Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Report from the Front: Full Binocular Vision

And the patch was removed this morning so I can see in the world in full binocular mode, with colours gorgeously clear and all the details vibrant. A little discomfort focussing at a distance at first, but that seems to be past.  What an amazing thing to see so well at my advanced age :)

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Getting the Other Eye Done Today...

The kitchen is just about clean, after my new eagle (left) eye uncovered all the grime.  Today is the day the right eye (formerly my better eye) gets done.  Back tomorrow with a report on whether I see more dirt than I did before.

And by the way Lee still looks pretty good, even if a little more wrinkled than I thought before.!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Yup, CBC/Radio Can Budget Cuts Will Affect Enquête

The Charbonneau Commission into corruption and illegal political party funding has started work again after the Quebec provincial election.  Just what it will come up with  when it's finished its hearings is a question, as is what the effects of the damning testimony will be. 

But one thing is clear: it's going to be harder to come up with evidence that might lead to such a public investigation, as Radio Canada has announced that Enquête, the public affairs show that produced program after program about shady dealings over a period of several years, will have its funding cut.

The Globe and Mail reports that the program will lose one-fifth of its staff in the $130 million cuts, announced recently.  It quotes Alain Gravel, the program's host: 
“Without these journalists, all of these people [involved in the scandal] would still be carrying on as if nothing ever happened...Instead of facing cuts, we should be getting additional resources.”

He's absolutely right!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Alistair MacLoed Is Dead: Far from No Great Mischief

The news this weekend was that Alistair MacLeod, short story writer and novelist, is dead at 77.    As it happened, his only novel No Great Mischief was the focus of the book discussion group I led at the Atwater Library last Wednesday which means that MacLeod and his interesting view of the world is very fresh in my mind.

The book, which MacLeod worked on for 13 years before finally agreeing to have it typed up and prepared for publication by MacLelland  and Stewart in 1999, is told by a Cape Breton man (one of three Alexander MacDonalds in the novel, now living a nice upper middle class life in Windsor, ON, as he tries ot help his alcoholic older brother.  The pace is slow, as it often is when stories are told aloud. There is repetition of key phrases and repetition of key events, just as there is in stories told aloud.  The voice is easy, as if the man narrating the events was sure from the beginning how it would end.

Along the way we are told a lot about the Highland Scots who settled in Cape Breton in the late 18th century, and how their progeny continue today to eke out an existence on the rough landscape.  It is a moving story, and one which I found absorbing.

As we spoke about the book last week, I wondered just how much of my appreciation of the book is colored by the fact that my mother was a McDonald, from the Protestant part of that clan. Certainly the people who seemed most taken by the book had a link with Scotland one way or another.  But MacLeod goes to great lengths to make the connection between the clannishness of the Highland Scots and the ties that bind peole in other communities: French Canadians, Zulus, the Masai, Mexican Mennonites.

Indeed, the link between the Scots and the French in North America is one of the major themes in the book, and led to an almost surreal book launch when the French translation came out a couple of years after English original. The event was sponsored by the Quebec nationalist Société St-Jean Baptiste at its headquarters in an elegant old house once owned by the Patriot Ludger Duvernay.  I suppose I was invited because I'd written a fictionalized biography of another of the Patriots (and here we're talking about the Rebellions in both Lower and Upper Canada in 1837-38) Robert Nelson.   When guests arrived we were greeted by two men in kilts playing bagpipes outside.  Inside we were greated to Scottish dancing, a short talk by MacLeod (in English, since he spoke no French), a reading of the French translation and the presentation of a scholarly work about the many French Quebeckers who have Scottish ancestors.

The leaders of the SJB society at the time were following very carefully the secession movement in Scotland, and had read MacLeod's book in English on their way to attend the first session of the Scottish assembly.  Obviously they found  a great many resonances with the Quebec situation.  As for me, I was delighted by the connections they made, as well as the pipers.

Will pipers play Amazing Grace or Over the Sea to Skye at MacLeod's funeral which will be held this Saturday at St. Margaret of Scotland Church at Broad Cove, Cape Breton?  Possibly. A more interesting question is: how religious will the service be?  One of the things that is strangely missing from No Great Mischief  is organized religion.  MacLeod avoids any reference to the Catholic-Protestant cleavage in Scottish culture in his books, because, I'd like to think, that conflict is irrelevant when considering the relations of people to nature and to the hard scrabble life so many live.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Down Side of Good Vision: Seeing All the Grime

Too busy to say much because I realize just how dirty everything is around here, now that my eyes are working as they should.  People had warned me that I might be surprised/shocked at how old I and others around me had grown, so I was prepared for that after the cataract operation.

What I  wasn't prepared for was the highly visible proof that I'd rather do almost anything else than clean house.  But there are times when you can't avoid it, and thisis  one. Now to go down on my hands and knees and remove the spots from the hardwood floors...

You may not hear from me for a while....

Friday, 18 April 2014

Why We Need a Strong Public Broadcaster: Radio Canada's Enquête

The knives were out last week at the CBC and Radio Canada: 657 jobs will be cut and $130 million slashed from the budget. This is just the latest in the campaign to bring down Canada's public broadcaster orchestrated by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. 

Many times in the past I've ranted about the cuts to serious programming on what used to be the music service.  About five years ago, both the CBC and its French-language twin Radio-Canada started dumbing down the music content in a (I think) mistaken attempt to make the service more "accessible."  The repercussions for the future of music in this country are grave, since the serious music programming both builds audiences and provides jobs for musicians. 

But, much as I value cultural programming, what is coming now seems to have enormous for the political life of the country.  This was brought home when the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec resumed its investigation this week into corruption in the construction industry and the financing of political parties. 

In 2009, the Radio Canada program Enquête began a series of documentaries about "organized crime bosses worked hand in glove with both the construction industry and government bureaucrats who awarded highly lucrative contracts." as the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression put it in explaining why  Enquête received its 2012 Tara Singh Hayer award.

Journalists in other media followed up, with the result that  we see now: a large official investigation into corruption that had been going on for a very long time.  What will happen next depends on many factor, but nothing would have happened had not the Enquête team started digging.

The CBC/Radio Can brass weren't talking last week about getting rid of programs like Enquête but the danger exists.  Why send out journalists to  uncover difficult news that is embarassing to the powers that be, anyway?  The temptation is to think: maybe it's better just to keep your head down.

 Let's hope that doesn't happen.  Join the protests.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Rainy Day, But At Least Our Winters Are Sunny, Or What To Do Where the Sun Doesn't Shine

Came across this in The New York Times today: a town in Norway which now has mirrors beaming sun down into the town square. 

It's not a first: the BBC reported in 2006 on a town in the Italian Alps which had did something similar.  In Austria, a mirror installation was put up the year before. 

The sun in Rjukan, Norway, looks a little anemic from this photo, but I guess it's better than nothing.  Don't think I could last long where there wasn't some sun in the winter.  Give me a day in February when it's -25 C and the sun is shining on new snow, and I've happy!

Monday, 14 April 2014

First Robin of Spring Sighted...Or At Least, My First Robin

Out walking this morning and sighted the first robin so far this spring. The grass is mostly free of snow, but now yet green here, nor are there any leaves on the trees. Ordinarily things burst out the first week in May, and that is two weeks away. But here's a taste of what is coming.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Saturday Photo: Collecting Onion Skins for Easter Eggs

Going to decorate Easter eggs with Jeanne next weekend, so I'm collecting onion skins to make the gorgeous Latvian eggs our neighbor showed me how to make. 

You wrap the eggs in the onion skins, tie them on securely and then boil them for 15 to 20 minutes.  They come out a lovely red, with splotches from the uneven skins.  An example is the egg on the lower left in the picture.

The other colours are also natural, but I decided last year that they're more trouble than they're worth and the red eggs are the best.  We'll see what the other members of the decoration team say, however.

Friday, 11 April 2014

We Have Seen the Future and It Is Beautiful (and Brazil Was There First)...

Missed this because our National Geographic subscription has been transferred to the grandkids, which  is probably quite fitting:  given the rate of racial and ethnic intermarriage in the US, by 2050 the faces of the country will be a gorgeous mixture of hair, eye and skin colour, the magazine says extrapolating from census data.

Following the rebuff given the xenophobic policies of the Parti Québecois in this week's provincial elections, it's good to see that migration and assimilation are trending in this direction.  There's no telling where love will lead us, is there?

Of course, anyone who's visited Brazil will say that faces like these are common there.  Some are the legacy of forced relations in the past, but many, many  are  evidence of a vast country where there never were laws  which prohibited marriage between "white" people and those who "had any known blood" as there were in many US jurisidictions.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Not Pleased about the Liberals, But Glad the PQ Got What It Deserves

Let me say right off, that 18 months ago I was ready to give the Parti Québécois some slack as it won minority government status in a provincial election.  Bringing in a budget at the very beginning was a smart move, since none of the opposition parties were in a position to challenge  it bring on a snap election.  Pauline Maurois and friends were setting themselves up to do some interesting things, I thought.

But they blew it--going back on their promise to cut a per capita health care tax, waffling about mining legislation, moving their economic policy to the right and much, much more.  Then came the disastrous attempt to appeal to French Canadian insularity with their charter on "a neutral state."  The state should of course be neutral--I fought for years to introduce public schools organized on linguistic, not religious lines--but the idea of outlawing the wearing of religious symbols by public servants was  simply terrible.

It's a measure of the incompetence of the PQ leaders that they thought widespread support for state neutrality would translate into partisan votes.  What were they smoking?  Who were their pollstars talking to?  Whatever, they got it all wrong.

Philippe Couillard and his Liberals are only marginally better on most issues, but this is a least worst situation.  Too bad the only party with a platform I can really supportm Québec Solidaire, didn't do better.  But maybe next time: QS just increased the number of its members of the National Assembly  by 50 per cent--from two to three.  That's a hopeful sign, although at that rate it will only take eight more elections for the QS to win a majority of the 125 seats and form the government. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Saturday Photo: Coming in the Not Too Distant Future--Snow Drops!

The snow is retreating in front, and a sprinkle of little leaves are pushing up from the dirt.  Spring is late this year, but very soon I expect the new growth will transform itself into the first spring flowers.

Snowdrops always raise my spirits.  This picture was taken a few years ago, and I can't wait until I see this year's crop.

Sitting Out an Election: What's Happening to Volunteers?

This is the first provincial or federal election in years that I haven't worked hard for some leftish candidate. Usually I do a lot of telephoning, or some door to door, and occasionally I've even been on of the "back room boys and girls." 

This time my various health issues--the shingles and the cataract surgery in the last couple of months--gave me a good excuse not to put a lot of time into campaigning for Edith Laperle, the Québec Solidaire candidate in our riding.  (Didn't work for her in the bye election last December because I was in South America, but that's another story.)   She's a fine young woman, a hard campaigner (this is the third time around), and definitely would be an good addition to the National Assembly.  We contributed some money, put up a sign on the front porch and certainly wish her well. 

But work?  No, not really.

I've felt guilty, but it seems that I'm not the only stalwart who is sitting this one out.  Le Devoir had a story on the weekend about how the volunteers which have until now been the backbone of a good, grass roots campaign are just not showing up.  Vincent Marissol wrote a similar piece in La Presse last week:  Where are the Militants?

Part of the problem is that the kind of work campaign volunteeers have done in the past just isn't as useful as it was.  The number of people with landlines whose numbers are easy to reach has plummeted, making telephone canvassing less effective.  Even when campaigns can come up with lists of sympathizers, harassing them to make sure they vote looks increasingly counter-productive.  To be sure, door-knocking can still work, but it takes a lot more time than telephoning did in the old days.

But perhaps even more importantly, many folks are finding it hard to get enthusiastic about the people running.  A sign of growing cynicism about the political process?  Probably.  This time around only Québec Solidaire seems to be running a campaign with clear cut stands on issues, and, in my view, is the only part worth voting for, even if I didn't do any work for it.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The View from the Other Side

Not much action lately because of various things, like cataract surgery on Monday.

But now I'm delighted to report that I'm seeing better than I ever have.

Anyone who's been nearsighted since birth can imagine how wonderful it is to look out the window and see everything in great detail.

The eye operated on was my worst one, and I'll need an operation on the other soon.  This one did nothing for the problems of elderly close vision either, so perhaps I'll have to have "reading glasses."  For the moment though, I just can't get over how well I see distances now, much better than I did before with my glasses.