For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Black and white, it ain't.

Wow - what a quiet morning. I've got one daughter still asleep, another who's really tired and not feeling well, so she's lain down for a bit, and I'm sitting here, going through my morning news. A good time to sit down and write!

Part of my morning routine is to visit the editorial and letters to the editor pages in online newspapers across the country. There were a couple of editorials about Dion's proposed carbon tax that caught my attention.

The one from the Winnipeg Sun made more sense to me. Come Clean on Carbon Tax.

To quote parts of this one...

Media reports leaking out of Camp Liberal suggesting this so-called "revenue neutral" tax will bring in up to $17 billion a year, while being offset by $10 to $13 billion in income tax cuts, make us wonder if the Liberals can do math.

Taking up to $17 billion per year from taxpayers via a carbon tax and then giving back only $10 to $13 billion annually in income taxes isn't revenue neutral.


As for Environment Minister John Baird and NDP Leader Jack Layton, who both oppose a carbon tax and insist the best approach is more regulation of carbon-emitting industries, they need to answer this:

How can they prevent these industries from passing along any added costs they will face from increased regulation to consumers?

This seems logical to me. We need to be informed as much as possible as to what and how any proposals will work, and how they will actually help the environment, 'cause quite frankly, I don't see how taxing our "carbon emissions" will actually accomplish anything helpful.

Edmonton Sun columnist, Mindell Jacobs, seems to think it will, though she fails to explain how.

End of Era for Energy Hogs.

The title alone makes her view rather obvious. The entire column had me shaking my head.

According to a recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll, 61% of us favour the idea of a carbon tax on businesses and people based on the carbon emissions they generate. Even in redneck Alberta, 65% of those polled gave thumbs up to the idea.

She just couldn't resist throwing in a dig at "redneck Alberta." I've lived in 3 provinces and traveled throughout western Canada. Alberta isn't any more redneck than anywhere else.

When the survey question was phrased a little differently, asking people about an environmental tax refund paid to those who reduce their use of fossil fuels, electricity, water and the amount of garbage they produce, support shot up to 80%.
These two quotes are while I agree with the previously linked editorial. Would people really approve of these taxes if they were fully informed? These are just survey questions. I'm a member of a number of survey panels now, and if there's one thing I find telling about them, it's the lack of choices in the responses, and how loaded the questions sometimes are. After all, who wouldn't enjoy a tax refund, regardless of why?

Jacobs then compares those of us in Canada in the US with Europe. Frankly, I'm tired of these comparisons. Talk about apples and oranges! The countries that make up Europe are smaller, but with much denser populations. The geography is different, and in many places, the infrastructure is based on systems centuries older. I know people traveling Europe who've been able to have breakfast in one country, lunch in a second, and dinner in a third, by car. It took me two days to travel from Vancouver to Halifax by train. By car, it can be done comfortably in 5 days. Three, if you've got 2 drivers and really push it.

North Americans have always had the luxury of being energy hogs without worrying about costs or the planet. Until recently, the cost of driving our gas-guzzling SUVs and heating and lighting our gigantic homes has been only a minor annoyance.
At this point, I'll have to assume that by "North Americans," she means Canada and the US, because somehow, I don't think she's including all 43 North American countries. The only people driving SUVs in Haiti are most likely the aid workers.

Keeping it in just Canada and the US, it's still a generalization. The vast majority of people *don't* live in gigantic houses, and the only place I've ever seen fleets of Smart Cars has been in good ol' redneck Alberta. Oh, and those gigantic houses tend to be new, modern and highly energy efficient, thanks to better materials and construction technology. Particularly in areas like the prairies, where temperature extremes between summer and winter are the norm.

Now that we've been sucker-punched with skyrocketing gasoline prices and heating bills, we're being forced to rethink our lifestyles. And we needn't bother feeling sorry for ourselves. Did we really think we could continue being energy gluttons forever?
Speak for yourself, Ms. Jacobs. Most people I know have never been "energy gluttons" in the first place. Oh, and they're not feeling sorry for themselves. They're frikkin' pissed as seeing more and more of their hard earned cash slipping through their fingers, with no benefit to themselves or their families.

The party's over, folks. Liberal Leader Stephane Dion knows it. That's why he's contemplating a carbon tax on the use of fossil fuels to heat homes or generate electricity.

*snort* Like Dion even knows how the average Canadian lives? They've never had a party in the first place. As to why he's pushing for the carbon tax, I doubt it there's an altruistic motive involved, anywhere.

It's Jacobs' conclusion that really has me shaking my head, though...

There's nothing like a hit to the wallet to change behaviour. Canadians have two choices. We can support a carbon tax, which will save us money down the road and help the planet. Or we can just cry while our energy costs continue to soar and the environment withers.

Just two choices, huh? Apparently, if we don't accept a carbon tax, the environment will "wither." Now there's a grand illusion! Believe it or not, there are far more efficient ways to help the environment that doesn't involve taxing us to death. A carbon tax will do nothing to help the environment. It won't be "revenue neutral."

I sometimes think the real goal for proposals like this is to make everyone equally poor - except, of course, for the social elite, like Dion himself.

Bah. If things are starting to seem disjointed, I apologize. It's getting very hard to concentrate. Things may have started out quietly, with my own kids asleep, but the baby upstairs started screaming again (I'm starting to really worry about that kid!), and now there's loud salsa music playing. Not that I'm complaining, really. It's been worse. At least I'm not having to call the police over domestic violence again.

Hey, Suzuki - you want everyone living in apartments, do you? I'll trade places with you for a month. See how you like it.

The passing of a true hero.

Irena Sendler

'Female Schindler'

Life in a Jar

The woman who should have received the Nobel Peace Price in 2007.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ordered chaos

So the past couple days have been pretty full. Dh has been doing some stuff to fundraise for the Canadian Cancer Society, which has been quite a blast. Rather than shaving his head, which is really no big deal for him, he got a funky cut and multiple colours. For a guy that is normally rather bear-like and intimidating in appearance, it's quite the shock! It worked, though - not only did he raise a fair amount, but he got even more donations after people saw the end result. *L* Anyhow, we went along for the ride, with me documenting pretty much everything photographically, with the drive culminating in a public event, complete with the media. He even got interviewed by some radio personalities.

For all his success, he's not too sure he'll do it again next year. ;-D

Work has been interesting. My Thursday shift turned out to be this fancy-schmancy formal dinner. There were 100 tables set up and, even though servers were in groups of three, we pretty much had as many servers as we had tables, plus the bar staff. The group I was in had one of two VIP tables. I have no idea who was at the other VIP table, since it was on the other side of the stage, but our group got the lieutenant governor and his wife. Much to my surprise, I was singled out to pay particular attention to that table of the 3 we were responsible for. I hope I did all right. They weren't exactly a demanding table, so there wasn't much for me to do. We have a very unassuming lieutenant governor.

After the desserts were served and things were wrapping up, all the servers grabbed what trays and stands there were and left at the same time. Once in back, those who could stay longer were asked to hang around to tear down once the guests were gone. Those who couldn't (or didn't want to) stay late could leave. I decided I'd leave, since I had another shift the next day, and I figured I'd play it safe. By not staying too late on a Thursday night, I'd be better able to stay as long as needed on a Friday night.

Boy, did I ever play that one right! *L*

It's graduation season, and for the next while, the convention centre is going to be hopping busy. Friday night had grad dinners for 2 schools at the same time. I was originally scheduled to work one of the dinners, and I started my shift by helping set up, along with about 75 or so other banquet servers. Near the end, there was a staff meeting, where names were called out into teams of 3 that would be assigned to table groups.

My name wasn't called, nor were the names of 3 guys. We were sent to another supervisor. It turns out that another 15 tables were being brought in, and she told us we needed to get them set up just like all the others. I started to head out with the guys to do it when my supervisor stopped me and told me to come with her. It turns out she was responsible for two areas - the main hall where the dinner was being held, plus a small salon on another floor, where a reception was set up for the teachers. Obviously, she couldn't be in two places at once. She wanted me to work the teachers' reception. Alone. It was a small group and there was no need for more than one person. Still, this was only my 7th shift, and she was giving me a reception, all to myself! There had been another server taking care of the room, but she'd already finished her shift and left some 10 minutes before.

Thankfully, they were a really great group. Though it was set up for up to 50 people, I never had even as much as 40 at the same time. Along with the finger foods and non-alcoholic drinks we provided, they brought their own booze and mixed their own drinks (with their license to do so prominently displayed on the wall, as law requires). My job was to replace food trays as needed and pick up any used plated, glasses, etc. There was a second salon nearby that I had to myself, where I had a rack of fresh food trays and another for cleared items. Just outside another door, in the staff area, was a warmer for the hot dishes to go into the chafer. My supervisor stressed that I keep checking on the food trays to make sure no staff were going into them and taking food. This place is very generous with free food for staff, and many aren't above taking advantage of it. They don't know or care if a tray is meant for a client. If they look into a warmer or rack and find food, they'll take some. It's stealing, but a lot of them don't see it that way. :-/ Though I checked diligently, some hours later, things started disappearing from the warmer. I never saw even a hint of who it might've been, though I did walk into the room with a tray full of dirty glassed, only to find someone moving quickly away from the finger food rack. He was the night manager, I think.

Perhaps half an hour after my supervisor left me with this group, they all had to leave for the dinner itself. Once they were done, I was able to do a few things, like replace burners under the chafer, replace a couple food trays, and clear away dirty stuff I wasn't able to get while people were milling about. Then the door was closed, automatically locking (and me without a key), and I was left to wait for them to come back. I figured they'd be gone maybe an hour or so.

Two hours later, I was still waiting! Thankfully, the room I had was partially set up for another event, so I had tables, chairs to sit on - even couches and arm chairs, if I wanted. I would check on the warmer in the staff area hall every now and then, then go down the hall in the public areas to see if anyone was coming back. I don't have a watch, so I'd check the time on the electronic events board once in a while, too. Eventually, one of the teachers showed up, but not one of the people with a signed out key. Since only supervisors get radios, I used one of the internal phones and got security to send someone down with a key. I had a chance to chat with the teachers that got back earlier - it turns out the dinner was followed by a movie put together by one of the classes, showing highlights of the school year. So that's why the dinner went for so long. :-D

While talking to the teacher, I realized that this is a school a friend of mine has a daughter in. It's a sort of Waldorf style school - not an actual Waldorf school, but similar philosophies. It's a lot like university, in that the students are responsible for their own course of study, and they're able to work at their level. There's nothing stopping a grade 7 student from taking a grade 10 course, or vice versa, and students that have taken higher level courses will often assist those at lower levels. It was really interesting to talk to the teacher about it, especially as a home schooling parent. Like my friend's daughter, many of their students started out home schooling, and they're right at home with this sort of system.

Just as more of the teachers started coming back from the dinner, my supervisor showed up with another server and told me to go for my half hour break! Now, I'd been going under the assumption that sitting on my butt for over two hours (ok, not really - I can't sit on my butt for 2 hours on my own time, never mind on the job) more than counted as my break. When I started to point that out, she said that this way, I could go to the kitchen and get some food. So, off I went for my break - and found the kitchen had prime rib for the staff. Even though all the other servers had already had their breaks, there was still a tray and a half of sliced prime rib, with mashed potatoes and green beans. My God, it was good! :-D They had other stuff, too, but I really didn't look at it. ;-D

Not too long after I got back from my break, the teachers disappeared again - this time for the dance. One of them came back wearing a pink hip shawl with gold coins. It went really well with his conservative grey suit. *L* The school has a tradition where the teachers get silly for a dance during the grad dinner. A couple of the female teachers came back with hip shawls, too. It was a hoot to see a small group of them, in their formal cocktail dresses, figuring out how to shimmy. :-D These folks were really cutting loose and having fun.

It was a really great group, and I was glad to be able to work with them. A lot more fun that doing a dinner. They ended up staying until past 2 am - long after all the others, from both grad dinners, had cleared out. All the other servers had finished breaking things down and gone home, and I found myself joined by 4 supervisors, waiting for this group to be done. I gotta say, I sure was glad I wouldn't be tearing the room down on my own! *L* I still don't know where most of this stuff goes. It's different, depending on what area it's in, and I haven't even seen all the areas, yet. Heck, I still don't even know where the staff locker room is, yet. I leave my cell phone and jacket in the office, where it's more secure. Yeah, there's a problem with staff breaking into lockers and stealing stuff, too.

What I found interesting, though, was the high number of teachers who made a point of coming up to me and thanking me for doing so well for them (with one of them slipping a $20 into my hand as he shook it). It really surprised me. I mean, I just did my job, and was friendly about it. I had one of them tell me that, in the 3 or 4 years they've been having their grad dinners at this place, I'm the first staff member that made them feel so welcome. "Like family," as one of them put it. It's funny. I've been going to seminars and reading books on leadership for years, and I've heard many times that it doesn't take much effort to be above average. Intellectually, I understood what they meant, but I honestly didn't think I was doing anything above and beyond the ordinary. What's above average about doing my job and being polite? Apparently, both. It's flattering to get so many positive comments, but it's really kind of sad that what I'm doing is apparently so unusual.

Having all the supervisors with me for the last bit was eye-opening in that respect as well. They were trading stories about various staff members they're having problems with. These people are happy if they can get staff that simply show up and stay where they're supposed to. Some of them won't even do that - they simply disappear, then show up again near the end of their shift, ready to be signed out. I heard stories about one who, while working an even with a concession, decided to grab a slice of pizza off the warmer/display and start eating it in front of the customers. Then there are those who simply don't know enough English to follow instructions (as a side note - all of these supervisors were ESL, so it's not like they wouldn't normally be sympathetic when it comes to language issues).

Not that staff were the only ones who bore the brunt of these complaints. I caught bits and pieces of a story as I worked. Five bar staff walked out in the middle of an event because of something a manager (or whatever his position was - I didn't quite catch it) did. All the supervisors were fully in support of the staff that walked out. I eventually found out the manager had a blow out and threw a pocket full of change at one of the bar staff - in front of a line of customers, no less! The staff member he'd blown up at was in the wrong - there was no disagreement with that part of incident - but the managers response was wildly inappropriate.

After a while, I started to wonder that these supervisors would talk so openly about stuff like this in front of me! *L*

When the group finally made their way out, the supervisors and I quickly did the tear down - the night staff would have a fair amount of food, including a couple of trays that never even got uncovered. It sure went fast with 5 people to do it! With just 2 of us (my supervisor and I), we wouldn't have finished until 3 am. With 3 extra supervisors helping out, we got it down in about 15 minutes. Thankfully, the room wasn't booked for anything else the next day, so we didn't have to do a set up, too.

I was actually quite impressed by how good I felt at the end of the shift. I'd forgotten to take painkillers before I left home. I considered buying some at the tiny convenience store that's in the building, but decided against it. My feet were definitely hurting by the time I was done, but no where near as badly as I was afraid they would. Even better, my knees were good, and there were no shooting pains in my legs from the arthritis. Woot! I still ended up sleeping in until noon. *L* I really feel for my supervisor, though. She had to start her shift at her primary job at 6 am. :-( I don't know how she does it. Mind you, if you don't have a choice, you do what you've gotta do, right?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Life's left turns.

For those patient enough to keep checking the blog, I'm sure you've noticed I haven't been posting much lately. Real life has been getting in the way of my virtual one. ;-) We had some computer troubles that took us about a week to clear up - a few trojans, some other malware, spyware and the like. I happily recommend STOPzilla. It did a great job of finding and clearing out the infections.

By the time we got the computer fixed, I'd fallen so far behind on stuff, it just got harder and harder to catch up. Add to that, I've got a job again. I'll only give 4 evenings a week and refuse to budge beyond those days and times. The last time I got a part time job, I found myself working almost full time hours. That just doesn't work for us. Sure, the extra money was nice, but it really messed with the family life.

So I'm now working as a banquet server. I get to wear a wing-tip tuxedo shirt and bowtie as part of my uniform. It's been interesting, so far. Although I'm available 4 nights a week, that doesn't mean I'll get them. My first week, I had 3 shifts. Then 1 shift in the second week, then none at all in the 3rd. I think I simply called too late to get shifts, since it's basically first called, first served. I made a point of calling earlier, and it got me 3 shifts this week and 3 more next. So that works out.

Although I start at 6pm (they're very flexible about that), I have no real idea of when I'll finish. It depends on the event. Some shifts, I'm out before midnight. Last night, I didn't get out until past 2am! I was working a fancy reception (white gloves and everything) that was supposed to be finished at midnight. After that, we had to tear things down, then set up things in preparation for the next day's reception. There weren't a lot of people - no more than about 50 at a time, when we were expecting twice that - and they were quite comfortable indulging at the bar (drinks were covered by the organizers) and having Finnish vodka shot toasts in between nibbling at the bacon wrapped prawns, fist sized chocolate covered strawberries, baked brie and oodles of hot and cold appetizers and desserts. A core group of had people settled in, and I'm sure they would've been quite happy to stay there all night, except the bar had to be closed.

I really felt for the bartender. There were 2 at first, but as the evening wore on, various staff had to leave. Most of them have second jobs to go to, or school, in some cases. I was the only banquet staff member that could stay with the supervisor until the end. The banquet staff could at least go into the back when things got slow and sit for a bit. The guy behind the bar had to stay there. He couldn't sit down anywhere. The best he could manage was to lean against either the table of glasses behind him, or on the counter in front. At one point, shortly after midnight, I came out to make another round and see if anything needed to be cleared away, and I saw him hunched over the counter, barely visible. So I quietly stand at the corner of the bar and start talking to him, joking about how it seemed like he was hiding. He sheepishly mumbled something, seeming a bit embarrassed. Taking a look in front of him, I realized what he'd been doing. The poor guy was so bored, he was playing with an ice cube, poking it back and forth on his work surface. *L*

The last group of guests left at about 12:30am. As soon as we were gone, my supervisor and I started tearing things down and removing all the leftover food. There was so much of it! Most of it gets left for the night staff (this place is open 24 hours, since even if there's no event going on, there's still need for staff to clean or set up for the day) to eat during their shifts. What doesn't get eaten has to be thrown out. I was asking the supervisor about it and she told me they'd sometimes call a local food bank or shelter to take leftover food, but even after getting the kitchen staff to pack things up for them, they'll turn pretty much all of it down. :-/ What a waste. My supervisor told me what we saw today isn't anywhere near as much as she's seen before - some events end up with over 90% waste! As someone quite familiar with hunger and poverty growing up, it bothers her that so much food has to be thrown away.

By the time everything was set up, cleaned up and taken away, I'd been there for over 8 hours. Since, technically, I should've had another half hour break, the supervisor simply signed me out later. Even after my husband came and drove me home, I was still being paid. *L* My place of employment isn't that far way - I've made the walk many times before - but by then end of a shift, my legs are in just too much pain for me to hobble home.

It's kind of funny, really. Even though I haven't had very many shifts, I've already had a lot of my co-workers commenting on how I'm constantly on the go and need to slow down. My supervisors keep telling me to sit down when I can. When I'm on the floor, I'm always walking around, checking things. I have a job to do and I like to do it as best I can. It helps that I really enjoy dealing personally with the clients and guests. There's another side to it, though. With my arthritis, I have to keep a balance. If I'm up, I have to be moving around, because standing in one place for too long starts to hurt. If I sit for too long, my feet start to stiffen up, making those first few steps excruciating, so I make sure I'm up and walking again before that happens. It occurred to me that I've got all these people who think I work too hard or something, when really, I'm just trying to avoid pain! *L*

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It had to happen...

Ten's of thousands of people have died in Myanmar, with ten's of thousands more missing. I knew it was just a matter of time before someone tried to blame the cyclone on global warming. No surprise that it came from Al Gore.

“And as we’re talking today, Terry, the death count in Myanmar from the cyclone that hit there yesterday has been rising from 15,000 to way on up there to much higher numbers now being speculated,” Gore said. “And last year a catastrophic storm from last fall hit Bangladesh. The year before, the strongest cyclone in more than 50 years hit China – and we’re seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming.”

There's a slight problem with that. Not only has the globe not been warming since 1998, not only has a slight cooling trend begun, not only have the oceans been cooling, but the earth is expected to continue cooling for another 10 years.

As if that weren't enough, historically speaking, such extreme weather events are associated with cold periods, such as the Little Ice Age. With Solar Cycle 24 still not showing up, a large El Nino and a PDO shift, I'm increasingly concerned that we're in for some major cooling in the near future.

No time to elaborate with links and references today - I need to get ready for work. I recommend checking out the climate related links in my side bar, instead.