Saturday, December 31, 2005

Context sensitive

It's been about six months since I've been here [N.B. March 6, 2011: This post was originally made on LiveJournal]. That's because I started a blog in May. I've been concentrating most of my efforts there. It's a little more interactive than this and that's kind of what I've been after.

So today is the last day of 2005. It's the last day of the first year without Jody in it. That only occurs to me now because I've happened to come back to this journal to glance it over. That in itself demonstrates the value of things like this.

Jody's dad isn't well. The course of his cancer has pretty much reached the point where he's counting down the days. He's very brave, very matter-of-fact about it. Maybe that's just how you get when you really face it; I don't know. He might have been joking, but in one e-mail, he speculated that he was expecting to die around January 27th. I believe that was the day of the Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffe. He's been encouraging me to get in touch with his other son, Jason. He hasn't come right out and said it, but I think that's so Jason will be able to tell me when something happens.

I remember Jason when I was in Dallas. Pretty sage for a guy so young. He didn't seem quite sure then what he wanted out of life -- who's supposed to at 23, 24? -- but he sure knew what he didn't want. He had some pretty high ideals for the US that I think might eventually see him leave the country... though I'm not sure any land could really measure up. But then, without our idealists, there'd be no progress at all.

Down to the mundane... what's today supposed to be like? P-Doug and Ge and I are supposed to get together for a movie and dinner. Larry might or might not come along. He's hard to read these days.

I have a new job. Starts mid-month. It's literally upstairs from where I currently work. No joke; it's a longer trip into work simply because a two-floor elevator ride is involved. Must be one of the smallest transit changes involving working for a different company in history. :)

I should probably check in here more often, though I'm not sure why. Does anyone read this thing? I doubt it. But I hate the idea of abandoning it. Firstly, it's kind of a link back to Jody. Secondly, suppose I let it languish and they delete it or something? Thirdly, suppose someone does show up?

Friday, December 30, 2005

"Our Endangered Values"

From an article on CounterPunch by Paul Craig Roberts...

Since his retirement by Ronald Reagan, President Carter has given active service to the causes of human rights and peace. He has written a number of books, and now he has delivered a humdinger: Our Endangered Values (Simon & Schuster, 2005) in which he takes the Bush administration to task.

Jimmy Carter is an uncommonly decent and sincere person to have gone so far in American politics. His presidency failed because it coincided in time with three crises: economic malaise resulting from the exhaustion and failure of postwar Keynesian demand management, the outburst of long-simmering hatred in Iran of US interference in Iran's internal affairs, and a run-up in the oil price (small compared to what Bush and Cheney have achieved).

President Carter finds it unpleasant to write his assessment of the Bush administration, but he steadfastly makes it clear that the Bush/Cheney/neocon "war on terror" is in fact a war on America's reputation and civil liberties. He points out that the Bush administration has used the "war on terror" to justify actions "similar to those of abusive regimes that we have historically condemned." Consequently, "the United States now has become one of the foremost targets of respected international organizations concerned about these basic principles of democratic life."

Carter reports that the deception, naked aggression, and torture that define the Bush administration have caused a tremendous setback for human rights throughout the world. At an international human rights conference in June 2005, "Participants explained that oppressive leaders had been emboldened to persecute and silence outspoken citizens under the guise of fighting terrorism . . . The consequence is that many lawyers, professors, doctors,and journalists had been labeled terrorists, often for merely criticizing a particular policy or for carrying out their daily work. We heard about many cases involving human rights attorneys being charged with abetting terrorists simply for defending accused persons." Carter is especially disturbed that the Bush administration is encouraging these abusive policies in the name of "fighting terrorism."

Who among us ever expected to hear an American president, vice president, and attorney general justify torture as essential to the protection of the American way of life? Carter quotes attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who sounds more like a third world tyrant than an American when he dismisses the Geneva Convention's provisions as "quaint." Bush threatened to veto any congressional limitation on his right to torture, and Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon declared that "the president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as Commander in Chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture."

It is not only Carter who is disturbed, but also members of the previous Bush administration, including the current president's own father and former National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft. Carter quotes Dr. Burton J. Lee III, President George H.W. Bush's White House physician as follows:

"Reports of torture by US forces have been accompanied by evidence that military medical personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health professionals in ill-treatment of detainees. . . . Systematic torture, sanctioned by the government and aided and abetted by our own profession, is not acceptable. . . . America cannot continue down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. . . . It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and of the citizens of the United States."
Carter notes that the illegal detentions following 9/11 were hurriedly legalized by dubious methods which violate a number of constitutional protections of civil liberties. Carter is distressed that children as young as 8 years old are being held in indefinite detention and tortured. Confronted by Seymour Hersh, a Pentagon spokesman replied that "age is not a determining factor in detention."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Socks it to me

Say, you know, it occurs to me that if there've been two President Bushes, why couldn't there be a second President Clinton? Yup, you know who I mean...

Gotta be better than the guy they got now.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why You Can't Own a Canadian

A correspondent to City In the Trees has presented a comment in reply to Why Can't I Own a Canadian? below. This person has certainly presented a well-thought piece; there's no escaping the fact that it went through several reiterations. The tone is highly respectful, and, while frank, compassionate.

But with respect, I have to disagree with the comment's suggestion that the prohibition against homosexuality is based on something other than "God arbitrarily said so". That's really all we've got. There are myriad ways for human beings to love each other. Some are sexual, some aren't. Of the ones that are, only one single means of expressing it results in reproduction; dozens of others don't. It's inescapable that if the bottom line is reproduction, and so homosexuality is wrong, then so is every other heterosexual act that results merely in pleasure, and serves only to strengthen the bond between two people. In fact, every act of heterosexual copulation that does not result in conception -- as when contraception is used, or between couples who are knowingly infertile -- would be an abomination because it would, technically, occur outside the plan the commentor speaks of. Imagine the hurt that suggestion would place on the hearts of such loving people. And yet this is precisely what this philosophy hopelessly condemns homosexuals to. Little wonder the commentor can profess to have never known a truly happy homosexual! In my opinion, no loving God could desire such a thing.

My own feelings on the matter are that if there is a God, a conscious God of whatever nature, then It ("He" strikes me as wrong, but we really don't have an appropriate pronoun in English) has placed the only real commandment in our hearts already -- don't hurt others. Don't do to them what you wouldn't want done to you. Almost all the rest is politics, and generally speaking, I don't believe it's "God's will" anymore. As the Why Can't I Own a Canadian? article pointed out, there are simply too many examples of "God's will" that stand neither the test of time nor this crucial test in the human heart. The pronouncements on the justice of enslaving neighbouring tribes, on the treatment of women, the severe punishments for the most trivial of transgressions... these can't be the will of God. We've rejected them as such. But so many of us seem to say, "Well, God didn't really mean that bit about slaves, but He really meant it when he was talking about homosexuals." Samuel Morse (of Morse code fame) certainly held that "God really meant that bit about slaves", and he and others like him said so rather forcefully . The untold misery that resulted stems from that. So does the misery that homosexuals have gone through for centuries, right up to this day. But if Morse was wrong, and God didn't really mean one thing, why do others presume they're right in saying He really did mean something else that seems just as at-odds with our everyday experience to the contrary? Why are we free to reject one tenet but not the other?

Human beings are complex animals. We're sexual beings from the outset, but I personally feel we're far too complex for the exact nature of our sexuality to be hardwired. I think it's learned; it's a matter of socialization. Look how different the standards are around the world. A person, at some point in his or her life, simply becomes attracted to something in others, and that forms the basis for his or her sexuality from then on. The idea of a "gay gene", so-called, strikes me as ridiculous for two reasons. First of all, a gene whose entire raison d'etre is to prevent the continuation of the gene pool in which it exists wouldn't last long. What's the survival advantage in not surviving? Secondly, as I said, we're incredibly complex. When one looks at the spectrum of what turns people on (above and beyond the first layer, male and/or female), it's pretty clear it's learned. I mean, how could there possibly be, for example, a shoe fetish gene? Regardless of how we arrived at it -- created or evolved -- it's our nature to be sexually diverse. If we were created, then that's a feature of our nature created by God.

Getting back to the singular commandment of the heart... not to hurt others... we see this reflected in every culture, and in just about every person (gay, straight, white, black, whathaveyou). We even see it demonstrated in other animals approaching us in intelligence and sophistication. My cats have claws and fangs. But it is very clear to me they are aware of their capacities, and finely tuned to the level at which their application causes me pain. For them to curl their front paws around my arm with their claws out to hold but not tear, or to pinch, rather than bite, with their teeth as in a show of affection, demonstrates this. Why should it be so? Firstly, they have affection for me; I firmly believe this based on the evidence of their conduct and attitude towards me. Secondly, they are aware of my pain, and their own ability to cause it. Thirdly, something in their nature makes them desirous that I should not feel pain from their actions, and they clearly take measured steps that avoid it, almost without fail. I'm sure almost everyone has had experiences like this. It isn't just humans who sense and follow the Golden Rule. My own feeling is that if there is a mark of divinity in the world, this is the best hint of it. Perhaps the only one.

Sexual acts, in and of themselves, are not harmful. It's the context that is. A sexual act forced on another is harmful. But any sexual act between consenting adults, not forced on one another or anyone else, is not harmful. It's an expression of one of the joys of life. One might as well say that two men must not sing together. Or two women must never eat some magnificent confection from the same bowl. So long as the act is not done when one or both of the parties is in a committed relationship with someone else, how can it be harmful? (Morally speaking, of course; one might say 'it risks spreading disease', but then, one could say the same of singing together or sharing a bowl of food. Diseases spread by many means, but somehow we don't come to consider those social activities as 'evil' as a result.) So it seems to me that any affectionate act that doesn't violate the Golden Rule (i.e., don't rape someone, don't do it if the knowledge you did would break someone's loyal heart) would be fine with whomever created us. If the only appeal otherwise is to a book written centuries ago by people who clearly had an agenda, then we're right back to resurrecting the legitimacy of rules on slavery, diet, women's uncleanliness, and so on. If I can't credit those, I can't credit the suggestion that God meant that two people who love each other should deny themselves and one another simply because the nature of their releationship cannot result in reproduction; that it might offend some being who may or may not even exist. We might as well be rabbits, or perhaps not even that sophisticated, if we're meant for nothing more than that. If God's plan is the continuation of our race, that's surely not at risk (at least not from any lack of interest in the act that ensures it)! But is that all there is? Is there nothing more? Is there room for nothing else? I can't believe that.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Why Can't I Own a Canadian?

Not so much about Canadians per se, but about the usefulness of the Bible (in particular, the Old Testament) in buttressing one's moral arguments... Thanks to The Levee Breaks for this amusing and empowering link. :)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Where No Fan Has Gone Before!

Are you a Star Trek fan? Check out Memory Alpha, a Wikipedia-like project to catalog the Star Trek canon.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Will he take the "u" out of "colour", too?

I just happened by the Conservatives' web site, where they have the following title as a link to an article:

Stephen Harper will initiate reforms to elect senators and set fixed election dates

...and I couldn't help myself. First thing that went through my mind was, "Oh, he's going to annex us to the United States?" :)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Old friends in new clothes

I haven't been down to the East Donlands Park in about three months. Last time I was there, the river was still warm enough to wade, and it was still barefoot hiking season...

Time of the season

...Well, hiking season it may still well be, but not unless you're nicely trussed up. It was hand-numbingly cold as I took these shots. But I wanted to get out with my cameras and do some winter photography in a place I was familiar with from one season, but had never seen in its other facets.

Today I had with me both my cameras; my Canon 350D Rebel XT and my Kodak CX7330. I set the CX7330 to photograph in black and white and left the XT on "program" setting, letting the camera itself do all the tricky grunt work. Getting fancy with settings is a warm weather game. I was interested in contrasting how the scenes would look in colour and native black and white, again, without having to constantly flit settings back and forth on the XT.

The approach

Above is the view heading down from Finch Avenue to the path through the forest to the old track of Cummer Avenue, which is a five-minute walk in good weather, but about ten minutes in the low-traction snow.

Up the path

Above is a view of the path as you step onto it. On the left in this shot is the East Don River. I found this shot very compelling when I got home and looked it over. It's the kind of scene, when I was a boy, I used to fantasize about simply disappearing into, becoming one with. The calm, cool simplicity and stillness of winter, forever.

Below is the first of our comparision shots. These are both panoramic images composed of three shots each, assembled by a stitching program that came with the XT. This is the first bend in the path as you head northward, before you emerge into the flood plain.

And, speaking of which, below is a comparison of how the flood plain itself looks in black and white and colour. I only bothered to take shots for a full panorama in black and white; the colour version is a single image.

...I find the image in black and white much more sombre, more alluring somehow than the colour image. There's a sort of cheeriness in the colour one I find distracting from the solemnity and solitude of the place and the moment.

I find the same to be the case below, on the approach to Old Cummer Avenue Bridge itself. Judge for yourself.

Last summer I was here frequently. I walked to the river and waded in it well over a dozen times; it was a magnificent communion. I'm fascinated by the place because it was once such a vital part of city life... cars crossed this bridge hundreds of times a day; people lived down in the valley shouting distance from where I was standing for these shots.

Looking west across the bridge

Looking east up the former route of Old Cummer Avenue -- must have been a steep climb in winter

Once on the bridge itself, I took in the beautiful views of the river just doing its thing.

Looking south down the East Don

Looking north up the East Don

The beauty of water in transition

Under the bridge itself, a broad sandbar had built up on the west side. This was utterly swept away in the August storm that also bisected Finch Avenue itself in the west end. I thought I'd see if things had changed. Sure enough, it looks as though the river is trying to pay back what it stole in its swollen rage: it has began depositing sand again in the slow, lazy west pocket of the bridge.

After taking in the bridge and the river, I headed west along the old track of the road. This way follows along the hydro corridor for about a hundred yards/metres and then heads abruptly north into the woods again. It's along this stretch, and northward, that about a half a dozen homes once stood, till the 70s and 80s. Once they were gone and the land upon which they stood was absorbed into the park, the old road clearance itself was closed, but continues to live on as a footpath.

Someone's home stood here till about 1980

"And miles to go before I sleep..."

Something about hydro towers has always captivated me, even as a little boy. They seem like the skeletons of giant robots, just waiting for their chance to spring back to life and attack...


Thy fearful symmetry I

Thy fearful symmetry II

Thy fearful symmetry III

Thy fearful symmetry IV

Brothers west

Brothers east

At this point, I was heading back. The remaining shots are wandering southbound again back the way I came, towards Finch Avenue.

What a driver heading east on Cummer Avenue in winter once saw

Southbound on the path

The bend seen from the north side

I'd brought my wide angle lens with me but completely forgotten about it until this point. With numbed hands, I managed to attach the thing to the primary lens and I got these marvelous, Christmassy shots. The last one, with the single ice crystal caught in the needles of a pine tree, I am particularly happy with. And we'll sign off on that. Hope you enjoyed the little stroll.

Snow and pine needles

Evergreen overpass

Nature slips an ice diamond onto the finger of a tree

Her Majesty's Yankees?

Wednesday morning I woke up to the news that Queen's Park had amended the province's elections act to fix the date of elections to every four years:

Ontario sets fixed-election date for 2007 News

A new law passed Tuesday tells Ontarians exactly when they will choose their next provincial government, but critics say riding and funding disclosure changes have no guarantees.

Ontario's next provincial election will happen on Oct. 4, 2007. From then on, Ontario voters will go to the polls on the first Thursday in October every four years.

The changes are part of the Election Statute Amendment Act which passed third and final reading in the provincial legislature by a 60-19 margin.

Ontario is the third Canadian province to set election dates in law. British Columbia was the first, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador in 2004. Manitoba has also considered making the change.

"First Thursday in October every four years" has a rather American ring to it. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I'm unclear as to why there's a sudden vogue for this among several of the provinces. First of all, we already have constitutionally-fixed terms for all legislatures in Canada: no parliament may sit beyond five years from the return of the previous Writ of Elections. That's typical across the entire British Commonwealth. In practice, most jurisdictions in Canada aim for elections every four years or so anyway. So why the need to carve it in stone?

And I'm wondering if it's practical. A feature of the Westminster system that's absent from the US system is the institution of non-confidence votes. Generally, they're not an issue; most governments are insulated from non-confidence votes by having a majority of the seats in a given legislature. But as we've just seen, this isn't always the case: we're in the middle of a federal election campaign right now because the government fell in a non-confidence motion in the House of Commons. This kind of thing is impossible in the US system, from which the idea of fixed dates for elections comes to us.

So what are the ramifications? If a leglislature knows it's going to the polls on the first Thursday of October in year 20XX, does that mean they can't be prematurely defeated by the failure to pass a budget (a non-confidence issue)? Or does an early election throws out the next scheduled date and pushes it back to the first Thursday of October four years from the snap election? Or, is the date maintained, and whoever wins the snap election only gets the balance of the current four-year term? How does this work with our existing traditions?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A winter in grey

I've always been a fan of the stark beauty of black and white photography, especially in melancholy outdoors scenes. I usually chicken out because I'm afraid I'll miss something if I don't take the full spectrum -- and I tell myself I can always turn colour images into black and white later, but you can't do the reverse.

But today, on the slow creep in, I decided to take in some of the scenes in black and white. These are some of the quietly impressive scenes the day showed me.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

This is just here because I think it's a neat shot. :)

Don Mills at dusk

C'mon down and getcha head blowed off!

I've been an afficionado of hot sauces for about five years now. I love really hot stuff, especially when it adds a nice flavour to something. I've been making the trek out to St. Jacobs for years to the Salivation Corporation in the farmer's market there in town. Now who would have supposed that a hot sauce joint would be in a farmer's market in rural Ontario? But there it was.

Recently, last July, they opened a store right here in Toronto, at 375 Danforth Avenue. I went down there in the summer looking for my favourite sauce, which I ran out of in the spring and have been sorely missing. At the time, they told me it was unavailable. But lately I checked again and they do indeed now stock it. So I went down there yesterday and took this picture for you.

Taste: the 4th Sense (375 Danforth Ave.)

When I got there, I made a beeline for my sauce. Grabbed it, took it to the counter. The woman behind the counter made a noise of surprised warning, but I quickly assured her I was aware of what I had, and had been a longtime customer of theirs in St. Jacobs. The guy at the register made me sign a waiver — they require it for this sauce — and I made my $16 joyful purchase. Used the stuff last night in a soup. Fantastic.

And this is the stuff I've been missing: Z Nothing Beyond. And you too can snag a bottle at Taste: the 4th Sense... if you dare. >:)

Christmas comes but once a mall

Here, as everywhere else in the Western world, the malls are full of their own particular displays of holiday symbology. Some of it's sublime, some of it's kitchy, but it's all heartwarming and a welcome change. At least there's something early in the winter to look forward to before January and February land on us...

A couple of weeks ago I was out roaming around with P-Doug in the outer western spiral arm of the GTA galaxy, and on our way back in we decided to go downtown to the World's Biggest Bookstore (so-called) and SAM the Record Man's flagship store. While were were down there, we navigated the city in the underground passages that connect much of Toronto's downtown core. We ended up at one end of it, at the College Park shopping mall, where we saw a really nice display...

Christmas tree at College Park

Christmas stairs

Tree and me — what a ham, huh? (...I'm up in the ceiling glass, by the way.)

More recently... namely, today... I was at the Bayview Village Shopping Centre. It's a rather upscale mall for an off-Yonge uptown location; surprisingly downtowny in its feel. Still, that didn't stop the place from putting up a Christmas display so charmingly quaint that it would have been right at home at some farmer's market in one of the back counties...

It even snows in the malls now

Yippee!! The schools declared a snow day!

Just opposite the display, I caught a glimpse of this in a store window... Obviously it's part of an unfinished display. I think. Or is it? Hmmm! A naked woman, bereft of her arms, garbed only in a Native necklace... This has got to be a devastatingly clever allegory for something. I'm just not sure for what...

Allegorical! I know it!!

And finally, this one's from last weekend... the squirrel trip. While I was down on Front Street, I happened to snap this example of the Christmas decorations they've lined the street with. When I got home, I realized it was remarkable in another way. In Canada, there are (I believe) only six banks with federal charters. Possibly seven; but that's how carefully controlled the banking industry is here. When you look at this shot, you're looking at the headquarters of over half of Canada's banking establishment, right in this frame... The Toronto-Dominion Bank ("TD-Canada Trust"), the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce ("CIBC"), the Bank of Montreal ("BMO"), and the Bank of Nova Scotia ("Scotiabank").

Merry Bankmas