Monday, 31 December 2012

An Anniversary Unremarked, and Happy New Year

Our house was built in 1912--first permits issued in late 1911, and occupation, it would appear, in the fall of the following year.  I'd meant to make a little bumph about the house's 100th anniversary.

The year 1912 was big one for residential construction in Montreal--lots of attached houses, triplexes and duplexes were built in what is now the center of the city.  It also must have been a good year for building elsewhere in the world: when Elin was studyiing in The Hague the attached  triplex she lived in was built that year also, and was designed along lines that would be familiar to any Montrealer. 

But I forgot to note our houses's birthday in the flurry of ordinary life.  It has gone through some changes since this picture was taken--after the fire next door in November 2010 about half the interior walls had to be pulled down to get ride of smoke damage.  From the outside, though, you'd never know the difference, and the basic plan remains the same and very well suited for urban family living with a small garden in front and back.

So, happy belated birthday, house.  I love you, and I love the many eventful years we've lived in you.  May you shelter us  for many years to come, and afterwards, may you welcome others who will be as rich in the things that matter as we have been. 

And for everybody else, Happy New Year.  May your body and soul find rest and fulfillment in a chez soi that suits you as well as ours suits us.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Saturday Photo:The Storm of the Century,, Trout and Me

Tha's me and our dog Trout Fishing in Canada on March 4, 1971.  The storm in progress was a big blizzard, called by some The Storm of the Century.  It left 43 cm of snow, a record which was broken on Thursday when 45 cm fell,

I'd forgotten about the photo--can't even remember who took it, but I don't think it was Lee since even though he was doing a lot of photography, even then he went for landscapes and not people.

The pix was taken near the corner of Prince Arthur and Aylmer in what was/is called the McGill ghetto which is where we lived then.  Took a long time to clean up the snow, but I don't remember being inconvenienced much.  Part of that has to do with being 28 at the time (28, can you imagine!  Much younger than my kids are now) and also because we really didn't have to go very far for anything.  The advantages of living in the center city is a lesson I've never forgotten and which has guided my choices of where to live ever since. 

By the way, Trout couldn't wait to be let off her leash.  She just loved snow and would go dolphining into snow banks up until the winter before her death at 13.  A wonderful dog, who taught us a lot and who was great with Elin and Lukas when they came along.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Brilliant Sunshine: The Calm that Follows the Storm

When people learn that we came to Montreal from California, they often say what a big, disappointing change it must have been, given the difference in climate.  But I've always liked the difference.  Not only are winter storms frequently exhilarating, particularly if you're in no hurry to go anywhere, the high pressure systems that follow can be marvelous.

Usually the temperature drops after a storm as a cold front moves in from the north.  Today it's not particularly cold for winter, but the sun is out and the light is absolutely fabulous.  I've often tried to capture it in a photo, but it seems to be beyond my skill. 

This photo, taken two winters ago, gives some idea of the pleasures of sunny winter days, though.  Why not take a sunbath, after all?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

And what it's like with Brazilian soundtrack...

Muito obridgada para a Immigrercom.

Back at Work...But Not Really

Lots and lots of snow today--glad everybody made it home yesterday from the holiday festivities.  I was out for a while this morning, and ended up taking buses on a route I usually walk because the sidewalks hadn't been plowed. 

Therefore it's a good afternoon to stay inside and work on stuff I should have done some time ago.  It won't  be until the storm stops and the snow removal crews are out that the going will be easier.

(The picture was taken several years ago after a really nice, bit storm. )

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas to All

Dear Friends

Got to wrap a few presents and make potato sausage before everyone comes over, so there won't be much blogging for the next few days.

Best wishes from our house to yours, and here's the link to our holiday blog, in case you're interested.


Doomsday Prophets Have Got It Wrong: Krugman"s Got It Right Again

Fiscal conservatives and the Mayan calendar nuts: both wrong in their prophecies, Paul  Krugman says once again:

" The key thing we need to understand, however, is that the prophets of fiscal disaster...are at this point effectively members of a doomsday cult. They...will hold to their belief no matter how many corners we turn without encountering that crisis.

"So we cannot and will not persuade these people to reconsider their views in the light of the evidence. All we can do is stop paying attention. It’s going to be difficult, because many members of the deficit cult seem highly respectable. But they’ve been hugely, absurdly wrong for years on end, and it’s time to stop taking them seriously."

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Saturday Photo: Christmas Tree 2012

So this is Christmas...  or at least the Christmas tree as it looked when the gang finished putting it up last Saturday.  There are some presents under it now, to which will be added quite a few more, I expect, before Tuesday morning.

The reasons we put the tree up last weekend was so that Sophie and I could make pickled herring, which requires at least a week to marinate for optimal eating.  But, as it turns out, we made the right call: Jeanne, who usually comes over to play with us on Saturday while Elin teaches here, is home with a cough and Lee is dragging around with a fountain for a nose.  Much better for all of us to rest and not share microbes so we'll be in fine form for the holiday itself.

Hope your end of year festivities are shaping up well.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Gangnam Syte Means the World is a Small Place: One Lesson Learned in the Last 60 Years

About ten years ago, I started my travels with a trip to Aisa. My first venture outside of North America was to Singapore, which meant involved taking Korean Airlines from San Francisco to Seoul and changing there ot Singapore Airlines. I was charmed by the Koreans, and emboldened to try a small escapade that one of my guidebooks suggested.

Since I had 5 hours between flights, I got a temprary visa and took a local city bu into downtown Seoul. It was about 7 a.m. local time when I started and it was obvious that the pasengeres were regulars with nearly everyone nodding greetings to the others.

 I tried to take in as much as I could, and when we got to the centre of the city, I got off thinking I could take the same bus back to the airport. Alas, it was not to be. Given more than five hours I mih have found where to take the return bus, but I had much less time.

So I decidend into the subway system, trying to remember exactly what the subway map had said about getting to the airport. As I stood in the car, staring up at the subway map, a yount man asked in very good English if he could help me. He didn't understand my accet, but when I showed him on my map where I was headed, he was most helfpful.

There, he pointed out, that's where I should change trains. And there was the spot where I'd be just steps from the airport check in section. How much he understood of my English is unclear, but what is certain was his delight in helping me. What a contrast with the heavy weapons on the bridges over the rivers, andmy own memories of the Korean War.

When the gangnam style video began makin its appearance in the cybersphere, I  wasn't keen on seeing it,.  Yet this is wha is coming out of that country, 60 years after that war.

The moral?  Well, maybe that if fi you wait long enough popular culture will triumph.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Kids Are All Right: Voter Participation Rates Go Way up among Quebec Youth

Young people in Quebec voted in large numbers in the September provincial elections, according to a study reported today in both Le Devoir and The Gazette.

"According to the study, the biggest single increase in voter participation in the Sept. 4, 2012, election was among youths age 18 to 24," The Gazette story says.

"In 2008, only 36.15 per cent of voters that age cast ballots. In 2012, the number was 62.07 per cent, an increase of almost 26 percentage points....Voting was up among 25 to 34-year-olds, too. In 2008, only 41.83 per cent voted. This time around, 66.36 voted, an increase of almost 25 per cent."

Pretty impressive, it seems to me.  So is the difference between the headlines in the two papers.  Le Devoir talks about a "spectacular bound"  while The Gazette says the change is just "part of a return to the norm."  True, in the 2007 election, participation was higher than in 2008, when voters were not happy about being called to the polls after only a year.  But any way you cut it, this time the participation rate was higher than it's been in a long time, reflecting the rise in political awareness among all levels of Quebec society after the protests of the Maple Spring,

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Winter Wonderland Department: A Moose on the Roof, No Weapons Please

This photo was doing the rounds of my friends yesterday, with a tagline saying it was taken in Blainville, north of Montreal.  Seems that it probably isn't, but it's great fun anyway.

What wouldn't be fun would be to have a hunter take aim at the animals. 

You laugh?  Not really, given the gun culture in the US and in parts of Canada.  Maybe the slaughter on Friday will give rise to more restrictions on weapons South of the Border,  at least outlawing assault weapons.  But I've been appalled by 1) those who say, well, the principal should have had a gun and 2) let's blame it on mental illness.

The first statement is completely unacceptable.  The second has a little more validity: a number of massacres have been committed by mentally troubled individuals.  But, as Richard A. Freeman points out in The New York Times today, the vast majority of people with mental illness don't hurt anyone.  One large study "which followed nearly 18,000 subjects, found that the lifetime prevalence of violence among people with serious mental illness — like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — was 16 percent, compared with 7 percent among people without any mental disorder. Anxiety disorders, in contrast, do not seem to increase the risk at all."

He continues; "You can profile the perpetrators after the fact and you’ll get a description of troubled young men, which also matches the description of thousands of other troubled young men who would never do something like this."

More cooboration that the problem is complex, and a warning that those with mental troubles should not, once again, get the rap for a society that doesn't know how to behave.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The New Town Kllings: When the Social Safety Net Protects Everyone:

Why do mass killings in the US happen? Partly because of the culture of violence there, but also because of problems with the social safety net.

Having mental problems is always difficult, and therapy is frequently not very effective. But things are much, much worse when there is no public system to help. Adam:Lanza's mother, as far as I know, didn't write or talk about her son's difficulties, but another woman has--most eloquently.

After telling about the latest in her son's explosions, Liza Long writes about how she had to head for the emergency room and the police when he came at her over something silly.  "Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer."

Finally he was subdued, but the chances of finding good help for him are not very great.

"With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011," Long writes.

"No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

"I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal."

Gun control would help too, but never forget that the Right Wing agenda is not good for people, either.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Saturday Photo: Phantom Doves

Tbere are times when chance tells you more than you expect.  This was a busy weekend with the gang coming over on Saturday to decorate the tree, make pickled herring, make music and general have a good time.

Before they came, I put a decoration on the front door.  It was simple, just a couple of branches and some of our old, but favorite tree ornaments.  One of them is the dove that my sister sent as the Christmas card from her, her husband and her daughter Kris years and years ago.  I've always liked it, and place it somewhere in the house during the holiday season.

Laurie died 10 years ago suddenly just a few days after her 56th birthday.  I've been thinking of her a lot lately, since Elin had a chance to catch up with Kris when she was on the West Coast last month.  How very sad that Laurie didn't live to see her grandchildren.  What I'd give to be able to sit down with her and discuss how marvelous they are.

So I suppose that was on my mind when I put the dove on the branch and hung it on the door, and maybe even why I decided to take a picture of the decoration.  It was snowing and the camera apparently thought it was too dark, because subsequent snaps all tripped the flash.  This first one, though, shows the dove flying bravely, and in these sad days I'd like to think it's a hint at what we ought to be doing.

The question is: hint from whom?  Our better nature, if nothing else.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Good News on a Day That Is Full of Not So Good

I've always loved Oreos and thought that prophets of doom weren't looking in the right places.  Why do we need to invent the devil when we've got ourselves?  Why worry about the end of the world, as predicted by the Mayan calendar when we're raising the temperature so steadily?

But now it seems that the whole business is a marketing gimmick.  Or at least, the Mayan calendar looks an awful lot like an Oream cream sandwich. 

Maybe we should eat it, the way that serpent eats it tail, which is supposed to represent eternity....

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas is Coming, Herring Are Bought

Sophie wants to make sil, Swedish pickled herring, this Christmas so on Tuesday she, I and Thomas went to the Poissonerie Jean-Talon to buy salt herring. 

On Saturday the gang is coming over to decorate the tree, and she and I will do the honours in the fish.  It take a good week before the herring have pickled enough, so you have to begin early...

But that's part of the fun of Christmas, isn'it it?  All the anticipation and preparation...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Two of My Favourite Things: Recycling and Music

A perfectly wonderful video about music produced on instruments made from recycled materials by kids in a slum. A little like steel drum bands, but with a real classical bent.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Another Giant Falls: Oscar Niemeyer

This is a little bit late, but it took me a while to come to grips with Niemeyer. Still not sure about what he means in terms of urban planning, but he certainly was an original

Monday, 10 December 2012

When "Cheap Asian Labour" Isn't Enough--Robots Work for Even Less

Some big North American outfits are moving production back to this continent for various reasons.  Among them is the perceived need to shorten the supply line, but also because it's no longer as cheap in China, for example, as wages rise.

My reaction when I heard this was: hey, that's good.  Why shouldn't everyone have better wages, and if the Chinese have reached that point, more power to them.  Some of us remember when "Made in Japan" was synomous with "cheap." That hasn't been the case for decades, thanks to the intelligent way the Japanese managed their post-WW II recovery.

But it turns out that the story is much more comples because, in large part, of increasing robotization of manufacturing, according to The New York Times.  On Friday Catherine Rampell had a very intersting analysis of the situation. Relatively cheap energy costs in North America are part of the story, and so is the decreasing gap in wages. 

"Inflation-adjusted average wages in China, for example, more than tripled over the decade from 2000 to 2010, according to a report released Friday by the International Labor Organization," , she reports. On the other hand, "in the developed world, wages are just barely higher than they were in 2000. In the United States, other studies have shown that median household income is lower today than it was in 2000."

Yet the coup de grâce may well be coming from robots doing the work--and making the machines that make the machines that do the work.  As Paul Krugman says:  "...the most valuable piece of a computer, the motherboard, is basically made by robots, so cheap Asian labor is no longer a reason to produce them abroad." That's not an isolated case: "...similar stories are playing out in many fields, including services like translation and legal research. What’s striking about their examples is that many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn’t limited to menial workers."

This is not something new unders that sun. In 1817 the  economist David Ricardo  wrote that "the new, capital-intensive technologies of the Industrial Revolution could actually make workers worse off, at least for a while — which modern scholarship suggests may indeed have happened for several decades."

And that might well be what is happening here.  Be warned.  

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Saturday Photo: What Do You do When There's No Snow?

Skate, of course.  They've put up the boards in the outdoor rinks in the parks near us, but we're not ready for skating yet. But you can skate elsewhere.  The outdoor rink in Old Montreal opened a week ago, for example.

I took this pictures sometime ago in Toronto, which I find very gray in the winter.  Sure, it's warmer than Montreal, and their Bixi bikes are available all year round whereas our season ends November 15, but the lack of snow makes things pretty grim, I think.

Neverthless, a lone skater was out at 7:30 a.m. that Saturday morning, making lovely, solitary circles on the ice.

Friday, 7 December 2012

NPD Outremont Annual General Meeting Saturday

The NDP Outremont riding association will hold its Annual General Meeting beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday, December 8, in the café/bar La Grande Gueule, 5615 A, Côte-des -Neiges Road. (Metro Côte-des-Neiges, 165 Bus.) The entrance is by the door at 5611 Côte-des-Neiges.

The executive committee for 2013 will be elected at the meeting, and members of the current executive will present their reports. Coffee, soft drinks and tea will be served, and members can order beer and wine.

The posts to be filled include

Statutory positions:
Associate President
Vice President for Organization
Vice President for Communications (
At least three women must be elected to these posts.)

2. Representatives to NDP Quebec Section commissions on cultural communities, women, youth and LGBTT. A person responsible for environmental issues is included in this group.

3. In addition, NDP Outremont welcomes persons who would like to work on specific issues as ad hoc members of the executive. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Anniversay of the Poly Massacre: Not a Time to Think about Weakening Gun Control

"A monument was built to the young women not far from the site of the massacre, just off the university campus. ... There are benches around the edge the park, and a path down the middle with  several granite  blocks—waist high and not immediately identifiable as sculptures or tombstones—on either side of the path.  Arcing away from each granite block is a low curve of stone with what might be letters engraved on it.  A bronze plaque with a date—1964-1989 for example—is set in the earth at each place.  The last date is always 1989, but what is on the  granite varies.  It took Frances two visits before she deciphered the meaning. Each block is sliced in such a way that the shadow of a letter can be seen: A, or M or B....  Then as you stare, the pattern of dark and light, high and low, can be seen as letters, spelling out the name of one of the girls.  There and not there. In the earth, but not."

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Take Five for Dave: Tribute to a Great Musican

This just in: Dave Brubeck dies at 91; This is a great version of the classic "Take Five" from a Montreal appearance four years ago when he was still going strong.  

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Return of the Cold: No Day to Think Creatively

It's been four weeks now that we've been dragging colds around.  Thought I was over it and had made plans to make fruitcakes with Sophie and play with little Thom a bit today.  However, the cough returned last night, so I'm laying low today.  So no post more interesting than this unless something drops in my lap.....

Monday, 3 December 2012

Icelandic Star Bjork Interviews Arvo Pârt: Preparation for a Great Concert of SMAM

The past and the present, as everyone knows, are intertwined in all domains.

Music lovers will have a great chance to see just that  when The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal mixes Bach and Estonian composer Arvo Pârt Thursday in a concert that promises to be great.

Time and place:  7:30 pm., Immaculée-Conception Church

Works: Magnificat by J.S. Bach and Berliner Messe by Arvo Pärt

Artists:  Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal
I Musici de Montréal Chambre Orchestra

And in the spirit of musical and temporal mixing, here's an interview with the Icelandic pop star (not  dim light, at all) with Pârt.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Saturday Photo: Snow Fallling on Nearly Bare Branches

This photo was taken a couple of winters ago, but I don't think I've ever used it as a Saturday photo.  It seems particularly appropriate today, when the snow is lingering and the temperature has plummeted. 

Tomorrow, however, will be another day, with the forecast for rain and temperatures well above freezing.  Such is the up and down world this year.