Archive for the ‘Thoughtful World Citizenship’ Category

That may sound extreme, but consider the meaning of “fair trade”:

Fair trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. (Wikipedia)

True, Canada is not a developing country. But its book publishers are facing difficult—nigh hostile—trading conditions, and the sustainability of Canadian cultural production is in the balance.

When we buy from local bookstores, we are supporting local business. When we buy books from Amazon, we are buying from a giant multinational corporation. We know this. We also know that Amazon is successful because they offer excellent customer service and they make everything extremely convenient. Fine. I can appreciate a business doing its business well. (Now, Wal-Mart is also doing business well… if “business” means driving down prices and running local stores into the ground in a race to the bottom. Reminds me a little of Amazon….)

Now, this paragraph will seem unrelated, but bear with me…. Vancouverites are especially conscientious buyers. I’ve come to appreciate this during the year I’ve lived here. The little produce store near my (admittedly too expensive) apartment offers more organic, fair-trade fare than many of the supermarkets I frequented when I lived in other provinces. There are so many vegetarian and vegan restaurants here, and so many sustainability-oriented organizations and businesses! All I ask is that we extend our critical purchasing behaviors (purchasing power) to the arts, and support what local artisans and artists we can.

I hone in on Vancouver for a reason: this city is the home of Douglas & McIntyre, the largest independent (that is, Canadian-owned) book publisher in the country—which announced last week that it would be filing for bankruptcy.

The Globe and Mail broke the story and then elaborated on it (rather melodramatically). The National Post captured reactions, such as this comment from a literary agent in Toronto:

“This is a business that is legendary for complaining, and people saying the sky is falling, but I think that there is some truth to the concerns,” says Kaiser. “You cannot easily manage all of the changes going on in this industry as an independent.” (National Post)

My cohort (I study publishing) freaked out a bit:

Speculations about the future of D&M (significant ones in this CBC article) are not entirely hopeless, but other Canadian publishing companies, authors, libraries, and readers (that means you, probably)—not to mention D&M’s laid-off employees—are reeling from the blow. Steph, of the blog Bella’s Bookshelves, may have summed it up best:

Dear D&M, I’m rooting for you. You are beautiful, you are smart, you are important. Canada loves you.

I am reeling too. I reeled more intensely a few days ago, but still, there is some reeling. I love books, all forms. I own many shelves of bound paper, but I am also a frequent user of my e-reader (so don’t go thinking I’m biased toward one form of publishing or another). I also study publishing, and I spent my summer proofreading and building ebooks for a delightful independent Canadian publisher (this one—huzzah!). So all of this is on my mind.

I also recently attended Mini TOC [Tools of Change] Vancouver, a conference about digital publishing, at which interactive-book designer Talent Pun wryly observed that book publishers are having to become software companies or perish, today. And they don’t know how to market software yet. And many may not survive long enough to learn.

Don’t mistake me for one of the fear-mongers; there is some hand-wringing going on in publishing, but the end of the world is not nigh. Matt Williams, VP of House of Anansi (second-largest—nope,  now the largest indie Canadian book publisher), wrote the best response I’ve seen to this ruckus on Anansi’s blog, Inside the House. (If you only check out one of the links in this post, choose that one.)

Still, D&M represented Western Canadian and non-Toronto-centric publishing. There is something to be said for that.

Forgive the jumble of thoughts.

Canada’s fair trade organization highlights the principles behind the term “fair trade”, and I ask you to focus on that as well:

Fair Trade is a … way of doing business. It’s about making principles of fairness and decency mean something in the marketplace.

It seeks to change the terms of trade for the products we buy – to ensure the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. Most often this is understood to mean better prices for producers, but it often means longer-term and more meaningful trading relationships as well.

For consumers and businesses, it’s also about information. Fair Trade is a way for all of us to identify products that meet our values so we can make choices that have a positive impact on the world. (Fairtrade Canada)

Sounds laudable to me. And desirable. And doable. Let’s think about justice, and let’s act justly. I reflect on the following words, written by Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Baha’i Faith (the Faith I strive to live by), all of which are comments on our responsibility to promote justice, in both little and big ways:

The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.

Be fair to yourselves and to others, that the evidences of justice may be revealed through your deeds…

Observe equity in your judgment, ye men of understanding heart! He that is unjust in his judgment is destitute of the characteristics that distinguish man’s station.

No radiance can compare with that of justice. The organization of the world and the tranquillity of mankind depend upon it.

(quoted in this section of The Advent of Divine Justice by Shoghi Effendi)

Justice is a value I use as much as possible to steer my purchasing decisions. It’s difficult, and not always possible, because we do not (yet) live in a just world—and I’m certainly not perfect at it—but it is vital that we try.

I realize I have been messily tossing book retailing and book publishing all together, as though they were one business. This is not the case, though they are interdependent.

But think of it as more opportunities to practice justice in our daily lives: we all have the power to choose which retailers or vendors we buy from, and we also have the power to check publishers out. Buy the book you want, obviously, but choose local stores and homegrown publishers if and when you possibly can.

I might be preaching to the choir, here, and I am okay with it. Solidarity!

Let’s end on a hopeful—nay, enthusiastic—note. Books are not dead, nor is publishing, despite the moaning and wailing. For one thing, there are lots of interesting conversations happening about the future of content (for what are books if not beautifully prepared textual and visual content?). Here are a few of the most exciting:

What can I say now but this: happy reading!


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Far be it from me to use that dumb phrase, but… just look at this adorable thing:

P + L = Parthy and Lydia, yay!

Don’t you want one? Well, na na na na boo boo, it’s mine.

But you can make your own!

Here is the story behind the cute thing:

I recently returned from a tour of Eastern Ontario, where I served in a grueling bridesmaids corps for about a week. My French-Canadian friend married a delightful man who happens to be East Indian, so they had a big Indian wedding followed by a fun, more Western reception. I’d share all the photos, because it was all great stuff, but I didn’t take very many.

I did bother to take a couple of photos of their amazing wedding favours: potted plants in vintage teacups! The bride had this brilliant idea awhile ago and spent the summer scouring second-hand shops for teacups, while the Maid of Honour (slash botany hobbyist) potted a few different types of plants. The whole thing apparently took two months from start to finish—but don’t let that dissuade you; there were a lot of periods of rest, while they waited for the plants to grow, and just watered them a couple of times per week.

Look at her go. She planted, cared for, and repotted 80 of these little guys!

A great thing about this wedding was that the bride and groom are both very environmentally conscious, so they wanted their wedding favours—and everything else about their big day—to be sustainable, healthy, low-impact, etc. And they did a great job with that! (A few die-hards, myself included, spent some time sorting recycling and compost just after the luncheon….)

And they did so well with the navigating-a-cross-cultural-relationship stuff too: namely, forging strong bonds between two very different families. So, all in all, they seem to be off to a good start in life!

So, the two ladies later transplanted the little plants into the teacups, watered them, cleaned them up, and adding cute tags—which was my contribution to this craft.

(My other contributions to the wedding cause included MCing and co-DJing the reception—which, let me tell you, it was hard to please the Indians! But I came out alive. Just say YES to MORE BHANGRA!)

Anyway, as per the Maid of Honour’s instructions (out of sight, on the back of the tag), I am to give this little succulent six hours of sunlight per day, and repot him into a bigger thing in about a year. Fingers crossed that I don’t kill him before that.

Happy crafting! Slash gardening. And happy future tea drinking as well.

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Being BFFs in the digital age means—if you are both creative types (or think you are)—that much of your friendship will be public (in that it will be accessible online). This is especially true if you do not live in the same locale as your BFF. And it may also mean that when birthdays come along—as one has now—that they are celebrated in public.

So, yes: happy birthday Samuel!

Much of our best-friendship is accessible online. Not our childhoods, or our summer-camp years, or our amazing dinner parties, but some things. Including:

Below is another example of our hilarity that I haven’t yet had the chance to post in any kind of relevant way, and I will now be using this post as an excuse to do just that. It is a survey, put together by Samuel, and emailed to me to fill out, after I reminded him to keep me in the loop about his travels (apparently he had gotten a few too many such emails? and this was his reaction?):

With that, I sign off, because I can wish Samuel a happy birthday in no better way than by celebrating his sense of humour in public. He will JUST LOVE that.

(Samuel, please also attend the mail slot at your parents’ home this week, for no particular reason…)

Samuels are what August Fifths were made for.

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If you live in Vancouver, and you’re available on Thursday evenings throughout the summer (of 2012), you’re invited to join us! (If you’re into meetups, here we are: meetup.com/VancouverSpirituality.)

Here’s what we’ve been doing: meeting at a coffee shop, reading a passage (~5–10 mins.) from a certain thought-provoking, uplifting book, and then discussing it and other things that come up with the friends present (usually about five people at this point; people are free to come once or as many times as they like, but there is a core group of regulars).

I designed a poster to help publicize our little event, for it is open to all, and we will be putting this up around the neighbourhood.

The book we’ve been reading passages from is called Paris Talks, for that is what it is: a series of short talks given in Paris in 1912 by ’Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He traveled from the Middle East to Europe and North America to support early Bahá’í communities but also to meet with the public and discuss the purpose of religion, the role of religion in society, and the process of bettering society as well as ourselves as individuals.

(In fact, this year is the centenary of ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s journey, and an amazing social-media documentary called 239 Days is covering it. I recommend taking a look; learning about this inspiring figure is absolutely worthwhile, and the project is such an innovative way of bringing history to life!)

One of the most important aspects of this discussion group is the approach: everyone speaks with humility and respect for others; everyone is free to present their opinions; everyone makes the effort to listen and truly understand what others are saying. It has sometimes been difficult to maintain these attitudes, but for the most part we have, and it has been an enriching experience.

So far, we’ve discussed a number of interesting topics, trying to think about each at both the scale of the individual life and the life of society: the relationship between thoughts and actions; diversity, multiculturalism, and pluralism; the concept of divinity and God as an unknowable essence; and causes of war and strife and paths toward unity and peace.

If you’re interested in joining us, do!

If you’re interested in reading Paris Talks, it’s available online.


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I’ve been away for a while, working toward my master’s degree, and working in the world of publishing… hence my interest in the following infographic (which was provided to me by the folks at MBAOnline).

Amazon has been driving prices down to attract customers. It’s working, with a few cons: book publishers are losing money bigtime, and book buyers are being trained to think that books have a low value (let me tell you, as a person who makes e-books, each one takes time and is worth more than a measly dollar). On the other hand, Amazon is really good at customer service—and that is praiseworthy, especially in this world of faceless corporations and overseas help-desk call centres.

That last paragraph was an attempt to provide a few balanced thoughts on the big monster that is Amazon—and this infographic certainly doesn’t shy away from taking a side. But it also presents the perspective of business, which is a perspective I’m glad to see from when I can.

You’ll have to make up your own mind.

Amazon MBA: Big, Cheap & Out of Control
Created by: MBAOnline.com

They’s some crazy facts up in that chart, yo.

And you should maybe also watch a video or two about what it’s like in the Amazon warehouse. Weird, wild stuff.

Peace out.

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