to wait over four hours for them to check the car. Then they charged me $60 for telling me it would cost $600. The car’s warranty ended at 60,000 km.

I contacted Saturn/GM Canada and their generous offer was to go 50/50 on the fan part. That’s it. Nothing on the other things they never managed to fix. And basically they’re saying, well we won’t make money on this part but we won’t go out of the way to satisfy you.

Although the service guys were nice and friendly at Lansdowne Saturn in Richmond, the service wasn’t that great and one day, while waiting in Richmond to get picked up and taken back to my car, it took them over an hour. I was no more than ten minutes away. One service guy condescended to me in explaining that the car might just be idling high because it was cold. As if I’m not aware of the difference between a cold idle and a stuck throttle.

So, this is why I won’t buy Saturn again. Poor service, poor repair record, a very short warranty and no customer satisfaction from Saturn Canada.

Of the car itself, its mileage was okay, it has a huge blind spot for turning corners, the visors only work if you’re six feet tall. I loved the adjustable heat vents that could blow right on my hands. The door locks are stupidly designed and the pockets on the side doors are smaller than any map, should you want to store them there. But a car under warranty comes part and parcel with the dealership and I wasn’t convinced that with Saturn’s lagging sales that I’ll ever buy another Saturn again.

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Sports, Politics, Tibet and the Olympic Torch

There has been a great deal of furor over the Olympic torch in recent weeks. Furor for and against the Olympics being hosted by China, by people protesting, by the Chinese, by the Tibetans. I’ve heard various people including athletes and a former torchbearer say that politics shouldn’t be mixed with sports, especially the Olympics.

One person has pointed out that by pitting nations (not individual athletes) against each other, it is in fact politics from that point of view. Some of these arguments say that positive reinforcement, by showing that the world will embrace them, support them (?), will bring the Chinese around to practicing better human rights.

Well, let’s travel back in time to the Olympics of 1936 in Berlin. Sure, Berlin was awarded the event in 1931 (a political move to bring them back into economic stability after the WWI defeat) before Hitler took power. A boycott was discussed and protests held in many countries. Russia never attended but didn’t until 1952 and more countries participated than in previous years. This was in part because of the spreading notoriety of the Olympics. In the end, individuals boycotted, including some Jewish athletes. Jesse Owens, a Afro-American, competed and won four golds, no doubt galling Hitler.

But did the support of the Olympics actually serve in any sort of positive reinforcement and change in Hitler’s attitude? No. He used it as propaganda, in other words, for politics, to spread his message and take note how meek the world was in making any sort of overt stand. He went on to bring about World War II, killing record numbers of Jews, Roma and homosexuals.

There have been some arguments that protests should have been made sooner, not now at the running of the torch. Yet people would not have as great a voice. Here the voice is saying (as it did with Bush’s invasion of Iraq of recent years) that it does not approve, no matter what various countries’ leaders say or do. The people do not approve. Sure some will support it, but it is not as peaceful as the Olympics in Turin was.

Many athletes indignantly argue that the Olympics is no place for politics, that they’ve trained hard to get to this point. Some countries are already barring their athlete from speaking out, some will not make that restriction. Will the 2008 Beijing Olympics be used for politics? It already is.

Let’s not forget the Tianamen Square protests of 1989 and the 200-3,000 killed, depending on whose reports you want to believe. What were those protesters armed with against tanks and machine guns? Let’s not forget China’s unwarranted invasion of a peaceful neighbor, Tibet in 1950. Of course, there is some dispute again as to whether China ever gave up its sovereignty over Tibet.  And even though the Dalai Lama has agreed to Chinese authority as long as he is given autonomy over cultural and spiritual rule, the Chinese still ferociously call him liar and leader of the protests.

Will China use the Olympics for politics? Absolutely. They want the world to think they’re being better to their people whether in Tibet or China. Whether they are; actions speak for themselves. I doubt that they will actually change their ways much to please the world. It is only the economic revolution that they hope to bring about in their country that might do that change but a trade embargo against China is a complex thing.

Still, the most disturbing aspect I see here is that of people, whether athletes or officials stating that their area remain pure and untampered by politics. Let’s break this down into a more simpler framework. If you were being oppressed, beaten, subjugated and not allowed to do the things you found central to your way of being, would you want help? Of course. If someone said, well I guess I see the bruises and cuts and the guy pointing the rifle at you but I’m going to a birthday party and that should not be touched by politics, how would you feel?

If your country was invaded, your friends and family being murdered or disappearing, would you feel so good about the world if the nations said, well yes, we don’t really agree with the abuses this country is perpetrating against you but we want to have a gala party there anyway, how would you feel?

It seems to me this is partially what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany. It wasn’t happening elsewhere so it continued until it got out of hand (not that one life taken is not getting out of hand). People are often happy to turn their backs on wrongs if they don’t affect them. A blind eye does not make one less complicit. If you disapprove of China’s rule of Tibet and the subsequent protests and abuses of the protesters but go and make a statement that’s fine. If you approve of China’s tactics and go, well that’s fine. If you disapprove and you go to the Olympics, then you are a hypocrite, no matter if you compete or not.

There isn’t a country in the world that would stand up to China militarily for that would lead us into WWIII. They’re just too mighty, and they know it. So how do you protest? You object to the Olympics in Beijing, you start a trade embargo (No small thing when everything from food to fabric to toys comes cheaply from China.) I know it’s not so black and white as some aspects I’ve stated here but people really need to put themselves in others’ shoes and say, if this was done to me, would I like how individuals and nations are acting?

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