Thursday, 29 May 2014

Thanks to Laurie, Mik and the Turks and Caicos Islands: Glad the Latter Weren't Annexed 40 Years Ago

Apparently the door is still open for Canada to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands,  but it doesn't look all that likely.  The idea is just as intriguing as it was nearly 40 years ago when I first heard of it, and started my traveling.

At that time my brother-in-law Mik was working for a construction firm that was trying to get into the resort-building business.  The islands were virtuely undeveloped as a tourist destination, and his firm wanted him to go look aroud to see what the possiblities might be.  If the small Caribbean archipelago became part of Canada, his bosses thought Canadians would flock there, the way Americans go to Hawaii.

The only way to get to the islands then was through Port au Prince, Haiti, and Mik and Laurie's plan was to fly there, spend a few days bagging some rays and then Mik would go on to T&C.  Would I like to go along to keep Laurie company while Mik was working?

Sure, I said.  I'd never been off the North American continent, my husband had no desire to do that kind of traveling, and this sounded terrific.  So we went, and Laurie, who'd done Europe several times as well as Hawaii, was nevertheless appalled at seeing Third World poverty in Haiti.  Given her reaction, Mik decided it wasn't worth the aggravation, so we spent the whole 10 days on Haiti.

Which they didn't like at all.  They slept late, took a couple of tours, but spent most of their time poolside drinking exotic punches, pretending they were in a less exotic, more tourist-friendly place.  I, however, decided that I couldn't waste this opportunity to roam, so I got up at 5 a.m. when the bells chimed at the church near our hotel  to go out walking.  My thought was that bad guys would be sleeping it off at that hour, and I could go out on foot with minimum fuss and/or danger.  By 8:30 a.m. when they were up, I was back with stories.

It's a strategy that I used 30 years later when I began traveling in earnest on my own for my books.  It's served me very well, indeed, thanks to Laurie and Mik who got me moving.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Saturday (or Monday) Photo: Late Spring Rain

Rain is falling right now, but the more spectacular thing falling to earth around here right now are the tiny flowers of various street trees.

The regular flowering trees are doing their best right now too.  Our pears just finished their white display, the Siberian crab apples in the cemetery were lovely on the weekend, and magnolias of various sorts have lovely, curvey petals.

But the big maples, ashes, and other sort of trees not noted for their flowers also are producing them.  And sometimes when they fall they transform the landscape.  This photo was taken a few years ago after a particularly lovely flower-rain. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Austerity Doesn't Work, Even Though Quebec Liberals Give It a New Name

Quebec's Premier Philippe Couillard has introduced a new era of "fiscal rigor," the new code word for austerity.  His inaugaral address when the legislative session opened this week was full of threats about what will happen if expenses aren't cut and the deficit reduced.

His new finance minister Carlos Leitão was right behind him cheering: if debt and deficit are not brought under control, Quebec is headed for Portugal-like problems, he said three weeks ago. 

No matter that the International Monetary Fund is now admitting that austerity hasn't worked, has brought poverty and dispair to millions of Europeans, and should be rethought.  Here's a link to Paul Krugman's analysis of the situation:  it dates from a two years ago, but still is extremely relevant. The big Quebec thinktank, the Institute de recherche et de informations soci-économique   says much the same in a recent report.

But it's unlikely that anyone is going to pay attention.  Even the official opposition Parti Québécois is on the austerity wagon.  Interim opposition leader Stéphane Bedard called on Couillard to renounce the idea of allocating $15 billion to infrastructure programs over the next ten years.

Come on, corruption in infrastructure and other construction has been rampant--as the Charbonneau Commission is showing us--but spending on repairs and upgrading roads, sewers, water treatment and the like is necessary to maintain a healthy society.  What's more it provides jobs for lots and lots of people which is good for the economy.  Canada escaped some of the worst of the Great Recession because the NDP, BQ and federal Liberals made Stephen Harper spend a little money to keep things going.

But the only people who are likely to bring that up during budget discussions in Quebec now are the three members of Québec Solidaire---and thank goodness for them!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Arthur Porter, the McGill University Mega Hospital and Philippe Couillard

Okay, it's past the time to un-elect Philippe Couillard premier of Quebec, but some serious questions should be asked about his relationship with Arthur Porter, the disgraced former head of the big McGill hospital project.  Yesterday at the Charbonneau Commission into corruption in the construction industry and political party financing, Porter's neck-deep involvement in kick backs and fraud was once again exposed. 

The National Post reports:
"Sgt. Jean-Frédérick Gagnon of the Sûreté du Québec testified that Dr. Porter personally received $11.25-million in payments from SNC-Lavalin Inc., paid to a shell company in the Bahamas. Dr. Porter’s right-hand man at the MUHC, Yanai Elbaz, received the same amount through a second shell company, Sgt. Gagnon said, making for a total kickback of $22.5-million in exchange for ensuring SNC won the contract."

Couillard was Quebec Minister of Health from 2003-2008, during the beginning of the hospital's construction.  Porter was named director of the project in 2004, and while Couillard has noted that it was the hospital's board that made the appointment, that was on his watch.  Furthermore, he was a business partner with Porter in a health-related company (which Couillard says never did any business) and they sat together on two rather powerful boards of directors. 

Either Couillard knew about what was going on, in which case he should have set of alarms, or he didn't, and that casts a long shadow on Couillard's competence and his involvement in Old Boys networks. 

Moral: Old boys can't be trusted. Corruption hurts us all.  Whistle-blowing should be rewarded.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Nice Weather, Friends Visiting, No Time to Think about Heavy Stuff

Rekha Bitta and her family, whom I met nine years ago when I was doing research for Green City in Kochi, Kerala State India, was in town over the weekend.

We had a lot of fun showing off Montreal, and followed it with a barbecue on Sunday.  Monday was a holiday here so we all could enjoy some time outside when the weather was pretty good.

That's Elin, Rekha holding Jeanne and me down by Place des Arts.  Didn't think about anything world-shaking all weekend....

Friday, 16 May 2014

What's Wrong with This Picture: Fast Food Workers Demonstrate for Better Wages While Canadian Chains Bring in Foreign Workers

It's a no brainer, isn't it?  Pay people decently and they'll work.

I'd like the think that Stephen Harper and his friends are beginning to see the wisdom in this.  At least today there's talk of a "floor" in wages for foreign workers brought into this country to fill "empty" jobs.  " "Tories eye 'wage floor' and raising fees for foreign-worker program "

The ghastly truth is that fast food workers are paid very badly everywhere except maybe in Denmark where Mcdonald's worker can make $21 an hour. This week fast food workers in several countries demonstrated for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The truth is is that if you pay people they'll work...and they'll spend and the old economic multiplier effect swings into motion. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Explaining irrationality: Téa Obreht's Take

 This week I've been rereading Téa Obreht's fascinating The Tiger's Wife in preparation for the Atwater Library's book discussion.  The book, which take place in the aftermath of a war in an unnamed Balkan country is an astounding combination of solid, evocative writing about what appear to be real events and magic.  

I have yet to figure out what it all means, but I think the clue may lie in this:

"when confounded by the extremes of life – whether good or bad – people would turn first to superstition to find meaning, to stitch together unconnected events in order to understand what was happening. He learned that, no matter how grave the secret, how imperative absolute silence, someone would always feel the urge to confess, and an unleashed secret was a terrible force."

Worth reflecting on.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Saturday Photo: Daffodils, a Week Late

This was taken four years and a week ago, when the daffodils were at their best.  This year everything is late, and the daffodils are just coming into their own.

Been doing the grandkid thing and haven't had a chance to take any pictures of this year's crop, but believe me, they're even nicer than this one.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Another Can Lit Giant Falls: Farley Mowat Dead at 92

The past few months have been tough for Can Lit: Alistair MacLoed and Mavis Gallant both dead, and now Farley Mowat falls. 

The Globe and Mail's obituary quotes him as saying: “Fuck the facts. The truth is what is important," when "inconsistencies," to give them a polite name, were brought up between his log books of time spent in the Arctic and the picture he painted of Inuit life in People of the Deer. Seems he didn't spend much time there, in truth.

But where is the truth, one might ask.

The man had his heart in the right place, and got turned back at the US border at one point because of his opposition to the Vietnam War (that's where the cartoon by Aislin comes in.) 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Dancing Is Important in the Grand Scheme of Things

Jeanne spent part of the dinner hour dancing around the dining room (with Thomas cheering her on from his highchair) to a variety of jazz pieces. Her dance technique veers toward the baroque--Marie-Natalie Lacoursière, the baroque dancer, is one of her godmothers after all--but she was definitely grooving.

Which made me begin to reflect on the function of dancing in civilization.  There is joy in moving to music that nearly anyone can experience.  As the video below--the Supercut of Pharrel William's Happy--shows, even the physically limited and far-from-beautiful can have their spirits lifted by dancing.

Given the many, many problems that the world faces and which seem to be getting worse, dancing  can bring the boost of energy necessary to challenge them. Certainly it's good for the heart, both in the literal sense and the metaphorical.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Thomas Piketty and Inequality: The Video

French economist Thomas Piketty's best selling Capital in the Twenty-first Century is sold out--not bad for a 1000 page treatise on what's wrong with current economic thinking.

But if you can't wait until the book is back in print in order to learn what the message is, here's an informative session with Piketty and two Nobel prize winners, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.

The End of Mirabel, Or Another Mistake That Shouldn't Have Happened

While I've been revelling in postive health things (new eyes!) and negative ones (shingles!) I have been somewhat insulated from reacting to the increasing number of things that are going wrong in the world.

Too late to make much comment about the scary stuff in Russia/Ukraine relations, other to say that it's interesting that when the heat was off somewhat in Syria, things erupted there.  Similarly the disgusting displays by that Sterling guy and Rob Ford hold lessons about our world, but I think my chance to expound of them has past.

However, one breaking story today is worth comment.  The agency that runs Montreal's airports announced today a call for tenders to destroy the terminal building at Mirabel International Airport, a nearly 40 year old white elephant that should never have been built.  Designed as a nifty compromise between world class airport hubs in Ottawa and Montreal, the airport was built on expropriated farm land an hour north of Montreal.  It handled international flights for several years, but its inconvenience (if you wanted to transfer to a domestic flight you had to travel by ground transport, among other problems) led to moving all passenger flights back to Dorval in 2003.  The facility's runways are now used for cargo flights.

Taxpayers have shelled out millions and millions of dollars on the buildings and their maintenance over the years.  What a colossal waste!  Nobody but them have been hurt by the bad decisions made so long ago, certainly not the politicians behind the project or their friends in real estate and construction who made tidy profits from it.