Author

Sarah Thomson

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MY ELUSIVE FRIEND

I have an old friend who visits at the most unexpected times. The first time we met was on a warm spring night when I was eight years old. I had gone to bed, but my room was still warm from the setting sun. I opened my window and the cool night air crept into the room. Wisps of cloud high in the sky were turning from pink to grey. Dusk cast an almost magical light over the lawn below. Slowly one and then another spring peeper began to sing, their voices carrying up from the marsh behind the house. Within minutes thousands of them were calling, the air filled with their music — like a symphony. Suddenly, for a brief moment, everything seemed to align. I was pulled beyond understanding and I wasn’t alone.

And then the moment was gone. The frogs still sang, the night sky still hung on to the day, but once again I stood alone, my nose touching the screen. I searched for something. I know not what.

Then, almost two years later, on a cold January night, my friend arrived without a sound. I had spent the day building an ice rink with my brother. The forecast was calling for a deep freeze overnight. Our parents woke us just after midnight and we bundled up, tied on our skates and were under a star-filled sky within minutes. The ice rink was as smooth as glass. I glided over the ice and looked up at the stars, and suddenly my friend was there with me. Everything aligned — the dog barking far away in the distance, my sister encouraging my brother forward, the stillness of the night around me. I understood it all for an instant — held in the arms of an angel. And then it was gone.

Over my teen years I fell out of touch with this elusive friend. I’d almost forgotten her completely until one warm summer night on campus after a night school class. It was a great class. We had debated the views of various philosophers and my head was filled with ideas. I could see a few stars in the sky. The campus was quiet, a light breeze stirred the leaves in the oak trees around me and once again my friend was there. For an instant I wasn’t alone. I was more than myself, everything aligned like the pillars at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican and then it was gone and once again I was alone, my friend gone as quickly as she’d come, the breeze still rustling the leaves above me.

We spent last weekend at a friend’s cottage up near Algonquin Park. The long conversations, interspersed with quiet moments of thought while looking out over a pristine lake, were peaceful. Sharing ideas, agreeing, or disagreeing, while knowing that there is a mutual respect and a willingness to understand, is one of the most rewarding aspects of friendship.

At one point, three of us climbed a hill to a lookout point over the lake and sat in the warm sun, the smell of long grass, earth, and pines filling the air. A hawk wheeled high above in the sky, its cry echoing over the valley below… cre-eee-ar, cre-eee-ar. Suddenly, once again, my old friend had joined us. For a moment I felt more than myself, I was part of the earth and sky; part of the beauty around me and in them. My friend left as quickly as she’d arrived. We sat, looking out over the land, talking about life, kids, and the challenges ahead.

Later on the porch, the sun setting in the west, someone said…”Won’t it be great growing old together and seeing how our kids turn out.” Yes, I think I do hope we grow old with them, to live, laugh, learn, and keep striving to understand the world around us. That is what real friendship is all about.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

MY WORLD, MY RESPONSIBILITY

The morning sun isn’t yet up but I can already feel the heat of the day coming toward me. The heat is like the sound of a distant army marching steadily closer, coming to burn all the moisture out of the day. Mist in the bay on the far shore hides in the shadows; it will be the first to go. It is hard to avoid thoughts of global warming on these hot August days.

I’ve just finished reading The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock – only a year late. I haven’t read anything by Lovelock since my years at university, but what strikes me is how true his earlier predictions seem to ring. I remember studying his idea of Gaia which, very basically, connects all living things in their regulatory effect on the Earth’s environment, contributing to the balance that allows life to exist.

Back then I thought Lovelock was simply incorporating the views of other, older cultures and putting his own spin on them. I took his Gaia theory and incorporated it into my own philosophy. I have always held onto ideas that have a sense of harmony and balance to them. The idea of every living thing contributing to the overall ability of life to exist on Earth makes sense. Everything contributes, all for one and one for all.

Although I took up his Gaia philosophy, I didn’t take it to heart. I suppose I didn’t truly realize the extent of the damage I was causing to the earth. I went on driving my gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting car and, for at least five years, rationalized that I was contributing to the environment by recycling and using my blue box regularly. I watched as each year the weather became more and more extreme. I listened as record-breaking heat waves hit Europe and greater numbers of major hurricanes pounded our shores. Reports of flood, drought, and famine flash over my computer screen every single day. Lovelock’s predictions of impending climate change seem to be coming true.

The environmental movement is gaining strength, as it rallies public opinion behind the science. Will it gain enough strength to cause the real cultural change needed to reverse the damage already done? I still go to work in an air-conditioned car, spend my days in an air-conditioned building. But things are changing in my life. I try now more than ever to write about the environment. I know that my next vehicle purchase will be a hybrid. I feel guilty when I leave the lights on, or use the air conditioner in my home. I usually avoid turning on the lights in my office. I tell myself that the little things count. I hope more than anything that they will.

Lovelock writes of how farming has changed over the years in order to feed the ever-growing population and of how we are stripping the earth of her bounty in order to feed ourselves. Mankind is now farming at least half of the available land on the globe, leaving very little natural world to renew the resources we deplete.

The Revenge of Gaia has a section on power generation. I’ve always been strongly anti-nuclear, but I should specify it as anti-fission. Lovelock points out the shortcomings of a lot of green power and his preference for nuclear fusion – the nuclear combustion of hydrogen. He writes about the Tokomak reactor at the Culham Science Centre in the United Kingdom and the prospects for fusion energy, which are fascinating: “Nuclear waste of a fusion reactor is the harmless non-radioactive gas helium, and there are no long-term radioactive wastes.”
He worries that although nuclear fusion energy is within reach, it might take 20 years before it takes hold because of the timelines necessary to build the fusion reactors.

Lovelock concludes that nuclear power must be supported because of how little time he believes Earth has before we go past the point of no return. He says it is a point where the globe will become too hot to support life and vast portions of it will turn to desert.
I wonder if we truly are that close to drastically screwing up the world. I don’t have enough knowledge to know. I have learned that the planet is incredibly resilient, but then mankind is incredibly destructive.

But what makes me a true supporter of the environmentalists isn’t their predictions, or the extremes of Mother Nature, it is that this whole push is forcing us to take the technology we possess and make it better.

For the last 20 years the vast majority of technology has been focused on gadgetry, with very few research and development dollars going into anything but toys. If the environmental movement can push research dollars towards real innovative breakthroughs that add to our knowledge rather than diffuse it, then I’m behind it all the way.

The thing I can’t understand is what the harm is in supporting the environmentalist movement. Why are some people so against it? If there is even a small chance that we could refocus the massive amount of time and energy spent on designing gadgetry, to instead come up with a solution for clean power generation, then paint me green and give me a tree to hug.

The sun is slowly lighting up the sky. Its light touches the tips of the tall green pines, making them look as if they are on fire. I must push away these thoughts of doom and destruction. Another hot day is coming… maybe it will rain.

Sarah Thomson can be reached atpublisher@womenspost.ca.

PEACE REQUIRES CIVILITY

The theme of this issue is war and peace – two opposite positions that play into every human relationship.

I’ve never lived in a war zone, or experienced war. I know how lucky that is. So I’ll focus on what I do know – peace. I know peace takes work. It takes compromise, acceptance, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness.

I watch my two-and-a-half-year-old son push down his younger brother for no apparent reason. He does it because he can, and because he doesn’t know any better. My role as his mother is to keep reinforcing what it is to be civil; to teach my son that harming another person is not acceptable. I know the day will come when he’ll understand… but it may not be until his younger brother is big enough to push back.

Civilization: A word that holds so much meaning, but counts for so little without the foundations of civility that hold it up. Civility requires that every person place society above their own personal gain. It requires compromise with others, acceptance of the laws, unwritten and written, that allow the society to flourish; at times, it also requires forgiveness – the ability to rise above spite, jealousy, and fear. Civility is taught from parent to child, but I think it is also strengthened by time, knowledge, and understanding. I think too that civility can be weakened over time by pride, wealth, and self-righteousness. I sometimes think that this civilization may, like Rome, collapse from within, destroyed by its own wealth, greed, and lack of morality. War engulfed Rome, but I wonder if they brought it upon themselves.

And now, today, our peacekeepers fight in a foreign land, trying to bring order to tribal culture, hoping for peace. I read somewhere that peace comes from within. Is this true?

The wind blew all night and most of the day, shaking the boathouse relentlessly. It makes me feel restless. The dog barking on the next island at 4 a.m. didn’t help. Our neighbours have a black lab and they completely ignore the fact that everyone else on the lake has to listen to its endless barking whenever they let it out in the early hours of the morning.

This afternoon, the same dog swam over to our beach. Wet and aggressive, it bounded about causing my two boys to scream with fear. I looked for a stick to beat it away from them should it come too close. A large rock was our only defense, but the dog backed away from my anger. For a brief moment I was going to smash its head with that rock. A primal urge deep inside me to protect my boys almost cost that poor dog its life. The dog’s owners passed by in a rowboat a few hours later and waved. I waved back, trying to be civilized, all the while thinking “there goes a bunch of selfish people who don’t care about their neighbours. I must not yell, or get angry. I must be civilized, controlled, and refrain from saying anything rude. I must show them what civility is.” I controlled my desire to war, and peace (enforced by civility) ruled the day.

I’ve picked up a dozen books today, but can’t quite focus. The boats zooming past on the lake add to this anxiousness. I decide to look for a peaceful spot. The path up to the old cottage is quiet and the tall trees protect it from the wind. I sit down and listen. I can smell the sun heating up the pine needles on the forest floor. I can hear the wind whispering in the pines and finally a sense of peace settles over me.

Whoever said that peace comes from within obviously hadn’t lived through days of endless wind and tormenting noise. I think it more likely that peace, like everything else, comes from the fine balance of internal and external forces. No matter how at peace I am with my life, no matter how calm my soul, mother nature will always affect me – reminding me that I am vitally connected to her.

FUNNY HOW TIME SLIPS AWAY – CONRAD BLACK’S BATTLE

The afternoon sun is hot on the boathouse roof. I lie down for a nap with my son and can almost feel the heat penetrating the shingles. There is little wind and a haze over the lake muffles the sounds – all but for the lazy call of a Phoebe.

I love these hot summer days when time seems to drip, slowly, in rhythm to the waves lapping at the dock.

I have asked our columnists to write about time – the most valuable thing we have. I wonder how each writer will tackle it? I suggested they might write about what they would do if they only had a day to live.

My day would be spent selfishly with my family – making love with my husband and playing with my children. I’d want their last memories of me to be warm and loving.

But when I think of time I think of how quickly it passes, and how much there is to do. I want to contribute to society – but how will I make the world a better place? There are powerful people who can change the course of history and I hope this newspaper can influence them to do the right things. But that’s a lot to hope for.

Conrad Black, once one of the most powerful men in Canada, is now facing a battle with time. I’m not part of the bandwagon of media people kicking him while he’s down. He’s had a history of creative business schemes that made auditors, bankers, and investors spin in confusion. And those who chose to invest in his companies had to know his history, but chose to back him despite it, because he had a reputation of making money. They took a chance, some lost, but a lot of people gained. That’s part of investing in a company with such a larger-than-life leader. He was able to create a second national daily newspaper in Canada, he took risks, and he led with a flare that very few business leaders dare to possess anymore.

I am sad that he was found guilty of fraud. Sad because he was once a hero to a lot of Canadians – he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for demonstrating outstanding level of talent and service to Canadians – and sad because he is a man who is extremely bright. There is something unsettling about locking up a brilliant mind.

It takes wisdom to manage time well. I know that Black will do everything he can to avoid jail. But they’ll never be able to lock up his brain and with the technology available today, much of what he does now will still be possible. He may end up being the first man in history to start and run an international company from a jail cell.

A few weeks ago I worked on a crossword with some help from Lord Black. It was before the outcome of his trial was announced, while he was waiting for the verdict. He had one of the largest vocabularies I know of and sent me some of his best words. I filled in the rest and the crossword in the previous issue is the result. It is titled “Lord Black’s Revenge” and is still available on our website. The more I think on it, the more I wonder what his next move will be. He is not a man to go out quietly like some corporate middle manager. As long as he is breathing Conrad Black is a man to watch, and only time will tell what’s in store for him.

The waves knock the boats against the dock, their rhythm seems endless. The heat pressing down on the surface of the lake makes it seem like oil rocking back and forth. I watch my younger son sleep. His tiny hand opens and closes as he waves in a dream. I wonder who he waves to and imagine one of his grandfathers visiting him. Neither of them lived long enough to meet my sons. Their time ran out, but they both passed on the importance of making the most of each and every moment. They knew the true value of time.

IF I COULD WRITE MY FATHER…

I wrote a letter to my father when I was 15. It went something like this:

Dear Dad,

I’m traveling around Canada, meeting a lot of people and learning much more than I ever would in school.

You’re always telling me to write when I’m angry and I’m writing now, because I’m pissed off at you. The fight we had was the last straw and I just couldn’t take any more of you. Do you remember why you got mad at me? It was ridiculous! I was trying to type an essay for school and you came into the kitchen screaming that my “hammering on the keys” was unacceptable. When I screamed back, ripped up the essay and threw it at you, the look of shock that crossed your face was priceless.

It actually felt good to yell back at you; to defend myself and stand up to you for once. Part of me wishes I had stood up to you sooner. When I pointed out how awful you are to Peter – your own son – how you haven’t let a day go by without telling him how stupid he is, you looked truly surprised. I can’t believe that you were actually wondering why he’s such a fucked-up teenager!

After saying that I realized that for once you were listening to me. I left because I saw the acknowledgment on your face and the hurt in your eyes…

I didn’t know how to end that letter and never did end up sending it to my father.

I wrote it with a pen I’d stolen, along with $60 and a watch, from a nice chap who had invited me to his house party the previous night. I woke early that morning with a screaming hangover, but also with the relief one has when she realizes she is fully-clothed on the floor in a room full of snoring people. The man who owned the house was asleep in the bedroom, so I quietly sifted through his wallet, his dresser, and his bathroom, putting anything I could pawn into my pockets.

I went to a coffee shop and wrote that letter, but I didn’t know how to explain that I too was hurting; that my confidence was almost gone and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t justify my actions by telling myself that the world owed me something, because deep inside I knew that I owed the world. I couldn’t write about how the more I stole and cheated the more worthless I felt.

But life is full of change. Today as I look at my husband and son playing on the floor of our cottage, I wish so much that my father could have met them. The letter I’d write him would be so different from that one I wrote so many years ago. It would go something like this:

Dear Dad,

I want to thank you for being such a great father.

Thank you for the friendship that we were able to have. Thank you for that first time you picked up the phone and called me. I know that mom set you up to it, but I also know it was hard for you. I remember hanging up and crying because I was 22 years old and it was the first time you had ever called me. Dad, it meant a lot to me.

There are so many things that you taught me over the years. You taught me how to hold a hammer, how to use a skill saw, and a drill. You showed me that I could build things with my bare hands, and that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else. You encouraged me to write, to read, and to think. At times, when I’m struggling with some sort of challenge, I can hear your voice in my head saying, “Sarah, think. The answer is obvious.”

Dad, you taught me that I’m not always right. That looking for answers is always better than thinking I have them all.

I still remember the days and nights we spent in your hospital room. One day we spoke about life, and I was trying to picture you holding me as I child. I couldn’t remember what it felt like and realized that we had never hugged. When I got up to go home, I bent over and wrapped my arms around you. I thought you’d be stiff and awkward, but you held me tightly – we both knew that we didn’t have much time left.

If I could change anything in my past I would change my teenage years because I gave up the time I could have had with you. It’s the time, the conversations, and the way you had of making me believe I could do anything that I miss most.

You knew the importance of words; you knew their power and how to use them like knives, or like tools to build with. You weren’t perfect, but you tried to make up for your mistakes.

I learned so many things from you. Do you remember how we used to play chess? You taught me to play when I was only about eight years old, and you always won – right up until the very last game we played together, a couple of weeks before you died. I remember the moment that we both realized I had won. My eyes filled with tears. You knew I was worried sick about you, but you smiled and said, “Sarah it’s okay. You are going to be okay.”

Dad, I miss you so much…

THE PROPAGANDA AROUND NUCLEAR POWER

I received a letter commenting on a column I wrote a few weeks ago on the dangers and risks of nuclear power. The letter came from an employee at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) via their public affairs department. It made me realize the OPG is a bit sensitive to what their employees tell the public. And I wondered if they had censored the letter because it came across like company propaganda — spewing the words “safe and clean” like frisbees in a dog park.

The issue is that if an accident like the Chernobyl explosion were to occur at the Pickering power station, most, if not all, of the population of Toronto would die from radiation exposure and Toronto would be uninhabitable.

But the process of nuclear power generation does not create greenhouse gases and so the nuclear power supporters have jumped on this tidbit and sold it as the entire truth without acknowledging that the process of nuclear power generation includes the toxic waste it produces. To discount the waste when summing up nuclear power as “clean” is to create a false impression to the general public. The nuclear power generation process, from start to finish, is so toxic that it is lethal. To call it clean is to lie to the public.

Despite propaganda, the truth does eventually rise to the surface, and the truth is that the process of nuclear power generation creates the most damaging and toxic waste products of all of our energy sources to date. The other claim that the OPG and the Nuclear Power Association want the public to swallow is that nuclear power generation is safe. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize that creating toxic waste and storing it 50 kilometers from the largest city in Canada is NOT safe!

So why do they try so hard to put a positive spin on nuclear power? Nuclear is a huge industry that requires huge resources and, not surprisingly, it pays a lot of people very well — from the bankers financing it to the construction companies cashing in on it. I don’t think the people promoting nuclear today are tyrants or evil at heart, but I can’t think of even one true leader who stands out among them… they are a group of people thinking like middle managers — fighting for their livelihood and their belief that the vitality of Ontario’s economy is worth the risk of a catastrophe.

That there isn’t simply one person who is responsible for a possible disaster is what made nuclear power generation possible. The nuclear supporters know full well the outcome of a disaster; they know that the more complex a system is, the higher the likelihood of risk. But it is far easier for an impassioned group to risk everything than it is for one person to take responsibility for such a decision. That’s what the Nazi propaganda machine depended on — people hiding within a group, distorting the truth to serve their own purpose. Sure, one man started it but the group made it happen — and today the scary thing is that same group mentality is what the nuclear industry operates on.

Nuclear has proven that you don’t actually have to operate as a profitable business so long as you provide the energy the public demands. If renewable energy were to get the government backing it needs, it too wouldn’t have to be profitable. But I have an inkling that it would be, simply because the philosophy behind renewable energy is a good one.

I had another reader state that “nuclear will be the future.” Canada may have a lot of uranium now, but research estimates that our supplies will last 30 to 60 years, depending on use. This means that by the time all the upgrades and new nuclear installations are completed, there will not actually be any uranium to run them. So to say that nuclear will be the way of the future misses the fact that there isn’t a future for nuclear.

Today almost 51% of the power used in Ontario comes from nuclear power generation. Without it the OPG wouldn’t have a hope in hell of filling the public demand and black-outs across the province would occur. And the government responsible for stopping them would lose public support immediately. So the impetus to change isn’t going to come from the government.

Change has to start here, in the public realm; it starts with me writing about the truth; it starts with others debating the issues. Change starts with the banker who decides to support the solar company looking for capital. Change starts with each and every one of us learning the truth and placing value on it. What are you, on a personal level, going to do?

My suggestion? Switch to bullfrog power. The company was created to divert hydro payments away from nuclear and coal to clean renewable energy sources. By signing up you virtually pay a fee to make sure that your payment for the energy you use each month goes directly to clean, renewable energy sources. You can find them atwww.bullfrogpower.com

LIFE IS LIFE

With Mother’s Day just around the corner the focus of this issue is on choice. I’ve asked columnists to offer their thoughts regarding the right of a mother to choose to abort her pregnancy. It is a controversial topic to be sure, and one that will likely never be settled.

I have trouble with both sides of the abortion debate because I don’t believe anyone can truly know where life begins. Both sides try to
explain what is impossible to know with certainty, and both define it absolutely. There is only one thing I know with absolute certainty
and that is that change will occur. I know without a doubt that this moment, as I type, will never occur again because change, no matter
how infinitesimal, will happen. Sometimes I think that this is what life is all about – a series of changes that we humans try to understand, define and control. But change is what happens in your life, or to your life. It is a process, not a definition. With motherhood I thought I might gain a bit of understanding, at the very least of when life begins, but after two children I’m less certain than ever. When I think of my pregnancies I can’t place exactly when I felt like the tiny thing growing inside me actually became a life – in my mind. It wasn’t when I saw the image of the tiny pea-sized embryo on my ultra-sound – something about it didn’t seem real. Perhaps, it was when I felt that first kick.

I wonder if the hormones coursing through my veins during those first few months of my pregnancies stopped me from connecting
to the baby inside me. I remember feeling that I had to find a name for it in order to make it feel more alive to me. But maybe, it is a protection mechanism Mother Nature planted in me. I’m well aware that the chance of miscarriage is extremely high in the first few months and my brain may have been stopping me from connecting.

The thing about being a mother is that at some point during your pregnancy you become crucially aware that you are not alone. It is the point when the alien form inside finally connects with your mind and becomes a tiny person that will one day be walking, talking and breathing. That point of awareness may be enhanced by the belly touches and encouraging words of friends and family, or it may come from the hormones raging through you; but whichever it is there is definitely a point, months prior to the birth of your child, when one knows without a doubt that you are merely the custodian of an independent life inside your body. It is at that point, that moment of recognition that a mother can never go back. I don’t believe science or religion can define when that point is. I think it rests in the individual, but I believe that if a mother decides to abort her pregnancy after she has experienced that moment of recognition, she also bankrupts her morality, because that is the point for her at which abortion becomes murder.

I don’t find much value in the “life” theories the old boys in Rome came up with, or for that matter a lot of the theories surrounding evolution. But I’m not a theologian or a scientist. What I do know is that words can be twisted and that people are forever using them to serve one purpose or another. When anti-abortionists judge and scorn people they ignore one of the most basic ethical principles – in religion and civil society – that of compassion. But then when pro-abortionists insist that abortion should be available to all, they ignore the fact that there is a point in a woman’s pregnancy when abortion becomes murder and at that point no mother is without guilt.

My two little ones are finally asleep. I wonder when they will begin to recognize the value of life. I suppose one day they’ll ask me how it all began, not just their life, but what came before them and before me and before everything. That is one question that I won’t be able to answer and one that I hope my kids will never be smug enough to think they know.

THE NUCLEAR POWER SCANDAL

While the media focuses on greenhouse gases, global warming, and clean air, possibly the most devastating, and costly threat to the environment slides stealthily under the radar. Radioactive waste produced by 16 Canadian nuclear reactors is still stored on-site, which means, for example, that the waste at Pickering is accumulating in a toxic, radioactive cesspool surrounded by concrete, less than 50 kilometers from the largest city in Canada.

Ontario Power Genera-tion (OPG) is storing – and has done so for more than 4 decades – one of the most lethal and toxic wastes ever created, right here in our backyards, primarily because they have no idea what to do with it.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why our government continually chooses to back nuclear power, when what the public ultimately wants is renewable energy. As a business investment, nuclear continually underperforms. In fact, when all costs (including disposal of toxic waste) are taken into consideration, the price of nuclear escalates to such a degree that it makes a bad business investment. Private investors have stayed completely away from the nuclear power industry since its inception. But I think there is much more at play than meets the public eye. Both the history of power generation and the politics surrounding alternative energy in this country play a huge part.

The history of the OPG is one filled with grand schemes promoted by power-hungry (excuse the pun) tyrants relying on an atmosphere of desperation and stupidity.

In the 1970s Ontario decided to base its future on nuclear energy. My guess is that the Nuclear Power Association presented a sly, polished, and legitimate-sounding “business” model to a government frustrated by environmental lobbyists pressuring it to stop building hydro facilities.

Nuclear sold itself then as it does today – as a “clean” alternative with little impact on the environment. Prop-aganda has a way of slithering into popular culture, distorting the truth, and the machine behind the nuclear movement is well oiled. Over time, as the actual costs have surfaced, nuclear proves to be far more expensive than estimated. One can only hope that the environmental risks haven’t been severely underestimated as well.

Today there are only a few environmentalists in Canada who have managed to build successful businesses in the energy industry, and I imagine that in the 1970s they were virtually non-existent and probably half stoned. It’s one thing to be an environmentalist and an entirely different thing to run a reliable energy company capable of providing a necessity to thousands of Canadians. The government then didn’t have much choice but to accept the recommendations of Ontario Hydro (now OPG) and hope for the best.

Last year’s Pembina Report estimated that “About 85,000 used fuel bundles are generated every year by Canadian nuclear reactors.” It goes on to explain that, “When a spent fuel rod is removed from a CANDU nuclear reactor, it is extremely radioactive: an unprotected person standing within a metre of such a bundle would die within an hour.”

Although radioactivity decreases with time, it takes about one million years for the level of radioactivity of spent fuel to return to that of natural uranium. Used nuclear fuel also has the potential to release chemically toxic elements, including heavy metals.

With so much focus put on clean air and greenhouse gases, nuclear power provides little more than a simulacrum offering a quick, expensive, and non-renewable stopgap. What’s needed now are a few good ideas, accompanied by some great business plans, and some savvy business types to implement them with the same amount of support and backing this government is giving to the nuclear power industry.

THE VALUE OF VISION

My two-year-old son woke me early this morning. He placed his hand on my cheek and, when I opened my eyes, his nose was almost touching mine. When our eyes met he whispered “hi mummy,” softly with a tenderness that melted away any thoughts of sending him back to his bed. He is learning the value of tenderness, learning that the way he speaks and what he says has a direct effect on how others treat him. He is learning the art of manipulation.

I’ve just finished taking the MBA Essentials for Managers course at Rotman Business School. The course fired up my desire to learn and grow, particularly the class on negotiation taught by Glen Whyte. What I came away with was the idea that good negotiation isn’t about winning or losing, but about creating a contract that allows both sides to benefit from the relationship like a good marriage.

Jim Fisher also gave a great lecture on leadership, using a speech from Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth. The speech demonstrates how Henry is able to convince his men to fight although all the odds are against them, how he motivates and manipulates them using everything from honour to promises of infamy. A good leader must be good at managing, motivating and leading. They must carry out a plan, but be able to maneuver in a consistently changing environment. What is important is not sticking to the plan but sticking to the vision. A leader must live up to their value system in order to inspire those who follow them. It was interesting to learn that ethical values can have much more influence over people than money.

And today I think about the vision for the Women’s Post. Our vision is to inspire as many women as we can to be all they can be. Our strategy reflects this vision and so too do the people I work with. Now as a leader I must stick to my values. I must motivate the people I work with and adapt plans easily to the changes we encounter, and at all times I must stick to our vision.
Vision without a task is only a dream. A task without a vision is but drudgery. But vision with a task is a dream fulfilled.

Recommended Reading:

Willie Stone Sixtyfive Roses, a Sister’s Memoir by Heather Summerhayes Cariou had me in tears by the second page. The story is about how and why her parents founded the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. But it is also about the bond between two sisters, and how illness changes the way a family lives and magnifies each moment.

Welcome

We welcome Sandra Martin, Heather Mallick and Elizabeth Nickson to our roster of columnists. They are three very intelligent women who say what they think with eloquence and style. I’m looking forward to some very interesting discussion and debate in the coming months.

THOUGHTS AND IDEAS

Monday

My office is filled with sunlight. I came in early today to get a head start on answering email and returning messages. Nobody is in yet and it seems so [quite] QUIET. I love the fast pace of the office when things get hectic on deadline day, but I also love moments like this. I wander around and notice that someone has hung a new map on the wall for the salespeople to use. I see that my great assistant has organized all the back issues of the paper onto shelves and labeled them. Someone else has a picture of their wife on his screensaver. I notice that every desk has something personal on it that distinguishes them. Someone has taken the little toy animals that sit on my book shelf and put them in a compromising position. There are some things people do simply to cause a smile ― I’m glad I work with people who do those sorts of things.

Tuesday

Went to my first MBA Essentials for Managers course tonight at Rotman Business School. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy school. Tonight the focus was on design thinking. Heather Fraser took the class through a crash course on the value of design as a means to “unlocking breakthrough strategies and ideas…” We covered some of the design tools that can be used to set up, grow and analyse a company. Fraser demonstrated how to create a strategic business design in order to understand the key elements that drive a company to success. As we spoke I doodled out a strategic business design for this newspaper and the act of simply writing down all the important elements that go into the end product made me focus on how important our distribution is to our brand identification as well as our advertising revenue stream. I must broaden our reach and get the street boxes out as soon as possible.

We’ve had success with every major city but Toronto. We have waited more than 2 years to get licences for newspaper boxes from the city of Toronto but have had nothing but roadblocks put up. At this point I’m wondering if we should take legal action. I can’t understand why the Toronto Sun can have a box on all four corners of an intersection but the Women’s Post is not allowed to have even one box.

Wednesday

I’m feeling guilty today. Guilty for driving to work when I could have easily walked; guilty for turning on the lights, for buying my latte, for consuming like most other North Americans. Global warming is real and yet I continue to go about my life, giving little thought to finding the answer to the energy crisis. If not me then who?

Thursday

We had our first advisory board meeting for the Women’s Post today and I was awed by the number of great ideas that were discussed. Having the time to think, talk and strategize with a number of very intelligent people felt like a great luxury. Each one of them gave their best ideas and their time and for that I will always be thankful. Time is something one can never get back, but I must say that those first few hours spent strategizing on the direction of this newspaper were some of the most productive hours I have had in a long time.

I had another MBA Essentials for Managers course at Rotman Business School tonight and this time the focus was on negotiation. The instructor was thorough and interesting. He had us break into pairs and role play while negotiating an employment contract. It is something I do frequently and the structure emphasized creating a winning situation for both parties so that the actual outcome would create the best situation possible. I didn’t realize that the things I do by gut instinct can be abstracted into a theory.

Friday

One of my favourite journalists, Heather Mallick, has joined the Women’s Post. I find both her intellect and comical outlook inspiring. Last summer, she wrote a short sentence in an email that filled me with awe. While commenting on the heat she wrote, “the spiders are dripping from my windows.” Lines like that are few and far between and when you come across them they stick with you.