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


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Sometimes political art

Concerts, plays, stand-up, and movies are sometimes an escape from current events, sometimes a reflection of it.

Beethoven 9 / Mijidwewinan

The two final concerts of the KW Symphony’s season, featuring new conductor, Andrei Feher, were both sellouts. The draw, besides Feher himself, was the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, a choral piece better known as the Ode to Joy. It’s always a worry, when facing a 65-minute symphonic live performance: Will my pop-music brain be able to stay focused for that long?

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But Beethoven’s skill as a composer made that pretty easy, actually. And the lively conducting didn’t hurt, either.

The concert began, though, with an original piece by a native Canadian composer, Barbara Croall. It was a musical interpretation of a mystical, visionary ceremony in which Anishinaabe get in touch with nature—and humankind’s damaging effects on it. Croall performed as a singer in the piece, which takes us on a day’s journey from dark to light and back to dark.

It was very different from Beethoven, as you might imagine. But equally engaging and moving. Made for a very satisfying overall concert experience.

Jeans’n’Classics: Bowie & Prince

Jeans’n’Classics perform orchestrated versions of popular pop and rock songs. We used to go to all of their shows, but had stopped more recently, when they stopped performing with the KW Symphony (in favor of a smaller, and therefore cheaper, group of classical musicians). But, I really wanted to hear orchestrated Prince.

They played two sets, with an intermission. Both featured first Bowie songs, then Prince ones, each section handled by a different singer (understandably). The Bowie parts were fine; the man wrote some excellent songs. But the energy in the place would just go through the roof whenever the Prince would kick in. Just so much more funky! And very ably handled by Gavin Hope, taking a break from his usual gig with The Nylons, along with singers Kalalin Kiss and Andrea Koziol, who each got featured in a duet.

To me, much as I like Bowie music, this show could have been all Prince. But then, these orchestrations don’t write themselves, and maybe it was a challenge getting enough Prince songs ready. (Bowie has been in their repertoire longer.)

Prince covering David Bowie’s “Heroes” (mixed with “Dolphins”)

Set list:

Rebel Rebel
Let’s Dance
Blue Jean
Ashes To Ashes
1999
Little Red Corvette
Diamonds And Pearls
When Doves Cry
I Would Die For You

Space Oddity
Starman
Changes
All The Young Dudes
China Girl
Baby I’m A Star
Raspberry Beret
Nothing Compares To You
Let’s Go Crazy

Purple Rain
Suffragette City

Kathy Griffin: Laugh your head off!

Kathy Griffin put this show, and tour, together in response to the trouble she got into about a year ago after a photo of her holding a ketchup-dipped mask of Donald Trump was published on TMZ. There was an outcry that went to the highest levels of government. She was fired from various TV jobs, her live shows were cancelled, and she found herself under FBI investigation.

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Much of what happened to her isn’t all that funny, so her almost-three-hour long (yes!) show touches on many other subjects, such as the fun of living next door to Kanye and Kim Kardashian, the weirdness of doing a show for Donald Trump with Liza Minelli (before all that happened, obviously), what Wayne Gretzky is really like (a bit of a hoser), and life with her alcoholic but loving mom. In fact, Griffin switches subjects so rapidly ,and goes on so many tangents, that Jean had trouble keeping up.

It was an impressive performance. So much energy! And the crowd at Centre in the Square (she informed us that the people in Toronto thought it was hilarious she was going to Kitchener of all places) was very different from the symphony! Younger, gayer (as a percentage), livelier, and very warm. It was, mostly, very funny. She manages to bring humour even into (most of) the darker topics—the abusive and threatening messages she and her family received, the loss of support from people she thought were her friends, the interrogation itself, being on the no-fly list, the effect on her livelihood…

It’s great that she’s found a way back, even though she had to take a pay cut to do it.

Come from Away

This was a family outing in Toronto. We bought tickets months ago. But we saw it just days after the US administration imposed punitive tariffs on Canada and followed it up by insulting the Prime Minister, backing out of the G7 statement, and offering Canadians a “special place in hell”.

So it was bittersweet watching this musical about the residents of the small Canadian town of Gander doing everything they could to accommodate the thousands of mostly American travelers who ended up stuck there when US airspace on 9/11. (Aside: This was the musical that Justin Trudeau escorted Ivanka Trump to in happier (?) times.)

How do you make a story of an event like that? By focusing in on a small number of the thousands of travelers, people of different races, religions, and sexual orientations, and following their experiences in that small town (population 7000, doubled overnight). And interspersing that with the logistics that the Gander residents had to deal with: Where will they all sleep? (Among other things, people put them up in their houses.) How do we keep all this extra food fresh? (Re-purpose that hockey rink.) What about the animals on those planes? (Send out the SPCA lady!)

It really is a heart-warming story, even as it doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects (such as the prejudice against Muslims). It’s often very often. And it has great fiddle music, which, my Dad pointed, really moves the story forward.

Come From Away Quotes {Taken out of Context}

Source: Come From Away Fan Blog

  • I’ll write S.T.F.D. Slow the fuck down!
  • For the love of God! Stop bringing toilet paper to the Lion’s Club!
  • And my boyfriend Kevin. We’re both named Kevin. It was cute for a while.
  • Excuse me, would you like some Xanax? Because you are freaking out and it is freaking me out and we are all freaking the f*ck out!
  • We ran through every movie we had: Legally Blonde, Doctor Doolittle 2, and…Titanic.
  • Oh my god, this is just so remote.
  • Now there’s the reason I drive slow. That there in the middle of the road? Yah. That’s a moose. She’ll move when she’s good and ready.
  • Safe and sound here on the ground in Iceland.
    No, Newfoundland!
  • I woke up from a dream that we were stuck in some backwater Canadian town and that my air mattress deflated.
  • I wanted to burn my socks.
  • Kevin puts on this plaid – thing. He says he’s “incognito”, and that he’s “going to blend in with the natives”, but he just looks like a gay lumberjack.
  • “We ended up in the gayest town in Canada.”

After a series of sold-out shows, it’s been extended in Toronto, again. I would recommend it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Rotten Tomatoes reviews almost scared us away from watching this Netflix movie, but then we were like, hey, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter got even worse Rotten Tomatoes reviews, and we liked that, so what the heck?

I don’t know what all the complaining is about. This movie is exactly what the title suggests: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Only, with zombies. You like the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy? You like seeing kickass women (and men, but mostly women) take out the undead? (These are basically the evil undead, not the nice “they’re just people with a problem” undead of iZombie / Santa Clarita Diet.) If yes, then you’ll like this movie!

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Nobody puts Elizabeth Bennet in a corner

Really. We enjoyed it. It was fun. (I thought maybe the bad guy had a point about the zombies and the placating them with pig’s brains, given that they reproduce so much faster than people, and that the good guys dismissed that idea a little quickly, but still. Overall, this is a non-guilty guilty pleasure.)


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Twitter break

We’d boarded, so I set my phone and tablet to airplane mode, and kept myself entertained with a novel. On the drive home from the airport, I decided: No more Twitter.

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Going cold turkey

I made no announcements (who would care?), did not delete my account, didn’t even uninstall the app or turn off the notifications. I just… stopped going to Twitter.

What struck me at first was that… I felt like I had so much time. To read other stuff. To get chores done. To talk to people (in person). To arrive places on time. Woah.

What surprised me next was that, I didn’t miss reading Twitter at all. But I did miss tweeting out links to interesting stuff.

A few times, I just broke down and did that, the tweeting. (Alysha Brilla liked one of them. That was cool.) But I stayed away from the reading of the timeline.

The reason was nothing so dramatic as online harassment, thank God. It was just the stress of it, the anxiety.

Twitter was just Freaking Me Out.


Ontario was about to elect an incompetent populist as Premier. Canada was getting into a trade war with the US. Immigrant children were being separated from their parents. And reading about this (and more!) on Twitter, I worried about all of it.

Yet, it’s not like a took a news break here. While not on Twitter, I was still reading and hearing about all of this (and other bad stuff going on). It just seemed so much easier to manage the information in the form of news articles, editorials, and TV reports than in the hot takes, inflammatory opinions, alarming speculation, and emotional responses on Twitter.

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Twitter never warns you. (Source: Pearls Before Swine)

Twitter is a social media, and there can be some comfort in knowing that others are worried about the same things you are. But only to a point. The point where you start out seeking validation about one issue only to find yourself, an hour later, in a tizzy about ten other issues, three of which might just be inventions or misunderstandings.

So, I stopped. The generalized anxiety didn’t immediately disappear. Initially, it transferred onto other targets (Inner monologue: “Is the cats’ ear infection back?” “How do you get a skunk out from under the deck?” “Wait, is this just a mosquito bite, or…?”), like the angst needed somewhere else to go now that it didn’t have Twitter to feed it. But with time that diminished also.

On election day, I was able to view the bad (but expected) results without getting overly emotional, and I managed have a decent night’s sleep afterward. Sure, it was mostly an infuriating result, but my candidate won (easily), and she’s a qualified, experienced women. And Ontario did elect its first Green MPP, a just reward for the party that had the best platform on offer.


Today, after about a week off, I dipped a toe back into the Twitter. For all its flaws, it is a good way for me to find out about things that I care about, that simply don’t make the headline news. (Queen and Adam Lambert have done a live version of “Lucy”! Rainbow Rowell is writing a sequel to Carry On!)

And all that G7 crazy-ness was pretty interesting. Until… I found myself getting kind of anxious about it.

And then… I closed the app.


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The Green Party sign on the lawn

Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election, as evidenced by the lawn signs popping up around town. In our neighbourhood, the PCs were out first, and I’m surrounded by them. The NDP were next; they’re further up the street. Haven’t seen too many Liberal. Then on my way home yesterday, I’m like hey, there’s a Green Party sign.

Then: Wait, that’s on my lawn.

They actually shouldn’t have done that. I get why they thought they could—because at some point in the past year or so, I donated to that party. So few people donate to political parties, I can understand them thinking that, for sure, it must mean that I plan vote Green.

Except that I’m that rare weirdo who will donate to a party just to encourage them, secure in the knowledge that I will get 75% of my donation back at tax time. If donating meant that you could automatically plant signs in my lawn, in some cases, I would have had three or four different parties’ signs on my lawn. But still only one vote.

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Signs of the indecisive

The Greens didn’t ask me if it was OK for them to put a sign on my lawn. So I could by rights call them up and ask them to take it away. Or more simply, just take it out myself put it in my garage.

Having it out there feels like a lie, as though I’m saying I plan to vote for this party, and you should too. When really, the only thing I’m sure of in this election, is that because of Doug Ford, I will not be voting PC, and I wish that others would not, either. But as to whom I or anyone else should vote for instead…? It’s a tough one.

This is a sentiment difficult to express with any lawn sign.


Voting in an Ontario provincial election is very simple: Using a pencil, you put your x beside the name of one candidate from one party (or an independent), and you’re done.

But it’s a fairly complex set of factors you have to consider when deciding where to put that x.

Which party has the best leader?

It’s unfortunate that in our parliamentary voting system, where each party leader is just another elected MPP, that leaders have such focus and importance. But that’s the way it is.

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Provincial party leaders Doug Ford (PC), Kathleen Wynne (Liberal), Andrea Horwath (NDP), and Mike Schreiner (Green)

As I’ve said, I don’t think Doug Ford is qualified to be Premier. I don’t want to go on a big rant about it, so I’ll keep it to a little rant. His only political experience is a Toronto city councilor, where he was frequently absent, and always uninterested in learning the details of policy. Which is probably why the PCs are basically running without a platform. All evidence suggests he’d be a terrible Premier. (See: https://www.notdoug.com/)

“Vote for this guy, his worst ideas are so terrible the courts will save us from them and she’s just the worst” isn’t as novel a platform as it used to be and we’re already seeing how it plays out down south, but let’s give it another go up here. What could possibly go wrong?

Doug Ford’s politics of indulgence by Tabatha Southey

But who’s the best other option?

Would you rather vote for the incompetent incumbent, the profligate wildcard, or the fake conservative who refuses to show his work?

— Robyn Urback, being cynical

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not on the “I hate Kathleen Wynn” train. The woman is impressive. She’s smart and decent and qualified. Here I’m going to quote Christie Blatchford, a conservative I often disagree with:

…it’s why the decision facing Ontario voters on June 7 is so freaking difficult — or rather, she’s why.

Kathleen Wynne is so clearly heads and tails smarter, better informed and more capable than Doug Ford that it borders on the ridiculous.

Smarter, more capable Kathleen Wynne

But, the NDP’s Andrea Horwath is having a good campaign. Last election she came off as angry and aggressive, and it was rather off-putting. (I also thought the NDP platform then was dumb.) This time, she’s sounding much more positive and putting herself across in a reassuring way. These Paul Wells assessment is probably fair:

She has richly earned a reputation for being one of the least exciting politicians in the land. But there is something fascinating in her old-fashioned willingness to answer a question in detail.

Just how far can Andrea Horwath go?

The Green’s Mike Schreiner suffers from being excluded from a lot of debates, so I suspect the average Ontarian knows nothing about him. But I’m again that sort of weirdo who will make the effort, and he also comes off well. Here’s a report from a forum he was allowed to attend [and how much do you love that they also included the None of the Above party?]:

Perhaps neophyte fringe candidate Paul Taylor, representing the None Of The Above Party, summed up Thursday’s night’s all-candidates forum best.

Seating arrangements on stage at the Italian Canadian Club had the affable Taylor sitting to the right of Green Party candidate Mike Schreiner’s, meaning Taylor had to repeatedly address a question after Schreiner’s energetic, precise and crowd-pleasing responses.

“Oh shit. I should have sat down there,” said Taylor motioning further down the table.

Schreiner led the pack at the first local public all-candidates forum. He has been campaigning for months, he is by far the most experienced of the bunch and he is well versed on the issues and his party’s stances on them.

Schreiner shines at first all-candidates forum

If I lived in his Guelph riding, I’d have no doubt about my vote. Or the appropriateness of a Green Party lawn sign.

But I don’t live in Guelph.

Who’s the best local candidate?

Individual MPPs don’t matter as much as I think they should, but that is who we are actually voting for. And in this case, I have an answer to the question: NDP candidate Catherine Fife. She is the current MPP, running for re-election. And she has always been an impressive politician: articulate, well-informed, charismatic. If the NDP did manage to be part of some sort of government, she’d likely be in Cabinet.

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I did hear a debate between her and the local Liberal and PC candidates, and the other two sounded good as well. Just not necessarily better than Ms. Fife.

As for the Green candidate, I have yet to catch a debate that includes him, and I know nothing about him. (Except that he puts out lawn signs without asking.)

Who’s most likely to beat the PCs in my riding?

This is the strategic vote angle. If all I’m sure about is that I’d rather not have a PC government under Doug Ford, then I should vote for whoever is most likely to beat that party.

And in this riding, no doubt that means voting for Catherine Fife of the NDP. Despite this not being a traditionally NDP riding, she’s managed to win the last two elections with margins of 7% to 8%. One of those was a by-election, but the other case she managed to win despite it being a fairly disastrous election for the NDP as a whole. This time the NDP  is so far polling much better than last time, making her the horse to bet on with your anti-PC vote.

Who has the best platform?

Oh yeah, that. Which party’s policies do I most agree with?

According to the CBC vote compass poll that I took, that would be… The Green Party of Ontario.

This blog post is already running to novel lengths, so I’ll just touch on three policy areas where the Greens impress.

Deficits

Not always a bad thing for a government to run deficits, but Ontario is in a bit of a precarious financial situation and none of the major parties are being honest about what that implies.

First of all, they are starting with numbers that are likely bogus, according to the Auditor General (see: Bad books: How Ontario’s new hydro accounting could cost taxpayers billions). Nevertheless, the Liberals plan to forge ahead with a number of new drug, dental, childcare, and mental health programs, along with a commitment to high-speed rail which (lovely as it sounds), just isn’t economically viable (see: Kathleen Wynne’s pledge to spend billions on a bullet train makes zero sense).

The NDP would do similarly things, but differently. Like drug plans for everyone, instead of only those of a certain age, but excluding those who have employee coverage. And not committing to high-speed rail. To pay for their commitments, they would increase taxes on the wealthiest and larger corporations, but that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the deficit.

The PCs? Their “plan” involves spending more (in certain areas) and reducing government revenue (lowering various taxes, getting rid of cap and trade). Oh, and they wouldn’t lay anyone off. How will they pay for that? Wave their hands and say, “efficiencies”, apparently. They unsurprisingly haven’t released any costing for this impossible plan. People sort of assume they care about the deficit, but there’s no evidence of it.

The Greens also support spending in new areas, but they at least have some proposals for how to pay for it: congestion taxes, parking levies, tobacco tax increases. “Even with a better range of public services, our projected deficit will be almost one third of the deficit projected by the Financial Accountability Office for the 2018 Ontario Provincial Budget. No other party has accounted for these higher budget deficits.” Source: Green Party platform

Hydro

Ontario’s hydro system has been mismanaged (mostly under Ontario’s previous premier) and a lot of people (not me so much, but) are angry about their higher utility bills. The Liberals, as already noted, are doing some accounting hocus-pocus to put off some hydro bills til later, even though that’s going to end up costing way more in the end. The NDP plans to bring Hydro One back into public hands, which may be is a good idea, but unlikely to be as easy to accomplish as they claim. The PCs will just lower rates, somehow. I don’t know, and I don’t believe they plan to undo the hocus-pocus.

The Greens, meanwhile, have a really specific idea: “Ontario can save $1.1 billion per year by closing the Pickering Nuclear station on schedule in 2018. We can replace high cost nuclear power with low cost water power from Quebec.” Is there something wrong this plan? I don’t know; they’re the Green party, nobody bothers to analyze their plans. But it certainly sounds more sensible than anybody else’s.

Marijuana

Canadian Senate permitting, marijuana will become legal this summer. The Liberal plan is to sell it only through government stores, à la LCBO, pushing out the small producers who have, for years now, supplying the product for medical marijuana users. The NDP have rightly criticized the very small number of stores the Liberals plan to roll out, but haven’t proposed a different approach. Doug Ford has mumbled something about supporting the free market there, but as always, without any details.

Whereas the Green Party were hot off the presses with an alternative plan to regulate and license small businesses to sell cannabis, way back in September.

Can you read the signs?

Clearly, I would like some sort of ranked ballot to better catch these nuances (and only the Greens support that). But in the current one-vote world? Three weeks to decide…

 


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Finding time to listen

I have found a new (to me) podcasting app Pocket Casts and it’s very good. It has solved all my podcasting problems: It gathers all podcasts in one app, whereas before I was bouncing between iTunes, Google, SoundCloud, and a browser. It keeps my spot in each podcast I’ve started, even when switching devices or playing through Sonos or Chromecasting. It can even cut silences out of each episode, making it each one slightly shorter.

Wait, did I say it solved all my podcasting problems? There’s one it’s likely only exacerbated, even with the seconds or minutes saved by cutting out silences: finding time to listen to all the ones I’d like to.

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Some people do this by listening on what they call chipmunk speed, playing it at a faster speed than recorded. I tried that, but I just don’t like the weird sound that results, even at only 1.5x faster.

I can’t attend to a podcast while reading, or having a conversation, or working (because fortunately my job’s not that boring), or writing, or anything else in which I have to attend to my thoughts. My commute is extremely short, which is wonderful in most ways, but means that it’s really not enough time to make much of a dent in a podcast episode.

And I just don’t want to give up my daily habit of listening to music while making dinner. I also don’t think they would be as good as soundtrack to my Monday night cleaning routine as my “high-energy songs” playlists.

“Know what would make my life better? Listening to music less often.”

— No one, ever.

So I found myself seeking out extra chores I can do, for which a podcast would be a useful adequate. Now, anything that can motivate me to do some tidying up is beneficial. But I still prefer cooking to tidying, so I also find that I’m now trying out more dessert recipes. The value of that is debatable.

(On the other hand, you can definitely overdo this podcast thing, as revealed in this article: I Listen to 35 Hours of Podcasts Every Week. Is That … Bad? Answer: yeah, kind of… And towhich I say… 35 hours a week! Jesus. When do you do… anything else?)

There seems to be podcasts about every topic under the sun, and I’m not always sure how I stumbled upon the ones I try to listen to semi-regularly. But here’s a sampling of them and what I like about them.

Psychology

These are nice because, being less attuned to current events, you can more cherry-pick through them and feel less pressure to listen to them soon after their posting date.

Under the Influence

Good old CBC Radio—the original podcaster! This particular series is by Terry O’Reilly and is on the subject of advertising, or “the art of persuasion”. Recent episodes have covered jingles (with a WKRP reference), use of celebrities (early Ellen Degeneres!), brand myths (no, little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial didn’t die of pop rocks + coke. In fact, he’s alive and works in advertising). I’ve always loved this show, but rarely catch it on the radio. Podcasts to the rescue.

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain is by NPR: the CBC of the US! This is how it describes itself:

Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.

One three-part series that actually changed my own behavior a little was on the subject of sleep: The “Swiss Army Knife” Of Health. It makes a pretty compelling case that while sleep feels like a waste of time, it’s really important. And that while those who routinely get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night might think they’re managing just fine, they actually aren’t. They just no longer notice how tired they are all the time. But they are chronically under-performing, both mentally and physically. To be at your best, you need an “uncompromising 8 hours of sleep.” Every day.

Pop culture

Pop culture stuff is timely, but not that timely, especially since I almost never see movies on opening weekends, read books when they first come out, or watch TV live (love my PVR). So I can go back a few weeks on the pop culture ones without them feeling irrelevant.

Backtalk by Bitch Media

This one, hosted by two young women, looks at all aspects of pop culture—music, TV, movies, podcasts, books, magazines—from a feminist perspective. I’ve gotten some really good recommendations from it, along with some great insights; for example, their episode about the movie Get Out pointed out a whole lot of racial metaphors and symbols that I had missed, and made me admire the movie even more.

The only issue? And I don’t know how to say this without coming across as a disapproving granny, but wow, they sure swear a lot. I know, there’s a lot for American women to be angry about right now, and you gotta speak your truth. I just feel the arguments might be a bit more effective if the colorful language was applied more judiciously.

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The Americans Podcast

Where Backtalk is very broad; The Americans Podcast is super-specific. It’s not about all the people living in the country to the South, but about the FX TV series by that title that tells the story of Russian spies in 1980s who pose as an all-American couple, complete with all-American children. As previously reported, Jean and I love it.

It’s currently in its sixth and final season, and I have just discovered this podcast, which contains interviews with the cast, crew, and creators of the show, and thus is strictly a post-episode listen, as it’s rife with spoilers. This season is setting up to be epic.

Politics

Political stuff, especially American, is just moving with break-neck speed these days. These are the ones I don’t like to wait too long after post date before listening.

Lovett or Leave It

Crooked Media was a response to the election of Trump. Most of its members used to work for President Obama in some capacity. So they’re not unbiased, but the aim is to have “better conversations about politics.” They have a ton of podcasts, and I’ve sampled various ones. But my favorite is Lovett or Leave It.

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Some sincerely cool Crooked Media merch

Lovett or Leave It is taped live Friday nights in front of an audience, who participates in some segments. It’s a humorous, improvised look at the week’s stories in US politics. To add to the many other sources of humorous looks at US politics. What’s different here, I guess, is that it’s a lot of super well-informed people cathartically doing things like playing a clip from Fox news, saying “OK, stop”, and responding to the stupidity. Or turning the ridiculousness into a game. Or spinning a wheel to decide which topic to rant about.

It’s partly informative, it’s partly therapy.

Oppo – Canadaland

This is a relatively new one, and it’s about Canadian politics! I was drawn to it because they seem to be especially covering wonky issues I get somewhat obsessed with, like carbon pricing, why doesn’t the NDP seem more viable in Ontario, and what’s up with Sikh politics.

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It features journalists Justin Ling and Jen Gerson, who are supposed to in “opposition” from left and right positions, but it took me two episodes to realize that was the idea, because neither of them is really that extreme or partisan. Which I think is good (and also kind of Canadian).


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Please save us, NDP, you’re our only hope

Given its persistence in my thoughts, apparently I need to write something about the strange goings-on in Ontario politics.

Setting the stage

To catch up people living elsewhere:

The Ontario Liberal Party is currently in power. It has formed the government since 2003—15 years. The official opposition is the Progressive Conservative (PC) party.

There is a provincial election in June.

With the Liberals, and leader Katherine Wynne, having persistently low approval ratings, the PCs appeared poised to win that election.

It was all kind of routine and dull. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But then the PCs decided to make it interesting

About four weeks ago, PC leader Patrick Brown was accused of sexual misconduct; specifically, of initiating intimate activity with women who were much younger (though of legal age), while they were inebriated. One of them worked for him.

Brown denied the accusations and vowed to stay on as PC leader. He was convinced to step aside by his staff, who resigned en massed, and by the rest of the PC caucus, who went on to elect Vic Fedeli as interim leader.

Fedeli then discovered serious problems within the PC party itself, including a sexual assault allegation against the president of the party and bogus membership numbers. There were more resignations.

The new PC party officers decided to have a quickie leadership convention, with a winner to be declared on March 10. Four candidates entered the race, include Doug Ford, brother of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford (gah!), and a woman (Tanya Granic Allen) who thinks children shouldn’t be learning anything about sex in school. (She was just endorsed by a white nationalist organization. That’s nice.)

Satirical take on Doug Ford’s leadership announcement. But he really did announce it in his mother’s basement, and he did used to be a drug dealer

And then last week, Patrick Brown came out swinging. He defended himself against the sexual misconduct allegations (including, in part, through statements from his girlfriend, 17 years his junior, whom he started dating when she was his intern. Umm…). He launched a defamation suit.

Oh, and he applied to be PC leader again, and has been allowed to run.

And then they blew up their platform

That Patrick Brown won the PC leadership in the first place was a surprise. He had been undistinguished backbench MP in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. But he won by getting a lot people to sign up as new members of the party to vote for him.

He ran for the leadership as being at least sympathetic to social conservative views, but as the election, he and his team gauged that to win Ontario, you had to be a bit more centrist. They came out with a platform to mostly… Keep doing what the Liberals had been doing. The only “radical” element was getting rid of the Liberal’s cap and trade system for carbon pricing, and instead adopt the federal Liberal’s carbon tax plan. They would use the greater revenues from that to reduce income taxes.

But one by one, all the PC leadership candidates have declared they will not support carbon taxes. And they are going to get rid of cap and trade, too. in Maclean’s, Mike Moffat outlines how Scrapping carbon taxes leaves a gaping hole in the Ontario PC platform. To not run a deficit, they’d have to cut spending by $16 billion instead of the originally planned $6 billion. And they simply won’t have any way to cut greenhouse emissions. Ontario just won’t.

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So much for that….

Except, as National Post’s Andrew Coyne has pointed out, A carbon tax is coming, no matter what the PC candidates say. Because if they do cancel cap and trade, then the Federal Liberal government says they are going to impose a carbon tax on Ontario (and give the revenues back to the province). While it’s always possible the Federal government will backtrack on that plan, none of the PC candidates can personally make that happen. Whining alone will not do it.

And that’s one of the reasons Patrick Brown stepped back into the race, he says: To defend his platform. For the record, I do not believe his motivations are noble; I think he’s just very ambitious and really wants to be Premier. But he’s not wrong in saying that the policy void of the rest of the candidates is irresponsible.

Problem is, responsible policies will not win you the PC party leadership. Compared with the general population, the PC membership has a much higher percentage of people who hate carbon taxes in a deep, passionate, and irrational way, and cannot be convinced to accept them as policy, no matter (for example) how big an income tax cut you offer in return. Saying what you need to say to get past the members in March, then pivoting to become mainstream enough to win in June, is going to be a challenge for whoever wins this.

Which proves that having a tiny minority of the population with special interests select party leaders is ridiculous. Elected members of the party caucus should be the one to decide who leads them. Member vote has been the practice long time in Canada; there’s no real momentum to change that now. But if that time ever comes, this will be a textbook case as to why it’s needed.

So do the Liberals win again?

I’m not going to make that prediction. If nothing else, the PCs are gaining a ton more attention than they managed with Patrick Brown as uncharismatic leader, and the Liberals remain stubbornly unpopular. (That people say they actually dislike Katherine Wynne as a person is a puzzle to me, by the way. To me, she comes across very well, as knowledgeable, compassionate, and well-spoken. But maybe people are just tarring her with whatever Liberal policies they’re angry about.)

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Which seems to be mostly increased hydro rates? Although those date back to some bad contracts that previous Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty got us into, and that no party can get us out of. But the Wynne government has made some of their own bad decisions (along with some good ones, it has to be said): I’m not convinced that selling Hydro One was such a great idea. I’m not a fan of their LCBO-style plan for selling marijuana. Back-tracking on their promise to Toronto mayor John Tory in implementing tolls on the DVP and Gardiner was unconscionable. As is the amount of money they spend trying to get us to gamble more, online.

Overall, I think they could use a little time out here.

But I can’t see voting for that gong show of a PC party, either.

Our last hope? No, there is another

Ontario actually has a third party with seats in the legislature: The NDP.

Even before all this, I was leaning toward voting NDP. My MPP, Catherine Fife, is from that party and is a very good representative. She deserves to be returned to Queen’s Park.

But the party as a whole still seems to having trouble setting themselves up as a government in waiting. Even though they have the most popular leader. Even though the PCs are in a bit of a mess and people are tired of the Liberals. The NDP still seems to have trouble getting any attention, and keeping showing up third in “Who would you vote for” polls.

Could be a few reason for that, including having less money than the other parties, but they also seem notably light on the policy front. (Though what they have, on pharmacare and Hydro, seems sensible.) Maybe they should take a page from the Liberals, who have been known to crib from the NDP, and borrow some from other parties.

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Horwath, Wynne, and Brown (this is an older cartoon….)

Like, the Ontario Green Party has some excellent policies, such as having small business dispensaries sell marijuana instead a government monopoly.  (Also, Ontarians should consider voting Green, at least anywhere they stand some chance, like in Guelph.)

And / or, how about if the NPD gets rid of cap and trade, happily accepts the Federal government carbon tax, and gives everyone an income tax cut?

For one thing, it would be hilarious to see them debate the PC leader on that. And the NDP isn’t going to get any of the “I hate carbon taxes” vote, anyway. They could even put an NDP spin on it, and make sure all low-income people got a carbon tax credit.

An NDP government in 2018?

Look, it’s a long shot, it definitely is. But the past four weeks have shown that nothing in Ontario politics is as predictable as we’d thought.

 

 


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Walking the Basque country: Part 2

This is a continuation of Part 1

A little interlude…

I mentioned that our hotel had some interesting architectural features, including a glass partition dividing the bathroom from the bedroom, which I had nearly walked into the first day.  Overnight Tuesday, I was awoken by the crashing sound of Jean hitting it from the bathroom side. I had assumed that he just hadn’t quite seen it, same as me, but there was a bit more to the story.

He woke up in the night to use the facilities and, seeing a familiar bowl shape in the bathroom, proceeded to sit on that. Only it wasn’t a toilet; it was a bidet. And he sat on it in such a way that he activated the faucet, spraying water both on him and the floor, which he then slipped on, causing him to crash into the glass door.

He wasn’t really hurt, and I’m still giggling about it.

Wednesday

Wednesday was our “free day”. After the included breakfast at our hotel—which was very good—we decided to head back into San Sebastian and spend more time in that city. We didn’t catch the “express” bus we were expecting, but it still got us there, just with some extra stops on the way.

Since we didn’t want to lose our hiking momentum, the first thing we did was climb up Mount Urgull behind the Old City to get some views. We also visited the free museum in the castle there, which covered San Sebastian’s rather lively history. (As an aside, I was still battling a cold this day, and concluding that Spanish nasal decongestant wasn’t quite as effective as North American. But overall the congestion didn’t stop me from doing anything.)

Streets of San Sebastian

Mount Urgull in the background of San Sebastian streets

When we descended it was around lunch time, and we had resolved to have a pintxo experience. Pintxo are what the Basque call tapas, but apart from the different word, they also serve them differently that in other parts of Spain. Instead of just ordering them from a menu, they prepare them and lay them out on trays all over the bar. You pick up a plate and go through collecting the items you want to try. You then order a glass of wine, enjoy, then traditionally pay at the end (though sometimes have you pay before).

Some recommend having just one item per bar so you can try lots of them, but given that I think you’re expected to order a drink at each place—well, we didn’t want to be that hung over. So we aimed to try two places.

The first was just a random pick among the many bars available. It was a pretty good assortment of appetizers, and a nice Rioja, and we even found a place to sit (though again, it’s more traditional to stand and eat).

For the second we decided to aim for one recommended the Rick Steeve’s book, called Bar Zeruko, which had an “award-winning chef”. And it is true that everything we had here was a step above the first bar. For example, after putting our items on the plate, they took them from us to get all items to the proper temperature and re-plated nicely with the appropriate sauces and seasonings. It was quite busy here (as most places were), but we shared a table with a nice Indian family.

Playing in San Sebastian

Another San Sebastian scene

We then walked over the San Telmo Museum, which featured art and exhibits on Basque culture. Jean was overtaken with an “afternoon sleepy time” feeling (maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the crashing into glass walls), so he mostly rested while I visited the exhibits.

We then bused back to Getaria.

No group dinner was booked this night, of course, but our attempts to find a place to eat were frustrating. Almost every place listed in Trip Advisor was closed this day. Still not entirely sure if that’s a typical for Wednesdays in October, or if it was because they were resting ahead of the national holiday the next day, when every restaurant was open again.

At any rate, we ended up eating at yet another Pintxo bar, even though I didn’t feel like having that kind of food again, which at any rate wasn’t anywhere near as good as either of the bars we’d been to at lunch. Jean was saved from dealing with my full grumpiness about this by the fact that someone else from the group joined us for dinner, so I had to act at least semi-civil.

We redeemed the evening slightly by then going to a small deli restaurant for dessert—at least those were quite good. I had molten chocolate cake and Jean had this very interesting lemon-lime sorbet with cava (sparkling wine) thing.

Thursday

Today’s walk was apparently the shortest of the trip, and ended with a walk on the beach. Our start was delayed a bit, though, as it was Spain’s national day, which meant reduced frequency of public buses. So our bus ride to the town of Zumaia departed a half hour after we were expecting it to.

Zumaia

Zumaia is not too hard on the eyes

That also meant that there were lots of other people out hiking on this beautiful day. We did part of the el Camino again (again the less popular part). Then we did some walking on rock formations called flysch.

Cathy on the cliffs near Zarautz, Spain

Life on the edge

We ended up walking back in town, early enough in the day to take a little coffee break. With the holiday, though, we had to split into two groups at different establishments.

We then went to hang out at the beach. (It was really a tough day.) A lot of people took their shoes off. A few were surprised by a rogue wave, though no damage done—just slightly wet pants.

Flysch at the Beach in Spain

Most of the beach looked like your regular sandy beach, but it did have this neat part, with more flysch

There were also some caves to explore.

from inside the flysch cave

We then headed back into town to find an ice cream shop, and wait for the bus back to Getaria.

Reward after a tough, tough day 🙂

The group dinner that night was at a restaurant where the waitress didn’t speak much English, which provided some challenges. Now I’ll mention that the vegetarian couple on our tour had limited eating options all week in these small French and Spanish towns; none had a concept of vegetarian entrees. But at this place they weren’t even able to get minimal accommodations, such as putting an egg instead of ham on a salad.

For the rest of us, the food was pretty satisfying, I think, but there was the strangeness that at every course, everyone received their food except one person, who had to wait another 10 minutes or so for theirs. Even though it was inevitably another one of what  someone else had ordered. Not sure what was up with that.

Jean and I ordered clams, done two different ways, as main courses—not realizing they were more of an appetizer size serving. And of course, served with no veg or starch. Very good, however. And did leave us with ample room for dessert.

For that menu, we took out the Google Translate app, which caused considerable giggling as one of the desserts was being translated as “panties”. (Very avant-garde of them, serving edible underwear.) I stayed away from that item and ordered a truffle tart, which was very good, not overly sweet. Jean ordered the same lemon-lime sorbet and cava dessert he’d had the night before, but didn’t find it quite as good here.

For wine with dinner, we had the local white, txakoli, which was nice and fresh.

Friday

Now might be a time to mention that I had missed packing a few clothing items I intended—forgot to get them out of the laundry and into my suitcase. Thus answering the question I usually ask myself when packing: Do I really need to bring so many clothes? The answer to that is YES.

It was just a daily annoyance trying to pick among the clothes I did have to find something clean enough, suitable for the current weather, which turned out to be warmer than the original predictions. So those people who say you only need two pairs and three shirts: You’re nuts! Clothes are not heavy. And you don’t want to spend your vacation time hand-washing them. Bring enough to cover your days away, already.

Anyway. On Friday I hiked in my oldest, rattiest hiking pants and re-wore my lightest T-shirt, as this was predicated to be the warmest day yet: 26 degrees + humidity. Two people on the tour decided to skip this one. Both of them had sustained injuries after booking this trip (one to a knee, another to both feet) and though they’d managed to complete all hikes to date, they had decided that was accomplishment enough.

For me, the runny nose had stopped, so that was a relief. (It really was a cold of short duration.)

We started by taking the bus to the nearby town of Zarautz, from which we walked back to Getaria. Zarautz was distinguished by having one of the longest beaches in the region.

Zarautz Beach

Zarautz from the Mountain

View of Zarautz from above

The hiking route took us by many vineyards, all producing the txakoli wine we’d had the night before. Stéphane said that none were open for visiting, though people did seem to be waiting at one of them? I dunno. Would have been interesting to visit if we could have.

On this walk we did get into a little bit of political discussion, on Brexit (they opined it was a bad idea, and the fault of older people who won’t have to deal with it), Justin Trudeau and Canada’s native problem (Jean brought that up—ssh, don’t air our dirty laundry), and hunting policies of various countries. It all stayed pretty civil except for the Londoner insisting that London economically supported the rest of the UK, which the Manchester folks didn’t appreciate. But it didn’t seem to create any permanent tensions.

I guess because the two slowest members were not participating, the walk (billed as 12 km, but measured at more like 10) was done before we knew it, and Getaria came into view before 2 PM. (We also felt, even though it was just a week, that we had definitely improved our fitness compared to the start.)

Walking in the Vinyards above the Village of Getaria

Walking the vineyards above Getaria

We got back, showered and changed, than had a drink with the group and Stéphane at the nice hotel lounge. No group dinner was booked for the evening, and the rest seemed to be leaning toward pizza at the deli. Jean and I decided to just do our own thing.

We ended up at a place called Txoko. After we’d been seated, given our orders, and had started drinking our txakoli, we noticed the rest of the group arrive! They’d changed their minds and decided to eat here as well. But we anti-socially stayed at our own table.

We got quite good service here, and splurged a bit on salad, followed by clams, then a shared grilled sole, one of the more expensive fish options. It was all very good and fresh, though. We were kind of excited that the menu said the fish came with potato and tomato side, but it was such a tiny portion, it was sort of hilarious. (Tasty, mind you.) For dessert I went with rice pudding and ice cream, while Jean had creme brulee.

Saturday

Today was the last day of the tour, so the only items on the agenda were hotel breakfast followed by shuttle to the Bilbao airport at 8:30. Jean and I were not flying out this day, however. We’d had trouble finding any reasonable flights back to Canada with a Bilbao departure time of 11:00 AM or later. So we booked a flight back on Sunday, and added in a night at a Bilbao hotel.

From the airport, we expected to take a taxi to that hotel, but the bus driver agreed to drive us and the other three people on the tour who had also extended it by a day, which was very nice of him. Our hotels were only 200 m apart.

Despite our morning arrival, we were able to check into our room. It was a more typical European size, but nice. It was the first of the trip with an actual double bed, rather than two singles pushed together, and with a coffee machine. (No face cloths or Kleenex still, though.)

Bilbao is known mainly for its Guggenheim Museum. But it was predicted to be the hottest day yet—high of 30—so we decided to start with a visit to the Old Town. We toured two churches here, but neither was that impressive—Basque churches are quite plain compared with the amazing ones in other parts of Spain. We also walked through the market.

Stained glass in one of the Bilbao churches

Then we headed in the direction of the Guggenheim. It’s architecturally very interesting, so we walked up and around both viewing bridges before going over to it ourselves.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Guggenheim Bilbao

Outside they have a spider sculpture that is pretty much exactly like the one at the National Gallery in Ottawa (it is the same artist). There’s also a puppy monument that, Jean informed me, was originally just a temporary exhibit, but the people of Bilbao liked it so much, the Museum bought it for its permanent collection.

Puppy at the Guggenheim

Puppy at the Guggenheim

Some people on our tour who’d visited Bilbao on their free day had recommended the bistro restaurant at the Guggenheim, as did my Rick Steeves’ travel book. So we had decided to eat there. In looking for it, we followed the signs marked “Restaurant”. When we got to the entrance, there were a bunch of people crowded around the posted menu. I thought, we don’t really need to look at that, let’s just go eat.

Inside, though, was this very fancy, white linen sort of place. We were almost the only patrons at this point, and were outnumbered by wait staff. Then they handed us the menu.

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So, 110 Euros is about 165 Canadian dollars, otherwise known as notably more than we’d typically been spending for the both of us to have dinner on this trip. Should we just walk out and go to the actual bistro?

But it’s kind of awkward to just walk out, isn’t it? So we justified it. After all, we hadn’t managed to get into the fine dining El Cano restaurant we hoped to dine at in Getaria. We’d been eating cheap bag lunches all week. Let’s splurge!

My friends, all nine course were really exquisite, probably some of the best food we’ve ever had. And it was actually more than nine courses, as they started us off with an amuse of tuna, quail’s egg, and basil gazpacho. The house-made bread was herb, sundried tomato, and olive oil. Each item was sourced in a particular way that they told us about, shrimp from this particular cove where they were especially flavorful, baked beans elevated to gourmet levels but still reminiscent of baked beans.

We did not have the wine pairings, both because of cost and because we didn’t want to end up really drunk, but we each had two glasses that were really nice. I start with an orange wine, which is white wine given some skin contact so it gets colour, while Jean had a jura. He followed with a nice Rioja while I had a great blend of Pinot Noir and Txakoli wine, which I will never be able to find in Canada.

This would have been a great place to take food photos, as you can imagine the plating was also lovely, but Jean was a bit intimidated about doing that. Nearer the end of our meal, more people had arrived for lunch (most dressed somewhat casually, as we were), so I did take a couple with my phone.

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This was an extra dessert, not on the menu, of custard, macaroon, and chocolate beignet

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The coffee cups were interesting

We then went in to visit the exhibits. It’s all modern art, and not necessarily the greatest art collection we’ve ever seen, but I did enjoy this tall lighted work of cascading, thoughtful phrases; the huge Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe collage; the Basquiat works; and this super slow-mo film by the featured artist, that was strangely compelling.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Guggenheim this year, and to celebrate they were doing a week of special video, music, and light projections onto the building’s surface at night. When we left our hotel for dinner later, tons of people were heading in that direction to watch it. While waiting for our selected Italian restaurant to open, we saw some of the show.

And Italian food was a nice change, though the restaurant was quite warm. Afterwards, we tried to walk back to see more of the presentation (which repeated in 20-minute loops), but it proved rather complicated getting there, and once we did, it was too full of people to get to a good view. Oh well.

Sunday

Sunday was just a travel day. We decided to avoid the stress of a fairly short layover in Paris by booking an earlier Bilbao flight, which meant getting up quite early, then having a long wait at the Paris airport. We were grateful for its decent wifi, and the comfy seats at the Starbucks, which was tolerant of us buying only the periodic latte.

The flight to Toronto was a couple hours longer than the one from Montreal had been, then on getting there, we had to wait a bit before landing. An early thunderstorm had prevented other planes from landing at their designated times, so our turn got pushed back a bit.

That then meant that more planes than usual were landing at the same time, which made customs a bit of a nightmare. They have this whole electronic scanning, take-your-photo thing happening now? (In Europe, they still just have a person look at your passport, you know?) Then even after that, slight wait for the luggage to be unloaded.

But it got there, we got there, drive home was fine, there you be.


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Tartuffe and 45

When the Stratford Festival decided to include Molière’s Tartuffe in their line-up of 2017 plays, they had no way of knowing how the US presidential election would turn out. But they were not about to miss the dramatic opportunities this afforded them.

Tartuffe was a comedic satire written in 1664, and was immediately controversial for speaking truth to power. It was banned after its first performances, but Molière fought for it, and five years, it was revived to great acclaim.

Stratford’s English-language production is set squarely in the present, with the characters listening to modern pop (much of it French), making lattes, and being distracted by their cell phones. The main nod to the age of the script is that all the dialog rhymes—which strikes me as an amazing feat of translation (by Ranjit Bolt).

In Tartuffe, the (white) father of the household—and his mother—are in the thrall of a recent house guest, the apparently pious Tartuffe. Everyone else—his wife, children, brother-in-law, and housekeeper—are appalled. Can’t the father see that Tartuffe is nothing but hypocrite and con man who cares for no one but himself? Doesn’t he care that Tartuffe’s rules are making their lives miserable? (That everyone other than the stepmother are played by people of colour is a clever bit of casting: so we have women, people of colour, and younger people in complete disbelief that the older white characters cannot see Tartuffe for what he is.)

For most of the play, none of the current political subtext is made particularly explicit. It’s only in the climatic final scene that a certain orange President is specifically alluded to.

The production was hilarious, and it was great to see this situation played out in purely comedic fashion. And that it all worked out in the end. If only real life were so simple.