Monday, June 25, 2012

The Map

I've spent most of my adult life carting around a well-worn, hand-drawn map in the glove box of my car. Cars have come and gone over the years, but that map always found its way from one glove box to the next. Kari drew the map with simple, yet concise directions, and gave it to me the first of many times my friends and I ventured to her cottage nearly a quarter-century ago.

I'm not really sure why I've held onto it all this time; it's been nearly twenty years since I last made the trip. I guess the map represented for me a carefree time in our lives when get-togethers could be arranged on a whim, lasting memories forged around an island campfire, and friendships strengthened over a July long weekend. Since then, I think we've all tried with limited success to duplicate or at least simulate those spontaneous times of our youth.

Christie Lake, August '90

Over time, I've had numerous opportunities to part with the map, but anytime I had reason to look at it, the memories would come flooding back like an old song, so tucked away it remained.

Kari taught me to water-ski in the cool waters of Christie Lake one Friday back in 1990. While I've likely water-skied less than a half-dozen times since then and remember little from that day, I do remember Kari's lesson. First, she showed me an example of what to do and what not to do. Next came the common pitfalls for beginners and finally some safety tips. She made it look simple and while I was certainly not as eloquent as her, I was up and out of the water, skiing.

I thought about the map last week when I received an email from an old friend titled simply, "Kari Cooper (née McAlpine)".  I despair at the fact that I'm at the point in life where when an old friend whom you haven't heard from in a long while emails you about another old friend, the news is seldom good.

And so it was when I opened the email that I learned of Kari's passing.

I'm sorry that I lost touch with Kari over the years. Life has a funny way of interrupting our best intentions. But I bet she lived her life the way we all aspire to--by the simple eloquence of her example.

May she rest in peace.

In my head I keep a list called, "Top 5 places I'd rather be than here". I've read that others have similar lists. While mine has changed with the times, Kari's cottage has always been on there and I'll wager that it always will.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wisconsin Rights the Wrongs

There was a time when unions served a purpose. When the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy and employees worked long hours for slave wages, in poor conditions, with no benefits, unions came along and saved the day. What followed for the next hundred years was concession after concession to the point where unions today have became as hated as the greedy corporations they opposed were a century ago.

It's a classic paradigm shift. As manufacturing jobs have steadily disappeared in North America due to the unsustainable wages and gold-plated benefits sought by trade unions, those left without jobs who once kowtowed to the union leadership have come to the realization that they would have been better off without them. No corporation becomes more competitive by spending more money on the things that the rest of the world has figured out how to do less expensively. It's as true now as it was fifty years and ago and as it will be fifty years hence.

While trade unions had declined in membership along with the jobs they used to represent, unions representing the public sector remained alive and well. In Wisconsin, however, they decided to do something about that.

Governor Scott Walker instituted reforms that saved the state $1 billion. Before the reforms, the average government employee in Wisconsin earned $71 000, yet paid nothing toward their pensions and only 6% of their health care premiums. Walker's reforms required public employees to pay 5% of their salaries towards their pensions and 12% of the health-insurance premiums-still less than half the average in the private sector.

Walker's most controversial reform, however, was the elimination of the collective bargaining power of unions for everything, but wages. Joining a public sector union became optional in Wisconsin and as unions became more and more irrelevant, this was a reform that most agreed was a positive and necessary step.

Most that is, except for those who want to continue to gouge away at the public coffers by eating bigger slices of pie. The wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout Wisconsin over the last year culminated in a June 5th recall election instigated by public-employee unions, which Walker won with a greater margin of victory than the previous 2010 election.

Walker's reforms continue to have a positive impact. Property taxes in the state have declined for the the first time in twelve years and school districts are saving tens of millions of dollars by opting out of expensive health insurance once only available from the unions' own health-care company.

Let's hope the rest of the world has been taking notes on Wisconsin's turnabout, or at least those corners that want to remain employed, competitive, and fruitful.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Politicians' Plastic Pothering

The old acronym B.Y.O.B. is about to take on a new meaning in Toronto as it becomes the latest in a growing list of cities to ban the sale or dispensing of single use plastic bags.

Surprising no one, environmentalists applauded the move citing a mind-numbing hodegepodge of statistics regarding the amount of waste that will be spared from landfill sites. Huh? Why do politicians convince us to spend tens of millions of dollars on recycling programs only to then ban items that are supposed to be recyclable? Yes, I well aware that not all plastic bags can be recycled, but Toronto's ban (similar to those in L.A., Seattle, and San Francisco) affects all plastic bags including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, or photodegradable.

It ain't easy being plastic these days.

What's more is I'm not convinced that plastic bags occupy that much space in landfill sites to begin with. I can't recall ever throwing an empty bag in the garbage around our house. Sure, they'll eventually make their way there, but usually they would have been used more than once before that occurs, crippling the "single use" argument. There are several uses for plastic bags beyond their primary function of carting groceries from your car to your kitchen and I doubt there are many who simply discard them collectively once the groceries are tidily put away. And even if everyone of us did just that, how much space in the landfill are we talking about? Considering I can easily compact ten bags in the palm of my hand, I'll surmise that the number of bags my family disposes of on an annual basis would occupy less space than hundreds of other items that regularly find their way into landfill sites.

Common sense never seems to prevail in the political arena and I'm sure all cities will eventually impose similar bans. I doubt I'll miss the plastic bag when it's gone, as there are far greater demons to slay at the grocery store, but it's a shame that the real issues of our time aren't given the due consideration they deserve by our dithering politicians.

Plastic bags are not the problem; municipal governments so big that they find the time to debate these minutiae are.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Shopping in the 'hood

Tell the average person to "buy local" and they'll assume you mean that they should purchase products and goods that are domestically manufactured or produced. They'll conjure up images of saving auto jobs and keeping farmers out of bankruptcy.

While there is nothing wrong with this interpretation, I like to take it one step further by supporting the local businesses in our neighborhood.

When we buy domestically produced goods, we give the country's economy a much needed boost. Similarly, when we shop at the stores around the corner from our homes, we help them grow, thereby increasing our neighborhood's vitality.

Neighborhood Businesses Need Your Support

Shopping local doesn't necessarily mean buying tomatoes that the guy down the street grew in his garden (although I'm aware that this isn't too uncommon in many parts of the world), but there are many goods and services that can be provided for you without having to venture too far.

If you're a typical North American surbanite, you could likely get your oil changed, pick up groceries, drop off dry cleaning, bank, and order pizza all within a stone's throw from your front door.

Show me a community with vacant shops and "going out of business" signs in the windows and I'll show you a neighborhood in decline.

The shops down the street are vital to your community's well-being. Frequenting them keeps it that way.