Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How do I Get Ontario to Sign Up?

I just read on the CBC that Albertans will soon be paying a deposit on milk cartons. According to the article, they're the only province in the country to do that. Damn those environment hating prairie hicks.

The truth is, I would like to see the Ontario government expand the list of deposit-worthy items from wine and beer containers to all containers, plastic or otherwise.

Now, I must be honest about my intentions. I'm not all that concerned about the environmental impacts of recycling or not. My current feeling, after years of meticulous sorting, is that it's more trouble than it's worth. Kingston made it worse for me when they added grey boxes (for paper, plastic bags, etc.) to the blue boxes (now only for cans, bottles, etc.) already part of their recycling program. I just don't make that much garbage to begin with (I'm more into reducing and reusing than I am recycling). Adding another only slightly less bulky grey bin to a preexisting, bulky blue bin was just enough disincentive for me. With the amount that I could potentially recycle, both bins will always be less than half-full. Great for the pessimist, not so great for the apartment dweller with limited storage space. Not to mention the fact that the bins only go out on alternating weeks, blue one week, grey the next. It just got to be too much hassle for me. (Reports say it did save the city money, so I guess there is one upside to it.) Plus, I've been getting this growing sense that, for all the efforts that people, citizens and city staff alike, put into it, the impact is small. There may be a net benefit from doing it, but it is low, and there are probably better places to put our resources, and our garbage, if our greatest concern is the environment [1].

Now that I've established that I don't put much stock into the Third 'R', let me get to why I hope Ontario will implement a policy similar to Alberta's. Ontario already has a deposit program in place for beer bottles and cans, and wine bottles were recently added. As far as I know, that's it. You used to be able to return pop bottles, back when pop bottles were made of glass (am I dating myself here?) I can't remember the last time I saw pop being sold in glass bottles other than for nostalgia and novelty purposes. I actually don't how many milk cartons get tossed in with ordinary garbage, either in absolute or relative terms. As far as I'm concerned, buying milk in cartons is a hose-job [2]. There is a 10 cent different between a 4 litre bag of milk and a 2 litre carton. Why would anyone buy that? Yet people do. I'll never understand. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There are things that can be returned for deposit, certain classes of bottles and cans. How often do you see them lying around? Not very often, and if so, not for long. For example, when I was moving out of my last place, I had about 12 empty beer bottles lying around, and two or three empty wine bottles. It wasn't worth the extra 2 bucks or so that I would get to make the extra stop on my way back from the grocery store to return them. So when I moved out, I just left the bottles sitting in the driveway. Within an hour, while I was still inside packing, somebody came by and made off with my bottles. I have no idea who this guy was, but I'm grateful for him and others of his type. He saved me a trip, and he cleans up after other people besides me, all for the low low fee of 10-20 cents a bottle, to be paid by the beer store. I don't even have to supply the dimes! It's great!

Meanwhile, things like plastic bottles are not covered. They could be. Plastic water bottles, plastic pop bottles, whatever. And pop cans too. I often see "Return for deposit in Anywhere But Ontario" on the sides of these things. And no surprise, they are lying all over the place in Ontario. Especially water bottles. My parents would rarely drink bottled water themselves, but they managed to fill up three or four recycling boxes full of plastic bottles from bottled water, just by going for walks. Old neighbours say the neighbourhood has gotten messier since they left. Oh sure, we should be able to count on the good people to not throw out their empty containers everywhere. But we can't, because there aren't many and they're mostly busy somewhere else. We can't really count on there being very bored retired people with nothing to do but pick up garbage either. What we can count on is people who are willing to pick up after those lazy, ignorant slobs [3] for a ridiculously low price of about 10 cents per unit. Not a bad deal in my books. So if McGuinty should decide to target milk cartons, though they don't seem to be the scourge that plastic bottles are, maybe some of those plastic bottles could get hit in the crossfire.

The article linked to above claims that milk producers object because people will stop buying as much milk. Piffle! Tosh! Those who are truly concerned about that extra 10-25 cent deposit can, I don't know, SAVE their empty milk cartons and get the deposit back next week. Also according to the article 90 percent of Albertans are in favour of it. 90 percent! So most people are probably going to be willing to put out those extra few cents. And something tells me that the remaining 10 percent who are opposed to it aren't going to boycott milk because of it. It hasn't hurt the beer industry (for which the subsidies and marketing opportunities are fewer).

So onward Albertans! Return your bottles, plastic or glass! Return your cans! Return your milk cartons! And may Ontario follow you in your hillbilly ways! Yeehaw!

[1] I think, though I am not certain, that the idea of recycling originated was a solution to a logistical problem and not an environmental one. New Yorkers (city, not state) ran out of space to put their garbage, resulting in a so-called garbage crisis. They also ran out of arable land, resulting in a food crisis. Or not. You decide.

[2] And by hose-job, I mean they actually make a profit. Milk is, or used to be, a loss leader. If you walk into the store and buy a bag of milk, they actually lose money. They charge you less than it costs them to get you into the store. So if you want to stick it to Big Grocery, go buy lots of milk in bags.

[3] Myself, I'm just a lazy slob.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A word of advice

If there is an important document that is needed on a daily basis, I might suggest that you don't use it as a bookmark, close the book on it, put the book back on your shelf, and then search frantically for the document later in all of the usual places, none of which include a book on your shelf. Or, if you do do that, remember to check your books first, starting with the ones you used most recently, of course.

Take it or leave it.

Also, I would recommend locking your car doors so that, when important documents appear to go missing because you used them as a bookmark and then left them in a book, you can feel safe in the assurance that no one took them from your car.

Not that any of this has anything to do with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ice by any other name

For a good three to four years, I managed to hit the gym on average about three times per week. That stopped last summer when I decided to put everything I had into finishing my PhD. I also gave up eating food that I either couldn't pour milk on, couldn't put on bread, or didn't contain caffeine. I did get into the gym fairly regularly during the month of July, but dropped it again in early August because of the defence, vacation, and moving.

Somehow, despite my sloth and substandard eating habits, I managed not to appear less healthy. I entertained the thought that my efforts of the preceding years were permanent, though I knew this wouldn't be the case. So I had every intention of picking it up again in September, but instead I picked up a bug that immobilized me on a bad day and would certainly have interfered with a workout of any kind on a good day.

Once classes had started, it became rare that I would actually have enough time to go over to the gym and get myself signed up. Even when I did, I thought that time would be better spend on research that I was getting behind on. One morning, I decided to stop by the gym to sign up on my way to the office. But, while my old student card was a suitable stand-in for a staff card at the library, it seems that the gym has higher standards. Something without a picture on it for identification purposes is preferred, I suppose. I went to the office in the math department to get things sorted out, but they didn't have any of the appropriate forms left. Come back later. I never did.

In retrospect, I'm not sure I could have managed a consistent enough exercise regimen. I probably could have made it there now and then, once a week maybe. But that's not enough to make a difference (I don't think), and other things certainly would have suffered. The costs would have outweighed the benefits.

The month of May should have been a good enough time to try starting again, except for the fact that I wrecked my toe so badly after moving again at the end of April that walking slowly was a challenge in and of itself[1]. Real exercise would have been impossible. For the rest of the summer, I was never in Kingston long enough, it seemed, to get into a good routine.

It took some time to settle into a work routine at RMC. I was ready to do some exercise. I asked around about membership fees. Things are different at the RMC gym (actually, CFB Kingston gym). Queen's gym offers laundry service [2]. You can walk in and get gym clothes in the size that you need, exercise, and hand back the clothes when you're done. It's not free, but not outrageous either, and it's very handy. I probably wouldn't have kept up with the exercise as long as I did if they didn't have that service. When I walked in to the RMC gym a few weeks ago to ask about prices, I also asked about laundry service, if they had anything like Queen's laundry service. No, they don't. Then I had the excuse that I didn't have anything to work out in.

Earlier tonight, I decided to take care of that excuse. I was surprised at how much you have to pay for clothes that you are buying to sweat in. I shouldn't have been, since the store I went to specialized not in sporting equipment in general, but specifically in running equipment [2]. I didn't feel like driving across the city to the nearest store that sells clothes of sufficiently low quality to make me happy. I scanned my brain for other stores nearby that might sell what I was looking for. I couldn't think of anything. I've been putting it off until the next day for long enough now, and I wasn't going to give myself another excuse. So I sucked it up, and bought the cheapest product they had that was appropriate to my needs, even though the quality is greater than what I need.

[At this point, you're probably thinking that this is supposed to be something along the lines of a motivational story. Keep reading.]

One thing that was always lacking at my workouts at Queen's was a water bottle. I could usually make it through the twenty minutes I'd spend doing one exercise without rehydrating. When I was done, I would walk over to the water fountain, drink up, and go exercise some more. It worked okay. It would have been better, though, if I had water with me the whole time. So, even though I was making every effort not to spend money on shorts, I ended up spending the difference between cheap and expensive shorts on a water bottle.

The brand name of the water bottle is Subzero. Which is a great name for the bottle, because you are NOT (all-caps theirs) supposed to put it in the freezer, where you actually find the temperatures that the bottle is named after. The bottle does not have any insulating properties either. Thus you cannot bring the contents of the bottle to subzero temperatures, nor can you maintain a subzero temperatures of anything you put in it. Of course, I did not buy it with the intention of doing either of those. I just want to keep the water from falling on the floor before I can drink it. Furthermore, the name of a product isn't required by law to be able to do what its name might suggest. If you saw a product with that name, though, wouldn't you think that it would be able to do at least one of these things?

Curiously, though the bottle is made entirely of stainless steel (the caps are plastic, but not fixed to the bottle), you are NOT (all-caps also theirs) to use it for hot beverages. Thus, if the name Subzero had been taken, names involving high temperatures would also have been appropriate.

I'm probably going to return it. Not because of the misleading name (though I never bought a Nalgene in part because the name reminds me of algae. I thought it was something you were supposed to use with your fish tank) but because when I looked around to find out why I can't put hot water in it, I found very little of use. There are many places selling them. Those sites just copied the information off of the tag. I found the distributors' site, which looks like it was designed by the kid who flunked his high school web-design project, contains no information about the product, and no link to the company that makes them. I don't ask for much in a water bottle, but I would like to buy one from a company that exists.

[Okay. So what was this post supposed to be? I'm not sure anymore. Not this long. That's one thing it was supposed to be.]

[1] I think the toe problem could have fixed itself sooner had the ER doctor I waited 3-4 hours to see spent more than 10 seconds looking at it, and realized that in order for it to heal, I needed to do more than keep my feet clean and change my socks. Oh well. Five and a half months later, and I'm still not dead. So I guess I can't complain too much.

[2] Actually, they offered "locker service". You paid for a locker or a basket. The laundry service was included. I opted for the basket, because it was cheaper, though it was entirely useless to me. They were too small to fit my shoes in, but I couldn't justify paying that extra few dollars a month, which seemed to matter more then than it does now, just so that I didn't have to carry my shoes around.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Counterintuitive Conclusion of the Day

Conclusion: Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion are effectively extreme right-wingers [1].

The proof is simple, based on two statements I hear a lot and which, based on their commonness, I have no choice but to assume are true without the need to question their validity.

  1. All of the parties/party leaders are effectively the same. [2]
  2. Stephen Harper is an extreme right-winger.
Because Jack Layton, Stéphane Dion, and Stephen Harper are party leaders, they are all effectively the same, by Statement 1. Thus, because Stephen Harper is an extreme right-winger by Statement 2, Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion are also effectively extreme right-wingers [3].

[1] By this I don't mean that Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion are effective at being extreme right-wingers. They are not (well, effectively, they are effective at being extreme right-wingers, as I suppose I have shown above). Rather I mean to say that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

[2] See footnote [1] above. Statement 1 has been put to me thus: All parties are evil. The only difference between them is the lies they tell to get elected.

[3] I'm well aware that we could apply the same argument to show that Harper and Dion are leftist moonbats or to show that Harper and Layton are probably not going to lead their respective parties into the next federal election. This effectively reduces the diversity of political persuasions, which are usually described as points on a line or occasionally a circle [3.1], to a point, thus rendering the terms "right-winger", "left-winger", and "centrist" effectively meaningless.

[3.1] It has frequently been acknowledged that a line is inadequate to describe the various political leanings. A circle has been proposed as an alternative. This too, I find inadequate, as a circle is merely a line with the ends connected. I prefer a plane, or perhaps some other 2- or higher- dimensional manifold. A non-orientable one would make things more interesting. But it is what it is, and we can't be choosy with reality now, can we? [3.1.1]

[3.1.1] Oops. I've gone and made the footnotes longer than the post again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Political Environment

I receive, though rarely read, daily headlines from the Hamilton Spectator in my email. The particular account that receives these daily mailings only gets checked every 4 or 5 days [1]. Just today, I got around to reading the headlines. This one


caught my eye. Interesting. The Green Party must posing such a threat to Hamilton's political climate that the typically Liberal or NDP city is considering voting Conservative. This I never expected. In the short description of the article below the headline in the email, it reads
"A green slime has hit Hamilton Harbour."

Well that's not a very nice way of talking about the Green Party. I guess it's just one riding near the harbour, though. In the first paragraph of article itself, however, I found out that
"Public health officials have confirmed the slimy goo coating areas of the Hamilton Harbour is potentially toxic blue-green algae."
Oh. Don't tease me like that.

[1] This is my hotmail account. If you'd like me to receive something in a timely fashion, don't send me email there. I'm looking at you msn users. Gmail is the way to go.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Petty Colours

When I returned to Kingston this evening, there was an email waiting for me in my inbox with the subject line "Are you ready?!..." Am I ready for what? New Month Day was a while ago (or isn't going to happen for a while. We're almost as far from the last one as we are from the next one.), so it couldn't be that. I'm ready for the stock markets to recover. But hey, who isn't, right? So it probably wasn't that.

As a last resort, having exhausted all of my ideas for what the contents of the email could be, I opened it. The contents read "...To watch little coloured bars scroll across the bottom of a TV; for the talking heads; for the interminable wait for results? I know I am!" Indeed, that may be the only good part of the election for me. I'm not really interested in who wins anymore, and unless theis year's thanksgiving turkeys were spiked with ideology-altering amounts of tryptophan, I'm pretty sure I can guess who the winner is going to be. I'm only marginally interested in how many seats the respective parties get.

This election, I didn't have cable, and most of my information regarding the election came from websites of newspapers. My first exposure to election television came this weekend. I consider myself lucky that I managed to avoid it for so long. Party platforms this time around ranged from almost nonexistent to mostly unrealistic. How can I listen to one guy tell me to vote for nothing in particular and another guy tell to vote for a platform almost none of which he could feasibly implement.

Initially, I thought Dion's proposed carbon tax was a good idea, relative to the NDP's and Conservative's ideas, until he actually released the details of the plan (before there was even talk of a premature election). I thought the carbon tax was going to directly affect consumers. A tax at the pump or something. But instead, he wants to go after corporations just like the other two. With a different type of tax structure, of course, but the target of the tax is the same. Corporations, not people [1]. The majority of the population (I think) wants something to be done about carbon emmissions, but not many are willing to do much themselves, even if all they do is agree to suck it up and pay an extra percentage point or two at the pumps. I guess I'm just too cynical, but I wanted to see people put there money where their mouth is. (Elizabeth May has a plan too, I'm sure. I'll pay attention to it some time after her party elects an MP.)

The other major issue (aside from that too-often repeated theme of leadership. It's important, for sure, but for the love of Pete, would you tell us where you'd like to lead us before the election is almost over? [2]) was the economy, about which I have a feeble grasp when it comes to solutions, lack thereof, and their necessity altogether. Dion apparently also has a feeble grasp, since his plan seems to be to ask experts to come up with a plan. Let us know who these experts are, and we shall elect them instead, Mr. Dion. Perhaps someone with a graduate degree in economics, like, oh, say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Speaking of Mr. Harper, though, as with the rest his platform, he has a plan, or so he claims, though I don't know what it is. Layton, if his television commercials are to be believed, cared. How nice.

At the end of it all, I don't know who to vote for. I may have to exercise my democratic right not to vote. I don't like not voting. But I don't want to vote for the least of three evils, and I'm not big on protest voting. Perhaps there is no sense to it, but I'd like to have some sort of none-of-the-above type option (spoiling the ballot is more fun, mind you).

Democracy I like. I like driving too. But I don't usually get into the car if I have nowhere to go, and politics isn't something you joyride.

I hope I can watch the little coloured bars on the internet.

[1] For many years, I had believed that the GST was a brand new tax. In part it was. Though I learned earlier this year that it replaced a previously hidden manufacturing sales tax. We were all paying it before the GST, we just didn't know about it. After the GST we did. Dion's Carbon tax would be another hidden tax. You can talk amongst yourselves about the economic advantages or distadvantages of hidden taxes.

[2] ...says the guy who didn't say much about the election until the campaign was almost over. I had thought about some potential posts, but never got around to writing them.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Much has been said about Stephen Harper's strategy of "staying the course" with respect to the Canadian economy. The obvious response is "The economy is doing terribly, and you're going to do nothing?"

One newspaper columnist, Randall Denley of the Ottawa Citizen, made the following comparison. "If our economy were a boat drifting toward Niagara Falls, Dion would form a committee to consult about the wisdom of getting out the oars, Layton would blame the oil companies, May would praise the falls’ green power and Harper would pretend the sound of the roaring water was nothing to worry about."

I would like to offer you an alternative aquatic analogy. Back home, we have the Hamilton Harbour (or Burlington Bay). Due to the geography of the bay and years of industrial irresponsibility on the part of Stelco, and probably other steel mills in the city, there is a mass of waste sitting at the bottom of the bay. One of my undergraduate profs was involved with the over all improvement of the area around the bay, including what to do with this industrial waste. They explored a number of options, and even attempted a few. In the end they concluded that the best thing to do was to just leave it be [1]. It doesn't fix the problem, of course, but it also doesn't make a bad situation worse.

So the economy is either a mass of toxic sludge on the bottom of a bay, or it's a boat floating down a river toward a waterfall. At most one of these analogies fits. I am not an economist, I am not well informed on the conditions that led to the current crisis in the United States, and I have not been examining local and provincial issues for the Citizen for 16 years, first as city editor, and for the last 11 years as city columnist. So I don't know which analogy is appropriate, if any. At least now, though, you have a choice.

[1] It was at least 4 years ago that I last heard him speak on this subject. I don't know what the state of the sludge is currently.