Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Litmag report cards & BC animal health regulations

Duotrope's Digest is just about the coolest thing (aside from Marcel the Shell of course) that I've come upon in this virtual world. It's a report card for literary mags: you can search for information about poetry or fiction submissions at almost every journal in the English-speaking world, and find out what their speed of response is, whether they accept electronic submissions, their acceptance rate, whether they pay, and many other useful details.

The information provided comes from writers who submit work to the journals, rather than their editors and publishers, and the file on each magazine shows how many reports the information is based upon. Writers register, enter the title and submission details for each piece of work, and then report back when the piece has been accepted or rejected.

This is doubly useful, because writers can use it to track their own submissions while performing a public service to others. And because it tracks individual pieces, a writer can see - on the record for each magazine - where else contributors have submitted the same work. Which is helpful if you're trying to figure out your plan B for a rejected piece, or tap new markets for similar writing.

Meanwhile, the BC government is reviewing its animal health regulations and seeking public input, which I'd say is a *very* good thing, particularly if you look at the way the underlying principles are presented:
A sound BC animal health policy framework (including legislation, regulation and policy) should:
  • Protect human health.
  • Minimize the negative economic impact of animal disease outbreaks.
  • Support the continued productivity and competiveness of livestock operations.
  • Strengthen the confidence of interprovincial and international trading partners.
You will look in vain here for any mention of animal welfare. Our health and financial gain seem to be the only reasons for keeping animals healthy.

Given that the government wishes to extend its definition of "animal" to include pets, wildlife, fish and other aquatic animals, for purposes of "managing health" I'd think the wider public would find it in their personal interests - and those of their non-humanoid friends and family members - to elbow in on the consultation.

It's unclear to me, having read through the consultation document only once, whether a revised policy would be able to make crucial distinctions between the concerns created by factory farming vs small-scale farming vs pet ownership, for example. And whether they would protect farmers from excessive zeal by regulators, such as the needless slaughter of a water buffalo herd in 2002 (all the animals killed tested negative for BSE, as had been predicted).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beautiful bread

Thanks to the Real Bread Campaign for passing along this story of bread, told in flour:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday in Victoria - winter market to flash mob carolling

A cold, grey day for the farmers who peopled the winter farmers market on Saturday. It's a monthly event, happening the third Saturday right through till March in Market Square.

The veggie stand was mobbed

and no wonder: look at the beautiful celeriac

and the giant kohlrabi!

The bread stall was very popular

and TerraNossa was there with their always excellent meat, chicken and eggs.

A nice warm lunch at Zambri's, which has recently relocated to a swanky spot in a new building. Still, I kind of miss their hidey-hole in the strip mall they occupied for years, which gave diners a sense of discovery. No decline in the quality of food though; the gnocchi with sausage and kale was sublime.

Then managed to catch the flash mob carolling event at the Bay Centre. Given the number of people already lined up along the balconies well in advance, I don't think it was exactly a secret!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Petition to save the CBC

From the Friends of the CBC website:

On November 23rd, Stephen Harper’s secret plan for the CBC was revealed when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage mused publicly about killing our public broadcaster! You can hear the audio for yourself here.

On Dec 6th, the matter of the government’s plan for the CBC was raised in Parliament. The Heritage Minister was asked to disavow his Parliamentary Secretary’s idea of cutting all funding to the CBC. Twice Minister Moore was asked to dismiss the notion that the government should kill public broadcasting. And, twice he refused to do so. You can see the exchange in the House of Commons here.

It's widely known that the Prime Minister Harper exercises absolute control of his government’s messaging. None of his Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries or MPs speak out without prior approval from the Prime Minister’s Office.

We recognize the threat posed by Harper could be the most serious peril CBC has ever faced. Now is the time for all of us who love and depend on the CBC to stand up and be counted.

Please sign the petition and help spread the word!

Monday, December 13, 2010


I am grappling with the old "repair or replace" question while I've been on grudging prowls of the aisles of appliance and computer and photo retailers, and it's led me into deeper and darker thoughts about consumer electronics and appliances - which all fall under the definition of e-waste.

My fridge, for example, which has been clicking and whining like a big white mosquito for a couple of months, and sometime during my absence melted and then refroze everything in the freezer, has apparently got a dying compressor. Fixing it costs $700 or so; replacing the fridge would cost around $1000 and seems to be the recommended course of action for an 8 year old model.

And my shiny new netbook met with brutality in the overhead bins of a brutal Ryanair flight from Italy, and when I next opened it the screen was cracked. Replacing the screen costs $250; replacing the netbook? $324.79

And then there's the dying camera, the oven that won't quit beeping after it's been used, the printer that won't feed paper, and the washing machine that doesn't rinse cleanly anymore. Not to mention the cordless phone whose battery died and is probably not replaceable, and the growing collection of antiquating computers large and small.

Living a frugal and environmentally responsible lifestyle as I try to do, what's the moral and affordable course of action? New products seem to be more and more irreparable, and if today's appliance repairman is to be believed, repairmen are fewer and farther between: he knows of three in town who've given up and turned to bus driving, and he's run off his feet.

The patient young man who walked me through my options in the printer department explained how inkjet printers have an inbuilt flaw: if you don't use them regularly - let them site for a few months, say - the mechanism that keeps the ink heads clean doesn't keep up and the heads get gummed up, so your only choice is to throw the machine away (unless you are very persistent and very patient and want to try cleaning it, if you can). And buy a new one.

And if you were wondering what was the difference between the $49 printers and the $120 ones: the cheaper ones come with meagre little cartridges which have to be replaced very soon. And replaced and replaced by new cartridges which don't hold much either. And as anyone who has engaged in the maddening sport of cartridge replacement knows, the same manufacturer makes sure you are enslaved to their products by making changes to every machine/cartridge pairing. (Oh wait: here's a trick that might help... a little!)

Another little wrinkle is that if you buy a new printer that uses a usb cable, you have to buy a usb 2 cable (the old ones won't work); and of course if you have an older printer you might not be able to connect your newer computer to it, as the drivers may no longer be available.

How, I ask myself, is all this even legal? We haven't really figured out how to properly dispose of these pieces of junk. We offload the problem to third world countries where people are poisoned, maimed and killed trying to make a living dismantling our garbage; and we wait for their countries to catch up with us in our wanton consumption of electronics and appliances, which will compound the problem.

And yet we allow the manufacturers to go on making nastier and cheaper and more unrecyclable equipment that consumes monstrous quantities of raw materials and is deliberately designed to last less and less time... and be unrepairable. In fact our global financial "growth-based" recovery hinges on it.

We are being told we must throw away our television sets - and replace them; are analogue radios far behind? The debate rages in Europe. Not to mention the old VCRs, and the old VHS tapes, the floppy discs, the mini discs and all those other obsolete peripherals. There is a good reason I no longer use a cell phone in this country, which I won't have to explain to anyone who does.

And we the consumers, who in some ways have least say in the matter, are the ones paying environmental taxes to fund disposing of products designed to break, while we are forced to replace them with newer, cheaper models which we know perfectly well are also subject to engineered obsolescence.

Why do we let this happen? How do we stop it?

Let's let Annie Leonard answer it again in her timeless video:

Monday, December 06, 2010

Not so sweet

To anyone who's been watching the GM sugar beet issue, it's perhaps not surprising to see Monsanto being just the tiniest bit manipulative in the media. If the genetically modified sugarbeet they hustled onto the market without doing their environmental impact study is banned, they argue, your sugar prices will rise.

So whose fault would a rise in sugar prices be then, the farmers who planted the beets at Monsanto's promise it would make their lives easier, their yields higher and their profits better? The consumer, who has no say? The sugar companies who, for reasons we can only guess at, insisted farmers plant GM sugar beets? The multinational who stands to make a lot of money from the exercise?

The arguments against genetically modified sugar beets are pretty standard: if you allow sugar beets to be planted, as Alberta currently does (for Rogers Sugar/Lantic) as did the US sugar beet industry, then you risk cross-contamination of sugar beet's plant relatives, through cross-pollination. These relatives include table beets and chard, and that puts at risk the crops of farmers who wish to grow them as conventional or organic crops.

Another reason for opposing GM sugar beets is their herbicide resistance, which means there is a potential for increased use of herbicides. Increased use of herbicides leads to increases in herbicide-resistant weeds, which leads to even more use of herbicides. And round and round. Since Monsanto sells both the seed and the herbicide, it is in their economic interest to sell plenty of both. Given the profits it stands to make by selling its herbicides, should we accept the company's assurances that no harm will come from the residues of their product that ends up on our food, our farmland and in our water supply?

And finally, consumers who simply do not wish to consume genetically modifed foods are once again being sold a food product that doesn't have to be labelled - so they have no real choice in the matter - and whose health risks over the long term are simply not known. We've been told that if we wish to avoid GMO products, we need only buy certified organic. But products like these are simply slipped into the food chain without public warning. And if consumers don't know in the first place that their sugar is suddenly now made from genetically modified ingredients, how would they know to switch to organic?

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Musical interlude

One for all my snow-weary British friends. I hope you can stay inside and be warm.

Song for a Winter's Night-Gordon Lightfoot
Uploaded by StonewallStudios. - Explore more music videos.