Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


1 Comment

Of news, Netflix, Amazon, and chimunks

Just because I haven’t been blogging lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about stuff…

Not writing about news is good news

I’ve actually started a number of posts about current events, but it all gets so depressing. And it changes so fast.

Like after Charlottesville, I was going to write a thing about how Canadians could join the Sleeping Giant twitter campaign to discourage companies from advertising on the alt-right Rebel Media website. But within days, The Rebel seemed to be sort of falling apart anyway, and it no longer seemed, maybe, the best way to spend one’s limited amount of time for activism.

443527_m1494452946Then I went to see An Inconvenient Sequel, on climate change. That seemed a better target for activism. And then with Harvey’s severity clearly being an illustration of what climate change looks like… But me writing about that, seems like piling sanctimony on top of tragedy. Better to leave it to those who have studied it longer, and have more skin in the game like Eric Berger (This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same) and Brian Merchant (Climate change denial should be a crime).

Whereas I will write more trivial stuff, like…

The chipmunk invader

“We have a chipmunk living behind our TV cabinets”, I wrote to our catsitter.

That was mid-July, and it had already been around for a couple weeks. Nearing September, the chipmunk was still with us.

220px-tamias_striatus2

Yes, they’re cute. But they’re still rodents.

It seemed to have a developed a routine of leaving its hiding place mid-morning to drink water from the cats’ bowls (handily kept right near the TV cabinets) and scrounge for food—which it was clearly doing successfully, given its longevity.

[Something I just learned from “Interesting facts about chipmunks: “Chipmunks are diurnal. In other words, they only come out during the daytime. The reason is not because they are blind at night, but because everything is too dark for their main defense system—their eyes—to work to their advantage.” Would explain why I never saw it in the evening.]

The chipmunk became increasingly brazen, stopping to give me a look to determine that I still appeared unable to catch (it was right; there is no catching a chipmunk!) before scurrying up the stairs to see what treasures could be found on the main floor. The cats occasionally decided to give chase, but more often just watched it, bemused.

The chipmunk was too big to be caught in mouse traps, too small to set off the squirrel trap, which we’d find untripped, bait missing. (“Great,” I said. “Now we’re purposefully feeding it.”)

We’d leave windows open a crack, but it showed no interest in exiting.

Maybe we need a rat trap, Jean suggested.

Before going that lethal route, we tried one more live trap, this one apparently designed for chipmunks: The Havahart Model #1025.

It took three days, but it actually worked: Chipmunk out for its rounds, almost immediately entered the trap, and… Trap door shut!

Chipmunk not happy.

I was a little freaked out by the success, especially as the little thing was making a terrible ruckus trying to bang its way out. Then I got it together enough to throw a pillow case over the trap (that’s supposed to calm the animal), and cary it out and over to the park, where I released it into the woods.

Herein ends your unrequested lesson in how to get a chipmunk out of your house. Now if only we could locate its entry point, so it can’t find its way back in…

Beyond the Lights or under the radar?

It was nominated for an Oscar and won some BET and critic’s awards, but I’m not sure how many people have heard of the movie Beyond the Lights. I was sort of looking out for it when it was released in 2015, but if it came around, it didn’t stay long.

I saw it recently as a DVD loaner from the library (it’s also on US Netflix). It’s about a young black woman, Noni, whose latest single is a big hit and whose first album is hotly anticipated. But after an award-winning night, she goes off alone and stands on the balcony of her fancy hotel room, thinking about jumping. She’s rescued by the young black officer on duty to protect her. They really seem to connect…

So yes, this is a romance, but better-written than most. Their challenges as a couple—the paparazzi, parental disapproval on both sides, conflicting career aspirations (the police officer also has political ambitions)—seem believable, not just plot contrivances. That Noni has a stage mom is a bit of cliche, but the character isn’t just a cartoon villain. The movie also offers a critique of the highly sexualized way young women are marketed in the music industry. (The film was written and directed by a woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood.) The actors are good, and lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw does have a lovely voice.

So if this sounds like your kind of thing, I think you’ll enjoy it. (And if not, like Jean, you’ll likely still admit it’s a decent film.)

Also recommended—but I assume most people have heard of this movie—the “still in theatres” The Big Sick. Making comedy out of the unfunny matters of race and illness.

Amazon pricing: Maybe it’s a game?

queen_al_live_in_japanSo back in November, the first-ever official live Queen + Adam Lambert blu-ray was released, initially sold only from a Japanese website. I most definitely wanted this thing, but when I did the conversion from Yen, it was $120 Canadian for the single disc + CD, plus shipping from Japan, which seemed… pricey, given that your average blu-ray is about $20.

So I waited for it to be available from Amazon as an import, whereupon it was listed for… $145. This was not going in the right direction. I kept checking it periodically, but the price remained stubbornly high, and nowhere else (including ebay) seemed to offer anything better.

Then one day Amazon emailed me to inform me that the price had dropped. Which it had… To $101.

I was considering that, but wasn’t yet convinced.

Then a little over a week ago, I had a random look Friday at lunch time and… It was $48.

So, fine, I ordered it. (And despite them telling me that by not choosing Prime, I’d have to wait til Thursday to get it, it arrived on Monday, Prime time!)

But the thing is, when I looked at the price again later that very same day—when I happened to be logged in as Jean—it was $62.

And right now, for both of me and Jean, it’s $67.

I’ve heard that Amazon has these sophisticated pricing algorithms that causes pricing to vary at any given time based on your past purchasing habits.

Which makes me wonder: Did I cave too soon? If I had kept checking at random times and days, would I have eventually acquired this item at $25?

And does this mean that all Amazon items are cheaper for me at lunchtime? Or on Fridays? Or have I ruined both now by going through with a purchase at that time and day?

And what’s up with the wildly different prices on the same piece of clothing at different sizes?

dresses-amazon.png

One dress, but each of its four sizes is a different price with a $140 range!

Anyway. The blu-ray is a gorgeous thing, with the best video and sound I’ve ever seen and heard on recorded Queen + Adam Lambert material. So I’m happy with it, even if the camera operator doesn’t always know when it’s important to focus on Adam (like, when he’s getting on his bike, and riding!).

 

Netflix: Giving us the sitcom revivals we didn’t know we needed

I don’t know that the world was clamoring for a remake of the Bonnie Franklin-starring 70s / 80s sitcom One Day at a Time, but Netflix has gifted it with one anyway. I was surprised to see how high it appeared on lists of best Netflix originals, so I decided to check it out.

What has it retained from the original? Well, there’s still a single Mom living in an apartment with her two teenage children, and a building supervisor named Schneider. Also, the same theme song, only re-recorded in a cooler version.

Other than that, not much. The family is Cuban-American; Mom Penelope is an army veteran; there is a daughter and son, not two girls; her mother lives with them, also; and Schneider is a wealthy Canadian ex-pat who never wears denim, carries a toolbox, or hits on Penelope. (See Why the New Schneider on One Day at a Time Is So Much Better Than the Old One.)

With its live studio audience and typical sitcom wisecracks flying, the series initially lulls you into thinking it will be super-light entertainment. But though it never gets too heavy, almost every episode touches on serious and often timely subjects: Dealing with PTSD. The challenges veterans have getting help from the VA. Figuring out your sexual identity. Raising boys in the age of online porn. Crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Pay equity. Affirmative action.

(Hey, I somehow circled back to news, sort of.)

It wasn’t the sort of addictive thing that I had to keep watching, but I enjoyed every episode and grew quite fond of the characters. Despite that list of Serious Issues, it is a comedy, and a funny one. I was sad to see the end of Season 1. Fortunately, it has been renewed for a second season.


1 Comment

How this “Conservative” feels about the leadership results

I never would have thought that the first political party I ever joined would be the Conservative Party of Canada.

Not only had I never voted for them, I had expended a certain amount of effort (and money) trying to ensure that others didn’t vote for them, either.

But Trump is certainly an inspirational figure, in that he has inspired people to act in ways they never previously did. In the US, you see it in the huge number of protesters, the anger evident at town halls, the number of phone calls made to members of Congress.

In Canada, I think it’s at least partly responsible for the record number of people who joined the Conservative Party of Canada this time out.

Anecdotally, some people joined the party just to stop Kellie Leitch from winning the leadership.

I’m an anecdote! (And I’m still hoping to find and attribute the article where the columnist wrote the above sentence (or one similar to that), but onward for now!)

Many months ago, Kellie Leitch, first in the leadership race but not making much headway, decided to hitch her train to Trump wagon and immediately vaulted to first place in the polls. And this time I do have her exact quote:

Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president.

It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.

— Kellie Leitch, November 9, 2016

Lord.

I was not in a happy place after that US election and the very idea that something similar could happen here… Well, I felt I had to do something.

There was the question of the ethics of joining a party you whose policies you didn’t necessarily, entirely, agree with. But, the fact is I was qualified to join (Canadian, didn’t belong to any other political party) and they were perfectly happy to take my $15 and sign me up.

And, my goals were not to harm the party. I wasn’t trying to saddle them with some horribly un-electable leader. In fact, I was hoping to find someone I actually could see myself voting for in a federal election.

Amazingly, I did, in one Michael Chong, a very principled politician with a set of policies I could get behind. Unfortunately, his stance against Islamophobia and, especially, his promotion of a revenue-neutral carbon tax led to him being booed at every single candidate’s debate.

Conservative MP Chong speaks during a news conference in Ottawa

But still, I had my guy. Only, this was a ranked ballot, so I couldn’t stop there. To put Kellie Leitch last, I had to make decisions about all the other candidates, too. And there were 13 of them! (At one point, 14.) The early assumptions that at least some of these more obscure, hopeless candidates would drop out—just didn’t happen.

There was so much email, people. 13 people emailing me about policies I often disagreed with, often mixed in with an assumption that I hated the Liberals. (Plus, then the party started asking me for more money. As if.)

But I got there. I managed to put 9 of them in order (of a maximum 10 allowed). Erin O’Toole got my #2, simply by being the only other candidate with any kind of plan to combat climate change—even if it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Chong’s.

(If there is one thing that drives me most mental about this party, it is their refusal to do anything about the biggest environmental problem the human race has ever faced. It’s nice that all but one of the candidates now admit the problem is real, but doesn’t that also make it even worse their “plan” is to just watch the planet burn? Anyway…)

We were out when results came in, so I followed along on Twitter as I could.

Polls (plus all the booing) had told me Chong’s chances of actually winning this thing were, uh, remote, so I was pretty happy with the results. Fifth is not a bad showing, overall. And he beat Kellie Leitch!

I wasn’t the only one pleased about that.

The goal here was for someone to get to 50% to take this thing. After each round, the bottom vote-getter dropped off and whoever voted for them #1 got their votes distributed to their #2 choice, and so on.

Well, it was a squeaker. It went the maximum number of rounds. Michael Chong stayed on to round 10, at which point my vote transferred to # 2 O’Toole, then finally to my #6 Maxime Bernier (choices 3-5 already gone by then), a candidate running on an interesting but somewhat radical Libertarian platform. However, on that final ballot, Bernier was eclipsed by Andrew Scheer, my #7 choice.

Political life in Canada would have been more interesting had Bernier won. We might have had debates about a number of issues that are unanimous among political parties now, but maybe shouldn’t be—like supply management and “corporate welfare”.

Scheer is a more boring choice, and also one I don’t see myself voting for. He had few policy ideas, and the ones he did, I found kind of dumb. It’s kind of still Stephen Harper, but with a more agreeable tone.

Still, a more agreeable tone is a welcome thing, as the simple nastiness of the Harper years was very off-putting and hardly necessary.

Today I decided to check how things played out in my riding, and was truly shocked at the results of the first ballot:

  1. Brad Trost – 29.4%
  2. Michael Chong – 19.4%
  3. Maxime Bernier – 15.9%
  4. Andrew Scheer – 10.5%
  5. Erin O’Toole – 8.3%
  6. Pierre Lemieux – 7.6%
  7. Kellie Leitch – 5.1%
  8. Lisa Raitt – 2.1

(The rest earned less than 1%.)

Brad Trost is an anti-gay, pro-life candidate, who doesn’t believe in climate change. He did far better in the overall race, as well, than anyone had been predicting.

All a reminder that those social conservatives, who really have no other home in politics, are highly motivated to get party memberships and vote. (Me, I didn’t rank him at all, would you believe.) But if you actually want to win this swing riding, note that Chong got twice the vote than the eventual winner….

So, that was sort of interesting. But my work here is done, and I’m so happy to have unsubscribed from all Conservative email lists!

PS: Should add that I actually didn’t unsubscribe from Michael Chong’s email list, and he just sent a lovely “Thank you for your support” email. He’s still young—remains to be seen how much of a future he still has in this party.


1 Comment

I have opinions. About things.

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all.

The Madness of King Donald, by Andrew Sullivan

But this is not really one of those times. It seems to me it would be exhausting to be against the current US administration right now, whether you are actively resisting (so many protests! So many calls to make and letters to write!) or feeling guilty that you aren’t resisting, or aren’t doing so enough.

Meanwhile in Canada…

I haven’t written, called, or protested about anything lately, save this letter to the editor about the faux scandal of Trudeau not attending Trump’s inauguration. Remember that? It seems so long ago! A number of people mentioned to me that they saw it.

It leaves me heartened that so many still read the local newspaper.

Oh, and I did sign the official petition protesting the Liberal’s abandonment of their electoral reform promise. Still open, if you’d like to do so also, though we all know it won’t change anything.

Electoral reform wasn’t my most important issue, but I did want to make at least minimal effort (and that was minimal) to register that the Liberal’s handling of it was… Unimpressive. 

First of all in the drafting of the promise itself:

electoral-reform

If your goal is to no longer use first past the post, why are you studying mandatory and online voting? Neither of those is an alternative to first past the post! (You can be forced to vote or allowed to vote on your phone with any system.)

Second, in making such a big deal about it. This party made hundreds of promises, any number of which haven’t been mentioned since election night. Since we now know they weren’t so keen on it, why did they spotlight this particular one so much, repeating it, according to the Washington Post, 1813 times?

Third, their handling of the committee report. First, the Minister of Democratic Institutions insulted the committee members, saying “they had not completed the hard work we had expected it to do” [false!]. Then she followed it up with a press conference in which she made fun of math—always a good look on a young woman (so inspiring!).

Monsef

What a ridiculous formula!

Fourth, in the Prime Minister’s lame excuses for killing the promise, citing fears of extremist parties holding the balance of power. What, like having a party that wants to break up the country as the Official Opposition (Bloc Québecois, 1993 ot 1997—thanks, first past the post!)? And then bizarrely citing the example of Kellie Leitch running her own party.

Under first past the post, Kellie Leitch has a reasonably good chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2019

After all, she is one of the front-runners in the 14-person race to be leader of the Conservative party of Canada.

Look, if I’m sympathetic to PR, it’s because Canada’s major parties sometimes move in alarming directions, and I know they only need to convince slightly more than a third of a the population (living the right places) to gain a majority of seats. And these days the Conservatives are doing far too much cozying up to their lunatic fringe for my comfort.

Four of them—Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, and Pierre Lemieux—happily attend a “Freedom rally” by “Rebel Media” (think Canada’s Breitbart) at which Muslims were called “unintegreteable” into Canadian society, and at which Muslims bans were requested. Nice!

And the rest? Four weeks after six Muslims were murdered while praying at their Quebec, the majority of them are reluctant to support a motion condemning Islamophobia and other religious discrimination. Why? Because the Rebel people had stoked fears and anger about this innocent motion, erroneously claiming that it would stifle freedom and speech and bring in Sharia law (!!!).

liberal-motion.png

Source: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/a-liberal-motion-is-not-going-to-force-sharia-law-on-canada-duh

As Paul Wells says, “all parties must decide if it’s better to campaign on fear or campaign against it.” Are they with Iqra Kalid, the Liberal MP who brought forth this motion, or with the people now bombarding her with hate and death thteats?

So far, only Conservative canddiate Michael Chong has shown the courage and ethics to support Motion 103.

I never thought the first political party I’d join would be the Conservatives, but it’s the only way I can vote for Michael Chong as leader. [And you can too (if you’re Canadian): Sign up at https://www.chong.ca/. It’s only $15.]

Who also happens to be the only candidate with a climate change plan—one that would also give us a big income tax cut! Otherwise, we have one climate denier (Trost) and 12 people who claim to believe it’s a problem but apparently don’t plan to do anything to fix it.

And this is an issue because the Conservative leadership is not first past the post, but a ranked ballot. Meaning that even though I only like one candidate, I have to try pick out the least objectionable remaining candidates to rank higher than the truly odious ones (the Rebel four, plus O’Leary, wh0 apparently intends to run the country from a US base). Wish me luck.

Cute cat video!

If you’ve actually made it this far down this post, you deserve this:

 


1 Comment

Hope

I didn’t want to write about it at all, and I won’t be going on about it now. But did want to say that yesterday’s fairly pathetic turnout:

920x920

Obama inauguration crowds on the left; Trump’s on the right

Contrasted with the astonishing crowd who turned out today for the #womensmarch protest:

natl_mall_womensmarchnoon_earthcam_1

Along with the multitudes protesting in cities across the United States, from states both blue:

And red:

Boosted by protests around the world:

Is giving me hope.


2 Comments

A most terrible year?

The year-end reviews certainly are gloomy this year. A sort of consensus that it’s hard to find anything good to say about 2016.

And for residents of some countries, that was certainly true. Poor Haiti had yet another earthquake. Syria! A daily dose of tragedy, made all the worse because our countries were involved in trying to stop it. And the Venezuelans—suffering under an incompetent President, their economic situation already bad and getting worse daily.

But as a global aggregate, the fact is that a lot of things are improving. (These charts don’t all include 2015—and can’t include 2016 yet, as it’s not done!—but the trends shown did not reverse themselves last year.)

Extreme poverty is down, and real incomes are up.

share-world-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

stephen-gordon

This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.

global-child-mortality-timeseries

Life expectancy is also up, globally

Education rates are much higher.

literate-and-illiterate-world-populationHomicide (and other crime rates) are down, even in gun-happy US.

homicide-rates-in-the-united-states-1950-2010-and-canada-1961-2009-pinker-2011-jpg

I think the source of all this gloom is the US election and its highly unfortunate result. Had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College, Brexit would seem a weird mess the Brits got themselves into rather than part of an alarming global trend. We could celebrate the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement and some actual action on the front (carbon pricing in Canada! Mon dieux!) instead of feeling it’s all a bit for naught now. The loss of beloved celebrities, some at alarmingly young ages (had not realized just how contemporaneous George Michael and I were), would be just a sad thing that eventually happens to us all, and not a pile-on when we don’t want more bad news (on Christmas Day? Really?).

However… while the mood is understandable, it’s still troubling. Because it’s pessimism, and a nostalgic belief that things were better before, and a denial of the inconvenient fact that things are actually pretty good right now—that the President-Elect ran on and got himself elected with.

It’s not a good place to settle in, mentally. It leads to hopelessness, and inactino. This one bad event didn’t make all of 2016 terrible. (And not to bring down the room, but won’t it be worse once he’s actually in office?)

But in 2016, the US had a great President.

barack-obama-computer-wallpaper

The 2016 Olympics were fun and kind of inspiring.

penny-oleksiak-canada-flag

The number of women of colour elected to the US Senate in 2016 has quadrupled.

4-0

After a serious health scare last year, Roger Daltrey came back with a Who 2016 tour.

c04uwx-ucaa5jsu

In 2016 the Canadian federal government and its gender-balanced cabinet made significant progress on trade with Europe, climate change, safe injection sites, assisted dying legislation, pipeline approvals (and rejections), and improvements to the Election Act.

trudeau-pipeline-20161129

The Hamilton Mixtape, released December 2016, was awesome.

cwwlmt5xeaaf_th-640x211

And Saturday Night Live (and other satirical programs) provided some catharsis.

“I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”


Leave a comment

Submitted without comment

Elizabeth May statement on Canada’s climate commitments

From 31 March 2015

Mr. Speaker, today, March 31, is the deadline for those nations that are ready to do so to table climate commitments with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in advance of COP 21. Yesterday in question period the minister confirmed that Canada was not ready and would miss this deadline. The excuse that was offered was that we were a federation and we were checking with the provinces and territories.

Of the 33 nations that, as of today, have met this and have filed their intended nationally determined contributions with the UN, one of those, the European Union, had 28 separate nation states with which to consult, confer and develop a plan, and it met the deadline.

The minister said yesterday that we had until December. That is not correct. By October, the UN system will have calculated the cumulative total of all commitments to see if it is sufficient to avoid 2°C.

At this point, we are missing our obligations to the world, to Canadians, and to our children.