Sunday, 31 March 2013

Saturday Photo Reprise: Easter Eggs with Natural Dyes

Jeanne and I dyed Easter eggs this year with dyes made from beets, red cabbage, spinach, tumeric and blueberries.

The best however were the ones coloured by being wrapped in onions skins and then boiled from about an hour. Really lovely. This photo, though, is of the ones I did last year, as I forgot to take a picture before everybody left, bearing with them their Easter goodies. Still rather nice, I think.

The other pictures is of a dead bush on the next street over. We walked by there this morning, and they hadn't put out hte eggs. But since I don't think I posted the photo last year, here is what they had in 2012. Also rather nice.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Great Old Dog: My Cousin Cathy's Clifford!

We just had a great four weeks babysitting (catsitting?) Chatouille, our neighbor's Maine coon cat. She's gone home now, and I'me feeling a little nostalgic. Having an animal in the house can be a lot of fun. (Lot of works too, but that's another story.) Now to go vacuum the house before our near and dear ones who are allergic to cats come over for Easter!

Krugman Says the Message about How the Deficit is a Crock Has Gotten Out, But Not Here Apparently

The Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has been talking for several years about how the fear-mongering about the deficit is nonsense.  Today he writes that maybe this message is getting through: "It’s as if someone sent out a memo saying that the Chicken Little act, with its repeated warnings of a U.S. debt crisis that keeps not happening, has outlived its usefulness"

North of the Border that idea has yet to get into the heads of the Harperites, witness the emphasis on expense control in the recent Federal budget with its downloading of retraining programs to the provinces..  The supposedly left-wing PQ has also just patted itself on the back about the way it will balance the budget in the coming fiscal year.

But, as Krugman writes, there is no real deficit crisis in North America. Instead there is a real danger that we are mortgaging our future by not repairing/improving our infrastructure, teaching our kids, healing our sick. 

"Why are we shortchanging the future so dramatically and inexcusably?," Krugman asks. "Blame the deficit scolds, who weep crocodile tears over the supposed burden of debt on the next generation, but whose constant inveighing against the risks of government borrowing, by undercutting political support for public investment and job creation, has done far more to cheat our children than deficits ever did.

"Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue, and we should be ashamed of what we’re doing to the next generation’s economic prospects. But our sin involves investing too little, not borrowing too much — and the deficit scolds, for all their claims to have our children’s interests at heart, are actually the bad guys in this story."

Okay, let's hope that message gets across here and South of the Border.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Love, Restos and History: How Dinner Led to the Supreme Court

In a time when most of the young people I know are marrying for immigration, insurance or other very practical reasons, it is a pleasure to read a story of true love that has reached the US Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, the lovers are gay:  Edie Windsor and Thea Speyer met one Friday in the Portofino restaurant in New York, and the rest is history.

The facts are practical, however, because the law usually is very practical.  Edie  is challenging the US Defense of Marriage Act, charging that because her Canadian marriage to  the late Thea  is not recognized because it was between two people of the same sex, she was forced to pay inheritance taxes. That's them to the right, taken from  promotion for a documentary "Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement which will be shown tomorrow night  March 28, in at the New Parkway Theatre, 474 24th St., Oakland, CA. at 6 p.m.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Three Score Years and Ten: Life Expectancy through the Ages

It's no secret that we're all getting older, and there are days when I feel truly ancient.  Bu, as they say, 60 is the new 40, and overal life expectancy in countries like Canada continue to rise.  In 1920 it was 59 for men and 61 for women, compared to 79 for men and 83 for women in 2009,

This compares favourablly with the expectations of, say, a Swedish baby born in 1800, according to a fascinating story in The New York Times magazine. Records show that he or she could expect to live only 32 years.  My kids (partly of Swedish descent, in fact, and now 33 and 37) might be considered old in that society.

The thing is that these expectancies are only averages, and when many deaths occur in infants and children, the average  plummets.  Those same Swedish records show that, once the perilous period of childhood was survived, an individual was likely to live into his or her 50s or 60s. The big advances in longevity come with the control of childhood diseases and safer childbearing practices. 

That should be no surprise too anyone who knows the Bible:  Psalm 90 sets 70 as a goodly age and 80 as an age that might be reached with "labour and sorrow."  Another suggestion that there isn't much new under the Sun.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A Year Ago Thomas Mulcair Became NDP Leader

The picture was taken a year ago when we all were waiting for the results of the balloting during the NDP leadership convention.  Our man Tom Mulcair has done a great job since then as Leader of the Official Opposition.

Can't wait until we can elect him Prime Minister.  BTW, the flip side of the banner in the picture was "TM4PM"as was the hashtag for twitters during the convention.

Most Energy in Canada Comes from Hydroelectricity, So Why Are We Soiling our Nest with the Tar Sands?

Much chit-chat this morning on Radio Can about an interactive map which gives the location of renewable energy producers in  Quebec. Rather interesting, although it's clear that most installations are hydroelectric, which means that  unless there's a major shift to electric cars, buses and trains, isn't going to have much impact on fossil fuel consumption for transportation.

That becomes even clearer if you take a look at an interesting news analysis by Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times. According to a side bar to the story, 63 per cent of Canada's energy consumption is from renewable and 93 per cent of that comes from hydroelectricity.

In comparison, only 13 per cent of the energy consumed in the US is from renewable sources, and the States are where Canada's energy bosses (i.e. the Harperites) want to sell the tar sands oil.  In other words, we're soiling our nest in order to keep America rolling.  Wouldn't it be better for us all if they started  to conserve more and consume less?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Saturday Photo Reprise: Flowers of Winter, Reflected Snow

Took this picture a couple of years ago after a heavy snow fall.  The flowers were blooming in a restaurant window on the Plateau.  The snow-bound cars reflected in glass make a lovely image of this time of year, when we are stuck between two seasons: winter and spring.

Last weeks snowdrop shoots, of course, are now buried under two feet of snow.  But as my mother would say, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Second Day of Spring and Bach's Birthday: Music to Lift the Spirit

This playful improvisation on Bach is a suggestion of the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Strange World of Energy Production: Chinese Solar Panel Manufacturer Declares Bankruptcy

There is a difference between the long run and the short run: we all know that and as John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead.  And probably in the long run we are going to have to go to sustainable energy production.  But in the short run things don't look good.

The operating unit of a big Chinese producer of solar panels has just declared bankruptcy.  Not only is it unusual for a Chinese company to do that--usually, The New York Times says, the Chinese government steps in with a bail-out in part to keep the reputation of Chinese business glowing.

This time, however, there are appears to be no other way out for Suntech, which is said to be losing $3 for every dollar in sales.  The reasons are many: over expansion, increased production of natural gas in the US, and declining subsidies in the European Union for solar energy. 

So where does that leave us?  Without a Plan B, it seems to me.  Our dependence on fossil fuel continues, and capitalism, even the state capitalism of the Chinese variety, isn't going to change thata very soon. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Ten Years Ago: Iraq War Begins

One of the good things about being Canadian was the country's principled approach to foreign policy. No better example is there than the way Canada stayed out of Iraq. Here's a video of the February 15, 2003 demonstration in which some 200,000 people marched through the streets of Montreal in temperatures that were around 20 below Celsius.

Monday, 18 March 2013

More Cuts, This Time in Day Care Centre Budgets

What is really depressing about the $37.9 million the PQ government just cut from the 2013 budget of provincially-financed day care centres, is that it's the PQ government doing the slashing. 

This kind of austerity grovelling is what you expect from the Quebec Liberals or the Federal Consevatives, not from a government supposedly led by Social Democrats.

Ha!  None of them have read Krugman, it seems.  Kowtowing to the budget devils is not good economic sense, any more than going to war in Iraq was (see Krugman today.)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Phillpe Couillard New Quebec Liberal Leader

Seems the former health minister and buddy of Arthur Porter won on the first ballot.  Quebec Liberals now can take on the PQ, or so they think. 

Wonder if anything coming out of the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in the construction industry will have any effect on Phil's plans.  There may be dynamite coming...

Saturday Photo; St. Patrick's Day Parade

Don't see any green, but this isn't bad for a snow parade on a day when much snow is melted, but the temperatures are cold!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Montreal's Non-Urban Renewal: Why?

The webzine, The Atlantic Cities, has an interesting series of aerial shots of downtown Montreal between 1947 and the present.  The striking thing is that the city's center hasn't changed all that much.

The reasons for that are complex, and have nothing to do with Jane Jacobs, and a lot to do with inertia on the part of Montreal administrations.  By the time more "progressive" governments replace Jean Drapeau, a lot of the shine had worn off the urban renewal idea.

Good.  But I wonder how this fits into our current orgy of dirty linen washing about corruption in the construction industry,  Would things gone differently if there had been more hanky panky?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Bolaño and Francis: Food for Thought in a Complicated Situationd

The Pope from Argentine?  Time to re-read Robert Bolaño's amazing By Night in Chile.  The country is different but the complicated relationship between the Church and a  dictatorship certainly bears some reflection, given the rôle of Pope Francis during the long period of authoritarian rule there.

We're told he's a humble man, someone who took public transport to work, who cares deeply about the poor.  That's all to the good, as is the fact that he's not from Europe.  But the Mother Church is not going to change much in its teachings, I'll bet.

The former resident of Buenos Aires also may have chosen his papal name for more than connection with St. Francis of Assisi.  Don't forget that one of the founders of the Jesuits was St. Francis Xavier, whose take on relgion was quite different. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Waters of March: Good Sounds in Both Brazil and Quebec

For a long time I thought this Brazilian classic referred to the wonderful abundance of water that appears with the melting snow. But of course, March is the end of the summer in Brazil, not the end of winter.

The Brazilian rains are those that break the drought. But the song works just as well here.


Here are the English words:

Waters of March : English Version: “Aquas de Marco Antonio Carlos Jbim Lyrics”

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road,
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone
It's a sliver of glass,
It is life, it's the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It's a trap, it's a gun
The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush
The wood of the wind,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all
It's the wind blowing free,
It's the end of the slope,
It's a beam, it's a void,
It's a hunch, it's a hope
And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart
The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road,
A slingshot's stone
A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow
The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in the face,
It's a loss, it's a find
A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale
A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night
A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It's a girl, it's a rhyme,
It's a cold, it's the mumps
The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It's the mud, it's the mud
Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring
And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
It's the joy in your heart
A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone
A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It's a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe
A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night
A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain
A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue
And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart
A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road
A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run
And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain,
It's the joy in your heart. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Saturday Photo: Signs of Spring

Okay, the snow is melting rapidly during the days--Saturday morning was really wonderful--but the nights are still cold.  This makes perfect weather for potholes.

The freeze-and-thaw cycle is a fact of life around here in the spring, and the appearance of pothole patches is a sure sign that changes are on the way.  

Another sign is the way that the sun is now shining in our back bedroom as it rises.  Its progress northward across the sky usually brings it in alignment with the windows the first week in March.  I couldn't not the day this year because we've had so little sun, but this morning there definitely were bands of sunlight on the wall.

Next up: snow drops?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Happy International Women's Day: Dance with Nana!

This showed up on Facebook this morning and I think it's perfect to celebrate International Women's Day. The woman can dance! I just wish that my sister Laurie and my dear friend Virginia (both great dancers) were still with us so we could groove together.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Buddies: Couillard and Porter

Can't repeat it often enough: when the health  minister is a buddy of the head of a big super hospital project, no one should be surprised.

What should be questioned is when the pair plan on going into business together, and one of them turns out to be heavily involved in some pretty shady dealings.   Quebec Liberals, who are you going to vote for?

Camels and Climate Change: Will We Be As Lucky?

Lots of space given in the last couple of days to the discovery of fossil bones of ancient camels that once roamed the Arctic about 3.4 million years ago.  Camel-like animals are still found in South America--llamas are their cousin, after all--but it seemed that nobody really thought they might have walked their way across the top of the world when sea levels were much lower.

But wooly camels, well adapted for chilly weather, apparently did just that.  Not that the Arctic was as cold as it is today: scientists estimate that aveage temps were 2 to 3 degrees warmer than now.  The reconstructions of the beasts from what few fossils that have survived are sort of a kick, but what is really interesting is the kind of reflection their evolution and travels should incite.

So temperatures go up?  Some animals might be able to take advantage of the changes: storing food in humps works just as well in snow-bound regions as it does in the desert.  The key is how quickly beasts with traits useful in the changing climate can reproduce.

Now the question is: are we going to keep up with pace?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

"The Coyote's Nothing Sceery, Just Singing to His Dearie"--A New Lullaby for Montreal?

We haven't heard them, but it was nice to hear they're not far away: coyotes in Montreal.

Seems that at least two females and a male have set up housekeeping along one of the railroad right of ways entering the city.  There have been reports of them howling as well as some sightings.

I've always admired the toughness of the beasts who can live so close to humans, and who are not really pests if you stay out of their way--and keep your own pets under control.

"Coyotes have a tremendously positive impact on an area’s biodiversity and ecological integrity," says the SPCA. In ordinary times about the only other non-human predators in urban areas are cats and dogs, species which don't go after a lot of the nuisances animals that our garbage attracts.  But coyotes can be a match for young racoons, and after our experience last summer with a large family of that species, I'd love to think that coyotes would do a little maurading around here next summer. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Elin's in New York, "Babysitting" the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal

The Studio make a different sort of music, but this is a lot of fun!

The concert at Carnegie Hall is tomorrow, and they all left this morning by minibus.  Hoping that there are no problems with Border Service cuts when they cross over to the US.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Saturday Photo: It's Lent, Time to Take Down the Decorations

Well actually I took most of them down at the end of Janiuary, but the branches and stocking (which belonged to our late cat Calie) have stayed up.  Each time I looked out the kitchen window, I was reminded of what a nice holiday we had.

But the days are getting longer and it's time to recognize that all good things must come to an end, if only in order that we can appreciate them more when the holidays come around again.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Quebecers Highly Taxed? Don't Bet on it

Another interesting study from IRIS, the Quebec think tank.  The perception is that residents of the Belle Province pay more taxes than anybody else in North America.  This supposed tax discrepancy is grist for the mill of "fiscally responsible" folks in various political parties.

But it seems that we're not taxed all that badly, and middle income famlies are doing quite nicely, thank you, when compared with their opposite numer in other jurisdictions.  Defintely worth looking at in depth. 

What's Wrong with Canada Post? "Post-Modern" Modifications

For several months our postal service has been deteriorating, with our mailman delivering letters well after dark by the light of a sort of headlight.  I've complained to Canada Post and been told there is nothing that can be done about it.  I've also written to the ombudsman but so far not received an answer.

La Presse today confirms my worse suspicions today, though. Misguided changes, involving rather large capital expenses in the form of mail trucks for every letter carrier and the reorganization of routes have resulted in 10 and 12 hour work days, masses of overtime and worker burnout.

The corp lost a lot of money last year, in part because it has had to make up for inequitable pay practices following a Supreme Court decision.  Paying women less than men was a stupid decision at the time, and it would seem that current management isn't much smarter.