Friday, December 28, 2012


This punches a lot of my buttons: open-source, community-based, inventive, alternative media. Essentially a talk show-styled piece, it took place at GreEngaged event during the Design Council week. The host acts mainly to draw out anyone who wants to speak, knowing that he can be replaced at any time by someone off the floor. The discussion here is about fashion and the environment, but the process would certainly be translatable to pretty much any event.
It's worth noting that haute couture operates in a copyright-free world, where everything can be stolena dn reproduced at a moments notice. And yet, somehow, the world of fashion manages to keep going.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Something's Coming

No one expected the Battle for Seattle. The Arab Spring was unforeseen. So  was the explosion of Occupy. And now the Canadian government is facing Idle No More and the hunger strike of  Attawapiskat Chief  Theresa Spence.
Ever since MP Charlie Angus brought his constituents issues before the House and the Canadian people, the Harper government has handled things badly. First, it was claimed that the Chief and band were incompetent at managing and a non-First Nations manager was dispatched to clean up the mess. That story stuck with a few Canadians, but then the Attawapiskat band threw the manager off the reserve and refused to pay him--after all, he was to be paid a percentage of what was already seen to be an inadequate budget. As Michael Posluns writes in SLAW (the Canadian online law magazine):
I have witnessed Third Party Management. Not much good can be said about it. The outside manager typically begins by freezing all the band’s accounts, and opening up an account in his own name, often at his own bank. He does not spend much time in the community; he may administer Attawapiskat from Timmins or from Toronto. If Duncan’s appointment is true to form for TPMs past, he may have some managerial experience but he will also have a record of longstanding service to the governing party.

When he closes or freezes all the band’s accounts all the band’s programs stop. I’ve seen situations where summer employment programs, hot lunch programs, recreation programs, road maintenance and everything else that is needed to sustain a community came to a screeching half. The only person who continues to get paid is the TPM himself. Typically, he pays himself 25% of the band’s income for the period he is there.
Yup, the Third Party Manager shuts everything down, takes 25% of the money, and then pretty much does what his political masters tell him to.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Forging Community

Two years ago, I was having coffee with a friend (now, sadly, deceased) and he asked if I would come help him out at the Rainbow Kitchen. He was the lead cook for the day, and claimed that he wasn't sure he'd have enough help. I agreed, we went down, and about an hour and a half after getting there, I was asked if I could be lead cook two weeks on. I hadn't even known if I was coming back!
Well, four months later and I was being asked to be the Kitchen coordinator, a position I held for about 8 months. Simultaneously with my leaving, the Kitchen closed for two months while it was being transferred to Esquimalt United church, as the Anglican diocese had sold the previous home.
Being coordinator changed my morning habits quite a bit--which was noticed by the staff at my local Starbucks. I chatted about what I was doing, and eventually started getting the occasional donation from the staff. It really took off when I ran a program to try and get reusable mugs into the hands of the Kitchen's clients. Starbucks was a big contributor to that.
When the Kitchen re-opened, the manager of my local, Leanne, suggested that maybe her staff could adopt the Rainbow Kitchen as their volunteer cause. We hashed it out, and worked out that Starbucks (which actively encourages community volunteering) staff would come in one evening a month and prepare a make-ahead meal to help out the kitchens regular volunteers. This wasn't unheard of: a local tai chi school also does a once-a-month make-ahead lasagna. It's a way of helping out when you can't get volunteers there between 8:00 am and 2:00 pm. And the volunteers appreciate it as well, as it takes quite a bit of stress off of them.
This has been going on for most of a year now, and with Leanne's pushing, staff from several stores now show up and have a great time prepping a meal.  They have a lot of fun, there's a lot of team-building going on, and the teams can put together a full meal in two hours and always leave the Kitchen cleaner than they found it.
About a month ago, Leanne asked me if there was anything they could do around the Christmas season. After some brainstorming, we decided on presents. The local stores put out donation baskets, asking for things like toiletries, toques, mittens, socks, and the like. On the 15th, the donation boxes arrived at the Kitchen, along with a large group of volunteers. We spent about 3.5 hours sorting donations (with additional donations from the United Church Compassion Warehouse), packing them in shoe boxes, and then wrapping them.

Starbucks volunteers December 15th
There's 125+ presents boxed and wrapped behind them. That's a lot of people who'll get an extra present this holiday season. Why? Because communities are forged from small actions, by individuals, by caring.
This is a small example. Because I like to talk to people, I end up involved. Then I talk with others, and they get involved. This is the secret: Have fun. Spread love. Do one small thing. Because when you do, bigger things happen.
There was a Margret Mead quote on the wall of the old Kitchen. It said: "Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And as Jack Layton said: "Love is stronger than hate."  Go now, and do great things.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Perils of the Progressives

Well, that might be a bit misleading.... it's not exactly clear that the Green party is progressive. But be that as it may, this whole "unite the left thing" might be running into some early problems. The CBC (and other outlets) are reporting that once Andrew Weaver got the nod as the Oak Bay-Gordon Head candidate for the Greens, Michael Byers, a member of the provincial NDP (and former federal candidate) called him up and suggested it might be for the best if Weaver did not run, but instead might think about taking an ADM position in the expected ND government next spring.
Nothing really wrong with the phone call. After all, this kind of horse-trading is pretty much what progressives have been calling for federally. The question is, was the offer a bribe (as Weaver characterized it) or more of a carrot or inducement (as Byers characterized it)? If you remember, the federal Conservatives were accused by Chuck Cadman's widow of having offered a seven figure "inducement" to get the terminally ill Mr. Cadman to cross the floor and shore up the Cons minority-status government.
The Conservative offer was never taken to court, but cash is always considered a bribe. The opportunity to serve and influence government policy, however, is considered fair play in the political jungle. And why not? Power and policy are the goal of parties and candidates, and the process can allow a party to shore up policy areas that are a little thin with out-of-party help. But a position cannot be guaranteed to an opposition candidate who then agrees to drop out or run a poor campaign.
So why has this little chat come out in the media? I suspect because it offered Weaver and the provincial Greens an opportunity to present themselves as making the NDP nervous. There's nothing better to make your party look like a contender than some twitchiness on the part of another party. Just ask the BC Conservatives, who were bleeding hard right support from the provincial Liberals--at least until they imploded.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More About Cheese

14c cheesemaking   photo credit: Wikipedia
An international team of researchers, led by the University of Bristol in the U.K., has pushed back the date of earliest cheese producation to 7000 years ago.There's suspicion that it was happening a thousand years befor that, but the researchers, working on pot shards, have confirmed the presence of fatty acids found in milk.
The shards were from pottery seives, used in making cheese from cow's milk. At the time, most people were lactose intolerant, losing the ability to digest milk at an early age. Processing raw milk into cheese would break down the lactose and make it tolerable. But when dairying from what is modern-day Turkey made its way morth into Europe, it met with mutant humans who continued to be able to consume milk well into adulthood. Dairying provided these people with a new, high-quality food source, and helped them spread their genes across the continent.

Wheels of Gouda   photo credit: Wikipedia
Listen to CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks on Dec. 15 for an interview with Richard Evershed, who co-authored the study of ancient cheesemaking at the University of Bristol.