I had the opportunity to paint the Weal cover for the Mar 18 issue. The article that accompanies the cover was written by Seamus Smyth, and it can be read here. The photo is by the excellent Jessica Burtnick.

I had the opportunity to paint the Weal cover for the Mar 18 issue. The article that accompanies the cover was written by Seamus Smyth, and it can be read here. The photo is by the excellent Jessica Burtnick.

26 Mar 2013 / 1 note

Albertans need to stop drinking the PC Kool-Aid

(Originally published in the Weal.)

The 2013 Alberta budget is cutting from our future, to pay off the deficit from their uncontrollable spending habits.

The budget, which includes no new taxes or increased expenses, seems to consist solely of cuts to essential programs, many of which are education.

It’s a far cry from the promise that the Progressive Conservatives ran on – their 2012 election platform read, “A new progressive conservation government will deliver a balanced budget by 2013 with no new taxes and no service cuts.”

The Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP), which provided 3,000 Albertan students with summer jobs (many of which were assisting non-profit organizations) has been cut in favour of a mere $7 million in savings. The $15 million Community Spirit Grant program for non-profit organizations has been cut as well. There have been no budgeted pay increases for teachers, and a number of cuts to school boards and universities, including a $147 million cut to operating grants for post-secondaries, and an end to the $41 million Alberta Initiatives for School Improvements.

A promised grant program for Aboriginal and rural students ($18 million) will also not be implemented.

These cuts are all justified by Premier Alison Redford’s government as helping to pay off the province’s debt – however, the budget didn’t offer a predicted deficit figure this year (in past years an exact number has been printed), making it even harder to understand where the money is going.

Derek Fildebrandt, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, spoke with the National Post to condemn the Progressive Conservatives.

“If there’s one message to take away from this budget, it’s: Don’t trust them. Don’t trust the government. They have cooked the books to an unprecedented level. I’ve never seen anything like this on the federal or provincial scene anywhere in the country.”

This marks the sixth deficit from a PC government in a row. And with the money they intend to borrow ($12.7 billion by 2015), Alberta will have a deficit rivalling the one it had in 1986 under Don Getty, of $4 billion.

They’re passing it off as an unexpected revenue problem, but Alberta is a wealthy province (we’re expecting about $45 billion in revenue this year) even with shortfalls from the oil sands (non-renewable resources are projected to bring in $7.25 billion this year, four billion dollars less than expected due to a miscalculation). The grave overspending by the Tories over the past year due to more revenue miscalculations is hurting those that can afford cuts the least – teachers and students.

Redford said during the budget speech that this year’s budget, “finds the balance between delivering for Albertans today… and looking down the road to ensure success for Albertans 20 years from now”.

It’s hard to imagine that “success” for future Albertans without them having strong educational institutions to rely on.

It’s a shame about all these education cuts – soon, we’ll be too uneducated to realize that the PC government is just running away with our money.

19 Mar 2013 / 0 notes

Health Canada’s E-Cig restrictions deserve to go up in smoke

(Originally published at The Weal.)

Health Canada has currently banned a healthier alternative to smoking, while keeping cigarettes available in every corner store—it’s a move that makes no sense, and needs to be reversed.

E-cigarettes contain no smoke, no tobacco and have fewer toxins than their paper alternative. They cost less than cigarettes, as one e-cigarette cartridge is equal in size and cost to a full pack, and are frequently used by smokers to help them quit the habit, often taking the nicotine in smaller and smaller doses in exchange for nicotine-free flavoured cartridges such as menthol or vanilla.

However, even though Canadian sales of e-cigarettes are drastically rising to take a bigger share of the tobacco market, Health Canada,“advises Canadians not to purchase or use electronic smoking products, as they may pose health risks and have not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy.”

E-cigarettes containing nicotine are banned in Canada, the only country other than Australia that has put a restriction on their sale.

It’s irrational. Why ban something that is less harmful than the currently available alternative? Walk in to any corner store in your city, and you’ll see (behind a barrier) 10 or more varieties of cigarettes and tobacco for sale behind the counter—not to mention the variety available in specialty shops.

According to a 2011 study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 79 per cent of smokers were able to entirely substitute their cigarette addiction for e-cigarettes. As harm reduction goes, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

As for the criticism that cigarettes could lead towards children and young adults getting hooked on actual cigarettes, it seems a bit silly. For one thing, while both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes have a variety of flavours, both are only available with ID to those over 18. Also, it’s pretty hard to imagine a kid getting hooked on candy-flavoured, nicotine-free vapour, and switching over to the harsh, lung-burning alternative of an actual cigarette.

So why would the government ban the sale of a product that is so clearly a beneficial alternative to tobacco products? According to Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, in 2011 the Canadian government made $7,538,367,182.00 in tobacco tariffs. That number has been rising each year. The more customers hooked on big tobacco means the more money the government is able to rake in. That’s because Canada has some of the highest taxes on cigarettes and related products in the world.

However, for every dollar made in tobacco profiteering, a dollar is spent towards societal costs such as health care costs and lost productivity.

If the government really wanted to work towards improving health, and not losing economic benefits, they would permit e-cigarettes with nicotine to be sold – they could even tax them at the same rate as cigarettes. Our prohibition on them is incomprehensible, and will definitely continue to cause harm unless it’s changed.

12 Mar 2013 / 0 notes

CRTC’s measures are just the beginning

(Originally published in the Weal.)

According to the big three wireless and cell providers in Canada (Bell, Rogers and Telus), protecting customers from incurring ridiculous costs by setting caps on their bills is bad for customers and bad for competition.

The statement was made by a Telus representative to a panel of CRTC employees at the Gatineau, Quebec hearing, and echoed by representatives from the other two companies during day two of the CRTC’s hearings on proposed rules to govern contracts and fees.

The measures the CRTC has requested are at the behest of wireless customers in Canada, who have submitted online feedback to the organization over the past few months. Customers have requested caps (to avoid the shock of being charged ridiculous amounts of overage fees) and shorter-term contracts (three-year contracts are practically non-existent outside of Canada). Not only are the big three companies haggling or downright refusing to abide with some of these suggestions, but they are claiming that these measures are bad for competition, while competition is already non-existent in the Canadian market.

Together, the big three own 95 per cent of Canada’s market—they do this through sister companies, such as Fido or Koodo. All of the companies operate through cooperative pricing—whether it’s legally collusion, or not, they essentially hold an oligopoly on the market. If you pull up and compare cell phone or Internet plans from each company, they’re all essentially the same price. We’re also not getting what we pay for. Due to poor access and high fees, Netflix considered pulling out of Canada, with the CEO stating that thanks to our poor ISPs we have almost “third-world access to the Internet” and that it’s “almost a human rights violation,” during a media conference on Sept. 12, 2012.

According to a study published this year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an organization that promotes social and economic government policies to help out people around the world, the average Canadian cell phone user also pays the third highest for their monthly bill among users in developed countries; Canada was also the only country in the study that had three-year contracts.

The CRTC hearings are a start, but more measures need to be taken. Canadians deserve shorter contracts, unlocked phones at competitive prices, and lower costs for data and internet service. The only cost incurred for data and text messages is the cost of infrastructure to supply that service (it costs less than a fraction of a cent for every 100 text messages—CNN estimated in 2010 that the average text message has a markup of 6,500 per cent in the states, where texting is much cheaper than in Canada) so why are we still paying so highly for it? If the government wants to show that they are taking Canadians complaints seriously, they need to allow for competition, and start regulating these companies that have taken advantage of the fact that there is none. Canada is one of the best countries in the world in a number of studies on healthcare, living standards, and general happiness—it’s time that we bring our Internet and cell phone service up to that standard.

 
Cell Phone Facts:

*87 per cent of Albertans have a cell phone (Statistics Canada, 2008)

*47 per cent of Canadian cell phone users have a data plan (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, 2011).

*77 per cent of Canadians with a cellphone feel that the increase in wireless competition from companies like Wind and Mobilicity breaking up the market over the past two years has been positive. (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, 2011).

*Curious who many hours of work it would take on average to pay for a monthly phone bill in different countries? Check out this interactive infographic: http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/map-cellphonecosts/

12 Mar 2013 / 0 notes

Crackdown on social media ‘thinspiration’ fails, but some are fighting back

(Originally published in the Weal, and on Maclean’s Magazine’s website.)

The Internet has been great for spawning subcultures—Star Trek geeks, fantasy football fans and progressive rock nerds have their own corners of the net to meet up in. Unfortunately, not all communities online are positive, and some are even harmful. For those who have been affected by an eating disorder, this article may contain triggers.

A quick search on Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr for the terms ‘thinspiration’, ‘ana’ (short for anorexia) and ‘mia’ (short for bulimia) brings up tens of thousands of disturbing posts. Photos focusing on concave stomachs and protruding hip bones, with overlying text reading mantras such as, “I won’t be beautiful until my thighs don’t touch,” “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and tips suggesting to “Throw out food from the fridge so you can tell people you ate earlier”.

The latest obsession is with “thigh gap,” when legs are so thin the upper thighs don’t touch. A search on Tumblr for ‘thigh gap’ brings up 558,000 hits. A search for ‘thinspiration’ yields over one million, an overwhelming majority of which are perpetuating disordered eating behaviours.

One year ago, Tumblr promised a crackdown on all pro-ana and pro-mia blogs. They wrote on their official blog, “Our Content Policy has not, until now, prohibited blogs that actively promote self-harm. These typically take the form of blogs that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide. These are messages and points of view that we strongly oppose, and don’t want to be hosting.”

However, as searching for “thinspiration” shows, their restrictions have been entirely unsuccessful. As for Pinterest, if you search for thinspiration they offer you a helpline above the thinspo photos—but simply browsing the site means that the helpline number does not appear. Instagram has responded by banning the most commonly searched for hashtags, but many (such as #proanatips) are still accessible.

These sites are harmful. According to the journal European Eating Disorders, college-aged women with a healthy body mass index and no history of eating disorders that view pro eating disorder websites will decrease their caloric intake and show strong emotional reactions over the following weeks, even with just a small exposure to the sites. The journal concluded that women who are frequently are exposed to “thinspo” content are put at a much higher risk of developing eating disorders.

Fortunately, some websites are fighting back by creating a similar, healthier, sense of community. Proud2BeMe.com is paid for by the American National Eating Disorders foundation. On its face, the site looks like your average women’s gossip site—but a deeper glance shows thoughtful articles about confident celebrities that fight for women’s rights, like Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence, and articles about healthy eating and loving your body.

As Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram are learning, it’s pretty hard to delete content from the internet. But, by fighting back and posting positive content, hopefully those negative voices can be drowned out.

6 Mar 2013 / 0 notes

“Not every opinion is valid”

(Originally published at The Weal).

Only a couple hours after Carleton University’s Students of Liberty group installed a “free speech” wall on Jan. 21, it was torn down by a freedom of speech crusader and human rights student. No, this isn’t an article from The Onion.

Students had installed the wall in the Unicenter Galleria, one of the most popular spots on campus, in an attempt to foster discussion and allow students to share messages they thought were important. After some messages that LGBT activist and seventh-year undergraduate human rights student (you can’t make this stuff up) Arun Smith disagreed with the words written on the wall, and he tore it down in an act of “forceful resistance” (his words).

According to a YouTube video from the university’s student elections last February, Smith had run for student government on the promise of making “every student’s voice heard.” In response to the backlash from tearing down the wall, Smith tweeted, “Power is a zero-sum game. Some must lose some power, such that others might be empowered. It’s that simple.”

He followed this up by stating, “not every opinion is valid.”

Smith took offense to a message on the wall he read as being intolerant, one stating, “Traditional marriage is awesome.” However, the message was deemed to not be offensive by organizers, and was outnumbered by a number of pro-gay marriage posts.

In a 2012 ranking of Campus Freedom put together by Calgary’s Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, Carleton received an ‘F’ grade for free speech, close to the bottom of the list, due to the student’s association and other bodies at the school preventing pro-life and other groups from protesting.

Unwittingly, in his blatant act of censorship, Smith has drawn national attention by opposing any and all free speech except for his own. It’s an important reminder – while freedom of speech is a right, it’s one that has to be defended. And, unlike Smith and the student’s association at Carleton University, the best way to defend it is not by destroying competing opinions, but rather allowing for open discourse on all issues.

As the Justice Centre’s Freedom Index reads, “core principles of freedom and equality continue to be eroded … by government-funded and government-created entities like Canada’s public universities.” Not to mention their students that have been taught to think in an environment that can often be extremely close-minded. Unfortunately for Smith, his statement that “not every opinion is valid” isn’t quite correct. His opinion, is welcome. His actions, however, are not.

25 Feb 2013 / 0 notes

Manti Te’o – who cares?

(Originally published at the Weal.)

Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend scandal was one of the biggest international news items since the hoax came out on Jan. 16.

For those that somehow managed to avoid it, here’s a summary – Manti Te’o is a linebacker for the University of Notre Dame. While he lived in Hawaii, he was one of the most praised high school football players in Hawaiian history. At Notre Dame, he quickly became a star, becoming one of the most decorated collegiate athletes ever – pretty impressive stuff for a 21-year-old. Instead of leaving for a two-year Mormon mission (which is customary to do at age 19) or moving on to the NFL, Te’o chose to stay at Notre Dame and graduate, making him a beloved figure at his school.

None of that is news, however. On Jan. 16, Deadspin published an article that shocked and horrified its readers – Te’o had maybe lied about having a girlfriend who had died of leukemia. Here the details get a bit murky. Te’o’s relationship with his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was an entirely online one, even though in early interviews he alluded to spending time with her in person. Te’o had given an interview saying that she had passed away of leukemia, endearing him to fans with his sad story. Now, it’s unsure as to whether or not she ever existed – phone calls and photos of her are faked, belonging to a different girl entirely, and an investigation by Notre Dame seems to show that she never existed at all.

So why do we care so much about his fake girlfriend? Some argue that it made him more sympathetic towards winning the Heisman trophy. So? Te’o is basically a kid. He doesn’t get paid to play football yet, and if that is what really matters they can recall the award. But the Heisman award isn’t what has everyone worked up. Speculation that Te’o is gay, or that he made up the girlfriend himself rather than being the victim of a hoax, are what has dominated the “news” coverage of this incident.

Te’o is a football player. Whether he pretended to have a girlfriend, or is actually gay, has absolutely no affect on how good of a football player he is – and he’s a darn good one. An obsession with celebrity gossip has completely sidelined Te’o’s impressive athletic resume, and unfortunately, he’ll probably be remembered for a small mistake he made off the field instead of his impressive on-field accomplishments. If people are going to keep concentrating on Te’o’s “girlfriend” rather than his performance, it’s time they stop pretending to care about sports. Might as well turn off TSN and pick up a gossip rag, because that’s all this story is.

25 Feb 2013 / 0 notes

Idle No More needs to stop idling

(Originally published in the print edition of The Weal.)

Idle No More hasn’t exactly been a successful movement so far. They’re struggling to get their message out – no, the movement isn’t just about keeping your car running while you’re parked – and many of those that understand the cause think it’s a desperate and undeserving bid for attention.

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty noble cause that’s being handled badly. The website’s mission statement reads, “Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.” Idle No More is in response to bill C-45 – a bill that weakens environmental protection laws in Canada, something that affects everyone, not just the native people that for the most part make up the Idle No More protests.

Protesters have been mostly blockading roads by setting up camp with their signs and shouting slogans such as “They took our land” and “F*** Harper.” According to a recent Ipsos Reid poll, only 69 per cent of people agree with the method of protest. The same poll suggested that 60 per cent of people think that the protesters have caused their own problems, and that 71 per cent of people disapprove of leader Theresa Spence. It’s easy to see why – Spence seems to irrationally change her demands daily, and is asking for financial support with a damning audit showing millions of dollars missing from the Attawapiskat reserve where she is chief. The reserve has frequently been in a state of emergency, with some of the worst housing conditions in Canada. It’s an area that definitely can’t survive if money goes missing from the budget.

As for protests in Calgary, they’re just as messy. A recent blockade of 14th St. leading into Kensington angered hundreds of people who were affected. The protesters were waiting to get an audience with Mayor Nenshi – who was not only out of the city, but would be entirely unable to help them with their issues with a federal bill. Nenshi politely responded upon his return that their local MPs would be happy to meet with them.

If reserve conditions improve, and the environment gains more legal protection, everyone will benefit. It would be in the country’s best interest if Idle No More stopped making it so easy to dismiss their protests. Get a new leader, and distill your message until it’s crystal clear. Please, force us to take you seriously.

31 Jan 2013 / 0 notes

Ear Candy

(Originally published at Calgary is Awesome.)

Ear Candy is “a Calgary based audio boutique built on a foundation of passion and creativity… and some say, a modicum of madness,”  according to their website, anyway. They’ve worked on television, movies, short films, and of course music and advertising. I was introduced to the studio, and sound guru Beau Shiminsky, through a group I had volunteered for in the past – Apocalypse Wars. Apocalypse Wars was a charity event held to raise money for Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids. It was a game like capture the flag – with deadly consequences. You played either as a zombie, or a zombie hunter. Now, Ear Candy had put out a call for the scary folks from Apocalypse Wars to make their very best horror noises for an upcoming film, Spencer Estabrook’s The Hunt. I sat down with Beau in Ear Candy’s cozy, colourful studio on 10th Avenue to chat about their past work, and some exciting upcoming projects.

I just heard about you guys through Apocalypse Wars. How long have you been in Calgary?

I’ve been here with Ear Candy for ten years. I was at another facility in Calgary for a bunch of years before that, but this is mine, so that’s the difference!

So what’s your team like?

It’s just me! Me, and Alyssa, and then I have some freelancers I use out of Vancouver for films that I need more people to work on, but the ideas are generally me.

What do you mostly find yourself working on?

Uh, you know, it’s half an half. I do a lot of ad work. I write music for ads, and I do sound for radio and t.v. That’s half of it. Then, the other half is like corporate stuff or film. For film we do documentaries, dramatic shorts… we don’t do too many dramatic films, just because there isn’t a whole lot of it! Lot of shorts though – we’ll do a few a year, and a couple docs. That kind of thing.

So, the current film project is a horror one. 

Yeah. It’s called The Hunt. Spencer Estabrooks is director, and there’s a guy from Heartland in it – local kid. Right now this week, we’re casting, getting some people in to do the sound for “the creature”. So it’s going to be a kind of fun little session. Instead of going to a CD library and finding growls, we’re gonna have some fun with it!

What is the process like for someone who comes in to work on this ? In the email volunteer call I received, it basically read “Come down to the studio and scream”.

Yeah! There’s not a whole lot of crap involved! I think we’ll just play with it in the studio, not waste a lot of time. So the process is just coming in, we’re going to have the film on screen in the voice booth so they can watch and see the action, and we’ll record at the same time. And so they can see what the creature looks like, and kind of give him his own life!

Then we’ll run that voice, probably through some processes. We have gear here, like a harmonizer and things like that, so we can adjust the pitch and do some weird things. And they can hear that in their headphones! They’ll probably be weirded out by the whole thing [laughs].

That’s great! Do you often do open calls for the stuff you do?

Open calls, not usually, no. When we’re casting for talent for television or radio, or longer form films, we have a very large voice bank – anywhere in the world we have a list of people. We usually draw from them because they have demos, so we can submit them and then the client goes “Oh, we like these three people”, so then we can bring them in. Open calls are rare – and this one isn’t even really an open call itself. I met Tara [of Apocalypse Wars] doing some work, and she had mentioned that she’s involved in this apocalypse zombie thing. You know, there are certain people that get into that kind of world – so I thought, instead of just going down the road of normal talent, let’s take these people and see what they can do!

Tell me about the process for someone who would like to try voice acting, and getting their name into that bank.

There are courses you can definitely take. Now, there’s one group (I don’t now if you want to drop big corporate names into this) but they do classes. You meet people starting out. We’re actually doing a class here, it’s called the Voice Gym. So people who get into those, it’s up to them to come and sign up and play in the studio. So it is a paid lesson, but they can ask questions, and we’ll work with them. So once they get a sense of what it’s like, and if they even like it, or we notice some talent, then we push them to demo. So, it’s a little side thing they can possibly do, or make it bigger if they want!

What is one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on at Ear Candy?

I’ll talk about a recent one I really enjoyed doing. It was a documentary called Second Chance. It was about this Iron Woman, an athlete, who got in a massive car accident. They thought she was never going to run again. A few years later… she competed in Iron Man again and came third, as a pro. It was quite the story arc, and a fun piece because I wrote about forty minutes of music for the film. Just trying to speak to her… machine-like quality I guess. Lots of people who get injured, it’s often very difficult. She’s just got this huge heart and mindset, and the music was driven that way.

Was this a Calgary based project?

Yeah. The production company’s here, Kelly Brothers, and the film premiered here in November. It’s actually premiering this week in Penticton, where she’s from. So, that’s where the home of Iron Man Canada was. [It premiered on Jan. 24th.]

So, how about some challenges you find yourself running into in your work?

Deadlines are a big one. It’s tough. A project gets filmed, or written, or whatever, and that’s great – but then they want to get it done right away. Audio is the last step of the journey for most things. It’s not that we’re thought of last, it’s just the deadlines are met, and then we come last… it’s the trickle down effect. Really though, the challenges aren’t bad. It’s a fun thing to do. We get to make great sounds, and crazy stuff, and bring in talented people. We write great music. People let us do what we do. There’s not a lot of “You do this, and this” but instead “Here’s our project, have fun with it, make it great!” When you can go to work like that, make it nice.

I watched a documentary a few years ago on how sound designers have to be creative – like in Alien, they made the alien bursting out of a chest noise by slowly pouring out a can of cat food. Do you guys have any similar creative workarounds up your sleeve?

Yeah, there are some interesting ones. When we’re doing snow in the summer, and there’s no snow, what do you do? So, to walk in the snow, there’s an old trick where you take a styrofoam cup and some Coffeemate and you squish the cup into the Coffeemate. So you do that, and time it out, and just record it on a microphone. There’s good libraries of sound effects, but sometimes it’s just nice to do it yourself. It’s called foley – just reenacting the sound in time with the picture rather than cutting in each individual footstep.

Another thing – celery breaking is great for bone snapping in horror. You take celery and snap it – it’s a wet, gross sound. Really squishy, fun stuff.

That’s so great! So, on a less squishy and more happy note to end on – what makes Calgary awesome?

Well, I’m from here (raised in Vancouver, but most of my career has been in Calgary). What makes Calgary awesome is there’s a lot of great work done here, a lot of really talented people in my industry. They also have a great respect for the work that we do – it’s not so cut-throat as in major centres where it’s all about price. Here, we find that our relationships are based on creativity, experience, and attitude… and that’s what makes Calgary awesome!

You can find out more about The Hunt on their website, here. If you’re interested in finding out more about Ear Candy, click here. 

25 Jan 2013 / 0 notes

Car shares needed

Smart car wearing a cowboy hat

(Illustration by Brent Constantin. Article originally published in the Weal.)

The City of Calgary isn’t designed to be walkable, bikeable or easily traversed by transit. You’d think this would leave driving around the city as the smoothest way to travel, but as anyone who has ever tried to head south on Deerfoot at 4 p.m. on a snowy Friday in January can tell you, that’s definitely not the case.

Calgary’s newest city planning chief, Rollin Stanley, has suggested hitchhiking near high occupancy vehicle lanes to reduce the gridlock, but it’s not a solution that most people find acceptable. Waiting outside for an unreliable bus in -20 degree weather is bad enough, never mind waiting to hop in a car with whatever stranger is willing to stop for you.

Fortunately, two companies in Calgary are rising to the challenge. Car2Go, a German-based car sharing company that launched in Calgary in July, has a fleet of 200 smart cars spread out between Glenmore Trail to the south, 32nd Ave. to the north, and Sarcee and Blackfoot, to the west and east respectively. Membership sign-up is free at promotional events (they had a booth at SAIT’s Welcome Week in the Stan Grad building) and driving their cars costs 38 cents per minute.

The service is growing rapidly, and many who sign up for it are unaware that Calgary has an alternative service. Calgary Carshare, a self-sustaining co-operative that has been around since 1999, has seven cars of different sizes. The service cost is $5.50 per hour before midnight, and is free afterwards until 8 a.m.

Both businesses do have problems. Calgary Carshare, has the benefit of being able to book a car in advance, but is greatly limited by its size. As for Car2Go, the rapid growth has come with problems. According to a recent piece by the CBC, members complain of issues such as their key cards not working, confusing parking rules, and lack of availability of cars in their area.

Hopefully, the success of Car2Go and Calgary Carshare opens the door for more creativity. We can’t exactly start from scratch and fix our messy transportation infrastructure, but we can find clever ways to circumvent pricey taxis, parking, gridlock, and long commutes. Car2Go has doubled its home area in the few months since it launched.

Another business, FastCab, an app that allows taxi drivers to go around their dispatchers and connect directly with the customer, has over 200 drivers using the service. Calgarians are starting to figure it out, and hopefully we’ll get even more innovative, without resorting to hitchhiking.

25 Jan 2013 / 0 notes

Is legalizing marijuana the right move?

STEVEN KRENTZ ILLUSTRATION

(Originally published in the Weal. Illustration by Steven Krentz.)

Leaders from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, and other countries in Central and South America are pushing for the United States to switch from their current prohibitionist model of marijuana legislation. They’re hoping for decriminalization, or even legalization, following Washington and Colorado’s decisions on Nov. 6 to legalize the drug in their respective states.

They suggest the move would greatly ease drug trafficking in their countries. The bills passed in Washington and Colorado make it so that marijuana can be regulated (much like alcohol), opening the door to a number of economic benefits in the states. It’s too early to tell, but it’s a decision that’s looking to have a promising outcome—and a move that Canadians should follow.

According to a poll conducted by Forum Research in November 2012, 66 per cent of Canadians favour legalization or decriminalization. The Green Party, Liberal Party, and Libertarian Party of Canada all favour legalization, while the New Democratic Party supports decriminalization. The ruling Conservative Party, however, has moved towards increasing mandatory minimum sentences for growing, trafficking, and possessing marijuana—a move that only 15 per cent of Canadians support.

In a YouTube interview uploaded on Mar. 16, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke about why he wants tougher laws for marijuana possession. “When people buy from the drug trade, they are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence…Drugs are illegal because they are bad.” Unfortunately for Harper, a morality based argument holds much less ground when leaders in Central America say that legalization would actually prevent cartels from holding as much power as they currently do. As for the “drugs are bad” argument, it’s simplistic. The same argument was used by the temperance movement Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic for the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s, and we all know how well that worked out.

Using morality to dictate policy is a ridiculous move, especially when it goes against what constituents want. People are going to use marijuana recreationally regardless of whether or not it’s legal. By following in the footsteps of Washington and Colorado, tax dollars, the lives of those affected by cartels, and thousands of hours put in by law enforcement can be saved.

25 Jan 2013 / 0 notes

Canadian gun legislation riddled with bullet holes

(Originally published in the print edition of The Weal.)

On Dec. 13, 2012—one day before the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut—Canada made it possible for arms manufacturers to export prohibited fully automatic weapons to Colombia.
While Canada—unlike the United States—has a low number of firearm homicides, Colombia does not.

According to a 2010 report by the Organization of American states, Colombia had 17,459 homicides that year – roughly 37.7 deaths per 100,000. Approximately 79.9 per cent of those homicides were committed with firearms. In contrast, Canada only had 554 homicides in 2010, 1.6 deaths per 100,000 people, 29 per cent of which were committed with firearms.

Assault weapons, those that are either semi- or fully-automatic, are banned in Canada and many other countries with low homicide statistics. On the same day that the Sandy Hook shooting was committed with an assault rifle, another attack took place in China’s Henan province, also at an elementary school. The difference between the assault in Connecticut and the one in Henan—China has strict gun control laws, similar to those in Canada—are the results of the attacks. Sandy Hook ended with 28 homicides. The Henan attack, which was perpetrated by a man with a knife, ended with 22 injuries.

No country is immune to acts of aggression or extreme violence, but by limiting access to weapons that can kill so many in such a short period of time, we’re limiting how much destruction can be done. No one can argue that assault rifles are for hunting or sport, or even personal defence. There is a reason they’re banned in Canada, and by exporting fully automatic weapons, or others with large magazines, to a country that has long been going through violent turmoil and human rights abuses, we are committing a human rights abuse ourselves.

If we are looking to limit gun deaths, both abroad and at home, the first place to start is with our gun legislation. In the past year, the Harper government has scrapped the long gun registry, as well as gun show regulations.

When the long gun registry was introduced in 1977, a study by the Canadian Journal of Criminology showed a significant decline in gun deaths over the following year.

Canada’s two worst school shootings, at Montréal’s école Polytechnique and Dawson College, were perpetrated by a Ruger Mini-14 and a Beretta Cx4 Storm, respectively. The Ruger Mini-14 was used by Anders Breivik to kill 77 in Oslo, Norway in 2011. Neither gun is restricted in Canada, and since the gun registry was scrapped anywhere outside Quebec one can purchase the guns without registration. In fact, both guns can be purchased online from a popular Saskatchewan firearms retailer and delivered directly to your home.

Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, is now considering opening the doors to assault weapons in Canada. His recently appointed firearms advisory committee proposed on Dec. 6, coincidentally the 23rd anniversary of the école Polytechnique massacre, that the government consider easing up a number of gun restrictions, including assault weapons prohibitions.

In response to the Sandy Hook massacre, Prime Minister Harper released a statement that Canada’s gun controls “work”.

If the government chooses to keep devaluing public safety in favour of economic gain, they won’t “work” much longer.

15 Jan 2013 / 0 notes

THE CALGARY ZOO WANTS TO KNOW – COULD YOU SURVIVE ON A LIFEBOAT WITH A TIGER?

(Originally published at Calgary is Awesome.)

Could you survive in a lifeboat with a tiger? It’s a strange question, but one that the Calgary Zoo would like to help you answer.

Life of Pi, a film based on Saskatchewan author Yann Martel’s novel of the same name – and filmed almost entirely in Montreal – has been nominated for 11 Oscars. The story follows the protagonist, Pi, as he travels from his family’s zoo in Pondicherry, India, to Canada. The ship is caught in a storm, and capsizes, leaving Pi behind on a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker.

The story is rich in magical realism, but taken at face value the question is intriguing. Would you truly be able to survive on a lifeboat with a tiger?

As part of their school programs, the Calgary Zoo is hosting a discovery class for Language Arts students from grades 7 – 12 that aims to answer that question. The program examines the natural history of tigers, discusses animal husbandry and training, and how the Pondicherry Zoo compares to the Calgary Zoo. The class runs for 90 minutes, and is available from September through April. There’s more information available on the Zoo’s website.

The Calgary Zoo is currently home to six Amur, Siberian tigers. They’re the largest cat in the world, and unfortunately due to hunting and habitat loss there are only about 450 left. Calgary has three adult Amur tigers, named Baikal, Katja, and Kita. Three cubs were born to Katja in March, 2012. Two males, Samkha and Vasili, and a female, Kira.

If you’re trying to weigh your odds on a lifeboat, they might be better with Samka, Vasili, or Kira, than with one of the grown ups. The average adult Siberian tiger weighs about 400 lbs. When deer and boar populations are low, tigers have been known to prey on wolves, keeping their population negligibly low, and sometimes even bears. However, the Bengal tiger (such as Richard Parker) has historically been a man-eater much more frequently than the Siberian tiger. So what are your chances of surviving while stranded at sea? You might have to sign up your kid for a Discovery Class to find out.

15 Jan 2013 / 3 notes

Why are we so afraid of nudity?

(Originally published in the Weal.)

The Classification and Rating Administration (CARA, a division of the Motion Picture Association of America) chooses what ratings to assign to films based on one main guideline – “to reflect what they believe would be the majority view of their fellow American parents in assigning a rating to a film,” according to their website.

That principle holds true against most major ratings boards – video games, films, and television are all regulated according to what a small number of people believe to represent cultural sensibilities for whatever area the entertainment medium is being rated for.

This makes it easy to see differences between countries – namely, the rating that sex and nudity is given. One notable case was the 2010 film Blue Valentine. The movie depicts a marriage that is in the stages of decomposition. The films scenes were not designed to titillate – brief awkward sex scenes, quick glimpses of nudity of someone in the shower; it’s hardly pornographic material. However, in the United States, the film was given NC-17, a rating that is a kiss of death for most films being promoted. NC-17 ensures that a film will have no commercial or promotional spots, and most theatre chains will refuse to show it. In Canada, it was given the equivalent rating of 18A. The American rating was protested, and eventually withdrawn, but the Canadian rating was upheld. Meanwhile, in most European countries, the film was giving much more reasonable ratings of Adult, 14, or 16+, allowing it a wider circulation.

Now, this would be all fine and dandy if the North American film boards were consistent with their stringent ratings. However, a quick glance at the ratings of current films in theatres shows that their priorities might need a little adjusting. Jack Reacher, The Bourne Legacy, Hitchcock, Les Miserables, Sinister, and Skyfall are all given either 14A or PG ratings. These films are devoid of sexual content, but include hand to hand violence, gun violence, blood, corpses, profanity, and graphic depictions of violence towards prostitutes and children. Yet, somehow they sit and two to three rating levels below films like The Sessions and Holy Motors, which show brief depictions of sex and nudity, and very little else to be offended about.

Ryan Gosling, an actor in Blue Valentine, summed up his feelings about how the ratings system’s double standards. “The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex.”

On Facebook, a strange rating system also applies. A document leaked in February of this year showed how Facebook decides whether to approve or ban photos – breastfeeding is unacceptable, but crushed heads and limbs are absolutely okay.

Clearly, in North America, something is out of place. Maybe it’s time to rethink our priorities – we all have bodies, and viewing nudity is pretty natural. However, we don’t all carry submachine guns everywhere, and our film ratings should reflect that.

9 Jan 2013 / 0 notes

One Book, One Calgary has Calgarians reading together

(Originally posted at The Press.)

One Book, One Calgary, an initiative by the Calgary Public Library, just wrapped up its third annual ‘book club’ program with an astounding 2,000 Calgarians checking in as having read The Book of Awesome.

The One Book program chooses one book each year for Calgarians to read and discuss together.

The book club is accompanied by a variety of programs and events all tied to the book’s theme.

This year’s choice, The Book of Awesome by Canadian author Neil Pasricha, was chosen to celebrate some of Calgary’s awesome qualities, and the awesomeness of the Calgary Public Library for their centennial.

Previous books chosen for the initiative were Mavericks and The Cellist of Sarajevo. The library is now taken suggestions for next year’s One Book at their website, www.onebookonecalgary.com

This year, the One Book initiative became a little more official.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi signed a proclamation declaring November the month of One Book, One Calgary. He even attended the library’s opening event on Nov. 2 to speak about Calgary’s ‘awesome-ness’ and discuss his own love of the library.

The events held as part of the program weren’t all about books.

Everything from Dragon’s Den style business grants, cooking classes, yoga sessions, mini-sculpture making, and lectures covering topics as diverse as social media and the city’s history were all held free of charge at different library locations across Calgary.

The public library’s central location also set up a community art wall. On the south section of the branch’s main floor, library patrons had the opportunity to create and submit art centering on the theme of how awesome Calgary is.

The events were open for a variety of people, with workshops for everyone from kids to seniors being held on different days.

Notable Calgarians participated as well, with poet laureate Kris Demeanor, popular local chefs, robotics expert Ben Reed, and social media guru Lonnie Taylor all hosting talks on their areas of expertise.

The month was wrapped up with a talk from the University of Calgary’s Dr. Patrick Finn.

Finn drew from his previous talks for One Book, One Calgary to give a talk on happiness in Calgary.

He discussed why Calgarians are so creative and happy, and what we can do to become even more awesome. The John Dutton Theatre, located upstairs in the Central Library, was packed with about 50 happy attendees, who chatted with Finn during the reception after his presentation.

The Calgary Public Library will be holding their next annual One Book, One Calgary for November, 2013.

Stop by their website to suggest next year’s book and leave them a comment with what you think is awesome about Calgary at www.onebookonecalgary.com.

13 Dec 2012 / 0 notes

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