Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Burundi Election Results Due Today, But President Pierre Nkurunziza Is Bound to Be Elected.

Today is the day that the results of Monday's presidential election are supposed to be announced. The result, however, is a foregone conclusion because all opposition candidates had withdrawn. According to one source, one of the possible challengers, former rebel leader Agathon Rwasa says the government planned to arrest him on charges of planning to mount a new insurgency.

The country in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa is Rwanda's twin, and has suffered Tutsi-Hutu violence for decades, although it did not experience the genocide that Rwanda went through in 1994. Nevertheless, over the last few years a slow process toward power sharing between the major ethnic groups appeared to be in place. In May opposition parties charged massive irregularities in local elections, and demanded recounts.

The All Africa news agency commented then: "Human rights watchdogs have warned of election violence as political parties bolster their ranks with former soldiers. Both the ruling party and the opposition have claimed that each side is raising youth militias to act as activist thugs. The country is emerging from a long civil war that killed hundred of thousands of people. Most of the political parties in this year's elections are former rebels and there are fears that peace will disintegrate if the polls become too divisive."

What follows now will be of great interest to those who care about the welfare of this small, poor country--and about the ways that people strive to find ways to live together peacefully.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Third Depression May Be the Real Fallout from G-20, G-8

Paul Krugman laid the cards on the table in his column yesterday: the meetings of the G-8 and G-20 on the weekend were a disaster, and not only because of the demonstrations, enormous cost and police over-reaction.

More importantly for the entire world, Krugman says, the pledges to cut deficits and cut off stimulus funds are a recipe for creating a full blown depression from the recession we might have been recoveering from. He calls this the Third Depression, following the Long Depression which began in 1873 and the Great Depression which started in 1929 and continued until World War II. It will be caused primarily by "a failure of policy. Around the world...governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending."

He continues: "As far as rhetoric is concerned, the revival of the old-time religion is most evident in Europe, where officials seem to be getting their talking points from the collected speeches of Herbert Hoover, up to and including the claim that raising taxes and cutting spending will actually expand the economy, by improving business confidence.."

This is, he says, "the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times... And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again."

This is a pretty depressing analysis, and one coming from a Nobel prize winner. Who is listening to him, though? Not the guys making the decisions, it seems. And in Canada the entire debate has been hijacked by the demonstrators. The talk shows yesterday were all about police reaction, which is nothing to sneeze at. But the bigger questions, as nearly always, are economic.

Monday, 28 June 2010

How Many Light Trucks Equal How Many Cyclists and Pedestrians in the Great Green House Gas Equation?

The suburban vehicle versus the liveable city: that conflict showed up in striking contrast last week. First of all, an environmental watch dog group reported that car sales in Quebec have gone up 8 per cent since the start of 2010, but truck sales jumped 32 per cent. In Canada as a whole car sales went up 6 per cent while truck sales went up 24 per cent. This means that if this trend continues we'll have more rather than less greenhouse gas emissions, since heavy motor vehicles are a major cause of them.

At the same time, borough officials in Monteal's Plateau Mont-Royal/Mile End have announced a major reconfiguration of traffic on several busy streets, with the idea of making streets safer. The borough has the highest number of pedestrians and bike commuters, with a correspondingly high accident rates. It also is seeing an increasing number of young families choosing to live in the center of the city. Borough officials say the new traffic pattern--which include narrower lanes and routing cars off largely residential streets--is designed to make neighborhoods more attractive to them.

There are a couple of equations here: suburban life equals the demand for more and more vehicles with the SUV and pickups being increasingly favoured, while center city life equals a mixture of public, active and motorized transport. In my mind (and probably in Jane Jacobs') there is no question that the latter is much wiser public policy.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Saturday Photo: Futebol Fever in Montreal

Friday was a day for serious soccer fans in Montreal. The main event for thousands was the game between Brazil and Portugal, a confrontation that hadn't occurred in a World Cup since 1966. Portugal won that time 3-0, but this time the result was 0-0 and both teams advanced to the next round. This meant that nearly everybody was happy along St. Lawrence boulevard, which is perhaps the major neighborhoodwhere the soccer fans gather to watch games in Montreal.

But the Lusophones were the only ones excited. Spain was up against Chile. I didn't see any Chilean flags along St. Lawrence but I did see Spanish fans waiting for the start of their game. The score was 2-1 for Spain at the end of the day, with both teams advancing to the next round.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Flash Dance in Eaton Centre Makes G-20 Stuff Look Cheap Even If It's Way Too Expensive

And today because I regret Stephen Harper and the $2 billion spent on the G-8 and G-20 meetings and because even though I live in Montreal, I sometimes see the good things about Toronto, here's a video made in Toronto's Eaton Centre:

From the You-Tube backgrounder: "Kim MacGregor organized this flash mob of 200 dancers to launch the "feel good" movement, "I Believe She's Amazing" in honor of her friend Erika Heller who passed away May 28th, 2009 at 31 yrs. old...this is her living legacy. The amazing choreographers and dancers pulled this together in just one-6 hr rehearsal the day before the shoot. (The song is I Believe by Yolanda Adams, from the soundtrack to the movie Honey starring Jessica Alba.)"

Okay, Steve, over to you: are you going to do as much for maternal and child health?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Fête Nationale: Speaking of Quebec with Love

Today is Quebec's Fête nationale, formerly St. Jean-Baptiste Day. A couple of decades ago, the focus was shifted from being an exclusively French-Canadian festival to being a celebration for everyone who lives in Quebec. That's why Lee and I fly the Quebec flag today, because we've chosen to live here, raise our children here, contribute as we can to the community.

This year is also the 35th anniversary of a song which has become identified with Quebec nationalism, Gens du pays, by Gilles Vigneault. It apparently was sung for the first time at the Fête nationale show in 1975, which I remember well. By chance, the holiday came at the full moon and the weather was marvelous. Not by chance, the organizers had moved the celebrations to the top of Mount Royal and made them inclusive and family friendly. I remember having a marvelous time, and feeling truly comfortable in this place we had begun to call home.

The refrain to the song has become Quebec's birthday song, as well as one of two Vigneault songs that are frequently called Quebec's unofficial national anthems (the other is Mon Pays, c'est l'hiver.) As you can see in the accompanying video grabbed from a television broadcast of that night in 1975, all you do is add the birthday boy or girl's name: for example, "Dear Emily, it is your turn for us to speak to you of love." Simple in the extreme but delightful. And when it's sung about Quebec--"People of my country, it is time to speak of you with love"--it can be very moving.

Here are the French words:

Le temps que l'on prend pour dire : "Je t'aime"
C'est le seul qui reste au bout de nos jours.
Les voeux que l'on fait, les fleurs que l'on sème
Chacun les récoltes en soi-même
Aux beaux jardins du temps qui court.

(Refrain, x2 :)
Gens du pays, c'est votre tour
De vous laisser parler d'amour

Le temps de s'aimer, le jour de le dire
Fond comme la neige aux doigts du printemps.
Fêtons de nos joies, fêtons de nos rires
Ces yeux où nos regards se mirent.
C'est demain que j'avais vingt ans.

(Au refrain, x2)

Le ruisseau des jours aujourd'hui s'arrête
Et forme un étang où chacun peut voir
Comme en un miroir l'amour qu'il reflète
Pour ces cours à qui je souhaite
Le temps de vivre leurs espoirs.

(Au refrain, x2)

Photo: an iris, Quebec's flower, at its loveliest.
And for comic relief, note that the automatic translator says that the refrain should be translated: "Locals, it's your turn/ Let you talk about love."

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Water Shortages in a Country Full of Water: The Rivers around Montreal at Record Low Levels for Early Summer

At dinner last night with Elin and Emmanuel (a late Father's Day for Lee or maybe an early one for Emmanuel,) he told us about the shallow water in the Lachine canal. That's where he's working currently, at the Parks Canada National Historic Site which marks the take-off point for the canoes of the fur trade in the late 18th and early 19th century. It seems the water is now as low as it usually is in late August, which may present problems for some of their animations. He said they were told that evaporation over the winter on the Great Lake which didn't freeze as much as usual, as well as dry weather, have caused the drop in water levels.

Then this morning, the news talks about an emergency project to cut a deeper channel so that water in the river which flows around the top of Montreal island will increase. The root cause is the same at the Lachine canal, but here dropping water means that drinking water intakes for 11 municipalities may find themselves high and dry before the summer is over. Sewage outlets could also find themselves discharging some distance from the water flow, unless the volume of water increases.

The project is only a stop gap, according to Guy Garand, corrdinator of the local environment council. He told Le Devoir that what is needed is a "real" policy of water management that takes into account water conservation and measures to safeguard wet lands and increase water retention. He didn't say it, but the situation conjures up a scenario where the sewage water of one little town is taken in for purification and use a little further downstream.

A somewhat troubling thought, but why not face the problem head on, the way that Singapore has been trying to do? Partly because of concerns about Malaysia cutting off fresh water supplies to the island nation (which, coincidentally is about the size of Montreal with four times the population) Singapore has several water-reclamation projects. One involves stocking purified sewage water in big lakes, from where it is used for industry and consumer use.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Keynes Is Still Right: Paul Krugman on Recover and Deficits, with Added Info from Jim Flaherty

With the G-8 and the G-20 coming to Canada at the end of the week, the chattering classes are talking about the danger of deficits and the problems of the banking system. The latter does bear some serious thought. But the former should be put aside for the duration.

As Nobel laureate Paul Krugman wrote Monday : "Spend now, while the economy remains depressed; save later, once it has recovered. How hard is that to understand?" After going through a short lesson in economics, he continues: "Penny-pinching at a time like this isn’t just cruel; it endangers the nation’s future. And it doesn’t even do much to reduce our future debt burden, because stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery, and with it the hope for rising revenues."

Krugman's reasoning was corroborated yesterday by Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who has been running around for the last little bit, telling countries they have to cut their deficits. But, ironically, he also said in New York that Canada should be able to eliminate its deficit a year earlier than thought--in 2015--because of we're doing better in the fight for economic recovery.

Which message will be heard: the one that Flaherty appears to be pushing or the one that Krugman expounds and for which Flaherty (probably inadvertently) provides strong evidence?

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Beatles, Bach, and Early Music: Susie Napper on the CBC

Quite by accident on Saturday (since I've just about quite listening to Radio Two except for the opera) I caught part of a marvelous program: Susie Napper's Music. Apparently it ran two hours, but I only caught about 20 minutes. That was enough to learn quite a bit about a fine musician who is the force behind the Montreal Baroque Festival which begins on Thursday.

Influences arrive in many ways and forms, and Napper, who obviously comes from a very musical family, had a formal musical education. But she also loved the Swingle Singers' renditions of Bach, much to the dismay of her father, as well as the exhuberant popular music of the 1960s and 1970s--"I was more Rolling Stones than Beatles," she said on air. When, as a serious student of the modern cello, she inherited a period viola da gamba, she explained that the Bach she was working on "just played itself" on the old instrument. The result of this varied experience has been a new--and sometime playful--approach to early music.

What a shame that in the CBC's mad rush toward "relevance" it has slashed its programming of "serious" music. There is no reason on this green earth why Radio Two shouldn't play a whole lot more of it. In trying to broaden its audience, CBC has cut out melomanes whose tastes include many sorts of music, not just the current pop. The resulting programming, as I've mentioned earlier, has not done anything for ratings, and has alienated many formerly stalwart listeners.

But who's listening among CBC brass? At the very least, this program should be repeated, and several of the Montreal Baroque shows should be recorded for rebroadcast too.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Saturday Photo: Getting the Colours Right

One of the things I find very hard in my garden is making the colours right. By this I mean getting the tones to harmonize: to my eye, there's nothing more discordant than a red which veers toward the blue side of the spectrum up against a red that's orangey. It looks like whoevever put them together wasn't paying attention--which in my case is usually what what happened indeed. As I've said before, I'm not a mad gardener, but a Darwinian one (that is to say: what survives, survives.)

In front I have some nice tulips that come up every spring, for which I am most grateful, but also a rhododendren bought in a sale at Reno Depot that somehow survives too. The only problem with them is that the tulips are really red, but the rhododendron is near mauve. Each spring I think I should add at least some purplsh tulips to blend the colours, but of course I forget in the fall when it's time to plant bulbs.

But there is one place I've got it right. The climbing rose (name forgotten, one of the Explorer hardy roses) and the peony (name also lost) bloom at the same time and are nearly the same colour. Such was the case last week: success, as usual. mostly be accident.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Forrester and Saramago: Two Stars Leave the Firmament, One after Years of Sad Decline, the Other, Still Brilliant

Two great artists left the scene this week: the Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester and the Portuguese writer José Saramago. As a way of memoria, here are two videos which give a taste of their accomplishment: Forrester sings, directed by another Canadian legend, Glenn Gould, and Saramago, who only began publishing novels in his 50s, after he had won the Nobel Prize and sees the movie made from one of his most celebrated novels: Blindness.

Both of them were born into humble circumstances, but both accomplished much. That should inspiration to us all, although their lives ended in starkly contrasting fashion. Sadly, Forrester declined into dementia, exacerbated by alcoholism, so that in her last years her voice was stilled. Saramago's literary production grew as he aged, however. He even experimented with a blog in recent years.

How much of this difference in final years is luck? How much, the result of striving, striving, striving so long that part of one's soul is worn away? I don't know, but we should be grateful for the pleasure they gave, and, thankfully, will continue to give us.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Splendid Mystery Trees and the Need to Appreciate Good Things When They Come Your Way

For the last week or so we've been enjoying the plumes of white flowers on handsome trees around Montreal. They weren't catalpas or chestnuts, I knew, and even after consulting my tree books--all rather old, I must admit--I couldn't figure out what they were. Then I had a brain storm and decided to consult Montreal tree guru Bronwyn Chester's blog. Sure enough, she had an interesting entry about the trees. They are good street- and park trees, she says, with their slow growth perhaps their only disadvantage.

She mentions that they are related to the earlier-blooming lilacs that usually grow as bushes, but instead of coming from the Middle East, they have their origins in Japan. They also grow more upright and tree-like. The ones I've seen along Côte Ste-Catherine Road and in Mount Royal Cemetery are tree-like indeed. Some specimens are almost as big a couple of chestnuts I pass on my usual walk.

Why haven't I noticed them before? I have no idea. Perhaps this is a particularly good year for them, the way it was for forget-me-nots. That is one of the pleasures of gardening of course: you never know exactly what is going to be splendid and what will not quite make the cut this year. Keeps you on your toes, makes life interestingly unpredictable, and maybe teaches you that you should appreciate what good thing comes your way without fretting too much when something else passes you by.

Photo: University of Southern Maine

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Notes on Music for Special Supper by a Not-Too-Impartial Observer: Elin's Doctoral Concert Is a Great Success

No, we are not sitting in comfortable seats in Salle Claude Champagne, but in the dining room of a home in 17th century Northern Europe.

The owner, a melomane and member of the aristocracy, has left for a moment, leaving the remains of his supper--oyster shells, a lobster carcasse, white wine in a pitcher, a pewter goblet, cutlery, plates--on the table while he absents himself for a minute before the musicians arrive. His greatcoat, sword and hat remain. The instruments to be played upon--three viola da gambas--repose against another chair, ready for the private concert.

So began the program notes to Elin's doctoral concert last night, and when she came on stage to play Italian, French and English music we really were transported in time and to that special space that music takes us.

Playing alone and accompanied by soprano Hélèn Brunet, baroque flutist Boaz Berney, and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann, she explored the boundary between composition and improvisation as gambists did frequently in the past. At the end she got a standing ovation from (the admittedly partisan) crowd with four curtain calls--and, most importantly, an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the jury.

Her partner Emmanuel Nivon helped with the mise-en-scène, incorporating objects from his collection of every-day material culture of the 18th century. His collaboration was also quite apparent in the other project which has been keeping Elin busy: the baby which they are expecting in mid-August and who heard the concert truly up close and personal.

Photo: the Lyonkop of one of the three viola da gambas that Elin played
. Made by Gesina Liedmeier.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Man Progressives in the ROC Should Watch in Quebec: Amir Khadir of Québec Solidaire

It is nice to see that honesty and competence are sometimes recognized in politics. The latest example is the high rating that Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir recently received in a Leger Marketing poll for Le Devoir and The Gazette. He placed Number 2 in the rankings, ahead of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois who was fourth and miles ahead of Premier Jean Charest ranked 20th. While commentators were quick to point out that the Number One, Pierre Curzi, probably got his high ranking because of his previous media career, they were almost unanimous in praising Khadir for his well-informed questions and his careful preparation of his interventions in the National Assembly.

This is something of a feat: as the lone Québec Solidaire MNA, Khadir does not have the resources that leaders of other parties do. Nevertheless, he has presented a point of view considerably more progressive and thoughtful than the supposedly leftish Parti Québécois. Check out his press conferences for some good responses to probing questions.

At the moment he and his party appear to be the bright light in Quebec--even Canadian--politics. What they've succeeded in doing should be an example for progressives elsewhere, including on the federal scene.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Guerilla Traffic: Crossing the Canadian Pacific Tracks

Update June 15, 2010: I checked out this entrance to les Champs des possibles, and found it unblocked as well as another place further to the west where we often cross the track. In addition two women were gathering signatures on a petition for a level crossing and an end to the tickets for trespassing.

June 14, 2010: More news from that long swath of no-longer-frequently used land, the Canadian Pacific tracks. Sunday a group of people who want to get from one side of the tracks to the other protested the zeal with which holes in the fence which borders the tracks are being shut. In past years, it took no longer than a day for a patched hole to be oepned up again, but recently it seems that the railroad has been handing out $150 trespassing tickets to people who dare to infringe on the vacant land.

There are a couple underpasses that a pedestrian or cyclist can use, but cutting across the track is much shorter. Last summer when I went to Jean Talon Market I often came back along the track--and I would have been furious if I'd had to retrace my steps if the holes in the fence were all shut.

As one user comments on the Le Devoir story reporting the protest, it's much safer to cross a track that is used a half dozen times a day than it is to cross a busy street. There even is a Face Book group, Passages dans la track du Mile End - Ways to cross the Mile End train track.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Saturday Photo: Guerilla Art Where Mile End Meets the Railroad Tracks

These two photos were taken a few weeks ago before the trees had leafed out fully. The little guerilla sculpture garden is a project of an artist
who has been installing works made from recycled machine parts for 12 years on this (apparently) abandoned site.

The Canadian Pacific railroad tracks are just on the other side of the fence. Van Horne Boulevard (named after a Canadian railroad baron) bounds the plot to the south, while the St. Urbain Street passes beneath the tracks to the east. The surrounding area was light industrial for decades, but it has been changing as CP phases out its railroad yards and the neighborhood to the south gentrifies.

I had no idea that LeMesurier's project was as old as it is until I checked out his website. Certainly, we've been passing by for years on foot or in the car, admiring the originality of the little park, called Parc du Crépuscule or Twilight Park. The sunsets are quite lovely when viewed from there.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Elin's Doctoral Concert Next Tuesday: Italian and English Music of the 16th and 17th Centuries

Elin will be giving her doctoral recital on Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 8:30 p.m. in the Salle Claude-Champagne at the Université de Montréal. It should be an interesting musical and historical evening: the excellent musicans, soprano Hélèn Brunet, baroque flutist Boaz Berney, and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann will be particpating too. Entrance is free.

The concert's title is Three Incarnations of the viola da gamba: viola batarda, lyra viol and division viol. While the three styles are quite distinct, they are related, Elin says. They illustrate the influence of Italian musical forms on English compositions for the viola da gamba. They also show different ways to adapt polyphony to one instrument, And, finally, they play with the boundary between improvistion and composition. On the program are diminutions de Dalla Casa, Rognoni, Ferrabosco, and Ruscello del sud on the works of de Lasso, de Rore et Palestrina, recercada sobre passamezzo antiguo by Ortiz, divisions by Simpson and Whelden, and lyra viol by Hume, Jones and Ferrabosco.

She'll also be playing several times at the Montreal Baroque Festival (June 24 to 28,) including a presentation on "Baroque Music, Improvisation and the Law" at 2 p.m. on Friday June 25.

The portrait which she is using for the invitation to her concert is of an Italian musician done by Paolo Zacchia in the 16th century. Interestingly, it looks quite a bit like her partner Emmanuel Nivon, although she says that she didn't notice the resemblance until someone else (namely me) pointed it out. Their baby, due around August 15, is certainly is having a melodic pre-natal experience!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Montreal Celebrates Day of Portugal, Camões and Portguese Communities around the World with Music from the Carnation Revolution

Today is the day of Portugal, Camões and Portguese communities around the world. It's also the day I'm officially launching a new blog--A Aventura Portuguesa--which is intended to keep me thinking in Portuguese now that my formal classes are over. If it also can be a point where people interested in the Lusófonia can meet, so much the better.

As it happens June 10 is the anniversary of the death in 1580 of Portugal's greatest poet Luís de Vas Camões whose epic The Lusiads is great reading. During the long dictatorship of Salazar and the Estado Novo the holiday became a jingoist, super-patriotic event, which after the Carnation Revolution of 1974 was a reminder of the bad old days. In 1978 it was reworked into a day to celebrate not only Camões and Portugal but the Portuguese communities around the world.

There will be a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. at the Parque de Portugal (corner of St. Laurent and Marie-Anne) in Montreal, followed by a concert at 8 p.m. a short walk away at he Église St. Jean Baptiste (Rachel and Henri Julien) where the music of Zeca Afonso will be featured. The choice of the program is telling because Afonso's song "Grândola, Vila Morena" was played as a signal on Lisbon radio the night that the Carnation Revolution began.

Photo: Parque de Portugal, Montreal

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Cheque Is Not Yet in the Mail, But There's a Tentative Settlement in Part of the Electronic Rights Defence Committe's Class Action

It is always a pleasure when something you've been working on for a long time begins to bear fruit. That's what has happened in the class action suit against The Gazette of Montreal and various other entities over electronic rights, a case that has been going on for 13 years. This morning the ERDC sent out the following notice to ERDC members about a tentative settlement of part of the case. We're still a long way from paying out compensation to freelancers whose work has been used electronically without permission, but it's a step in the right direction.

The settlement also involves some interesting points about electronic rights about which we'll have more to say once the settlement is signed by all parties.

Here's the text of our message:

"Dear Friends

The Electronic Rights Defence Committee (ERDC) is pleased to announce it has reached a tentative settlement with two of the defendants in our long-running class class action arising from unauthorized electronic use of the freelance stories in The Gazette of Montreal. In addition, the Quebec Superior Court has ordered the posting of a Notice to Members of the class together with copies of the settlements. This starts the ball rolling toward a payout to class members. You'll find the documents attached.

The settlements are with Canwest Publishing Inc./Publications Canwest Inc.(which is the legal successor through amalgamation of Montreal Gazette Group Inc, Canwest Interactive and Infomart Dialog Limited) and Canwest Global Communications Corporation. Both are in protection-against-creditors proceedings before Ontario courts. This means that the actual amount of the settlements is undetermined at present because the creditors' claims against the corporations are still being processed.

However ERDC’s claim against Canwest Publishing has been valued at $8,500,000 for voting and distribution purposes in respect of any plan of compromise or arrangement proposed by CPI to its creditors. The ERDC's claim with Canwest Global Communications is valued at $500,000. In both cases these amounts will be reduced very substantially as the protection-against-creditors procedures are wound up. It is possible that we could receive about 10 to 15 cents on the dollar. Certainly it will be months, if not years before we receive anything.

Both these settlements require court approval. We will have more to say about what they mean in the days to come.

The documents we're sending you will also be posted on our website,, as well as on that of six writers organizations. Please feel free to circulate the notice widely.


Jack Ruttan, secretary
Mary Soderstrom, president

List of other organizations which will post the notices (Attorneys of the group Website) (The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC)) (Quebec Writers’ Federation (QWF)) (Union des écrivains québécois (UNEQ)) (Professionial Writers’ Association of Canada (PWAC)) (Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec(AJIQ)) (Canadian Freelance Union (CFU)"

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The New Rural Paradigm: the OECD Evaluates Sustainable Development and More in Quebec

What is needed is a new rural paradigm around the world: that message came through loud and clear when Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spoke at the opening of the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference now being held in Montreal.

The idea is not new--the OECD published a report on the New Rural Paradigm concept in 2006--but I certainly never knew that the OECD had studied the matter enough to make detailed recommendations on the regional, even provincial level.

When it comes to Quebec, the OECD "finds that in rural Québec, both population and personal income are growing, on average, and the province’s economic base continues to diversify. Land occupancy is more homogenous than in the rest of Canada, due to the presence of denser networks of small and medium-sized communities. However, mirroring the situation at the national level, the province displays large regional disparities. The sustainability of some rural communities, especially if remote and resource-based, is challenged by demographic and economic decline. In this context, Québec has developed one of the most advanced rural policy approaches in the OECD, closely in line with the framework suggested in the OECD’s New Rural Paradigm.

"To maximize returns on its rural policy investments, Québec needs to integrate social development more strongly with economic and entrepreneurial development, and further strengthen the supra-local level of government as the centre for rural and territorial development strategies. This should be combined with stabilisation measures in lagging areas, through the accumulation of human capital and enhanced access to land in predominantly rural territories. To address environmental challenges, natural resources should be protected both in the outskirts of metropolitan zones and in remote areas. "

Interesting stuff: there appears to be much more in a pricey document available directly from the OECD. I don't think I'll get it, but it is ammunition against those who criticize Quebec's supply management brand of agricultural organization.

While the OECD bookshop doesn't list a similar policy review for anywhere else in Canada or for the country as a whole, it is something that is worth looking for in the future.

Monday, 7 June 2010

One Thousand Google Searches Equal the Green House Emissions of a Car Drive One Kilometer, and Other Tales of the New Age

Is it possible that all that internet searching that we've been doing is not nearly as environmentally friendly as we might think? Besides the enormous convenience of being able to communicate with people all over the world easily and quickly and to consult documents held in an immense number of locations, internet research has seemed to me to be an ecological good thing. Fewer trees cut down to print copies of articles and books, less travel on my part to do research, work done with no cost to anyone except my monthly internet server bill.

But that is apparently not the case, as an interesting exchange in recent New Yorkers suggests. Everything that goes on online requires electricity and most of the electricity is generated by coal in North America. This makes the internet's "energy and carbon footprints now probably (larger) than air as much as a factor of two, and they are growing faster than those of almost all other human activities," he told David Owen, author of an article "The Inventor's Dilemma."

Too high, Carrie Saxifrage says in a letter in this week's magazine. "...(D)riving the average car for one kilometre produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches." She makes it sound as if the statistic isn't surprising, and contends that airplane vapor trails are much worse.

Maybe. Probably even. But it's a good thing to be reminded that our high tech life styyle may have costs which aren't readily apparent.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Saturday Photo: Fleurs de lys in Bloom Weeks before St. Jean Baptiste Day

Montreal has 97 community gardens, operating in some cases for more than 30 years. This was taken last week at one of the four gardens in Mile End, where 89 parcels are available to avid gardeners who live in the surrounding flats and apartment houses.

This particular morning a half dozen people of various ages were already at work at 7:30 a.m. Because it hadn't rained for a couple of weeks most of them seemed to be busy irrigating their crops.

The lovely iris in the foreground is an indicator of just how advanced the season is this year. Usually the flowers bloom toward the middle of June, just in time for Quebec's Fête nationale, St. Jean-Baptiste Day June 24. I've always that fitting since the fleur de lys is the flower of Quebec and is found on its flag. Through a weird etymological quirk, that's fitting too, since "flag" is one of the names given to the iris. The flower "flag" gets its name from an old Dutch word applied to plants with sword shaped leaves, yet I still like the idea that there is some connection between various fleur de lys plants and the flag of Quebec. There are times when the facts are less poetic than one would like.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Results of Being Addicted to Oil: Spills, Risky Drilling and Stephen Harper with His Head in the (Oil) Sands

The news this morning is a little encouraging in regards to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but what's coming out about deep off shore drilling in Canada and Green House Gas targets isn't. In this morning's Le Devoir Louis-Giles Francoeur writes of the way that the Harper government has just drastically lowered the targets for GES: by 2012 the Kyoto target will be surpassed by 35 %. The news came in an unpublicized announcement--Francoeur says there was no press release--that showed up yesterday on the Ministry of Environment's website. You have to look carefully to see where to download the pdf document: it's there on the right side of the page. Please note that the Alberta oil sands are one of the biggest contributors to our GES emissions.

Then yesterday The Globe and Mail compared the BP disaster with projects now underway off Newfoundland and Labrador. Chevron is currently drilling a well 2,600 meters undersea, compared to the 1,500 meters for BP. This story follows another The Globe published on Tuesday about how questions are being raised about what would happen in case of a spill in the Arctic.

Clearly, there are some very chancey operations going down. Without a doubt regulations must be tightened up and enforced, but in the long run we're going to have to find ways to do without petroleum.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Reviewing Books When You Haven't Got Much Time: A You Tube Video

And to follow up on a number of book lists and book reviews, here are reviews of 10 books (some of which I've never heard of) in 3 minutes, 31 seconds. Not bad...

This is from Hank and John Green's video project. Worth checking out: today's is about how their childhood pet dachshund could have pooped in their Nintendo.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

"What We See" through Jane Jacobs' Eyes in the Bay Area, Bombay, Brasília and, Indeed, in Burgs Everywhere

The folks at New Village Publishing in Oakland, CA wanted to know if I would review a new collection of essays on Jane Jacobs and her legacy, called What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs. Edited by Stephen A. Goldsmith and Lynne Elizabeth, it contains more than 30 short reflections about what Jacobs meant in Toronto and around the world, how her ideas have been influential, and how events elsewhere demonstrate her perspicacity. It ends with a series of questions about each essay that could serve as points of departure for discussion by community groups about their own particular problems, or as study guides in urban affairs programs.

I said yes to their request, of course. Jane Jacobs is one of my heroes. Her ideas about cities inspired my book Green City: People, Nature and Urban Places, and she is a character in my latest non-fiction The Walkable City: From Haussmann’s Boulevards to Jane Jacobs’ Street and Beyond. When this book arrived I spent several evenings dipping into it. By chance I was also reading James Holston’s The Modernist City, an anthropological study of Brasília which in many respects is the antithesis of what Jacobs’ stood for.

The two books go together like hand in glove, although there is no mention of Jacobs in Holston’s work. The Brazilian capitol which celebrated its 50th anniversary in April, 2010, was conceived as an egalitarian model city inspired by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier exactly at the moment that Jacobs was noting the problems the modernist idea was presenting elsewhere. Brasília features big blocks of residences, grand vistas of public buildings, wide highways for automobiles and no streets.

From the beginning, however, the people who built it and the people who wanted to live there tried to undo the modernist vision. One example which Jacobs would have appreciated is the way storekeepers given space in large buildings where the entrances were to be on verdant parkland, switched their shops’ orientation. The opposite side, facing on the walkways and parking lots intended for provisioning the stores, became the “fronts” because people wanted the bustle of a street-like setting.

It’s interesting that one of the contributors to What We See is Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of another Brazilian city, Curitiba. Beginning in the 1970s, the main commercial streets there became pedestrian, and an integrated public transportation system has developed to become a model of how to woo people away from private car and to stop urban sprawl of both the middle class and the slum variety.

Perhaps because I live in a Canadian city and because I’ve followed Jacobs’ thought for more than 40 years, I found contributions from writers outside North America the most interesting and original parts of What We See. For example, Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava’s essay “The Village Inside” told me much I didn’t know about how Tokyo grew by incorporating villages into the urban fabric. The result was a rich—if sometimes “messy” looking—mix of residential, commercial and industrial uses. Dharavi, the Mumbai slum featured in Slumdog Millionaire, has several points in common with the Tokyo of the early 20th century, the authors suggest. I bet London of the 19th century did too. The lessons to draw from these examples underscore the importance of working on a human scale to integrate different elements in a growing city, and not to raze what’s there or try to build a city on a virgin site as was done in Brasília.

My guess is that people who don’t know Jane Jacobs will find the background essays interesting, though. What We See is a valuable addition to the growing body of work which attempts to continue her work.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

CBC Montreal Is Messing Things Up: Why I Hardly Ever Listen to Radio One Any More

First it was the gutting of programing on Radio Two, and now for reasons that are unclear to me, the Radio One programing in Montreal has reached new lows.

The Montreal service lost one of its most valuable and interesting hosts nearly two years ago when Anne Lagacé Dowson of Radio Noon took a leap into politics for the NDP. As soon as she announced her candidacy she was put on leave, and then essentially forced to resign after the election in December 2008. At the moment she hosts a show on commercial radio on Saturday afternoons: having her is a coup for the station, and a boost to CJAD's listener numbers.

Her replacement on Radio Noon was Sue Smith, who is operating in an hour time slot, whereas Anne had two hours. Smith doesn't bring as much depth to the show as Dowson but I frequently listened because some interesting topics were touched on. Home Run has old political hand Bernard St. Laurent as host, and he knows something about everything which makes the show worth listening too.

Lately though, it seems that the local CBC radio bosses have tossed everything up in the air. St. Laurent is on Radio Noon this week, Smith is on Home Run, and Jeanette Kelly, a quite good arts reporter,is hosting on the morning show, Daybreak. This last program has been without a regular host for months, and is simply not worth listening too ever, and Kelly, who knows the music, arts, literary and theatre scenes extremely well, seems to have been given no support at all for a show that should set the tone for the listening day.

Where is Kelly Rice, the classical music guy? Why did Home Run spend valuable resources to send Sonali Karnak to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to report on the hockey series? Who is running the show? Just what is the game plan?

Don't know. In the meantime, I listen more and more frequently to Radio Canada programing where, so far at least, intelligence can be found.