Monday, 23 December 2013

Signing off for the Holiday: See You in the New Year

Barring the unforeseen, I expect to be too busy  having fun to doing any posting.  So here's a link to our Christmas blog in the meantime.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Saturday Photo: Celebrating in Cuzco

This was taken in a Cuzco grocery store, which a month ago was already decked out for Christmas.  Love the idea of locals dancing to Andean harps while it's summer outside.

Music that Goes Beyond the Season

Okay, this seems to be an ad for a supermarket chain, wrapped in a tribute to Nelson Mandela, but it really is lovely.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Educating Kids in Science, Math and Reading--and Making Sure They Get a Good Start from the Beginning

The New York Times analyzes why American school kids performed in such a mediocre fashion on the recnet OECD school  success rankings.  Three regions are singled out for comment: Shanghai where an effort is being made to equalize opportunitiy for kids, Canada where many provinces don't use property taxes to fund schools, but provincial revenues, and Finland, which seems to be doing just about everything right.

The take-home lesson is that giving schools equal fiunding and making sure that every kid has access to decent schools are important.  Income inequality is deadly.  Residential segregation doesn't help the overall performance of a nation's young. Investing in common  goals produce results.

One of the things that is not mentioned is the way that Finland looks out for its offspring from the very begininng.  For 75 years Finnish families  have been receiving a "baby box" which provides just about everything a small child needs in its earliest days--."bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress.

"With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls.

"Mothers have a choice between taking the box, or a cash grant, currently set at 140 euros, but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more."

And, as the mother in this clip from the BBC notes, little kids are often dressed in the same clothes which helps even things out.  The items are of good quality too: she says that her mother saved her baby box, and the sheets are still good enough to use for a new baby today. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas Songs from Brazil...

As I try to get back to work, how about this for the run up to Christmas

Monday, 16 December 2013

Not Politics, Just Pastry Today

Or maybe just food.  I spent the morning making making 10 dozen spritz butter cookies and cutting up 30 salt herring to put in marinade for pickled herring.

Yesterday it was another 10 dozen papporkakor.

 Now to go out in the snowy streets to look for more holiday stuff....

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Saturday Photo: Looking Back in Brasília...

There will be more photos and comments from my South American trip, but here's something to start things off: two images that made me laugh.

The first is the big statue by Brazilian artist Roberto Ceschiatti that has pride of place in the second floor open air garden at the Palacio do Itamarty.  The ample charms of the two women fit very well in the sumptuous space.

The second is of a mannequin used in an open air shop.  It was not the first time I'd seen one of these forms with a very prominent rear, but it was the first time I'd had an opportunity to take a picture.  Compare and contrast with the skinny forms that are used to display clothes in North America.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Requiem for the Postie

The Canada Post announcement that it will be doing away with home mail delivery over the next five years is just another example of the mess the Conservatives have led us into. 
Why should a service like the post office break even?  It is something that we ought to support with our taxes.  And when it comes to forward-looking business models, cutting out parcel delivery is a non-starter. 

That's where the growth in mail service is going to come...but of course the private courier service will take up the slack to the joy of Stephen Harper's business-friendly supporters.

In the meantime,while opposition organizes take a look at a delightful short novel by Quebec writer Denis Thériault, The Postman's Rounds.  It takes place a few years ago when the postman actually delivered the mail and was a part of everyone's life. 

By the way, I went looking for stamps featuring Marie-Louise Gay's children's books for our Christmas mailings to discover that there were none.  Canada Post has withdrawn its permanent stamps, of course, because they want to boost the price of letter mail.

Get Desire Lines in Time for Christmas!

There are just three days left to enter the Goodreads Giveaway of two copies of Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography.  

Goodreads will tell me Monday morning who won and I'll get the books in the mail that day.  With any luck the winners should have them before Christmas.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sometimes the Right Things Get Done: The Positive Benefits of Protecting the Ozone Layer

Global warming would be a lot worse than it is, were it not for a protocol agreed to in 1989 that cut back the cloroflurocarbons that attack the earth's ozone later.  That's what The New York Times is reporting today about the Montreal Protocol, which it calls "The Little Treaty That Could." 

It banned about 100 subtances, many of which, besides destroying the ozone layer, "also happen to be exceedingly powerful greenhouse gases," Justin Gillis writes.

"If production had been allowed to continue, a batch of scientific studies show, the planet would most likely be warming a lot faster than it is. The latest of these studies came out only a few weeks ago... In fact, the evidence suggests the protocol has done far more to limit global warming than the better-known treaty adopted for that purpose, the Kyoto Protocol."

Now changes to the treaty to ban some replacement gases which also are green house gases are under considertion, which leads Gillis to quote  Durwood Zaelke. He heads a Washington advocacy group  that is pushing for the treaty amendment, and says that  "the drew a simple lesson from all this: However overwhelming global warming may seem at times, we are not powerless in the face of it."

That's worth remembering when the fight seems impossible.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Merry Christmas: Analyses to Chill Your Holiday Spirit from Krugman and the Toronto Star

Paul Krugman can be counted on for setting things straight, and in his column today he talks about the holiday present that the US is preparing to give the long term unemployed on Jan. 1, 2014: "1.3 million American workers, many of them in desperate financial straits, are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December."

"Merry Christmas," he adds.

The culprits, as usual, are those right wing politicos who combine a vindictive spirit with bad economics, he says.  "The point is that employment in today’s American economy is limited by demand, not supply. Businesses aren’t failing to hire because they can’t find willing workers; they’re failing to hire because they can’t find enough customers. And slashing unemployment benefits — which would have the side effect of reducing incomes and hence consumer spending — would just make the situation worse."

But don't think this attitude is confined to the US.  The Toronto Star today has a tabulation of all the programs that the Stephen Harper Conservatives have cut since they came to office.   The story quotes former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow:

“It is changing Canada,”  he says of the current federal approach to social and economic policy.
 “Unchecked, if we continue down this path, the big danger is a more regionalized and more unequal nation,” Romanow, who headed a royal commission on the future of health care in 2002, told the Star.

"Social programs long valued by Canadians are in the Conservatives’ crosshairs.

"Federal health-care spending is to be reined in. Canadians in future will have to work two years longer before receiving old age security — a measure Harper said was meant to address Canadians’ disproportionate focus on “our services and entitlements.”

"And at a time when 1.3 million are without jobs, the federal government has toughened the criteria that employment insurance recipients must meet to hang on to their benefits. In all, only 37 per cent of jobless Canadians are eligible for EI benefits."

Ironic, isn't it, that right after Black Friday when we were exhorted to buy, buy, buy, it's getting harder and harder for millions to keep food on the table and shoes on their kids' feet.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Saturday Photo: Cuzco Rooftops

The 254 photos I took on my trip have been whittled down to 85,  I've transcribed 49 pages of notes, and there's a Power Point made to show unsuspecting friends and relations.  Guess that means I must return to regular llife.

Here's one of the pictures I like particularly.  Taken from the open staircase in the small hotel where  I stayed in Cuzco, it echoes tile roofs around the world.  It rained a hard while I was there, and the efficiency of the way the tiles channeled the run off was impressive.

Friday, 6 December 2013

When Nelson Mandela Visited Montreal: When Canada Made a Difference (Are You Listening Stephen Harper?)

In June 1990, only a few months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he came to Canada to thank Canadians for their support in the fight against apartheid. 

This was not a simple goodwill turn: Canadians and Canadian politicians played a crucial role in pressuring the South African government to end the cruel and discriminatory system.  Two of the most influential politicos were Progressive Conservatives: John Diefenbaker who led the fight to get South Africa expelled from the Commonwealth and Brian Mulroney who was a leader in maintaining economics sanctions against the country.

Apparently Mandela was scheduled to visit Toronto and Ottawa, but not Montreal, until city officials with the help of Mulroney and company, arranged a lightning appearance on the Champs de Mars on 36 hour's notice.  Some 15,000 or more showed up to welcome him, and we were among them.  It was Lukas's idea that we go.  Then 10, he had already formed very definite ideas of what was right and who merited being considered heros.

I don't remember a lot about the event, aside from it being a beautiful late afternoon and early evening and the atmosphere was exhultant.  In retrospect it seems even more important because I can't imagine the current version of Canadian Conservatives going out on a limb for decades on a princple as initially unpopular as fighting apartheid.

Stephen Harper, are you listening? 

The tiny picture, by the way, is among the few I could find on the web.  Seems that the even was not as mediatized as it should have been.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Working through the Trip

Today I started working through the photos and began transcribing the pages and pages of notes that I took on my trip (No laptop when I travel: it's just one more thing to keep track of, and I was travelling by myself.)

Here's a shot through the front window of the bus I took from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonaldo in Peru.  We are approaching the second pass on the route across the Andes, and should be about 4,500 meters high.  The mountains of the cordillera are still snow covered even though it is late spring--but, after all, they're 5,000 meters or higher.

More later when I get more of the grut work done.