Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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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:

 


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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.


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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

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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.

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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.

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

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


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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.


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Travel tips: Six ways to save

I clearly enjoy a certain amount of luxury when I travel, so can hardly be called a budget traveler, but I can be an incredible cheapskate about certain things. Like bank charges. And roaming fees.

So here are some ways I found to save on these things. Along with some ways to save your sanity, and maybe do less damage to the planet.

Tip 1: Use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees

We do tend to use the plastic a lot when traveling, but it only dawned on us recently that we were being charged an extra 2.5% per transaction for the privilege. That’s a lot!

Some web research revealed that there are cards that don’t charge such fees. This motivated me to accepted Amazon.ca’s persistent offers to get their Visa credit card.

Now, I don’t know if it’s the only credit card that offers this perk, but we’ve been happy with it so far. It charges no annual fee, and you earn 1 point per dollar spent in general, 2 points per dollar spent at Amazon. Once you’ve earned enough points, you automatically get a cash back credit of 1% on your credit card.

As with most points credit cards, the interest rate is terrible, so we must always pay it off in full. But by using that on our Seattle trip, I estimate that we saved a good 2.5% in total! And we earned $20 back in points.

Tip 2: Get some foreign currency before you leave

Haven’t yet found a way to avoid out-of-country ATM fees, so we always try to get some foreign currency before we go. Our supplier of choice is Currency Converters, who charge no fees and carry a wide range of currencies, and can order anything not right in stock.

Tip 3: Use a US SIM card in an unlocked phone

My Canadian cell provider offered one week of US service for $40 with unlimited texting and calling, but capped at 250 MB of data.

Or, I found I could buy a Roam Mobility SIM card and pay $4 a day for unlimited texting calling, and 350 MB of data every day! Sold!

In fact, there are a lot of options for US SIM cards, and I don’t know if this one is the best. I did like that I could buy and set it up in advance, (right from my local gas station), and that it could be activated for the exact amount of time needed, down the hour. And unlike some cards, it included calls to Canada, not just the US.

Setting it up couldn’t have been easier (beyond struggle to not lose the tiny SIM cards), and it worked a treat.I totally loved the novelty of not worrying about using data on my phone! The only times I had service issues were in the mountainous regions, which is understandable.

Climbing Mount Storm King

Your cell phone won’t work here.

At Lake Crescent, I had only “emergency service”, and was a bit stunned when my phone started shouting out Amber Alerts. At regular intervals. I finally had to just turn off the phone.

Then when home, I watched Sleepy Hollow, and Ichabob Crane encountered the same phenomenon! So I guess that’s a thing. (Do they not do that here, or would they if we ever had Amber Alerts, but we never do?)

Tip 4: Take the light rail to and from the airport

The train from Seattle airport to downtown, where our hotel was, was $2.75 each. A cab would have been about $55.

Furthermore, the train runs frequently, and traffic in Seattle is terrible, so I’m not sure you’d save much time in the cab, either.

So go LTR.

Tip 5: Consider flying out of Kitchener Airport

OK, this one is perhaps not a money-saving tip, as I’m sure it’s a lot cheaper to fly out of Buffalo.

But it’s much nicer flying out of a tiny airport, where yours is the only flight they have to deal with at that time. And yes, we had to transfer through Chicago, but honestly, I have never had so much assistance with an airport transfer in my life. All along were staff making sure we got in the right line, used the machines effectively, found the right gate.

It was even easier on the way home, when our luggage transferred through and we didn’t have to do double customs and security.

Parking—right at the airport, of course—was only $55. About half the off-airport cost at Pearson. So there’s that…

Tip 6: Rent a Prius!

Did we really save money? I don’t know. It was only $17 the one time we had to fill up, but the rental was slightly more than with a conventional car.

Did we help save the planet? Dubious, given that we also flew across the country.

But how often do you get to drive a Prius? Though I must say your odds are much better in Washington State, because they’re all over the place there. Must be the Prius capital of the continent.

Me and the rental Prisu

The rental Prius

(We also, by the way, stopped and looked at Tesla which was being exhibited in Seattle. Very nice! Of course, they didn’t let us drive it. But they did mention that Washing state was also the Tesla capital of the continent. Bit of a granola state, I guess.)

Most notable difference on the Prius vs. a gas guzzler? Lack of zoom zoom. Although there is a Power button you can push if you really do need some acceleration in a hurry. And it is a pretty quiet car. It also has these neat displays showing you when you’re drawing on battery power vs. engine power, so that was some built-in entertainment.


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Blogger is deeper than she appears

I was joking the other day with Jean about my blogging persona. “I’m kind of jealous of her,” I said. “Nice life! Seeing all those art movies, going to concerts, eating at nice restaurants (while showing too much cleavage), traveling around, watching TV, drinking wine… Does she even work? Does she watch the news?…”

Now, clearly, I have never consciously tried to cultivate a brand for this blog as I’m not trying to monetize it nor achieve a particular readership level. Because to do that I would need to cultivate a niche and really focus on that one that area, rather than what do I do, which is just write about whatever I feel like.

Edie Brickell

But the fact is, I’ve realized, a quasi-brand has emerged anyway, and it’s one largely focused on the shallow side of life. It does not, or does not very often, touch on the following:

1. Big, weighty world issues

The world is kind of a mess. It’s not that I don’t care about this, nor that I’m uninterested in it. I read a lot of news. I fret, I fume, and I worry about it. I donate to causes. I sign petition. I tweet and retweet about certain outrages in the world.

But—although there have been exceptions, and may be again—I don’t blog that much about the issues I care deeply about, like climate change and other environmental problems; the erosion of democracy; and human rights infractions.

Because honestly, these things are just too depressing. I usually don’t feel that anything I say can really make a difference, and I generally don’t feel I have any new solutions to offer up.

I blog as an escape from all that, rather than to delve into it further.

2. My job

This one has been really conscious choice: to not blog about my employer (I certainly hope there haven’t been exceptions), and therefore not go on too much about my job, or my profession, even.

It’s partly that I don’t want to inadvertently get myself into trouble. But it’s mainly because that part of my life already consumes the majority of my waking hours. I like my job fine, but that’s enough. When I’m blogging, on my own time, it’s going to be on other subjects that interest me.

3. Personal problems

I have these, sometimes. If they’re minor enough, I may even rant about them here. But when something big is going on, when something’s really troubling me, I somehow don’t feel that telling everyone on the Internet about it is going to help in any way. Indeed, there is an inverse relationship: The more something is bothering me, the fewer the number of people I’m willing to share it with.

This is probably unhealthy, and I probably should learn to open up to people more, or more quickly. Not sure that will ever take blog form, however.

Shove me in the shallow water before I get too deep

Don’t let me get too deep

— “What I Am” by Edie Brickell