Friday 31 May 2013

Plumber-time and the Living is Not So Easy

Well, the kitchen sink was making burping noises but wasn't backed up.  My favourite economist/ébèniste wanted to make sure there wasn't a disaster in the making though.  So he took the trap apart, poked around and, voilà, a hole appeared in the drainpipe.

Three hours later all is well: new pipe, clean trap, tools used cleaned with bleach.  The sink runs very well, thank you very much, but it still burps!

And just to give you some idea of what it's like:

Thursday 30 May 2013

Three Good Bearded White Men: Reflections on Feisty Resemblances

Crusading Canadian writer and translator Wayne Grady has a story about trying to talk Dr. Henry Morgentaler into giving him an extended interview for a magazine article.

The good doctor, who died this week at 90, had a lot on his plate at the moment, including running his abortion clinic, trying to make the procedure legal, and toughing out death threats from elements of the  Religious Right.   Morgentaler allowed Grady a short time to make his pitch, but, says Grady, obviously didn't see the point in giving more than that.

Then, however, someone noticed the striking resemblance between the two men: that's the doctor at top left, and Grady right below to give you some idea.  About the same time another threatening message come through.  Grady says Morgentaler  looked at him carefully, considered, and then, without saying why, agreed to make himself available.  The article was published in Saturday Night in July 1984, but I haven't been able to track it down. 

There's another bearded guy who belongs to the exclusive club of Grady twins:  Salmon Rushdie, who had his own problems with fanatics.  Don't know if the three men ever met, but seeing their photos makes me wonder if there is something about balding, bearded men with glasses that conspires to bring out the fight in them.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Why Curious George Starts in Paris and Ends in New York

Reading and the love of books can't encouraged too soon.  The Curious George books by H.A. and Margaret Rey were great favourites of our kids and Jeanne has delighted in them ever since Elin brought a jumbo book containing six tales back from a trip to New York last fall.  She went looking for our old copies shortly thereafter so ever since Jeanne's been read the old ones--now in  tatters--when she visits here.

The stories are still charming, but one of the things that goes over Jeanne's head is the way that the city George lives in changes between books.  In the first one it's quite clearly Paris, and the zoo where he goes to live is the Ménagerie in the Jardin des plantes, but the next one is just as clearly New York.

The reason why came clear this morning when the quality French language daily here Le Devoir had an article about an exhibit on George's creators.  The Reys were German Jews who met in Brazil where each had gone separately as young people.  Rey (born Hans Augusto  Reyersbach) and the former Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein founded the first advertising agency in Rio in the 1930s, but decided to go back to Europe, setting up shop in Paris.  The curious little monkey appears to have been just one of their projects.

In 1939 the French publisher Gallimard was ready to bring out the first book about the monkey, then called Fifi, but the Reys' studio was searched by the French police  on a tip that there might be material for making bombs there.  The sketches of George convinced the flics that wasn't the case, but the Reys took the hint  the following spring.  They decamped for Portugal, taking with them only their Brazilian passports, their sketches and what was left of their advance from Gallimard.  At the Spanish border their German accents raised eyebrows with Franco's Fascists, but the innocuous drawings of George and their Brazilian nationality allowed them to continue.  Their journeyed back to Brazil and then on to New York, where they started over again.

George once again came to their rescue.  Within a month they had a contract with Houghton Mifflin and the first Curious George book was published in 1941.  Since then 17 million copies of the various Curious George stories (the Reyes produced seven, and a  series has been spun off, written and drawn by others which are not nearly as good.)

The Reyes adventures are highlighted in a exhibit at the Montreal Holocaust Museum from now until June 22. The show was created by Omaha, Nebraska, Institue for Holocaust Education, and is touring North America.  Definitely worth the detour. 

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Ray Charles on the Way We Should Behave

Lots and lots of depressing news coming when the world in this part of the world is ablaze with luminous greens. How about this for an anthem? When it comes to political parties, I prefer orange, BTW, but notice how the lovely little clip ends--a rainbow.

Monday 27 May 2013

Oh Come on, Not That Equality Party Business Again!

It seems that a few unhappy Anglophones are trying to whip things up again by starting a new Equality party, version 2.0.  A rally was held on the weekend in the largely Anglophone area of Montreal's West Island to launch it.  Somewhere between 40 and 50 people showed up, with some of voices from past action being heard.

Ho hum.  This effort is just as silly as was the PQ's trial balloon about restricting enrollment in English-language cegeps to Anglophones.  The latter won't happen precisely because too many Francophone kids go to them: for the Francophone middle class it's an excellent way to make sure their kids have  a good grounding in English before going to university or work opportunities outside Quebec.

The former is jsut tiresome.  It is not difficult to be an Anglophone in Quebec.  I repeat, it is not difficult to be an Anglophone in Quebec.  If anything, it is a delight and a privilege to have two great traditions to share.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Saturday Photo: More than 6000 Signaturs, and the Garden Backs Down

Montreal's Jardin botanique, as I've been saying here recently, is one of the loveliest places around.  Evenn this morning, with a steady rain falling, Jeanne would have spent the whole day there.  We passed by only for a short time, however, just long enough show our support for the petition started two weeks ago, which now has more than 6,000 signatures.

It was started to protest a major increase in entrance fees this summer. Previously Montreal residents with the $8 Accès Montréal card could visit the outside gardens at any time for free.  But during a big exhibition of horiticultural sculptures from June 22 to September 29, the garden was planning charging $18.75 for two entries, with even higher fees for non-cardholders.

The reaction appears to have surprised city and garden officials into action: a "compromise" was proposed this week which will allow cardholders to buy a $25 pass that will allow unlimited acces. 

Not enough, I say.  Nothing better is in the cards, I'd guess, too.  But at least the citizen action got a little change.  Here's the link to the Facebook page Elin and I started and to the petition (which will close on Monday.)

Friday 24 May 2013

Washing Windows, Waxing Floor: Garbage Work Thad Must Be Done

I've put it off long enough--got to do some cleaning today.  No time for any reflections other than to say that the kitchen floor is awfully dirty.  Since Thomas is crawling everywhere (except when he can walk around something holding on)  it would the proper grandmotherly thing to do to wash the floor. 

Thursday 23 May 2013

Excitement about Riding Your Bike: The View from New York

I've mentioned before how I don't ride bikes, but I must admit I like the idea of people riding all over the city. Yesterday I walked from our place to central downtown Montreal, and I was amazed at how many people--many who aren't much young than I am--were zipping around the city's traffic clogged streets.

Bixis have something to do with the popularity of bikes here, although I expect the traffic problems have helped a bit too.  And it seems that the Montreal version of the bike-share program is starting in New York City shortly.  The New York Times today has a nice short video about how excited one man is about the idea.  Check it out: quite charming.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Cool Water: Excuse Me While I Go Boil Some Water

Today is the first day I've ever had to boil water.  Every summer there are warnings for communities in the hinterland that the supply is low,  or there's been a aqueduct break or whatever.  But for a city the size of Montreal?

Come on.

Of course, problems with the ageing water system have been on the books for years, and as we're learning with the Charbonneau Commission, all lot of infrastructure problems have been much more expensive to solve by kickbacks and corruption. But this takes the cake--or the H20. But to make your heart a little lighter, at least today we don't have the problem documented in this video: weather so cold that boiling water tossed into the air falls as snow.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Behind the Scenes: Let's Hear It for the Nursing Staff!

One of the things I've been doing for years is volunteer for a three hour shift once a week at a local children's hospital.  I rock babies, play with toddlers, sometimes do a puzzle with someone older and occasionally listen to parents.  And I watch.

Watch the nurses quietly keep things going, watch the auxillary nurses provide backup, watch the house staff take everything in and frequently give the right encouragement to a young family faced with the worst situation they've encountered up to that point.

In other words, the doctors are great, but it's the people behind them who really make the difference in whether a kid gets well or not.

That's why I was delighted to read Jane Gross's review of a book of essays on nursing in The New York Times this morning.  Called I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse, it sounds like something everyone should read because we all have (or will) come face to face with ill health and the wonderful people who try to help us.

Just a note: one of the interesting things I've also noticed in my 11 years on 6-3 is that most  young doctors are afemale and the nursing and auxilliary staff is becoming increasing male.  Good!

Monday 20 May 2013

Today's a Holiday with a Good Name: La Journée des Patriotes

What's this nonsense of starting a petition to change the May holiday from Victoria Day/the Queen's Birthday to include reference to First Nations?

I can readily understand renaming the third Monday in May something else, but Quebec, which for a while called it the Fête de Dollard, has come up with a very good event to commemorate: the 1837-38 Rebellions.

Called the Journée des Patriotes here for several years, the holiday's name refers to the nearest thing Canada had to a revoltution.  Taxation without representation and a number of other advanced ideas were behind the uprisings which ocurred in both Upper and Lower Canada.  The upshot was a series of changes in relations between the Mother Country and the several North American colonies which resulted a few years later in a combined legislative assembly for the two Canadas, setting the pattern for Confederation two decades down the line.

If the Harper government were serious about remembering nation-building events from the past it would start here.  But don't bet on it.

Sunday 19 May 2013

Saturday Photo: More from the Jardin botanique

Marie Victorin was a Roman Catholic teaching brother and naturalist who championed access to nature for all.  He was the driving force behind the establishment of Montreal's lovely Jardin botanique nearly 80 years ago.

Since then the garden has delighted people from all levels of society.  For decades access was free, but in recent years , under ordinary circumstances, non-residents of Montreal  pay a fee, with residents with the $8 Accès Montréaal card getting in free to the exterior gardens.

This summer that will change.  The city has declared that because of a special exhibit, everyone over 12 will have to pay, with Accès Montréal cardholders coughing up a hefty $18.75. Others will pay any more.

The decision appears to have been made so quietly that no one heard about it until a couple of weeks ago.  The reaction has been quick, though.  A petition calling for a reconsideration of the new fees had 3603 signatures as for 2:23 p.m. Sunday, and some city councillors are saying things ought to change. 

Friday 17 May 2013

Opposition Growing to HIke in Jardin botanique Admissioin Fess

As of 2:18 p.m., 2,957 people had signed the petition protesting the hikes in entrance fees to Montreal's botanical garden.  Here's the link: now sign!!!

Thursday 16 May 2013

Wish I Had Friends to Fork out $90,000 Just Like That

It not be illegal, but it sure is fishy:

Mike Duffy had his debts paid off by a friend of Stephen Harper's to the tune of more than $90,000. 

This is right in the league of the underover payments being revealed by Quebec's Charbonneau Commission.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Melting Glaciers: a Sign of Things to Come?

The Swansea University scientists say that this is not, in and of itself, evidence of climate change, but it sure is change of some kind.

In this video, posted May 14, 2013, a five km front of ice calves off from the Helheim Glacier in Greenland over a two hour period.  Simply spectacular--and very thought provoking....

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Do You Really Need a Car? Seems That Not All Younger Folk Think So.

When I grew up in Southern California, getting a driver's license was a rite of passage.  I actually got mine before I was 16, and Lee didn't even ask me out when we were at Berkeley until he could take me some place in a car (where that was is a story for another time!)

But ease of public transportation was a major reason behind choosing where we live.  Lee could walk to work, and, even though Elin was only 7 months old when we moved in, I foresaw that it would be easier to control drinking and driving in adolesence if the kids could catch a bus home (or walk as Lukas did frequently.)  The result was that neither one of them were in a hurry to get a license: Elin was 26 before she got hers, even though she's 5'3" and plays an instrument whose case comes up to her shoulder.  Lukas and Sophie actually own a car, since she needs it because she teaches in the 'burbs, but Lukas is still working on his learner's permit.

It seems though that they may be "early adopters."  At least, The New York Times today reports that Americans are driving less, and that the trend is being led by the Millennials, young people who've come of age in this century. 

Always knew I had cool kids....

The photo, BTW, was chosen to show the waves of the future--buses and "he force that through the green fuse drives the flower."

Monday 13 May 2013

Some Monday Photos from the Jardin botanique

The more I think about the plan to charge high fees to visit Montreal's Jardin botanique, the more annoyed I get.  When we first came here eons ago, it was completely free.  Then they added charges for the greenhouses.  Fees to enter the outside gardens followed, although residents who had  the Accès Montréal card, could visit free. 

But now, because there's some special show this summer, very high fees are going to be charged--$18.75 for Accès Montréal card holder, and more for others.  A few friends and I have begu campaigning to stop the idea in its tracks.  Here's the Facebook page:

And here the photos are some that I've taken over the year--the Jardin is a lovely place, a real outdoor living room for city dwellers. 

Sunday 12 May 2013

Saturday Photo: Say No to Fees at the Jardin botanique

Once upon a time you could get into Montreal's Jardin botanique for nothing, anytime.  Then fees were added for the greenhouses, and for non-Montrealers who wanted to visit the outside gardens.

Until this year, residents of the city had the option of buying a $8 Accès Montréal card which gave free entry to the outside gardens, as well as reduced rates at municipal pools and other resources.

But this summer, because some fancy floral show will be on, everybody is going to have to pay, and pay a lot--$18.75 for card holders, even more for those who don't. 

This policy is starting to be criticized and with any lucky municipal officials will change their minds. Check out the Facebook page designed to register you disaccord with the idea.

Friday 10 May 2013

A New Generation Discovers Robert Nelson

Robert Nelson has new fans!  The leader of the 1838 phase of Lower Canada's Rebellion and president of the Republic of Lower Canada has his own page and song produced by the Quebec hip hop group Alaclair.

Well, it helps that one of the leaders of the group has taken on the persona of the original Nelson, born in 1793.  There's  video below of the new Nelson urging people to vote before last September's provincial elections. 

More power to him. Maybe Robert Nelson the Elder, who was great Patriot and champion of democracy and civil rights, will finally get his due.  I tried with a fictionalized biography that made a small splash, but the word needs to proclaimed far and wide.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Trees Offer Hope in the Climate Change Battle

I may have mentioned that I'm working on a new non-fiction project--rather vague at the moment, but having to do with time, roads and the traces that humans leave on the landscape.  At the moment, my reading is leading me into the woods, literally.

And one of the amazing research I've come across has to do with what reforestation can do to sequester carbon dioxide.  One group of researchers led by scientists at Stanford have found evidence that the decimation of Native North Americans after first contact with Europeans led to an incredible increase in forests cover, enough to account for part of the 16th and 17th century cooling called the Little Ice Age. 

Another group, also including Stanford scientists as well as some from the Max Planck Institute add that Genghis Khan's ravages in the 13th century also led to depopulation of great tracks of Eurasia.  When land that had previously been farmed grew back as forest, the carbon balance was substantially changed. 

Julia Pongratz, the lead author of the second articel, says the study has relevance for the world's current climate crisis: "Today about a quarter of the net primary production on the Earth’s land surface is used by humans in some way, mostly through agriculture. […]. In the past we have had a substantial impact on global climate and the carbon cycle, but it was all unintentional. Based on the knowledge we have gained from the past, we are now in a position to make land-use decisions that will diminish our impact on climate and the carbon cycle. We cannot ignore the knowledge we have gained." 

Plant a tree?  Maybe  a little study of this low tech option would help, along with stopping deforestation and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels.


Wednesday 8 May 2013

The Best Music for Summer Weather: Sketches of Spain with Signs of

One of my few claims to cool is that I've been a Miles Davis fan since infancy, or thereabouts. I remember buying this on vinyl one glorious summer Saturday in Berkeley and taking it home to listen with all the windows open.

Definitely: the perfect good weather music.

And of course there's a little political connection: Spain and Italy may actually get it together to tell the big bankers that austerity doesn't work.   Associated Press reported Monday that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Italian Premier Enrico Letta urged :the eurozone to focus more on spurring economic growth instead of just reducing debt.... 

"Europe must focus on getting more young people into the workforce and alleviating the financial hardships ordinary people are facing, Letta  said. In particular, he warned, if an upcoming June EU summit ends with another "bureaucratic, routine, formal" result, the 2014 elections for the European Parliament could see a rise in victory for anti-European parties."

Maybe this is good music for cool action too. 

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Charles Ramsey's Analysis of What's Wrong with America

Far too much stuff this morning--a day when there are huge stories on the international scene--about the bizarre escape of three young women after, it would seem, about 10 years of captivity.  But, curiously, one of the most telling criticisms of American culture came out in an interview with Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who knocked the door down to get Amanda Berry out.

Pressed by TV reporters to explain what happened, he ended by saying: “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl run into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

“She homeless or she got problems. Only reason she runnin’ to a black man.”

Yeah.  That just about sums it up.  There are a lot of disturbed people out there living in a racist society, and, despite having a president who is a man of colour, the path the country is taking is toward greater inequality on many fronts.


Monday 6 May 2013

The Edible Urban Gardener: Ron Finley in South LA

Okay, how do you bring  gardens to the city?  Here's one man's crusade.  Ron Finley gardens in South Los Angeles, and if he can do it, you can do it.

Saturday Photo: The Week the Leaves Came Out

 The first week in May is the week the leaves apppear almost without fail.  It's almost explosive, you can practically see them grow from hour to hour.

Here are two pictures of the same branch, one taken on Tuesday, and the other on Thursday, to give you some idea.  Does the heart good to see the green festoon the trees.

This abundance of growth and good weather are to blame for the fact that this Saturday photo is being posted on Monday:  Jeanne was here on Saturday and Thomas on Sunday, and we had a good time playing, going to the park and not spending time in front of the computer.  That does the heart good from time to time too.

Friday 3 May 2013

Drought in California, Dry Days Here: What's the Future of Water Resoures

A friend in California just wrote about their extended drought, just as the first news of brush and grass fires make the news.  I spent a couple of hours this morning working in our yard, and while the snow has only been out for two weeks, already the ground is pretty dry.
Which brings up the problems of water management, a subject that we are going to have to care more about if we're going to weather the climate changes ahead of us.

Quite clearly water storage during bountiful years and snow melt will be necessary, but where?  Dams may be part of the answer but The New York Times today has an interesting story about replenishing aquifers as a partial solution.  The idea is that underground water storage reduces evaporation considerably, and does not change the landscape the way dams do.  Both Florida and Holland have projects underway with promising results.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Summer Time and the Living Is Hectic...

Running around all day in the hot sun--I'm not acclimatized yet, so no post today...

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Why Beekeeping in Cities May Be the Wave of the Future

Seems the Eureopean Community members have voted to ban certain pesticides because they are implicated in the striking bee die-off the world has seen in recent years. Bully for them!

No sooner had I digested that news than I heard Pierre Gingras on the Radio Canada morning show deplore the drop in the number of swallows.  At his place in a rural area across the river from Montreal he has yet to see one, even though in past years hundreds have nested on his property which he's made particularly swallow-friendly.

The reason? Possibly the lack of insects because of the use of pesticides, he says.

I have yet to see a swallow around here--and it seems to me they show up a little later than this--but I will keep my eyes open to check if this cityscape is any more friendly to the birds than the countryside.  Could be that it will be.  Pesticides are banned in Quebec for esthetic use, and beekeepers say that the pesiticide-free urban area have become fertile terrain for beekeeping.

The photo is of a fat bee I watch bumble around last fall.  The video is of collecting honey from a rooftop hive on topeof teh Queen Elizabeth Hotel if the heart of the city.