Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The U.N.'s Latest Anti-Israel Resolution: Oh the Hypocrisy!

Just hours before I wrote this, the United Nations Security Council voted down a resolution that would have set a two-year deadline to end Israel's "occupation" of so-called Palestinian territory.  The resolution faced a veto by the U.S., but that wasn't needed because the resolution fell one vote shy of the nine it would have needed to pass.  This resolution was just the latest in a series of countless resolutions chastising and condemning the only democracy in the Middle East.  And like all anti-Israel resolutions made at the U.N., its supporters reek of hypocrisy. 

So who supported the resolution?  The countries of Jordan, France, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Chad, Chile and Argentina.  Jordan's delegation was the one that brought the resolution to the floor of the Security Council.  How hypocritical can you get?  This is the regime led by the Hashemite dynasty that rules over territory that was once part of the former British mandate of Palestine and that was intended to be the homeland of the Holy Land's Arab population.  But instead, the British handed it to the Hashemites, whose origins are in what is now Saudi Arabia rather than the Holy Land itself.  How this tyrannical regime can accuse Israel of illegally occupying Palestinian land when it is the real occupier of Palestinian territory defies any sense of logic.  But unfortunately, this hypocrisy didn't stop seven other countries from voting for the Hashemite-sponsored resolution.

In fact, several of the other seven states that supported the resolution are just as guilty of hypocrisy as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  Israel's presence in the West Bank is in no way illegitimate.  The West Bank, more accurately called Judea and Samaria, is part of the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people, and since Israel is the embodiment of Jewish independence, it has every right to this territory.  But let's just say for the sake of argument that Israel's presence in the West Bank was illegitimate and that there was actually an illegal occupation taking place.  Even if this were all true, the governments of countries like France, Russia and China are in no position to condemn Israel because they themselves are perpetrators of illegal occupations.  Perhaps someone should put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council setting a deadline for France to end its illegal occupation of Brittany, Occitania, Corsica, and Polynesia, which are just some of the territories that were unlawfully conquered by the French.  How about a resolution setting a deadline for China to end its illegal occupation of Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan (in northwest China), Manchuria, and Tibet?  We can top off the list with a resolution calling on Russia to end its illegal occupation of - well, over half of the land mass that it now controls - in two years or less.  Of course, none of these resolutions would ever come to the floor of the Security Council, let alone be supported by anyone - unless perhaps it was Jews that occupied the aforementioned territories instead of French, Chinese or Russians.  Oh, the hypocrisy!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Voice Mail: Press 1 For Aggravation

There are a lot of things that annoy me and near the top of the list is something I have to deal with on an almost daily basis: voice mail.  Anyone who has ever made a phone call knows exactly what I'm talking about.  I can still remember the old answering machines.  Whenever you called and no one was there to answer the phone, you would get a voice recording of the person you were calling telling you to leave a message, then you would hear a beep telling you to begin recording.  Plain and simple, right?  But now, for some stupid reason, getting a voice recording of the person you're trying to call isn't enough.  Now you often get a voice recording, then a really annoying automated message telling you something like this: "At the tone, please record your message, when you are finished your recording you can hang up, or press pound (#) for more options.  To leave a callback number that you can be reached at, press 1."  What a mouthful!  What's the point?  Is the voice recording telling you to leave a message not enough?  Are we so stupid that we need another automated message telling us how to leave a message?  The answer to these questions is definitely not.  People have been using voice mail since the 80s, or maybe even before.  It's not like we don't know how to leave messages and we need some annoying machine to tell us how to do it.  Though just to be fair, at least most people leave a personal recording on their voice mail.

Some people don't even bother leaving voice recordings on their answering machines.  At most, when you call them, you might get an automated recording that says, "you have reached," then you hear the voice of the person you're calling saying their name followed by another automated voice telling you to leave a message.  And then there are the folks that want to remain anonymous, where you get an automated recording saying, "You have reached," followed by the machine reading out the phone number then telling you to record a message.  This drives me nuts!  Okay, I understand if people want privacy, but how am I supposed to know if I'm calling the right number when I can't hear anything that tells me who it belongs to?  As you can tell, voice mail belonging to individual people is annoying enough.  But what about when you're trying to call a company?  Oy veh!

I'm sure that everyone reading this has had to go through the aggravation of calling companies like Rogers, Bell or Telus whenever you have a problem with your phone, cable or internet.  We all know that before you can speak to a real person, you have to go through their annoying automated service.  "For customer service, press 1.  For technical support, press 2."  You get the idea.  Unfortunately, pressing one number on your phone usually leads you to another automated message giving you another set of options, then another, then another.  Is rage building yet?  Well I hope you packed some patience, because when the company's automated system finally tells you that it's transferring your call to someone with flesh and blood, that message is usually followed by another telling you that all representatives are assisting other customers and that you have to hold for the next available representative.  If this isn't bad enough, they usually put on some really crappy music for you to listen to until a human being finally takes your call.

Even smaller companies will often have annoying and unnecessarily complicated voice mail.  It usually begins with an automated voice telling you to begin speaking after the tone and press any key when you're done.  Once you've recorded your message and pressed a key to finish recording, you have to listen to more automated mumbo jumbo telling you to press 1 to send your message, press 2 to re-record your message, press 3 to mark your message urgent...Oh man, enough already!

Unfortunately, I don't see any of this changing any time soon.  In fact, it will probably get worst since we seem to be replacing everything that used to have a human touch with machines.   

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Holidays: A Time of Joy or a Time of Misery?

Have you ever seen that movie, "Christmas Vacation" with Chevy Chase?  Remember that part where Audrey, Clark and Ellen Griswald's daughter, complains to her mother about having to sleep with her brother Rusty because their grandparents are staying over for the holidays?  At the end of the scene, Ellen says to her daughter, "I don't know what to say except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."  In my opinion, "Christmas Vacation" is one of the best Christmas/holiday movies ever made.  At least it was for my generation.  I mention it here because although the movie is meant to be a comedy, it does touch on a theme from real life; the theme being that although the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy where you get together and celebrate with family and friends, it can also be a time of inconvenience and pure misery at worst.  But what could be so inconvenient and so miserable about the holiday season?  Believe it or not, lots of things.

When I think about who could possibly be miserable during the holidays, my first thought is of the downtrodden - people who are poor, especially families, whose parents can't afford to buy their kids gifts for the holidays.  I can't even imagine how hard it must be for a mother or father to explain to their children that Santa Claus isn't coming with presents this year.  I can imagine, however, that being poor probably hurts a lot more during the holidays, especially now when the holidays are less about charity and spending time with loved ones, and more about buying the latest gadgets, the nicest clothes, or the fanciest jewelery.  For those of you who celebrate Christmas, do any of you remember when Christmas was simply about spending time with family and friends, going to church and celebrating the birth of baby Jesus?  My guess is you probably don't, because as time has passed, the holidays have become more the presents that are under the Christmas tree rather than why Christmas is celebrated in the first place.  I'm not a Christian, but I do know a bit about Jesus Christ and what he taught.  My guess is that if he could see what Christmas and the holiday season have become, his reaction would probably be very similar to that time he trashed the stalls of the moneychangers in Jerusalem.  In other words, he would be disgusted.

And I wouldn't blame him.  If you do anything to celebrate the holidays, much or even most of your time is probably spent buying things.  Oh the joys of holiday shopping!  Driving in winter gridlock to get to the mall, the endless wait for a parking spot, navigating your way through the seemingly never-ending crowds of shoppers and feeling like you're in a mosh pit at a Metallica concert.  You would think that the gridlock and the crowds would subside with the growth of online shopping.  Fat chance!  And before you even head out the door to do your holiday shopping, chances are that you've been bombarded with one advertisement after another from retailers fighting for your holiday dollars.  You're probably recycling a lot more too because your mailbox and newspapers are filled with flyers advertising everything from the newest cars to the latest iPhones.

The worst part about holiday shopping is that much of what you're buying may be for someone you really don't like or could care less about.  But of course, you know that if you don't buy presents for your in-laws, no matter how annoying you find them, your spouse is gonna kill you.  And God forbid if you don't get a gift for the boss.  "Put it over there with the others, Griswald."  By the time you're finished buying gifts for your in-laws and co-workers, then having to tolerate them at the various holiday functions that you have to attend, you probably want to breathe a sigh of relief.  "Oh, thank goodness, the holidays are over!"  Not so fast, buddy.  Because by about a week or two after the holidays have ended, you get to open one last present - your December credit card bill!  Aren't the holidays great?

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit.  Maybe the holidays aren't so bad because you do most of your shopping online, you happen to like your in-laws and co-workers, and you're not too scared to open your credit card bill come January.  Chances are that for most people, the holidays are a mixed bag.  You have the inconveniences associated with the holidays, but you also have the positive aspects.  Heck, even with one fiasco after another, the Griswalds of "Christmas Vacation" do end up having a very Merry Christmas.  And if there's any real life lesson to be taken from the movie, I think it's that we should take the good with the bad and just try to have a happy, healthy holiday season.       

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

My Own Personal Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan

With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process all but dead, I think it's time that somebody put forward some new ideas to resolve this seemingly never-ending conflict.  I have my own idea of what a peace agreement should look like.  I know that I'm not a diplomat or world leader, but I would like to share my own personal peace plan with anyone that reads this.  My plan involves a type of Palestinian-Jordanian confederation where the Palestinians and the Hashemite dynasty would share power.  Those of you who have read some of my previous blogs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict know that I am no fan of the Hashemite regime in Jordan, now led by King Abdullah II, and in an ideal world, the Hashemites would be overthrown and the Palestinian majority would assume control of what has always rightfully been theirs.  But of course, we don't live in an ideal world and I believe that a compromise can be reached that would allow power-sharing between the Palestinians and the Hashemites.

Framework for the Government of the Palestinian-Jordanian Confederation

My plan would re-work the Jordanian parliament so that the lower house would be chosen based on direct elections using the same method of proportional representation used to elect the Israeli Knesset.  As it stands now, the lower house of parliament in Jordan is theoretically based on representation by population, but in practice its electoral districts have been rigged so that the Hashemites' supporters, most of whom live in the south of the country, are overrepresented.  My plan abolishes these electoral districts and makes all of the Palestinian-Jordanian Confederation one electoral district so that the end result is actual majority rule.  And since the Palestinians are the majority, they would ultimately control the lower house of parliament.

The Palestinians would also control the government, as is not the case today.  Although today's Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan's lower house is elected by the people, the parliament's other chamber, the Senate, is appointed by the king.  Moreover, it is the king and not the parliament, which rules the country in practice.  He is the one that chooses the prime minister, whereas in all free parliamentary democracies, including Israel and my home country of Canada, the common practice is that the leader of the party with the most seats, or at least the leader who is most likely to be able to form a government, is the one selected as prime minister.  The Hashemite king even has the power to dissolve parliament as he pleases and rule by direct decree, which has been done throughout Jordan's history.  None of this would be allowed under my plan, which would have the prime minister chosen the same way he or she is chosen in all genuine parliamentary democracies.  The king will not be able to dissolve parliament unless requested to by the prime minister.  He will still be official head of state, control the Senate and remain commander of the military, but these will be the limits of his power.

The Status of the West Bank

The West Bank will be subject to a joint sovereignty arrangement between Israel and the Palestinian-Jordanian Confederation, hereafter known by the initials PJC.  The arrangement will see Israel maintain security control of the territory, however, the government of the PJC will control the civil affairs of its Palestinian citizens, most of whom hold Jordanian citizenship from before the 1967 war when Jordan controlled the West Bank.  The PJC will also be responsible for local policing in the Palestinian cities, towns and villages, as is done today by the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords.  As for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, they will all be given the status of permanent residents of Israel.  The will be given Israeli ID cards, but will not receive citizenship.  And since they will not be Israeli citizens and not have any representation in the Israeli government, they will not pay be required to pay Israeli taxes.  Instead, they will pay taxes to the government of the PJC and will have the right to vote in PJC elections and to be represented in its parliament just as if they were within the borders of today's Jordanian state.

Prior to the implementation of the agreement, negotiators for the Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians would map out the areas of the West Bank in which both Israel and the PJC could create new communities or expand current communities.  They would also agree on a registry of private property that all parties would abide by so that no illegal seizure of private property, Jewish or Arab, occurs.

This arrangement is similar to the arrangement that is now in place in some parts of the West Bank known as Area B.  Under my plan, however, there will eventually be freedom of movement for all goods and people within and between pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank.

The Status of the Gaza Strip

Under my plan, the Gaza Strip will become part of the PJC.  It will ultimately be up to them to decide whether or not they want to use its military forces to gain control of the territory.  The military of the PJC, by the way, will not be allowed to deploy west of the Jordan river without the consent of the Israeli government.  In the future, an above or below ground highway and/or rail network under PJC sovereignty could be built to link the Strip and what is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The Status of Jerusalem

Jerusalem will remain under full Israeli control.  As a gesture of goodwill, however, Israel could allow a new PJC parliament to be built on the eastern side of the city formerly controlled by Jordan.  The grounds of the parliament would be considered PJC soil.  This arrangement would resemble the one in Rome where the grounds of the Vatican are not considered part of Italy, but rather a sovereign state in and of itself.  Hence, the PJC could proclaim Jerusalem as its capital, even if its sovereign control is limited to the parliament.

Palestinian Refugees

Since there will be free movement within and between pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank, Palestinian refugees residing in the West Bank will be allowed to live wherever they want therein.  They may even be able to return to their actual homes if Israeli law allows it.  For those who cannot return to their actual homes, they must be given just compensation subject to agreement between Israel and the PJC.  Palestinian refugees living in what is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Gaza Strip or anywhere else will also receive just compensation, but will not be allowed to enter the West Bank or pre-1967 Israel without the consent of the Israeli government.  These refugees will have to be resettled either within what is now Jordan or the Gaza Strip as these are the territories over which the PJC will have full control. 

Conclusion

Again, I am not a diplomat or world leader, nor am I a security expert of any kind.  I'm just an ordinary person presenting a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that I will be fair and work for both sides.  As you can imagine, there are plenty of details that would need to be worked out by the negotiators, such as special security arrangements and the division of natural resources in the jointly administered West Bank, especially water.  But when all is said and done, I think that my framework would be a good starting point.    

Monday, 22 December 2014

Toronto's Parking Policies Just Plain Unfair

This past weekend, my father went to park on St. Clair Ave.  He went to the parking meter to pay, only to find that the meter was out of order.  As a result, he had to walk more than a block away to the next closest meter.  The same thing happened to him just hours before I wrote this post.  My father is certainly not disabled, although he is in his late 60s, so he's no spring chicken either.  But just imagine this kind of thing happening to someone who does have mobility issues and for whom walking a block or more to the next meter could be quite difficult.  Not that Toronto Parking Enforcement cares.  So the meter's out of order?  No excuses!  You have to find another one, no matter how far it is.  If you don't, you'll end up with a nice, shiny yellow ticket.  The same goes for those of you who thought you found the perfect parking space and paid the meter, only to get back to your car to find a ticket on your window saying you parked too close to a fire hydrant.  Never mind that the hydrant is hidden in the bushes and no one can see it.  But of course, the blue hornets know it's there and they'll show you no mercy.  Unclear signage as an excuse?  Forget it.  As long as Toronto Parking Enforcement knows how to read them, you're busted!  For all they care, the signs could be written in gibberish.  And how about those jerks amongst the blue hornets who will do almost whatever it takes to make sure you get a ticket.  I've heard all sorts of stories.  My mom once told me about an officer who literally stood by a person's car looking at his watch until time was up and he could write up a ticket.  I can also remember a news crew that got stuck with a ticket - before their time had even expired!  Then there was that time when a parking enforcement officer wrote someone a ticket for not paying the meter, even though the ticket from the meter was clearly displayed on his dashboard.  I'm sure everyone in the city who drives has plenty of stories of their own to tell about the merciless officers of Toronto Parking Enforcement.   

Want to fight a parking ticket?  Good luck!  First, you have to show up in person at one of the city's far-flung First Appearance Facilities, wait in line for what can seem like an eternity just to spend a minute or two to tell some civil servant that you want to contest your ticket - unless you're fortunate enough to have access to e-mail and a scanner or fax machine in which case the city will allow you to send your ticket and any other supporting documents in order to issue a challenge without having to appear in person.  But for those of you who did something more serious, like park near one of those concealed fire hydrants, I'm afraid this probably won't work (click here for information on parking ticket disputes).  When you finally get your day in court - albeit several months after you got the ticket (at least) - you'll probably have to shell out a small wad of cash if you want to park anywhere near the courthouse.  Having fun so far?  Next, you get to sit in the courtroom and wait forever while all the other poor saps who got tickets get their hearing.  Finally, it's your turn.  You plead your case, then the JP gives you grief and tells you that you entered the wrong plea and instead of pleading not guilty, you should have pleaded guilty with explanation.  Personally, I don't like being talked down to whether you're a judge or not.  By the time your ordeal is over, you may have spent a lot of time and money just to get your ticket reduced by a few bucks, depending on how generous the JP happens to be that day.  It's bad enough that Toronto's parking rules are unfair, but it gets even worse when you realize that City Hall will do everything it can to make fighting a parking ticket as inconvenient as possible.  Why?  Because parking tickets are a big cash cow for the city.  All of us who drive know this.  So what should we do about it?

The short answer is that we need to change some of Toronto's parking policies and ensure that those policies are enforced fairly.  And when I say fairly, I mean that the folks at City Hall need to tell the blue hornets at Toronto Parking Enforcement to use some common sense.  So for example, if someone parks too close to a fire hydrant, but the location of the hydrant is not clearly marked, the first instinct of a TPA officer should not be to write a ticket.  It should be to let someone at City Hall know so that they can make sure the hydrant in question is properly marked before any other blue hornet starts handing out tickets to any offending parties.  And of course, let's not forget the example of my father's misfortune with the parking meters that I started this post with.  The rule about this should be that whenever the meter closest to you is out of order, you can park for free so long as you parked legally, until the meter is fixed.  Otherwise, what incentive does the city have to fix its meters in a timely manner?

Finally, whenever someone wants to contest a parking infraction, he or she should not have to go through the inconvenience of going out of their way to go to some municipal office to stand in line forever just to challenge a ticket.  While allowing people to contest their tickets via fax or e-mail makes the whole dispute process less onerous, I think that people should just be able to go onto a city website or call a dedicated municipal phone number, enter the number of their ticket and indicate that they want to challenge it in court.  A similar process already exists for people who just opt to pay their tickets without contesting them.  But God forbid if they want to challenge a ticket.  The folks at City Hall need to get it through their thick skulls that parking enforcement needs to be about enforcing the law, not using the rules to grab as much cash from Joe Taxpayer as possible.   

Men Must Evolve to Stop Violence Against Women

Violence against women has been in the news a lot lately.  Offensive frosh chants at Canadian universities, assaults on women by famous pro athletes, allegations of sexual assault made against a growing number of celebrities, like Bill Cosby and Canada's Jian Ghomeshi, and most recently the crude and offensive comments posted by male dental students at Dalhousie University in a Facebook group have all made national and international headlines.  The question I ask myself when I hear about all this is, why have us men not yet learned to treat women with respect and as equals in our society?  The best answer I can give myself is that the attitude of men towards women has not yet evolved from what it has been since the beginning of time.  In other words, since time immemorial men have been brought up to view women as inferior at best and property at worst.

Thankfully, there has been a great deal of progress on women's rights up until today, especially in the last hundred years.  Nevertheless, women still face relentless discrimination and oppression in what has often been called "a man's world."  Even in advanced, industrialized countries, like Canada, the U.S. and countries in Europe, women are paid less than men, face sexual violence on a regular basis and are less likely to attain leadership roles, whether in business or politics.  And as most of us know, there are still many countries around the world where women are treated as little more than property.  In fact, in several countries they are still bought and sold as property, or otherwise forced into marriage.  For example, many of us are familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who was nearly killed by Islamic fundamentalists simply for advocating education for girls.  And to this day, young girls who want to go to school and get educated routinely face the threat of death from men who would make them slaves and property to do with as they please.

As a man, I've seen my fair share of sexism.  When I was a teenager, all of us guys made disgustingly sexist comments, using phrases like, "Wam, bam, thank you, ma'am," and telling teenage girls not to open their mouths unless they were giving a man oral sex (actually, this was put more crudely than I would like to say in this post).  I can also still remember the days where I worked on a construction site, which as many people know is a very male-dominated environment.  Workers on site made sexist jokes on a regular basis, talking about ladies with whom they wanted to have sex, bragging about their previous sexual exploits, and repeating the phrase, "hey, look at that piece of a**" every time they saw an attractive woman.  One thing I remember very vividly is going into a room where the electricians stored their equipment and plans to find walls filled with pictures of Sunshine Girls and Playboy Bunnies.  My explanation for this behaviour used to be simply: men are pigs.  But it's a bit more complicated than that.  The problem is that men have spent so much of human history treating women however they wanted, whether good or bad.  From the beginning of time, men have been getting away with a myriad of unjust acts against women.  Forcing women into marriage or into sexual relations, selling them into slavery, beating them, preventing them from pursuing gainful careers and degrading them in a whole bunch of other ways was all fair game and a man would not face any sort of punishment for mistreating a woman.  Only in the last century have women made significant strides towards equality.  Unfortunately, the attitude of many men towards women has not kept pace with the advancements that women have made.  Men are still learning not to treat women as objects or as property, to say nothing of treating them as equals.  I would argue that the reason men are not learning to treat women in a just manner as quickly as they should may be because treating women disrespectfully could very well be in the genes of all males. 

Could it be that men have been mistreating women for so long that they're now born with the instinct to mistreat them?  To all the guys reading this, just think back to when you were a kid, before puberty set in.  Remember how much you hated girls and didn't want to be around them?  Remember that old childhood myth about girls having cooties?  What I'm trying to say is that a male's hostility towards members of the opposite sex may not be an entirely learned behaviour, but can also be pure instinct.  I honestly hope I'm wrong about this because if there is a biological explanation for why men mistreat women, it may take many generations for men to evolve to the point where their biology does not predispose them to being hostile to females.  This is because biology in general usually takes a long time to evolve.  Nevertheless, I do believe it is possible to quicken the process of evolution if fathers would simply teach their sons to treat women with respect and as equals.  Actually, I shouldn't just be talking about fathers and their sons, because all male role models can teach those who look up to them to treat women with dignity by setting good examples.  It certainly doesn't help when some of today's male role models are accused or found to be guilty of committing acts of violence against women, sexual or otherwise, nor does it help when frosh leaders lead new university students in chants that incite rape or promote underage sex.  It's time that us guys set better examples for the next generation so that they can grow up respecting women instead of mistreating them and so that they can pass on their respectful behaviour for generations to come.  Otherwise, men in general will not evolve to accept women as equals and violence against women by men will continue.   


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Cyclists vs. Motorists: The Neverending Struggle for Space on the Road

If you drive on a regular basis, chances are you've had negative altercations with unscrupulous cyclists.  And if you cycle on a regular basis, then chances are that you've had plenty of bad run-ins with careless drivers.  Whether you're a regular cyclist or a regular motorist, you've probably also heard the usual complaints from both sides.  From motorists, it's usually something like this: "Cyclists don't obey the traffic signals, they get in your way, you never know when they're going to make a sudden move and maybe cause you to hit them, they want to take our road space to make way for bike lanes," and so forth.  From cyclists, the common complaints about drivers are: "They hog the roads, they don't check to see if there are cyclists around them, they have more than enough space whereas us cyclists don't have enough bike lanes and cycling alongside cars is dangerous," etc.

I myself am a regular driver and I never use a bicycle, so I obviously have my own biases when it comes to the seemingly never-ending struggle for road space between cyclists and motorists.  That doesn't mean, however, that I don't sympathize with cyclists who brave the mean streets of my home city of Toronto every day, because I have enough common sense to know that whenever motorists and cyclists collide, often literally, it's usually the cyclist that gets the worst of it.  You can get a sense of this simply by looking at the website, doored.ca, which catalogs reports of cyclists getting the so-called "door prize" whenever a driver opens his door and some unsuspecting cyclists smashes into it, often leading to serious injuries.  It's no surprise to me that most of these reported incidences occur in or near the downtown area where competition between cyclists and motorists is the most fierce.

But on the other side of the coin, I always get the sense that cyclists are rarely held to account for their transgressions.  Those of us that drive often resent the fact that an arrogant cyclist almost always gets away with damaging a person's car.  As little as two weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a picture on her page of a broken mirror on her car, captioned with the sarcastic phrase,"Thank you, cyclist."  As most of you can probably guess, whichever cyclist smashed and broke her mirror was not held to account.  Why?  Because unlike drivers, who must be licensed and have proper license plates to identify their vehicles, there is no such requirement for cyclists - a fact that many drivers, including myself, strongly resent.

The Political Struggle

Most of us who either drive a car or ride a bicycle know that the fight for road space doesn't just take place on our streets, but also in the halls of power, usually at the municipal level.  Just look at what's been going on at City Hall in Toronto lately.  When left-wing mayor David Miller was in power, he and the bicycle-friendly councillors took to making Toronto a more friendly place for cyclists, pushing large-scale transit plans that included bike lanes, and installing new bike lanes that took lanes away from motorists.  Anyone remember the heated debate over the bike lanes on Jarvis?  Those lanes were put in during the Miller administration.  But soon, a new mayor came to power; Rob Ford, who after being elected promptly declared that the war on the car was over.  One of his first acts: getting rid of the recently installed bike lanes on Jarvis.

What is most unfortunate is that the better part of a resolution to the conflict between cyclists and motorists is going to have to come from our politicians - the same politicians who are so polarized on the issue.  On one side are the bicycle-friendly councillors and their supporters, often referred to in the Toronto Sun as the "bicycult", who want to do everything to encourage cycling no matter how much it inconveniences drivers; and on the other side are people like Rob Ford, who live and die by the car, won't give it up for anything, and the cyclists be damned.  There's got to be a happy medium somewhere.  Here are some ideas of my own:

1.  Build More Bike Lanes Without Giving Motorists a Headache

I agree with the cyclist community that there should be more bike lanes, but I am not in favour of creating new bike lanes by taking away lane space from motorists, especially downtown where traffic is already at a standstill.  More bike lanes in place of lanes for motor vehicles downtown will just lead to bigger traffic jams and a lot more idling and pollution.  Bike lanes are more easily built in the city's suburbs.  I've seen plenty of roads, even major roads, where bike lanes could easily be built without taking lanes away from motor vehicle traffic.  As for the downtown core, more innovative solutions are likely required.  One of these innovative solutions involves elevated bike lanes.  Yes, I'm serious.  There are folks who have drawn up plans to build bike lanes above the ground so that they don't take space away from cars.  An example of this can be seen here.  Furthermore, whenever bike lanes are built adjacent to car lanes or pedestrian sidewalks, it is vital that they be separated, either by building them at a different grade or placing a physical barrier between them and the car lanes.  Most of the few designated bicycle lanes that do exist in Toronto are haphazard, consisting of paths that are at the same grade as the motor vehicle lanes next to them, separated only by painted white lines.  Motorists routinely take advantage of this by standing in bike lanes or using the extra space provided by them to make turns.  This endangers cyclists significantly and ironically can lead to more conflicts between them and motorists as they violate each others' space.  But this would not happen if there was a significant physical barrier separating the motor vehicles from the cyclists.

The fact of the matter is that motorists and cyclists cannot and should not share the same road space, because there will always be conflict.  The overwhelming majority of Toronto's roads were never built to accommodate both motor vehicles and cyclists at the same time.  Furthermore, it makes absolutely no sense for a vehicle weighing in at several tons to share the same road space with a mode of transportation powered only by the muscles of the operator and weighing in at less than a hundred pounds.  There's just too much room for accidents, some of which turn out to be fatal for cyclists, because in a collision, the vehicle weighing several tons will always come out on top.

But of course, the only way we're ever going to prevent motorists and cyclists from sharing the same road space and coming into conflict with each other is by building a vast network of separated bike lanes.  And although Toronto has begun to build some of these, there's still an incredibly long way to go, not to mention the fact that what little bike infrastructure is available in this city is poorly maintained.  I can't even count how many times I've driven on streets with bike lanes after a big snowstorm only to find that those bike lanes have not been plowed and are hence unusable for cyclists.  Yes, believe it or not, many folks still ride their bikes in the winter.  Bikes are after all a cost-effective way from getting from point A to point B, which is why more and more people are opting to use them.

2.  Better Regulations for Cycling

I'm not really a fan of regulation because for me regulation usually equals more nanny statism.  But let's face it, sometimes regulation is necessary; and I believe more and better regulations for cycling is warranted.  I believe, for example, that all cyclists should be required to where helmets.  Now I know that there are a lot of cycling advocates out there that will say requiring helmets is unnecessary and that it discourages people from taking up cycling.  I do not buy this argument and quite frankly, I think that the second part of it is a load of crap.  Making helmets mandatory does not discourage cycling any more than making drivers where seat belts discourages driving.  People are not going to be put off of cycling just because they have to wear a helmet.

I also believe that all cyclists should be require to buy license plates for their bikes just as drivers have to buy them for their motor vehicles.  Why?  Because just as car license plates help authorities to identify vehicles involved in driving offenses, so to should license plates on bicycles be used to help authorities identify bikes involved in such offenses.  Right now, unscrupulous cyclists know that they will almost always get away with damaging the vehicle of a driver they don't like.  But once you put a plate on their bike that can identify them, chances are they won't be so quick to try and smash a motorist's mirror whenever they feel like it.

Some people have even called for making cyclists carry licenses the same way drivers do.  This is not something I support, because although I do believe cyclists should be aware of all regulations before they get on the road, I also believe that motor vehicles and bicycles are not in the same league, even if they often share the same road space.  A motor vehicle is a piece of heavy machinery that is capable of causing major property damage and potentially fatal injuries, while a bicycle is a small mode of transport powered only by the muscular capacity of its operator (with the exception of E-bikes, but that is a whole other issue that I don't want to go into right now).  And although it is certainly not unheard of for a bicycle itself to fatally injure someone, the chances of it doing so are astronomically smaller than if a motor vehicle is involved.

3.  Just Obey the Law, Dammit!

Let's face it, there are bad drivers and there are bad cyclists and both are responsible for exacerbating the conflict between motorists and cyclists.  The careless cyclist who rushes past a stop sign is just as guilty as the idiot driver who blows by it.  And in the same respect, the motorist who fails to signal while making a turn is just as much of a moron as the cyclist who suddenly veers into the path of a vehicle without signalling his or her intentions.  So it's vital that until we see the separate bicycle infrastructure I mentioned above built and the current bicycle infrastructure properly maintained, we all do our best to obey the rules of the road.

   

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Looking for Love But Coming Up Empty

I have been fortunate and blessed to have a very loving family, without which I would not be alive today.  But when it comes to finding love from someone that isn't a blood relative, it just doesn't happen for me.  I know that I'm certainly not the only one in this situation.  In my own city of Toronto alone, there are countless people just like me who are single and lonely.  What I find ironic is that it is supposedly much easier to find someone today than it ever was before.  There's online dating, telephone dating, speed dating, traditional matchmakers, professional matchmaking services, and even smartphone apps designed for single people looking for that special someone.  Yet in the industrialized world of today, people are staying single a lot longer than their parents did.  Now I understand that there are other factors at play here, especially socio-economic ones, but I would think that in a world where finding people with whom to have a relationship is so much easier than it ever was, it wouldn't be so difficult to find a significant other.

I myself have tried to find that special someone using the methods mentioned above, but with very little success.  So I remain single for what seems like an eternity.  I believe that luck has a lot to do with finding the right partner with whom you'll have a long-term relationship - one that may even lead to marriage.  And it's not like I haven't had any opportunities.  They've just been very few and far between - and I blew it on every occasion.  I'm still waiting for another opportunity to come around so that I can get it right for once.

To make matters worse, I'm not exactly a person who puts himself out there, simply because I just don't belong in any social setting.  For example, I hate parties.  In fact, I can't stand them.  I just don't know what to do with myself when I'm at one.  I feel like such an outcast.  How about the bar or cafe?  That's no better either.  For one thing, I don't drink anything with alcohol, or tea or coffee.  So what else is there?  Well, plenty of things - at least if you have plenty of interests, which I don't.  I actually have very few interests, and I'm not going to apologize for that.  My biggest interests are politics, hockey and dogs.  So why not get involved in politics here and maybe meet someone?  Because politics here in Canada is a sleep fest at best and a big, fat joke at worst.  And it's not like I haven't tried in the past.  Hell, I even joined a political party and went to a couple of meetings.  What a waste of time, not to mention the fact that ever since I became a party member, all they do is ask for my money.

That leaves my other two big interests, hockey and dogs.  I actually play on a hockey team with two female members.  Both of them are spoken for, however, and I was never attracted to either of them anyways.  There are, of course, plenty of women out there who like hockey.  The problem is that hockey is about the only thing we would have in common - very little on which to build a relationship.

So I'm left with my last major interest: dogs.  The dog park used to be my only social hangout, where I saw the same people almost every day.  Unfortunately, none of them were single females in my age bracket, and I eventually stopped going there anyways because my dog no longer enjoyed it, having gotten older and no longer interested in playing with other dogs.  I do work with people in groups dedicated to rescuing dogs, but I rarely meet them in person, and even when I do, there are no single ladies in my age bracket among them.

Hence, I'm in a situation where I can't really hope to find a relationship partner through the few interests that I have.  And in terms of expanding my interests?  Highly unlikely.  I'm not a person who can just spontaneously take an interest in something.  In fact, I can't remember being interested in anything new in the past fifteen years.

There is still one other avenue for finding a relationship partner that I haven't mentioned yet - trying to find someone through friends or family.  This is how many if not most people find their partners.  But no dice here either, I'm afraid.  You see, my family doesn't know anyone who would fit the bill, though it's not like they haven't tried.  And friends?  Well, the problem there is that over the past twenty years, I've had less friends than I do fingers on one hand.  In fact, the last person who I would have called my best friend no longer lives in this country.

If you're still reading this, I should congratulate you, because as you can tell, my love life is just a miserable sob story, so I should be grateful to you for taking the time to read about it, especially since I'm sure you could be doing something a lot more enjoyable right now.  I should also apologize if I have depressed you in any way.  Although this story of mine may seem very depressing, please let me assure you that there are billions of people around the world who would gladly trade their lives for mine - even if they knew that my life was often one of loneliness and longing for that special someone that will likely never come.    

Monday, 15 December 2014

Talking Transit in Toronto

When I was a small child growing up in the 1980s, I heard nothing but good things about Toronto's public transit system.  I can still remember enjoying myself riding on the TTC's buses, streetcars and subways.  My parents even used to say to me that we had one of the best public transportation systems in the world.  I'm not sure if that was true, but I do know that back in the 1980s, public transit in Toronto was pretty good.  But fast forward about three decades later, and I am hard-pressed to hear anyone say anything good about public transit in this city.  All I hear most of the time are people complaining about it.  How slow it is, how crowded it is, how antiquated it is, how rude the staff are, and how many times parts of it break down.  There are indeed a lot of problems with public transit in Toronto, but it basically all boils down to the fact that the system has not kept pace with the city's population.  In fact, the system that was in place in the 1980s is basically the same system that is in place now, and it is woefully inadequate in 2014 when Toronto has hundreds of thousands more people living in it.  So what's happened over the last 30 years?  Why has our public transit system not been adapted to fit the needs of today's Toronto?  The answer mostly lies with the folks who make the decisions regarding public transit: our noble politicians and bureaucrats.

Thirty Years of Endless Squabbling and Dithering:

Over the past three decades, plenty of politicians and bureaucrats have come up with plans to modernize public transit in Toronto.  It seems like not a year goes by without somebody at City Hall bringing out a map featuring new subway lines, GO train routes, or LRT projects.  There have been some great ideas, but most of them have not left the paper that they've been written on.  And in the few cases when the shovels have been dug into the ground, a change in leadership takes place at some level of government and the shovels come right back out.  To make a long story short, our illustrious bureaucrats and politicians haven't been able to make up their minds on very much or agree on very much in the past three decades, leading to a situation in which Toronto's public transit system has changed little since the 80s, but the city's population has grown by hundreds of thousands within the same time frame.  Now as we all should know, earlier this fall, we had a municipal election that put John Tory in the mayor's chair.  Tory, who I supported in one of my blogs during the campaign, Why I Will Support John Tory for Mayor of Toronto, has his own plan that he calls Smartrack.  It looks very promising, which is one of the reasons why I supported Mr. Tory for mayor.  I just hope it goes where many other transit plans haven't gone before: off the drawing board and into Toronto's public transit network. 

How Do We Make Public Transit Work Again?

I have some ideas that I think would make public transit in Toronto a lot better, but they're certainly not original ideas.  In other words, plenty of folks have put these ideas forward in the past, but like most proposals that have to do with public transit in this city, they almost never see the light of day.  Here are some examples:

1.  Innovate and Upgrade

What do I mean by this?  Basically, I mean modernizing our public transit system's infrastructure.  Our system uses some very old technology, to the point where people from some cities around the world could come over hear and laugh at us.  Thankfully, I'm finally beginning to see some of this being done after so many years.  New buses have slowly been rolling out over the past decade and the city has just this year begun to replace our aging streetcars.

We also need to find new ways of making the system run more efficiently without making wholesale changes.  This is what I mean by innovation.  For example, the recent decision to use the honour system in regards to fare payment when passengers board our streetcars will save riders a lot of time because studies have shown that much of the time that streetcars lie idle is owed to people getting on and off them, especially on the really busy streetcar lines, like King St. 

Actually, I would prefer we ditch streetcars altogether, like almost all other major North American cities have, because unless they have their own right-of-way, as on St. Clair or Spadina Ave., they are a major source of gridlock and pollution, holding up traffic behind them as they wait for people to get on and off.  Unfortunately, City Hall has made it clear that streetcars will remain for the foreseeable future.  They do, of course, move a lot more people than buses and even I wouldn't recommend getting rid of them until we can replace them with subway lines - we can only pray at this point.

2.  Less! Less! Less!

They call our TTC "the better way", but the reality for a lot of people in Toronto is that it's the only way, because cars are too expensive for many of our residents, and this city is far too big for people to be walking or biking everywhere across town.  So when TTC or GO fares are raised, many folks in Toronto feel the pinch.  Unfortunately, City Hall usually has no choice but to raise fares to cover increasing costs and pay for equipment and service upgrades.  Why?  Because our politicians at the federal and provincial levels simply won't pony up more dough for big cities like Toronto to improve public transit.  In fact, from what I've heard, Toronto's public transit system is one of the least subsidized in North America with a much higher portion of its revenue coming from the fare box than in many other cities.  I believe that our goal should be to make public transit less expensive, not more expensive.  That means avoiding fare increases, especially for frequent users.  It also means not making new transit services outrageously expensive.  Case in point: the new Union-Pearson Express train.  The recently announced fare of $27.50 is anything but fair.  Now of course, the stiffs at Metrolinx say that this service is not meant to be a commuter service for Torontonians, but rather a service for international business travellers.  Okay, then let these international business travellers pay for it!  Don't use our tax dollars to build it and then stick us with a ludicrous price for using it.  As I've said, our bureaucrats and politicians are often part of the problem when it comes to Toronto transit, rather than part of the solution.

3.  More! More! More!

Our public transit system needs more of everything.  More buses, more subways, and so forth.  But of course, for this to happen, the system is going to need more money.  As I've already said, public transit in Toronto is already too dependent on the fare box to finance itself.  It needs more money from the federal and provincial governments and that money needs to be spent wisely.  Too much money earmarked for transit has been squandered over the years on things like the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way, which proved to be an epic disaster for businesses in that area of the city, not to mention the Sheppard subway to nowhere, otherwise knows as the Sheppard "stubway", which carries less riders per day than the streetcar on King St.

4.  Introduce Competition into the Public Transit Sector

One of the biggest problems with transit in Toronto is one that few people talk about: the TTC's monopoly.  Why is this a problem?  Because the TTC lacks the incentive to improve itself that a good dose of capitalist competition could provide.  After all, why would the folks at the TTC worry about how good their service is when they know that many people in the city have no other choice if they want to get from point A to point B?  A lot of people think that TTC should stand for "take the car", but the fact of the matter is that cars are not an option for many people in Toronto and so the TTC is the only option that they can afford.  Like I said before, for many, the TTC isn't "the better way", it's the only way - and this needs to change.

Recently, some folks in Toronto's Liberty Village got so fed up with inadequate TTC service that they got funds together to create their own local shuttle bus service complete with free Wi-Fi (see: Public Need Not Fear Private Transit Test Run on King St.).  For now, this is simply an experiment in private entrepreneurship and there are doubts as to whether or not it can work.  In fact, I recently went to the shuttle bus service's website, ridelinesix.com, only to find it asking for my e-mail so that they can let me know once they re-launch the service.  My point, however, is that the legal monopoly that the TTC has on public transit in Toronto should end and private providers should be allowed to move in and offer alternative means of public transportation.  Competition would not just mean an added incentive for the TTC to improve its service, but would also lead to less crowding on the TTC because some riders would opt to use the private alternatives.

Improved Transit Means Less Gridlock

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the better a public transit system is, the more likely people are to use it and leave their cars at home.  The joke that TTC stands for "take the car" basically sums up all the reasons why many people who have a choice would rather fight the traffic in their own private vehicle than get onto a slow and overcrowded bus, streetcar, or subway train.  I see some glimmers of hope in the new mayor as well as in the slight improvements to infrastructure and service that have been undertaken in recent years, but I also see that we've still got a long way to go before our public transit system regains the world class reputation it once had when I was a small child.      

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Please, Please, PLEASE Pick Up After Your Pet!

It's pretty much the most disgusting job that comes with owning a dog.  Yes, I'm talking about picking up after them once they've done their business.  It's not only the law in most places, it's just the right thing to do.  But unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of unscrupulous dog owners who don't think they have to pick up Fido's mess.

There are a few reasons why you should pick up after your dog.  Firstly, none of us, whether we own a dog or not, should have to go through the misfortune of stepping in your doggie's doo doo and having to clean it off our footwear - or for that matter any other part of our clothes.  The second reason is all about having respect for both private and public property.  Back in the summer, I wrote a post that I called The Great Dog Debate.  Among the things I discussed in that post was that sometimes you do have no choice but to allow your dog to urinate or defecate on someone's private lawn.  When you gotta go, you gotta go, right?  This is often the situation I'm faced with because all the lawns on my street are private lawns, most of them belonging to apartment or condo complexes.  And quite frankly I'm fed up with seeing the amount of dog feces that dots these private lawns.  There is no reason why the owners of whichever dogs left the mess behind should not have picked it up.  Okay, if your dog has the runs, I'm a little more understanding.  But most of the mess I've seen on frequent trips with my own dog could have easily been picked up.  This becomes especially clear whenever there's big snowstorm followed by a big meltdown.  Here in Toronto this week, for example, we had a pretty decent snowfall with much of the city getting ten to fifteen centimeters worth of accumulation.  Fast forward a couple of days and a warm spell has started melting all of the white stuff to the point where almost all of it should be gone in the next few days.  What does all this have to do with dog owners not picking up?  Well, once all the snow melts, the lawns on which it accumulated essentially become minefields.  Step on these lawns at your own risks and take extra caution, lest you step on one of the landmines - or perhaps we should call them poop mines.  Thankfully, there will be no explosion and your feet will stay intact, but you'll be left with a nice, brown surprise to clean off the soles of your boots.  You could, of course, try to avoid the minefields by keeping off the lawns, but even this is no guarantee that you'll stay clean, because many dog owners allow their best friends to defecate on the streets and sidewalks without having the decency to pick up after them.  It's bad enough that some dog owners don't have respect for private property, but they show no respect for public property either.  What part of stoop and scoop do these people not understand!?

And if the reasons I have stated above don't convince dog owners to pick up after Rover, then how about this: Getting feces on yourself is not only unsightly and gross, it's also unhealthy and unsanitary.  Check out this list of diseases that human beings can get from dog feces.  Scary, isn't it?  Now of course, all people who come into contact with pet waste should do their due diligence and wash their hands after they've been exposed.  But dog owners in particular must also do their part - PICK UP AFTER YOUR PET!

Okay, I understand that no dog owner is perfect.  I'm sure that most of us have failed to pick up after Fido on certain occasions.  Nevertheless, we should always do our best to make sure that our best friend's mess is not there for some poor soul to step on or even get sick from.  So let's all be smart, be responsible and do the right thing.  Let's pick up after our pets. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

I Hate Winter!

Remember when you were a kid and you couldn't wait for the winter to come and the snow to fall?  Oh yeah, when you're a kid, winter is all fun and games.  It sure was for me.  Building snowmen, making snow angels, snow ball fights, tobogganing, etc.  I used to love winter when I was a kid.  But now that I'm all grown up, winter can never end soon enough.  And I'm sure that I'm not the only one that thinks so, even in Canada where we're supposed to be used to harsh winters and all the crap that comes with them.

Remember last winter?  It was the winter from hell frozen over where all of us in Canada endured minus double-digit temperatures without end; where sidewalks, streets and even lawns became giant skating rinks, and where a freak ice storm knocked out power to thousands of residents in my home city of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area - Just in time for Christmas.  Now of course, not all winters are as bad as last year's (THANK GOD!), but no matter how good or bad a winter is, chances are that for at least some part of it, you're gonna get screwed.

Let's just pretend that it's the morning of a big snow storm.  Being a responsible person, you've probably checked the forecast the night before to find out what kind of misery you'll be facing on the way to work.  And on the morning of the big snowstorm, you get up extra early so that you can get to work on time, even though you still feel like your head just hit the pillow.  But before you can even think about heading out, you'll need to figure out what to do with the kids, because school has been cancelled due to heavy snow fall.  Once you've figured that out, you go outside and find your car covered by several feet of the white stuff.  So you spend a few minutes brushing off the snow and scraping off the ice.  Now you're finally ready to drive to work.  Uh oh, not so fast!  Your car won't start.  Time to break out the jumper cables!  You eventually do get your car started after fifteen minutes or so, then you spend another five or so minutes warming it up before you're finally able to get it moving - or so you thought.  Your driveway is covered in snow and before your car will move even an inch, you'll have to shovel your way out.  This will take, say, another half hour (at least).  At last,  you get on the road - only to fight the seemingly never-ending traffic that is bad at the best of times and almost unbearable during winter storms.  And for those of you who rely on public transit to get to work; sorry, but it's not going to be any easier for you either.  As usual, the TTC and GO Transit struggle to cope with the big, bad winter.  Your GO train is delayed and you won't get to work on time.  The Scarborough RT is frozen (oh, now there's a surprise) as is the entire streetcar network.  And as usual, the subway system just can't keep up.  Ready for the really bad news yet?  You have go through this crap all over again to get home!  Isn't winter great?  Yeah, I don't think so either.        

  

Monday, 8 December 2014

How Do We Reduce Pet Homelessness and Unnecessary Euthanasia? We Make Pet Ownership Easier and More Affordable

Earlier this year, one of the dog rescues I work with posted a 13 year old yellow Labrador Retriever on a pet adoption website.  The dog's story was that his owner lost his job and couldn't afford to keep him any longer.  This broke my heart, to say the least.  I too have a yellow lab that is not much younger than this dog and I couldn't imagine having to put her up for adoption because I could no longer afford to keep her.  Nevertheless, I believe that this person did the right thing for his dog, as heartbreaking as it may have been.  Fortunately, with the help of the people at the rescue, the dog was quickly adopted.  Other dogs and other pets in general aren't so lucky, especially older ones.  Many of them end up in shelters, where they are at risk of being euthanized, and some are just plain abandoned by their owners and left to fend for themselves.

Let's face it, owning and caring for a pet is expensive.  The costs of medical care for pets in particular can seem insane, especially when your pet gets older and requires more attention from the vet.  Sadly, many folks are forced to give up their pets or even euthanize them because the financial cost is too prohibitive.  Over the last couple of decades, pet insurance providers have appeared offering affordable plans that help pet owners cover the costs of taking care of their fur kids should the need arise.  But of course, pet insurance isn't perfect, because just like private insurance companies that provide health care coverage for human beings, there are many restrictions and conditions that will still leave you paying for Fido's vet care out of your own pocket.

I would strongly contend that if pet ownership was made easier and more affordable, there would be a lot less homeless pets out there and a lot less cases of pets being euthanized for financial reasons.  But how do we make pet ownership easier and more affordable?  Here are three of my own ideas:

1.  Tax Deductions for Vet Costs

As I've already said, the amount you may be forced to pay the vet to keep your pet healthy can seem outrageous.  For me, it seems like almost every time I visit the vet with my dog, I'm out at least fifty to one hundred dollars.  In fact, if your pet requires anything complicated, like surgery, you may have to shell out hundreds, even thousands of dollars.  But what if you were able to claim tax deductions for the costs of your vet bills or for pet insurance?  I think this would make a huge difference and help prevent pets from being put up for adoption, abandoned or even euthanized just because the financial cost of keeping them is too great.

I would not, however, propose that governments allow tax deductions for just anyone who chooses to own pets.  In fact, I would restrict such deductions to those pet owners who adopted their pets through registered charitable groups that specialize in finding pets new homes.  This will encourage potential pet owners to acquire their new furry friends by adopting a homeless animal rather than shopping for one from a breeder or pet store.

2.  Financial Aid for Pet Owners

Some groups and charities for animals in need have taken up the task of making pet ownership more affordable.  The Toronto Humane Society, for example, offers low-cost spaying and neutering services for pets.  Many veterinary clinics have also chipped in, offering customers who can't afford to pay everything up front for their pets' care more flexible payment plans. But I think there's more that can be done, like giving money-tight pet owners some financial aid so that they can continue to keep their pets rather than having to give them up.  I think it would have been better, for example, if that poor man I mentioned at the beginning was given funds that would have allowed him to continue feeding and vetting his furry companion.  There would, of course, have to be some measures of accountability put in place for such an idea to work.  For instance, had this man I mentioned been given money to help him keep his dog, he would only be given it if he could produce receipts for the dog's food and medical expenses, plus provide documentation of his financial situation that would rationalize him being qualified for financial assistance.

I think that this kind of financial aid program (maybe we should call it pet social assistance or pet welfare) is something all charitable organizations for animals in need should consider implementing, but I don't think they should have to do it alone.  I believe governments, especially at the municipal level where animal services are usually managed and regulated, should be involved as well.  Perhaps, for example, taxes could be imposed on registered breeders to help pay for financial aid programs for pet owners as well as other services related to controlling the pet population and ensuring the well-being of pets.

3.  Encourage Pet-Friendly Policies in Rental Units and Condos

If you've ever looked for an apartment to rent or a condo to buy, chances are you've probably come across plenty of postings that say, "no pets" or "pet restriction".  And I have personally heard the stories of many pets who end up homeless because their owners have to move in to some place where pets aren't allowed.  Okay, I understand that there are a lot of folks out there who aren't "pet people" and don't want to live in a place where there are pets that can make noise and even cause damage.  So I don't believe that landlords and condo corporations should be forced to accept pets onto their properties - the one exception being service animals, such as guide dogs.  I would suggest, however, that governments offer up tax incentives to landlords and condo corporations with pet-friendly policies.  Doing so may encourage some landlords and condo corporations to liberalize their pet policies and open up more options for pet owners struggling to find new places to live where they can continue to keep their furry friends.

Any Other Ideas?

The three ideas I mentioned above may not be new or even untested.  For all I know, perhaps one or more of these ideas has already been put into practice somewhere.  If that's the case and you folks who are reading this know about it, I would love to hear about it.  So please feel free to let me know if any of these ideas are being tried somewhere around the world, or if you have another idea that you think would make owning a pet easier and more affordable.  Because making pet ownership easier and more affordable will mean less homeless animals, less animals being euthanized needlessly and a lot less broken hearts.  

 

 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Only Netanyahu Can Lead Israel

As I feared, the time that should be spent solving Israel's many problems will instead be spent on an election campaign that the country just doesn't need right now.  Predictably, Israel's uninspiring left-wing politicians have decided to make this election all about deposing Prime Minister Netanyahu, notwithstanding the fact that none of them can even hope to be half the leader that Bibi is.

Okay, I know that Bibi isn't perfect.  No person is.  But who would you have replace him?  No one amongst Bibi's opponents, or even his supporters, has what it takes to fill his shoes.  For me, Prime Minister Netanyahu is our modern-day Winston Churchill.  Like Churchill, he tells people what the reality is, even if they don't want to hear it or choose to ignore it.  And like Churchill, he is always proven right.  In the 1930s, before World War II, Churchill repeatedly tried to warn the leaders of the time about the danger that Nazi Germany presented to the world, but was often scoffed at and ignored.  And as we all know, the failure of world leaders to heed Churchill's warnings came in the form of World War II and the Holocaust.  Today, Bibi is tirelessly trying to present to his own nation and to the world the dangers posed by global terrorism and countries like Iran which support it.  And just like Winston Churchill, he too is not being taken seriously by many of the world's current power brokers.  So unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself.  My fear is that Israelis will elect a new Prime Minister that does not have Bibi's experience and is not in touch with the current reality as Bibi is.

I certainly do not agree with everything that Prime Minister Netanyahu does.  I have said, for example, that his recent attempt to pass a law strictly defining Israel as a Jewish state is a waste of time and energy.  I also believe that he needs to do a much better job dealing with Israel's socio-economic problems.  Right now, many Israelis believe that Bibi does not understand the plight of the average Israeli citizen struggling to make ends meet because of the soaring cost of living in the country.  And perhaps most importantly, Bibi needs to try and sound less arrogant.  Yes, I understand that when you're right as much as Bibi is, it's hard not to be arrogant.  Nevertheless, he has to try, because now more than ever, Israel must have a seasoned leader like Netanyahu who knows how to protect the interests of the country. 

   

Friday, 28 November 2014

A Message for Israel's Politicians: Start Tackling the Country's Real Problems!

Israel has the highest poverty rate of all OECD countries.  One in three Israeli children are poor.  Israel is now on the verge of recession.  And our so-called indivisible capital Jerusalem seems more divided than ever.  So are Israel's politicians addressing these problems?  Nope.  Instead, they're arguing over how Jewish the country should be.  I guess playing the game of who can be more nationalistic is more important for our elected officials than making sure that our children don't go to bed hungry.  What a shame, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I see the situation getting worse before it gets better.  Why?  Because not only are our politicians not addressing Israel's real problems, they're not even thinking about governing and instead looking towards early elections.  And if there is a call for early elections, alleviating Israel's problems and improving the lives of its citizens will be postponed for months of campaigning and then more months of trying to form a government.  Meanwhile, many of Israel's children will still go to bed hungry, Jerusalem will continue to be gripped by fear, and progress towards bringing peace and security to the people of Israel will continue to be nonexistent.

So my message to all of Israel's politicians is to stop talking about trivial matters, like how Jewish our country to be and start talking about how to deal with the real problems.  Start doing something about the high cost of living in the country.  Start improving our education system to ensure that Israel's tradition of scholarship and innovation continues.  Start looking for ways to make sure that all Israelis have a roof over their heads, enough food to eat, and the ability to live meaningful lives.  Because right now, the people of Israel don't need more Jewishness or more elections.  They need jobs, education, peace, security and most importantly, hope for a better future.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Law Defining Israel as Nation-State of the Jewish People is Pointless But Not Wrong

I have gone on record as saying that the proposed law supported by Prime Minister Netanyahu and other right wing members of the Israeli government is pointless because everyone in the world with even half a brain knows that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people.  As I have said in the past, everything in Israel from our flag to our Declaration of Independence says that Israel is the Jewish homeland.  But just because this new law may be pointless, doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong.

Israel is surrounded by countries that clearly define themselves on an ethnic and/or religious basis.  Just look at our next door neighbour to the south, which is officially known as the Arab Republic of Egypt.  Or how about one of our neighbours to the north - the country officially called the Syrian Arab Republic.  Looking further east, we have the Islamic Republic of Iran.  In fact, nearly all of Israel's neighbours clearly define themselves as Arab and/or Islamic states.  So if it's okay to have an Arab Republic of Egypt, a Syrian Arab Republic and an Islamic Republic of Iran, why isn't it okay to have a Jewish State of Israel?  It doesn't take a genius to see the double standard here.

Moreover, it isn't just dictatorships like Iran and Syria that define themselves based on ethnic or religious criteria.  Many democracies, including several countries in Europe, do as well.  In the United Kingdom, for example, the Anglican church is a national institution.  Queen Elizabeth II, the UK's head of state, is also the head of the Anglican church.  In other words, Anglicanism serves as the UK's official state religion.  The same is true of the Lutheran church in several Scandinavian countries.  So if mature European democracies can declare themselves to be Christian states without so much as a whimper of condemnation from abroad, why should Israel not be allowed to declare itself a Jewish state without being condemned by the international community? 

Again, I still believe that this proposed law to define Israel as the national home of the Jewish people is pointless and a waste of time.  But I still contend that Israel has every right to define itself any way it wants, so long as it respects the rights of minorities, which of course it does much better than most of the countries that frequently condemn its very existence.   

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Israel is a Country for Yehudim, Not Yids

Being in exile for two thousand years changed a lot of things about the Jewish people.  It changed the way we speak, the way we dress, and even the way we look.  Fortunately, after restoring Jewish independence for the first time in two millennia, we've also managed to restore the fundamentals of our true Semitic heritage.  Most importantly, we brought back Hebrew as our national language.  Even Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, didn't think we could do that.  He thought that once we restored our independence, we would still be using languages like Yiddish, German, Russian and so forth.  Thank goodness he was wrong and that Israel did not turn out to be just another outpost of the Jewish Diaspora.  Unfortunately, however, there are some Israelis who still don't accept the reality that the era of Jews as homeless wanderers is over.  They prefer to perpetuate the exile.

The Haredim, whom I spoke of in my recent blog, Haredi Extremists: Israel's Enemy Within, are masters at perpetuating the Jewish exile, even when they live in Israel.  They still wear the same medieval garb that their ancestors wore in the shtetls of Europe.  In fact, if you've seen the neighbourhoods in which they live, as I have, you would think that they were still living in the shtetl, or in one of Europe's old Jewish ghettos.  Worst of all, they refuse to speak Hebrew amongst themselves and use Yiddish instead.  Yiddish is the ultimate symbol of the Jewish exile and should have no place in Israel, other than as a source of slang.  So if these Haredim want to continue dressing like they did in Poland and speaking Yiddish as they did in Europe's shtetls and ghettos, I would suggest that they go back and live in the Diaspora.  Israel is a country for Yehudim, not Yids.

Moreover, any Jews who want to make Israel their permanent home should at least have the decency to take Hebrew names.  No Jew who lives in Israel should be walking around its streets with a name like Finkelstein.  And even more importantly, if you're going to live in the land, you have to learn the language.  The fact that I speak better Hebrew than some people who have been living in Israel for years is absolutely disgusting.  Unless you have some sort of learning disability, you have no excuse for not learning the language.  So either learn it, or get out!

Now I'm sure that by now, you probably want to tell me that I'm a hypocrite because I don't have a Hebrew name and I'm writing this in English rather than Hebrew.  If I was living in Israel, you would be absolutely right.  But of course, I'm not living in Israel.  Not yet anyway.  So I make this pledge to everyone reading this that if I ever do make Israel my permanent residence, I will practice what I preach.  I will take a Hebrew name and become fluent in the Hebrew language to the point where I can write my blogs in it.  I sincerely hope that every Jew who wants to live in Israel or who already lives there makes the same pledge.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Israel Fights Terrorism. Europe Rewards It

Cars used as deadly weapons, stabbing rampages, stones thrown at civilians by bloodthirsty hooligans - all of these have become hallmarks of what looks like a third Palestinian Intifada.  So how do you think the international community has responded to these recent acts of terrorism?  By blaming Israel, of course!  Actually, some countries in Europe are doing more than just blaming Israel.  They're rewarding the terrorists by according more recognition to a Palestinian "state" that promotes and incites terrorism on a regular basis.  Sweden has recently given official recognition to the state of Palestine, and the parliament of the United Kingdom passed a resolution calling for the recognition of such a state if it ever comes to fruition.  Similar resolutions are expected in the parliaments of France and Spain in the coming weeks.

So basically, as Israelis are dodging the cars, stones and fireworks being used by Palestinian terrorists, Europe is rewarding these same terrorists with more recognition of their proposed state.  In the meantime, the Europeans are also condemning Israel for wanting to build homes in its own capital and in part of its Biblical homelands in Judea and Samaria.  Obviously, this isn't the first time Europeans have tried to tell Jews where they can and can't live.  Ghettoizing Jews has been a European tradition for centuries, from medieval times, right up until World War II, when the Nazis established ghettos to concentrate the continent's Jewish population before systematically murdering them.  And now they are trying to ghettoize us in our own country!  I guess some things never change.  Clearly, Israel needs to respond to the ludicrous actions of the Europeans.  But how?

My suggestion: let Israel recognize the right of various European peoples to their own independent states.  So the British parliament passed a resolution calling for the recognition of a future Palestinian state.  Let Israel's Knesset pass its own resolution calling for recognition of an independent Scotland, an independent Wales, and the reunification of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic.  If France and Spain decide to reward Palestinian terrorism by calling for recognition of the so-called state of Palestine, let Israel recognize and support the independence of Corsica and Brittany in France, and Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain.  As a lot of people say, what goes around comes around.     

Monday, 10 November 2014

My Remembrance Day Rant

So tomorrow is Remembrance Day here in Canada.  At the 11th month, on the 11th day, at the 11th hour, we all pause and remember those who fought for our country and our freedom - or at least we're supposed to.  For too many of us, the 11th hour will just pass us by tomorrow like it does on any workday simply because no one is going to tell us that it's time to stop and remember.  This is the reason I like the way we observe our own "Remembrance Day" in Israel, which we call Yom Hazikaron - literally, the day of remembering.

When Yom Hazikaron comes around, our air raid sirens sound, prompting Israelis everywhere in the country to observe a moment of silence for our men and women in uniform, past and present.  In a way, it's too bad that we don't do this in Canada, because if we did, almost everyone would feel compelled to observe that important moment of silence as they do in Israel.  Now of course, I'm very happy that here in Canada, we don't need air raid sirens.  But it would be nice to see everyone on the busy streets of downtown Toronto come to a complete standstill to remember Canada's soldiers.  Half of the time, traffic in Toronto's downtown core doesn't move anyway, so they might as well stay still for a good reason, right?

 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Haredi Extremists: Israel's Enemy Within

For years, my father has had a saying: "The worst enemy of the Jews is the Jews."  He says this in reference to the efforts of some Jews to undermine the State of Israel - in other words, anti-Zionist Jews.  Now of course, anti-Zionist Jews can be found all over the world.  For those of us who live outside of Israel, the ones we usually hear about are the kind associated with left-wing movements that decry the existence of the State of Israel as an embodiment of Jewish fascism that wrongly persecutes non-Jews, specifically those who identify as Palestinians, and functions as a state similar to apartheid South Africa.  But there is another group of anti-Zionist Jews that gets a lot more press time in Israel than it does anywhere else: Haredi extremists.  The Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, as they are often called in English, are the community that many other Israelis love to hate.  Why? Because most of them don't work and therefore don't contribute to the Israeli economy.  In fact, they're a drain on the Israeli economy because they get handouts from the government that enable them to do nothing but study the Torah all day.  Moreover, since the Haredim have a penchant for bearing many children, it's getting more and more expensive to support them as their numbers grow larger and larger.  And quite frankly, other Israelis who do work and contribute to society are getting sick and tired of their hard-earned tax dollars going to support these welfare bums.  Yet, the Haredim continue to insist that Israeli taxpayers subsidize their medieval way of life and even seek to impose that way of life on the rest of Israeli society.

Every Israeli knows about the weekly Shabbat routine in which crowds of Haredim gather to swear, spit on, and throw stones at other Israelis who dare to drive cars near or in Haredi-dominated neighbourhoods.  "Shabbos!  Shabbos!" they keep chanting.  Actually, the fact that they say "Shabbos" instead of the Hebrew word Shabbat is just one minor example of their subversive attitude towards the state, because many of them prefer to speak Yiddish rather than modern Hebrew, which they consider to be an abomination, just like the State of Israel.  These are the same kind of people who burn Israeli flags on Independence Day.  They're the same people who verbally and even physically assault women for dressing "immodestly".  I can still remember the story of that poor little girl in Bet Shemesh who was spit on and pelted with insults as she walked home from school.  By the way, this girl belonged to a modern Orthodox Jewish family.  But of course, even those Jews who most people would call religious are not religious enough for some fanatical Haredim who might as well be a Jewish version of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or ISIL.  These extremists have no respect for individual rights, women's rights, or rights of any kind.  And if they had their way, not only would there be no freedom, democracy or human rights in Israel; there wouldn't be an Israel.  Period.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Canadians Need to Complain Louder and More Often

If there's one thing that I can't stand about Canada, it's the "shut up and take it" mentality that many of us seem to have.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that whenever a government or private interest in this country tries to screw us, we usually take it lying down.  This is especially true when it comes to how often we get dinged in the wallet because a government or private company sees fit to make another cash grab.  But I'm not too surprised that we behave like this.  After all, Canada was created on the basis of not rising up in revolt like our American neighbours, who did so in part because they refused to pay taxes without representation in the British government.  "No taxation without representation!" was one of the slogans that America's founding fathers used to justify their revolt against the British.  Here in Canada, however, we're used to governments and private interests reaching for our wallets, no matter how unjust it may be.

Is it any wonder, for example, that Canadians pay some of the highest rates in the world for wireless services?  How about those ridiculous fees that the banks charge for you to get access to your own money?  Perhaps I should also mention the ludicrous charges that we have to pay whenever we need to fly somewhere - you know, the kind of fees that send thousands of would-be travellers in Toronto running to the airport in Buffalo so that they can avoid being gouged at Pearson Airport?  I could go on about how many dumb charges Canadians swallow every day, but I don't think I have to because those of you who are reading this and live in Canada know exactly what I'm talking about.  In fact, CBC's Marketplace has recently done a program on what Canadians believe to be Canada's Dumbest Charges.

Unfortunately, it is very likely that Canadians will continue to get dinged with dumb charges because most of us just grin and bear it.  But it doesn't have to be this way if we would simply start standing up for ourselves.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

The truth is that some Canadians do complain louder and more often than others.  And it is these Canadians who ultimately pay less.  It often depends on the province you happen to live in.  In British Columbia, for example, when the government there tried to harmonize the GST and PST taxes to create a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), residents of the province rose up in revolt because they didn't want extra taxes put on nearly everything.  Eventually, a referendum was held.  The people of the province resoundingly rejected the new tax and forced the government not to implement it.  Contrast this with what I like to call Status Quo Ontario, the province in which I reside.  Ontario's provincial government introduced the same HST tax that its counterpart in British Columbia tried to implement.  But there were no mass demonstrations, nor was there any referendum on the matter.  Instead, people in Ontario just shrugged, "oh well" and accepted the new tax.  As a result, nearly everything in this province is more expensive, including necessities like electricity and gas.  Yes, anyone who lives in Ontario knows how expensive powering their homes has become after the HST was smacked onto their hydro bills.  
 
Indeed, Ontario is the worst example of Canadian complacency when it comes to another important expense: university and college tuition.  Paying for post-secondary education has gotten a lot more expensive in most of Canada over the years, but especially in Ontario, where students pay the highest tuition fees in the country.  So what do students in Ontario do about it?  Well, almost nothing.  Maybe a demonstration at the provincial legislature once or twice a year that's so quite and orderly that you can still hear the birds chirping over the chants of heavily indebted students.  But don't expect the same lackluster response to tuition increases in Quebec.  Back in 2012, when Quebec's provincial government proposed allowing tuition fees in the province to rise to levels at which they would still be the lowest in Canada, Quebec's students poured onto the streets in loud and sometimes violent protests.  The efforts of these students not only delayed the planned tuition increase, but were also instrumental in the fall of then Premier Jean Charest's government.  If only Ontario's students would put in half the effort of their Quebec counterparts, then perhaps they wouldn't be paying the highest tuition fees in the country.

If anything, the British Columbians' revolt against the HST and the Quebec students' uprising against tuition fee increases should teach Canadians that they don't have to be sheep; they can be wolves.  So my message to all of my fellow Canadians, especially those living in Status Quo Ontario, where "shut up and take it" seems to be the provincial motto, is essentially this: Complain more often and louder than you ever have before, until you see the change you want to see. 

 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

End the Arab Occupation

Ever since Israel became a state in 1948 and the Jews regained their independence after two thousand years, the Arabs and their allies have been crying about the so-called occupation of what they think is their land.  How hypocritical can people be!?  If there's any occupation that needs to end, it's the Arab occupation of all lands outside of the Arabian Peninsula, which as its name implies, is the original homeland of the Arab people.  Every piece of land outside of the Arabian Peninsula that is now controlled by Arabs is controlled by them, not as a result of gradual migration, but as a result of conquest - conquest that was often brutal and led to the destruction of many different cultural and religious communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  In fact, I shouldn't even be talking about this conquest in the past tense, because as many of my readers will know, non-Arab and non-Muslim cultures in what is now called the "Arab World" are still under siege and some are facing extinction.  The current campaign by the Islamic State to wipe out all non-Muslim populations in its midst is a prime example of this, but of course, there are other lesser-known examples.  For instance, the Coptic Christians of Egypt - the direct descendants of the pre-Arab Egyptian population - are now a minority in their own country; consistently and relentlessly persecuted by the Muslim Arab majority.  Similar persecutions are also taking place in other Arab majority states, such as Lebanon, Iraq and in territories now under the control of the Muslim-dominated Palestinian Authority and the terrorist group, Hamas.  Some of these non-Muslim populations are actually considered Arabs because their native tongue is Arabic.  But this assumption could not be further from the truth.  Just as the Coptic Christians of Egypt are direct descendants of the original Egyptian population before the Muslim Arab conquests, so to are the Christian populations of other Middle Eastern and North African states.  The Lebanese Christians are the descendants of the ancient Phoenicians, the Iraqi Christians are descendants of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, and so forth.  In fact, some of these populations, though speaking Arabic as their native language, reject being called Arabs.  Even amongst the Christian population in Israel, there is a growing movement to throw off the shackles of Arab occupation.  See, for example: Israeli-Arab Christians take to the streets of Haifa for an unusual protest.  Indeed, with the emergence of extremist groups like the Islamic State, who want to reinforce the Muslim Arab occupation and destroy the cultures of the remaining original inhabitants of the Middle East and North Africa, more and more members of the communities that preceded the Arab conquests of centuries past are seeing the need to fight back.  To date, Israel is the brightest example of a pre-Arab population fighting against the Arab occupation and winning.  Unfortunately, however, much of the world would rather support the Arab occupation instead of helping the persecuted original populations of North Africa and the Middle East fight to free themselves from it.


Aiding and Abetting in Arab Occupation and Conquest

Recently, the British House of Commons took a symbolic vote to recognize a Palestinian state.  At the same time, the European Union is working to de-legitimize the Jewish re-population of Judea and Samaria.  By recognizing a Palestinian state and attempting to prevent Jews from re-settling in their ancestral lands, the Europeans are basically aiding and abetting in the continued Arab occupation of lands outside of the Arabian Peninsula.  They are saying yes to continued Arab occupation, because  a Palestinian state would no doubt be just another country where Muslim Arab dominance reigns supreme and non-Muslims are relentlessly persecuted.  Coincidentally, the refusal on the part of leaders in the West and elsewhere to recognize the Kurds' right to an independent nation-state also perpetuates the Arab occupation.  To make a long story short, the continued Arab occupation of land belonging to Jews, Kurds and various other minorities is legitimized, while attempts by Jews, Kurds and other groups to regain their lands and their independence from the Arab conquerors is scorned.  How does this make sense?  Well, it doesn't, and for those of you who would rather support the Arab occupation instead of the people who are fighting against it, you do so at your own peril, because if the Arab conquerors can get away with wiping Jews, Kurds, Assyrians, Egyptian Copts, or any other non-Arab, non-Muslim population off the map, what's to stop them from wiping you off the map, too?