Wednesday 27 February 2013

Appointment in Samara Department: The Path of the Russian Meteorie Charted

You remember the old story about the appointment in Samara: a man tries to outwit Death who makes a threatening gesture to him in a market in Baghdad.  He flees to Samara only to find Death there. it seems the gesture was  only a start of surprise, because, says Death, "I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

Or, put more crudely, when your number's up, your number's up.

A lot of us had a close call a little while ago when that meteor plunged into the atmosphere over Russia, causing considerable damage.  Scientists apparently have been spending a lot of time reconstructing just what happened. The thought, it would seem, is that there might be some way to avoid a closer call in the future.

But if we're really concerned about saving civilization from catastrophe, wouldn't we be better off putting our resources into getting out of the fossil energy addiction?

Monday 25 February 2013

Sea Level Rising is Nothing New, But What a Challenge!

The Daily Mail has a fascinating story about submerged settlements between the British Isles and what is now mainland Europe.  Of course, anyone who has been folowing things knows that there were various  landbridges over which people and animalsl travelled since we began roaming around.

Catastrophic events occurred in the past too.  Besides the volcanic eruptions that wiped ou Pompei and other cities, it's quite probable that the flooding from the Mediterranean basin into the Black Sea happened when people were around.  Hence the cluster of stories and myths about a colossal flood in many cultures from Noah to Gilgamesh. 

Word to the wish: might be good to take a lesson from the past and plan for big changes, now that the sea level is rising.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Saturday Photo: Ice Castles

Given the rock 'n' roll temperatures, kids wanting to build snow castles have had mixed success.  Just after the year end holidays someone(s) built a magnificent snow castle at St. Viateur Park.  Jeanne and I explored it a bit, and she was a little confused when we went back a week later and it had all melted.

The kids at École Querbes obviously ran into the same problem and solved it by making some ice blocks for their own castle.  A little food colouring makes the block all that more interesting....

Friday 22 February 2013

Unconnect and Live a Little: Living without Electronic Crutches

Last night at a dinner with neighbors we--all of more than a certain age--talked about our electronic attachments. Only one of us had a cellphone, and I was the only one with a Facebook page.

 Not doing a lot of Internet folly gives much more time to live, was the conclusion. As an early adopter of some Internet tools, I see just how easy it is to be distracted from real things by virtual ones.

There have been days lately when I thought I couldn't keep focused on anything for longer than 20 seconds. That I'm working on a short story that isn't going well doesn't help. There's nothing like a little trip to the Web to take your mind off the fact that the words aren't flowing.

And then this morning I came across this video which is nothing if not ambivalent. Guy goes off-line in all senses of the word for 90 days and loves it. Then he makes a video about it.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Choosing to Become Mothers, Women in Vietnam Break Barriers

Having just spent a day with my own grandkids, I am perhaps particularly open to this kind of story.  The New York Times  reports that a small group of Revolutionary women in Vietnam who found themselves with very few marital chances at the end of the "American War," chose to "ask for a child" from men with whom they had no further contact.

They obviously were pretty tough cookies, because what they proposed doing was as revolutionary as any war to throw out colonialists.  Some of them settled in a small village, where their status is now recognized.  Many of them ha've lived long enough to enjoy their own grandchildren, too.  Bravo!

To Mark International Women's Day and Honour Immigrant Women....

The lot of immigrant women is particularly hard, and to honour them as part of the International Women's Day celebrations, NDP Outremont is organizing another film forum for Monday March 11.

Family Motel, directed by Helene Klodawsky, will be shown, followed by a discussion with the participation of Chistine Paré,Co-président of NDP Section Quebec's Commission on Cultural Communities, member of la Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ) and of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

In Family Motel a Somali refugee and her teenage daughters, confront the unexpected when they are evicted from their apartment for arrears in rent. The film follows their subsequent move to a beaten down motel for the homeless on the “other side” of town. A touching, thought-provoking  docu-drama.

Free admission, but contributions accepted.

Place. Café EM, 5718 Park Avenue, Mile EndTime: 7 p.m. Monday. March 11, 2013

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Living History in Winnipeg

Okay, let's say I'm always a little conflicted about this whizzbang stuff commemorating past battles. But history is history, and the more we learn about it and keep it alive the better.

Emmanuel is in Winnipeg this week, giving workshops on the history of French as part of the 44th Festival du Voyageur and the 225th anniversary of Fort Rouge. I'm sure that he's opening some eyes there to the fascination of the past, with all its wonders and questions that ring out still today.

As for the shots shown above, they were fired Friday night as the celebrations opened. 

Monday 18 February 2013

It was cold again this morning--down near -16 C and not far from 0 F with a strong wind that made it seem even colder.  Yet I saw some hardy cyclists out, braving the elements.  There are more and more of them, using their bikes frequently equipped with studded tires to get around.

So I supposed I shouldn't be surprised to learn that the City of Montreal opened a traffic count on one of the bicycle paths in the heart of the city today.  It is set up where Laurier Avenue narrows, where a one way section begins with two bike lanes taking up much of he pavement. 

When the street configuration was initiated a couple of years ago, motorists were not pleased, because it eliminated one quick way to go west in the neighborhood and supposedly made for more traffic congestion.  But the bicycle fans argue that in fact the new safer bicycle path has actually increased the number of individual human beings using the stretch.  A figure of 2,000 a day was bandied about as the number of cars that passed before the changes.  Three times that number of bicycles supposedly took their place. 

The survey is designed to give some real numbers to the discussion.  Will be interesting to see what happens. 

But cycling this cold?  You've got to be kidding.

Saturday Photo: Green Houses on Cold Days

This is a picture of the Palm House at the Royal Gardens at Kew.  It is a very lovely place, and the inspiration of glass houses all over the world.

Saturday Jeanne and I spent a delightful hour or two in one of the local examples, the green house next to Westmount Library.  It is place where Elin, Lukas and I went frequently when they were little, combining getting books with  looking at the gold fish in the ponds inside conservatory and savouring the lovely smells.

I'm delighted to report that Jeanne enjoyed it just as much as her mother and uncle did.  Now I'm looking forward to taking her and her cousin Thomas there next winter.

Friday 15 February 2013

Zombies and the Republicans--and Conservative Economics in General

Once again Paul Krugman takes up the battle against the forces of darkness.
"Zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain," he writes in The New York Times, talking about Florida Senator Marco Rubio and his official  Republican reply to Obama's State of the Union address.  

Zombie ideas are  propositions that have "been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead — but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both," he explains.  Then he details how the Republicans are rewriting history in order to argue that the horrible Great Recession mess we've been living through since 2008 is  due to big government.  The truth, of course, is that free market types are the ones who produced the problem and their solutions--cut, cut, cut--are making things worse wherever they've been tried.

The same kind of argument has been heard here, but luckily a combination of the NDP, federal Liberals and the Bloc Québécois held Harper's feet to the fire back in 2008-2009 and we got a real stimulus package.  It now is time for the forces of clear thinking to work together to drive silver stakes through the hearts of the zombies. 

Note: the photo is from a site featuring zombie costumes.  The scary thing is that they look just like people we know....

Thursday 14 February 2013

Happy Valentine's Day, Non-commercially

This is not the first time that I've used this photo as a card, but, what the heck!, I like it.

It also has the advantage of being one I took myself some time ago, and so I'm not doing the consumer thing when I use it.

The former was written after being deluged with a lot of Valentine publicity.  Anything to sell something....

Wednesday 13 February 2013

You're Known by the Company You Keep: Justin Trudeau and Patrick Brazeau

Now that Patrick Brazeau has been more or less turfed out of the Senate for very ungentlemanly behavior, it's time to reflect on the boxing match he lost to Justin Trudeau.

Okay, it was for charity, and that's supposed to make it easier to forgive. By Holy Toledo! what's an MP going up against a Senator in a boxing match for?  Grandstanding, publicity chasing, sheer stupidity.

And  young Trudeau is going to be the next Liberal leader?  These two young men are terminably immature, and Canadian public life can do very welll without them, thank you very much. 

Monday 11 February 2013

Faith and Facts: Where to Draw the Line?

Interesting juxtaposition in the news today: the Roman Catholic pontiff steps down, Stephanie Nolen writes about the biggest religious event in the world and Paul Krugman's column is about "The Ignorance Caucus."

Thirty million people bathing in the Ganges where it meets the Yamuna river and  the mythical Sarswati believe that they are washing away their sins of this life. That the water is polluted does not matter to them, any more than the shadow of ritual cannablism that falls on the Last Supper makes the Eucharist suspect in the eyes of Christians. 

People should be allowed to have faith in the importance and effectiveness of these rites, I suppose.  But religious beliefs should not affect our attempts at intellectual inquiry.  Yet, as Krugman points out, in the US (and iincreasingly in Canada) "One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs."

Climate change research is the most flagrant current example--Krugman notes that Virginia, one of the US states most in danger of coastal flooding, has reluctantly agreed  to study  growing risk but Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.

Shades of Galileo...

Sunday 10 February 2013

Saturday Photo: Sledding, again

Beautiful day, sun and fresh snow.  Couldn't be better for playing outside....

Friday 8 February 2013

January Is a Cruel Month: the Carpe Diem Files

Four  friends lost parents in January.  All of the deceased were in their 80s or older--and one, our neighbor Mary Macdonnel Bélisle, was 106. 

My mother, whose birthday was in January, always said that it was a terrible month, not only because the weather and the length of daylight are so depressing, but also because, with its 31 days, it seems interminable. 

The end comes to everything, though, and, even though the deaths of this quartet were not unexpected, the sadness and loss are very real.  I am sorry that we never knew Mary Bélisle before she began to decline--she moved back into the house of her childhood only about 7 years ago--because it's quite clear she was a woman of substance.  She entered McGill in 1924 at a time when there were few women students, took honours in English and French, taught high school for years, and then at 37 married and had four children who do her and her husband Alfred, who kept a general store in the small town of Lebel in the Laurentians north of Montreal, immense credit.  Apparently she read The Economist well into her 90s and knew reams of Shakespeare and other literary greats.

 The days are longer now: it was growing light before 6 a.m. this morning, and the sun will not set until after 5 p.m. That lifts the spirits.  But we almost must realize that, while days will continue without number, we will not.  I coming to think that we  must live each day as something precious and strive to leave a world that is no worse than the one we were born into--and perhaps a bit better.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Hart House Viols in Concert on Saturday: Not to Be Missed

Elin is in Toronto this week preparing for a concert in the Scaramella series where she and three other musicians will play  fabulously old viola da gambas
Saturday, February 9, 2013, 8:00 p.m., at Victoria Chapel

Six instruments now at Hart House at the University of Toronto were acquired in 1919 for $1,500 at a Toronto antique dealers, and spent most of the following 90 years being played infrequently.  Their value and quality was recognized early in this century as interest in the viola da gamba and its repertoire flowered. 

Two of them will be played on Saturday along with two others now in private ownership: the quarter is composed of instruments made by John Pitts (1675),  Edward Lewis (1680s), John Rose (c1590) and Henry Jaye (1615.  

Here are the details:

Hartes Ease
Saturday, February 9, 2013, 8:00 p.m., at Victoria Chapel

In tribute to Wolfgang and Maria Grunsky (early music pioneers, and two of the very first viol players in Toronto), Elizabethan and Stuart viol consort repertoire is presented entirely on original instruments by English luthiers of that period, including Wolfgang’s bass viol (Edward Lewis, c1690), plus two of the spectacular viols from the Hart House collection, purchased and brought to Toronto in 1919 by a collective of individuals led by Vincent Massey. Not to be missed, these instruments are as lovely to the eye as they are to the ear.

Marie Dalby Szuts, Elin Söderström, Liam Byrne and Joëlle Morton,

Monday 4 February 2013

Even the Conference Board Warns about Income Inequality

 A new Conference Board of Canada report should be an eye-opener to those who think that high unemployment and changes in the EI rules that will penalize seasonaal workers are nothing to worry about.

"Canada places 7th and gets a “B” grade in the Society report card. Despite the solid performance, high rates of poverty and a large gap in income between the rich and everyone else put stress on a society and on the economy. Rising poverty rates and greater income inequality can mean a weakening in labour force attachment and social cohesion."
(Emphasis added.)

Who comes in first?  The usual suspects: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Finland and Austria, in that order.  The US is 17th: Paul Krugman would understand.

(BTW, my intention had been to stop blogging regularly here, but obviouslyl I can't, not when there are interesting things to point out.  So stay tuned: there may not be new material everyday, but there will be frequently...)

Sunday 3 February 2013

Saturday Photos: Two fromt the Past, One from the Present

 I dug out two pictures of Lukas and Elin, aged about 5 and 9, playing in the snow in front of our house this week to show Jeanne.  She wasn't nearly impressed as she was by the snow itself that she's shown playing in.

 Nice to see that having fun with the white stuff continues to be a joy to young folks.

And with that, I think I'll sign off for a while.  This blog takes a lot of time, which I realized I dont' have much of right now.  I'll continue to post, but only when someting cries out to be noticed.  Until this, go play outside yourself!

Friday 1 February 2013

Seven Years to Walk Humankind's History: Paul Salopek's Excellent Project

Just came across a fascinating adventure that will retrace (more or less) humankind's trek out of Africa and around the world.  Writer Paul Salopek is calling it "Out of Eden:" he proposes to begin this year in Ethopia and trek into the Middle East and beyond, crossing Eurasia, grabbing a boat across part of the Bering Strait and then going south all the way to Patagonia.

The adventure will take seven years, and he'll be writing stories for magazines along the way.  The first of his regular blog entries was made 10 days ago as he set off from Herto Bouri, Ethiopia, 10°17'12'' N, 40°31'55'' E.

Salopek explains: "It is a hegira across 2,500 human generations. Across 22,000 miles of our planet’ssurface. And across seven years of my life. Far from being a stunt, it is a seriousnarrative project that draws together all the strands of my experience as a traveler and a journalist—innumerable journeys to among distant rivers, mountains and highways, plus a background in natural science—and braids them into the ultimate story of us: an “assignment” in the spirit of Herodotus, or of the medieval Islamic traveler Ibn Battuta. Alternating between deep history and the cacophony of contemporary life that I’ll encounter along the trail, it is, in sum, a very long walk into our becoming."

Wow!  There may be  a little hyperbole in there, but the idea is something I wish I'd thought of when I was young and unattached.  You can be sure, I'll be following Salopek's reports with interest.