Friday, 31 October 2014

Saturday (or Friday) Photo: Smashing Pumpkins, Eh? (In the British Sense of Smashing)!

Sophie took this photo Sunday night just after Jeanne, Thomas and their mothers, plus Grandma had spent a great hour making pumpkins. 

The gang will be Jeanne's house tonight.  They'll visit a few neighbors and then hand out goodies.  She's been convinced to wear a tiger costume over her winter coat for the trick or treating, but she'll have on the great princess/fairy costume inside.  Thom will be a fireman, although, at two,  he only has a fuzzy idea about what's up.

Grandma and Grandpa will take a pass though.  Got to keep up on our reading, including this essay on  capitalism, zombies and vampires in The New York Times.  It comes highly recommended by our friend Sid Ingerman, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it's about.  Maybe I've turned hollow-headed like a Jack o'Lantern.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Recession Has Increased Child Poverty, Unicef Report Says

The statistics are dire: The eight years since things went belly-up in 2008 have been terrible on children in many, many countries.  But it's clear that many people are going to see in them what they want.

The CBC reports: "Canada's child poverty rate down despite recession."

The Guardian says: "Child poverty up in more than half of developed world since 2008."

And the UN agency's own release states: "2.6 million more children plunged into poverty in rich countries during Great Recession"

What has happened is that where austerity measures were put into place, children have suffered because their parents frequently did not have enough money to feed them and because the social safety net put up in the last 25 years was torn down.

"Many affluent countries have suffered a ‘great leap backwards’ in terms of household income, and the impact on children will have long-lasting repercussions for them and their communities,”  Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF’s Head of Global Policy and Strategy, was quoted in the Unicef release.  It continues:

 "In 23 of the 41 countries analysed, child poverty has increased since 2008. In Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland, rates rose by over 50 per cent.
"In Greece in 2012 median household incomes for families with children sank to 1998 levels – the equivalent of a loss of 14 years of income progress. By this measure Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain lost a decade; Iceland lost 9 years; and Italy, Hungary and Portugal lost 8...  

"In the United States, where extreme child poverty has increased more in this downturn than during the recession of 1982, social safety net measures provided important support to poor working families but were less effective for the extreme poor without jobs. Child poverty has increased in 34 out of 50 states since the start of the crisis. In 2012, 24.2 million children were living in poverty, a net increase of 1.7 million from 2008.
"But in 18 countries child poverty actually fell, sometimes markedly. Australia, Chile, Finland, Norway, Poland and the Slovak Republic reduced levels by around 30 per cent."

 Canada was one of them: the decline was 2.4 per cent, from 23.2 per cent to 20.8 per cent.

But before Canadians should pat themselves on the back for that relatively good showing, we should note that a bigger proportion of Canadian kids are poor than are French kids, even though the child poverty rate increased by 3 per cent there to 18.6 per cent of children are classifed as poor. 

Similarly, the social safety net that has sustained our kids is being threatened by provincial and federal governments who still have got the message that austerity makes things worse.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Pure Laine Terrorists, Or Why a Little Religious Education Never Hurts

I have no way of knowing if the two troubled young men who took down Canadian soldiers this week had any kind of religious education as children.  Given their age, they probably were exposed to a bit of Catholicism in school, since when they were little kids, Quebec schools boards were set up on religious lines.  The change  to a language based system came in 1997, although a certain amount of teaching about religion--as opposed to teaching religion itself--remains in a compulsary ethics and religious culture course.

The school commission reorganization was something I advocated when our kids were little: schools should be neutral when it comes to religion, I think.  But teaching kids about religions is important, as is touching base with whatever religious heritage a family has.  That's why we started taking our kids to Sunday School when the oldest was about five.  For  a couple of years I'd see them into the church basement and then go read in the library until they were done.

The result was that both of them have an appreciation of the more attractive tenents of Christianity and a good moral compass even though they are far from being believers. But that's it. 

In contrast the shooters seemed to have had  holes in their spirits that cried out to be filled by religion.   Their psychological problems resonated with the appeal of radical Islam.  

There is no way of knowing if exposure in a positive way to religion in their families would have made a difference.  But I think that kind of education should be considered seriously by all parents.  Look at it as vaccination against fanaticism, less painful but more time-consuming that the shots that keep our kids from getting diseases. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Saturday Photo: What the Champs des possibles Was Like Before CP Trashed It

This picture was taken a couple of years ago in early summer when a former industrial site was beginning to bloom.  These are the Champs des possibles, acquired by the city of Montreal in 2006 and managed by a citizen's group Les Champs des possibles as a natural wild space surrounded by buildings and train tracks.

But Canadian Pacific razed part of the area--what you see in the background of the photo--on Friday.  An "accident," the railway says through spokespersons.  But locals aren't so sure. 

CP wanted to do some work on the rails, and so set out to put up new track.  When called on it, the company apologized and promised to set things back to the way they were. 

Lotsa luck.  There were beehives and butterflies, insects and all manner of wild things in the little island of verdure.  Given the fact that it's only been a few years since the area was set aside for non-development, it's quite amazing what has returned.  Shame on CP: there's absolutely no reason for what they've done.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Saturday (or Thanksgiving Weekend) Photo: Time for a Walk

Been cold, will get warmer, but nowhere near as warm as a good Thanksgiving supper!  We did our annual number with a bunch of friends and family (23 adults and 7 kids, age range was from 1 to 85) on Sunday. Lots of good food, good company and good conversation (if you could hear over the kids rollicking around.)

This is a  beautiful time of year when the fruits of the summer are abundant, if you're lucky.  We are, and while I'm far from a believer, I think it's a good thing to stop and recognize just how good life has been for us.  Privileged folks, indeed, living in a privileged corner of the world with such gorgeous days as today.

And now, since all the dishes from yesterday are done and the kitchen floor is mopped, I think I'll go slice some more turkey for our supper.  Leftovers are worth being thankful for, too.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Imagining the Cities of Tomorrow: A Conversation

What can we do to make our cities more liveable? Here's a conversation between yours truly, transit expert Taras Gresco and architect and urban ist Avi Friedman. I do a lot of humming and hawing, while the guys are more articulate. But it's worth listening to if you care about cities, I think.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Saturday Photo: Emerald Ash Borer on a Sunny Sunday

Lee and I took Thomas out to the Parc du Cité-du-Havre today.  It's one of the unknown gems of Montreal, open space in the middle of the St. Lawrence, where the channel to the Old Port leaves the main body of the river.

There are picnic tables and bicycle paths, short trails down to the edge of the water, and grand views of both the city to the west and the mighty river to the east.  What's more there's free parking, and practically no one but a few fishermen on a chilly Sunday morning.

Two year old Thom liked walking along the edge of the road, following the lines painted on it, and going up and down various steps and ramps.  The crispy brown leaves were also fun to kick around.

But those leaves gave me the willies.  They weren't the usual early fall red and orange ones, but decidedly dead ones from a small grove of ash trees.  As I looked closer I saw that the trees themselves looked dead, and had been marked with what looked like signs tagging them for removal.

Emerald ash borer is the culprit, I'm pretty sure.  The insect has attacked in the Montreal area for the last three years with thousands of trees as possible victims.  It's too late for the ones in the lovely little park, but elsewhere some attempts are being made at stop the assault.  The sign above lately appeared on several mature ashes not far from us.  The tree is being treated, it says, and we all should be vigilant in protecting other ashes.  There are 200,000 in Montreal, it adds, and losing them would be great blow to the urban forest.

Something to make one shiver even when sitting in a sheltered, sunny place.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Reason Why We Need Local Government Boards and Why Governments Want to Cut Them

The Liberal government of Philippe Couillard is anything but "liberal" in the sense of progressive or enlightened.  It is slashing government spending, endorsing austerity while denying that is its aim, and generally messing things up.  The health and education system are being pressured to make particularly harmful changes.

But interestingly some school boards are refusing to comply or going public with the terrible effects the cuts--much of which were announced after the start of this school year--will have on the quality of education.  Public outcry over the elimination of $4.26 a day given mentally handicapped people working sheltered workshops forced the governement to back down.  So did the mobilisation of the cultural community in protest of a plan to axe music five music conservatories in areas some distance from Montreal  that in effect are the heart and soul of their regions. (The video is of a protest concert last week.)

This has not set well with Couillard or his ministers who say that their cuts can be made by eliminating fat in administration.  They say: combine regional health boards, chop staffing in school board offices, stick to the "basics" in everything else.  And do it now.

In other words, get rid of all the local or regional instances who have a mandate to listen to people in communities and react to their concerns.  I can imagine that Couillard and his friends are cursing those uppity school commissioners and regional health administrators who question what's going on.  Pursuing an austerity agenda is so much easier if you don't have any organizations around who know what's up and are in a position to protest vigorously. 

Gee, wouldn't it be great that way, say I in an attempt at irony?

BTW, kudos to Amir Khadir of Québec Solidaire (one of the party's three MNAs) for denouncing Pierre Karl Péladeau for being an "aggressive capitalist."  PKP may talk against austerity as he positions himself to run for the leadership of the Parti Québécois, put he's an economic conservative from the get-go.