Thursday, June 30, 2011

Letter to the Editor: PT2 “Chickens are different than dogs, but better.” Hmmm.

I agree with a recent letter to the London Free Press by R. J. Sayler that claims chickens are better in some way than dogs.

If you were to invest money in one animal or the other, and love the taste of eggs and chicken wings, then chickens would be the better deal. Right?

“Chicken food is cheaper than dog food.” (RJ)

And that too, I suppose.

RJ concludes his recent letter to the Free Press by saying, “So give chickens a break, as long as they are kept in reasonable numbers.” (June 25)

I agree with that too, as far as backyard chicken coops are concerned, and feel City Hall’s continued resistance to the idea is short-sighted.

[“Connect with nature; run with the chickens.”]

London is addicted to the culture of big - “This was wonderful when gas was cheap, but it’s not anymore” - and because much of our lifestyle revolves around driving almost everywhere to get what we need or want, we appear to be “raising the future generation of hospital patients... (with) alarming childhood obesity trends... we need to turn our cities into exercise machines.” (Avi Friedman, June 2, The Londoner)

Though we likely need to do 101 more things for ourselves, or become more self-reliant in a myriad of ways, building a coop and raising a few hens is not a bad place to start.

We walk on cement sidewalks, ride on tarmac streets, drive everywhere in fossil-fuel powered metal shells, live much of our lives surrounded by glass, steel, brick and mortar, thereby isolating ourselves daily from the benefits of our natural surroundings. Countless miles of asphalt cover fertile acreages, sprawling subdivisions shrink our contact with living green spaces and big-agri chemicals foul our streams and rivers. The more “modern” we grow the more ways we cut off our five senses from Mother Earth.

Though City Hall will continue to resist the notion of coops, the rising price of fossil fuels will one day spark a greater interest in doing more for ourselves.

Too bad the door won’t open a crack to the possibility of practicing a few natural, sustainable skills today.


Please click here to read PT1 “Chickens are different than dogs, but better.”


Welcome to Harperville: PT 3 More smoke and fire down your pants

[“I think it’s doable (i.e. balanced budget) in the context of the recovery of the Canadian economy. But there’s going to be some difficult choices. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything.” Tony “Cement Hands” Clement, June 25, London Free Press]

The economy in Newfoundland and Quebec must be recovering.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, online June 8,

“Search-and-rescue co-ordination currently run out of regional offices in St. John's and Quebec City will be shifted to Halifax and Trenton, Ont., as Fisheries and Oceans seeks to come up with $56 million in savings this year... the cuts would involve 12 "call centre" employees in St. John's and 12 in Quebec City.”

The cuts are just one of the many, many difficult choices MP Clement, president of the Treasury Board and Minister of ALL THAT ISN’T NAILED DOWN, was talking about.

And Newfoundland, with only 1 Conservative MP (out of 7), and Quebec, with only 5 Conservative MPs (out of 75), shouldn’t be expecting any sugarcoating any time soon.

Across Canada, corporations, big business have nothing to fear. Even if the economy doesn’t recover, they will receive another tax cut in 2011.

This from the same Winnipeg Free Press online article:

“NDP fisheries critic Jack Harris made a direct link between the safety of Canadians and continuing Conservative corporate tax cuts worth billions of dollars in lost revenue.

"We've got governments trying to save money on the backs of services to the people," said Harris.

"You know when this government decides to spend a billion-plus dollars on the corporate tax cuts — and then says we have to balance the budget — well, this is what they're doing. Their corporate tax cuts are being paid for by the reduction in services."

Conservative PM Harper and “Cement Hands” Clement would have something to say about that.

“Welcome to Harperville, the land of smoke and fire down your pants.”

Surely, there will be more to follow.


Please click here to read more “Smoke and fire down your pants.”


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Birdhouse London: Finished products under the microscope

Three large triplexes are finally finished but as I evaluate - up close and personal - I had a troubling thought.

Though I like the two-tone blue paint, on the main house and outhouses, I like earlier photos better when the houses were unpainted. All that work... I could have left them alone. Or, painted only one of them. But it’s too late now to change anything.

[“The triplex will sit comfortably on a pole, 4 - 5 feet above ground level”: photos GH]

On a brighter note, as far as I’m concerned, the four singles from rescued white cedar (I used cut-offs from a Rietveld chair project) that I finished yesterday seem to look AOK from every angle.

The linseed oil w maple stain shows off the wood grain and the light blue wash on the roof should attract human eyes and not be too distracting to a small bird.

[“I cut 1/8th inch grooves into each face with the table saw, for interest. I may still add trim to serve as a perch.”]

Why, even the backs look interesting now that the support sticks are firmly attached.

All in all, I’ve had a relaxing week in the shop and learned a thing or two along the way.

(Suggestions re style, etc., are always welcome).


Please click here for more Birdhouse London.


It Strikes Me Funny: Why I love my wife - reason # 412

The number 412 is only a very rough estimate. If pressed (by the right person), I would likely admit to hundreds of more reasons. Even thousands.

My wife left the following note on the dining room table yesterday.

["Good one, Dear.": photo GH]

My first thought was, Dear, there’s no need to tell me what’s in the fridge for supper. When left on my own I just stick my head inside the fridge door and have a look around.

My second thought was, Dear, spaghetti, tomorrow, excellent.

My third thought, off to karate? Good one, Dear.

She was simply letting me know she was on her way to take grandson Ollie to his karate class.

But I had to laugh, because if she was going to a karate class - for real - I would have thought, what the heck? My wife signed up for karate? For whatever reason? Why didn’t she tell me sooner? I’d like to watch. It would be very entertaining, I’m sure.

And she knew that. That’s why she added a smiley face. Reason # 412. Good one.


Please click here for more It Strikes Me Funny.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Welcome to Harperville: PT 2 More smoke and fire down your pants

[“We made, I think, an important promise to the people of Canada, and that was to accelerate our plans to get back to a balanced budget by 2014.” Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board, June 25, London Free Press]

I have a feeling that when Tony (Conservative MP, Minister of ALL THAT ISN’T NAILED DOWN and the one assigned to find $4 billion a year in savings by 2014 - 15) tries to balance the budget there will be some winners (especially in his own riding) and many losers (especially among those not in his riding).

“Chop Chop” Clement may initially focus much of his attention on provinces with few Conservative MPs.

[A Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter, left, and a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft conduct a search and rescue mission on English Bay in Vancouver, B.C., on October 13, 2008. Armed with his first majority, one of the first things the Conservatives are doing is to move a search-and-rescue centre out of St. John's, N.L., to Halifax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck]

For example, the search-and-rescue centre in St. John's, N.L., is already in his sites. (Nfld. and Labrador elected only one Conservative MP in the most recent election. Silly toots. Up next? Smoke and fire down their pants!)

Some interesting news about the cuts from the Winnipeg Free Press:

Search-and-rescue centre in St. John's, N.L., falls victim to budget cuts

One of the first things Stephen Harper did after his Conservatives won minority power in 2006 was restore a federal weather station to Gander, N.L., that had been moved to Halifax.

"The closure may have saved the Liberal government a few dollars, but Newfoundland and Labrador have had to suffer the consequences," Harper said on April 12, 2006, in Gander.

...The prime minister called the Liberal weather station transfer "a real danger to public safety" that affected the "thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who work offshore."

"These men and women have to contend with some of the harshest conditions in the Atlantic on a good day," Harper said in Gander.

"On the bad days, raging winds and frigid swelling waters pose a grave danger to their personal safety.

This is a reality that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know only too well."
(June 8, Winnipeg Free Press)

Nfld. and Lab. felt only love and concern in 2006 under Harper’s minority government.

That was then.

This is now.

Now, armed with his first majority, one of the first things the Conservatives are doing is to move a search-and-rescue centre out of St. John's, N.L., to Halifax. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Smoke and fire down your pants, Newfoundland!


Please click here to read more “Smoke and fire down your pants”


“IT STRIKES” Again: The secret to Christmas shopping - It all starts with a long list

[What a great day for a Christmas story, eh? The following was first published in December, 2002. I was much younger then, still willing to take time to write cheques. Now, at Christmas, I buy gift cards with great skill. gah]

The secret to Christmas shopping - It all starts with a long list

I don’t take advice or suggestions well.

My reluctance to listen started when I was six and my mother told me to do up the top buttons of my coat while my friend Gary Thorne stood at my side with his collar open.

If Gary had his coat open, I had to have my coat open too. End of story. Out the door and down the steps we ran, collars flapping, all the way to school.

I can therefore empathetically understand why family, friends and others would offer some resistance to any advice I might want to give.

But this is good advice.

Before you run out the door and down the steps to do your Christmas shopping, make a list. If you don’t, you venture forth into a great storm at your peril.

Pat and I tried Christmas shopping together once without a list. It didn’t start, continue or end well. The fact we are still together is a proud testament to how careful we are to repress painful events in our marriage until we are mature enough to air them without causing injury.

We had arranged for a sitter for our two boys, oiled and gassed up the car, stuffed a few dollars in our pockets, secured the top buttons on our coats and headed out the door to White Oaks Mall on December 22, 1981. Even though I was a wee bit stressed because my December report cards, school Christmas concert and pay cheque had been later than usual, as I opened the car door for Pat I remember saying, “Great night for shopping, eh?”

Pat simply looked at her watch.

Our brown 1970 Skylark took forever to warm up but we eventually found ourselves huddled together in the middle of the old K-Mart store struggling to collect our thoughts.

“Who are you buying for?” Pat asked.

She stumbled toward me due to a bump from behind.

“I don’t know. Who are you shopping for?” I stepped sideways to dodge an overflowing cart and bustling shopper.

Pat quickly responded with, “Well, I still need to get something for my parents, my brothers, and our boys.”

“Wait, wait. How much money did we bring?” I inquired hastily as three bulky kids in snowsuits ran between us. “I have to get some stuff too.”

Pat asked again, “Who are you buying for?”

“I don’t know,” I answered while ducking to avoid a flying four-pack of gift-wrap. “Who should I be buying for?”

We couldn’t agree on anything or even take the first step because of the rush, the crowds, the noise, the lack of organization on our part. We did agree, however, to stop long enough to sit down, get coffee and put pencil to paper. And that’s now where it starts every year.

With pen and paper in hand I recently asked, “Who’s on our list this year? Who’s been good?”

While compiling this year’s version of the all-important list I placed Pat’s name at the top where it belongs and probed for any hints she might be willing to reveal. The boys get their decades-old stockings stuffed and a cheque, easy work for me. I sign the cheques to prove that I am involved in some small way in the actual decision-making in our house.

Our grandson Jack gets something dinosaur related and an ice rink - if it stays cold enough.

I get to walk through the shops in Wortley Village like I know what I’m doing.


Please click here to read more “IT STRIKES” Again.


Letter to the Editor: “Chickens are different than dogs, but better.” Hmmm.

A recent letter to the Free Press by R. J. Sayler made the claim - wait for it! - that chickens are better in some way than dogs.

RJ begins by asking, “What’s the difference with chickens? Why are all the politicians so scared of chickens?” (June 25, London Free Press)

Then RJ mentions some differences between dogs and chickens, and the chickens come out on top, in his opinion.

“Everybody is allowed to have dogs but not chickens.” (I.e., here in London).

“Chicken food is cheaper than dog food.”

RJ says he likes waking up to the sound of chickens but doesn’t like the three dogs across the street that “bark at everything all night every night.”

“Dog poop smells worst and only ends up in the garbage. Chicken poop makes good fertilizer for your garden.”

“Unemployed people in London can eat the eggs... even the chicken if need be.”

RJ concludes by saying, “So give chickens a break, as long as they are kept in reasonable numbers.

["Will chickens be run out of town? Too bad."]

Though I don’t think - like RJ - that “all the politicians” are “so scared of chickens,” I do feel there will be continued resistance to the idea of backyard coops, even “in reasonable numbers,” for many more years.

And that’s short-sighted on our part as a modern, creative city.

I hope small backyard coops become the norm in all corners of our fair city in my lifetime.

(I’m 61 now, plan to live 44 more years, beat my great-grandmother Lucille Gordon’s age and set at least one world record hockey in senior’s hockey. Maybe I’ll go for the “Keep Your Stick on the Ice - Most Consecutive Years” or “Most Goals in the Same Pants”. Sorry, I digress).

One might ask, “Short-sighted?”

Yes. More to follow.


Please click here to read more about our fair city.


The Culture of Big: Could our fridge be half the size?

I’m so used to BIG I don’t even notice it at times.

I grew up in a family of seven, including both parental units, and we had a fridge that was smaller than the one just my wife and I share today.

Really, if we didn’t have company over for Thanksgiving and Christmas we could probably get by with a fridge half the size 99 per cent of the time. A grocery store is less than two blocks away and I’ve heard that they’ll store food for us - even freeze it at their own expense - until we actually need it.

Of course, after living with the culture of big since the 1940s, my wife and I are quite used to filling our big fridge with more food items than we typically need for a week.

["Can I live without giant bottles of chipotle sauce?": photos GH]

We’d have to make several adjustments if we shifted to a smaller fridge.

For example:

we would have to live life to the fullest without the enjoyment of 42 condiments (at last count)

we would have to plan our meals better and just buy what is needed when needed

we would have to do with one veggie crisper rather than two and still work hard to keep stuff alive until needed

we would have to find some other use for 60 - 70 small glass or plastic containers we usually stuff with leftovers

Because we can usually form new habits within 2 weeks, a smaller fridge would likely pay for itself in 6 months or less.

The question is, can I live without the gallon size bottle of chipotle BBQ sauce?


The answer is yes. It brings no real pleasure.

Please click here for more about the culture of big.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 16

“Terry was more than a bit confused by the blank expression on his friend’s face.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 15.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fun and Fitness: Approaching a new New Record

For the last week or two I’ve been reading two good books while riding my exercise bike so the miles have been adding up quite nicely.

Between June 6 - 12 I completed 110 miles, 10 more than my weekly goal, and my extra miles (collected over the last 3 years or more) then totaled 379.

I dropped two miles the following week. I was probably tired after sucking back tons of fresh air after a motorcycle ride on June 19. 15 miles. So sad.

However, I set a new New Record tonight. With 97 miles already behind me this week, I just finished a quick 20 mile ride, bringing my extra mile total to 394. NR. So sweet.

In a million years you’ll never guess what book I was reading while sweating it out tonight. It was a used book re the 200 - year old history of garbage collection in New York City. Fresh Kills Mountain, a pile so big it was visible from space and was the tallest mound on the eastern seaboard for many years, is world famous. And it stunk to high heaven.

[“Fresh Kills - on a good day”: photo link]

On a clear day people living in the Bronx could see the stuff they threw out just the week before.

“Hey, there’s my old shoes. Alice! Who said you could throw them out?”

Fun and fitness and Fresh Kills. They go together? Yup.


Please click here for something else with a bad smell.


Birdhouse London: Flushed with pride re the outhouse

Finishing off three tri-plexes is taking longer than I thought. Painting, attaching trim, painting signage, digging the holes under the outhouses, tearing up an old Eaton’s catalogue into strips - it all takes time.

But once tin signs are attached and one is placed on a stand, the job will be done.

["The outhouse door needs a bit of decor": photos by GH]

Then I can start a few smaller birdhouses, or maybe cut the grass!


Please click here for more about birdhouses.


Live Small and Prosper: PT 4 London - The Healthier City

[“We became addicted to the culture of big. This was wonderful when gas was cheap, but it’s not anymore.” Avi Friedman, architect, urban thinker, June 2, The Londoner]

If it’s not impossible - and it’s not; it will just seem that way - London should begin the process of adopting the culture of medium and small in as many ways as possible, as soon as possible, if leaders and residents desire it to become a healthier city.

Whatever aspect of life comes up for discussion, whether related to our needs (such as food, clothing, shelter) or wants (such as transportation, communication, recreation), we must find ways to allow the culture of medium and small to take precedence over big.

Of course, some readers may have guessed I was going to say something like that. They know well enough that “live small, live simply” is my motto. And it’s fair of someone to ask, how can a dominant culture be reversed?

I’m not entirely sure. I’m going through the very slow process of just getting my own house in order. I’m decluttering, I’m reducing my spending, I’m paying down debt, I’m saving for the tough times ahead, I’m trying to walk with a small footprint and make sound environmental choices so my grandkids will have a chance to enjoy some of the many aspects of life I enjoy myself, I’m trying to stay fit and healthy (and get healthier) while having a bit of fun at the same time. But I’m barely scratching the surface of “a completely healthy life” (let alone “healthier”), in my opinion.

That’s right, I haven’t lost the extra 15 pounds attached to my waist, haven’t signed up yet for that half-marathon or faster 10 km. road race.

Still, by thinking medium (or thinking small, in place of big) on a regular basis, I think it wouldn’t take long - three weeks, tops - for the culture of medium to take root.

Let me give you an example.

Recently, I read a letter to the editor that decried the use of large tracts of fertile farmland for huge single-family homes on Col. Talbot Road in London.

“Why is prime agricultural land not being protected from developers? In this age of global warming, which is causing havoc on the weather and crops, rising global demand for food, and grain is being used as fuel, does no one at city hall care that prime flat agricultural land has been destroyed so that a few privileged people can sit in huge homes in what is quickly becoming less than a country setting?” (June 23, G. Hokansson, London Free Press)

Let’s apply the culture of medium to the huge homes on valuable agricultural land.

Can developers not be encouraged to replace 200 - 300 huge homes (“And now I see they want to add more stores and double the number of homes to 1,200,” says the letter writer) with medium-sized homes or a group of medium-sized apartment buildings? Some agricultural land could be preserved as a park or green space in the process.

If the next 5 or 6 developments included a parcel of small to medium homes and apartment dwellings the green space preserved would deliver many benefits to new residents.

And if the size of Talbot Village’s “monster No Frills” and aforementioned “more stores” (the writer refers to both) was trimmed by a medium amount, say 10 - 20 per cent, then the variety and choice of services and products could still be offered while preserving even more green space and accompanying benefits.

Before long the following type of conversation would be a common occurrence:

“Daddy, why do we live in a smaller house than the Joneses?”

“Maddy dear, your Mommy and I thought it was important to contribute several hundred square feet to the green space we’re now cycling through to get to your friend’s house. Isn’t it great?”

“Give me five, Dad,” says Maddy, who understands the concept of square feet better than most adults.

(The father and daughter duo exchange a high five once safely off their bikes and after matching helmets are stored in - you got it - matching backpacks).

The culture of medium and small will work out even better in hundreds of other examples.

Stay tuned.


Please click here to read Live Small and Prosper: PT 3 London - The Healthier City.


This Old Economist: “Dear God of Commerce, I beseech Thee...”

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (soon to be a household name; let’s just call him Carney) seems to be praying for a miracle in the photo below.

["I beseech Thee, watch over our money...": Photo by Chris Wattie, June 23, Reuters]

I’m thinking the Canadian financial scene must be a bit shaky. What does Carney say?

“Although the Canadian financial system is currently on a sound footing, the bank judges that, largely because of external factors, risks to its stability remain elevated and have edged higher since December.” (June 23, London Free Press)

Allow this old economist to translate.

- “the Canadian financial system is currently on a sound footing” means we have our house in order when compared to a lot of other countries; of course, to say otherwise would cause panic in the streets, but...

- “the bank judges” means Carney and company

- “largely because of external factors” means it’s not his fault if the air starts to get heavy in close quarters

- “risks to its stability remain elevated” means we’re not going to hell in a hand-basket yet, but...

- “risks have edged higher since December” means the last six months haven’t been at all rosy and I’ll tell you more about that some other time

And what are the external factors affecting Canada’s so-called stability?

Carney mentions four things (largely external factors), i.e., the bailout in Greece, the deficit in the U.S., inflation in China, and the Canadian household debt of $1.5 trillion.

In my opinion, if Carney thinks the world scene is risky and elevated levels of household debt “require continued vigilance” (and some prayer?), then I say, reduce your spending, pay down debt, save money for tough times ahead.


Please click here for more This Old Economist.


The Culture of Big: “It’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!”

[“We became addicted to a culture of big. This was wonderful when gas was cheap, but it’s not anymore.” Avi Friedman, architect and urban thinker]

Most Canadians who grew up in Canada don’t realize they speak English with an identifiable accent. And they’ll likely never hear it in their own voice until they start swapping stories with 15 people from different corners of England.

Englishman 1: Mate, you're from away, aren't you? You sound funny.

Canadian: I don't sound funny. You sound funny.

Englishman 2: Talk slower, man. Your accent confuses me.

Canadian: Get out of town!

Englishman 2: You get out of town. I live here.

(An English Pub would be a great setting for such an experiment).

If they studied French in high school, as I did, they likely speak that language with a Canadian accent as well.

Many Canadians born after 1945 don’t realize the culture of big is everywhere because they grew up in the era of cheap gas and big became the norm. The culture big is as common as the sound of one’s voice but many don’t see it.

Though I’m only 5 ft. 5 in. tall, I have to look twice before I see it. Some will think that everything should appear big to me. Nope.

Some things do and I’m going to harp about them here.

Do you notice the culture of big?

How can we shift to the culture of medium and small?


Photo 1: I see the culture of big

["The big toaster.": Photo by GH]

When I toast one slice, all heating elements are at work - and burning hydro while toasting my bread. Do I need such a big toaster? Where did it come from anyway?


Please click here for more about the culture of big.


Welcome to Harperville: More smoke and fire down your pants

Oh, it definitely strikes me funny that Tony Clement, Federal Conservative MP, president of the Treasury Board and Minister of ALL THAT ISN’T NAILED DOWN, set up a meeting recently to grill - and I mean grill over a very hot bed of charcoal - oil and gas executives.

The grilling will likely be so hot I won’t be surprised when I hear an oil baron spontaneously burst into flame.

“Can you tell me about prices at the gas pump?” he will ask them.

“I want to know why Canadians feel that prices are so high,” he’ll say.

“Help me understand why gas prices go up and down, and then up and down, and then up... but not down,” he’ll say.

[“What goes up but not down? I don't know.”: photo link]

Back in May he said, “All I know is that prices are going up and down and sideways and nobody knows why.”

He continued, as quoted in a news article:

“No one can understand how last year when oil was $140 or $150 a barrel, gas was at $1.37 a litre and now that oil is south of $98 a barrel and yet we’re paying more. No one understands how that can happen.” (May 12, Toronto Sun)

The article continued:

That doesn’t mean, though, that Clement is itching to take any specific action that would lower prices immediately.

That I believe. And two other things come to mind.

By grilling a few sides of beef, Tony will learn he was right. No one understands. No one knows anything. Probably not even oil and gas barons. Tony will ask his heated questions and come up empty. But he will blow smoke and fire down your pants.

Also, I get the feeling that Tony’s BBQ party with the oil and gas barons is nothing more than a photo op, a way for Tony to look like he gives a hoot about the average Canadian - other than those in his very wealthy riding.

Now that “Cement-hands” Clement, Pres. of the Treasury Board, is being investigated by the RCMP for the alleged misappropriation of G8 Summit funds, he will need all the help he can get to look good.

Canada, welcome to Harperville, the land of smoke and fire down your pants.


Please click here for more Smoke and Fire Down Your Pants.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Deforest City Blues: PT 2 Sinkhole may lead to a big stinkhole

[“Sewers? Infrastructure? Yup, I find the whole thing fascinating.” June 24, G. Harrison]

Should London’s city hall consider public-private partnerships (P3s) to deal with its infrastructure needs (estimated at three quarters of a billion dollars)?

“Mayor Joe Fontana says city hall must consider using private financing to build future water and sewer works, an option that’s becoming more common in money-starved Canadian cities.” (June 20, P. Maloney, London Free Press)

I say, no. I say the Mayor and members of city council should do a bit of book reading and a lot of discussing and thinking first, especially thinking about the long-term consequences of P3s.

John Loxley, a Winnipeg economist and author of Public Service, Private Profits sounds a loud note of warning.

He says that though “a city such as Moncton would argue it incurred no debt for (their) new water treatment plant, there is a hidden debt in charges citizens pay - and a lease effectively is a debt, so you’re not saving anything.” (Free Press)

One reviewer of Loxley’s book writes the following:

PPPs/P3s have become all the rage amongst every level of government in Canada in recent years. 

Proponents claim P3s reduce the costs of building and operating public projects and services,that projects and services are delivered more efficiently through the P3 model, so that in the end taxpayers are better off economically and as consumers of public goods.

This book tests all of these claims, and more, finding them mostly empty, ideological assertions.

Through an exhaustive series of case studies of P3s in Canada — from schools, bridges and water treatment plants to social services and hospital food — this book finds that most P3s are more costly to build and finance, provide poorer quality services and are less accessible than if they were built and operated by public servants.

Moreover, many essential services are less accountable to citizens when private corporations are involved.

“One frightening consequence of the global financial crisis of 2008-09 is the renewed effort by private investors to force the privatization of public assets.  And their tool of choice has become the public-private partnership. 

In this devastating and incredibly timely critique, John Loxley exposes P3s for what they are: a phony fiscal shell game that enriches investors at our expense. 

This book is an essential tool in the ongoing struggle to preserve the public good.”

- Jim Stanford, Economist, Canadian Auto Workers

In my opinion, the book is essential reading for city politicians, and it wouldn’t hurt to invite John Loxley to our fair city (after all the sinkholes have been filled in) for a lengthy debate about alternatives to P3s.

In the opening chapter of his book he writes:

“Governments have generally engaged in P3s in order to spin off some element of the financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance of public infrastructure and services.

With P3s, the large up-front capital costs associated with infrastructure projects can either be offset and spread over a number of years through a lease or passed directly to the consumers in the form of user fees.

Private firms can assume responsibility for things that may go wrong, such as project over-runs, problems resulting from poor construction, etc.

These features can be very attractive to public sector organizations, particularly smaller municipalities with minimal capacity and large financial constraints.

They might, however, threaten labour and, as we shall see, impose costs on taxpayers that may not always be evident.”

Did the mayor say anything about user fees or other imposed costs when telling city council it “must” consider P3s? Nope. Not a single word.

If London’s city hall isn’t careful, there’s a good chance our sinkhole problem will one day be replaced by a long-term stinkhole.

And I’ve heard it said that a stinkhole by any other name (unless it’s named after the mayor) is still a stinkhole.

[A PDF file pertaining to Chapter 1 of Loxley’s book can be downloaded by using the link under a short book review here.]


Please click here to read PT 1 Our sinkhole may lead to a big stinkhole.


Birdhouse London: Two busy parents. How many kids?

I have to take my eye glasses off whenever I snap a picture, so I don’t always know exactly what I’ve captured until I download photos onto my computer.

Moments ago, I noticed two gaping mouths ready to receive a portion of a parent’s regurgitated pickings. Yummy?

["Come and get it!": photos by GH]

Upon closer inspection I was able to count three wee heads in the nest.

Now I know why the parent’s have been so busy this morning. Good job, Mom and Dad.


Please click here for more Birdhouse London.


This Old Economist: “My best advice - save your money, Daddy”

[“Retails sales have disappointed market expectations every month since December 2010.” June 22, businessbriefs, London Free Press]

In a George Costanza kinda way (he often did the exact opposite of what was expected), when I read that market analysts are disappointed, I’m delighted.

When retail sales are flat because “Canadian consumers are keeping a tighter grip on their cash” (Free Press) I say that’s a good thing. After all, the average Canadian household remains “deeply in debt.”

What do you say to yourself when cash-strapped consumers are no longer able to drive the economy in such a way as to meet ever-upward market expectations or please market analysts? Do you say, spend, spend, spend ‘cause Daddy wants a brand new car?

When sales decline or are flat, some analysts say we’re experiencing a “softening trend.”

[“I asked you to dress up, George!”: photo link]

Maybe they use that term because they want or expect the economy to be driven hard all the time.

Or they use that term because sales are “off their pre-recession pace”, and they realize we’re not being as hard on the planet as in the past. (Yeah, right. Insert laugh track here).

Whatever the case, not only do I like the current softening trend, I’d like to see it continue for another 10 to 20 years. A gradual decline in sales (2 - 3% per year) might mean that more people are not just reducing their spending but are paying down debt and saving money for the tough times ahead. Mother Earth might get a decent break too.

To those wise Canadians who are contributing to the flat sales and boosting their savings - keep up the good work. You won’t regret it.


Please click here for more from This Old Economist.

Hats off to George.


Recommended Reading: The Sacred Balance

Though first published in 1997 and updated in 2007, the book quoted in an earlier post still has much to say to today’s reader.

For example, a ‘live small’ philosophy is promoted with good reason.

On page 177 I read the following:

“A citizen of an advanced industrialized nation consumes in six months the energy that has to last the citizen of a developing country his entire life.” (Maurice Strong, quoted in the Guardian)

["Water's edge at Niagara Falls, Ontario": photo by GH]

The full title - The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering our place in nature. Length - 330 pages. Subject matter - important information and tone related to conservation of limited resources.

On page 176 - 177 I also read this:

“It is clear where the chief responsibility for this crisis (re greenhouse gas emissions) lies when Earth is viewed from space at night. As Malcolm Smith has described it - Most of sub-Saharan Africa, vast expanses of South America central China are stark in their black vastness. North America, Western Europe and Japan, where a quarter of the world’s population uses three quarters of the world’s million kilowatts of electricity, shine out as if we are hell-bent on advertising our profligacy.”

Hell-bent. No explanation needed.

Profligacy. Definition for those that don’t know the word - reckless extravagance.

If you’re a person determined to become less reckless with your lifestyle, look for the book at your local library. (More information under the heading “Read This...” in right hand margin).


Please click here for a related post re climate change.


Climate Change Concerns: Trees bite the dust, temperatures rise

[“For a century or more our use of energy has altered the amount of global atmospheric carbon dioxide... (and) nature itself is giving signals that temperatures are changing as hurricane intensity increases... pine beetles are ravaging northern forests because they are no longer held in check by severe winters...” David Suzuki, The Sacred Balance]

An infestation of emerald ash borer may spell the doom of millions of trees in SW Ontario. London’s politicians were told Tuesday “the pest could ultimately kill 90% of (our) 440,000 ash trees.” (June 22, London Free Press)

Factoid - Our city is home to almost four and a half million trees. “One in ten is an ash,” says the Free Press report.

Then there’s the ravages of the pine beetle to consider.

“Mountain Pine Beetles (MPBs) have destroyed millions of pine trees, over 400 square kilometres, leaving once forested areas barren. At the current rate, 80% of mature pine trees in B.C. will be dead by 2013. Lodgepole pine, B.C.'s most commercially harvested tree, has been especially targeted which has led to millions of dollars in losses. The dead trees have contributed to releasing millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere... In the past, cold winters have kept their numbers in check. Hot, dry summers in central B.C. and Alberta have led to an increase of MPBs, while mild winters have failed to kill off the insect's larvae. (link to Tree Canada)

As seen above, economic losses are solidly linked to environmental degradation. And our excessive carbon emissions from heavy industrialization creates a Catch 22 scenario. Rising temperatures leads to tree loss via MPBs, which leads to the release of more carbon.

The majority of London’s ash trees will likely bite the dust. ReForest London’s project of planting one million trees in ten years is timely and deserves our support.

Efforts to reduce consumption, industrialization and carbon emissions must also be supported.

This from D. Suzuki’s The Sacred Balance:

“Knowing that oil and gas will run out, that using them creates health and environmental problems and that there will be unpredictable climatological effects, we must clearly govern our use of energy within a program of ecological sustainability. Coal and peat deposits are vast, but they release even more greenhouse gases and are a greater problem.”

Until alternative energy sources are on line, live small.


Please click here for more Climate Change Concerns.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Deforest City Blues: Our sinkhole may lead to a big stinkhole

["How can anything about sewers be interesting? Just wait and see." June 23, G. Harrison]

London Mayor Joe Fontana described one of his ideas as radical, which may be the half of it.

Oh, it’s radical all right. It may be just the thing (along with other ideas like it) that may set him up for a second term as mayor. And it may cost Londoners more money for some infrastructure in the long-term, long after he’s retired to his ranch north of town.

His idea? He says ‘city hall must consider using private financing to build future water and sewer works, an option that’s becoming more common in money-starved Canadian cities.’ (June 20, P. Maloney, London Free Press)

Deforest City’s public infrastructure needs (about three-quarters of a billion dollars worth) may weigh heavily on the Mayor’s mind after a recent sinkhole appeared out of the blue - actually, out of the murk - at Richmond and Oxford.

A second term as our mayor may also be on his mind. If city hall allows the private sector to bear some infrastructure costs, Fontana may be able to freeze water and sewer rates in 2012. Then, who knows? Maybe he could swing freezes for three or four successive years and ride ‘the big waive’ all the way to a second term in the mayor’s chair.

[Photo by R. McDermott. Link to article]

What he definitely doesn’t say is that by inviting private enterprises to bear infrastructure costs now, taxpayers could face a burdensome stinkhole later.

Fortunately, Free Press writer Patrick Maloney presents another side to the story and mentions that John Loxley, a Winnipeg economist and author (of such books as Public Service, Private Profits and Transforming or Reforming Capitalism) “warns the deals pose ‘long-term inflexibility’ for cities and may end up costing them more.”

Costing them more?

As we think about how deep the Richmond/Oxford sinkhole used to be, maybe we should consider how deep costs could get - now there's a stinkhole - in the future with public-private partnerships (P3s).

More to follow.


Please click here for more Deforest City Blues.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Live Small and Prosper: PT 3 London - The Healthier City

[“We are raising the future generation of hospital patients,” he said, referring to alarming childhood obesity trends. “We need to turn our cities into exercise machines.” Avi Friedman, architect and urban thinker, June 2, The Londoner]

I think the culture of big will slow London’s progress toward becoming a healthier city, in more ways than one.
As fuel prices rise, our spread-out city, our mega-malls, our mega-car-lifestyle (“A lifestyle where cars are used to get absolutely everywhere” Friedman) will hang around London’s waist like a dead weight, just as the extra 15 pounds I’ve added since hanging up my long-distance sneakers in 2007 keep me from hopping off my front steps and stepping right into a half- or full-marathon program today.

When Friedman addressed planners, politicians and students at the Coldstream Community Centre in Middlesex Centre in May, he said that “municipalities need to become more walkable,” that neighbouring municipalities need to be logically linked via bike paths “to create healthy, alternative transportation networks.” Green spaces and “beautiful parks in every nook and cranny” were rated highly as well.

What Friedman says is true. Alternative transportation corridors need to be expanded in London to prevent future health care problems and costs.

However, in my mind, the culture of big has extended its grip to shape more than our short-sighted transportation choices and affect more than related health care costs. It affects just about every aspect of our lives.

Our Big Basics include...

Food - mega-agricultural systems and promotion industries affect most components of our food supply. Poor food choices cause heavier weights as well

Clothing - the mega-fashion and apparel (and promotion) industries have encouraged many to grow walk-in closets to the size of dining rooms

Homes - developers have grown the sq.-footage of the average home over the years. Furnishings now cost $35,000 or more per house. Home owner debt is at a record high.

Our Big Wants include a growing thirst for the following, and more...

Transportation - “People now spend an average of five years of their lives driving and installing fridges and televisions in SUVs to enable a lifestyle where cars are used to get absolutely everywhere.” Avi Friedman

["Londoners once travelled to the Crystal Palace by electric tram": photo link]

Communication - connectivity devices abound with endless applications and real and imagined benefits

Recreation - opportunities abound. Entertainment sections of many local papers outweigh world, business and environmental news combined

In just about every aspect of our lives, the culture of big possesses a strong grip, but is also linked to dire consequences for present-day and future generations, and for our natural surroundings or environment, as CO2 emissions rise from excessive industrialization and contribute to global warming.

One might ask, “Are we eating ourselves to death? Are we entertaining ourselves into oblivion?”

Yes, quite possibly. At the very least, the culture of big in all its forms is not necessarily making us, our cities and surroundings any healthier. And it’s more of a progress-buster than 15 pounds of excessive weight around a waist.

What measures can a city take to grow healthier?

Let me think about that.


Please click here to read PT 2 London - The Healthier City.


Birdhouse London: Next - custom trim, outhouses and a free stand

I mixed too much light and dark blue paint for one birdhouse.

["Maybe the houses will attract blue birds.": photos GH]

So, though I was thinking two-tone red for the second and green for the third, they’re all two-tone blue.

Life is full of situations that call for me to adjust. Like, my friends have Blackberries. I have a notepad and pen. I’m not always up-to-the second with the millions of details of life. I adjust. Plus, I have lots of extra time on my hands and can finish some workshop projects pretty quickly.

["Should the outhouse be on the left or right? Will birds adjust?"]

Today I’ll work on “custom trim” (Hear the ‘caa-ching?’), three outhouses and put a stand under one in order to display it for sale.

["Lots of room for windows and signage. Cool."]

Seventy bucks “with a free stand” doesn’t sound out of line.

What do you think? Need to see the outhouse first?

Stay tuned.


Please click here for more Birdhouse London.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“IT STRIKES” Again: Christmas visits, and best two out of three with the Mighty Futon

[The following column was first published in December, 2002. The futon still sits in a back room and I must wrestle with it whenever company stays over night. It usually wins. gah]

Christmas visits, and best two out of three with the Mighty Futon

I get excited when I hear company is coming. I looked forward to visits from family and friends as a child and I thoroughly enjoy the experience as an adult.

I anticipate the ribald stories that will be told, the variety of foods that will be served, the many adventures that we’ll plan together and getting to stay up way past bedtime.

Usually when company comes to stay for a weekend, I must complete several tasks, none that I totally begrudge, most within my level of ability.

I collect smelly running gear and damp towels from the door handle and door frame of our bedroom and from the crossbar and handlebars of my road bike that hangs from the ceiling in the spare room. The bike goes to the basement, the dirty laundry gets added to my deep, smouldering pile beside the freezer and clean sheets are readied for the futon.

Then a sharp whistle blows to signal the start of an exhausting round of WWF wrestling between the lumpy over-weight futon and an aging middle-weight with a bad back. At present, the futon and mattress are ahead on rounds, six to three, but I’m learning where their soft-spots are.

When Pat and I bought the futon a few years ago the kindly store manager demonstrated how easily “an average person” could open it out (a deft, effortless lift with one finger) and flip or smooth the mattress without falling heavily to the ground. I must have been distracted at the time by screeching brakes outside the store on Richmond St. at Oxford.

I can faintly remember how to open out the futon (usually with both hands, both feet, and the help of both neighbours, Gary and david) though the maneuver is more of a twist, slip, grab, miss and noisy fall. And that’s just trying to get it to lie flat.

The subsequent wrestling match to smooth the mattress takes me to a whole new level of physical exertion and embarrassment. To disperse and flatten out the lumps from one end of the mattress to the other is supposed to extend its life. Why do I get the feeling that in order to extend the mattress’s life I have to threaten my own?

I try to approach the mattress from an angle to catch it off guard. If I can grasp the unsuspecting slipcover by one corner and fling the mattress to the floor in one fell swoop I count it as a victory. Jumping on the lumps is child’s play after the initial confrontation.

[“Leave it flat,” I say. “I feel like a nap.”: photo by GH]

I have been told by a few people, including Gary and David, that if I read the straight-forward instructions from the file folder in the top drawer of the cabinet beside the computer in the back room, the job of preparing the futon for company would be a good deal easier.

Many household jobs could be easier with instructions. I know it’s true.

If I got into the habit of reading instructions then the clock on the VCR would work, I wouldn’t have to pull the cord on the lawnmower 20 times to get it started, my alarm clock would say A.M. in the morning, I could play three CDs in a row on the stereo and the latch on the gate in the backyard wouldn’t stick.

I appreciate helpful suggestions (I seem to get them all the time), but I still think I can even the score with the futon and mattress when family and friends come to visit during the Christmas season.


Please click here to read more “IT STRIKES” Again.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 15

“One fateful day, the Zucchini quints realized that their similarities were fading.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that eh” 14


Birdhouse London: From the roof to the crapper

I’m pretty sure I have the ‘high hole’ or ‘low roof’ problem permanently fixed.

The BEFORE photo: The porch roof snugged in nicely under the edge of the main roof, but partially hid the entrances from view. Not good, especially if I want birds to spot a new home.

The AFTER photo: The inner edge of the porch roof is now attached securely to the lower edge of the main roof and the two porch holes are more visible.

["I'm thinking about two-tone red and green for the other models. I'm all about 'variety.' Oh, and amenities.": photos GH]

Today, if time allows, I’ll add a dark blue wash to the roofs, then build three outdoor crappers (I built three units, as above) or outhouses so that small visitors have some cool amenities.

Oh yeah, I’m all about the amenities.


Please click here for more Birdhouse London.


It Strikes Me Funny: You can knock, but nobody’s home

Some of you may know I have an interest in birdhouses. Building them. Photographing them. Looking inside to see if anybody’s home.

In Harris Park, London, there are birdhouse sculptures that I find very interesting. Or as Artie Johnson used to say on Laugh-In in the 1970s, “Velly intellesting.”

The 6 - 8 birdhouses in the park are on sturdy poles. Very good. They are made of metal... aluminum perhaps. The sculptures will last for 100s of years. Excellent value for the money. And some are in shaded nooks so that high interior temperatures won’t bake the inhabitants. Good thinking.

["Photos of the sculptures by GH"]

I only see one problem. The hole is an illusion. It’s a black sticker, not an actual hole or entrance. Any bird that tries to enter "a sculpture" will bust a beak.

I like the idea of ‘birdhouses as art, e.g., folk art,’ but there’s another idea I like even better.

My recommendation: Besides planting one million trees in the next ten years (our Mayor suggested we do it in five), we should place real birdhouses (preferably made from decent lumber) in Harris Park to complement or increase the beneficial side of our green spaces.


Any other ideas?

Please click here for more It Strikes Me Funny.


Monday, June 20, 2011

I Ask You: Do mud nesting sites crumble and fall?

Recently I spotted barn swallows (aka mud swallows) feeding young birds safely housed in mud nests under Riverside Drive near downtown London.

After I parked my bicycle on the path out of Harris Park (directly under the roadway) I enjoyed photographing the antics of the busy, determined parents.

["Somebody is there but won't sit up for me": photos by GH]

Yesterday I returned to another similar nesting site - under the lone bridge on Hunter Crossley Line (the road begins 2 miles south of Belmont and runs east to Imperial Line) - and all I found were the remains of the many footprints of former mud homes.

(This morning I reviewed past photos to estimate how many homes had been under the bridge in previous years. Easily, there had been dozens).

["In June, 2008 dozens of homes were clumped together. Where are they now?"]

I wondered, where have the birds gone?

Perhaps they move around because of an increase in predators or decrease in food supply. I saw many swallows yesterday, so their population appears healthy, and one set of parents was feeding young in a mud house attached to the wall of a productive birdhouse workshop in Courtland. (Highway 3, a few km. east of Tillsonburg).

Swallows like man-made houses too, but if mud is plentiful, they make sturdy houses that must come - I’m guessing - with some sort of expiry date.

Note - the top photo shows one inhabited mud house built atop a vacant one.

So, I ask you, do swallows not trust the veracity of old mud? Does the mud dry out and fall off the cement or steel girder after a year or two?


Please click here for more I Ask You.


Birdhouse Hunting: Several sets of seven

If you like birdhouses, keep your eyes open as you drive county road 45, a lovely motorcycling route if I ever saw one.

(It is south of, and runs parallel to, Highway 3, and is home to the Seven Sisters (hills and valleys); I usually pick it up at Mount Salem, SW of Aylmer, and ride east.)

A set of seven Peterson houses will appear on your left almost immediately after you come up out of one deep valley, and before you reach Kings Lake and highway 59.

Another two sets of seven (and several other singles and doubles) appear on E. S. Dechamp’s property situated on the east side of highway 59 near Langton.

Dozens more birdhouses can be found in one spot, and for sale at pretty reasonable prices, outside a productive workshop one mile east of Courtland on the north side of highway 3. Many houses are well-weathered and include occupants!

["re birdhouses - there are more in Frogmore": photos by GH]

Had I stopped to photograph every birdhouse on yesterday’s ride, I’d still be out there.


Please click here for more Birdhouse Hunting.