To Read! Dark PR by Grant Ennis

In his new book, Dark PR: How Corporate Disinformation Harms Our Health and the Environment, Grant Ennis — a lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia — identifies the “nine devious frames” that corporations such as automobile manufacturers and road builders use to advance their interests, manipulate the public and maintain a status quo that harms human health and the planet. 

Image Book cover of Dark PR by Grant Ennis
The War on Cars Podcast on Dark PR

I love the War on Cars podcast for its great content detailing how cars and cities aren’t BFFs. And I specifically liked this podcast with Grant Ennis the author of a new book Dark PR as it connects the much larger and universal public relation framing on every important issue to the specific subject of cars. While I have not read the book yet (my desire to read non-fiction is not always matched by action), you should listen to the podcast, and here are the 9 frames divided into 3 themes 🙂

  • Big Lie – Serves to deny, obfuscate and redirect
    • Denialism: Deny deny deny.
    • Post-Denialism: It’s happening, it’s not bad, it’s actually good!
    • Normalization: This is inevitable, deal with it.
  • Pseudo-Solutions: Solutions that are anything but
    • Silver boomerang: Here’s an amazing solution that won’t solve the problem and will rebound into profit for us!
    • Magic: Ooh look, if y’all do this one thing that will be available tomorrow, the problem will be solved, so don’t worry about it today
    • Treatment trap: Sorry your air quality sucks, but here’s a great air purifier for only 399.99
    • Victim blaming/individualism: It’s all your fault, if only you’d composted more…
  • Complicated frames
    • Knotted web: This is such a difficult problem, here are 10000 different aspects blah blah blah, oh good, you’re asleep!
    • Multifactorial framing: To solve this problem you have to do x, y, and z all at the same time, all of the above! Dilute dilute dilute!

As you look at various issues affecting us like housing, climate change, city planning, wars, drug poisoning, you name it, you’ll see one or more of these frames in use.

Anyway, listen to the podcast, it’s edifying.

This post is thanks to my friend Sherwin who updated my website yesterday and reminded me that low-expectation writing can be fun! As he just messaged me, “CLOSE YOUR EYES AND TYPE” (caps all his).

Stuff I read 04-Sep-2023

An occasional roundup of news I found interesting, with even less occasional commentary!

How a mere 12% of Americans eat half the nation’s beef, creating significant health and environmental impacts

A new study has found that 12% of Americans are responsible for eating half of all beef consumed on a given day, a finding that may help consumer groups and government agencies craft educational messaging around the negative health and environmental impacts of bee

Particularly important due to the enormous climate change and land use consequences of beef production and consumption

Read How a mere 12% of Americans eat half the nation’s beef, creating significant health and environmental impacts

Who Needs Meta or Google for News? Use ‘Really Simple Syndication’

Meta is ramping up its blocking of news in Canada in resistance to a passed bill requiring news outlets be compensated for links shared on Facebook and Instagram.

Back to the golden age of blogs and 2005 we go with RSS!

Read Who Needs Meta or Google for News? Use ‘Really Simple Syndication’

The true cost of climate pollution? 44% of corporate profits.

What if companies had to pay for the problems their carbon emissions cause? Their profits would plunge, according to new estimates, possibly wiping out trillions in financial gains.

Profits: Primarily uncompensated takings from the future and everyone else to benefit a few

Read The true cost of climate pollution? 44% of corporate profits.

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New Data Confirms: Forest Fires Are Getting Worse

New data on forest fires confirms what we’ve long feared: Forest fires are becoming more widespread, burning nearly twice as much tree cover today as they did 20 years ago.

Read New Data Confirms: Forest Fires Are Getting Worse

More people than expected are dying in Canada in 2023 for reasons that are not yet clear

COVID-19 case counts are down dramatically from a year ago, according to federal data. Hospitalizations are higher than during the first two pandemic summers, but are hovering around their lowest point since December, 2021.

Is this excess death really a mystery or a result of covid revisionism?

Read More people than expected are dying in Canada in 2023 for reasons that are not yet clear

This N.L. man spent 20 years addicted to opiates — and says forced treatment laws would have killed him

Keith Fitzpatrick’s addiction story starts like so many others: with a prescription for painkillers. It would be two full decades, and several brushes with death, before he was ready to detox.

Why oh why aren’t punitive treatments for people who have issues with substance use treated with the disdain they deserve?

Read This N.L. man spent 20 years addicted to opiates — and says forced treatment laws would have killed him

Canada issues travel advisory for LGBTQ+ residents visiting US

LGBTQ+ citizens are at risk when traveling to the US due to numerous discriminatory laws passed at state level, the Canadian government has warned. “Some states have enacted laws and policies that may affect 2SLGBTQI+ persons.

Feel this hard 🙁

Read Canada issues travel advisory for LGBTQ+ residents visiting US

Canada has underestimated non-permanent resident count by almost one million

A gross underestimating of Canada’s population growth, specifically the number of non-permanent residents in the country, is having immense ramifications on the housing affordability and supply crisis.

I mean, we’d have a housing crisis without this counting crisis, but it makes things worse

Read Canada has underestimated non-permanent resident count by almost one million

How BC Could Tax Soaring Property Values for the Public Good | The Tyee

The vast majority of B.C.’s residential property wealth — $1.5 trillion — is in the value of the land rather than in the buildings on it. Unlike the value created by constructing or improving a building, increases in land values are not the result of any effort or expense by property owners. Rather, the land value is a social creation in that it reflects what makes the use of a particular location attractive to people.

Source: How BC Could Tax Soaring Property Values for the Public Good | The Tyee

Alex Hemingway has a great post on one part of our housing puzzle, how to fairly tax people on their unearned land wealth. Our property tax and incentives are setup to reward already wealthy land owners at the expense of everyone else. Given how unaffordable and unreachable housing is for many in BC and rest of Canada, every policy lever needs to be pulled. I have little faith that our landowner-heavy governments will act with the level of urgency and scale needed though 🙁

Back to School and Covid

Will Back-to-School COVID Crush Families?

BC’s status quo approach is not good enough, says a grassroots organization of doctors and teachers.

Kids sit in a classroom, facing a teacher at the front of the room.

With new variants of covid hitting hard, we’re all concerned about covid for back to school and this Tyee Article provides a nice summary

Note: With Meta blocking news websites in Canada, blogs can hopefully play a part and this is a test 🙂

(Photo by Toom Woodward, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Adventures with Red River : Part I

Adventures with Red River : Part I

Red River, so polarizing

Anyone want? I don’t think this household is ever going to consume. About 80% of original capacity

I posted this on social media last week and an interesting conversation ensued. I was hoping someone would take the cereal off my hands as it had sat in my pantry for a while. This is not what happened. Instead, there was a fun discussion on this iconic Canadian cereal which, incidentally, got bought by a US company, then retired last year (per wikipedia). The taste and texture of red river cereal are a polarizing topic, and the cereal was frequently associated with grandparents of the prairies!

The Red River in Manitoba is marked in Canadian history for the oppression and violence of the Canadian colonial government (pdf) against Louis Riel and the provisional Métis government established there.

No one took the box off my hands, but many ideas were offered. So, challenge accepted. I’ll try and finish this box off!

Basic Savoury Hot Cereal

I am watching my sugar intake, so I usually eat my oatmeal savoury. Given mornings are busy, I needed to do something easy and almost unattended. So, took my cereal bowl, added a 1/3 cup of Red River, a bit more than 2/3rd cup water and put it in the Instant Pot to cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. Key here is to use pot in pot mode where your cooking bowl sits on a trivet inside the main pot, which has a cup of water in it to provide the steam. This approach is painless, less work than microwaving oatmeal even and no extra dishes. Half an hour later (I did this while I was making coffee), the pressure released and I opened the Instant Pot up to a fluffy, well cooked, but nicely textured hot cereal. My kid even had a few spoons with honey and they’ve sworn off oatmeal recently!

I added some yogurt, chopped up strawberries and cashews, and some store-bought coriander chutney for flavour. This was tasty! I liked it quite a bit more than oatmeal. There was more texture and body, and the porridge’s taste was nutty, but neutral enough to not get in the way of all the fruit and coriander chutney flavour bombs.

So, this is a keeper and the toppings will vary, so will the flavours.

Let all residents vote in Canada

Let all residents vote in Canada

BC has municipal elections in October this year and I will be voting for the candidates whose policies, values and voting records on housing affordability, harm reduction, and walk/bike/transit friendliness match mine the closest. I might even have an endorsement or three up my sleeve. This year, I will also be asking Victoria’s municipal election candidates where they stand on letting permanent residents vote in our elections.

In the 2016 census, nearly 2.5 million people identified as non-citizen residents, out of which two million were permanent residents. The permanent residents live here, work here, play here, pay taxes, grow pensions, volunteer, commit crimes (yes, they’re like any other Canadian) and more, just like those with Canadian citizenship. However, they have no say in who represents them municipally, provincially or federally. I find this unfair, so do many people, including the Vancouver city council, who passed a resolution in 2018 (PDF) calling for the province to approve voting by permanent residents. This globe news article provides a good backgrounder.

In short, municipalities have run into the conservative buzzsaw that is the state of our (mostly) conservative or liberal provincial governments. This won’t change unless more people speak up.

The opposition is mainly that non-citizens are not sufficiently “invested” in the country, they’re too “new”. The more paranoid ones talk about divided loyalties, and bring up stories of foreigners being flown in to vote. Perhaps they should try getting a visitor visa to Canada (spoiler alert, difficult).  People who judge other people’s belonging or membership, however, usually have other items on their agenda. Let’s just leave it at that.

From my perspective, extending the vote is common sense, fair and just, and that’s that.

Permanent residents? The case is simple. They’re like citizens in all ways, except for voting, and having to renew every five years. If you want to make life difficult, you could ask them to renew voter registration every five years too, but really, you shouldn’t. Are you concerned about “loyalties”? If you are, then you should not be letting the thousands of dual British-Canadian passport holders vote.

How about residents without the permanent residency paperwork? Don’t see why not? If you’re concerned about timing of residency, put a time limit on the voting registration. There are very few non-permanent residents in Canada, half a million at last count, so, impact is small.

Undocumented? May be difficult, especially with visibility and its consequences. But, I would support it if we can find a solution that protects people while allowing for verifying identity for voting.

Of course, giving people a vote does not solve most problems, but that’s not the point. We see conservatives south of the boarder ceaselessly chipping away at the right of non-white people to vote. We need to be be going in the opposite direction on representation.

So, here are the questions on this issue I intend to ask Victoria’s municipal candidates in 2018:

  1. Do you support efforts to extend voting rights to all residents in Victoria?
  2. If you do, what are you willing/able to do to make this happen at the municipal level at least, then at the provincial level and federal levels?

A “no” on #1 is going to make it difficult to vote for you. A “yes” on #1 without some coherent plan on #2 means that you need to think about it some more.

Are you with me? Would you be willing to ask prospective candidates the same questions? Should there be additional questions? Do these questions make sense, or should they be reworked?

Cross-posted from interrobang


Who is Local?
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Who is Local?

“Ahmadi is still months away from getting permanent resident status, putting him in the unlucky group of middle-class British Columbians who have found themselves targeted by a tax purportedly imposed to crack down on rich real estate speculators from overseas”

I’ve never been this hopeless

I would not call Hamed Ahmadi unlucky, he’s a victim of the all too common policy apparatus that confuses residency with visa status. The BC non-resident tax of 15% on properties is supposed to target “foreign” (read Chinese) investors buying in Vancouver with no intentions of living there. I presume there are multiple other ways to determine residency and “localness” for the purpose of determining who lives here and who does not. The BC government, in its haste to demonstrate it was doing something, took the easy route and used visa status as a proxy.

Hamed lives and works in BC, which meets my definition of local. While a speculation tax on non-residents is a reasonable approach, using visa status to determine residency, and providing no sensible exceptions for locals with alternative paper work is lazy and thoughtless policy making, so is not providing exceptions for people with home buying applications already in process. It’s almost as if someone looked at the polls and press and wrote the law in a day.

In many ways, this is personal for me because I lived in the US for 10+ years under various non-permanent visas that left me vulnerable to these poorly designed, thoughtless policy measures. I lived in the same town for 10 years, was very much a local by the time I’d left, with a stable set of friends, family, work, places I shopped in, hiked to, causes I supported, volunteer work I did, and more. So, Hamed’s story could have been mine, and in some smaller ways, was mine for other parts of my life.

“CTV News spoke with BC Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson on Wednesday and asked several times for comment on Ahmadi’s situation. Wilkinson responded by repeating a piece of blanket advice for the people impacted. “Those who find themselves affected by the tax should seek legal advice because individual circumstances vary,” Wilkinson said.

This is typical of policy makers who are so removed from the day to day lives of the people whose behaviour they seek to regulate. The casual assumption that regular people can afford professionals who bill at multiple hundreds of dollars an hour speaks more about the types of people these ministers hang out with than anything else. But this sounds familiar too, I needed to consult lawyers multiple times to help me with immigration paper work.

As someone with a high level of institutional trust, and who thinks governments can affect our lives for the better with sound and thoughtful policy interventions, these types of hasty policy making are deeply disappointing. There are multiple other policy measures to make housing more affordable. The CCPA just released a comprehensive document of policies, focusing on the actual problem, the lack of affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing with a focus on cohousing and social housing, and zoning changes that reduce the protections afforded to affluent property owners would go a long way.

Originally posted on Interrobang 04-August-2016

Retire the Beg Button

Retire the Beg Button

Photo of a button which says push to cross, with an added hashtag DontMakeMeBegBiking down the Galloping Goose Sunday on my way to the excellent Panama Flats park, I came up on the intersection of the Goose with Tillicum Road, and traffic on Highway 1 (running parallel to the Goose) was flowing. It was in the middle of a minutes long traffic cycle, the appropriate time for people on foot and on bikes to be moving through unimpeded.

Except, that orange stick figure was telling me I should not go, which meant I had to push the “Beg” button first. Voila, the orange stick figure was replaced by the white one telling me I could cross. Of course I could cross, I was moving in the same direction as traffic and it was logical! Why was this even an issue?

I abhor beg buttons, and here’s why, this has been documented repeatedly.

It’s annoying for walkers: have you ever tried to walk a few blocks, stopping to hit the button at every single intersection? Or hit the button just a few seconds too late and had to wait a whole additional cycle? But it also illustrates the backwardness of our street design: pedestrians, who are supposed to have the right-of-way, are required to press a button at an intersection in order to get a walk signal, which should happen automatically

I’ve written many an unpublished diatribe that had those exact same words!

Especially here in Victoria, pedestrians take first priority, then people on bikes (pdf), all prioritized above car traffic in the official community plan. This is true in Saanich as well. If that is the case, and our municipalities were serious about improving the non car driver’s experience, then they need to aggressively retire all beg buttons. Remove them, or note that they are not to be used. I’ve of course heard anecdotal information from people in engineering/planning that they are disabled in some places. That’s not good enough. If you are going to disable a button, you need to label it as so, say DO NOT PRESS! And, while you’re at it, time your pedestrian crossing signs to maximize crossing time. I’m tired of seeing “Do not Walk” signs come up a good twenty seconds before car traffic stops, this is not necessary, and harkens back to a car first mentality that needed to have gone away with the 20th century. Why, I crossed a 3 lane (+ wide turning cuts) in Sidney at a deliberate saunter starting after the “Do not walk” (not the warning) had come on and still had a good few seconds before the car light changed to red.

Victoria is getting better, but there are still too many intersections where cars are prioritized. Take Fairfield and Moss, corners are two shopping/office blocks, a church and a busy community center/child care. But, guess what, there’s beg buttons still, and certain times of the day when crossing Fairfield is something you have to accomplish in 10 seconds or less. Completely unnecessary.

Time for a campaign to Retire the Beg Button at traffic lights and move them all to mid block crosswalks where we can cross the road by pressing a button that will make cars stop for a few seconds.

Originally posted on Interrobang on 17-May-2016

Coffee Roasting and Popcorn Lung

Coffee Roasting and Popcorn Lung

Cross-posted from Interrobang

Who among us coffee drinkers don’t love the smell of freshly roasted coffee? I am sure some of us imagine how much fun it would be to smell freshly roasting coffee more often. I don’t, because smell for me is an instant jolt of pleasure/pain followed by a rather rapid decline into the background.

Caution, though. New measurements from the US Centres for Disease Control warn of high exposure to some pretty nasty chemicals that can cause your lungs to be destroyed irreversibly, the unfortunately named “popcorn lung” or bronchitis obliterans:

Investigators with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a research arm of the CDC, spent several days at Madison-based Just Coffee in July. Investigators tested personal air space and took air samples to measure the concentration of the chemicals diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione… NIOSH researchers found levels in three breathing-zone samples that exceeded the safety levels recommended by the CDC.

Coffee Roasting Plants and Exposure

The test results show a marginal exceedance in this case, but noted that ventilation is a big factor and these tests were done under well ventilated conditions on a warm and dry day when doors were open. So, exposure can be higher in other circumstances.

Worker exposures are to higher levels, and are more sustained, so they deserve the most attention.

So, local coffee roasters, it may make sense to confirm that your roasting environments are not exposing your workers to harmful, lung obliterating chemicals. Remember, organic, shade grown, fair pay, artisanal roasting aside, chemical exposures to workers don’t change. And, everything that smells good isn’t good for you.

One of my frequent points of emphasis (rants, some might say) is on the relative risk vs. media attention to exposures of people to ambient, day to day concentrations of potential harmful chemicals vs. those faced by workers everywhere. The last time diacetyl and bronchitis obliterans were in the news, it was around the use of diacetyl to produce that buttery smell so beloved in microwave bag popcorn (I don’t like it myself, olive oil all the way!). Despite reports of many workers facing severe lung issues, it took the detection of the disease of one person eating multiple bags of microwave popcorn over many years to actually move government regulators into action on diacetyl. People who work in factories, in the fields, and make things are exposed to thousands of times higher concentrations of harmful chemicals for longer periods of time, but their concerns are often de-emphasized.

This doesn’t mean ambient exposures in the general population are to be ignored, but worker exposures are to higher levels, and more sustained, so they deserve the most attention.

16-May-2016 Update

This US Centers for Disease Control page is a good collection of information and further readings. They recommend facility tests to measure diacetyl and its cousin 2,3-pentanedione, and better ventilation, worker safeguards and personal protective equipment as necessary. They also note that at least five workers in large scale coffee processing plants have been diagnosed with bronchitis obliterans.

Coffee image By Ailura – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Choir Performances

Choir Performances

In case you did not know, I am in a choir, The Choir, actually, and we have much fun practicing and performing. We’re doing three shows and an open rehearsal next week, so please come and sing along (or watch and wave).

The Choir Open Rehearsal at GVPL Downtown – Wednesday Sep 16 – 730
We’re hosting our (first ever) open rehearsal at the Greater Victoria Public Library Atrium, always an interesting space for music. Join us as we rehearse for Rifflandia. This is a free preview, a rehearsal, so not quite the finished product. But we’ll have as much fun.

Rifflandia Performances Friday Sep 18 – Sunday Sep 20

If you’re coming to Rifflandia (and you should if you can spare the money, lots of great acts including A Tribe Called Red, Modest Mouse, Mother Mother, Joey Bada$$ and so much more, and The Choir!) We open the Royal Athletic Park on all days, so come early to the gates, which open half an hour before show time! It can take 10-15 minutes for you to queue up and get in, so come on in and stay. You’ll need a park pass at least.

Friday – September 18 – Main Stage Royal Park 3 PM.

Saturday – September 19 – Rifftop tent – Royal Park 12:30 PM

Sunday – September 20 – Rifftop tent – Royal Park 12:30 PM

What the choir is about …

See you next week!