Saturday, 31 August 2013

Saturday Photo: Street Furniture on a Late Summer Morning

The Montreal borough of the Plateau-Mile End has been rather agressive in trying to make its streets pedestrian and bicycle friendly.  Among the initiatives has been the addition of rather attractive street furniture on some streets to encourage community life.

Walking around yesterday morning I found these two scenes.  The right one is of the official stuff, being used at 7:30 a.m. by only two women in front of bagel shop.  The left was two streets over where no one was out yet, but the lawn chairs were set up in the sun, waiting for the first loungers. Inside you'll notice the man with his coffee, almost looking like a healthier version of the famous Edward Hopper lunchroom painting

The summer is so short here that you've got to take advantage of every minute.

Thank You, David Cameron, For Being a Klutz: The Syrian Files

It's always interesting to watch while political maneuvering backfires.  That was the case this week when Britain's Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron tried to rush things and get Parliament to approve military action in Syria before the UN had fully reported. 

Within hours, if not minutes, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper did an about face, and stopped beating the war drums, so it looks like the US (with maybe a little help from France) will go it alone

The last time the US rallied the Western World was 10 years ago when it led the invasion of Iraq.  Canada stayed out of that one, largely because of huge demonstrations in Quebec. Then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien rightly read the signs and bowed to public pressure: at the time I said I was never more proud of having chosen Quebec and Canada as my home.

This time around the lack of participation by the Brits and Canadians will not be due to truly high-minded principles.  Most observers suggest that Cameron might have won his vote if he hadn't tried to rush it.  And Harper, well Harper is such a toady, such a monarachist suck-up that he'll follow Britains lead. 

Besides he may also be rather glad not to face a wave of protest at home were he to go to war  without a debate in the House of Commons here.  He's prorogued it until October, doesn't want to call it back before then, and probably would have forged ahead anyway if the British House had voted yes.  But it didn't, so now he can kiss some babies on this long Labour Day weekend.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

What Happens When Old Lefties Get Older

Yesterday I wore the button I got 50 years ago at the March on Wshington for Jobs and Freedom.  It elicited only three comments, which surprised me.

Either people on the Metro etc. had no idea what it was or were too polite to ask, or I'm invisible.

I'd like to think it was a matter of context--people didn't expect to see this old broad in bermuda shorts, sandals and a Tilley hat wearing a button from such a major event.

But maybe it really is a matter of the young(er) population choosing not to see their elders.  In that case, maybe I should carry a sign reading: "In my head, I'm really 19." Which is the truth.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Sandy Beaches: An Increasingly Rare Commodity?

One of the delights of our trip was walking long distances on the beaches of Vancouver Island at low tide.  They seemed to go on forever, with rocky outcroppings punctuating the landscape every kilometer or so. 

Such beaches are increasingly rare in places where tourist infrastructure has been developed to cater to beach lovers.  A recent New Yorker had an article about the problems of protecting the New Jersey shore, and the havoc wreaked by Hurrican Sandy last year. 

Today The New York Times reports that ocean-front communities in South Florida are running out of sand to rebuild the beaches for which they are famous.  "Where Sand Is Gold, the Reserves are Running Dry" says that "The problem has... been worsened by sea-level rise and the number of jetties, or cuts to build seaports, that have proliferated, which causes sand to pile up on one side of the jetty but not the other."

Don't mess with nature, in other words.  As if we haven't heard that before....

The photo was taken on Combers Beach when it was so foggy that we couldn't see the little off short islands where sea lions like to hang out.  We went back another day as the tide began to go out and were able to see them settling down for a rest through binoculars. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Catching up on the News: Not Hard at All

While we were on holiday we didn't watch television, listen to the radio and looked at a newspaper only twice.  We checked email a couple of times and used the internet for reservations, but aside from that I didn't go near any of the social media.

Result?  We were completely out of the loop for two weeks, and didn't suffer from it at all.  There was a large stack of newspapers to go through when we got back and a pile of relatively important messages that may need some action.  But it looks like the world went on its troubled way quite well without my scrutiny.

I'm trying to figure out the message here.  Is it that we don't need to be plugged in all the time? Or that the grand events will unroll whether I want them to or not?

Perhaps both. At any rate, I'm going to have to make a list of actions that I should undertake to follow up on things that have happened, but strangely I don't feel any imperative to hurry to do so.

A positive effect of taking time off, perhaps.

The photo, BTW shows a graphic juxtaposition of time scales: the deformed sedimentary rock that dates from millions of years ago and the kelp that is covered and uncovered by the tides twice a day.  

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Saturday Photo: Willowbrae Beach on Vancouver Island

There's nothing in front of us but ocean for thousands of miles.  Obviously the forces of the sea have dislodged a lot of trees near the shore, as well as carrying cut timber some distance from where it was lost by the loggers.

This assembly we found on Willowbrae Beach at the Southern end of Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island.  The tide was just beginning to rise and we could walk a long way out on the beach.  At the edge of beach, fireweed was growing amid ferns: a love sight.

It was a great trip, one of the best we've taken.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Things Have Changed Somewhat, But Not Enough in Fifty Years

Shortly after I arrived back in in Bloomington, Indiana following the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago next Wednesday, I went to the nearest Western Union office to send a dispatch to the Daily Californian in Berkeley.

The following fall I was going to be editor, and as such, got a trip to the National Student Association's annual convention that was held at Indiana University.  A friend (a wheeler-dealer in student politics) and I hitched a ride on a bus from a church in Indianapolis to the march, and I promised the guys back in Berkeley that I'd tell them what I saw.

Needless to say I saw a lot: hundreds of thousands of folks--mostly African Americans, but many of us white bread types--protesting the sorry state of civil rights in the US at the time.  (See Louis Menand's excellent article in July 8, 2013  New Yorker for a succinct account as well as what happened afterwards "The Rise and Fall of the Voting Rights Act")

Probably the same mix is there today, which is apparently the official commemoration of the event.  There are Twitter feeds, and Facebook comments, and all the media have up to the minute coverage, if you're wondering what's happening.   And there's a man of colour in the White House which was absolutely unthinkable that long ago.

But remember the other part of the March's theme: a demonstration for jobs.  In terms of income distribution, the US is no more egalitarian than it was then.  The big difference is that the poor come in all colours today.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Back from the Coast!

Great weather, lovely people, good conversation: the last two weeks have been great.  The TV wasn't on once, nor was the radio, and I only went on line to make reservations!  A real vacation.

Here is a photo I took.  The comments will come later, but for know, note the blue and red figure on the left.  That's Lee checking things out.

Sunday, 4 August 2013


Closing down for a while, because we're going on a holiday. It's the first Lee and I have done in several years, what with fires and elderly cats and new grandchildren. Friends of friends will be staying in the house, whichis a comforting thought, and we will be having fun.  Back again in a couple of weeks.  The world will just have to get along with my rants.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Saturday Photo: A Community Garden in a Changing Part of Town

Urban farming is alive and well in Montreal.  This community garden was once space the city didn't need any more for its yards, and so was saved from sale and development by being transformed in productive green space.

The neighborhood once was industrial, but is being steadily gentrified.  That's an old factory that's being turned in condos in the background.  Nice to see the change being accompanied by an increase in interest in gardening.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Pipelines, Nuclear Waste, Lac Mégantic: All Symptoms of Energitis

The front pages of the newspapers and the headlines on the news programs make me very sad this morning. 

The tragedy of the train explosion at Lac Mégantic continues (What was in the rail cars anywayWho's going to pay? etc.) 

Quebec mayors are upset about the nuclear waste transiting the province from the nuclear facility at Chalk River (too unsafe to go by ship, why are we sending it overland to Georgia?)

And plans are announced for a new pipeline to St. John, New Brunswick to transport petroleum from the West.

The problem behind all this bad news is our need for more and more energy.  More gas to get from one place to another, more electricity to run everything, more houses, more roads, more traffic, momre everything.

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said: "In the long run we are all dead."  But we have to start being really concerned about how that is going to happen: choking to death, poisoned by nuclear waste, or being flooded by violent storms and rising seas.

Time to cut back, for sure.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Eat Better, Pay More, Have a Clearer Conscience

Haven't seen any one day work stoppages here by fast food workers, but I've been very interested to see the press that this sort of protest has been getting in the US.

The federal minimum wage in the US is $7.40 an hour, considerably below thatn the $10.15 Quebec legislates. But it still can't be easy to live a decent life on that.  Do the math: 40 hours a week at 52 weeks a year  works out to somewhat more than $21,000 in Quebec.  In the US $7.40 would amount to about $15,000.  Try raising a familly on that, or paying for child care, or keeping a car on that.  Or for that matter, buying Big Macs on a regular basis: at $4.56 US, buying one a day would cost $1,664.40 US, or more than 10 per cent of a Macdo worker's gross annual wage. 

Wouldn't we be a lot better off to pay our workers better and may be eat a little healthier too?