Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Say g'day, Bobby Rae

Ugh, Rae's baled on us. We now have a choice between a neo-con who has lived in Canada in my lifetime but who thinks budgets are for attacking the opposition, not preserving jobs; a neo-con who hasn't lived in Canada for most of my lifetime but who does believe the government ought to spend money creating jobs -- like boosting production by bombing foreign countries and handing out brass knuckles and rubber hoses to paratroopers and printing up Canadian flags to fold up and hand to wives and mothers in lieu of husbands and sons; and a guy who probably would do something sane to save jobs but is unelectable in most of the country because the people whose lips move while they follow their finger across the page of the various Sun newspapers are convinced he'll put a statue of Uncle Joe Stalin on every street corner if he gets elected (oh, hey, he has a mustache, too!!). We've gone from such hope to such NOTHING in only a week or two.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pearls before cats

A couple of months ago I decided to surprise my two cats with a few cat toys. One was a catnip mouse, which seems to have disappeared, probably under some furniture. That was sort of an afterthought. The two stars of the show have switched top billing, though.

One is a little robot mouse. It was about fifteen bucks. It can "hear", it can sense when it's touched, and in either case, it launches into this elaborate spiel of wiggling, taunting the cat, flashing lights, and giggling. I thought it was pretty clever and felt sorry for cats in centuries past that such technology was unavailable to them. But my cats aren't impressed. They barely bother with it. I hear it go off every now and then, and I sometimes see them watch it, but they don't engage with it. This is not to say I think no cat would; I'm sure some cats go nuts for it... just not mine. It's silly, but I feel sorry for the little robot mouse, who only "wants" to do his job and entertain the cats. I'm reminded of the robot nanny in the Twilight Zone episode, "I Sing the Body Electric".

On the other hand, there's the feather boa on the stick — which was probably retro when Fred Flintstone was trying to entertain his sabretooth. This is a yard-long string of feathers with a big, birdlike blob of feathers at the end, all on a resin baton. It gives you surprising control over how the thing moves; it's like conducting an orchestra. Well, the cats absolutely love this thing. They'd chase it and clap the air at it and hug it to their bellies for half an hour at a shot if I had the stamina for that. They'll both play with it at the same time, with me waving it back and forth between them. I think the thing was seven dollars, and it's the belle of the ball. It's a bigger hit than the red dot from the pen laser. You just never know.

Like all those kids who ignore the hundred-dollar toy and make a fort out of the box it came in... it must be a mammal thing.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"THIS HOUSE TO LET" or "Democracy Takes a Holiday"

Well, looks like the Governor-General came back to Ottawa, saw her shadow, and predicted six more weeks of Harper. So merry Christmas, Tories... the bills come due at the end of January.

Parliament shut down till Jan. 26
PM obtains Governor-General's consent to prorogue in face of bid to topple his minority government; opposition complains he's 'throwing the locks on' and 'running away'
Globe and Mail Update
December 4, 2008 at 1:36 PM EST

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has obtained Governor-General Michaëlle Jean's consent to temporarily shut down Parliament, a move that allows him to avoid a confidence vote next week that he was expected to lose.

It's a blow for the Liberal-NDP coalition, backed by the separatist Bloc Québécois, that was seeking to replace the minority Conservative government.

The development buys time for Mr. Harper to assemble an economic package that he hopes will discourage the multiparty alliance from taking him down at that time.

Emerging from Rideau Hall after more than two hours, Mr. Harper said Parliament will return on Jan. 26 and the first order of business will be the 2009 budget.

He grudgingly acknowledged he has to make peace with the opposition parties. "Obviously we have to do some trust-building here on both sides."

The Prime Minister said he will spend December and January hammering out the budget. "My work over the next few weeks will be focused almost exclusively on preparing the federal budget."

He added that he hoped the other parties would work with him. "Canadians expect us to get on with this."

Mr. Harper suggested that not all opposition MPs were happy with the coalition that sought to replace him. "I think there are many people in the opposition that were not entirely comfortable with a different path."

The Prime Minister also took time to admonish the Liberals and New Democrats for considering an alliance with the Bloc. In reference to the separatist party, he said: "My Canada includes Quebec, their Quebec does not include Canada."

Standing in the foyer of the House of Commons after Mr. Harper's announcement, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said: "We must realize the enormity of what has happened here today. For the first time in the history of Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada is running away from the Parliament of Canada."

All three opposition leaders said they still intend to bring down the government. Mr. Dion said only a "monumental change" on Mr. Harper's part would alter that.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the coalition will not be abandoning its accord over the next seven weeks while the Commons is shuttered.

"I cannot have confidence in a Prime Minister who would throw the locks on the door of this place, knowing that he's about to lose a vote in the House of Commons," Mr. Layton said. "That's denying about as fundamental a right as one has in a democracy."

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe reacted similarly. "We don't believe him and we don't have confidence in him."

The Prime Minister's bid to buy time, however, may work in his favour, with cracks in the coalition already emerging.

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis wasted no time in calling Mr. Dion to be replaced before the House returns in January. "Who are we kidding? I think it's over," he said, heading into a closed door caucus meeting.

"To become Prime Minister at all costs? Where do we take the Liberal brand? ... The brand got hit. The brand is good. The CEO of the company screwed up."

The Scarborough MP emerged from caucus saying the party supports remaining in the coalition, but Mr. Dion must be replaced. "The party still wants the coalition to keep together. My constituents want Mr. Dion to go."

He said it's time to move the party's leadership race up - a conventon is slated for May - or find some way of making sure it has "a leader who can lead us" if there is an election in February or March.

Mr. Dion's botched video address was a clincher, he said: "We bombed."

Mr. Harper, who was forced to cancel an afternoon appearance in Woodstock, Ont., arrived in a motorcade after traveling literally across the street from his official residence, 24 Sussex Drive.

About 50 demonstrators greeted him as his black vehicle entered the gates of Rideau Hall, most of them cheering on the Prime Minister.

The vast majority appeared to be Tory staffers or Conservative Party members. They were chanting slogans such as "No secret deal!", a reference to the coalition-support agreement by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois that would oust Mr. Harper and install Mr. Dion in his place.

Demonstrator William McBeath, a staffer for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said he was rallying in front of Rideau Hall because he believes Mr. Harper has a right to continue governing. He noted the Tory Leader was only elected seven weeks ago.

"The fact now ... a coalition rejected by the voters could take power by allying themselves with the separatists is terribly offensive and I wanted to come out and do something about it."

William Beddoe, an actor, was among the minority of demonstrators rallying in favour of the coalition. He said the Prime Minister in a minority Parliament must demonstrate a willingness to find common ground with rival party leaders.

"I think it's time for Mr. Harper to step aside. I think the Conservatives would do well to find another leader who could engage with the other parties in Parliament and work cooperatively."

Mr. Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton had hoped to meet Ms. Jean later today to make their case for refusing the Tory bid to prorogue Parliament.

Last night, an unapologetic Prime Minister used a rare televised address to justify his bid to have Ms. Jean temporarily shut down Parliament, railing against separatists whom he says have no legitimate right to backstop a Liberal-NDP coalition.

Mr. Harper's harsh attack risks angering Quebec voters, many of whom have voted for the Bloc Québécois in the past and may resent the suggestion that BQ support is illegitimate.

In the five-minute speech where he referred to "separatists" on four different occasions, Mr. Harper vowed he would use all tools at his disposal to prevent the Conservatives' replacement. He did not, however, use the word "separatist" in the French version of his speech, preferring the less-inflammatory term, "souverainistes."

"At a time like this, a coalition with the separatists cannot help Canada," Mr. Harper said. "And the opposition does not have the democratic right to impose a coalition with the separatists they promised voters would never happen."

Mr. Harper referred only peripherally to his government's role in contributing to the parliamentary crisis that currently engulfs the nation, saying the government has made some changes after criticism raised by the opposition in the wake of last week's fall economic update. He did not, however, apologize for portions of the update that would have eliminated millions in subsidies from political parties and removed the right to strike for civil servants. The government has since pulled both of those items off the table.

"The opposition is attempting to impose this deal without your say, without your consent and without your vote," the Prime Minister said. "This is no time for backroom deals with the separatists."

Political experts have argued, however, that Mr. Harper's attack on the Bloc Québécois may well offend a good number of Quebeckers, many of whom vote BQ.

In his response to the speech, Mr. Dion — who would become prime minister if the government is defeated — did not budge from his party's position that the Conservatives must go, adding that he wrote to Ms. Jean today asking her to refuse Mr. Harper's request to prorogue. He also defended the coalition, saying it will foster collaboration rather than "blind partisan feuding."

He also underlined the fact that he will only be in the prime minister's chair for the short time he is slated to remain Liberal leader. The party will elect a new leader this spring.

Mr. Harper is stepping up efforts to improve his image as a man of action on the economy in tough times, trying to beat back the Liberal-NDP coalition's central accusation that he's taken a stand-pat approach as a recession looms.

Yesterday he announced another round of meetings with premiers and territorial leaders on the economy — Jan. 16 in Ottawa — as well as a federal and provincial finance ministers meeting for Dec. 16 and 17 in Saskatoon.

The Tories maintained their vigorous attack on the coalition's decision to seek formal backing from the Bloc Québécois for its survival in the House. One MP went so far as to accuse the Liberals of treason.

"They've actually written a deal giving the separatists a veto over every decision of the Canadian government," Bob Dechert said. "That is as close to treason and sedition as I can imagine."

However, this line of attack was somewhat blunted by the disclosure of efforts by members of Stockwell Day's Canadian Alliance in 2000 to ink a deal with the Bloc to form a minority coalition. Mr. Day denied knowledge of the proposal, which was made by Gerry Chipeur, a well-known lawyer with Conservative links.

Commenting on documents first released on globeandmail.com, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said he was asked to participate at the time in a scheme to propel Mr. Day to power in the event of a minority government.

"This proves that they are now being hypocritical. They pretend that they are outraged, when a good number of them have tried the same thing," Mr. Duceppe told reporters.

Indeed, the Liberals themselves were ready to pounce on the Conservatives in the spring of 2005 after Mr. Harper's party voted unsuccessfully with the Bloc Québécois to try to bring down the Liberals then led by Paul Martin. The Liberals found in focus group testing at the time that BQ participation in government to be abhorrent.

"Most people would actually believe that the Bloc shouldn't be allowed to have seats in Parliament," said David Herle, a former top aide to Mr. Martin.

In his response to the speech, Mr. Layton castigated Mr. Harper for refusing to offer any more details on a stimulus package and said it's time for him to step aside.

"He seems to be more interested in his job than protecting your job," Mr. Layton said.

He appealed to Ms. Jean to take note of the multiparty coalition's readiness to defeat the Tories and take power.

Mr. Duceppe, speaking last night, defended the alliance he signed with the Liberals and the NDP, saying it will reap many benefits for Quebec and urged Mr. Harper to give up avoiding a confidence vote that will surely defeat his government.

"I ask Mr. Harper to let the House of Commons vote, and let us finish off his government. And then, we will be able to focus all our energies against the economic crisis that has fallen upon us."

In Quebec, Premier Jean Charest said after hearing Mr. Harper's televised address that Quebec doesn't need anti-sovereigntist rhetoric from the federal government while it copes with the global economic crisis.

"We must respect the choice that was made democratically by all citizens and all Quebecers," Mr. Charest said as he left a rally in Ste-Marie. "And there are, economically, things to settle. We should focus on that. It is the No. 1 priority. Quebec does not need political instability and rhetoric that divides people."

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said he was happy to hear a "calmer" tone from the federal political leaders last night, but insisted it is in the best interests of Canadians to let Stephen Harper's government bring in a budget next month.

"There are some serious problems we need to deal with," he told reporters in Victoria. "It is not helpful for us to see this kind of instability in the economic world we live in."

But even if the fall of the government can be avoided, the relationship between the two sides in Parliament appears to have been deeply poisoned.

In the Commons yesterday, Liberal MP Ken Dryden said the Prime Minister broke faith with Parliament in the economic update.

"How do we repair the irreparable?" Mr. Dryden asked. "To the Prime Minister to help him with his answer: Sorry, it is over; we cannot trust him any more. We need a new prime minister."

Meanwhile, the Liberals continued to insist publicly yesterday that they will remain together in support of the coalition although some admitted a few of their MPs are feeling heat from some of their constituents. Still, they believe it would be dangerous to retreat now.

"I don't believe a word the Prime Minister says any more," said Toronto Liberal MP Bob Rae.

Some Liberals, like Senator David Smith, a veteran adviser and election campaign strategist for three Liberal leaders, publicly indicated there is a slim possibility they would back off if Mr. Harper changes course.


Crazy Canucks

I summed up my feelings on the current political events and last night's speeches in an email in response to a friend this morning...


I know it's overt cynicism but a pox on all of them.

It's in the best Mercutionan vein, but remember, he died right after he said that. :)

I was, myself, a bit put-off when the proposed coalition became formal on Monday. But there's a good reason for it. Several, really, even without taking into account my personal dislike for the Tories. To condemn MPs for wanting power makes about as much sense as condemning firemen for being wicked, because they only live for fires. In this case, it makes even less sense, because we have one fire company that's sitting on its ass while something important burns down, and a bunch of others are saying, "for God's sake, then, give us the hose!" That's what they're there for. That's their job. That's why we send them to Ottawa. I too enjoy lending my voice to the Choir Cynical — but this is important. This is about what happens to this country in the next couple of years, and may have ramifications for a generation.

I don't dispute it's ugly. But then, that's the point. It should never have gotten to this in the first place. The government has allowed — even forced — things to move in this direction, and I sincerely question Harper's judgment as a result. Someone else — even another Tory — needs to be in that seat now. That's established.

However, to amass a coalition, we are faced with a chimera worthy of Douglas Adam's comic imagination.

That's the nature of coalition governments. We've been spared that realization thanks to the "blessings" of a first-past-the-post electoral system that gives the representatives of roughly 40% of the people on average 100% of the power. In most parliamentary democracies, what we're facing now is not a "constitutional crisis" that has everyone plastering the papers with their dire predictions of doom and woe... it's par for the course every couple of years. We sit back and pat ourselves on the back for our stable, five-year-long benign dictatorships. Well, the only blessing is that they HAVE been so benign. Someone said to me that she hoped this would be the chance for Parliament to put in some sort of proportional representation system, and I'm ready to agree. I'm tired of the arrogance both the Tories and the Grits show when they've had a couple of back-to-back majorities, and I'd like to see a House of Commons where they always always always have to work together to get things done. The last couple of years weren't so bad, till Harper lost his mind last week. Who can ever trust him again?

It'll be interesting to see what happens today. Apparently, Ed Schreyer himself has advised the current GG not to allow the PM to prorogue Parliament, because there's no emergency that would warrant it, and the only reason he's doing it is to avoid submitting to the will of Parliament, which could have negative ramifications for the future if it sets a precedent. I strongly agree with him. I've asked myself would I be feeling this way if the Tories were doing this to the Grits... as they would have liked to have done just a few years ago. In all honesty, I know I'd be pretty sore about it, but I wouldn't be arguing it was damaging to democracy, or illegal, or extraordinary. I know it's none of those things in our system — only rare, in Canada. And to be honest, if it keeps future minority governments in line, if it sinks in for the next Harper, so much the better.

I watched the three speeches last night, and I honestly tried to be objective (you know, I didn't shout rebuttals at the TV like the old man I've been since I was 17). I noticed that Harper made his pitch to the West. He came close to lying about the nature of what was going on he certainly put an "oh, shit, this is a coup!" spin on things in the first half of his speech. Then he threw a handful of pennies into the crowd about the economy too little, too late and then went out on a note SURE to piss off Quebec. Blah blah blah separatists, blah blah blah separatism, blah horns, pitchforks, and fire in Chibougamau, with naked moonlight dances and blood... And I thought, ohh, boy, are you cutting off votre nez to spite your face, Prime Minister. Apparently he used "separatists" in English and softened it to "sovereigntists" in French... but if he thinks Quebec's not going to hear about that this morning, and won't take offense at the idea he's bad-mouthing them to les anglais behind their backs, well, then he's just made another stupid mistake. If he HAD to lie about the Bloc being party to the coalition, instead of agreeing to support it on confidence motions only, he might at least have had the good sense to settle on "sovereigntists" in both languages. Or maybe he's decided to cut Quebec loose and appeal strictly to Cowboy Hat Land from now on.

I'm biased, I know, but I thought Dion made a sensible, unemotional plea for what has to be done. He kept hitting those two notes that resonate right now... jobs, jobs, economy, jobs, economy, economy, jobs... the reasons for action (that, yes, and Harper trying to drown the other parties in the bag of the next election). I thought it was REALLY smart of him to emphasize, a couple of times, that he's on his way out — but that he'll do his best while he's here.

Of the three, I thought Layton was the least polished and slick, and the most sincere. Short of sprinkling his speech with a few "shits" and "fucks", language doesn't get much plainer. The PM screwed up, refused to move on the economy, and used his first mini-budget to attack his opponents. Plain and simple. I have to hand it to him; of all three, I found him the most persuasive, and in his plainness, the most eloquent. He didn't speak TO me, he spoke FOR me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sopranos Toronto

"sappletown" on YouTube has put up a Toronto version of the opening from the Sopranos. It's fun to watch, especially if you're familiar with the geography of the city. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bolt 3D

Yesterday I was downtown with P-Doug to liberate some beer from its confinement in cold, sterile pub taps, and we went to see Bolt, the new Disney movie. If you don't know, it's about a dog who is the star of an action-based TV show. Special effects give him his powers, but for the sake of "sincerity" on the show, the producers see to it that Bolt believes it's all real. It's only when he's accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York and has to make his way back (with the help of a fanboy hamster and an initially-reluctant stray cat) that he learns the nature of reality and comes to grips with not being a "super" dog.

The version that we saw, down at the Scotiabank Theatres, was the 3D version. I went in hopeful, but honestly not expecting much. I have to say, I think I saw the future of the movie-going experience yesterday. The 3D is believable, and it's all in fully colour... none of that red and green stuff. It's done with circuluar polarizing lenses in glasses with opposite 'spins', and projection at 144 frames a second that alternate the view 72 times a second, far too fast for the human eye to register. The effect is a completely believable 3D environment -- so believable that I think the highest compliment is that after a while, you don't notice it... you just feel it. Not to give too much away, but there is scene near the end in which a building is on fire and two of the characters are trapped at floor level with a sea of smoke just above them. I'd seen stuff like that in fire prevention movies as a kid, but I never had a full sense of just how horrifying that is until yesterday. In faking it, they made it real for me. P-Doug paid it another fine compliment; he said to me that they never forced the 3D on you. There's only one, tiny, instantaneous "gotcha" 3D moment in the movie; otherwise, they were conservative with the effect. It was there to make a convincing environment for convincing characters, and that's exactly what it should be.

The movie itself is good, traditional pulls-at-the-heartstrings Disney fare. It's worth repeated seeings... but see it at least once. And see it in 3D. Even the flat, traditionally-animated closing credit sequences are given new life with the technique. It gives you an idea of just how much more is possible.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Buildings, beer, budgets

I haven’t kept my blog up the way I used to… it used to be partly about recording the little things I did, mostly so I’d remember them more distinctly as time goes on – for me, they tend to blur together into a big common pot of “travel outside the city” or “had a beer downtown” or “saw a movie”. They’re of only passing interest to most people, I know, if that, but I think it’s important to keep it up.

Well, last Saturday, P-Doug and I went out to Streetsville at my prompting. I’d seen a little video of the place from about 1960, and I wanted to compare what I saw with what I remember with what’s there today. As it turned out, we didn’t really stop there; we just blew through on our way back to town.

Where we went first was a service station on the side of the 401 that was in business for about 15 years. I knew it well; the only Wendy’s for miles was there and I got gas there fairly often (yes, yes, pun intended). It closed about two years ago, at the end of September, 2006, and I can remember seeing the notice on my way back from somewhere one weekend, just before it actually closed. I’m not sure why it closed… it was always doing good business.

I was out of gas by the time we arrived and P-Doug volunteered, right out of the blue, to by me a fill-up. I was quite taken by it, since it’s not really the custom on our trips.

We got there and parked just off Argentia and crossed the street to a way through the fence I’d spotted on GoogleMaps. On one of the light poles, there was a cross in purple flowers, and a little shrine to some young driver killed at the spot (presumably). Someone who would always be their “monkey”, according to the writing on the photo. It was heavily wrapped in cellophane against the weather, though, so the sun shining on it made it very difficult to read.

We got to the station and wandered around the gas bar for a few minutes. It was strange to see it without the gas pumps or brand insignia. As is out wont these days, we took 3D paired shots of the place. Coming around to the other side, we saw a beat-up little Chev with Downsview plate frames… we took it to be abandoned, possibly stolen. Then P-Doug noticed a porta-potty. He made a sly joke about it being a cheap TARDIS that I got immediately but laughed at late because it grew increasingly funnier the more I thought about it. We didn’t put two and two together just yet. We headed toward the main building.

As we often do in these cases, we split up. He went along the north side and I went south because I wanted to see the abandoned drive-thru I’d patronized so many times. It was a weird thing to see it boarded up. Took some panos of the parking lot and the building’s main entrance, then we sort of switched sides.

When I came back to the gas bar, I noticed a guy with Sikh head gear wandering around. He’d noticed me, but he took his time coming forward. I hung back, waiting for P-Doug, who arrived pretty much at the same time as this other fellow – the security guard, as I’d imagined – came up. It was a nice enough chat, though I confess the man’s accent made following him unusually difficult. He seemed convinced the government was vastly wasteful, and of course we agreed politely. He struck me as rather starved for attention, for it must have taken us the better part of half an hour to cross the gas bar and finally say our good-byes.

After that, we blew through Streetsville without seeing anything compelling enough to stop for, and made our way down Mississauga Road to the QEW. P-Doug had mentioned visiting the Great Lakes Brewery, and while he waved it off, I felt driven to visit because we were so close, I wanted to see the place, and he’d indulged me in floating around an abandoned gas station and drifting through scenic but unengaging suburbia. It was not easy to get to the place. It’s down right north of the QEW where the street configurations are discontinuous. We did finally get there, sampled a couple of beers, ate a few shortbread cookies, and looked over their visitors’ book. They had people visiting from the States, and even from Britain – one from a brewery over there, which impressed me above all.

Off to Bryden’s. Again, not easy, because the Kingsway North was closed. But we did get there. Had a few pints, decimated a plate of what we mutually agree are the city’s best nachos (the ground beef is done in a jerk sauce whose recipe was given to the bar by the Jamaican aunt of one of the staff, and it’s incredible), took home a glass, entered a contest we didn’t win, and simply enjoyed the place for a few hours. The idea of going to a movie came up and we looked in a handy copy of NOW and P-Doug suggested seeing I.O.U.S.A. at the Carlton, so off we went.

Now that was in an interesting movie. There’s not much point in going into it, except to say it’s about the debt burden of the United States, with a historical perspective, and some ideas about how it can be turned around – and why it must be. They’re showing a condensed, 30-minute version online for free that focuses a bit more closely on the stats – brilliantly communicated using compelling animation sequences – and you really ought to take that in at least. Hey, it’s free, and it’s right here.

Weird dream time again

I've been having a lot of them lately but one this morning was really intriguing.

It was a dream about two 20-something guys, and I had the impression they were kind of small-time hood kinda guys, who, somehow, had managed to snag this diamond about twice the size of the end of your thumb. Just massive. At first they seemed surprised they had it. The ended up holed up in this concrete students' residence, and someone was trying to break in through the door (crowbar, I think). They barricaded it and the guy(s) never got in. They managed to sneak out and get away, and ended up at a sunken-level ranch-style house with these little windows in the downstairs right at lawn level. It was a family residence of one of them, I think. Their pursuers caught up with them again, and either attacked unsuccessfully or overlooked them. They grabbed everything they could that might identify them in case the guys came back and took off, getting away again.

They ended up in at the house of one of their mothers, shaped kind of like the letter G (the street, not the mother). The house was on the inside stem. The neighbourhood knew these guys were small-time baddied but they were kind of heroes, and all the neighbours came out to have some kind of rally in support of these guys and their big score as they prepared to take off for good. There were cops around, but because of the crowd, they stayed back. One of the guys, the one whose mom it wasn't, was really anxious to go, and to force the matter he headed out to the car (already loaded with stuff) and sat in it. This cop leans in on the driver's side, seemingly friendly, and asks if they can have this little leather-padded table to pose the dog on for photos (like I said, it was a dream). The guy somehow suspects that's where his buddy hid the diamond, so he hedges, but the cop sits in the driver's side and starts to drive him away, leaving the police car behind. I had this idea that they found this guy's body three years later, evidently tortured, and the other guy is now living under an assumed name somewhere in the world. The fake cop and his clique got the diamond back.

Sad, but it was really interesting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

There's No One as Irish as Barrack Obama

Envy, at last

When I was a kid, it seemed there was a lot to admire about the United States. Living near the border, as most Canadians do, I was pumped full of someone else’s patriotic pride every weekend with Schoolhouse Rock. They had the bicentennial, they’d gone to the moon, they had Skylab. Jimmy Carter was president and he brokered the peace between Israel and Egypt. It said, ‘we are influential enough to do this’. He signed deals with the Soviet Union limiting arms. It said, ‘we are strong enough to undertake this’. I didn’t know much about my own country yet, but a lot about theirs, and what I knew of theirs made me want to join. It was an ignorant sentiment, but for what it was, it was sincere.

As I grew up, I learned more about Canada, the things we’ve accomplished that don’t get that kind of press and fanfare, but important, humane, and impressive achievements that should not be forgotten or disregarded, but preserved and celebrated. And I do. Now I know who we are, and I can appreciate and cherish it.

Lately, there has not been so much about the US to admire. I don’t need to go into detail, I’m sure. For some time now, I’ve been thankful there’s a border. It’s been a strange, but pleasant feeling for the world to take some notice of us, our progressive and peaceful ways, and for us to have acquired a kind of cache, the cooler place to be in North America, while the US has grown to seem stodgy and insular, paranoid and conservative. It was getting easy to think the US was just past it.

I think that finally changed last night. For the first time in a long time, I found myself admiring the US… its dedication to its ideals and their realization. The promise was made long ago, but let’s not mince words – fulfillment was a long time coming. Still, people who can still remember things like the murders of Emmet Till, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King also lived to see an African-American elected president. I think you’d have to have a pretty arid soul not to see some beauty, some poetry in that. I don’t care who you are or where in the world you live, that’s got to mean something to you. Something hopeful.

Yes, envy. I said it. Nothing noxious; just enough that it ought to make folks down there feel a little swell of pride. Yesterday saw the biggest voter turnout in a century in the United States. There was a wave of destiny there that must have been like electing Jack Kennedy, or Pierre Trudeau here. It was a sense of really grasping the brass ring again. Not just words and a required election, but a chance to grasp change and hope, just when the US really needs it.

Compare this with last month’s Canadian federal election. A snap election, called by the same government that, just a couple of years ago, gave us regulation to ensure “fixed term elections” every four years (parliaments have a five-year term limit as it is) which it then itself frivolously abrogated at the cost, to a nation on the brink of a recession, of $300 million dollars. A cynical attempt to secure a majority government and five years of power to ride out the coming economic crisis. The result? One of the lowest (if not the lowest) voter turnouts in Canadian history, and yet another minority government, albeit a slightly stronger one. A more lukewarm reception to a more lackluster political event is hard to imagine in a genuine democracy.

So yes, today – if only for today, perhaps – it is easy to envy the United States, just a little. They have big problems up ahead, and the luster may come off quickly, but still, there’s no denying the beauty of the transformation of a nation, moving forward and finally making rhetoric into reality last night. My congratulations to the United States, and welcome back – I hope – to the family of nations again at last.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Slippery People

Slippery People
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate

Please don't grip my stick quite so hard

Yes, clearly, the idea of a firm, muscular beaver sings out to Canadian manhood. One powerful enough to snap your stick sets the heart to racing that much faster.

...Okay, yeah, I'm done. :)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Where is God?

This evening, I had to take a movie back, and I ended up stocking up on the flipside. Among others, one of the movies I impulse-rented was The Bridge, a 2006 documentary on the phenomenon of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The film maker staked out the bridge for ages, and actually recorded several abortive and successful suicides from the bridge. The victims are all known, and in four or five cases, their friends and families consented to be interviewed for the purposes of the film. One very dramatic sequence is told by a young man who actually jumped, realized at that moment he did not want to die, and managed to survive the fall; and though he has struggled with his illness since then, that realization changed his life.

At the end, the film mentions that 24 people committed suicide in 2004 by jumping from the, and lists their names and the dates upon which they died.

I had a friend in Texas in his mid-20s who was diagnosed in 2002 with a soft tissue sarcoma. He successfully fought it off and was in remission by the spring of 2003. But by October, with dread, he felt the same pains in his side. His second struggle was not successful, and he died in June, 2004, the same year as all these people. My friend yearned to live and suffered through pain I don't even want to imagine. And yet other people are driven to relinquish life so willingly.

Where is God in all of this? How can these diametrically-opposed poles possibly define the "plan" of a Being who cares for us above all? Say what you want; there's no getting around this. If God exists, He chose this for us, freely, in full knowledge and conscience.

One way or the other, God or no God, I think we're on our own.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An open letter to the Mayor of Toronto

Warning: strong language.

Nothing's certain in a democracy, but I'm willing to bet Mayor Miller doesn't have this guy's vote. :) I'm not exactly sure what his problem is, but he obviously has issues. Not all of them political...

Accent sounds like Northern Ireland to me. Anyone know?

Monday, October 20, 2008


NEED $$$ FOR WEED, originally uploaded by Lone Primate.

Truth in advertising, I guess. I have a feeling this kind of approach will get you further on Queen Street than something cynical about food or a job or being a veteran (well, that's really more of a US thing than a Canadian approach), or any of that stuff. This fellow was sitting in a doorway only a few dozen steps away from The Friendly Stranger, a well-known head shop downtown.

I was reminded of the XTC song "The Smartest Monkeys" by this all-too-real instant.

Life on Queen Street

Life on Queen Street
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate
Just some interesting sights on Queen Street just a little bit west of University Avenue on an October Saturday.

Note to our American viewers: temperatures quoted are in Celsius and are ABOVE freezing. :)

Peace parade, Toronto

Peace parade, Toronto
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate
Peace parade on Bay Street, just north of College Street (parade southbound), seen from the Irish pub Pogue Mahone at 777 Bay Street, October 18, 2008. This came right out of nowhere while we were sitting there.

N.B.: "Indian army out of Kansas" and "stacked women for peace" are facetious comments. All the rest were real signs. :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Welcome to the Republic of Bananada

So it's come to this. I was treated to this slogan on my way in this morning. "Support Our Troops" is a little too subtle for some people. The new slogan, as loquacious as it is anti-democratic, is "If you can't stand behind our troops we'll gladly put you in front of them". It's a slogan Chile's General Pinochet could have been proud of. In the minds of some, a lack of patriotism -- as defined by them; by others, it would be not patriotism but bloodlust and bellicosity -- is punishable by death by firing squad.

The conservative element of this country, as always, at its finest.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trade pact with the EU?

I'm not seriously expecting this to come to pass, but I have to say, it's the most surprising news I've seen reported about Canada's future economic prospects in a long time. This was reported this morning in The Globe and Mail.

Canada-EU trade proposal rivals scope of NAFTA

Plan to lift barriers for goods and labour to be discussed at summit after election

September 18, 2008 at 2:00 AM EDT

LONDON — Canadian and European officials say they plan to begin negotiating a massive agreement to integrate Canada's economy with the 27 nations of the European Union, with preliminary talks to be launched at an Oct. 17 summit in Montreal three days after the federal election.

Trade Minister Michael Fortier and his staff have been engaged for the past two months with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and the representatives of European governments in an effort to begin what a senior EU official involved in the talks described in an interview yesterday as “deep economic integration negotiations.”

If successful, Canada would be the first developed nation to have open trade relations with the EU, which has completely open borders between its members but imposes steep trade and investment barriers on outsiders.

The proposed pact would far exceed the scope of older agreements such as NAFTA by encompassing not only unrestricted trade in goods, services and investment and the removal of tariffs, but also the free movement of skilled people and an open market in government services and procurement – which would require that Canadian governments allow European companies to bid as equals on government contracts for both goods and services and end the favouring of local or national providers of public-sector services.

Previous efforts to reach a trade pact with Europe have failed, most recently in 2005 with the collapse of the proposed Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement.

But with the breakdown of World Trade Organization talks in July, European officials have become much more interested in opening a bilateral trade and economic integration deal with North America.

A pact with the United States would be politically impossible in Europe, senior European Commission officials said.

A newly completed study of the proposed deal, which European officials said Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided not to release until after the election, concludes that the pact would increase bilateral trade and investment by at least $40-billion a year, mainly in trade in services.

Ottawa officials say they have overcome what they see as their biggest hurdle: the resistance of provincial governments to an agreement that would force them to allow European corporations to provide their government services, if their bids are the lowest.

Although Ottawa's current list of foreign-policy priorities does not include European issues, European and Canadian officials say Mr. Harper has been heavily engaged with the proposed trade pact.

The two governments have completed a detailed study of the proposed agreement that will be unveiled shortly after the election, should the Conservatives win.

Both Ottawa and Brussels have had staff work on a draft text for a deal they had hoped would be introduced at a Canada-EU summit, to be attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Mr. Harper in Montreal on Oct. 17. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and Mr. Sarkozy has said that he hopes to make economic integration with Canada one of his accomplishments.

Last Wednesday, a top Ottawa trade official wrote to Mr. Mandelson to propose “the launch of comprehensive negotiations toward a closer economic partnership at the Canada-EU Leaders Summit, to be held on October 17,” and stressed that all 13 provincial and territorial governments had agreed to the proposed pact at a July 18 meeting in Quebec City.

Because of the election, Mr. Harper appears to have decided not to unveil a full text of the proposed agreement, but instead to use the summit to inaugurate the trade talks with the launch of a “scoping exercise” that will quickly set the goals of the pact and lead to formal “comprehensive trade and investment negotiations” to begin in “early 2009,” according to communications between senior Canadian and European officials examined by The Globe and Mail.

Proponents, including all of Canada's major business-lobby organizations, are in favour of the deal because it would open Canadian exporters to a market of 500 million people and allow the world's largest pool of investment capital into Canadian companies without restrictions.

Because Canada's fractious provinces have killed attempts at a trade pact in the past, Europe is demanding that Canada accept a more far-reaching agreement than Canada and Europe had attempted before, in an effort to win a stronger commitment, EU officials said.

Major “deal-breaker” conditions, officials said, include full agreement by all 10 provinces, especially on the issue of European companies providing government services, and what are known as “geographic indicators,” which forbid products such as champagne and feta cheese to be produced under those names outside their nations of origin. Controversially for Canada, this may soon be extended so only English producers can use the name cheddar on their cheese.
However, both sides agree that there is far more political will to negotiate a major deal, on both sides than there ever has been.

“I am far more optimistic this time than I've ever been in the past. … I feel very confident that we will be able to launch something on Oct. 17 that will give us a better chance than we've ever had before to get a full deal in place,” said Roy MacLaren, head of the Canada-Europe Round Table, a pro-trade business organization that has been heavily involved in the negotiations.

As a trade minister in the Jean Chrétien government and later as a diplomat, Mr. MacLaren was involved in several previous attempts at a Canada-EU pact.

Monday, September 15, 2008

When pigs fly

This evening, in the check out line at the local grocery store, I was treated to amusing spectacle of a woman purchasing two large packages of kosher chicken and a big package of pork chops. I honestly had to fight not to laugh.

Phone me to the Moon

The last thing I watched before going to sleep last night was my copy of In the Shadow of the Moon, a movie I saw in a theatre about a year ago, in which many of the Apollo astronauts themselves give their impressions of what it was like to train for and undertake journeys to the moon. As a result, last night I had a dream in which I was watching the movie in something like a cramped little college dorm room, while on the phone with Neil Armstrong (who does not appear in the movie). I’m not sure how it was arranged, but it was a privilege, and I got the impression we were both embarrassed; me asking him those same, tired old questions he must have been asked a hundred thousand times by now, and him having to politely answer them yet again. That’s just like me, though. I couldn’t dream about going to the Moon myself; no... I have to dream about inconveniencing one of the people who actually did.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The true cost of elections

Prime Minister Harper resigned the government last Sunday, and so Canada is now in the midst of a federal election. It was supposed to be next year, thanks to Harper's own government passing a bill giving us regular elections every fourth October (2009, 2013, 2017, etc., etc.), but it changed nothing about the Westminster system that enables the PM to what he just did: resign the government early and force an election when the polls suggest it's convenient for him. If he didn't have the courage of his convictions, why even pass the law?

But be that as it may... I'm already getting away from the point I was hoping to make. The election is to be held on October 14th, so I understand. That means from start to finish, the campaign is just over a month long.

Contrast that to what goes on in the States in the electing of a president. The whole thing got started in the summer over a year ago. From start to finish, electing the President of the United States takes about 18 months. Primary after primary after primary, state after state after state, whittling down the candidates, unending TV ads, radio spots, foldouts in magazines and newspapers. I'm not just talking about how vastly tedious a US election gets, long before it happens. It occurs to me that going that route must be hideously expensive.

In a Canadian federal election, the whole thing takes place among parties who already know who their leaders are; having been chosen at single national conventions at some point, those leaders are well-known and identifiable long before the Writ of Elections is dropped. The campaign runs about five weeks. Surely, any party worth its salt has a war chest that can pay to run spots and ads for five weeks. What I mean by this is, it's a cheaper model for running elections, and that has certain ramifications.

In the US, though, the length of the campaign, the necessity of first fighting your own party in public before even thinking of taking on the opposition, and the requisite travel and getting out the word in state after state has to take a vast toll – literally – in economic terms. When we hear tales of Hillary Clinton having to "lend" her own campaign millions of dollars, just to lose, you can imagine. But what does paying for a campaign of this length and breadth imply?

I think first of all, it means that, aside from the most junior seats in the House of Representatives, political office at the federal level in the United States is utterly outside the aspirations of anyone we would consider as "average". To be in office in the United States today, really, means you have to be a millionaire. And a well-connected one (a point to which I will return in a moment). The mindset of the average legislator, or the president, must today be very, very different from that of those who make up the electorate.

Getting back to connections. To run a campaign of a year and a half, not only must one (obviously) already be of extremely independent means... no Joe Six-Pack... but it's almost de rigueur that one have powerful friends with very deep pockets. Such friends tend to be legal persons, rather than flesh-and-blood ones: corporations. You win your office indebted to "friends" who are immortal, and whose memories are eternal. Little wonder that HMOs have been able to fend off the institution of universal health care there, or that defence contractors can get funding for whatever silly, money pit project they can think up so long as they farm bits of it out to enough states to cover all the bases of the senatorial committees that approve these things.

I'm not saying there's no cynicism in our system (see my first paragraph, above), or that our system is devoid of corruption. I know that's not the case. But I've come to see that ours, arranged as it is, however accidentally, is better-suited to a country run by the grass roots. That it is possible for an average person, even an immigrant, to get elected to the Commons and even to the Cabinet if they show promise. I'm not saying there aren't rich people in the Commons; sure there are. But in this country, I think the hyper-rich concern themselves elsewhere, rather than actually governing. And I think the difference is most in evidence right now, when the duration of our entire election will be contained within theirs. Ours, only just begun, will be over while theirs, already over a year in the making, will still be going on.

And who will they owe when it's all over, and what will they owe?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Colour me resentful

I was in a line at the store today behind a woman buying school supplies for her kid, and I was suddenly reminded of the first time in my (then) young life I came to realize that parents were not to be counted on 100% of the time, either to be infallible or sympathetic.

It happened when I started kindergarten. This was at the very butt end of the Psychedelic Sixties, carried over into the early 70s. In keeping with the times, Crayola had released a little carton of eight "fluorescent" crayons (for the record, and to aid your imagination, these were: Chartreuse, Ultra Blue, Ultra Orange, Ultra Red, Hot Magenta, Ultra Green, Ultra Pink, and Ultra Yellow). They were in a package that was easily mistaken for the traditional pack of eight average, boring, WASP crayons... the ones on the list of required supplies I brought home from school that first week. My mother picked up the fluorescent variety.

Making new friends, on my own for the first time, trying to fit in, and there I was, the only kid in 25 with the wrong crayons (that, and plaid pants, which my mother assures me were in style at the time). And this was when having the right equipment mattered: there were no flights of fancy. Colours were regimented! "Colour the sun yellow." No problem; I had a yellow crayon that whose brilliance would bore though the back of your skull if you beheld it too long. I had an orange crayon that looked like it could be used to coat pills; a blue one that could have been used to paint the line they want half-dead people to be able to follow in hospital corridors. But "colour the wood brown" presented me with an insurmountable problem: there was no such thing as day-glo brown. I had no analog, no matter how psychedelic, and little drug experience (beyond pilfered morning-after beer) to fall back on for alternative suggestions. Such obstacles would set me to tears until the teacher would let me off the hook and allow me to do the next best thing: colour the wood radioactive blood "Ultra" red. Other kids had landscapes of glorious blandness and breathtaking conventionality that I could only dream of. Mine looked like Puff, the Magic Dragon frolicked in the autumn mist a little too much and blew lunch all over Honahlee. You should have seen the angels I had to colour for our Christmas decorations. There was no mistaking mine. It was a vision, alright. One that would send you to Lourdes.

So parents weren't infallible. Okay. But what about sympathetic?

Our school actually ordered in supplies. You would take the class's order to the office, where you could buy pencils, erasers, pens (though we weren't allowed to use ink yet), notebooks (the paper kind; the computerized sort were as yet still Twilight Zonesque visions of the future), and crayons. Yes, the officially-approved, politically correct, does-not-cause-retinal-cancer-in-laboratory-rats, guaranteed not to make baby Jesus cry (not to mention me) set of eight traditional colours. As memory serves me... and it's been a while... they were 15¢... which, tangentially, never made sense to me before fractions. Why were seven crayons worth 2¢ each, but one was worth only 1¢? And which one? I decided it was black, because some know-it-all in class with an older sibling insisted that black wasn't really a colour, it was "no colour"... another great philosophical conundrum. So conforming to the demands of my society, such as they were when I was five, merely required the donation of a nickel and a dime from my parents. Could I get the 15¢? Could I, hell. I had perfectly good crayons, I was told, and I was to use them. Perfectly good? For what? Triggering seizures in epileptics? I cried, I begged repeatedly over the months as one yech-nicolor humiliation piled on top of another... but no use. I forget now just how it happened, but I eventually did wind up with a set of the right crayons before the end of the year, and I remember how relieved I felt to have colouring projects that looked just like everyone else's. (By the way, are you getting the impression that, well over a quarter of a century later, I still vaguely resent my parents for this? Yeah, me too.) I have the vague impression, though, that I got them by agency of an older friend who took pity on me, because I seem to recall hiding them, and anything I coloured with them, from my folks. So if they ever had cause to consider me a devious little shit growing up, clearly, they had only themselves to blame.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Having a Grand time

Well, no getting around it; the summer's winding down. Again. This seems to happen every year. I know I'm jumping the gun a little; Labour Day was only a couple of days ago, and the trees are still green and the ground is still warm. But the sun comes up later and later and it gets dark earlier and earlier. Wasn't all that long ago it was light till past 10. Not anymore.

But it's still summer, both technically and practically (unless you just went back to school, I guess). There are still summery things to do.

P-Doug recently came across something about tubing down the Grand River, though the Elora Gorge. I'm not sure if he's had this in mind for some time now or anything, but it was something he was hoping to do with the summer. Oddly enough, the large amount of rain we've had this year postponed the plan a little a couple of weeks ago because the Grand was running too high, and the park that rents the equipment had suspended the rentals. But it was up and running again for the long weekend, so we decided to give it a go.

I guess it was a mark of just how much he wanted to do it that he was up so early; he came by to pick me up somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30 or so. I'm used to getting in touch with him for 9:30 or so to start things rolling on the weekends, and being on the road between 10:30 and 11, so there you go. We headed down the 401, listening to an old Coldplay CD he'd recently bought, and we got sufficiently caught up in what we were talking about that he completely missed the exit for Hwy 6. We ended up taking Hwy 8 through Kitchener-Waterloo, which put us a little out of our way, but really not all that much. It had the added benefit of putting us on the highway, though, just as some university students unveiled a banner on an overpass that read: ULV UW WELCOMES YOUR "VIRGIN" DAUGHTERS. I only wish I'd had the camera ready for that.

Elora's not that far from Guelph, so we had to kind of double back, but it was a nice trip. The park opens at 9, and we got there only twenty minutes later, but there was already a considerable line-up for the rental office. In truth, it took us two hours to get to the head of the line. P-Doug was speculating that during the mid-week, this would probably not be the case, but this was the Sunday before Labour Day, so for a lot of people this was pretty much it, summer-wise. I got the impression it was a consideration he'll keep in mind for next summer. Funny how you change as you get older. I can remember 45-minute line-ups one year at university as being like terms in purgatory. But two hours standing in line for the rental really didn't strike me as all that onerous... not that I'd care to do it regularly. I suppose you just get more and more used to being in lines as you get older.

I think we had the option of taking a bus to the launch site or walking. P-Doug and I opted to walk. Took about fifteen minutes, I guess. When we got there, I was really surprised how warm the Grand was. A little warmer than I think I've seen the Humber so far this year, and that's surprising because around there, the Grand is in and out of steep, shaded channels. I set my tube in the water, stepped in, managed to sit on it without banging my (helmeted) head, and pushed off. Took the current a few moments, but it caught me, and I was on my way.

I jury-rigged a set-up to keep my G9 dry and around my neck, and it worked pretty well as long as I used it. I took the camera out as I set off and I guess I got ten or fifteen minutes of video going down the gorge. I almost got bucked off my tube in the first five minutes or so, but I held on and I never wound up in the drink, though it washed over me a few times.

It's odd that they were worried about the depth of the river because I got hung up on rocks in the shallows a couple of times. I actually had to get off the thing and move it myself the first time. I found that kind of irritating. I just wanted to go with it. There were at least three or four times I can remember where rapid paddling on my part prevented that happening again. It reminded me a little of taking a country drive in 1920 and the tires getting flats every few miles.

What a view, though, when you are moving. And there are a few places where you're really moving! The Grand is a really variable river through there. It can change in moments... from pouring down white water at ten or fifteen miles per hour to being shunted into a still water pool at the edge that takes three or four minutes just to spiral you back around to the current.

About half way down I decided to risk taking out my S70, the infrared camera, that I'd stowed in a different clear plastic bag. Unfortunately for me, it was one I'd used on previous trips, and it must have had a couple of small holes in it. The thing was half full of water. So far, everything I had on me that day that got wet – my PhotoTrackr and its battery, the two Canon camera batteries, the CF card in the S70 – has worked again. But not the S70. I tried it, briefly, on Labour Day, but it didn't budge. So, I'm going to let it dry out all week and try it again... though I think it might be shot (N.B.: after a week — yeah, it is). Even if it isn't, the silt that might have gotten in might make it next to useless anyway. Well, my bad. I'm glad I held onto the G1.

It was somewhere around there I caught up with and passed P-Doug, but I went through a very slow area at one point, was repeatedly passed by others, and so was under the impression that he’d overtaken me and was somewhere up ahead. As I went along, I found I had more and more control over my orientation and position in the river, and I was usually able to keep myself facing ahead and away from the banks.

The end of the trip was occasioned by arriving at a bridge of a rather clever design. It was a single lane, made of concrete, and built in some fashion that it enabled the tube-riders to stop against it but not be drawn under it. Its sides were beveled so that when the river rose, water would simply flow over it… a very good design for any such bridge where the constancy of traffic is an issue.

I hauled myself ashore but couldn’t spot P-Doug. I decided that he must have either walked back, or caught the bus back to the starting point. As I stood waiting for my turn, looking over my soaked equipment, I debated with myself whether or not I would take a second trip. I wasn’t anxious to take on the shallows again; I did find that markedly frustrating. But the real deciding factor for me was all the equipment I’d brought… by necessity, it would have to make a second trip. And, for that matter, I’d just done it. It’s not like I was going to see a different leg of the river or something. So I decided against it, and was trying to figure out what I was going to do when P-Doug appeared. My first reaction was, he couldn’t have made it down here a second time so fast, could he? Of course, I knew he couldn’t, so I realized that I must have passed him and stayed ahead of him.

We talked things over and it was clear he was keen to go again. I had no problem with that; I’m old enough and self-sufficient enough to while away an hour and a half or so without much trouble. He was good enough to give me the car key and offer me money for lunch (which turned out to be a good thing since the vendor had no Interac machine in sight, or even a cash register). We caught the bus, and he got off at the starting point, and I went back to the rental site.

The bus trip was strange. We were driven by a skinny, beareded Englishman who must have been hippie in his youth. He insisted on playing rather psychedelic-sounding music I’d never heard before but postulated was by Jimmie Hendrix (it was). Bouncing along the one-lane road with fragrant pine boughs brushing past us, it was a little like being back at the camp grounds when I was four or five in the early 70s.

I dropped off the equipment, got changed, bought a little lunch, and settled back with the paper to wait out P-Doug’s second trip. I had the passenger door open, and hung my clothes over it to let them dry in the sun. I’d given the paper a good going over and was literally on the verge of laying across both seats to doze when P-Doug arrived.

We ended up going to a pub in Guelph he’d identified called, if I remember correctly, The Penny Whistle. On our way there, I took some 3D pair images of a lovely statue dedicated to the concept of the family, and then we had a few beers and some nachos. After that, we took Hwy 6 – the one we’d missed on the way in – back down, past the 401 to the QEW, and headed back into town. And that was how we passed the last day of August.

And here's a video of some of the interesting moments on the way down the Grand.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fun with Foster's

Are you old enough -- are you Canadian enough -- to remember The Spoons' 1984 hit Romantic Traffic? Well... I am. :)

Words of wisdom

Seen in a driveway while walking back from North York Central Library this evening.

Rail journey in silver

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Twice more unto the bridge, dear friends, twice more

Summer is the time to get out on the weekends and feel the soil under your feet. It’s the time to bask in the warmth of the sun, the scents of the air, the majesty of the forest full. We live in an age where we can sit in an armchair and comb the face of the world as if sitting above it like gods, and from there pick the places of our fancy to explore and indulge in.

Last week, I found (as I’m apt to) another place in the GTA left behind by time. I love to explore places like that. In this case, it was a pair of abandoned roads that meet up in the forest, in a marshy area not far from Lake Simcoe. Just a few minutes east of that lost intersection is a bridge over a river. For me, this is how you spend a summer Saturday.

I ran the idea of investigating the place past P-Doug and got an affirmation on Friday that became a qualified reluctance on Saturday morning. The radar showed something big coming in. But for myself, I didn’t care. Summer’s too short to sit around; that’s what a Canadian winter is for. I understood his reasons but I’ve never been one to eschew a hike in the drizzle or even the rain. In truth, some of the best hiking I’ve ever done has been alone on rainy days. I decided to set off on my own.

It was a nice drive, going someplace I’d never been, watching the clouds boil and change as I made my way northeasterly. I was listening to Freakonomics, if you’re familiar with it. Fascinating journey through applied statistics as I crossed the countryside in the heavy weather. When I got near my destination, I found the route blocked, supposedly by a bridge outage. How ironic. The detour took me up, across, down and around my destination like the shell of a snail. But finally, I reached the 6th Concession, and I headed down to the end.

It was raining lightly when I parked, and dosing myself liberally with bug repellant, I passed the barriers that separated the open road from the closed. The first thing I noticed was how wet the way in was. Even without the rain, it was clear that this concession line was ordinarily quite swampy. The shin-deep, water-filled depressions seemed to hold equal sway with the ordinary raised parts of the road, like a regular Morse code of water. The bottom was clay, and the land was flat; little drainage and a tight seal below. No wonder the place was abandoned; I doubt any of it south of the barrier had been cleared. These were roads the community could do without, and evidently, at some point in the last couple of generations, they ultimately did.

As I walked, there was nothing to suggest anyone had been there in ages, aside from the intermittent paired wheel ruts. They were smooth; there was no vehicle track, no foot print, no garbage, no cigarette butts. It was astounding. I’ve never seen a track that open that showed so little evidence of human presence.

I guess it took me about 15 minutes to reach the intersection. It was a curious junction of roads reduced in width to that of a single car. The one I was on ended there, only to have the suggestion of a continuation ten or so metres to the west; the road I met was doglegged by three or four metres itself; further north on the east side. A drainage pipe of some sort ran diagonally across the intersection. It must have been buried once, but time had revealed and ruined it. From there, I headed east towards the bridge.

I guess it was something like fifteen paces on ‘dry’ (call it raised, really) ground, followed by at least as many through the puddles, some of them knee-deep. Even in Milton the week before, I’ve never seen the like. What would probably have been a three minute walk become closer to ten as I made my way through the warm drizzle. I passed a curious sign that read “SLOW” at one point before a very considerable puddle, matched by another on the far side. I wondered just who they’d intended it for.

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate myself. I always bring my cameras on these expeditions, but ordinarily I’m too caught up in the exploration to think of them when I’m nearing my goal. But this time, I had the presence of mind to turn on the video function as I approached the bridge, and I recorded it, as I saw it, for the first time, wandering around on it, exploring what had once been a common place but was now abandoned to the forest.

I have no idea when 6th Concession and Brewster Road – upon which the bridge lies – were closed. But if you told me that bridge hadn’t seen regular traffic since the 1970s, I’d have no trouble believing it. It’s worn through at the edges; large holes look right through to the fast-flowing river a few metres below. No idea of the age of the bridge, myself. But it was really something to have spotted it on GoogleMaps, to go there, seek it out, see it with my own eyes, stand upon it on my own two feet. I spent about half an hour wandering back and forth on it, capturing it in three dimensions in paired photographs, first in colour and then in infrared. After a bit, I eased down through the woods at the southwest side and shot the bridge from below. Then it was time to explore the river.

I picked my way through the forest beside the road, past abandoned rolls of the same chicken wire that now guard the sides of the bridge, to gnarled trees and finally the firm bank at the sudden lip of the river. There in the rain I stripped and helped myself to the water, overhung by low-limbed trees. The water was surprisingly warm and deepened quickly only a couple of yards out. I sat on the shallow lip at the bank and simply luxuriated in the privilege.

I guess I was there about half an hour. Eventually, I decided to drift back to town; I thought if I were early enough, I might be able to meet up with P-Doug at one of our chosen watering holes and share what I’d discovered. I made my way back to the car and headed back to the city. As I headed down the 404 through Aurora, the weather he’d dreaded hit, and real rain began to fall… but it hadn’t troubled me on my wanderings. I called him from the road (briefly becoming one of the cell phone shitheads I abhor) and made arrangements to meet him at that pub, where I showed him the shots of the trek over a few beers and too much food.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. The following morning, it struck me to ask him if he’d care to explore the place now that the weather was slightly more amenable. I called him up a little after 11 and put the suggestion to him, and he was surprisingly agreeable. He picked me up a little while later and off we went, listening to the news of a large explosion in the north central part of the city that morning that had closed off the 401. I would remark later how little effect it had on us, for an event so large.

We zigzagged across the countryside, north, east, north, east… making our way there by a route not entirely tracing the way I’d gone the day before. We parked down by the barriers, deeper down the road than I’d driven, and, once again chemically arming ourselves against the mosquitoes, we headed south. I led, kicking through the warm water of the puddles, this time unpockmarked by raindrops, though the sky was still heavily cast.

As we walked, I realized just why I’d been so anxious to share the place with P-Doug… it’s that fresh perspective you get from another person. Things in his experience but not mine bubbled up to explain things I hadn’t even imagined needed explaining. So much of the character of the place, he realized, could be put down to the local snowmobile clubs, who’d kept the place open for their own winter use. They’d put the up the signs. They’d cut down the saplings that would have devoured the clearances. They’d put up the chicken wire to prevent riders from careening off the otherwise unguarded sides of the bridge. I wanted, I needed, that other pair of eyes to help me see more about this interesting place.

When we reached the intersection, we wandered about as far west as I’d gone, to the last leg of 6th Concession heading south to the river. We didn’t wander it but we did earmark it for later. Then we headed east. I noticed shotgun shells from previous seasons. And for the first time, we saw tracks on the road. So much for unspoiled. Someone had been by since the rains.

When P-Doug saw the "SLOW" sign that had vaguely mystified me, it held no such mysteries for him. Coming from the north as he does, he immediately identified it as a warning to the snowmobilers who would use the routes in the wintertime. That would never have occurred to me in a month of summery, barefoot Sundays. I felt slightly ashamed as a Canadian. :)

We made our way through the slippery puddles to the bridge, where, again, I videoed the arrival, and P-Doug’s reaction. We spent about a quarter of an hour at the bridge before deciding to indulge in the river. He elected to return to the intersection and head down the overgrown last leg of 6th Concession to a landing on the river. So, we headed there. The road in was surprisingly well-defined; to me, from above, it had appeared to be largely filled in. The road veered away from the straight, running sort of alongside the river, so eventually we had to abandon it and make our way through the woods to the landing. The landing, it turned out, was not the sand or rock we’d anticipated, but plants the height of a man standing in shin-deep water, reaching out for ten or fifteen metres into the water. We made our way to the edge, then back to the woods to undress to get into the water. It was cold, a lot colder than it had been for me the day before. It dropped off immediately, and there was no place to sit, and no place to go where the water wasn’t immensely deep. One thing P-Doug noticed while we were there that I’d entirely missed was the utter silence of it. Not just that the deep river made no sound whatsoever, but there were no birds, either. Brought to my attention, it was faintly unnerving, and came to my mind every so often as long as we were there on the roads. But that location wasn’t the best in any regard. We essentially just sort of stood there, ribs-deep in rather cold water, for ten or fifteen minutes, before leaving to find a bank more like the one I’d found the day before. There was none to be found just there, so we dressed again and headed back towards the bridge and the spot I’d found so pleasant on Saturday.

When we got there, I headed into the water at once. P-Doug lingered a bit, uncertain of the water, I suppose. It was markedly warmer than it had been upstream. After a few minutes, he stepped into the water too. Almost no sooner had he done so than we heard the telltale roar of approaching ATVs. Literally within two or three minutes of our having gotten into the river, along they came, just within sight through the trees. I saw two; P-Doug reckoned there were three. We were out of sight and not overly concerned, but, of course, they stopped at the bridge to smoke or drink or something, and for the next fifteen minutes we leaned against the bank and listened to them hoot and holler. I have to say it… I’m getting a little sick of these ATV cretins. Is there no place left in Canada wider than you can spread your arms where they won’t insist on tearing up the place, filling the world with their tracks, noise, and pollution? Can’t they enjoy the wilderness for what it is? If they want to go rip-snorting around, can’t they do it in their cars on the 400-series highways? Do they have to ruin the serenity of what little nature is left adjoining our cities? Honest to God.

Finally, “Darrell and my other brother Darrell”, as P-Doug put it, “fucked off”, and we could finally wander the water’s edge a little. It was deep, and fairly warm, but a light rain had begun to fall and dropped the temperature considerably. What’s already been a very mild summer began to feel like early spring, and more than once, I caught myself shivering. But we’d worked hard to find the place, and by God, we’d earned the right to enjoy it. So we stayed longer than comfort really dictated, just out of obstinacy, I suppose, and after 45 minutes or so, we decided to call it a hike and head back.

It wasn’t the sunniest place I’ve been, or the most challenging in terms of hiking, but it was truly beautiful, and the bridge genuinely intriguing (at least to me). And, personally, I rather enjoyed the sensual pleasures of the muddy, clay-bottomed puddles that formed half the journey on the abandoned roads. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back there, but sure know I’ll always remember the place with a certain fondness.