Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

Consumer Guide–Hardwood Floors

I had a leaking roof this past winter and have just now gotten around to redoing my damaged hardwood floors. Well, not actually redoing. My house is 100 years old and as the craftsmen who came to give me an estimate kept repeating, they had already been sanded to the end of their life. There could be no re-finishing of my existing floors.

Nope, I needed completely new hardwood floors.

I got several estimates and learned quite a bit about hardwood flooring. First, the quality of the wood is important. A lot of places sell Chinese hardwood. Now I know there is a real anti-Chinese consumer movement out there… some of it bordering on racism. However, I believe there really is a difference in wood quality, milling and finishing of wood from China compared to Canadian or American.

In the end, I went with Canadian Red Oak milled here in Toronto by Vintage (http://www.vintageflooring.com). It is a bit more expensive than you can buy at Home Depot, about $6.00 per sq ft but, for me, the eveness of the boards, the consistency of the grain and the sturdiness of the finish is worth it. I intend to remain in this hours for years to come. Only you can decide if the extra cost is worth it to you.

I got an estimate from several places and ended up going with Floorwood Solutions (http://floorwood.webs.com/). Another well known firm in Toronto was not willing to help me move furniture (‘get a storage bin’ I was told) and gave me a very similar quote for a wood that was not quite as good as Vintage. As well, they would not chance working around my radiators (that’s another story in itself).

Robert and his partner from Floorwood helped me move the furniture and were able to move stuff from one room to the next and back again as they worked. They cleaned up after themselves daily (total of 4 days). But don’t fool yourselves. Ripping out and installing hardwood is dusty and messy. They had to remove the subfloor and trim a couple of joists in the house to level the floor.

When they finished they didn’t leave until they had helped me return all but the small stuff back to their locations.

Both guys were a pleasure to deal with. They are Polish immigrants, speak English well and communicate well. Robert’s wife, Patrician, seems to do all the financial end of the business and she is very quick to respond to email queries.

In the end, the total cost for wood and excellent labour, was $10/sq ft. No cash deals here. Tax is extra.

You can do your floors for cheaper if you can find a lone workman or get a lower grade of wood. And that is certainly a possibility and wouldn’t necessarily turn out bad.

I can say, though, that Floorwood were good to deal with, did a careful and meticulous job and used only the best quality material.

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May 28, 2011

Shopping smartly….

In an attempt to help others in the neighbourhood who may have need of various consumer advice I’m going to add a series on local services and conveniences that I have come across.

I’ll start with needing my vacuum cleaner serviced.

Two weeks ago the brush on my uprright vacuum stopped turning, making carpet cleaning impossible. I went to Danny”s Vacuum Cleaners at 988 St Clair Ave W, one block west of Oakwood (416-656-6694). I just got his name from Googling.

I walked in with my Hoover and he immediately took a look at it and diagnosed a broken shaft on the drive. He had it fixed and ready to go in about 15 minutes and I was out of there with a couple of vacuum bags, a new filter and the service for about $25! The vacuum is working perfectly since.

He does all kinds of vacuums, has a selection of new and used vacuums for sale and sells a number of accessories.

May 11, 2011

Difficult budget choices for the Right Wing at TO council

So the police budget is up for discussion (or not) in good old TO. The budget chief, Mike del Grande, himself a Right Winger,  is objecting to the $29million spent on hiring off duty cops for a number of tasks that don’t require trained policemen (traffic duty around construction sites, etc).

Now $29,000,000 seems like a lot of money to me. However Doug Ford (half of the Siamese twin pair of RobDoug) is complaining that it is only a small fraction of the budget and not worth worrying over. In fact he complained when the budget committee spent ‘an hour’ discussing this topic saying that was too much time for such trivial matters when there was money to be found elsewhere.

I don’t know about you, but $29million is more than I earn in an hour. I think that’s time well spent.

You know, I find it very interesting that Right Wingers like RobDoug claim to be interested in stopping the gravy train and decreasing the size of government. Yet when it comes to law enforcement, despite all the evidence that crime is down, they continue to insist on spending more.

Just like the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa. They complain about budgetary constraints. They cannot find money to fix infrastructure (even though it would increase employment as well as productivity) but they have billions to spend on prisons and the military.

If the Right had their way, government would wither away except for a massive police and prison system. Which is a good thing since after they got through destroying all the civilizing edifices of a modern civic society we would need all that law enforcement.

Is it any wonder that police forces use their authority with such relish in circumstances like the G20 fiasco. They know where their bread is buttered.

May 10, 2011

Why Steven Harper is going to remain Prime Minister for a long while.

Well it’s been a week and I am slowly coming out of my stunned state.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about the results.

The Liberals would be fools to rush into a leadership campaign. They need to sit down and think about what, if any, is the purpose of their party. Do they have any big ideas about the direction of the country. Do they have anything to offer Canadians beyond individual tax breaks and some vague notion of an Educational Passport?
Personally, I do not see the imminent demise of the Liberal Party. That’s partly because I also don’t see the Orange Revolution as anything of the sort.

The NDP were the recipients of some immediate discontent in Quebec. They will struggle with fulfilling Quebec’s nationalist tendencies while trying to hold onto their centralist instincts. Quebeckers are good at moving around their allegiances to garner advantage where they see it. I don’t think the NDP seats in Quebec are a longterm change but a one-time event.

If that is true, then given their very modest improvement in popularity (only at the expense of the Liberals) in the rest of Canada, then I don’t see Canada becoming, like Britain post war (at least until this past election) a two party system of Conservatives and NDP.
I think if the Liberals can manage to retool then they will eventually get back in the game at the expense of the NDP.

And while I was, and am, excited about a large NDP opposition, let us not forget that it was the NDP that brought us the demise of the Kelowna Accord and a national day care program by oppourtunistically bringing down the Paul Martin minority government, thereby setting the framework for the subsequent Harper victory.

I understand that the NDP has its own goals but their complete ignoring of the Conservative majority to toot their own horn is appalling to me.

What I find worrisome, of course, is the Conservatives. Harper has proven himself resilient and smart in his relentless pursuit of power. He is profoundly conservative. But he understands that, aside from his base, the rest of Canada (about 65% to 70% of us) is not.

His goals are longterm. He will not immediately enact some hidden agenda. I think those who accuse him of this do not understand the nature of the Harper plan. He knows that he must slowly drag Canadians along the path to less government and a more conservative (ie: individualistic) ideology.

He has so far successfully framed social services in terms of individuals rather than government. Where the NDP and Liberals have, in the past, supported a national daycare program, Harper has given tax incentives to families to find their own daycare arrangements. And the NDP and Liberals have, by and large, accepted this new re-framing of policy and gone along with their own incentives.

Where the Kelowna accord was a government to ‘government’ relationship, Harper prefers individual business enterprise to aid Aboriginal populations.
Where once the Liberals had a national education policy and approach, we now have an Educational Passport, based on a individual’s journey through life.
Instead of systemic antipoverty policies we have the Family Pack.

Harper has given government programs and policy a bad name and the opposition has accepted the rhetoric and are now battling the Conservatives on their own turf. That’s not a winning game plan. The rule maker is the favoured player on this battleground.
Harper does not have to bring in a conservative revolution. He just has to change some of the rules of the game and force others to play by them.

He will change party finance rules and help to castrate the opposition.
He will commit to buying fighter jets and thereby hamstring government finances in the process.
He will change the justice system to incarcerate ever increasing numbers of Canadians. In doing so he will further hamstring finances by a huge increase in jail costs. He has already convinced Canadians that criminals are a serious threat to our wellbeing.
The opposition will be seen as soft on crime if they oppose (as we saw in the election—what we also saw was the NDP themselves trying to get into the ‘tough on crime’ ballgame).

If the NDP and Liberals follow the paths they have started to go down by accepting Harper’s rhetoric and trying simply to play to the left of him in the same game, then Harper will have succeeded in changing Canada and will have succeeded in placing the Conservative Party at the centre of government for quite a while.

Politicians like Harper and Rob Ford in Toronto are small thinkers in the truest sense of the word. They are anti government and so see it as lessening and getting smaller. Now that may seem strange because Harper has brought in the largest budget and has the largest government in Canadian history. But that is only because he has crassly sought to buy votes. Of course with his tax cuts he will lead us all into deficit as well. In his world vision, government is small except for enormous budgets for the criminal justice system and defense, the latter because these new conservatives are fear mongers and see only the worst in people.

What the opposition needs to do is get back to a vision, a grand scheme, a purpose. I think what Canadians are looking for is a game plan, something to grab onto for a better life. What the Left has failed to do is connect to Canadian’s concerns and needs. It really isn’t getting us anywhere to decry Harpers malicious personality or the stupidity of those voting for him (many of the same people we hope to attract). Instead of putting down those who vote Conservative, let’s try to relate to what Canadians are really looking for.

I remember when Mike Harris campaigned on stopping all those welfare bums from taking advantage of the welfare system…his ‘work for welfare’ plan. It was the same type of gravy train argument (tangentially) that Rob Ford ran on. I also remember the NDP, Bob Rae as leader, saying that ‘no one would be on welfare if they didn’t have to be’. Well, the Left may deny welfare abuse but most regular Canadians know it exists. That doesn’t excuse the Right for going after poor people en masse but when everyone knows something to be true the Left cannot deny it. The reason the Left jumps to those statements is because, in their honest desire to defend the current social service system against attacks from the Right, they inappropriately defend it exactly as it is. Instead, they should offer some kind of reform to make it more efficient, or better yet, to help people get off it…but in a progressive way.

This outright denial of what everyone knows to be reality only does a disservice. There are defenses of of the social welfare system that acknowledges that some people take advantage of it.

This is just one small example. But when I heard the NDP’s reply to the outrageous Mike Harris/Conservative attacks of the system, I knew we were in trouble. They posited nothing new or innovative, simply a defense of the current state of the world. That is not good enough. The Left has to come up with some new and positive ideas and not simply resort to a reactionary defense of an unchanging system. The Conservatives have turned the tables on us and we are not up to the task of responding.

Until someone articulates a progressive vision based on reality and that speaks to people’s desires and goals Canadians will continue to vote for the party promising more take home income and stability.

May 2, 2011

Election diaries: postmortem

Well, ok, not really a postmortem. It’s an intramortem. It’s 10:13pm in Toronto and I’m watching Newsworld. The news is scary.

I really do believe this isn’t just a Conservative victory. I think this Conservative win to be a game changer. For all the reasons already described, Stephen Harper is an anti-democrat. I’m not so worried about a hidden agenda. His upfront agenda is frightening enough.

Two things that are driving me crazy tonight.

First, I remember why I was so pissed off at the NDP a couple of years ago. They brought down Paul Martin’s government and trashed a national daycare program, the Kelowna accords and other stuff. But what was most damaging is that they gave Harper a chance to look Prime Minsterial— always a dangerous event.

And tonight what do all the NDP spokespeople on Newsworld have to say? They are excited about their gains. They chortle over being the Opposition. But I have yet to see one of them decry the Conservative victory.

I know the NDP is a political party like the others. And of course they care most about their own fortunes. I understand this. But no regrets at all about the fact that almost all their wins in Ontario are from the Liberals and not the Conservatives? And their bounce in the polls has resulted in handing the Conservatives a majority.

Most of the pickups for the NDP are in Quebec. Those gains may easily prove to be illusory. They were for Brian Mulroney when he dallied with Quebec nationalism. If so, then there is no long term gain for the NDP or the Left in Canada.

But I am dismayed at how many seats were handed to the Conservatives because people refused to vote for one of the other anti-Harper candidates in ridings where their preferred choices were too far behind to have a chance but where the Conservatives just squeeked by.

Harper and the Conservatives have indeed proven themselves to be master strategists. They have taken the same popular vote from 2008 (perhaps even lower) and turned it into a massive win by cynically playing Canadian against Canadian in a campaign based on fear. But what is even more annoying and discouraging is the Left’s self righteousness that allows the Conservatives to form government even while they go to bed safe in their own self regard.

I’m disgusted by the Conservatives. I’m disgusted by the Left.

Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow. But it’s hard to imagine families with children, students, gays, pregnant teenagers feeling any better in the morning.

To think that over 60% of Canadians have not managed to figure a way to stop this tiny little man, Stephen Harper.

May 2, 2011

How my parents met

 My father was born in December 1919 in Radom, an industrial town in southern Poland. His father was a tailor and my father, his two sisters and brother were raised in the apartment at the back of the tailor shop.

At the time of the German invasion of Poland my father had married and was studying to be a denturist. Some time after WWII broke out, my father, his new wife and their families were sent to the Radom Ghetto. Over the next two years, each of his parents, his two older sisters and his wife were transported from the ghetto to be exterminated. He never saw them again. For my father, the next three years saw him sent all across eastern and central Europe from concentration camp to labour camp and back.

On May 5, 1945 my father was in the Gleben concentration camp in Germany. The Nazi guards had left four or five days earlier on the news that the Red Army was advancing. Fearing retribution from the Russians who had so recently suffered German brutality, the guards had headed west, preferring to surrender to the British or Americans. Two Russian officers rode into the camp on motorbikes. They told the inmates they were liberated, and that they must flee immediately as the Germans were organizing a counter-offensive.

Many did not have the strength to leave and were left behind. My father and several friends left the camp on foot. During his years of imprisonment and starvation, my father had nursed a fantasy of eating sour cream.  He soon came upon a farm house and found a large vat of sour creme being fermented. He gorged on it. He then fell violently ill; his body unable to handle such a large serving of rich food.

When he recovered, my father wandered eastward back to his native Poland to look for surviving relatives. But the Poles did not want Jews back, and pogroms against returning Jews were violent and spreading. Ironically, my father escaped west to Germany for safety, ending up in Stuttgart.

My mother was born in June 1920 and grew up with four older brothers in Warka, a village 30 kilometers south of Warsaw. Her father owned a leather tanning factory. Following the German invasion in 1939, she and the family headed to Radom to be interred in the ghetto there, which her father thought would be safer than the Warsaw Ghetto. There she married. Over the next 18 months her husband, her four brothers, and her parents were transported to their deaths. My mother was eventually sent to Auschwitz.

In 1945, to evade advancing Russian forces, my mother and other prisoners well enough to walk were force-marched by their Nazi captors to Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany.

On April 15, 1945, British and Canadian troops reached Bergen-Belsen and liberated it. One of the first acts of the liberators was to try to get the rampant disease among the survivors under control.  The British were overwhelmed by the poor condition of the survivors and didn’t have adequate resources to transfer and treat them elsewhere, and so they established a hospital and displaced persons camp right at Bergen-Belsen, and brought in supplies.

My mother was ill with typhus, a disease spread by lice. To kill the lice that covered her, she was doused in DDT .

When my mother recovered sufficiently, she left the camp with her close friend and bunk mate from Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz and began, as did most survivors, to search for surviving family members, friends—anyone. She heard there was a growing survivor community in Stuttgart and so made her way there.

In the American sector in Stuttgart in Displaced Persons accommodation, my father was making a little money by buying scarves and re-selling them to Allied servicemen to send home to their wives and girlfriends. One day he looked out the window and saw two women walking by, one of whom he knew from Radom. He called out, offering both women free scarves, which they accepted. The second woman was my mother.

My parents married in 1946 while waiting in Stuttgart for one of the countries to which they had applied to immigrate to accept them.

The Canadian Garment Workers Union was a largely Jewish organization that was active in trying to rescue Jewish refugees in Europe after the war. They convinced the Canadian government that Canada needed more tailors. Union representatives traveled to Stuttgart seeking tailors among the refugees. My father,  hearing of this, changed his occupation on his application for immigration to tailor; after all, his father had been one and who would doubt a Jewish tailor?

Though it had been their destination of choice, Britain was still denying Jewish immigration to Israel, then Palestine. My parents were tired from their constant struggle for survival over the previous eight years; they were willing to go anywhere to get out of Europe. As they used to say to me, there was no way they were going to raise children in Europe. They were happy when they learned, after three years of waiting, that Canada accepted them.

In spring 1948 my mother and father disembarked at Halifax on their way to Toronto to begin a new life, having between them lost their first spouses, two sisters and four brothers, both sets of parents, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. They spoke no English and had no education beyond high school. They were 28 years old and had been incarcerated in one form or another for eight years.

Toronto, 1948

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The author’s parents are now 91 years old and are still living independently in their home in Toronto. This article was written to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

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