Tuesday 25 November 2014

Edward Snowden and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

Went to see Citizenfour, about Edward Snowden, last night.  Definitely worth the detour.  Snowden, you'll remember, is the young US cyber whiz who was employed by the National Security Agency and blew the whistle on the vast network of cyber spying governments are now involved in.

He was 29 when he broke into public, and seems an earnest, extremely articulate and intellent guy.  Full of principles too.  As such he reminds me of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the 24 year old Quebec student leader who won the Governor General's award for non-fiction last week and on the weekend launched a campaign to counter propaganda in favour of various oil pipelines. They even look a little alike.

Of course, that may merely be due to the fact that skinny young white guys with half shaved beards can't help but resemble each other.  But it would be nice if there were a whole lot more people like them willing to stand up when it's important.

(And one more thing: this old lady finally learned something all the rest of you know: how they all keep their stubble at the proper length.  At one point in the film, Snowden says he can't shave off his beard entirely because he hasn't got the right razor head.  Okay, I guess you're allowed to be a little concerned about your appearance if you're also so straight up about more important things.)

Saturday (or Tuesday) Photo: Brasília

A year ago I was in South America, doing the last bit of on-the-spot research for Road through Time.  The photo is of the cathedral designed by Oscar Niemeyer in the Brazilian Capital, Brasília.  The building is spectacular, but like much of the city, hasn't aged very well. 

Why that's so is one of the things I want to talk about in the new book, but I haven't got there yet. Because the subject is vast--roads as vectors for change and exchange--it's taking me a long way to get from the first roads taken by humans in Africa and out of that continent to populate the world.  I've just finished a chapter called "Mysterious Roads" about the paths taken into the Americas by First Nations.  The next one is called "The Revenge of the Roads" and begins with a comparison between the wonderful Inka Road in South America and the Spanish Road, which Phillip II of Spain ordered to be built from Milan to Flanders.  Needless to say,   the Inka one was much better in the period.

All this is a way of explaining why I haven't been posting very much lately.  Too many things going on, too many trails to explore...

Saturday 15 November 2014

Saturday Photo: Springtime in the Andes

Just a year ago I was on a plane on my way to my excellent South American adventure.  That's the view as we neared the crest of a 4200 meter pass in Peru, and the bus that took me from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado.  The road we were traveling was the Estrada do Pacifico.  Following it (which has more than one name along its length,) you can go from the Atlantic to the Pacific over the Andes and into the Amazon basin. 

Right now I'm a little more than half way through a first draft of the book that I was researching on the trip, Road through Time.  The next chapter will talk about the Inca road as well as the very bad roads that existed in the 16th and 17th century in Europe.  I've got a ways to go before I make it to the present!

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Red Poppies: Wars Are Eternal

Today is Remembrance Day, but I'll not be wearing a red poppy.  It's fine to honour the dead, but not to glorify war.

So I'm posting here a picture I took last summer in Portugal.  The poppies were growing in a field near the old Roman town of Conímbriga which was abandoned to attackers about 300 AD. 

Conímbriga's ruins are spectacular and definitely worth a detour.  The fact that poppies grow in distrubed soil nearby just testifies to the way that wars go on and on.

Saturday Photo: Champlain's Asters

After much back and forth, it looks like the new bridge across the St. Lawrence is not going to be named after a hockey hero.  There's even a  chance that it will bear the name of Samuel de Champlain like the existing one.  Stephen Harper may not like it that a French explorer got here first, and  in his campaign to tie Canada more closely to the British tradition, but he can't deny that fact.

Champlain was much more than just a dude who sailed around and claimed territory though.  In his 27 voyages across the Atlantic, he produced amazingly accurate maps, and also brought back much flora from the New World to France.  Among them were samples of the lovely asters that bloom at the end of summer. 

I'm not sure of exactly which of the many native varieties bloomed in our yard until a few days ago, but I love them.  Champlain probably did too.

Monday 3 November 2014

School Boards: Do They Respond to Educational Reality?

Voter turn-out for school board elections in Quebec yesterday was abysmal, particularly in Francophone boards.  While about 20 per cent of English school board electors voted, province-wide it appears that an even smaller percentage voted than the 8 per cent turn out four years ago.

This is pretty pathetic,  and the current Liberal government is going to use it as another reason to change the way schools are governed dramatically.  Whether the boards will be completely eliminated is unclear, but certainly there is going to be more centralization in the system.

How good public schools are is important to everyone in society, not just those who have kids.  Schools prepare the future, and if they aren't doing a good job, well, we're in real trouble.  The thing is that in Quebec, by many criteria they're doing not badly

What is is going to make them better is not direction from the top, I'm pretty sure.  Local communities must be involved too, and eliminating school boards or drastically decreasing their number is not likely to do that.