Friday, June 08, 2018

Binds that tie

I haven’t had much to say here in years. God knows if I will now. Times were, three or four people checked in on me here during the week, but I guess I’ve long since let them down. But it occurs to me just to fire something off into the darkness.

So right now I’m working contract for a government ministry. I’m coming up on five weeks left, with no extension or other job prospect in sight… though believe me, I’m trying. I’m a little scared. I’ve been here before and I don’t like it, and I’d give a lot to just find something solid again and settle into it for several years. It almost seems like those jobs aren’t available anymore. At least not to me.

But, like I said, I’m trying. I actually got a face-to-face interview about three weeks ago (spoiler alert: they’ve since gone with another candidate). It wasn’t a bad commute; one twenty-minute bus ride to about six minutes and two stops of subway time. I’ve certainly had worse commutes. And the work sounded interesting and rewarding.

So an interview was booked for 4 in the afternoon. Strictly speaking, I work till 5, but within w hours or so, you can book off for “appointments” and make up the time later. So I did.

So now comes the fun part. Just before leaving, like an hour or two before, I review the email one last time to make sure I’ve got my names and everything straight. And I see this one, tiny, tucked-away line I missed in the five or six other times I read the email. To wit: “This is a formal interview so please wear a suit.”

Ohhhhh fffffuuuuuuuudddddggge. Only I didn’t say “fudge”.

So I’m already at work. And even if I had read that and understood that earlier, that’s still rather a tall order. I mean, I’m at work. If I show up in a suit, they’re going to kind of know I’m buggering off early to try to get another job. So in my opinion, it’s kind of a prick move in the first place. Unless the office environment is absolutely like working in a bank headquarters, why the hell would this be an interview requirement?

Anyway, so now I’m scrambling to salvage this. I went on the net to see if there was anyplace near the interview site were I could at least snag a tie. There was. Winners. Yeah, Winners. So I get onto the subway, take that six minute ride, get off, spend ten minutes trying to find the entrance to the bloody Winners, then try to find the ties, and then try to decide what looks best with the dress shirt I have on. I bought a tie for twenty bucks.

Okay… I don’t know how to tie a tie. I used to, like, 25, 30 years ago, when I was frequently going to friends’ weddings and stuff, but those days are long past. So I make my way to the food court and find the men’s room. I lock myself in a stall and fire up the internet on my phone, praying I’ll get enough bars to look up HOW TO TIE A WINDSOR KNOT and get this party started. And I do. I pick this graphic, set the phone on my shoulder bag, and then start looping and flipping and knotting.

Time’s a-wastin’. Twenty minutes to go till the interview.

The first two times I try it, the knot comes out wrong and too far down the tie on try number one, and then just too far down the tie on try number two… so at least there’s measurably improvement. Finally I pull the tie way out to the wide side and do it again, and success. I have achieved full Windsor plausibility. So I dash out of the men’s room and back up onto the street, where, of course, a simple one-street crossing now becomes a three-street diversion because of construction. But I did finally make the interview with a decent-looking ten minutes to spare. Not that that got me the job, but hey, at least I managed to pull all that off. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but I’ll always have that amusing, and faintly satisfying, little story to tell in a nod to my own resourcefulness.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Home again

You can see for yourself, right here on this blog. On May 12, 2006, I bought a Canon Powershot S80. If I remember correctly, it cost me in the neighbourhood of just shy of $600. It was a marvel at the time and to me, it still is.

Not quite two years later, early in January of 2008, I bought a second-hand Powershot G9. Partly to defray the cost, I sold that S80 to P-Doug for (again, IIRC) $200 on January 26.

Yesterday, as a kindness, he gave it back to me.

It seems strange to say, given I owned it for only 20 months, that it's "home" again. After all, P-Doug owned it for nearly exactly ten years (!), six times longer than it was mine. But I genuinely loved that little S80 and I lamented selling it even before I handed it to him. It was a perfect handful. It took wonderful photos of nearly everything under the sun across two blazing summers, countless little incidental things at work and out and around town, and was literally attached to my hip for almost two years. I counted up once, and I took an incredible 32,000+ photos with this camera during the time I had it. It looks, if the file count is accurate, that took another 5,000 or so. So this camera's probably taken between 35,000-37,000 photos and videos across almost 12 years, and seems to be in pretty much the same shape it was the day I got it, less a paint scrape and screen blemish or two.

I'm going to make a point of carrying it around for a couple of days, at least. We're both a lot older than when we met. A lot's happened to us both since then. I don't know how much work I'll put it to, in all honesty, given the power and convenience of my cell phone, but I have a few hobby ideas (pairing it with my infrared reconned S80 to take matching simultaneous shots, for instance). But if nothing else, I can hold an important part of my life in my hand again and relive all the special moments it gave me and preserved for me.

Below: first picture I ever took with the S80, after getting in the car immediately after buying it at the Pacific Mall...

And, below, the last; a "self-portrait" of the camera, taken in the bathroom of my old apartment, just before boxing the thing up in its original packaging to sell to P-Doug that evening.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Bathurst back in business

Bathurst Street became a through street again from Lake Ontario to Holland Landing at the end of 2016.

I didn't get out there till October to follow up on that. I've been bad for that kind of thing lately. Apologies later; details later. For now, if you're still out there, here's a video that compares driving north up Bathurst and south down Bathurst in July and September of 2013 respectively, compared to doing the same now (October, 2017).

Monday, December 07, 2015

Justin, tackle the Senate

We, in Canada, have one of the worst upper houses of any democracy in the world. It has taken the worst aspects of every other system and combined them.

The Senate is appointed, not elected.

The Senate is equal to the Commons, and can block legislation without the ability of the elected House of Commons to have the final say. Even the House of Lords in Britain hasn't had this power since 1911.

The provinces do not have the same number of senators... and yet, they don't have numbers representative of their population, either.

For years and years now, everyone has been saying the Senate has to change. But no one has wanted to take it on since the spectacular failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords in the 80s and 90s. Fair enough. But twenty years of ignoring constitutional issues to let passions cool is enough. Time to take some matters on again.

The Senate is the biggest one. The Supreme Court ruled, not that long ago, that the government can't just adjust the nature of the Senate higglety-pigglety as it suits them. It requires a genuine constitutional amendment, meaning Parliament and 7 of the provinces representing 50% of the population have to agree and ratify it. Abolishing the Senate outright would require the unanimous consent of the federal Parliament and every province. The latter strikes me unlikely.

But the former should be possible. Most of the western provinces are keen to reform the Senate. They've wanted to for years. Ever since I was a kid, they've been floating a "Triple-E" Senate... elected, equal, effective. I used to be a proponent of this scheme but in recent years, I've cooled on it. Australia has just such a Senate, and it has, on more than one occasion, served as a second government in opposition to the House of Representatives there. We have enough problems in Canada without instituting regional blocs in the Senate obstructing national legislation re-enforced by the legitimacy that being elected would offer them. So no, frankly, and though it sounds undemocratic and regressive, I do not want an elected Senate. I'd rather see the thing abolished.

But I would like to see the provinces all have an equal number of Senators. The province I was born in, Nova Scotia, came into Confederation with 10, which it still has. British Columbia, which joined four years later, got only 6, and still has only 6, despite having almost 5 million people--5 times Nova Scotia's mere 920,000. Prince Edward Island, with just 140,000 people, has 4... 2/3 the representation of British Columbia. But the sticking point here will probably be Quebec, which clings dearly to its 24 Senators, and typically opposes having simply the same share of Senators as just any other province. Quebec, with about 8 million people, has as many Senators as Ontario, which has about 14 million people. My personal feeling is that every province should have what BC has... 6. That would be 60 Senators... 69 if we gave each of the three territories a half-share of 3 Senators each, say. Something like that, anyway.

I'd also like to see Senators chosen from a list made up by some citizen's committee--something like jury duty--in the appropriate province. Let them propose three or four people of merit from their province, and those we agree to the nomination move forward. Then, instead of the Prime Minister just picking some bag man whom he either needs to reward or buy the silence of, a federal committee of citizens--selected at random and flown in from across the country at government expense--could take a week or two and vet the names and select the candidate they feel is most deserving, and that person (or persons) would be appointed by the Governor-General to the Senate. So there would be provincial involvement and federal approval, but at the level of citizen committees. It's not an election per se, so it doesn't give the Senate an authority equal to the Commons... but it still has the sense that the country, not just the current Prime Minister, has selected the members of the Senate.

Something. Anything.

But Justin Trudeau is reluctant to take this on. The Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, has criticized him for making a bad situation worse. I partly agree, with regard to the unequal number of Senators (though I praise the idea of a five-person advisory board to propose new Senators... it's a start, anyway). Justin, you wanted to be prime minister. I wanted you to be prime minister. But part of that is holding your nose and taking out the constitutional garbage. I know it's thankless, but it's a genuine part of the job. You wanted it, you got it. And after all, your own father finally brought home our Constitution from Britain and gave us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms... considering that, how hard could it be just reforming the Senate? Now do something besides what your three predecessors did: just spray a little air freshener around this mess and pass the buck. You've resumed the dialog between First Ministers, and that's a great start. Strike while the iron is hot and you have some good will to trade on. Give us a Senate we can work with for another century or so.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Magna Carta

I've seen it.

The Magna Carta... well, one copy of it, from Durham Cathedral... is touring some of the major cities of Canada. This autumn was Toronto's turn, and we almost missed it. P-Doug brought it up some time ago but for some reason, we didn't catch on. He saw it. Larry and I realized a weekend ago we were about to miss our chance, and so we got tickets for the very last day, this past Saturday, and the three of us went. The Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest were on display at Fort York in the west end of the city.

The new visitor centre just west of Fort York itself. You can see the Gardiner Expressway that very nearly destroyed the fort in the in the 1950s till the people of the city demanded the course of the Gardiner be slightly diverted.

Looking east to the wall of the fort, and new condos beyond, and the downtown core in the distance. Rather a different view from the 1790s.

The shoreline of Lake Ontario actually used to be right here when the fort was built, and during the War of 1812. Several hundred feet of the shoreline have since been reclaimed and the fort is now several minutes' walk inland.

I think it's amusing that the Magna Carta has a "beer sponsor", seen at the bottom of this placard. But thank you, Muskoka, for helping make this day possible. :)

The first place we were ushered into was a 12-minute video presentation about the Magna Carta and its legacy, presented by Prince Charles. It also featured statements by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer. It went into a clever, compelling, and gently educational animated segment narrated by Gordon Pinsent. I wish I could show it to you, but I haven't found it online.

Sorry for the low contrast in the photos that follow. Flash photography was forbidden. But my phone seems to have handled the situation well enough; the detail is there and nearly always good enough. Anything you'd care to look more closely at can be viewed by clicking on the photo and looking at its larger version.

Below is one of the surviving copies of the Charter of the Forest, a statement of the rights of the commoners to the use of the forests for their living. It's a key document in securing the idea of the rights of people in the general sense, and it was issued a few years after the Magna Carta.

And below, the Magna Carta itself. This copy belongs to Durham Cathedral in England.

Displays around the Charters talk about their enduring legacy and applicability in Canada in particular, and in other countries shaped by the British tradition.

There was an interactive display listing a dozen principles that can be arguably traced to the Magna Carta, and visitors were asked to select the three they thought mattered most. I chose, in order, Freedom and Equality, Right to Vote, and Freedom of Expression. As it turns out, those seem to be the biggest three in general, and in pretty much that order. I think it's because of those, like Winston Smith said in the novel 1984 of being able to say that 2+2=4, "if that is granted, all else follows."

Below is the original book of statues for the Province of Upper Canada (now Ontario), established in 1791. It's open to one of the very first statues passed in Ontario, forbidding the importation of slaves, and manumitting all slaves born in Upper Canada from then on at the age of 25. The card accompanying it remarks the law was the first of its kind in the Empire. I've actually held this book in my own (gloved) hands at the Archives of Ontario, many years ago.

Larry was astounded to see this... the bullet-proof vest worn in 2001 when a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church performed the first legally-sanctioned same-sex marriage in Canada. It seemed un-Canadian, he remarked, to imagine that such extreme measures were necessary... and that's probably because, fortunately, they turned out not to be. What would we think if the police hadn't made this suggestion, and a shot had rung out?

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Revisiting the empty chair

I happened to notice that in March I blogged, kind of sadly, about the empty chair here at my left elbow (I'm actually blogging this from the ass groove chair in the living room). Well, as it turns out, just in the last two or three weeks, Seth has actually begun making some use of that spot when I'm working on this little portable EP121 here, sometimes spending upwards of an hour sitting there. It's the chair, and the cat bed, in which Bonnie breathed her last, two and a half years ago... has it really been that long?... but it's not a shrine. It was, and is, intended as a place for the cats to come and keep company. It's nice to see that finally being taken up. It occurs to me that the cat tree I bought around the time I got Seth, and of which he's tremendously fond, is probably the main impediment to him making more use of the chair beside me, but I'll take what I can get. :)

Addendum: the following Sunday

Erasing Hate

I've just finished watching one of the most astonishing documentaries I've seen in a long time. Available on Netflix, the movie is called Erasing Hate. Bryon Widner is a young man in his 30s, who, having turned away from the skinhead and white supremacy movements, is trying to get his life back on track. What's holding him back is the considerable amount of facial tattooing he accumulated during the life, making it difficult to secure employment, or even the trust of others.

Bryon is married to Julie, whom he met while they were both in the racist movement. They've both turned away, and have left Michigan to get away from the people they once associated with, and moved to Tennessee, where Julie's father lives. Also a former member of a white supremacist movement, he has become a Christian, and Bryon and Julie and their growing family find a place there as well.

The documentary tells the story of how Bryon, thanks to the financial assistance of the Southern Poverty Law Center, begins the process of having the facial tattoos removed. The process turns out to be rather longer and more painful than anticipated, taking a course of a year and a half. During that time, Bryon recounts what drove him to the life in the first place, what it was like, and how he and others came to reject the toxic precepts. The slow fading of the tattoos, and the pain it causes Bryon, are an obvious metaphor for his own spiritual transformation. Hearing Bryon talk about the abuse he dished out over the years, it's no stretch to see his redemption coming at the cost of this literal purgatory.

What I found most surprising, and rather disturbing, is how intelligent and eloquent Bryon is. One is tempted to attribute such movements as succeeding by preying on the dullness and ignorance of some members of society. What are we left to think when listening to Bryon speak thoughtfully about his experiences and feelings pulls the plug on that assumption and empties the tub? If such notions could once have made sense, to the point of being life-guiding principles, to someone like Bryon, how much greater is the threat than we might be comfortable admitting?

Erasing Hate is an uplifting story about what's best about the United States in particular, but also of people in general. Bryon and Julie are fascinating people and this is a movie worth seeing. For what it's worth, I wish Bryon and Julie all the best.

Friday, October 30, 2015

When did we become a nation?

Just about three years ago now I penned an opinion where I defined my cultural nationality as "English Canadian". I'm still still true to that; in general, that's the space I've moved into. But just lately I've started thinking about when and how that came about, and not just for me, but for the community with which I identify. When did we become "us", and how did we know it?

I'm increasingly persuaded that that moment came for us in the early 1980s with the patriation of the Constitution from Britain, and in particular, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms entrenched in it. Getting our own unique flag did what it did; cementing O Canada over the egregiously anglophile The Maple Leaf Forever as the national anthem did what it did... but finally having a statement of principles and values spelled out that we could all point to and read and see clearly laid out is what I think has really defined us.

When my parents were still young, Canada... more particularly, English Canada... was still happy to conceive of itself as a fixture of the British Empire; a significant part of a much wider whole. But I think even by the 1950s, this conception was already threadbare. We hadn't really had much to do with Britain for rather a long time, even at that point. We had long conducted our own international affairs, we decided separately which wars we would and would not support, we had inaugurated a separate citizenship. We shared a monarchy and some military history (and, of course, still do), but that was largely it by the 50s, and had been so for a couple of generations. What did it even mean to "belong" to the British Empire? It was never a formal institution. It was a catch-all name for a hodge-podge of relationships Britain had with other countries, and through it, those countries with one another (what did Canada really have to do with Australia, for example?). Members were either dominions like Canada -- in which case, they were effectively independent -- or they were colonies and not "members" by choice. Who were you in such a system? Member? Citizen? Subject? None of those words seems correct, although I suspect "subject" comes closest. In any event, by the 1950s, war-torn Britain was stepping down from the mantle and divesting itself of its overseas colonies. By the time I came around, the British Empire was, literally, history.

So when I was a kid in the 1970s, there was a real vacuum in the English Canadian identity. People my parents' age came though it from one side to the other, but people my age were born into the midst of it. What I remember about my nationality, as a child, was how shaky and tottering it seemed. TV shows and magazine articles wrung their hands unceasingly about "who are we?" and "what does it mean to be Canadian?"

What they should have asked, but no one really had the courage to back then, what "what does it mean to be an English Canadian?" In the 1970s, French Canada, particularly in the form of the province of Quebec, with its state and institutions, knew very well who it was; that it had an identity and a future and a sense of destiny. When they asked "what does it mean to be Canadian?", they weren't asking it the same way. They were asking it in the sense of "do we still want to be a part of this bigger thing outside Quebec?" Quebec sovereigntists were forever lecturing us that were we simply more Americans who'd missed the boat in 1776 and once they left, we could drop the pretense and get on with it, and we'd all be much happier. And there were a lot of us who looked around and believed that (after all, in the early 1900s, French political author André Sigfried characterized Canadian politics as "American actors on an English stage", though he was more enthusiastic as time wore on). I lived in the Maritimes back then and the common wisdom was that if Quebec left, we'd be isolated, and would have no choice but to sue to join the Union and just become so much more New England. Our whole identity seemed... fake.

Then Pierre Trudeau came back from the dead. Defeated in the election in 1979, he got his chance to come back when Joe Clark's minority government fell in a vote of non-confidence in his first budget. The election in February, 1980, put Trudeau back in 24 Sussex Drive. "Well, welcome to the 1980s," he said the night of the election, winning it just in time for him to fight the first Quebec referendum on leaving Canada and win it that May. Promising Quebeckers a renewed federalism, he got back to work on the project he'd had since taking office in 1968: giving Canada its own constitution and having a bill of rights entrenched in it at last.

That finally happened in 1982. We finally agreed on an amending formula and the British were happy to hand the thing over to us instead of wasting their own parliamentary time every time we needed a nip and a tuck made to the British North America Act. Countrywide consultation had shaped the statement of principles that were added to the Constitution at the time of its patriation: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For English Canada it was important in two respects. One was, as I said earlier, that it provided us at last with a statement of our core values. The other was that it was, to be honest, a statement of our core values, not Quebec's. It embraced a multiculturalism and theory of individual rights that were largely at odds with Quebec's "two founding nations" principles and an emphasis on collective, rather than individual, rights -- that the good of the cultural group trumps those of the individual and permits for greater curtailing of the individual's latitude. No government in Quebec, separatist or federalist, has ever officially endorsed the 1982 Constitution.

But for English Canada, there it was. That's who were are. That's what we believe. There is what we can rally around and point to and nod to one another, and most importantly, recognize in one another. It gave us permission to be us, and the empowerment and embrace of judicial review to work out what that means when we disagree. The questions about who we were, and were we just Americans who were inordinately fond of the Queen or something, all dried up around the time I was in high school. Even when Quebec held its second referendum in 1995, which was defeated by a gnat's eyelash, I wasn't hearing the same doom predictions as in 1980 that without the Quebec glue, the rest of Canada would fall apart and just collapse into the arms of the United States. We'd get by. We would find a way to adjust to the new normal and move on. We knew who we were, and what we stood for, and what we wanted and didn't want, and Quebec leaving wasn't going to change that. We'd grown hard and proud like a spouse who's been threatened with the other's leaving once too often. We were finally brave enough to say, "then, if you really must... go." I do believe that when we stopped whining and begging Quebec at all costs not to leave us, but started talking about what the practicalities of that came down to, it shocked a lot of them. I think the quiet acceptance of federalism in Quebec in recent years, the recognition that they have a lot of elbow room in this federation and it's not all that bad a place to be, is in part a function of their partner, us, finally growing up. We are a good, strong, confident partner now, and maybe that's a little sexy. And even though we did it in a way that kind of alienated them, after a couple of generations, maybe that's what counts.

I'm ready to be "Canadian" for as long as Quebec stays, but fully functional as an "English Canadian" if they go. I think that's finally true for us all. Because in 1982, we declared to ourselves and the world who were are and what we stand for. Take it or leave it, everybody: this is us.