Thursday, 31 January 2013

An interesting development in the film forum NPD Ourtremont is organizing for next Monday, February 4:  Widia Larivière of Femmes Autochtone du Québec and Idle No More will be on hand to discuss The People of the Kattawapiskak  River. 

For complete information:

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Corporate Welfare Bums, Not Jobs: $75 Billion in the Bank, But Where're the Jobs?

The Canadian Labour Congress has just published its report on corporate tax hoarding.
 The conclusion?  Some $75 billion in the bank, but darn few jobs created.  Here's what the report says:

"Corporate income taxes in 2011 amounted to only 8.3% of all government revenues, down from 8.8% in 2010 and an average of 11% in the 1960s and 70s.  In return for tax breaks, companies are supposed to be investing their windfall, but studies have shown that rising corporate after-tax profits are not all invested in increased productivity and the creation of good jobs in Canada."

"Corporate tax giveaways have cost the federal government billions of dollars in foregone revenues, CLC Secretary-Treasurer Hassan  explains. "To pay for its tax breaks, Ottawa has borrowed billions and driven up the national debt. Now, the government has chosen to make massive cuts to public services that are essential to Canadians in order to pay the bill for its tax giveaways.

“Ottawa should target corporate tax credits to companies that actually do invest in machinery and increased productivity in Canada,” Yussuff adds. “The government should also be investing in public infrastructure including transit, literacy, workplace training and child care. These are good ways to prepare for the economy of tomorrow and to stimulate Canada’s economic growth and development.”

And to make it clearer, here's a little play by play of the race to get the most in corporate tax benefits.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Interesting constellation of events: a consulting engineer reports that he personally offered illegal cash to city officials not only in Montreal but several other municipalities, and a huge water pipe breaks, flooding downtown Montreal.

The engineer's revelations are the latests in testimony before the Carbonneau commission on corruption in the construction industry in Quebec. The flood occurred on a construction site where 100 year old water pipes are being replaced. 

The need to repair ageing infrastructure has been apparent for years here: the photo was taken a couple of years ago in our neighborhood where sewer pipes, installed when it was developed in the early 20th century, were being replaced. 

So far the Charbonneau commission's investigators haven't dug up anything about that part of the project, but they have about the contractor that was working on the replacement project downtown. 

Democracy requires digilence, if only to keep people honest. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Am I Getting Closer to the Inca Trail? Exhibit of the Art of Peru at MBAM

Back to work on the non-fiction book, slowly working toward a way of saying what it is about.  Now I'm becoming increasingly convinced I have to go to Brazil, and probably to take a bus across the Andes from Rio Branco to Cuzco...

And then comes this notice that a new exhibit is opening this weekend at the Musée de beaux arts de Montréal about Peruvian art.  Definitely must go see it, since the art is intimately linked with the Inca trail.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Saturday Photo: Orange Rules

For the NDP wine and cheese on Thursday we used bowls of clementines for table decorations.  They looked quite nice, and had the advantage of being both cheaper than flowers, and perfect for a party that has been riding an "orange wave."

The only problem was that not many of the clementines were eaten--after all, people were there to drink wine and eat chees and fruit took a back seat. I ended up buying what remained of the three boxes and now we have a lovely surfeit of clementines.  They are beautiful, cheerful fruit and I really like the way they taste. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Secrets Are Not Good in Public Administration: Rio Tinto Alcan Admits to Making Big Bucks Sellling Electricity During Lock-out

The aluminum multinational Rio Tinto Alcan made $74 million selling electricity to Hydro Québec during a recent lockout of its workers, Le Devoir reports. Under a very secret contract reached in 2006, the company usually buys electricity from the utility to augment what it produces in its own dams: the year before the lock-out, it bought about 200 megawatts.

But the contract also says, apparently, that Hydro Québec is obliged to buy the aluminum complex's excess.  That amounted to 387 megawatts in 2012, the result was another reason for the company to drag its feet when dealing with its locked-out workers.

The staggering sale came out this week with Rio Tinto Alcan's vice president Etienne Jacques testified before Quebec's Commission des relations de travail, which is looking into the conflict.  Up until then, the company had refused to say just how much they were making while not making aluminum.

Shady dealing  in the construction industry has been in the spotlight in Quebec since last fall, but it's clear that preferential treatment, such as the secret contract, goes much deeper. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Still a Few Tickets Left for Wine and Cheese Tonight

It's going to be cold on the top of Mount Royal tonight, but inside Smith House things will be marvelously warm.

NDP Outrremont is holding a wine and cheese beginning at 6 p.m. with Tom Mulcair,  our MP and Leader of the Official Opposition, present to join in the fun.

For tickets, contact or call 514 276-9257.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Support the CBC: Great Event at a Great Place

The Lion d'or, one of Montreal's greatest halls, will be the scene this evening of a rally in support of the CBC. 

Canada has been defined by its public broadcaster for decades, but it is under attack from the Stephen Harper governement.  Supposedly, it will get stable financing but successive budget cuts under one pretext or another have undercut its resources.

So the local NDP riding association in which the Maison Radio Canada sits is organizing a rally/show in support of the CBC/Radio Canada.  Scheduled to begin at  6 p.m. this evening, it is free and open to the public. Here's the Facebook event page:.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Good News Story: The Cat Came Back

Holly made it home to start the new year well, even though she'd run away when her owners were visiting in their RV 200 miles away.  The New York Times has one of those good news stories today that make you wonder about what guides animals--and people--in this life.

Cats do get around. Researchers at the University of Georgia armed 55 domestic cats with cameras, known as KittyCams, to learn more about their behavior. Scientists discovered cats hide, kill small animals and even find second families for food and shelter. Most interesting.

But beware, what this car does is not good news for the mouse.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Four Years As President Leaves Its Traces

Here's a picture of Barack Obama in 2008 and one of him in 2013.  Being president may be a "bully pulpit, " as Teddy Roosevelt said, but it also is a really, really tough job.

While I would like to have seen Obama  lead more vigorously, particularly when it came to economic affairs, I'm glad he won.  And certainly the pictures speak volumes about whether he took the job seriously.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Saturday Photo: Snow Swirling

This is a photo lifted from the publicity stills for the film Kamousaska.  The wind feels like this today, only the pictures I took were the pits. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Roller Coaster Life--From Freezing to Deep Freeze in Hours

Okay, guys, compared to Winnipeg it's not all that cold this morning (-23 C on the back porch or about -5 F) but tomorrow they're actually predicting temps near the freezing point.

This is not the first time this swing has occurred this winter--much of the snow melted last weekend too.  But wild extremes are what the models show for climate change, right?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Monty Python and Cheese: So Very Unlike NDP Outremont's Event January 24

Because I can't resist it, here's Monty Python and the famous cheese shop skit.

For those of you considering going to the NPD Outremont's wine and cheese tasting with Tom Mulcair January 24, rest assured we'll have much marvelous cheese...

 Here's the link for more information.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Musician's Death Raises Reflection on Music Education Here and in the Former USSR

Yuli Turovsky, a Russian-born cellist, who adopted Montreal as his home, has died at 73.  He was one of the generation of classical musicians who left the Soviet Union as the Cold War thawed, and moved to Western Europe and North America.

 Turovsky and the ensemble he founded here I Musici de Montréal delighted thousands. He also was deeply involved in training a new wave of excellent musicians in Canada, as were his former compatriots who settled outside.  We have benefitted mightily from the system the Soviets set up.

I have no idea how young musicians are faring there these days--I hope well, but who knows?-- but we must continue to build on the musical culture to which these expats contributed so much here.

 Stephen Harper supposedly likes music (he even appeared once with Yo Yo Ma, whom I suspect was hoodwinked into performing with him): let him listen to this and then think about what support for the arts means for this country.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Film from the NFB that Tells the Story Behind Theresa Spence's Hunger Strike

Where would we be with out the National Film Board? For decades it has been making excellent films about Canada and Canadians. As it happens a film released last year, and now available for viewing on the net for free, gives the background on the village where Theresa Spence, the woman who forced Stephen Harper to meet with First Nation chiefs, lives While she may not consider that her hunger strike has been effective, it--and the larger Idle No More movement--and moved Native Canadians' problem front and centre. NDP Outremont will be showing the film Monday, February 4, at Café Em, 5718 Park Avenue, in the Mile End district of Montreal. Time: 7 p.m. Admission free, but contributions gladly accepted. The viewing will be followed by a discussion.

The People of the Kattawapiskak River by Alanis Obomsawin, National Film Board of Canada

Monday, 14 January 2013

Flowers of Winter 1

The snow has melted quite a bit these past few days, leaving banks of gray snow everywhere. 

This is the down side of winter weather.  It makes me want to look elsewhere for beauty.  So this is the first of a series of winter flowers that I propose to trot out on dismal days like today.

It was taken a while ago, but the two amaryllises I started for this year are nearing bloom.  Will include a picture of them when they come out.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Saturday Photo: Snow Tracery

The temperature has risen, but before the snow is reduced to piles of grayness, here's picture taken when our holiday snow began.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Looking toward Travel: A Taste of the Inca Trail

One of the things that is good about January is not thinking about January. We're having a little thaw right now which means that the snow--still deep--is a little mangey. But that's okay because I've started trying to put together the next travel project. I'm not sure all it will include, aside from visits to Brasilia and Curtiba in Brazil. But it would be great to take a side trip (by bus?) across the Andes to Cuzco and check out however briefly the Inca Trail Not sure if it can be done, but here is a video that gives a taste of what it looks like, apparently.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Wine and Cheese tasting with Tom Mulcair January 24, 2013

To celebrate the wonderful momentum of the NDP and to get ready for the battles to come, the NDP Outremont riding association invites you to an evening of wine and cheese tasting where Mr. Mulcair will be present. The event will take place beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 24, 2013 on Mount Royal in the Maison Smith, 1260 Remembrance Road.

For more information, please contact us directly at 514 276-9257 or at

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

And Here's the Trailer for the Film

Rather damning...

Cyber Spy Story: Bank Hackers and the Great Soviet Pipeline Explosion

The New York Times this morning reports that hackers, probably Iranian, have been messing with the US banking system lately.  "Security researchers say that instead of exploiting individual computers, the attackers engineered networks of computers in data centers, transforming the online equivalent of a few yapping Chihuahuas into a pack of fire-breathing Godzillas, " the report says.

It continues: "Since September, intruders have caused major disruptions to the online banking sites of Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, PNC, Capital One, Fifth Third Bank, BB&T and HSBC.

"A hacker group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed in online posts that it was responsible for the attacks....but American intelligence officials say the group is actually a cover for Iran. They claim Iran is waging the attacks in retaliation for Western economic sanctions and for a series of cyberattacks on its own systems.

"In the last three years, three sophisticated computer viruses — called Flame, Duqu and Stuxnet — have hit computers in Iran. The New York Times reported last year that the United States, together with Israel, was responsible for Stuxnet, the virus used to destroy centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010."

But cyber warfare goes back 20 years at least, when the US, with the complicity of Canada and France, leaked software to the USSR for managing their gas pipeline through Siberia.  Embedded in the programs was a Trojan virus that misread pressure guages.  The result: the largest non-nuclear  explosion in history.

The story is told in a Canadian-French documentary Bon Baiser du Canada that will be aired on Radio-Canada tomorrow.  Don't know when it will show up in English (as From Canada with Love, apparently), even though Americans helped make it.  The title is a little play on words: the spy involved in placing the faulty software was called Agent Farewell, and "bon baiser" is what you might write at the end of a postcard...

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Warning: Next Harper Target May Be 2016 Census

Three researchers at Quebec universities warn that the 2016 census may be the cut because of "budget reasons."  In an op-ed piece in Le Devoir they outline the problems that have already arisen due to the Harper government's decision to remove the obligation of citizens to fill out the long form census in 2011.

The reasons give for doing that were that the questions asked infringed on privacy, they note.  But by not asking questions that people were required to answer anonymously about such things as their housing, ethnicity and language spoken at home, it is becoming difficult to make comparisons with previous censuses.  The result is that we don't know where we are and can't make predictions about where we're going or where we should go, the researchers note-.

This appears to be part of Stephen Harper's game plan, as witness the restraints being put researchers in many fields, they add.  Add to this Harper's stated aim of eliminating the federal deficit before the next federal election in 2015, and you get a scenario where it wouldn't be surprsing if the government slashes the $500 million necessary from the 2016 census from the budget. 

For more information about what Statistics Canada is planning to do, check out its website.  Definitely a dossier to watch.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Want to Know about FDR? Read a Book

Friends--Old Lefties like us--suggested we take in "Hyde Park on the Hudson," a film about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a distant cousin and affairs of state. It sounded like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, followed by good conversation over supper.

My one visit to Hyde Park 20 years ago was a very moving experience. I'd grown up hearing from my parents how the New Deal saved the world, and when we were there, Bill Clinton had just been elected president, so our hopes were high for a new day of progressive ideas.

But the movie was a disapointment. It  has far less politics than I would have liked, unfortunately. And if you want to know more about FDR and his amazing wife Eleanor, read Joseph P. Lash's masterful biography Eleanor and Franklin.

There is a certain in irony in mentioning FDR and Clinton in the same post, though: a good part of "Hyde Park on Hudson" hinges on the extra-marital, somewhat sexual relationship FDR had with a number of women.  No one officially knew about them at them at the time, any more than FDR's paralysis was every pubicly commented upon.  But the movie would have us think that what Clinton did was no that much different from what FDR did.  The question, as always, arises: when should a private  life become public.   

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Saturday Photo: Bolo Rei a Day Early

Tomorrow is Epiphany or the Kings' Day, when the Magi supposedly showed up with presents for the baby Jesus.  We've never celebrated it, although many of our friends do a little something, involving a cake with a coin or a bean inside.

The person who gets the piece with the whatever is the "king" and is supposed to have a lucky year.  Sounds like a nice prospect and certainly this year when Jan. 6 is the last day of the extended holiday season, finding it in your dessert would be a great way to top the season off. 

This is the excellent Portuguese version of the cake.  Called Bolo Rei, it's a sweet bread with candied fruit and a bean inside.  I bought it at Padaria Coimbra (also known as the Baguette dorée) on Mount-Royal boulevard in the Bairro Português here.  Discovering the bakery was one of the better parts of the 8 months we spent in the neighborhood after our fire.

Lee and I each had a slice last night, despite the fact that Kings' Day hasn't arrived yet. Neither of us got the bean, though: perhaps Jeanne or Elin will when they're by today.

Friday, 4 January 2013

More Good Books: A Classic That Says a Lot about Today

I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fiztgerals for the first time  decades ago, and was not much impressed.  Too shallow, about people who really don't matter in the great scheme of things, I thought then.  But with time I began to see it as a novel with resonances that run deep in American culture and in capitalist mythology.  Definitely worth revisiting at this time when the extremely wealthy atre trying so hard to make control the world to their advantage.  See Paul Krugman today on the financial deal worked out this week in the US, if you have any question about that.

He writes: "Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war."

The photos, by the way, are of F. Scott and his Zelda, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow playing Gatsby and Daisy in 1974 and Leonardo Dicaprio and Carey Mulligan in the same roles in the remake scheduled for release next May. 

More Good Books from Last Year: The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife by  Téa Obrecht can be read as a fable, a memoir or an observation on the wars of belief and self-interest that marked the last several centuries and cast a long shadow on this one. 

Here's the official plot synopsis: "In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself."

Elin suggested it, but I remembered reading an excellent story by Obrecht in The Best American Short Stories of 2010,  "The Laugh" which takes place worlds away on the African savannah.  That was more than enough to start the book, but which blew me away was the way this young writer is able to take material which she probably doesn't know first hand and transform it into stories of depth and fascination.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Good Books I Read in 2012: The Green House (with Comments about the Icelandic Model for Banks and Books)

Everybody else has done their lists, but as usual I'm a little behind.  For the next few days, I think I'll share my faves of the year, starting with The Green House by Ava Audur Olafsdóttir (Rosa Candida in French translation.) The book and the country where it was written both are worth considering in these days of publishing gloom and doom and completely unnecessary "fiscal cliffs."

This novel of a young Icelandic slacker who leaves home to restore an historic rose garden in a monastery only to find love with the mother of his (accidental) child, is a delight on many levelsl.  It can be read as a simple coming of age story, where the difficulties of choosing ones path are vividly depicted.  But there also are marvelous cultural resonances--is it possible that the child is really a female Christ-figure? What about the forest which is anything but dark and evil, even though the people who live there seem to eat nothing but meat?  And what to make of the monk who offers wisdom at every turn, citing film references, not scripture?

Olafsdottir, an art historian, has written several other novels, but this one is the first to make a splash internationally.  It was a best seller in France for months, and has appeared elsewhere in Europe to big success.  But it wasn't picked up by a North American publisher until brought it out last year. As such, it can be hard to find conventional bookstores and hasn't made it to many libraries.  But it's definitely worth seeking out. 

The Icelandic publishing scene is quite amazing too: lots and lots of books brought out each year, and literary talk is king of the airwaves, it seems.  But all writers need day jobs because, unless they break out of the small market like Olafsdottir, they don't make much money from writing. 

Underpaid writers are one  of the eleven reasons for the success of Icelandic publishing, according to  Baldur Bjarnason writing in the British publication, The Bookseller.  But there are others:

1: Expert retail
2: No back catalogue
3: A population of book lovers
4: No paperbacks
5: Intellectualism isn't a dirty word
6: No competing with Amazon
7: Cheap and fast production and design
8: Massive government support
9: Pricing
10: Easier distribution and promotion

Take a look if you're interested in books.  Looking at the way the Icelanders got out of the 2008 financial crisis by letting their banks go broke and not listening to the IMF and the World Bank is also instructive....

And this just in: two former executives in Icelandic banks have just been sentenced to prison for fraud in the financial meltdown.