Sunday, 29 September 2013

Saturday Photo: Dahlias

I used to think that the best flowers were those of early spring.  Perhaps that's because spring is when I'm really thinking gardens. 

But late summer and fall also have their gorgeous blooms, like these dahlias. Quite lovely!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted: What's Next?

Paul Krugman in The New York Times writes about  the Titans of Finance comparing uproar about their huge bonuses to lynching or Nazis invading Poland:

"Sometimes the wealthy talk as if they were characters in “Atlas Shrugged,” demanding nothing more from society than that the moochers leave them alone. But these men were speaking for, not against, redistribution — redistribution from the 99 percent to people like them. This isn’t libertarianism; it’s a demand for special treatment. It’s not Ayn Rand; it’s ancien régime."

Makes you wonder how we can bring about real change, since the record of recent revolutions has been pretty dismal. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Hijab Power: The Muslim Fashionista Who's Gone Viral

Just spent an hour watching videos made by this irreverant young Muslim woman who specializes in make-up and popular culture.  Here she is with her husband answering questions about their lives, it's one of 130 videos she's posted on YouTube.  . 

Some might say that deep down she's quite shallow, but she's also a kick.  Here's how she describes herself on her Facebook page, which BTW has nearly 40,000 likes:

"  Hey! My Name is Nura, born and raised in the US. My fathers Moroccan and my mother is Swiss-Lebanese ! :) IMMMM OBSESSSED WITH MAKEUP!!:) I speak Moroccan! My baby girl's name is Laila shes my worrrrld! Ive been married to the world most handsome man mashallah for 2 years! Ive gotten the privilege to travel the world thanks to my father! OH and im a twin !"

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bixi: Shouldn't Be for Profit, Should Be a Public Service

Montreal's famous bike rental system is undergoing a liquidity crisis, it seems.

The program is wildly popular here, and has had success in New York and London, but the financial return hasn't been what was expected.  The province may come up with some short term money to help out until payments roll in (it seems $5 million from New York is on the way) but as Quebec minister for Montreal Jean-François  Lisée says "It's a success in Montreal. It's an international success but we seem not to have been able in the last few years to come up with a business plan that makes this a sound and permanent success in Quebec."
As Louise Harel, one of the leaders of a new coalition trying to win November municipal elections says: "The root of the problem is that Bixi was run like a business, but the city is not equipped to run as a business. It is a good corporation and we can be proud of it."

Okay, let's face the fact that the public sector doesn't really know how to run a public service.  It would have been much better if Bixi was started as a  public service, with the idea that it would need public financial support just as the bus and Métro system do. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Siege in Nairobi: Why We Support the Aga Khan Foundation

Twelve years ago this week I was getting ready to go to East Africa to research my novel The Violets of Usambara. I've been thinking of that sadly this weekend as I followed the siege of a shopping centre in Nairobi.  As it happened, I spent a couple of days in that city, both at the beginning and the end of my trip, and I was able to look around a bit.  Most interesting, but that's another story.

What I kept turning to this time was the description of the Shabab, the besiegers, as a militant Islamist group, one of several now operating in Africa.  That was not the brand of Islam that I saw  in Tanzania, next door to Kenya.  In several villages I saw schools run by the Aga Khan Foundation, the charitable organization of the Ismaili branch of Islam,  where girls and boys studied and played together.  There were clinics too, and mother-child health programs. They appeared to be well-run, grass roots organizations without the proselytizing mission that most of the NGOs I saw that were run by Christian groups.

An Ismaili Muslim friend who had been born in Kenya told me about the foundation and the Ismaili brand of Islam when I got back.  Ismailis hold that if  a family can only educate one child, that child should be a girl, he said.  Looking a little further, I found that the Foundation says on its website that the four educational objectives of the programs it supports are:  "ensuring better early caring and learning environments for young children; increasing access to education; keeping children in school longer; and raising levels of academic achievement. In common with other donor agencies, the Foundation intends that girls, the very poor, and geographically remote populations should receive special attention."  (The picture is of graduates at a Aga Khan Foundation-supported secondary school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.)

In a world where fundamentalist Islam is finding converts and supporters in many places, an organization of moderate Muslims should be encouraged, I think.  That's why, when we figure out how much money we can donate to various groups at the end of the year, the Aga Khan Foundation is on our list.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Saturday Photo: Street Flowers

We had cold weather and warm weather this week, followed by rainy weather right now.  Many of the summer flowers are looking a little bedraggled, but the cosmos continue to shine.

I've always loved the name and think the ease which they grow almost anywhere there's sun to be absolutely wonderful.  This group was blooming in the small space next to a street sign.  They probably were planted--they're annuals and must be started fresh each year--since the nearest house had clouds of them blooming in its little front yard.

Their only drawback is that they want full sun, and our shady yard means that I've never have had any luck in growingthem.

Love it when other people succeed, though.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Too Much Money Department: House in Westmount and Desmarais Marriage

Life is not easy for some people--just take a look at the unemployment rate and the growing disperity between the rich and poor--but others are doing just fine, thank you very much.

That was brought home to me in the last few days with 1) the marriage of Jacqueline-Ariadne Desmarais, the granddaughter of both billionaire Paul Desmarais and former Prime Minister Jean  Chrétien to a Belgian princeling and 2) a feature this morning in The New York Times about a house for sale in Westmount at $3.2 million.

The house I've passed many times: it looks like a truly lovely place, and I know there are several other multi-million dollar places around Mount Royal.  But the wedding takes the cake!

It cost several million bucks too, it seems, and the guest list included Nicolar Sarkozy and at least one Bush, close personal friends of the grandparents.  The reception took place on Ile Ste-Hélène, the site of Expo 67, and work was stopped on the bridge linking it to Montreal for the weekend, apparently to facilitate the comings and goings for the rich and famous. 

One always wishes a young couple good times, but it would be nice if other couples starting their life together had even a fraction of what this one has.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cooking Today, Wine Tasting Tonight

My cousin Mary Lynn Thompson and her husband Mark took us wine tasting in the Walla Walla are when we were there last month.  It was a great experience.  From a wine culture that began with Italian agricultural workers at the beginning of the 20th century, the region has developed to produce some truly excellent wines.

So of course we brought some home with us.  The kids got bottles, but we kept some for ourselves, and tonight we'll have the first to two tasting dinners.  Rack of lamb (which Mary Lynn's father introduced to Lee and me more than 50 years ago at a toney restaurant in San Francisco), crab cakes (that aren't sticking together, but maybe I can salvage them) pear and spinach salad (with pears from our two pear tres), cheese, local tomatoes in confit and of course wine.

At the moment I'm just sitting down for a moment: must get back in the kitchen.  Nothing weighty as a post today therefore.  But one's life should always stop for good wine and good food.

The photo is from the Pepper Bridge blog; with their grapes in the foreground and the Blue Mountains in back. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Snot Suckers, Antibiotics, and Healthy Kids

By the time my kids were the age my grandkids are now they'd taken many courses of antibiotics.  Both of them had ear infections at an early age, and Lukas had H.flu meningitis at four month, a disease that babies are vaccinated against now at 2 months. 

But neither Jeanne nor Thomas has had an ear infection, and Thomas at a year has never had a whiff of an antibiotic (Jeanne did as a precaution after she was born for rather arcane reasons.)

Why is this? I wondered as I sat in the waiting room yesterdaya while Lukas took  Thom in for a well-baby visit.  Is it because of the "snot sucker" that young families are using these days to clear their children's nasal passages of mucus. 

The picture gives the idea of how it's done, which looks rather gross.  But it works, even if most kids scream when they see the tube coming.  Certainly the child doesn't have a lot of mucus collecting in the inner ear, which is where the ear infection usually start.

And the result of not taking antibiotics for this kind of infection is underlined in studies reported in The New York Times today.  Over use of antibiotics has led to the developoment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which in turn leads to the death of any average of 23,000 people per year, the US  Center for Disease Control and Prevention says.   Some of this resistance is due to use of antibiotics in animal feed, but unnecessary use for human disease is also a major factor.

So, not only have Jeanne and Thomas so far escaped the fevers and pains that their parents went through due to ear infections, they're also part of a new vision of health. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Fallout from War: Connecting Former US Soldiers with Their Offspring in Vietnam

One of the books I've re-read recently is Ru by Kim Thuy, a Vietnam-Québécoise, who tells in a most poetic way a story of "boat people" who ended up here. 

Told in very short sections, she circles around her own family's story while giving glimpses of war and exile and immigration have done to people.  At one point she writes about the sad case of a young woman whose mother was Vietnamese and whose father was an African American GI.

There was some mention of this section when the book discussion group at the Pierrefonds libraray met last week to discuss the book.  None of us were sure what were the regulations governing relationships between Americans and Vietnamese.  Obviously it was no easy to maintain one, and probably 90 per cent ended, like the backstory to Madame Butterfly, when the guy shipped back Stateside.

But obviously some of these men have long felt remorse over what happened.  Here's a link to a story in The New York Times about how some--now past middle age and closing in on their end of their lives--have gone looking for their children.  Quite interesting.

Here's a clip from the London cast of Miss Saigon, BTW.  Apparently there will be a new film version out next year.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Saturday Photo: Desire Lines' Cover

Today's photo isn't.  Instead its the cover of my new collection of short stories that will come out in November, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography.

WhenOberon Press sent it to me my reaction was: Hey, not bad!  But then I blushed.  It's a little racey perhaps....

Can't say I was surprised at the basic art  since I'd suggested the painting "Nude" by Group of Seven artist Edwin Holgate.  Michael Macklem, the founder of the press, designs its covers personally, and I knew he likes to use Canadian paintings wherever possible.  For the last two books I'd published with Oberon--one other short story collection The Truth Is and a novel The Words on the Wall: Robert Nelson and the Rebellion of 1837--I'd also suggested a couple of works that might be appropriate. 

Told to suggest three possiblities, this time I came up with the Holgate, plus details from works by Ed Bartram  (Zebra Rock, bottom right) and Tom Thomson (Forest, October, 1916. top right)  I liked the  Holgate best, particularly because there are two stories that take place in the rocky wilderness.  As well the nude reflects a theme that recurs throughout the book.

But, as you see from the small image that I'd photoshopped as a sample, I didn't think Oberon, a rather staid house, would go for so much flesh and I put the print in a couple of strategic places.

Macklem obviously disagreed and used far more of the nude as well as placing  the print to the side.  He also toned down the palatte so that the lines of the nude are almost abstract. 

But, wow! 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Family Photos: The Wonders of the Internet

This summer one of my cousins and I sat down for the first time in years and talked family.  She's started doing geneology and told me she'd come up with some picturs of our grandparents.

Lucky me!  Here's one she just sent me by internet: our maternal grandparents John Frederick McDonald and his wife the former Mary Belle Deckman about 1926 in Portland OR (I think.)

This was a high point in their lives, when he--who didn't get further than third grade and started out as a train brakeman--had struck it rich in real estate.  She, as always, was smartly dressed: she always looked stylish even when they had no money.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Demonstration on Saturday against the Proposed Quebec Charte des valeurs québécoises

Here'a the link to info about the demonstration.  As one of the people say they're going, one woman asks if she should wear a hijab, a kippa, or go as the cross on the wall of the Quebec legislative assembly?

Questions, questions.  Think I'll just pull out one of my scarves and tie it around my head.  If someone shows me how to do it properly, so much the better,

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Hidjab Files: Banned Sign Is Also High Fashion

The current Quebec government just released its plan for a "Charter of Quebc Values."  Chief among them is the "neutrality" of the state when it comes to religion.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  But the way this neutrality will play out involves forbidding all government employees from wearing any "religious sign".   Small cruxifices or Stars of David on a chain will be all right, but the Jewish kippa, the Sikh turban, and the Muslim hidjab will be banned.  Hospital and day care workers as well as  teachers are covered by the ban.

What absolute nonsense!   Besides being hardly likely to survive a constitutional test, it raises a hornet's nest of issues.  Anyone who's visited a hospital or day care centre in Montreal lately has noticed the many competent, well-intergrated Muslim women working there who where the hidjab.  They should not be penalized for their beliefs, particularly since the head scarf is as much cultural as it is religious.

If you don't belief that last assertion, take a look at just what Muslim fashion is.  Rather nice, and certainly no more un-Canadian than a sari or African kanga.    And here's a link to some high fashion from Tehran.  Plus a YouTube video that isn't quite as edgey.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Saturday Photo: Harvest Time

The Jean Talon Market was full of tomatoes and people this afternoon.  As the harvest comes in, the outdoor market attracts hundreds who  buying cases of tomatoes for making sauce, as well as hundreds more just shopping for the best of the end-of-season vegetables and fruits.

There are few things as good as a vine-ripened tomato or just-picked corn, both of which we're going to have for dinner.

As for our garden, I gave up on vegatables several years go because the backyard is just too shady and the squirrels, too pesky.  But the pears have been abundant.  I picked most of them before we went on vacation, and now I'm bringing them out a few at a time to ripen.  Not bad at all!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Minimum Wage,Fast Food and Finding Something Good to Eat

The New York Times reports this morning on the growing protest among workers at fast food outlets (restaurants is hardly the proper description, I think) for a minimum wage of $15 in the US.  Seems that on Thursday there were walkouts at about 1000 outlets in 50 cities.

They've been supported by the Service Employees International Union since they began a month ago, a fact which "should reinforce the labor movement as something new and relevant to the young workers of today,” the NYT quoted Jeff Rosenfeld, professor of sociology  and labour  at the University of Washington. Its story continues: "pointing to the use of the Internet to spread the strike call, he added, 'The combination of old and new organizing strategies really seems to have paid off here.'”

That's really interesting, and perhaps a harbinger of a sea change in public opinion.  I'd like to think so.

But it also may have an impact on perceptions of the role of fast food in North American culture.  The French call it "la malbouffe," literally "eating badly."    We certainly found that on our little trip in August.  Most of the time we picnicked or ate with friends and twice we really dined at nice restaurants ( Anthony's in Bellingham WA and Offshore Seafood  Restaurant in the BC village are both recommended. )But a few times we were forced to look for a quick meal.

A Pizza Hut in a largish Nanaimo striip mall was expensive and really bad.  That started me thinking about the best small restos around here.  None of them are in high rent premises, and most are ethnic, frequently run by relatively recent immigrants following a dream.  Among them is Kim Bob Cafe in Dorval: it has a breakfast menu that caters to workers at the nearby Trudeau International Airport, and Korean lunches that are really good.  That suggested that a non-franchise resto in an ordinary strip mall mght mean better food.

I asked my foodie niece what she thought of the idea, and she answered that the best food they'd had on a recent trip to Hawaii was in strip mall Indian place.  So we tried the Mongolian Grill in Mukilteo, WA.  Very good, and not a franchise (although apparently it may have started out as one.)  Run by a Chinese family with help from a Latino couple, I hope they're making enough for a living wage. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Honest Mayor Says Cities Need Municipal Political Parties with Idea and Principles

Given the orgy of revelation about political contributions and corruptions in the construction industry around here and in Quebec cities, it probably should not be surprising that political parties have been bad-mouthed.

Certainly parties which are only mechanisms for amassing election funds have been found wanting.  But parties where ideas and principles are debated and carried forward, I've always felt, are extremely important.  That's part of the reason why I've stayed out of muncipal party politics: few of the players around me have had either ideas or principles and I've fond it more useful to be free to attack any or all of them.

But occasionally a good political party develops on the municipal level.  The one led by former Quebec City mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier is one.  That's why I was delighted to read about him saying just that in Le Devoir today. 

With a real political party "you have 1500, 2000 people who watch very closely what you're doing  because what you do is being done in their name.  That's a big protection," he said. 

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

School's Started...

This is the kind of thing you'll be seeing around you this week as kids go back to school--this one is near where our kids did elementary school.

But what I remember is Chuck Berry singing "Hail, Hail Rock n Roll."  Here are the lyrics:

Up in the mornin' and out to school
The teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You studyin' hard and hopin' to pass
Workin' your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won't leave you alone

Ring, ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunch room's ready to sell
You're lucky if you can find a seat
You're fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom, open your books
Keep up the teacher don't know how mean she looks

Soon as three o'clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat
Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and 'round the bend
Right to the juke joint, you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You're gotta hear somethin' that's really hot
With the one you love, you're makin' romance
All day long you been wantin' to dance,
Feeling the music from head to toe
Round and round and round we go

Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feelin' is there, body and soul.

And here's the man himself

Monday, 2 September 2013

Recovering Today: Happy Labour Day

We had a triple threat birthday party last night for Lukas, Jeanne and Thomas.  Most pleasant and the two cousins (three and one) played together for the first time. 

Now Grandma is loafing: too much of a good time!!