Wednesday, 31 July 2013

What I'm Doing Today: Reading Page Proofs!

The page proofs for my new short story collection, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography have arrived from Oberon Press! 

Very interesting to go over the text after several months away from it.  The pub date for the book itself is Nov. 1.  There will be details about the launch later.

Desire lines, urbanists say, are paths that people take whenthey want to go somewhere. They frequently have no relationto the formal layout of roads and sidewalks. They sometimeslead to new places. They are often maps of the heart. The photo is of such a path, such a "desire line," in the Champs des possibles that got me thinking.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Page Proofs Have Arrived....

Oberon Press just sent me the page proofs for my new short story collection: Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography.  So correcting them is the task for today.  Yay!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Sprawl As the Motor of Inequality, Or Did You Ever Try to Get There from Here?

Paul Krugman talks about commuting, public transportation, sprawl and equality today in Stranded by Sprawl.  It reminded me of the time many, many years ago when I was a reporter on a suburban daily newspaper in the East Bay of San Francisco. 

We had a car--a Volkswagen bug that Lee bought with his paper-carrier savings, believe it or not--and I made a daily reverse commute from Berkeley where we lived and he was a graduate student.

Occasionally, though, the stalwart little car needed service, and I had to take public transportation to Walnut Creek where I worked.  Most mornings it took me 14 minutes door to door  in the car, but on the bus, more than an hour with split second timing involved.  Had to leave our house on a certain bus to meet the Greyhound commuter bus on the eastern edge of  Oakland  That bus ran every 45 minutes or so, and missing it meant a very long wait by the side of the road.

I was the only white face on the bus.  Everyone else was African American, going to work as maids, housekeepers or gardeners in toney East Bay suburbs like Orinda. 

Friends tell me that the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains make a commute like that easier now, but I wonder if the racial composition of the reverse commute passengers is any different.

Certainly getting there from here in suburban America (and to some extent Canada) is not easy at all without a car today, and that is not good for social or economic equality.   Krugman writes:  "A new study suggests that (cities) may just be too spread out, so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods. Sprawl may be killing Horatio Alger."

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sataurday Photo: Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace

This morning was a good one for a walk on the wild side--that is in the Champs des possibles, the old city yard which has now become a delightful going-back-to-basics city space.  
A couple of years ago it was mowed, but since then it has been let go, aside from some hand-pulling of ragweed. 

 On our walk today, it was clear that another attack on the nasty, allergy-causing weed  is in order, but aside from that, the other "weeds" were lovely.

Chicory is a non-native plant, and considered by some to be invasive.  I like it though, because its cheerful blue flowers look great with just about ever
Queen Anne's lace also is an import, but I like it too.  
Maybe it helps that I'm also an import! 

Friday, 26 July 2013

No, It's Not a Holiday...

Who says that Grandmas aren't useful.  Jeanne has a fever so she's chez nous today.  As a consequence lots of stories are being read, but not much writing done.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Don't Miss the Lady in Black: The Burka Avenger!

Are you reading for a flying, pen-throwing, book pounding female defender of education in Pakistan?

It seems the world must be because a new series to be broadcast in Pakistan in Urdu is taking to the air waves next month, accompanied by iPhone ap and video game.

It was created by Aaron Haroon Rashid, a Pakistani pop star, "as a way to create a positive role model for girls and a champion of girls’ education." “Each one of our episodes is centered around a moral, which sends out a strong social message to kids,” Rashid told the Associated Press. “But it is cloaked in pure entertainment, laughter, action and adventure.”"

The song's pretty catchy too.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Feeling Insignificant Department: Saturn's Moons and the Earth

The little arrow is pointing to the Earth in this photograph taken from the space probe Cassini from Saturn's neighborhood.  Makes our problems seem pretty inconsequential, in the (very) big picture. 

Open Borders: The View from the US When French Canadians Flooded South

Former US Foreign Service Officer Steven Kelly has an interesting comment on the results of open borders in The New York Times today.  He notes that thousands and thousands of French Canadian cross the border to work in the industry, particularly in New England, throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th.  The result, he says has been a net gain for the US.  He suggests that opening the US up to economic immigrants now would be a good thing.

Francophones  from Quebec weren't the only ones who crossed the border to their benefit and, ultimately,  to that of the welcoming country. 

My paternal grandfather Dave McGowan left Napanee for the West sometime around 1890 for reasons that remain obscure.  He fetched up in Washington State and convinced a number of Canadian and British ex-pats to go back to Canada to enlist in World War I well before the US entered  the fray.

My maternal grandfather took his family from Massachusetts to Sasketchewan about the same time so he could work on the railway in the dry prairie air (which seemed to cure the turbculosis he'd been diagnosed with.)  An anti-Monarchist, he famously got fired from the Canadian Pacific for not uncovering his head and bowing when the train bearing the Governor General of Canada, the King's representative, passed.

Two points of view from men who crossed the continent to end up in the same town in Washington at the end of their lives.  Would they agree about opening up immigration today?  Don't know, but from my vantage point I'm glad the border was so porous.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Further to the Local Food Movement

The New York Times has a nice story about sustainability at McGill and elsewhere. 

Monday, 22 July 2013

More on Gardening in the City, This Time Commercially

Le Devoir this weekend had several stories about the movement toward urban gardening.  Chief among them was one about Lufa Farms, which has built a commercial rooftop greenhouse.

This is the third year that the firm  has delivered boxes of fresh produce to Montrealers--the 3,000 subscribers can share in the 1000 to 1500 pounds of produce harvested daily.  Lufa Farms is also building another 40,000 square foot rooftop greenhouse in the Montreal area to add to the 30,000 square foot installation that is set in an industrial area.

A great idea!

The photos are of what the current farm looked like last winter, and inside a greenhouse in full tomato season.

Detroit Is a Victimi of Sprawl Too: Krugman

The recent brouhaha about Detroit's financial problems and its filing for bankruptcy protection have sparked many comments.  Paul Krugman in The New York Times, as usual, has some trnechant things to say, particularly about the dangers of comparing this situation with that of Greece.

But half-way through he touches on one of the greatest ironies of the story: the way that urban sprawl exacerbated an already difficult sitauiton:

"In Detroit’s case matters seem to have been made worse by political and social dysfunction. One consequence of this dysfunction has been a severe case of “job sprawl” within the metropolitan area, with jobs fleeing the urban core even when employment in greater Detroit was still rising, and even as other cities were seeing something of a city-center revival. Fewer than a quarter of the jobs on offer in the Detroit metropolitan area lie within 10 miles of the traditional central business district; in greater Pittsburgh, another former industrial giant whose glory days have passed, the corresponding figure is more than 50 percent. And the relative vitality of Pittsburgh’s core may explain why the former steel capital is showing signs of a renaissance, while Detroit just keeps sinking."

So the home of the 20th century autombile industry becomes, in part, a victim of the industry that made it once prosperous.

Below is the trailer for Michael Moore's movie Roger and Me.  While it is about the Detoir suburb of  Flint, it's also about what was and is wrong with the automobile-based society.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Saturday Photo: Gardening Where You Might Not Expect It

I've been delighted to follow the increasing number of people who seem to be finding corners of the city to garden in.  These two photos were taken in les Champs de possible, a formerly abandoned maintenance yard owned by the city of Montreal. 

The word "formerly" is used advisedly because while the city has recently agreed to let the field stay as it is, it has a stalwart group of admirers.  Early I posted photos of the bees at work in it, and now here are two small garden plots that volunteers have begun. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Street Food: What's the Big Deal?

Montreal has its first street food trucks this summer at various sites around the city  There's been a lot of comment, most of it favourable, about the 27 trucks that move from location to location. 

I, however, think they are an aberration.  They make a lot of noise because they constantly must run a generator to keep their equipment working, they are NOT aesthetically pleasing, and they offer nothing like the refreshment afforded by sitting down in shade with even the simplest of snacks.

This morning when out walking I passed one filling its proprane tanks at a service station.  Just around the corner a local terrace was opening up, offering coffee and croissants to eat sitting down beside a couple of flower boxes. 

There's no question where I'd stop to grab a bit to eat.

When the novelty wears off, it will be interesting to see just how many trucks find steady business.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Brilliant Idea: Car Shares

The sun was shining the other morning on the little troop of four Communauto cars parked  not far from our house.

Our car is approaching 12 years and even with only 42,000 kilometers, the thought occurs that we may have to replace it some day.

But not with another car of our own.  Between a car-share membership like Montreal's Communauto and the occasional car rental, we'd be money ahead to go car-less, I think, particularly when getting a car to rent is as easy--and cheap--as it is.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Lest We Forget Department: Today's the Anniversary of the First A-Bom Test

It wasn't that long ago, the Cold War is over, but, boy, have things not changed all that much. J. Robert Oppenheimer reflects on the whole project. "Now I have become death, the destroyer of world."

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tools in Understanding the Past: Another Instance of mtDNA Analysis and Dogs

As I've said, I'm working on a new non-fiction book, and the research is taking me in all directions.  It'll be called Road through Time.  A lot of the book will be focussed on roads that humans have taken.  Their traces have had and are having an immense impact on the world we live in.  My goal is to reveal some of these effeccts in the context of reflection about the future.  The book will have some elements of memoir too, but that's a story for another day.

What I find myself deeply involved in at the moment is research into those paths humans have taken which now are almost invisible, that is to, say the first ones.  It is generally agreed by scientists now that modern humans originated in Africa and that a relatively small group left between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago to, in effect, colonize the rest of the world. 

Tracking where they went involv
es some pretty sophisticated sleuthing, including analysis of our mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA.) What I didn't know until this morning is just how useful this technique can be for tracking the history of our constant companions on much of our journey, dogs.

New studies reported in The New York Times today  indicate that wild  dogs now found the Carolinas appear to be home-grown, that is, they do not have the European-derived mtDNA that nearly all other dogs have.

The study reawakens "the long debate about where and how dogs were domesticated. Current theory speculates that they are descended from wolves that somehow became attached to humans perhaps 12,000 to 33,000 years ago — an early amity that has an extensive pedigree in human folklore. (Think Romulus and Remus.)

"But where that may have happened is not entirely settled. Some say the earliest dogs emerged in the Middle East. Others point to an area south of the Yangtze River in China. ...(This) study provides more evidence for the China hypothesis and, as a result, lends support to the idea that the earliest domesticated dogs crossed the Ice Age land bridge known as Beringia some 12,000 years ago."

Amazing where looking closely can lead you!

Monday, 15 July 2013

What to Do When You're Tired of Cleaning House...

Watch videos of tiny houses? This one's quite delightful.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Saturday Photo: The Bees Are Back!

For the last several years there has been a beehive in the wild space belonging to the city of Montreal that has come to be known as Les Champs des possibles.

Last spring we were saddened to see that the hive had been dismanteled.  Vandalism? Bee die-off? Too much work?

I still don't know but this week I was delighted to see that a hive is back in place with a sign noting "Bees at Work," as indeed they were!

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Queen: Why It Took Us So Long to Become Canadian..

Because you have to swear allegiance to the Queen in order to become Canadian, we dragged our feet for 17 years.  In the end we decided that it was okay to vow to uphold her laws, but for a long time the idea of agreeing to become the subject of a monarch rankled. 

So I'm very glad to see that three stalwart non-citizens are brining the matter to court.  Michael  McAteer,Simone Topey, and Dror Bar-Natan are taking up the torch left when Charles Roach died in 2005 after fighting for nearly 20 years to get the matter considered by Canadian courts. 

The CBC quotes the trio:

" McAteer, 79, a retired journalist who immigrated almost 50 years ago, says his father was persecuted in Ireland for supporting Irish independence.
"Taking an oath of allegiance to a hereditary monarch who lives abroad would violate my conscience, be a betrayal of my republican heritage, and impede my activities in support of ending the monarchy in Canada," McAteer says in his affidavit.

"Topey, who was born in Jamaica in 1966 and came to Canada in 1978, says swearing allegiance to the Queen — whom Rastafarians regard as the "head of Babylon" — would violate her deeply-held beliefs.

"Bar-Natan, 47, an Israeli math professor who came to Canada in 2002, maintains the Queen is a symbol of entrenched privilege and taking an oath to her would be "repulsive."
"It's not that I believe in total egalitarianism," Bar-Natan said in an interview.
"On the other hand, having royalty is a bit much."

It's about time, if you ask me.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Gorgeous Day, Just LIke Our Ancient Ancestors Found It

The weather today is just about perfect here: high 26 C with low humidity and a little breeze.  Makes you want to just enjoy things.

As it happens, I've been reading a lot about early humans and the way we evolved on the savannahs of East Africa.  That set me to wondering about why this particular sort of weather feels so good.  Is it because that's the temperatures we evolved to take advantage of?

Maybe: at least the highs for this week in Nairobi, Kenya, Arusha, Tanzania and Kampala, Uganda--all three cities very near the equator so there should be no winter-summer effect--are all in the mid-20s. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

At the End of the Rainbow, a Movement to Divest?

Lovely picture on the front page of Le Devoir today: a little girl walking along the railway track in Lac Mégantic with a rainbow in the background.

The symbolism is probably good for the folks there: they have to resume their lives as best they can.  For the rest of us, it might give us the courage to find the way to less reliance on petroleum.

Because the question way, way, in the background in all the discussion of the explosion at Lac Mégantic and the weird weather is: how can we get over our dependance on petroleum?

There is no simple answer, but the first step will be to convince those in power/controlling industry to give us alternatives.  That is why this story from The New York Times about student groups urging their universities to divest themselves of investments on petroleum concnerns is so important.   "Divest" is a very interesting strategy.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

CARPING Department: When Is It Not Rude or Harassment?

Something happened this morning that I'm feeling a little ambivalent about.  Went for my usual walk, wearing running shoes, old Bermudas, yesterday's dirty tee shirts, and the baseball cap from my brother-in-law's no defunct construction company. 

And what should happen?

As I walked by a trio of gardeners putting in new pavement at one of the tony houses in Upper Outremont, one of them said quietly: "Mais, que madame est belle."  And then as I got closer, he said it directly to me, "comme vous êtes belle, Madame."

There was a time when I might have been offended, when I might have scowled, thought some nasty thought about men who have no manners, who are rude and sexist.

But, damn, that time was a long time ago!  A grandmother like me who's well past the usual retirement age  can't help but feel more  complimented than offended!

Two More Books on Kindle, for Those of You Interested

This just in: two more of my books are now available on Kindle.

This time they are Green City: People, Nature and Urban Places and The Walkable City: From Haussmann's Boulevards to Jane Jacobs' Streets and Beyond.

(My novel After Surfing Ocean Beach is a Kindle too, in case you're interested.)

Monday, 8 July 2013

When a Drink on a Terrace-Bar Leads to Tragedy: Lac Mégantic

It's been a long time since I've been down to Lac Mégantic.  What I remember  is a nice little towan that seemed to have survived the great changes that have gone on this region.  There are several factores, mostly processing wood products, as well as world-renowned astronomical observatory nearby that is surrounded by a provincial park

The mix allowed a certain cute-ification of the place.  The Le Ariko Resto-Bar, for example, advertised "Cuisine du marché," a nice selection of "affordable wines" and a bar and disco on weekends.  Some of the people enjoying a night out last Friday--a lovely evening--were among those blown away by an unexplainable but almost surely avoidable explosion of rail cars carrying crude oil

There have to be some hard questions asked, among them, why do we need to use so much petroleum.

What's in a Name Department: The Canadian Association of Retired Persons

Now I know why I find myself getting so critical about somethings--like the state of the world.  The acronym for a senior citizens' watch dog group in Canada is CARP

Well,  after all these years I expect we've earned the right to carp a bit!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Saturday Photo: Next in the Rotation...

Day lillies are what bloom next in my garden.  Don't have many of them, particularly since one of my neighbors convinced me that they'd do better if I divided them.

Well, maybe the technique works for him, but it sure didn't for me.  I went several years without any flowers at all on the divided plants, and finally I bought some new one. 

This is the nicest, which adds a bright splash of colour in the multiple shades of green.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Geting the Hell out of There: When the Wild Fire Roars

There have been power outages twice in two days because emergency systms have been tripped on the high tension electric power transmission lines coming south from James Bay.

 The culprit is wild fire. Several have been burning out of control for days: this picture was taken from a NASA satillite on Wednesday showing the extent of the smoke. Heat and fine particles from the smoke are tripping the shut down mechanism on the lines.

The fire apparently were started by lightning, something that has gone frequently ever since the trees grew back after the last Ice Age.  What is new is the extreme heat in the region, and the perturbations in weather patterns.

Gonna have to get used to dealing with this kind of disruption, it seems.  The guys who took this video would certainly agree.


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Bah humbug! Fireworks Make Too Much Noise...

The Fourth of July holiday has got me thinking about the way we celebrate.  I remember the joy surrounding fire works displays in my childhood.  There was only one, on the night of the Fourth, and we looked forward to it with great anticipation.

Now fireworks are set off for practically everything.  This video
 from The New York Times says that almost all the fireworks in the US come from China, and adds that athere will be at least 14,000 shows tonight.

We won't have any here, of course, but there have been four shows since the first of June--la Fête nationale, Canada Day, plus the start of the Francofolies festival and the Montreal Jazz  Fest.  And now comes the Montreal Fireworks Festival, itself. We hear all of them even though we live miles and kilometers from where they go off. 

Frankly, it's over kill.  The proliferation is just another bit of noise pollution in this increasingly noisy world.

What say we just all light a candle?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

How to Change the Debate: Lessons from the Snowden Affair

Edward Snowden is apparently still hanging out in the transit lounges of the Mocow airport, but his story spins on.  European leaders are waving their fists at the idea that the US spied on them, and few countries  seem to be willing to allow a plane that might be carrying Snwoden to land for a refueling stop.

The "debate" in the media over the whole matter is a strange one. The questions asked are not, in the main, the ones I'd ask.

Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, last week summed up the atmosphere of disinformation that reigns on US television: "...the way to distract the public in a democracy is to allow more and more vigorous debate about a more and more narrow set of issues. By narrowing the debate to “how illegal were Snowden’s actions?” instead of allowing the question, “how legal are the NSA’s actions,” the US mass media give the impression of debating both sides of a controversy while in fact suppressing large numbers of pertinent questions."

This is occuring at a time when Greece has completely shut down its publicly-supported broadcast media, as a budget austerity measure, and when Stephen Harper and his friends are menacing CBC/Radio Canada.  

It used to be said that the first casualty in a war is the truth, but it seems the death count is rising even in this time of purported peace.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Javelins or Baseballs, Our Shoulders Have Evolved for Throwing

It's interesting how when you're involved in something, you find relevant information everywhere.  Since I'm hard at work on the chapter about how the first modern humans left Africa to people the rest of the world for my new non-fiction book Road through Time, I've found interesting research everywhere.  The last couple of weeks have been a lateral-thinkers delight, as I've been able to justify following up every lead that presents itself!

The latest is a story in The New York Times about the way human shoulders are engineered to throw overhand.  Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, are much stronger than we are, but they can't throw nearly as fast as a 12 year old Little League pitcher, it seems.

The reason is related to our upright posture and the construction of our shoulders. 
James Gorman writes in the story about research recently reported in Nature: "Looking at the fossil record, (lead author of a study Neil)..Roach and colleagues put the moment at which these changes came together in one body at about 1.8 million years ago, when Homo erectus first appeared. “It’s possible that Homo erectus could throw as fast as we do,” Dr. Roach said.

"What objects he threw is an open question. The most likely are rocks or some sharp projectile in hunting, Dr. Roach said. Homo sapiens, the species that would eventually form both the American and National Leagues, did not appear until about 200,000 years ago, and did not evolve the intellectual power and wisdom to invent the rules of baseball until the 19th century."

Without a doubt, though, throwing hard and well helped when hunting, which meant that the pre-human guys who could, provided more food for their offspring, and left more descendants.  The adaptation exists in women too, even though "throwing like a girl" is one of the ultimate playground insults.  “It’s like walking,” Gorman quotes one of the scientists involved. “You have to practice.” Everyone who is able practices walking, but not everyone practices throwing."

True: one of the things that amazed Lee was how hard it was for Lukas and his buddies to play catch at age 6 or 7.  They were able little boys, but all their practice time had gone into slap shots and hockey moves.    And
Jeanne, at two and a half, can't throw very well either, but her soccer- and rugy-playing father has showed her how to dribble a soccer ball.   The culture you grow up in obviously counts too.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Happy Canada Day, Happy Moving Day

While everyone else relaxes today in the rest of Canada, in Queebec more than a million households will move.

Any beer and pizza that gets eaten is likely to be eaten standing up because there are too many boxes to sit down.

And if there's a barbecue, it could very well be because the electricity/gas service hasn't been turned on yet.

The situation has prompted a lot of reaction over the years, even a film that came and went without making waves a couple of years ago.  But here, for your holiday enjoyment, is the trailer.