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Sarah Thomson

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“Operation Soap” brought out our ugly

Today is Feb, 5th and on this day 34 years ago Toronto police organized “Operation Soap” raiding four gay bathhouses in the city and arresting over 300 innocent men. It was perhaps one of our lowest points as a city and should serve to remind all of us how easily our rights can be taken away.  Human rights are, unfortunately, easily ignored when those given power are ignorant.

Peter Bochove was co owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium at the time of the raid in 1981 and said the police came in with crow bars and sledge hammers “ they were offered the keys to the lockers and the rooms, but they held up a crowbar and said — we brought our own. We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip” One of the cops who was looking at the pipes going into the shower room said, “gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas.” http://www.yorku.ca/jspot/5/stand_together/3/

The campaign was an initiative by the metropolitan police to push gay bars and bathhouses out of business – but also to silence those who advocated for gay rights.

Instead of driving the LGBT community underground it worked as a catalyst, uniting the gay community and building support through mass demonstrations, rallies and marches.  It was the beginning of six years of steady harassment by the police of gay press and gay men across the country; but also the beginning of the gay rights movement in Canada.  Instead of hiding, gay men took to the streets, marching with their supporters, pushing the boundary and speaking out. It was the end of the silence.

Today is a day to remember, and a day to celebrate all those who stood up for gay rights and refused to stay silent.

Social media exposes all

Love it or hate it, social media is having a huge impact on the world and it is one that I view optimistically.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are the newest forms of communication and they are working to build better communities. There are some interesting trends that have developed over facebook in conjunction with Twitter and Youtube, that are causing people to be more reflective, more compassionate and better informed.

Take for instance #ThrowbackThursdays – this is a general call for users to post old pictures of themselves to share with their community.  It requires people to dig through their past and gain  little reflection in the process. Or the growing trend to capture everything on video. From kittens wrestling to puppies playing, video producers are everywhere adding a creative drive to new media that is reshaping the entertainment world.

But perhaps the most significant impact of social media is its ability to allow knowledge to grow and expand. No longer can editors act as gate-keepers, deciding what is important and what is not. In a world were pictures, videos and words can be shared with the click of a button the opportunity to learn has never been more accessible. Social media is a powerful tool that can be used as a weapon, or a form of defense – think of all the videos that have come out exposing assault, pushing people to be more.  The real strength of social media rests in its ability to expose injustice and the hidden messages that rest just under the surface.

Take for example politics. Over the past century land developers have influenced politicians to build infrastructure that will increase their property values. They might push for a railway station that connects to their property in order to increase their property value, or they might go further and influence the design of the entire rail line to have fewer stops in order to increase their land value even further – the demand for space near the stop will be much greater. However social media can easily expose this sort of corruption. Property ownership is easy to find online, connections between developers and those who created the design can be easily exposed. Can you imagine the damage that could be done to a politician promoting a rail line with few stops through the city if social media exposed that the design for the line was created by developers with property at those stops?  No longer can a group of land developers push through a poor design. No longer can politicians get away with paying off their sponsors. Social media is just starting to shape the way our society moves forward and I for one am looking forward to the impacts it will have on our future.

In pursuit of the guilt-free tan

By Kate Zankowicz

Locusts are swarming the beaches of the Canary Islands and sea turtles are washing up on the shores of Mexico. With such startling ecological costs, how can one manage to frolic in the sand without a burdened conscience this winter? Although I was initially skeptical about ecotourism, I have suffered from the shock of accidentally discovering that raw sewage pipe while innocently combing the beach for cowry shells in the past. I decided that my trip to Saint Martin/Sint Maarten had to be more environmentally kosher.

For those readers who are envisioning being tangled up in mangrove roots while tracking the elusive Sacred Ibis bird, or being forced to tag and label heaps of turtle eggs, think again. You don’t have to be a freakishly avid bird-watcher or relish portage through the jungle to be an eco-tourist. Although Costa Rica may seem to be the most obvious eco-tourist destination, there are many Caribbean islands that are making a commitment to ecologically smart tourism practices, led by CAST (the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism) and various nature foundations and ocean reserves.

The small Dutch and French island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, for instance, boasts a Marine park and a bird sanctuary. This has been in response to the overwhelming number of tourists (1.2 million a year) who come to cavort on 92 km of pristine white sand beaches and turquoise blue surf. Paradoxically enough, the very things that attract tourists to the island are endangered by their presence there. The main town on the Dutch side, Phillipsburg, is replete with all the trappings of any North American shopping mall. There is a Tommy Hilfiger and Gap for the 20,000 tourists who come off the cruise ship each day to do some shopping they could very well have done at home.

It’s a quaint colonial town, but one that remains surprisingly silent about its colonial past: supposedly discovered by Columbus, invaded by the Spanish, the French, the Dutch, the English, and even the Americans (Juliana Airport is the old U.S. military base). The island was a sugar plantation economy until the tourists started coming, and was a key producer of salt for Dutch herring until the resorts started being built. The border between the French and Dutch sides is marked by a solitary monument. The main difference is that there are sexier guavaberry cocktails and more nude beaches on the French side. Both sides are on the Euro currency, and accept every credit card imaginable.

In the face of a population that seems to double every few years, the marine parks and wildlife preserves are important steps in safeguarding the island from environmental degradation. The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation on the Dutch side has been instrumental in reducing the anchoring damage by establishing boat-free zones in the marine park, and also reducing the coral reef damage caused by cavorting divers. This last is done by building “reef balls,” artificial reef environments that are made from fibre-glass but simulate the real thing. These pockets of enclosed reef teem with stoplight parrot fish, cushion sea stars, queen angelfish, fire worms and conchs without endangering ecologically sensitive reef areas, and are still a diver’s delight.

The foundation also plants palm and mangrove to counter beach erosion, and has established a Turtle Watch to keep tabs on the three species that lay their eggs on the island: the green turtle, the hawksbill and the leatherback.

Although ecotourism sometimes seems like a shameless marketing tool, promising adventure in the rain forest, life-changing ancient cave exploration, or botanically enlightened hikes with native guides, Sint Maarten’s ecotourism is of a quieter variety. There are many hotels that profess to be “ecolodges” simply because they offer bird watching tours, and one should, of course, be aware that “eco” can be misleading.

But as I lolled about the beach, or sat beneath the tamarind trees, a hibiscus bloom behind my ear, I felt considerably more at ease knowing that just beyond the sand was a pelican reserve, and that my brief stint with scuba diving didn’t damage a single coral polyp. The fact that no one asked me to label a sea turtle egg made it even sweeter. And thankfully, there was not a single biblical swarm of locusts to be found.

Transit integration moves forward for GTHA

Today GO Transit and the TTC announced a partnership on a pilot project to give metropass holders the opportunity to purchase a new monthly GO fare sticker for $60 that can be used  for unlimited travel between Exhibition, Union and Danforth GO Stations. It will begin on Feb 1, 2015. The new stickers will go on sale on Jan. 26, at Exhibition, Union and Danforth GO Stations.

CEO of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig said, “This project is more than about saving time. It’s about working together to provide the best transit service”

The goal is to attract people to use different transit options, and to inform them of all the transit choices that are available to them. Transit officials say this will save commuters between 10 to 15 minutes per trip during rush hour.

Ontario Transportation Minister, Steven Del Duca announced that the project would last one year, and offer Metrolinx a lot of information to analyse in order to help them with long-term planning.

Here is how to get the sticker

1. Bring your TTC Metropass (for the current or upcoming month) to the ticket counter at Exhibition, Union or Danforth GO Station.

2. A GO station Attendant will attach the GO fare sticker to your valid TTC Metropass.

Safe travels.

Twitter impacts women more than men

How does social media use impact stress?

A new survey done by Pew Research Center on 1,801 adults, asked participants about the extent “to which they felt their lives were stressful, using an established scale of stress called the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).” The survey was based on 10 questions measured through PSS to determine the levels of stress participants had. The findings demonstrated that overall people who use social media do not have higher stress levels and in fact the study demonstrated that women who use “twitter, email and cell phone picture sharing report lower levels of stress.”

The study also found that increased awareness of stressful events in the lives of others is tied to higher levels of stress especially in women. It is termed “the cost of caring” and the study found that the stress is not connected to the frequency of use of social media but with more to the awareness of distressing events in others.  Learning about the massacre in Nigeria, or the attacks in Paris, has an impact those relating to it. In other words it is the content or knowledge gained, and not the way in which that knowledge is gained that actually causes stress. This might seem obvious but for decades people have wanted to blame technology for the additional stress in our lives.

The study also demonstrated that there are benefits from social media interaction. Those who use social media are more likely to have more friends, more trust in people and more support than those who do not use social media.  But when balanced with the additional stress caused by increased awareness the stress levels in those who use social media balance out with those who don’t.

However women tend to report more stress than men from social media use, but those who use it to communicate with others report less stress than women who do not use social media.

Women who use social media are much more aware and impacted by stressful events in the lives of others and
the number of undesirable events associated with stress is greater in women than men.

When it comes to men there is no difference in stress levels between men who use social media and those who don’t.

So what does this mean? Men collect and process information differently than women, they are not as impacted by learning that a friend is in a stressful situation, nor does sharing information reduce stress in them.  Women are impacted by stress in others and social media can relieve stress in women if they share with it.

I wonder what this knowledge might do in the way of developing new apps or to the strategies of campaigns targeting , what changes to political oline strategies might occur to target women and unlike my male counterparts how they will use it? You might say that it’s stressin’ me out.

Caille Blanc, St. Lucia

The birds wake you in the morning as the sun rises, a soft breeze passes through the shutters and I understand now why there isn’t any glass in the windows. This is the way to wake up in St. Lucia.

We are staying in the southern area of Soufriere, up high on a mountain overlooking the Pitons and the Caribbean. At night when the birds go to sleep you can hear the waves crashing on the rocks far below, during the day when the sun is high the bugs seem to take over the air waves but they haven’t come out of their hiding yet. Our boys are sleeping without misquito nets and haven’t had a bite yet.

The rain comes often in short, light mist and then disappears with the sun drying up everything in a few minutes.

The hummingbirds are everywhere, with gold finches, morning doves and songbirds that I can’t name.

The villa has an Italian/Spanish flare to it, and with the mountains so close it feels a little like Italy and Costa Rica rolled into one.

The gardner comes at 7 a.m. and I can hear his brooms sweeping the leaves off the front step. My son rushes out to help him feed the gold fish in the small fish pond beside the kitchen gazebo. At nine the chef comes to make us breakfast, she prepares dinner leaving it for us to cook. My husband and I like to make dinner together so it works out perfectly.

Yesterday we walked down the road to the beach, it was hot and beautiful. I dream about building a place like this with our boys in another few years…

If you are planning a vacation this is a beautiful place to relax and you can book it here: http://www.vrbo.com/289848 

What makes a city great?

I doubt anyone could point to just one feature that makes a city a great place to live, instead  a great city depends on thousands of small parts that collectively make it a success or a failure.  Toronto has some terrific features but also some big challenges. We sit beside a huge fresh water lake, but because of our location climate change has a harsh impact on us — from ice storms to floods — and scientists are predicting that extreme weather conditions will increase. Toronto must look for ways to  fortify our city for the weather to come, and for the increase in population that is expected.

But let’s get back to one of the small features that cities around the world are using to improve the quality of life for their residents — Trees. Not only do trees improve air quality, produce oxygen, and combat the greenhouse effect, they cool the streets, conserve energy and save water. Given all the positive impacts of having a large and healthy urban tree canopy (over 50% coverage) where does Toronto sit in comparison to other cities in North America?

Below are the top ten cities in North America and their percentage of tree and bush coverage:

1.     Atlanta -52%

2.     Nashville – 49%

3.     Pittsburg – 42%

4.     Halifax – 41%

5.     Albuquerque – 38%

6.     Washington D.C – 36%

7.     Minneapolis – 34%

8.     Tampa – 32%

9.     Austin – 31%

10.  Portland – 30%

Toronto isn’t even on the list of top ten, but we sit at a measly 26% tree coverage   —  we can and should do better!

_______________________________________

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see   
A poem lovely as a tree.   
   
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest   
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;   
   
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;   
   
A tree that may in summer wear   
A nest of robins in her hair;   
   
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;   
Who intimately lives with rain. 
   
Poems are made by fools like me,   
But only God can make a tree.

_________________________________________

www.itreetools.org/Canopy/resources/Tree_and_Impervious_Cover_change_in_US_Cities_Nowak_Greenfield.pdf

·http://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/UrbanForestsInCanadianCities.pdf

Costa Rica family getaway under 8K

Do you want rain forest, nature reserves, sun and sand? Then Costa Rica is the land for you, as long as you don’t mind bugs that are the size of small birds.

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The Cerros de Escazú  mountain range runs down the west coast of Costa Rica and provides great views of ocean sunsets as well as some spectacular zip lining.  The average ocean temp in February hovers at 27 degrees – so if it’s warm waters and cool mountain breezes you need this is the place for you.

I look for places that are peaceful and quiet, which can be hard to find when travelling with children on a budget, but I’ve found some terrific villas that offer more beauty at less price.

I’ve found that  VRBO  is a great way to find a villa and below are some good finds if you are looking for a great family vacation for 4-6 people for under $8000.

And some friendly advice. It’s best to fly into San Jose, mid-week. For example direct return flights from departing Feb 3,2015 and returning Feb 17, 2015 are (today) priced at $729.66 for a family of 4 that’s under $3000 for flights.

If you like to explore than a 4 wheel drive vehicle is essential. Aside from the main highway most of the roads are steep and often filled with large pot holes. Some mountain side villas require a 4×4 just to get up to them – the views are well worth the drive! You can rent a 4×4 Suzuki from Mirage for $30.39 a day this includes unlimited mileage bringing the total in around $500 for 2 weeks.

Another key thing to know is that if the villa you rent here is over 1000 feet elevation then you don’t need air conditioning as the mountain breezes are cool and constant. I prefer being a little more remote, away from the dogs barking in small towns but close enough to go out to a restaurant. Here are some choices that will bring you in under $8000 for a 2 week getaway for 4 people:

1. RAIN FOREST RETREAT

The first villa I would recommend is in a secluded  but beautiful setting. This home high up in the mountains but with an amazing view of the “Whales Tale” http://www.vrbo.com/273452  the drive up to the villa is extremely steep but you get accustomed to it quiet quickly. The peaceful srroundings, with howler monkies calling in the early morning and evening was beautiful. Rental price is $1195/week.

 

2. WALK TO THE BEACH

This listing on VRBO is one place that we stayed with an easy walk to a small beach. Shana Residences are beautifully laid out with a great view and  quite large for a 2 bedroom http://www.vrbo.com/3687824ha The sunsets were beautiful and the monkeys were everywhere. It wasn’t at a high enough elevation to go  high without air conditioning, but we only used it during the warmest part of the day. For $2000 per week, it was an easy drive in on paved roads, and close to restaurants and the town of Quepos.

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If you are going to the Manuel Antonio area it is worth the splurge to spend 1 or 2 nights at Arenas Del Mar Beach Resort – a small  eco-resort with rooms perched on the sides of a cliff situated in the rain forest. If you want to wake up to the sound of birds, bugs and the surf crashing against rocks far below this is well worth $600 – $800 a night. The pools are beautiful as is their private beach. And if you are there on a Thursday the beach dinner is amazing!
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Have a suggestion or recommendation please contact me!

Those who hurt us

When Mayor Ford sexually assaulted me he demonstrated the extent a powerful man and his colleagues will go in order to hide the truth and destroy someone’s credibility. Their ability to influence talk show hosts into using their microphones to twist and distort events with commentary designed specifically to destroy my credibility wasn’t just unethical but it validates the need for a stronger code of conduct in the broadcast industry.

The morning following my assault, one of my friends at Newstalk 1010 informed me that the Fords were trying to get their radio hosts and others in the media to denounce me. They used the same strategy that Jian Ghomeshi tried to use in his Facebook statement – they tried to define me as an unstable woman seeking attention. Ford’s people succeeded in coercing their media friends to question my motives, to attack my integrity and cast me as a woman not to be believed. Not only did this elevate the Mayor, it ensured other victims stayed silent. Everything from my hair, to my looks, and behavior was attacked. And while the average person got the impression that I wasn’t credible, others who knew a little more about the Mayor reached out to me. Some had seen Mayor Ford drunk, there were women who had endured his lewd behavior at parties – yet none of them were willing to speak out, driven to silence in part due to the shaming I was getting from a few unethical media personalities.

This is the problem with public shaming. It silences those who might speak out, who might come forward. And it stops women from speaking out about sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is in a position of power and influence. There are some who suggest that simply because a victim has turned to social media it makes them fair game for media attacks ­– it is time broadcasters follow a code of conduct that protects victims of assault from media lynching.

Michael Coren was one of the media personalities whose attack on me was particularly hurtful. It stung most because we had been colleagues for years at the Women’s Post. We met when a mutual friend suggested I hire him to write columns for the magazine, explaining that Coren had children, wasn’t working and needed financial help. We worked together for over a year, and often attended the same events. I edited many of his columns and although we shared different views we developed what I thought was a mutual respect — he knew me well enough to know that I wasn’t a person to make up stories. And yet instead of standing up for me when I came out publicly with Mayor Ford’s assault, he used his pulpit at Sun News Network to attack and degrade me – from my looks, to my hair and my actions, and the entire time pretended that he barely knew me. I’m not sure if the Fords intimidated him, or if he desperately wanted to impress them, but there is something very sad about a man who fails when confronted with a moral decision.

Jian Ghomeshi tried to define his story differently by shaming and blaming his victims. He didn’t have as much help doing this as Mayor Ford received in degrading me, but the truth in both instances eventually came out. The women who have come forward to call out Ghomeshi are very brave, each had to risk to their reputations. I was glad the media commentators who attacked me didn’t attack these women, but I worry that the only reason they didn’t lash out was because Mr. Ghomeshi wasn’t one of their Conservative colleagues.

“Ghomeshi-gate” has caused women across North America to tell their stories and it is through these stories that we as a society can learn and grow and change. Their courage is inspiring, and their stories need to be told.

So far in my life I have endured assaults by three men. One man threw me across a room in a fit of rage. Another thought that punching my face repeatedly might change my negative feelings towards him. I stayed home for a week hiding my swollen face, ashamed and scared to go to the police, or do anything that might cause him to enter my life again. The third happened when Mayor Ford groped me while high, drunk, or probably both.

Like so many victims my first feeling after Mayor Ford assaulted me was guilt. I told myself that I should never have posed beside Mayor Ford after his comments about wanting to have “fun” in Florida with me. When he lewdly called me a “dirty, dirty, girl” I should have realized he was in some drug-induced machismo high and left. But instead I stood there beside him smiling for the camera. I wished I had simply kneed him in the groin and been done with it, and like most assault victims, I blamed myself for not reacting. Today I understand that it was not my fault. Mayor Ford was intoxicated and his choice to grope me was a power play on someone in the crowd that he knew.

My guilt was followed by worry over how my actions might impact my family. With so many cameras flashing around Mayor Ford, someone may have captured a picture showing me stupidly smiling with his hand on my butt. Why did I smile? What if people thought I’d enjoyed it? The humiliation this could have caused my husband was horrifying. I love him more than anything in the world, he is an amazing man and father, gentle and quiet, and he prefers to stay far from the spotlight. Shaming him would have devastated me and there was no way I could risk the chance of some picture or video hitting the media that might have made it look like I was a willing participant. Like other victims of assault, I mistakenly worried about how the assault might hurt everyone else around me, instead of focusing on how it hurt me. In hindsight I should have gone to the police and let them deal with it.

Every person who has suffered abuse goes through the same turmoil of guilt, self-blame and confusion over how to handle the issue.

In the year that followed the groping most of the accusations I had made about Mayor Ford came to light, from his drug use, to his vulgar attitude toward women, as well as the lies his staff told to hide the truth about his condition that evening. To top it off, radio host Ryan Doyle had the decency to apologize for the things he had said about me.

A lot of time has passed, situations have changed significantly for all of us, and today, as I sit typing, Rob Ford struggles with cancer. Despite the horrible way he treated me, I find myself praying that he’ll beat his cancer. I feel compassion and it is this compassion, this ability to forgive, to accept and to move forward that makes us stronger.

When it comes to sexual assault our society must change the way we handle it. The media can lead in this area or they can refuse to change. Broadcasters like Newstalk 1010, Sun News Network, and others should follow a code of conduct that puts victim protection first. They must stop their commentators and hosts from lynching, blaming or making disparaging comments about victims of assault. Broadcasters must begin to see that they have a duty to protect victims, not judge them or publicly shame them – and without a code of conduct that broadcasters actually honor, victims of assault will forever be at risk of public shaming and choose silence over exposure.