Cultureguru's Weblog

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

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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:


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

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


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.


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.



This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.


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.


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.


The 2016 Olympics were fun and kind of inspiring.


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


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


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.


The Hamilton Mixtape, released December 2016, was awesome.


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’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


Dress for the weather

It’s past 8:00 pm and it’s still over 30C, and humid. It’s been like this for days. It’s officially a heat wave.

I must admit I don’t suffer that terribly during these. Fact is, I leave my air-conditioned house for my air-conditioned car, then drive to my air-conditioned office.

But also, I’ve been wearing dresses all week.

People, there is no better hot-weather garment in the world than the dress. Naturally, I do not mean the uncomfortable, bedazzled type of dress one might wear, say, when getting married.

Pink wedding dress

Not this kind of dress! (Also, hadn’t realized that “pink wedding dress” was a thing.)

I mean the plainer, looser type of garment that rests on your shoulders and just flows down from there, making a natural breeze as you walk.

T-shirt dress

OK, this one might not make a breeze when you walk. But you get the idea. It’s a very simple dress.

Obviously, the dress must be worn without any hose. Nylons would absolutely ruin the whole thing, in every way. No longer comfortable, no longer cool.

But just the dress, with some little sandals (and some undergarments, one assumes, but that’s really your business) is the next best thing you can wear in the heat. There’s a reason people in warm climes wear robes.

Buddhist man in robes

So pity the poor men-folk among us, who must make do with shorts–if their workplace even allows those, that is. Shorts are just not as good. They are a recipe for sweaty inner thighs. Who wants that?

The ability to wear dresses in summer is one of the very few advantages our society offers women over men.

And yet, I observe, not that many women take advantage.

Some, I suppose, may fear the air conditioning– that this outfit so perfect for the 33C degree, 40C humidex weather outside will only leave them shivering with cold while inside. A not unfounded fear (I actually sometimes bring in a sweater (!) just in case).

But an awful lot more, I think, either don’t realize how comfortable a dress can be (maybe they haven’t worn one since the prom?) or simply don’t feel comfortable in such a feminine garment. It’s undeniable that there’s nothing much more girly than a dress—even a simple dress—and girly just doesn’t sit well on every woman.

Fortunately, I am a lipstick feminist, totally in touch with my girly side.  (And no fan of sweaty thighs.)

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The story of my stuff

You’ve seen The Story of Stuff, yes? The fairly enlightening, partly animated video about how we North Americans all have too much stuff, and why that’s a problem? It has made me think. (99% of what I acquire is discarded within 6 months? Really?) But so far, I don’t think it’s really made me change my behavior.

It’s just so ingrained. Just watch this beautiful justification for why two people having three television sets just isn’t enough….


Many television series ran their course for the season back in May or so, but we’ve been getting by with season 1 of True Blood (never did develop the love, though), season 1 of Californication (whereas I really did get caught up with all these flawed people), and even finally finishing all my PVR’ed episodes of Flashforward. (And the TV critic who claimed the last episode was confusing and open-ended was an idiot. The last episode wasn’t in the least hard to follow, and the series tied itself up very nicely, leaving some areas open for the future, yes, but hardly to a frustrating extent. The whole thing is recommended for all who like sci-fi, physics, and philosophical questions of will vs. fate, as presented by pretty people.)

But now all those are done, too, so Jean and I have near run out of shows we both like to watch. This is a problem, because we both tend to like to settle down around 9:00 for a bit of TV. What to watch, what to watch, when all I want to do is catch up with So You Think You Can Dance (nestled there on the PVR) but he’s already engrossed in an action thriller on AMC?

What, you only have TV, you ask? Well, no. But the thing, we only have one TV in a location where it’s actually comfortable to sit down and watch it. The second one is in the kitchen, where your only seating option are the high stools at the breakfast bar. Fine for catching the news while preparing and eating dinner, but not so great for settling in for a long watch. (Plus, being that close to the food also leads to way too much snacking.)

And the third? If you can even call that a TV, given that it’s–and I’m serious–a Commodore 64 monitor. So it’s very old and therefore prone to some flickering, and also very small. And, it’s in the exercise room. Being an exercise room, there are no seats in there, unless you count the big weight machine chair. So it’s a great place to play exercise or other videos while exercising. But if you just want to watch TV, you’re kind of stuck with a yoga mat on the floor as “seating”.

This, combined with the grumpiness that comes with the heat and humidity of late, that has led to us arguing over our respective television preferences, and who is to be banished to the uncomfortable upstairs. Adding insult to injury, upstairs person also loses PVR access. Stuck with live TV, with its many, many long commercial breaks (all telling you that you suck and need to buy more stuff)…

So, clearly, we need to put a TV in the living room.

Much like TV in the bedroom, this is something I’ve always resisted, with some idea that the living room should be about “higher” culture like books and music and paintings and conversation.

But one has to be practical. Fact is, it is the only other room in the house with couches and chairs.

But we ain’t putting a TV cabinet in there. So, the thing will have to wall-mounted. And, it’s the living room; it’s going to have to look good. So there’s no question of moving one of the existing extra TVs into that room (and besides, we need them where they are!). Clearly, we need a new TV.

A lovely, sleek, new flatscreen television.


See how that works? And the lovely new television will, in turn, lead to justifications for high-definition TV receivers and service and PVRs, not to mention BlueRay DVD players and discs. And won’t that mean some sort of sound system upgrade? …

And hence we demonstrate our value in this culture of consumerism.

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Catching up

OK, so instead of owning the podium, we just rented the top floor.

(I have to give a CP reporter the credit for that quote.) Wasn’t that fun? The Olympic withdrawal is going to be tough. It’s been the framing device around all events for the past two weeks. Furthermore, that’s been true of almost everyone else. What else does that anymore? Not the Oscars, not the series finale of Lost, not the Superbowl, not even the Stanley Cup.

Big eating weekend

I described last weekend (Feb. 19–21) as my “big eating weekend.” For the Friday, well ahead, we had arranged to meet up with friends at Verses. They were particularly pleased to have meat there. “We’re coming off a month of veganism,” they explained. “If you think vegetarianism is hard? Try veganism.”

Then on the following Saturday, our neighborhood association held a wine tasting dinner at Solé. Solé generally does an excellent job with these, and the featured wine was from Rosewood Estates, which we really like. So we had to sign up for that as well. We ended up sitting with the owner of the winery, who proved to be a very interesting guy, with rather strong opinions about wines of different price points, and the marketing strategies of various regions.

And it was a great meal. It started with their Sémillon, which I judged reminiscent of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, so was pleased when informed that’s what they were going for. It was delicious, as was the smoked trout served with it—amazing stuff, the food highlight of the meal. The main course was chicken with wild mushrooms, and it was served with a Meritage wine. (I was hoping to get their Pinot Noir again, but the 2007 is apparently all sold out.) Dessert featured honey wine, served with an apple caramel tart.

Olympic-wise, that was a pretty quiet weekend. That’s when there was all that grousing about Canada’s performance being somewhat disappointing, which I mostly found irritating. But since we don’t really know our neighbours (and besides the wine people, that’s who was there), it was very handy to have that to talk about.

Shall we dance?

Despite some moments of mild panic—me on the “hockey stick” step (seriously, that’s what it’s called) of the cha-cha, Jean on the intricate shaping of the slow fox—we’re fumbling our way reasonably well through our ballroom dance classes for people who had taken a seven-year break. This week’s class coincided with the Russia-Canada hockey quarter-final, but late arrivals reported on the already lopsided score involved there, and we stopped worrying about that too much.

But our dance instructor wanted to talk about another sport:

“Why did they win?” he asked. After some brilliant responses like, “cause they were good,” the issue of synchronicity came up. “That’s right!” he said. “They danced as though they were one.” Which is what we were all striving for. “And if you practice for 8 hours a day, for 12 years, maybe learn to skate… Who knows?”

That night I planned to finish watching the ladies’ short in figure skating, recorded the night before, but I got distracted by all those other medals by all those other Canadian ladies: gold and silver in bobsled. Silver in short track.


The day after dance class, I attended a Waterloo-hosted a TEDx conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and the motto is “Ideas worth spreading.” In 21 minutes or less.

The event started by being delayed by technical difficulties. This is when I discovered that I was, apparently, the only person in the room whose iPod was not Touch and whose cell phone was not i.  That is, no portable Internet connectivity for me. So while everyone else tapped away around me, twittering about the delay and receiving updated ladies’ curling scores… I read a magazine. I mean, a dead-tree edition magazine.

There’s some message there somewhere, and I don’t really like it. But at least I didn’t have to worry about any batteries dying.

But once the conference got underway, it did feature some interesting speakers and ideas. Terry O’Reilly from CBC’s The Age of Persuasion on the underrated importance of friction in selling products. An exploration of living architecture (using materials that respond to human touch—a bit freaky). The director of of the documentary Prom Night in Mississippi, who also shared information about how meeting The Beatles played a role in his spiritual awakening. Caroline Disler on how much of “Western” civilization actually comes from the east. And a study of the ecology of restoration, using Sudbury as a model.

And back home, the very good women’s gold medal hockey game! And the equally tough, in their own way, women of figure skating singles. Yu-na Kim perfection, a woman who does triple axels better than many of the men, and Joannie Rochette, showing it’s about more than medals (though it is great she won one).

Timmins wedding

It’s my wedding year, I guess, as we traveled again for a wedding on the weekend, this time to Timmins. But we weren’t on call to do much the Friday night, so after spending some excrutiating time watching the women’s curling final, first with my family, then with Jean’s, we went out to bar with my brother and his wife to get away from sport a bit and listen to some music.

The young singer, Louis-Phillip Sébastien, was quite good. But he was also fighting a cold, so his set was short. Really short. So then the bar turned the TV on the men’s hockey game, which seemed to go pretty well. It was only after getting home we found out that they nearly lost it in the last few minutes.

The wedding on Saturday was lovely, and I think most people had a great time, with lots of dancing. I’m not sure what the attendance would have been had a major hockey game been scheduled that night, but people were content to merely zip into the bar on breaks and report that the men’s curling team were winning gold.

The invitation to the wedding has specified “black and white dress.” On first reading that, I assume that was some other way of saying “dress up nice,” and planned on wearing a fancy black and red dress. But, it turned out that they actually wanted people to dress in black and white. We found this out only late in the game, though, and at that point, I wasn’t too thrilled by the idea of going out to buy a new dress. I just threw in a white throw to cut the effect.

So in case you’re wondering… it is a bit odd being the only person wearing red in the room.

At least I was, until the red sock dance—a weird, franco-ontarian wedding tradition whereby any unmarried older sibling has to, well, dance in red socks. I have no idea why.

The opening of the wedding presents was on Sunday, about an hour before the Gold medal game. We overheard the first period there (knowing by the cheering that it was 1-0), watched the second with Jean’s Mom, and the third and overtime with my family. Scoring with 24 seconds left? Are you kidding me? And then Crosby again scored when it really counted.

While I really think hockey got too much emphasis overall, I must admit that was quite the capper.

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Things I might blog about if I had more time

  • The perilous nature of cover versions of songs. (That topic’s been simmering for some time.)
  • Going to Indiana for the wedding of someone I’ve known for decades, but haven’t actually met in person before.
  • The peculiar “war of articles” about global warming going on at the “Green Team” posting board at work.
  • One year of Who DVDs.

Maybe next week? Tonight I have a wedding present to wrap!