Monthly Archives: August 2009

Healthcare and Privatization

Obama, like his Democratic predecessor Clinton, is trying to bring in healthcare reform in the US. There have been ferocious campaigns against it with people attacking the nationalized healthcare systems in Canada and Great Britain. Although our (Canada’s) system is not ideal, let’s compare a few things.

I have many many friends in the US. Some of them work for companies or must work for companies with good health plans. They may, even with these health plans, pay for various services and medications on top of the allotted amount. One friend had to drive two hours to a neighboring city to see a doctor who worked for that particular health insurance company. I have another friend, a doctor, who actually couldn’t find work because the insurance company she was with disappeared and the others needed no doctors. She didn’t want or couldn’t afford the overhead of starting her own practice so remained out of work. You never hear of a doctor in Canada who can’t find enough patients.

I have friends where both worked but their health plans only covered their two children. I know a woman who had ovarian cancer and after the surgeries and care owed $30,000 USD. I have a friend who is epileptic, who only by the grace of once being a coast guard, gets her seizure medication covered. I have a friend, a writer and reviewer, who is diabetic, with complications. He told me once, years ago, that he paid over $800 a month in health insurance. He is now in danger of losing his home because of his health issues. I have friends whose jobs don’t have health plans or very limited ones. They sometimes can’t get the simplest of tests done and what is a minor health issue can become life threatening.

The US health system is expensive and limits or ignores those who are of lower income. They get little help or often die because they cannot afford to treat their illnesses and injuries. And any time a person is injured, whether by their own fault or not, and even if they know it, they must sue everyone in sight to cover the costs of the health care. Suddenly no one is responsible for their own common sense and well-being. There are those who will take advantage of the system but many who are genuinely ill and injured must sue so that they can get better. And that drives up the costs of everything. It clogs up the court systems for years to come and we hear of ridiculous cases, such as the one about the guy who sued his yacht insurance because he had given his ex-girlfriend herpes. (I kid you not.)

Canada’s system isn’t perfect. We do have waiting lists for surgeries and MRIs. There are provincial governments like Alberta’s (under Ralph Klein) and BC (under Gordon Campbell) that have been whittling away at our health services, knocking out this and that and letting in privatization. Campbell took away chiropractic, massage and physiotherapy services (which were only covered for a specified number of visits) and decided that podiatrists and optometrists weren’t essential to one’s health. Of course, things like foot or eye problems affect people more as they age and affect seniors, so we know who suffers there.

But when I found out there was a class action suit against a pharmaceutical company for deadly affects of a drug (one I had once been on), I went to my doctor and requested a battery of tests to make sure I didn’t have any problems. My cost–0. Earlier this year I was exhausted. My doctor sent me for thorough blood tests. Again my cost is nothing. I can get X-rays or other tests or should I take ill I will still owe nothing. My friend who spent a year in the hospital, before dying, also owed nothing.

Surgery is free unless it’s cosmetic. What is not covered is dental. Why on earth it was seen to not be essential to health back when medicare was being form, I can only guess at. So people often want jobs that do have medical benefits for dental, eyes, physiotherapy and chiropractic, medicine (some is covered in BC if you have to spend over a certain amount). Not everything is free. And it can be hard to get a doctor because we don’t have enough. Some leave and go to the US to make more money. And yes you could wait a very long time for an elective surgery.

Some people in the US are fighting the medicare proposal. Do you really want to have to mortgage your home to have surgery, take out a loan to have a child, or suffer silently because you can’t afford it? Because the US already has private practices it is highly unlikely that these will go away. It’s unlikely that people will lose their health care benefits through their jobs. But what it does mean is that people will be able to get aid without having to suffer or bankrupt themselves. It does mean improving the overall health of the country.

Yes it could be expensive, and is costly in Canada. Our government needs to try harder at changing the system so that preventative health care is the first step, and that takes education. But it will burden the system less later as a person ages. People need to also take responsibility for their bodies and try to treat them better. Diet is a huge thing and with North America burgeoning with childhood obesity it would be the best way to head off higher costs and overtaxing any medical system.

One thing is for certain, a medicare plan wouldn’t hurt most people and would help them. It’s too bad people are so paranoid about it in the US. It could definitely alleviate a great deal of suffering if not all.

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Big Brother IS Watching, You and You and Me

George Orwell, like a fair number of science fiction  writers (Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and others), visualized some aspect of a future world, perhaps an alternate world but created a story nonetheless that had some essence of things to come.

As Wikipedia says: The novel has become famous for its portrayal of pervasive government surveillance and control, and government’s increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication, many of its terms and concepts, such as “Big Brother“, “doublethink“, and “Newspeak” have entered the popular vernacular.

Indeed, the phrase “Big Brother is watching” is synonymous with too much government control, or the totalitarianism that Orwell feared. After 9/11 and the right-wing paranoia of the Bush administration we saw the rise of Homeland Security, where people’s rights were taken away. Some disappeared into Guantanamo without anyone knowing where they went, without any legal aid or advice. Others, while flying through the US, were shipped off to other countries for torture, regardless of what their citizenship was.  The phrase “Homeland Security” is reminiscent of the Fatherland (Hitler’s Third Reich) and the Motherland (Communist Russia). Though these last two are examples of extreme right wing and extreme left wing governments, they both encompass a totalitarianism and the circumventing of the rights of the individual, for the greater good, for the country.

It used to be that a camera trained on you and watching your every move was considered an invasion of privacy. Many years ago, before Homeland Security, my boyfriend had a friend in Calgary that worked for the local telecommunications company (at that time AGT–Alberta Government Telephones). He could not say what he did but it involved hidden cameras trained onto the streets outside the buildings. Every war commander knows that the way to break the enemy, to overcome them, is to either hinder or monitor their communications.  So every wise nation protects its communications and every ambitious or suspicious nation spies on its perceived enemies and communicates what it sees.

There are numerous instances of spy planes and spies. We accept that that is what countries do. There are cameras on you at the border or at your bank machine, to protect you. There are cameras on the roads now, webcams we call them, that show us the line-up at ferries, or freeways, or intersections, or borders. These are all informative pictures that we can use to plan around daily obstacles. But that is not their main purpose. They are surveillance methods to watch and control people, and to identify someone should there have been an accident, a murder, an escape.

There are those that argue that we need the greater security. We need protection from the evil terrorist/mugger/alien/your favorite bad guy. And yes, we do need some form of security, but there comes a time when government or police forces are also watching too much and our individual freedom is curtailed. I would say there is not one person who has not committed a small crime or infringement, whether it’s lying, cheating, jaywalking, running a yellow light, or drinking too much. Which means, that we’re all human and if allowed our little indiscretions, will most likely not make the bigger ones.

When I worked for Nokia, there were cameras everywhere. Corporate espionage is high. However, with all those cameras in the halls and the reception area, they were not allowed to train cameras on our workspaces, nor in the bathrooms. I’m not sure what the exact law it but watching someone 24/7 is not allowed. The head of security also told us that though they viewed all video footage they could not report on such things as two people having sex in the office. This video footage was only for such crimes as theft and breaking and entering.

Sarnia, Ontario is upset over a US surveillance balloon that watches over the river. The company claims it can be used for disaster planning, and other situations that arise. However, the mayor of Sarnia says that when the balloon (with camera inside that can see for 5 miles) first went up the company said it was for Homeland Security, but now they sing another song and say it’s not trained on Sarnia and it’s just research.

Google Earth has already heard concerns about their filming of much of the world, down to vans with cameras driving on the streets. And that many of these cameras take a picture of everything on the street, including you getting into your car, coming and going, and in some cases right into your windows to see what you’re up to. Sure, they claim it’s inadvertent but the pictures of us are showing up everywhere, even if we eliminate You Tube.

The 2010 Olympics will see a gigantic increase in security forces in and around Vancouver. They will be putting up many more cameras than are already up, by government and private businesses. After the Athens Olympics all extra cameras were supposed to come down. Instead the police turned them into citizen surveillance systems. Hello, Big Brother. BC’s privacy commissioner has promised that we won’t have the same situation.

Taken from A Report on Camera Surveillance in Canada: “Despite the growth in CCTV, there is not convincing  research evidence that it aids in deterring, responding to and investigating crime.” That’s just one study but the Big Brother security folks want to sell cameras and keep their jobs and probably think we should live in a society that watches your every move and therefore you must behave. http://www.surveillanceproject.org/files/SCAN_Report_Phase1_Final_Jan_30_2009.pdf

There is a group counting the cameras in Greater Vancouver before the Olympics so that people can, in general be aware of how much surveillance there always is. But if you plan to come to the Olympics and actually venture anywhere public in Vancouver, you can bet that you’ll be filmed. In fact, there is probably not a street in any commercial area that doesn’t have one camera or another. It’s pretty impossible to remain invisible these days unless you’re in the boonies. Big Brother is here, and is watching all of us right now.  And maybe, just maybe, Big Brother likes to watch.

 

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Who Watches the Watchmen: Police Investigating Themselves

Canada’s police have been going through the ringer lately and rightfully so. We have both civic police and the RCMP. In some cities and jurisdictions the RCMP are the only police force where there is no other policing body. They are spawned from Canada’s oldest police unit, the NorthWest Mounted Police (NWMP). They began with the fur trade, the frontier and the Gold Rush. There are romantic images of Mounties on their horses, dressed in the traditional red serge uniform with the brown stetson hat. They were considered noble and strong, and the Mounties “always get their man” was a tagline for years.

Now, a cumulation of mismanagement, inferior training, bad judgment calls and arrogance have come back to smack the force in the face. Their reputation has deteriorated so much in recent years that they are becoming a laughing stock. It didn’t help that they sold the copyright to their image to Disney. Yes, perhaps Mickey Mouse could do better in red serge.

What has lead to this now lamentable record and public scorn? There are several very public cases, the most notorious, that of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death at the Vancouver airport by four RCMP officers. Dziekanski’s biggest fault: he didn’t speak English and was confused from hours of being lost in the airport with inept handling from airport staff. And he picked up a desk stapler. The ensuing inquiry that wrapped up recently showed a farce of statements by the supposedly well-trained Mounties who should be able to resolve many situations with communication and not escalated violence.

Besides statements that contradicted the video footage (and without it Dziekanski would be dead and we would never have come close to the truth) the big, strong and supposedly fit officers feared for their lives and that of their fellow officers, because Dziekanski picked up a desk stapler. As I’ve said before, if these guys get scared so easily then they have no right being a police officer. And this statement, them fearing for their lives, is a crucial phrase that probably every RCMP officer ever investigated for a death at their hand has uttered.

Other notable cases were that of Kevin St. Arnaud, shot dead after being chased through a field and surrendering. The officer, a rookie, said St. Arnaud looked threatening and was overtop of him where he fell, when he fired. Witnesses (including 24-year veteran officer) and forensic evidence indicated the officer was standing and five meters away when he fired, and that St. Arnaud had raised his hands in surrender. The outcome: the officer was not found to have committed any wrongdoing.

The other case was Ian Bush, shot in the back of the head while in police detention. Again, it took place in northern BC and a rooky copy said it was self-defense because he was being choked. Yet Bush was shot in the back of the head, not the side or front. Forensic evidence and character witnesses didn’t match up to what happened. Yet again, the officer feared for his life.

These are just three cases that took place in BC, and rookie cops were involved in two of them But in all three a man died and the officers feared for their lives in questionable circumstances. And in all three, charges were not laid, though the Dziekanski case could still see charges brought against the officers because of its high publicity if nothing else. And in all three cases the police investigated their own.

There have been outcries of biased investigation, which the RCMP adamantly deny. Of course they would but the evidence stacks against them. Questionable outcomes, officers never found in the wrong and a system that perpetuates itself in negligence and inefficient training have knocked the RCMP down to little better than some criminals. Still, this is not the majority of officers, but bad and very notorious publicity hurts their image as a whole.

Some areas in Alberta use retired police officers to investigate deaths involving officers but even so, there is still the possibility of the police protecting their own and staying loyal to an ethic that has been passed down through the years. Having different officers from other regions investigate an event has the same problem. Sometimes junior officers have investigated senior officers, where inexperience will lend itself to abuse or misjudgment.

The recently completed report on RCMP self-investigation recommends “that serious cases involving sexual assault, death or serious injury cases should, in some cases, be turned over to outside investigators to ensure independence.” Absolutely. And though the RCMP are balking at some of these recommendations, there shouldn’t be a problem if an investigative body was set up. These situations are still relatively rare and no matter where a death or sexual assault happened in the province investigators could fly there within two hours.

It will be extremely rare where there could be two cases at once. The RCMP should welcome a nopartial investigation. As well, as I’ve said before they need to look at themselves and their training all over again. New drivers in BC have to display an “N” for a year or two and have certain restrictions. Perhaps rookies in the RCMP should have the same and not be allowed out on their own or maybe even carry a gun until they know how to handle themselves. (Ireland actually runs with no police officers carrying guns.) And some retraining in nonagressive means needs to be carried out. A friend who was once a police officer said that officers are not given much training in martial arts or even negotiation, which means they’ll often go for weapons before negotiation.

I hope the RCMP will see this as a way to buff up their now very tarnished image (especially in BC) and accept the recommendations gracefully. I hope they’ll look at retraining and extended training in peaceful negotiations and in disarming someone without escalating violence. And I hope they will be able to live up to the former image of being Canada’s finest and noble security force.

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Childhood Games: Marbles and More

We live in such an era of media overload that the childhood games of yesteryear are all but forgotten.Video games and TV still predominate to such a degree that childhood obesity is now a problem in North America. Sure there are some sports but perhaps not enough.

And with all the media inundation, children have forgotten often how to play or to create a game out of nothing. Back when civilization consisted of making everything by hand a child was lucky to have even one toy. It might be made of clay or wood, or perhaps scraps of cloth though early clothing construction consisted of no leftover bits. The toys would be tools to imagination and the child would have to create their own games.

Years ago I went with friends to their cabin in Clinton, BC. The little nieces were out in a rustic wood cabin with no electricity, no TV and no games. They started to whine about being bored. So I said, come on, grab a towel and let’s go outside. The three little girls followed me and we ran around like superheros or jumped out of the crabapple tree. Before long, they’d forgotten about their store bought toys and were enjoying make-believe in nature.merrygoround1

There have always been complex games and simple games. Chess is a complex board game, checkers, not as much. When I was a kid in elementary school there was the usual playground equipment: teeter totters, monkey bars, a merry-go-round (the foot powered style) and that would be it. Swings were for the parks but not amongst unruly kids during recess.

But we also played another game. I think it was around grade 3 that the kids would line up against the wall of the school and play marbles. You needed a few marbles to begin. Other kids would sit with their legs in a V, with a marble or marbles lined up. Then you would stand at the predetermined line and roll your marble toward the other one. If you hit the marble you got to keep both. If you missed, the other person kept both. Some people would line up three or more, or like a bowling alley so that you would have to hit the ones in front before getting the more prized marble at the back. Some people even built cardboard arches to set their marbles in.

Cat’s eyes were the commonest type of marble, but sometimes there would be a more interesting color combo. catseyesThere were the larger sizes; I can’t remember what we called them but I think either boulders or jumbos.  Next in marbles were the sold colors, opaque or with a marblesswirl through them. And there were the clear marbles, either blue or white or green, or some other color. I remember taking some of these and frying them in the frying pan, then dropping them in water. These would form crackle marbles. They too were prized but somewhat fragile.

But the most coveted of all marbles were the steelies, ball bearings really but their silvery perfection was what every kid aimed for. You used your cat’s eyes first to hit the other marbles and tried to get more prized marbles. If you ran low on the lowly cat’s eyes, then you set up your prize marbles (but not usually your most favored) to gain more marbles. It was about collecting the coolest marbles and about the most.seagrams I even had a clay marble at some point. It was very old but not worth much to the other kids.

Almost as precious as those steelies were the bags to carry your marbles in. And the best bag of all was the purple, Seagram’s Crown Royal whiskey bag. I managed to get one. Maybe it came with some marbles, maybe from an older sibling, but it was definitely the choicest bag.

When talking recently with my siblings, my older brother and sister and my younger brother (a span of eleven years) we all remember shooting marbles and the Seagram’s bags. My younger brother said it was uncommon for girls to play, yet I remember doing it but also being unaware of whether I was in a minority of girls to boys. But it seems we played through grades 3-5. Grade 1 was too young and by grade 6 we were on our way out to junior high (grade 7 in Alberta). It was probably the most popular playground game in school.

My younger brother is a teacher and says no one plays marbles anymore. It’s too bad. It was cheap and simple and taught kids numbers, how to trade and value. I don’t remember any fights breaking out over marbles. Maybe they did from time to time but it was still a way to keep kids occupied that didn’t cost hundreds of dollars. I still like marbles as pretty pieces of glass. Perhaps, as the economy continues to slow, people will go back to simpler pastimes.

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Writing: Taking it Personally

This could just be called Writing and Ego for any time a writer submits a piece of work to an editor, ego does get involved. We write because of ego, because we think we have something to say, because we think we’re good enough, because we want to be rich or famous. But to write means also to be able to disengage the ego some.

The other night I was talking with someone who has a friend trying to be a writer. Great. Everyone should try to pursue their dreams. But writing, for 99% of us, takes work. A lot of work. It takes honing your craft. It takes knowledge. It takes a certain skill and perception that is ephemeral, that could be called ideas but is also your unique way of stringing them together. It takes perseverance. And yes, it takes luck.

The first part, learning your craft, is where everyone must start and stay to a degree. It is always a judgment call as to when you think your piece is ready. Once it’s been written, reworked, critiqued, rewritten and edited, it is then ready to send out, maybe. But sometimes you must take a leap of faith and submit the story or poem. Every writer can benefit from workshops, classes and writers’ groups. If I could afford to do it more, I’d take more workshops. Until I’m selling my pieces 100% of the time I still have something I can learn. To think otherwise would again be ego. A workshop might just be a new way to work or come up with ideas or just the camaraderie of other writers, because, as any writer knows, writing is a fairly solitary process.

Selling your writing takes the knowledge not just of how to write, but of the submission process. Sometimes people have an idea, their cherished baby, and they write it and then send it out. If you haven’t learned much about writing or even had your story read by knowledgeable people (editors, not friends unless those friends are writers/editors) then you jeopardize your chances at publication. Such basics as grammar can stop an editor from reading an otherwise great story. Editors read so much every day that they have no patience for people who cannot follow basic grammar, spelling and guidelines.

No one can teach a person ideas, but there are workshops that look at how to take those rough ideas and chisel them into the best and most clear idea, compelling, interesting and filled with tension. But the beginning idea must be interesting in and of itself and unique, not done before. There are many stories, even within a genre, that follow certain motifs. Each one that is published must present something new.

Next, and how we get back to the person trying to be a writer, is perseverance. He had sent his work out to a publisher or two and when it was rejected, he took it personally. They (those faceless editors) hate him. Really, the editor or publisher doesn’t know most beginning writers from Adam. The writers too, are faceless. There is rarely anything personal unless you take to insulting the editor in your cover letters.

It may not even be that your story sucks. Here are just a few reasons that an editor/publisher may not have accepted your story/novel, which has nothing particular to do with your work:

  • doesn’t fit their theme
  • they’ve just spent two years publishing books on this topic and the market is glutted
  • budget cuts
  • there are limited slots and even some of the good stories must go
  • you wrote on a topic that the editor personally hates
  • the slushpile has grown so big that there is some wholesale rejecting to get them caught up (not as frequent but it can happen)
  • they’re changing their focus
  • they’re folding (I’ve sold too many pieces to magazines/anthologies, which were then never published because they closed down–I call it the kiss of death)
  • the structure of the magazine/anthology has changed (I sold one story to an anthology which then went to a different publisher and then was halved–although I received a kill-fee the story was never published.)
  • the editor has changed

Those are a few reasons that has nothing whatsoever to do with the writer. Grammar, typos, conflict, tension, characterization, plot, theme, structure and flow have to do with the written piece. Editors also reject on those reasons, if the other reasons haven’t come into play first. Again, this is rarely personal. They don’t know you. They base their thoughts on the manuscript before them.

This is why perseverance is the mainstay for most writers. It is a very tiny percentage of us who can send out our work and sell it on the first go. My ego had to accept that I wasn’t the greatest writer since sliced bread. Otherwise I would sell everything or mostly everything. I’m still a small pea in a big pod. Even the best writers, the award winners, don’t sell some pieces. You and me and most other writers have to keep writing and submitting. If I’d quit after my first year, I would have only sold a couple of poems. I keep going, getting better the more I write (and read), the more workshops I take, the more I discuss my ongoing projects before submitting.

If you want to be a writer, you’ll need to disengage your ego enough to get through the rejections. At one time I could paper my bathroom in acceptances and my house in rejections. Now I might be able to paper a house in acceptances…and several houses in rejections. So it goes. If you take it personally, if you want to be an overnight sensation, if you get overly depressed or angry at a rejection, then you better not be a writer.

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Political Name Changes: A Rose By Any Name

Or perhaps never a rose. It could be a stinking weed or even a better flower. The NDP (New Democratic Party) of Canada is looking at changing their name and dropping the “New.” One reason stated is that people who are newer to Canada (and maybe those not so new) see the “New” and think that the party hasn’t been around very long, and is less experienced.

Fair enough, and it’s not the first time the NDP have gone through a transition. Its roots are in two parties, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation, which joined together to form the National Committee for the New Party (known for a while as the New Party). That party became the NDP with Tommy Douglas as its first leader.

It’s not bad for any political party to re-evaluate where its going, what its mandate is and is it serving the needs of the people. Of course, once you have more than a small handful of people you will get differing needs and views. (Heck, even if you have two people that can happen.)

The Progressive Conservatives went through a split where the right of center PCs spawned the Reform Party of Canada. This happened after Brian Mulroney drove the party into the ground, setting up Kim Campbell to be the fall guy (or gal) for the party that was nearly voted out of existence. Mulroney’s arrogance and his implementation of the GST and the controversial Free Trade Agreement (seen as selling away some of Canada’s rights to the US) left the federal party with only two seats in the next election.

The Reform offspring, a farther right-wing, extreme conservative party then became known as the Canadian Alliance after the unfortunate name of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance party (or CRAP for short). They were known for being narrow-minded and members were caught several times saying racist and sexist remarks. So in a big sellout the Reform party merged back with the PCs, causing many long time Conservative members (such as former prime minister Joe Clark) to leave the party in disgust.

That’s our Conservative party today, cloaked again with the respectable Conservative name but still more right of where the PCs were yet not as red as the Reform was. But Harper’s disinterest in helping anyone of color or of a nonChristian religion, even if they are Canadian citizens has been noted by the press. (such as Abousfian Abdelrazik in Sudan but not charged with anything) One could say it is the government but Harper likes to keep a stranglehold on his ministers.

So, in that case, the name change for the Reform didn’t work but merging back into the Conservatives did. Will it work for the NDP? That depends. Often what happens when a party renames itself is that it also looks at its mandates, its policies and its platform. If the NDP doesn’t do an in-depth examination, then a name change probably won’t do much for them in the polls and they’ll continue to be third runner up in federal politics.

As I’ve said before, Canada’s political parties don’t have very charismatic leaders at present. I’ve heard from an experienced ex-politician that he liked Jack Layton until he met him. I also listened to several people talking this weekend at a party about the NDP. Layton at some point had been in town for a photo op with guards and press. It blocked the way to a local store (selling roleplaying games I believe). Because it took so long when they were packing up this one guy was saying that Layton could have gone into the store and shook a few hands because the nerds (his word not mine) were waiting to go in. And then they would have probably blogged about it. But Layton missed an opportunity.

Layton comes from a long family history of politicians and a has a PhD in political science so he should know his stuff. However, he comes across as arrogant, and he’s not the only political leader who does. It certainly didn’t serve Stockwell Day or Brian Mulroney that well with many people. Like Preston Manning before him, it could be Layton also needs a makeover. Not even gay men wear moustaches like that anymore: only policemen. But it’s attitude and party politics that will need to change most of all to bring the party out of third place in the race. Politicians should try being genuine and talk more with the common people.

If the NDP are not going to be new democrats anymore but democrats with seasoning and experience, then the party has to grow up all around. Perhaps at the NDP convention the name change will come with a new leader but if they change the leader they better throw smarts and charisma into the package. Oh and clearly stating their platform and sticking to their guns. If not, the NDP, or the Democratic Party, will continue to bring up the rear, even if the other two choices aren’t much better.

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Hot Off the Range: Speedcook Ovens

I’m travelling again so here is another old article from Technocopia.com. First published in 1999 or 2000.

The heat wave has arrived with the best of conventional ovens and microwaves blended with a pinch of something new.

Microwaves were popular in the 80s but never really caught on as an alternative to the conventional oven. They have maintained a place in most homes for warming leftovers, drinks and soups, and for making popcorn. The Wall Street Journal Europe (07/01/99) reported that “Just 19% of all home-cooked meals last year came out of microwaves, compared with 20% five years ago, according to NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, New York, market-research firm.” The problem with a microwave oven is that many foods lose their appealing texture; pizza crust becomes tough, cookies look unbaked, steaks turn into shoe leather and roast chicken has skin that looks like…skin.

Conventional ovens brown and roast and seal in flavors but they require preheating and longer cooking times. Cookies can end up burnt on the edges and raw on the inside. In today’s rushed world, whether you’re a single person with a hectic work and social life, or a family where members run on different schedules, there is often little time for a prepared, oven made meal. If only there was an oven that was fast yet kept the best of flavors and textures.

With those ideas in mind appliance manufacturers researched and came up with several alternatives. General Electric has introduced Advantium, which uses the newest technology of halogen light cooking. Three set-in lamps, which come with a 10-year warranty, emit intense heat and light. Along with timed bursts of microwave energy, a roast is cooked, browned evenly and juices sealed in, its cooking time shortened significantly. The meal has a superior flavor, even when compared to a conventional oven. One downside is that paper will burn and plastic dishes melt from the hot halogen light. In that way, the Advantium is more like a conventional oven than a microwave, but has an 80-meal preprogrammed menu.

GE, believing Advantium will be a big seller, has devoted a $50 million dollar budget for promotion. The Wall Street Journal (10/18/99) quotes Jeff Moody VP of GE marketing: “We expect a good selling season for this . . . and by the end of next year, we should be at a decent run rate… If it takes as long as a microwave did,” he says, “I’d be disappointed.” Advantium can also be switched to its microwave only mode.

KRTBN Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News (11/02/99) reports that “halogen light cooking has been available to the commercial food preparation market for about seven years.” GE chose to do studies and perfect their range first with licensed technologies from Quadlux in Silicon Valley. Quadlux introduced the FlashBake 120 last year for about $1600. It uses halogen flashbake technology but without the microwave burst. Through “thermal-pulsing” the FlashBake directs heat into and onto the food. FlashBake can be plugged into a regular socket like a microwave, whereas Advantium needs to be wired in like a regular oven.

Maytag, with TurboChef Technologies, Inc., has come out with the Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP. The 5XP stands for five times faster than a conventional oven. The Accellis works by jet impingement. Hot air is sucked out and recirculated at about 56 mph around the food. Microwave bursts make sure the interior is cooked. The downside is that the oven’s circulating fan is nosier than standard oven models.

Maytag promotes the easy, time-saving aspects of the Jenn-Air, and points to a “1996 survey by Working Mother magazine that said nearly 60 percent of women surveyed listed ease of preparation as their first or second most important factor in determining what to serve.” Associated Press (11/01/99) A “time wizard” interface allows the cook to choose from a menu for times and settings like a microwave. Maytag plans to market the oven at the beginning of 2000 and with a heftier price tag of $3500 compared to the Advantium’s $1300, it may be an item only for select consumers.

Thermador, with Enersyst’s (KRH Thermal Systems, San Bruno, CA.) commercial cooking expertise, has brought out JetDirect, which takes convection cooking one step farther and channels air into the food directly. Like most of these new ovens it has an automated “CookSmart” feature, which converts conventional cooking times to JetDirect’s. Thermador will also be producing out a “double-oven configuration, with the JetDirect located above and a thermal-convection oven below,” reports National Home Center News (07/19/99). At a cost of $5700 for the JetDirect models, it will be a while until the regular consumer will be using one.

According to Dealerscope Consumer Electronics Marketplace (06/01/99), Frigidaire has come out with its Speed Bake range that by a user-controlled fan system speeds up cooking time by 30%. It “differs from traditional convection in that it does not reduce oven temperature and requires only the flick of a switch.” It is price between $650-$750.

Amana Appliances is the final contender in new faster cooking ovens but doesn’t use microwave technology, reports Tom Robbins for The Times (07/11/99). Although Robbins mentions that the Wave uses only halogen technology like the FlashBake 120, their website only lists the EvenAir, which is a convection range.

All these ovens promote faster cooking times with better textures and tastes to cooked foods. Each one has some automated menu or time-setting feature for cooking, and the halogen ovens include conversion charts from conventional oven recipes. According to the Associated Press article (11/11/99), it may be possible in just a few years to download recipes from the Internet into the oven’s memory. With programmable menus and cooking temperatures, it will not take much more to add the chips to make this possible. Speed cook ovens are just another step toward an integrated, automated kitchen that makes the most of time and cooking easier.

COMPANY

BRAND

COOKS BY:

COST*

TIME CUT BY**

General Electric Advantium 3 halogen lights (4500 watts max) & microwave $1300

75%

Quadlux FlashBake 120 8 Halogen lights (1650 watts max) $1600

35%?

Maytag & TurboChef Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP Jet impingement (forced hot air) $3500

80%

Thermador & Enersyst JetDirect Hot air & convection $5700

75%

Frigidaire Speed Bake Convection? $650-$750

30%

Amana Appliances Wave (EvenAir) Convection

25%

*approx. prices **Compared to conventional ovens (approx. times)

COMPANY SITES
http://www.maytag.com
http://www.frigidaire.com
http://www.geadvantium.com
http://www.geappliances.com
http://www.amana.com (convection ovens—nothing on the Wave)

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Society and Death

We have moved into a period in this culture where death is not part of life, nor the every day. Although death continues to happen to young and old, ill and hale, through accidents, disease and murder, still we talk about it in an all-encompassing way but ignore it in the intimate of the every day.

There may be somebody who will say death is not part of life and for the person who dies, life indeed is no more part of them. But for those who know someone who has died, death is very much part of their lives. It used to be that in small communities, such as mining or fishing towns, when someone died they were laid out upon the table in the family home. A table is where people break bread, eat of the earth, communicate and come together, and it is a place big enough to lay a body. Where it will be cleaned and dressed by family members. A place where a person lays in state for people to pay their last respects before being taken to the church and then buried. Funeral parlors weren’t in every small town.

Death now is the last great taboo of the Western world. When someone dies, people have no idea what to say and so say nothing at all. They’re uncomfortable with the concept of death and avoid it like the plague. Veer around the person whose loved one has died, maybe send an innocuous card. A brave soul might say, I’m sorry to hear about your mother/brother/wife.

The griever is expected, after missing a few days of work, to act normal, to show no emotion that may be seen as sad, maudlin, angry, or grief-stricken. Crying is verboten. After all, people will feel edgy and avoid the grieving. So act like it’s life as normal.

The truth is, grief takes time. There is no set limit but it often takes a year to process through a person’s emotions. People who deny their grief and don’t go through the process can actually do physical damage to themselves. The storing up of such emotions, rather than releasing them through a natural process, can also affect the person’s psyche for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that you can’t put off your grieving for too long, that there is a crucial period when the grieving should take place.

And yet our society tries to make everyone a stoic, free from any emotions except those that are uplifting and bright. By doing this, we cauterize ourselves from the full range of what it means to be human, effectively castrated from all but the most superficial feelings. You cannot have joy without experiencing pain. A constant state of euphoria cannot last and becomes the norm on which a person then judges bad or good, happy or sad. What would normally be sad becomes huge trauma and depression, with no end in sight to it.

I believe it is this unhealthy avoidance attitude that society has to death and negative emotions which have caused an increase in drug use, both recreational and with anti-depressants, to handle what once our bodies could do on their own. We have fewer ways to cope naturally and must go to the drugs. Drug addicts cannot find that constant euphoria so they hunt it in the addiction, afraid to face a life that encompasses happiness and pain.

And death–we can’t avoid it. It will happen. I never knew what to say to anyone when their family member or friend died. We don’t hug our coworkers, we don’t pat them on the shoulders. We maintain distance. We don’t wail at funerals and beat our breasts. And yet we should, for in those acts we express the grief that otherwise builds up in us. We have an outlet that lets us return to a healthy mentality faster.

I regret that when my sister-in-law’s parents died (at different times) that I didn’t know what to say and said nothing at all. How callous. How ignorant. It took the death of a friend for me to experience the grieving process and to understand how people can feel, and just how long it can take to think of that person without crying and feeling as if someone has crushed your heart. I began to understand that a person grieving can feel very cut off and alone, and as if no one cares.

It is almost like being shunned, when someone has to grieve. Letting a person or a community grieve publicly, sharing memories, talking about the person who passed can help. It validates the feelings and a person will recover faster from mourning if they are allowed to express themselves. And yes it can take a year or longer. I have only lost friends and that affected me greatly. I can’t imagine the depth of the pain and loneliness that their spouses felt.

We can all change this debilitating trend by not being so scared of death and the process that we pretend doesn’t exist. The TV show Six Feet Under took a black humor look at death, from the death that opened each episode to the dysfunctional and very real lives of the mortician family that dealt with their own issues and the mourners for the dead. It was an adventuresome show because it touched on death in a very real way that we shy away from. And the show was a hit; witty, tender, irreverent, strange and examining some aspects of life we would rather avoid.

Now, when I know someone who has lost a loved one, I try to let them grieve, to make sure they know it’s all right, to help them and to express my condolences so that they don’t feel isolated. It is the best way to make life more meaningful, by acknowledging the death of friends, family and coworkers.

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Writing: Is It Just About the White Guys?

 SF Signal (www.sfsignal.com a good site for SF news) has seen an explosion of comments over the posting of one new book coming out, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF edited by Mike Ashley. MammothDebate It seems this collection of mindblowing stories, “the 21 finest stories of awesome SF” has not one woman in it or author of color and this has caused quite a hullabaloo.

 There are still more writers in SF who are male than female but that gap has closed a great deal from the early days of SF. There are even fewer authors of color. So it could be that in a sampling of stories that came in that the best were from the white males. However there are several factors that work against this supposition for editor Ashley (who I believe made an oversight more than an intentional choice to exclude female authors).

The Mammoth series of anthologies can be on anything; road trips, horses, brides, vampires, SF. The scope of the series is large and many of them originate in the UK. The Mammoth books also usually tend to have many stories in them (part of the whole mammoth imagery). This book failed in that department by only having 21 stories. Anthologies in general sell less than any novel so an editor and publisher must look at what will sell the book. In that case you will always want a few recognizable names that most readers will know. This alone will narrow the scope of an anthology And of course the books do have themes. Other anthologies might be for a region or a country and there can even be anthologies on the best new SF by women or gay men or whatever.

There are many restrictions on an anthology that will limit whose work is published. The payment for a story may be too little for some authors to submit. Other anthologies are invitational. If you’re not asked, you can’t write for it. Some are partly invitational, and some editors might post their guidelines in exclusive areas (such as members of SFWA may submit, but only members). But going through slush piles of hundreds or thousands of submissions can take a very long time and editors often have a timeframe to work within. Therefore, when an anthology that is not open to any writer makes the claim as having the best, the most awesome or mindblowing pieces, it can be challenged as being exclusionist or elitist. When that claim is made and there are no women either, it ruffles quite a few feathers.

When I edit I look first for the best story or poem. I don’t look at the author’s name or credits, nor what their gender or color is. But when you have invited several people to send in stories and have reprints from others (some for the name) then there is still a possibility to include both genders. It could be that the editor only received stories from males but it is still so narrow a focus that questions arise as to the intent.

On top of this Mammoth book not living up to the usual range of many stories and including SF from women, it also has cover art derivative of the 60s and 70s. But I also don’t know what the editor said in his introduction. Maybe these were mindblowing stories for him when he was a teenager, or smoking pot, or in a geographic area. Maybe he really liked these stories and ignored even past works of authors such as: Le Guin, Tiptree, Tepper, Cadigan, Cherryh, (Mary Shelley if we want to go to the advent of SF & women writers), Norton, McCaffrey, Bear, Henderson, Butler, Scyoc, Hambly, etc. I haven’t read the stories so they could all truly be awesome SF, but I just think some women could be in there too.

Because there has been a history in writing to exclude females in the past it is still a touchy subject. Doing my degree at UBC I saw this attitude, especially in some parts (instructors) of the English department. The only good writer is a dead white male, followed by a live white male. This attitude is changing but it means that editors do have to be aware of the stories they’re receiving and if they want their anthology to be indicative of the overall demographic of writers. Not to mention that there are many many women readers and many of them read SF and fantasy.

I have a feeling that editor Mike Ashley is shaking his head, realizing belatedly that he inadvertently created a hornet’s nest. One writer at SF Signal said that she had been asked to submit, so women were included in the submission process. I could just as easily pout that Canadians had been excluded, but I don’t know the nationality of all the writers, and even if there are only US and UK writers, well, that happens a lot, depending on where the guidelines were listed and whether it was invitational. And at only 21 stories, Ashley probably only asked a select few and chose some reprints on his own. I’m also sure his next anthology will have many more women in it.

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The Death of Art Glass

You might be wondering what art glass is. It’s any piece of glass that’s not utilitarian. Vases, stained glass, goblets, plates, paper weights and other items that are made by hand. They’re rarely mass-produced unless you’re looking at huge glass factories like Waterford crystal (you can see more about that factory in my Ireland blog pieces). There are two categories of art glass: cold and hot. Cold glass is taking pieces that already existed and making something of them, whether that is cutting and gluing them together, sandblasting them or using as part of other art pieces. Hot glass involves slumping, blowing, lampworking or otherwise molding molten glass using a furnace (or other heat source) and a kiln.

Blown glass is expensive for several reasons. A batch of glass without impurities must be kept molten at all times. This requires running a gas furnace 24/7 at a precise temperature. If the furnace has to be shut down, the glass has to be cooled and reheated slowly and can take up to two weeks to attain the right temperature. So it’s not feasible to shut off a furnace each night. Imagine your gas bill for heating your home and then multiply it to a temperature to keep glass molten (2400°F) and you might just fathom the cost. On top of that you need another heated furnace area for working the glass, called the glory hole, and at least one annealing kiln. Without cooling the formed glass gradually it will develop stresses and break.

Beyond the heating and maintenance of molten glass, there is the expense of a studio and the equipment. As well, every color in glass must be bought and added when blowing. These colors must also be pure and compatible with the basic clear glass in the crucible. Before even blowing the glass, the costs are huge.

Then comes the training. Glass blowing is not easy. It takes years of constant work to perfect the craft. One must be able to blow several glasses of the same size, with the same thickness (and not too thick or uneven) as well as even color if you’re making a set of something. You must be able to blow items round that should be round and oval if they’re oval. You have to maintain great skill in keeping openings even, patterns working, colors mixing. Anyone fresh out of college will still need years to perfect their craft.

And then you have to hope you can sell the pieces. Seattle has a fairly vibrant art glass community, courtesy of the Pilchuck Glass School. Some of those graduates are in BC and other areas, but Canada has a problem for supporting the arts. Our population is about 34 million, which is probably similar to the population of New York or California. When you take a percentage of people who support the arts or can afford to buy it, you get much fewer people, but the cost of producing the art is still the same. Canada is at a huge disadvantage. Yet, to market art can take as much time as making the art itself.

Thus, with our slumping economy, the arts have been nosediving. Vancouver used to have quite a few hot glass studios. The hardest to maintain were the glassblowing studios because of the costs. These included Andrighetti Studio, Joe Blow, David New-Small, Robert Held, Starfish Gallery in Victoria, Molten Spirit Glass Studio in Roberts Creek, and Solart Glass Studio in West Vancouver. Jo Ludwig in Victoria does slumped and fused glass, which negates the need for furnaces and glory holes, thus greatly reducing the cost. Joel Berman in Vancouver does architectural walls and windows. There are many other studios doing architectural glass whether molded or stained glass. A few do the kiln slumping. And fewer the glass blowing.

Joanne Andrighetti stopped blowing and running her studio due to exorbitant rent increases in  a trendy area. She does lampworked glass now. Joe Blow, run by Jeff Burnette is the latest to fall into the embers of the tight economy. Both of these studios taught classes, besides renting space to other blowers. Starfish Gallery also closed a while back.

There may be a few other studios which I haven’t mentioned that are still going. Some have a prime location like the Granville Island studios that get a good chunk of tourist trade. Other studios do production line art glass and commissions for such places as Waterford crystal. But the places for one of a kind art glass are truly shrinking and it’s too bad. It’s too bad I don’t have the means to support these and other arts more. It’s too bad that Jeff has had to end a thirty-plus year career in blowing.  I’ve heard similar tales from other artists in other forms of art.

Here’s an example of what some former glass artists are doing to make ends meet.  G is slinging fish for pay and taking HD photos for fun, and M is selling sausage and painting. E is making cheese. The skill to make art takes as long as any other skill-set or doctorate. Without art we lose beauty, a resting place for the eye and mind to replenish itself and make it through the every day.

So, if you want a deal on art from two artists now struggling to make ends meet go to Joe Blow Glassworks as Jeff is selling off his glass pieces, and Eric Montgomery (a cold glass and artist) is having a sale on some of his pieces. You could end up with a unique piece of a dying or shrinking art form that has existed for thousands of years.

Contact Jeff Burnette here:http://www.joeblowglassworks.com/1.html

Contact and see Eric Montgomery’s works here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=137615&id=654211188&l=bdeb910c32

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glassblowing

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