Friday, 30 September 2011

One Way to Sell Newspapers: Long Island Papers Find the Key But Aren't Sure What It Is

This is one for those who are studying how to keep print journalism alive: all the copies of two Long Island weeklies were bought up last week by mysterious figures for reasons that aren't clear. According to The New York Times, The Suffolk Times and the Riverhead News-Review :

"Either someone really, really wanted people to be able to read that week’s newspaper, or someone really, really did not," the NYT reported.

"The papers, which originally printed a combined 8,620 copies for newsstand sales, had to print 5,500 more to keep up with the demand, which seemed to come almost entirely from two customers buying up every available copy at $1.50 each from 7-Eleven stores and bagel shops."

The two papers had a few stories in common, including one about Suffolk County’s being accused of wrongfully diverting money from a preservation fund, a report on a former basketball star singing Karoke and the report on a doctor, who was a Queens on Sept. 7 after a "grand jury indictment on charges of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, six counts of health care fraud and one count of health care fraud conspiracy."

The publisher said that there were suspects but it was hard to understand in this day of the Internet how anyone could think they could supress a story by buying up copies of a newspaper.

But it sure has got publicity for the papers!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Down with the Monarchy: Stephen Harper Wants Britannia to Reign over Us

It seems that my next Canadian passport will have a crown on it, and if I tell someone they can't put up the Maple Leaf flag I could soon be liable to two years in prison.

These are all things that the Conservative government is backing as the new session of Parliament opens. Can't quite believe it: what happened to Canadian nationalism, let alone Quebec nationalism?

When I chose to become a citizen of Canada several years ago, I specificlly didn't want to pledge allegiance to the Queen. Since the oath of citizenship only says I will uphold the Queen's laws, I decided I could go along with that. But times are changing. It's almost like Stephen Harper and his buddies sit around thinking: what can we do next to turn back the clock to the 1930s. when Canadian foreign policy, even, was made in Westminister.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Too Many People, Not Enough Chairs: A Great Concert as the Day Closed Yesterday

Elin and her friend Madeleine Owen had the bittersweet experience of having to turn people away from the concert they gave Tuesday afternoon at the Jardin botanique. On the program were pieces by Marin Marais, Monsieur de St-Coulombe and other composers from the movie Tous les matins du monde played on viola da gamba, theorbo, lute and guitar.

Obviously many people thought it sounded interesting and far more people came than were expected. In the end some seats were added, but not enough. The attendance was a tribute to the attaction of this sort of music.

They aren't scheduled to give it again publcly in the near future, but they've decided to offer it as true chamber music, that is, they'll give recitals in private homes in a 21st century version of true chamber music. Contact Elin at for details.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Companion to "The the impotence of proof-reading"

Cook a Pot of Curry Day: Sounds Delicious

I woke up this morning to talk of a curry war in Singapore. As I lay in bed listening to a contributor from there on Radio-Can, I remembered the absolutely excellent food I've eaten in the island nation when I've visited. Without a doubt, I've never encountered better or more varied cuisine at all levels of society and at all prices.

Like many other things in societies these days, population changes are sometimes hard to manage. In Singapore, which has English as a national language but gives official status to Mandarin, Malay and Urdu reflecting the origins of its multi-racial population, the latest newcomers are from mainland China. These are carefully chosen immigrants, selected for their professional competencies, supposedly.

But one family of them protested that they couldn't stand the smell of their Indian neighbors curries, and went so far as to get a ruling from a neighborhood mediation judge that banned the Indian-origin folk from cooking curry except when the Chinese nationals weren't home.

This solicited a huge protest in a country where protests are strictly controlled. The upshot was an National Cook and Share a Pot of Curry Day in August. The result: quite an amusing bunch of internet comments from people of Chinese and Malay origin who like their curry too, and a lovely cloud of curry smells over the city, according the Radio-Can's report. Sounds like a great way to protest!

Photo: A sidewalk cafe in Singapore a few years ago.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Tous les matins du monde on Tuesday Afternoon: Elin and Madeleine Owen in Concert

Elin and her friend Madeleine Owen (theorbo and baroque guitar will be giving a most interesting concert Tuesday, September 27 at 5:30 p.m. in the Maison d'arbre of Montreal's Jardin botanique as part of the Orgues et couleurs festival. The music they'll play is from the film Tous Les Matins Du Monde featuring works by Marais, Sainte-Colombe, de Visée and Couperin.

The film is terrific: if you haven't seen it, rent it soon. It also changed Elin's life, as before she saw it she'd been a violinist who was only slightly acquainted with the viola da gamba. But afterwards she decided to make a career change, and the rest is history, so to speak.

The photo is the head of the gamba she had made by her friend Gesina Liedmeir.

And here's a clip form the movie.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Saturday Photo: Outremont in Flowers

A good part of the neighborhood I live in was laid out at the turn of the 20th century as a "garden suburb." While most of it is on a grid, street trees and front gardens were present from the beginning.

Formerly a separate city, Outremont has been part of Montreal for nearly 10 years. But it still attempts to emphsize its green heritage. This ornamental bed is beside the building that was once the city hall, and now houses the borough offices. It dates back much further than the city though--it was used to store furs at the beginning of the 19th century, but more about that another day.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cesaria Evora Retires

The Cap Verdean singer Cesaria Evorá has announced she is retiring at age 70. What a debt we owe to her!

What Would Jesus Do?

...hold up this placard, I believe.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Needed: Real Car Free Days, Not Just Public Relation Events

Today is Car Free Day in Montreal, an annual event when the center of the city is "shut down" to vehicular traffic from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It was begun a few years agao as gimmick to bring attention to the need to cut down on car traffic in the city, and as such seemed not very effective.

But since then there have been major changes in traffic in Montreal. One of the most notable is the fact that roadwork has snarled traffic throughout the city, which has made public transport, biking and walking a lot more attractive. Transit ridership rates have gone up by about 15 per cent in the last five years, while the biking has gained greatly in popularity. Between 2008 and 2010, bike ridership grew by 35 per cent, while just this week the city was named the best bicycling city in North America, and 8th in the world.

All to the good, I'd say. But we're not going make the necessary savings in petroleum use and the concomittant decrease in green house gases, if we don't attack urban sprawl. As several commuters were said on Radio Can this morning, they live so far away that they must use a car to get to the city with tools etc. The news this morning was also full of traffic snarls coming on to the island of Montreal--a car fire stopped movement on one of the bridges for 40 minutes, for example--while yesterday's had stories about a developer threatening to use land he owns next to a provincial park in the middle of the St. Lawrence for new condos. It's not until we deal with these problems, that Car Free Days become part of the ordinary urban landscape.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Catcning up on Business, So No Post Today

There are times when you've got to catch up on business (and pleasure.) So today is devorted to banking, lunch with my friend Lorraine and getting a haircut from Wayne at Furisme. When all that is done maybe I'll even get some work done!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Some Dinosaur Feathers Had Pigments: An Adaptive Advantage.... or the Danger Theory of Evolution

Great story in The New York Times today about dinosaur feathers preserved in amber that show traces of pigment. Eleven 70-million-year-old specimens examined by scientists at the University of Alberta suggst that the feathered animals had an array of mottled patterns and diffuse colors like modern birds, scientists at the University of Alberta, led by Ryan C. McKellar, the NYT reports.

Now why in the world would animals develop pigments anway? Presumably a random mutation that produced them might lead to an adaptive advantage if they made it easier for an animal to hide from predators. Certainly it's clear that camouflage helps. Just ask the squirrel we couldn't see as it clunlg motionlessly to a tree trunk last Sunday as we walked in Mount Royal cemetery. Or those guys in desert fatigues in far too many conflicts....

More of Jeanne's Favourite Videos

"The Cat Came Back" was a favourite around here when the kids were young, particularly in the Fred Penner version. But this one takes the cake--or the bowl of cat kibble. Jeanne loves it.

Monday, 19 September 2011

$800 Million in Budget Cuts: Bleeding Doesn't Make Anything or Anyone Healthier

If you want to try to lose an unpopular announcement, you make it at the end of the week. That's what the Quebec government did last Friday when $800 million in additional budget cuts were ordered by Michelle Courchesne, president of the provincial Treasury Board. Education and health sectors will hit the hardest, with the former to be cut by $180 million and the latter by $350 million. The cuts come in the name of reaching zero deficit in 2013-14.

The weekend papers had the story, but it was a lovely weekend, and not many people were paying attention. The exception were union leaders who, thank goodness, weren't asleep at the switch. Several of them are on the front pages today, saying in effect that anyone who contends cuts like this won't affect services is crazy.

This is the same kind of budget rhetoric that we hear south of the border, and which we're bound to hear more of in Ottawa, now that Parliament is opening with a majority Conservative government. But those guys don't seem to realize that Canada's relatively good showing economically is due to judicious public expenditures which have maintained our social saftey net and provided modest stimulus.

As Paul Krugman says this morning, focusing on deficit reduction is like the outdated, discredited medical practice of bleeding patients. What's needed "is to convince a substantial number of people with political power or influence that they’ve spent the last year and a half going in exactly the wrong direction, and that they need to make a U-turn.

"It’s not going to be easy. But until that U-turn happens, the bleeding — which is making our economy weaker now, and undermining its future at the same time — will continue."

Cuts for health, you say? Now, "bleeding " would be a place to start.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Saturday Photo: Trout Fishing in Canada

Well, no, there's nothing readily apparent that links this happy dog with fishing, but therein lies a tale (or tail, if you like.) We got Trout Fishing in Canada shortly after we read Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America and were preparing to spend our summers backpacking. She turned out to be the greatest mountain companion, a tireless swimmer, an all round lovely dog.

Lee found the photo a few days ago when he was going through a stash that had been forgotten somewhere but which got cleaned and stored in the aftermath of the fire. Jeanne, who has been spending a few days with us, loves the photo, and will say "Woof!" on cue when we point to it.

Trout would be pleased, I think, because she was marvelous with Jeanne's mother and uncle, being as patient with them as she had been with her own litter of puppies. She also was a most efficient floor-cleaner, I now realize. There have been times in the last few days when Jeanne has been eating energetically and we wish Trout were there to lick up the crumbs/spilled milk/bits of fruit.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Coming up on Monday: Reading: Un Acte d'Amour...

Just a reminder that on Monday I'll be talking about Neil Bissoondath's The Unyielding Clamour of the Night at Reading: Un Acte d'amour (or Lire : An Act of Love, depending on your linguistic preferences. ) François Barcelo will be presenting Tarmac by Nicolas Dickne and Sherry Simon, noted translater and literary theorist, will animate the evening. Both novels have been translated elegantly, the Bissoondath by Paul Gagnon and Lori St-Martin and the Dickner by Lazar Lederhendler.

So hope to see you Monday, September 19. It should be an interesting evening: 7:30 p.m. at the Sala Rossa, 4848 St.Laurent in Mile-End.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Wedding Dresses as an Anti-Poverty Aid: Nicolas Kristof Tells How

One of the things that came back from storage/cleaning after the fire was my wedding dress. Much to small now, of course, and neither my daughter nor daughter-in-law have any use for it now. So the question I've been mulling: what to do with it?

This morning Nicolas Kristof has a great column about microsaving and microfinance in Kenya, focussing on a former prostitute with three children who now has successfully become a dress maker. She uses fancy dresses she finds in the markets in Nairobi to cut down in order to make new dresses. Kristof says she (and probably others) can use what we may have hanging in our closets, so I may put sentiment behind me and send my dress to Kenya!

Kristoff's blog also has an link to an interesting list of aid groups that seem to be working on the ground.

Photo: yes, that's me, several decades and about 15 pounds lighter.

Fighting Poverty: Why Not Just Provide Better Public Services, Or Getting Down to Basics

First there were the various beefcake calendars put out by firemen to raise funds for burn units and the like. Then came "sex muffins of science," another calendar (which I can't find at the moment) of very good looking science nerds. Now there is a nude campaign by Montreal's Centraide, the community charity.

The 17 performers and personalities--all well known locally--pose artfully with the slogan, "En dessous on est tous pareils", underneath we're all the same. Don't know if this will increase Centraide's take this year, but it certainly is attracting attention. Of course, it would be interesting to know just how much the advertising agency that thought up the campaign will make from the campaign: "administrative" costs can be a big factor in any charity fundraising endeavor.

A more efficient way to get aid to people hwo need it is to provide decent public services. As in health care, overhead costs are much lower when provided by the public sector.

But nobody is taking of clothes for paying more taxes. But why not. Amir Khadir might be quite interesting to see unclothed, although the idea of Jean Charest is quite another story!

Photo: Mitsou and Abeille Gélinas

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Good News Story: Making Light with the Sun, Water and Liter Bottles

I was going to write about rising rates of poverty and inequality in Canada and the US today, but I came across this good news story. It's a gray day, so why not focus on the light?

The simple technology uses a liter of distilled water in a plastic bottle, bleach, to make the equivalent of a 55 watt bulb that apparently will continue to glow after the sun sets.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

How to End Poverty and Make Democracy: Educate and Empower Women

This is book review week, when I lead discussions in four Montreal area libraries. In two of them, the book is Shlipi Somaya Gowda's Secret Daughter, a novel about adoption and motherhood in India and North America that has surprised the publishing world. It's sold 250,000 copies in Canada, an absolutely astonishing number in a country where a book is considered doing well to sell 6-8,000.

For a book that is very hopeful, the discussion last night at the Pierrefonds library took a very serious turn--how to change the world, get rid of poverty, and end the "disappearance" of millions of girl babies in societies where a huge premium is put on having sons. No one had the answer--does anyone?--but one of the things mentioned was educating women and giving them more power over their lives.

And then this morning The New York Times had a fascinating story about the role of women in the six month-long uprising against Ghadafi in Libya. It seems that before the rebellion, women there could do more than they could in some extremely Muslim country: they could drive, for example, unlike women in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, they were under great pressure to stay in the shadows. Yet came the revolution, they were helpers in the rebellion, and now do not want to recede into the background.

The story notes that in Egypt, women who also were instrumental in the Jasmine Revolution there are now having a hard time in carrying their gains to the next step. But it's clear that getting women involved changes a society in ways that are difficult to undo.

Thank goodness,

Monday, 12 September 2011

Debussy's The Submerged Cathedral for the Day after the Tenth Anniversary

Debussy's piano prelude is inspired by the idea of a cathedral that was submerged in some magical/mythic/horrible way. Beauty is not a stranger to disaster. I've long thought the shots of the Twin Towers' ruins were magnificent. It would be nice to think that something postive and lasting would come out of 9/11, but probably it is too early to tell.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Saturday Photo: More Hints of the Plateau's Rural Past

Le Jeune street is only a block long, running between boulevards St-Joseph and Laurier in Montreal's Plateau district. It doesn't fit into the usual pattern, being too narrow and not hooking up with the rest of the grid. With one exception (something built in 2000), all the buildings are well over 100 years old, with the oldest dating from 1880.

Walking down it on recent rainy afternoon, it seemed very peaceful. The little gadens tucked behind fences heightened the impression that here you could glimpse what the neighborhood was like when it was the home of working folk living in modest dwellings at the edge of a larger city.

Well Done: Sid Ingerman Takes First for Canada at the International Triathalon Competition in Beijing

The wonders of the internet allowed Sid Ingerman's many friends to follow him to victory in his age group at the International Triathalon sprint championships in Beijing Saturday.

Sid, 82, took up the sport after he retired from teaching economics at McGill University, and has been going strong ever since. His time this time for the sprint was two hours, 50 minutes and 22 seconds. Many messages of encouragement bobbed up on the official site as the race went on, and we were waiting to see him cross the finish line. But for some reason the live stream stopped, and we had to make do with someone writing that he'd finished and picked up the Canadian flag to celebrate.

Eighty-two, can you imagine! I couldn't do it at considerably younger.

And now he's off to do some touring in China: he even took Mandarin lessons last winter in preparation.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Yo Yo Ma Plays Murray Beethoven: Will the OSM Play It in Their New Concert Hall?

Jeanne's been around for the last few days, and I've rediscovered some of the great bits from Seasame Street. This one actually dates from some time after Elin and Lukas were Sesame Street age, but Jeanne thinks it's terrific. Obviously she loves music, which I suppose comes naturally, given her muscian mother and her melomane father.

An early introduction to the joys of "classical" music is a great, audience-building endeavor. Nice to hear that crowds have turned out to catch the opening of Montreal's new symphony hall (La Maison symphonique) and the mini-oconcerts that members of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal give while folks wait to visit and enjoy the new hall.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Change Your Windows, Not the Reactor: How to Save Energy and Create Jobs

What is more energy effective, renovating a nuclear reactor or insulating houses?

A new study by the Quebec group Ecohabitation says that refurbishing Hydro Québec's one reactor to prepare it for 25 more years of service would cost more than putting new Energy Star doors and windows in a quarter of Quebec's home, or 900,000 residences. The resulting savings in energy would annually equal the power produced by reactor.

What's more. this green intiative would provide thosuands of jobs, both for door and window installation and for their manufacture.

Now, it's not clear that this kind of calculation for other reactors would result in such striking arguments of sustainable development, but it certainly is worth considering as we look at how to get ot of the energy mess we're in.

Photo: Gentilly 2 amid the fields--a shot that wants you to equate nuclear with green, despite the reality.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nice to See Friends on the Scotia Bank/Giller Prize

The Long List for the Scotia Bank Giller prize has been announced, and I'm pleased to see several friends featured. Genni Gunn, with whom I worked several years on the Writers' Union of Canada's board, gets a nod for Solitaria, while David Homel's translatioan of Dany Laferrière's The Return (L'enigme du retour, in French) is included, too. But the nicest thing is to see Clarke Blaise's nominiaton for his short story collection The Meagre Tarmac. Many years ago he was the first writer to encourage my work, making several excellent suggestions about how to improve my first novelThe Descent of Andrew McPherson, and then how to market it. I've been very grateful ever since.

Here;s the entire list:

David Bezmozgis
for his novel THE FREE WORLD, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Clarke Blaise for his short story collection THE MEAGRE TARMAC, Biblioasis
Lynn Coady for her novel THE ANTAGONIST, House of Anansi Press
Michael Christie for his short story collection THE BEGGAR’S GARDEN, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Patrick DeWitt for his novel THE SISTERS BROTHERS, House of Anansi Press
*Myrna Dey for her novel EXTENSIONS, NeWest Press
Esi Edugyan for her novel HALF-BLOOD BLUES, Thomas Allen Publishers
Marina Endicott for her novel THE LITTLE SHADOWS, Doubleday Canada
Zsuzsi Gartner for her short story collection BETTER LIVING THROUGH PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES, Hamish Hamilton Canada
Genni Gunn for her novel SOLITARIA, Signature Editions
Pauline Holdstock for her novel INTO THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Wayne Johnston for his novel A WORLD ELSEWHERE, Knopf Canada
Dany Laferrière for his novel THE RETURN (translation, David Homel), Douglas & McIntyre
Suzette Mayr for her novel MONOCEROS, Coach House Books
Michael Ondaatje for his novel THE CAT’S TABLE, McClelland & Stewart
Guy Vanderhaeghe for his novel A GOOD MAN, McClelland & Stewart
Alexi Zentner for his novel TOUCH, Knopf Canada

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Jimmuy Zoubris and Politics: Citizenship, Hard Work, and Maybe Hope

We've traded at Zoubris since it opened. The stationery store on Park Avenue was where I sent faxes to my mother in her last days before her death in 1999, where all my novels have been copied before sending out to publishers, where I made a tee shirt with a picture of Jeanne for my husband's birthday last year. It is neighborhood institution, the necessary complement to a home office for the hundreds if not thousands of people around here who work on contracts: writers, photographers, restaurants, small businesses of all sorts.

Jimmy Zoubris, the founders' son, was there when it opened in 1983 and he was still a university students. His parents are semi-retired, so with his sister Demetra, he runs the show. He also is the essential link between many parts of the community, since he knows everybody, and talks to everyone. And now he's taken a leap into muncipal politics (he already has served on a schoolboard,) becoming a vice presidents of the progressive Projet Montréal party.

The Gazette's Mike Boone profiled him on Monday, and if you didn't see it, here's the link. It's a great story of how one man cares about government.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Paul Krugman on Jobs This Labour Day

As usual Paul Krugman's column in The New York Times is right on the money and particularly appropriate this Labour Day. As usual what he has to say has implications for Canada too:

The idea that" ...fears of regulation and higher taxes are holding businesses just a right-wing fantasy. Multiple surveys have shown that lack of demand — a lack that is being exacerbated by government cutbacks — is the overwhelming problem businesses face, with regulation and taxes barely even in the picture.

"For example, when McClatchy Newspapers recently canvassed a random selection of small-business owners to find out what was hurting them, not a single one complained about regulation of his or her industry, and few complained much about taxes. And did I mention that profits after taxes, as a share of national income, are at record levels?

"So short-run deficits aren’t a problem; lack of demand is, and spending cuts are making things much worse. Maybe it’s time to change course?"

Krugman says he's ready "to cut Mr. Obama a lot of slack on the specifics of (the budget proposal he's scheduled to announce" as long as it’s big and bold. For what he mostly needs to do now is to change the conversation..For the sake of the nation, and especially for millions of unemployed Americans who see little prospect of finding another job, I hope he pulls it off. "

Happy Labour (Or Labour) Day!

Never hurts to remember what led to this holiday of the end of summer. A classic version by Pete Seeger.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Saturday Photo: The Return of the Pink Bicycle

As I make my rounds again in Outremont, I'm pleased to see that gardeners have done fun things again this year.

To the left is the 2011 version of the pink bicycle, a particularly nice one, I think. To the right is the one from 2007, the first year.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Song from a Tropical Fight for Freedom: Pete Seeger Sings José Martí's Guantanamero

And further to tropical wars, here's the wonderful Pete Seeger singing the Cuban song Guantanamera. Originally it was about a woman from Guantánamo, but Cuban patriot José Martí used it for his words about a simple man who was the hope of his country.

The song is an unofficial Cuban anthem, and it is crushingly ironic that the infamous American prison camp for post 9/11 terrorists was/is found on Guantánamo Bay. I haven't found any reference to our friend Pete commenting on the connection, but it is a warning to the ways that wars can spread their evil around the world.

Green Helmets (Not Green Berets) to Fight Strife Due to Climate Change?

The story's apparently been around for a while, but I just came across it today when Le Devoir ran a front page item about how the UN may soon be sending "hreen helmets" into areas where climate change has led to strife. They would complement or replace the "blue helmets" which have become associated with UN peacekeeping forces.

I have no idea whether the force would be any more effective than the traditional ones--and the passing of Gil Courtemanche mentioned here yesterday is a reminder of the nearly total failure of UN forces to protect Tutsis form Hutus in Rwanda. But it is telling that climate change is showing up as part of the big picture of world wide strife.

This week also saw the publication of a paper in Nature by Kyle Meng, detailing the close correlation between El Niño and tropical civil wars. "The warmer, drier conditions of El Nino have had a baleful effect on conflict in the tropics since 1950," the study says. While "correlation without explanation can only lead to speculation," according to Halvard Buhaug of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, the increasing frequency and severity of El Niños do not augur well for peace and prosperity in the decades to come.