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


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#Elxn42: This shit’s making me crazy

This shit’s making me crazy
The way you nullify what’s in my head
You say one thing, do another
And argue that’s not what you did
Your way’s making me mental
How you filter as skewed interpret
I swear you won’t be happy til
I am bound in a straight jacket

— Alanis Morissette, “Straightjacket”

So, it’s that part of the Canadian federal election where everything seems stupid and awful, we semi-hate everyone now, and when will it be over?!!

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

Fortunately, I was able to decide who to vote for in the early and considerably less awful part of this extra-long campaign. And I’m not even primarily voting against something.

On balance, I just found that I like the Liberal platform the best. Things like, banning taxpayer-paid government ads (much as we’ll all miss those “Canada Action Plan” ads). And making the Senate non-partisan (one they’ve already walked the talk on). And, amending the Access to Information Act so it actually provides access to information. Ending omnibus bills. Trying to make Question Period better (it can hardly be worse). And yes, legalizing marijuana.

I also found Trudeau the most appealing leader overall. He’s shown more passion and boldness than the others. And I’m not concerned about his competence to govern.

As well, I am really impressed with the Waterloo Liberal candidate, Bardish Chagger. She’s smart, well-spoken, experienced in working in federal government. And she’s bound and determined to vote for Waterloo interests first, her party second. “I’d like to meet the person who succeeds in telling me what to do”, she said, credibly, at the debate I attended.

So good luck Ms. Chagger!

But I hope you’ll excuse while I now do my best to ignore the rest of the campaign. Because it’s not that I’m not interested. It’s just that me being interested has the unfortunate side-effect of me starting really care what happens. And I have no control over what happens—what politicians do and say, how the media reports it, and ultimately, how everyone else votes.

And that shit makes me crazy (then angry, scared, and finally kind of depressed and hopeless). I need off this emotional roller-coaster.

So bye-bye news radio, hello iTunes. See ya Macleans; the new Entertainment Weekly is in. Watch a leader’s debate? Are you kidding me? It’s the fall TV season! (Plus, I just discovered iZombie and Mozart in the Jungle on Shomi. Seriously, so fun.) Political bios? Not when I have a fresh copy of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Now, Twitter remains a minefield. And I’m not ready to give that up, but I guess I can mute / unfollow a few politicos until November or so, eh?

By then, hopefully this will no longer be my anthem:

Straightjacket on YouTube


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How to make a Canadian quilt

In honour of Canada Day, I just installed the Canadian English Dictionary extension for Firefox, so now WordPress doesn’t mark “honour” with a “u” as a typo. Yay!

I also spent some time (badly) photographing possibly the most Canadian item I own: A red and white quilt signed by various Canadian celebrities. My mother won it in a museum fundraiser back in 1997, and I recently inherited it.

Since 1997, some of the signatures have faded, and some of the “celebrities” have become obscure. But a number remain fun to look over.

Mr. Dressup signature and image

Aw, Mr. Dressup!

Jann Arden, Pamela Lee sigzantures

So Pamela Anderson was still married to Tommy Lee in ’97. And an interesting juxtaposition beside Jann Arden’s drawing (yes, that angel is naked. As angels are.).

Pamela Wallin and Jean Chretien signatures

Speaking of Pamelas and juxtapositions, Pamela Wallin was then just a TV journalist, not a disgraced Conservative Senator. The modest signature below hers is that of the Prime Minister of the day, Liberal Jean Chrétien.

Shania Twain, Stompin Tom, and Michelle Wright signatures

Stompin’ Tom was still was us in 1997, and Shania Twain is still with us today. Not sure what’s up with Michelle Wright these days…

Lynn Johson signature

And this one is just lovely

A few more items in Canada’s tapestry:

Google logo, Canada Day

Google’s logo today

Songza’s curated Canada Day playlists.

Raccoon on deck

A recent deck visitor

Trout, spinach, and roseRaspberries, strawberries, and dessert

Some fine local food.

Happy July 1, everyone! Canada flag


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Me and JT

So here’s a back story: I signed up to be a Supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada so that I could vote in their leadership campaign. It was a ranked ballot, meaning you number the candidates in order of preference, and I did not put Justin Trudeau as my number 1. I went with Joyce Murray (who? I know) as my first choice, because I liked her proposal on electoral reform.

But when Justin Trudeau was announced as the winner by a large margin (Joyce Murray came second, for the record—because I wasn’t the only one who liked her electoral reform platform), I was… totally good with it.

The victory was completely expected, of course, but it wasn’t just that I’d expected it and figured he would do. I felt really happy and excited about his election.

And when he gave his victory speech, I only became more so. And honestly, I was surprised by that.

Justin Trudeau and Candian flag

Photo by Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

But Justin Trudeau speaks well. And yes, he looks good. And he looks good speaking well. He most definitely has that sort of charm and charisma that draws people in. I am not immune to it.

But that does not mean that he would be a good Prime Minister. And him taking that post is certainly a possibility, given that his party’s polling numbers have risen, and have stayed high, ever since he assumed the leadership.

So when he came for a Waterloo region visit, I had to go. The local public meeting was at 5:30 in Cambridge, which is two cities away from me. But in the afternoon, he stopped in on the university campus that was just down the street from my office. That was way easier for me to get to, though it meant mingling with the young ‘uns.

UW is a very math-and-engineering–focused school, and voter turnout among that those age 18–25 is dire, but nevertheless, the “Great Hall” was packed awaiting his arrival. (Which was precisely on time, by the way.)

The world-weary, cynical students behind me predicted his speech would be full of promises that would appeal to students, such as lower tuition (and that he’d then go on to an age old home and promise them better mentions). But it wasn’t that at all. He just talked about the importance of harnessing the passion for the world that youth feel, but do not find expression for in partisan politics. That it’s not that they are apathetic, but that they are turned off by all the negativity. Which is why he’s trying to be positive, to listen, to change the tone.

It was a short talk, maybe 10 minutes (no notes, no teleprompter), and then he took questions.

While I won’t try to recap everything (in fact, I didn’t stay til the end, since it was the middle of the work day), a few moments did stand out.

Electoral reform

This was first question to draw applause, and Mr. Trudeau’s response that he wasn’t entirely in favor of proportional representation was the closest he got to being booed. So don’t tell me people don’t care about that issue. Trudeau said his problem  with proportional representation systems is that they often involve selecting members of a parliament, rather than to represent a particular riding. And he did win some people over with his support of ranked ballots.

Ranked ballots might be an interesting change, but it likely wouldn’t change that much, in the end, and it certainly doesn’t give you proportional representation in a party system. Furthermore, I remain a bit frustrated that he doesn’t fully address:

a) That members of parliament don’t really represent their constituents now, at least not in terms of voting in the House of Commons, because all parties demand that all of their members vote along party lines almost all the time, whether their constituents like it or not.

b) Not every type of proportional representation requires picking members from a list who don’t represent anyone. One of the most interesting forms, in fact, wouldn’t require electing any more MPs; it would just weight their confidence votes based on the constituency’s party votes.

(Maybe I should write to Justin about this.)

Israel / Palestine conflict

I couldn’t quite hear the question, but I know it was very critical, and I thought Mr. Trudeau’s response was good. He said that it was needed, ultimately, is a two-state solution, and that speaking in a polarizing way on this issue doesn’t help achieve that. But then he pointed out, quite sensibly, that this is not an issue that Canada can solve. We’re destined to just be background players in this.

Better access for people with disabilities

A prime example of how, sometimes, his responses were just vague platitudes. Those world-weary students behind me grew pretty snarky as he just went on about the ideal about giving everyone an opportunity to succeed, without ever saying what he might do specifically to achieve that. “Just make something up, even if you won’t do it!” was the students’ spectacularly bad advice.

I have better advice: Look into the US regulations for people with disabilities, and look to adopting some of those. Believe it or not, the US has some of the best standards in the world—much better than Canada’s.

(Maybe I should write to Justin about that, too.)

Childcare

But here’s an example where he had a pretty good response, even though there is no solid Liberal platform on this issue. He reminded everything that Liberals had a plan in place for this, but it was never implemented after the defeat of the Paul Martin government. But that it was a complicated thing to negotiate with the provinces, and he couldn’t promise that he could just revive it if elected. “I just don’t know what fiscal situation we’ll be facing then,” he said.

Legalizing marijuana

A moment of humor, as the person asking the question really seemed to be high as a kite. “You wouldn’t have vested interest in legalization, would you?” Trudeau quipped. I like to remind people, “It’s not legal yet!” But then he went on to the solid argument that Canada’s current prohibition approach simply isn’t working. Marijuana is not good for the developing brain, but Canada is #1 in youth pot smoking. But with regulations, that would be easier to control, as we’ve seen with tobacco and alcohol. And that the extra funding, instead of going to organized crime, could be used for better drug rehabilitation services.

Canada is currently being led by a man who cannot deliver a speech without a teleprompter, who never takes unscripted questions from the public, who rarely even takes any from the media, and who shields himself behind a wall of security. Who was once advised: “You don’t have to like people to be in politics. But you can’t hate them.”

Justin Trudeau has proven he’s different on all these counts. How much that matters is for the Canadian public to decide.

But I like it.

Trudeaumania floods SLC (article from UW’s Imprint, including a video interview with Mr. Trudeau)

Trudeau impresses students during whirlwind tour of region (from Waterloo Region Record)

Video montage of Trudeau meeting people across the country, including in Waterloo:


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Byelections are hard

My riding is one of two in the midst of a byelection for the Ontario legislature. And I am Undecided.

I have decided against the Progressive Conservatives (I know, you’re all shocked) and the six fringe candidates that are running. That leaves three options: Liberals, NDP, and Greens.

Recently I’ve just been voting for whoever appears to have the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate, and in this riding, that’s normally Liberal.

But a byelection is not the same. For one thing, I do not have to fear the Conservatives in the same way, because even if they happen to win both seats up for grabs, they will still not form government.

For another, it’s not really so clear the Liberals are the next leading contenders. The NDP have a strong, well-known local candidate, and with voters not having to fear an NDP government resulting from her winning the seat, they might just vote for her. There’s no knowing for sure, but all indications are that this is a three-way race.

So, another strategy I sometimes take when struggling to decide is to just pick the best local candidate. In a byelection, this seems a particular sensible approach. Therefore, I watched the local debate, and came to the conclusion that… All the candidates I’m considering are quite good, really.

The Liberals Eric Davis and the NDP’s Catherine Fife both speak very well and knowledgeably. He’s a lawyer and she’s local schoolboard trustee, and they both already have the politician’s ability to seem like they’re answering a question when they haven’t, really. And it’s in this respect that the Green’s Stacey Danckert was quite refreshing, even though she was soft spoken and less assured. But she was also clearly very smart, informed, and sincere.

Plus, the Greens have some cool policies. Combine the Separate and public school boards? Yes, we can! (Wait, that’s someone else’s slogan.) Reduce income taxes and increase pollution taxes? Sounds good to me. Proportional representation? Bring it on.

But do the Greens have any shot at all in this thing? That is unlikely. Do I consider them anyway, for supporting the candidate and the policies? I’m undecided.

This byelection is also unusual in that actually could change the shape of the Legislature. If the Liberals happen to manage to win both byelection, they’d end up with a very slim majority. Do I want this? Majority governments—including this one—tend to be rather arrogant and undemocratic. But minority governments are all gamesmanship, with everyone threatening elections at every opportunity… All dreaming that majority they might win.

Basically, we have terrible political system, in which both majority and minority governments kind of suck. I can’t change that with my vote. (Ontarians could have changed that in a referendum a few years ago, but they didn’t. I may never forgive you for that, Ontarians. But I’m digressing.)

So… Not much point in voting strategically, no clear favorite amongst a set of good candidate, not really sure who I want to win the seat (except I’d prefer not Conservative or a fringe candidate).

Gosh, I may actually have to read the party platforms, or something.


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Evil robots and power-mad politicians

This electoral fraud (“robo-call”) story has been interesting to follow, and seemingly so well-covered by bloggers and the mainstream media that I’m not sure what I can add. But why not try, even if it’s mostly to provide links.

The Conservatives broke electoral law in the 2006 election. They’ve admitted it, pleaded guilty, paid the fines. It’s always irritated me, though, that it took so long to prosecute, and had no real effect.

What they did essentially launder money through local riding to be able to run more national ads than they were legally allowed to. I know those stupid Conservative ads influence voters, even only to stay home instead of vote. As one writer put it, negative political ads are a legal form of vote suppression. But they did an illegal amount of it, won the election, and have earned that “incumbency” vote ever since.

It was totally worth it for them to cheat on that election. Not so weird to think they might try it again, in a different way, with their well-stocked election coffers.

One of the weirder stories I’ve read goes back to the previous election, 2008, where in Saanich-Gulf Islands, thousands of NDP supporters received robocalls urging them to vote for the local NDP candidate–who had dropped out the race, but too late to remove his name from the ballot. The NDP pulled in more of the vote than polling had suggested they would, and the Conservative candidate narrowly won the seat.

For this election, people keep saying there’s no real proof, but isn’t the Thunder Bay situation kind of a smoking gun? A call center hired by the Conservatives that on the eve of the election, called a bunch of people and told them incorrectly that their polling station had changed?

And this Conservative defense of “honest mistake”— it’s not much of a defense. If you’re not absolutely sure the polling station has changed, don’t go telling people it has! It can’t be that hard to get the facts straight. Especially when you have very well-stocked election coffers.

And the Conservative claim that they do not engage in fraudulent calls is simply incorrect, as they did exactly that in Irwin Colter’s riding, defending it as “free speech”. The Speaker of the House called it “reprehensible”, and it is currently under investigation by the company’s professional association.

And the Conservatives trying to equate the VikiLeaks thing with this? One guy with a free Twitter account, posting publicly available facts? Not illegal. Not a big use of government resources. Not even all that terribly wrong, in my opinion. At worst, kind of tacky. (As is cheating on your wife with your babysitter, then disputing her claim for support. I’m just saying.)

The Conservatives are calling this a smear campaign, but they only have themselves to blame for how easily we can believe they would do anything to gain and keep power.

For an excellent list of the many “dirty tricks” the Conservatives have pulled, see Lawrence Martin’s Trouble in Toryland: their Dirty Tricks catalogue. Even I was shocked how long a list it was.

And for an extremely eloquent indictment, Daniel Veniez’ Tory Tactics and Our Rotten Political Climate.

The tragic thing is that our means of fighting this seem so toothless. What is Election Canada doing, exactly? We don’t really know. The RCMP? Bigger fish to fry, I guess. An inquiry? As if!

With all this attention, will this seriously be investigate, and will it actually mean something this time? I can only hope. But I’m not really hopeful.


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Ontario votes

My bold predication for the Ontario election: Elizabeth Witmer, MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, will retain her seat.

When voters turned against the Mike Harris, when they ran from John Tory’s school funding proposal, Ms Witmer, Progressive Conservative, still handily won her seat. She’s been in there for something like 21 years. She certainly not going to lose now, when the PCs are riding a “we’re tired of the Liberals!” wave.

This means, under our most undemocratic of electoral systems, me voting is just a waste of time. I am not voting PC, but whether I vote Green, Liberal, NDP, or Marxist-Leninist, whether I spoil my ballot or just sit at home watching TV, the result will the same. Ms. Witmer’s most votes will give the whole seat, and the choice I made will make no difference at all in who runs Ontario.

I will say I don’t have any particular issues with Ms. Witmer. Generally, I think she has been a good representative. And if Ontarians had been smart enough to change their electoral system four years ago, when they had a chance, I might have even have considered voting for her as my MPP, while selecting another party with my second vote.

But, Ontarians didn’t want more democracy, so we have the system we have, and a vote for Ms. Witmer is a vote for Tim Hudak. And I can’t do that.

I’ll grant that my distaste for Mr. Hudak was perhaps not on the most solid basis, initially: The man is just horribly boring to listen to. All he does is repeat sound bites, that nearly always contain the word “tax”. Tax grab. Sneaky eco-tax. Taxman. Tax on home heating.

It’s the most excruciating thing to listen to. (I’ve heard that Queen’s Parks reporters routinely leave his press conferences early, since all he does is repeat his boring lines over and over.) Four years of that? Not sure I can handle it.

Since then, though, he’s given some reasons of more substance to not vote for his party.

The numbers don’t work

As pointed out by that paragon of lefty, socialist thinking, The Toronto Sun, the PC’s economic plan doesn’t add up. Tax reductions and no cuts to education and health sounds great, but how do you pay for it? Truth is that after education and health, there isn’t a whole lot left to cut. So what’s the plan, here? Letting the deficit rise exponentially? Praying for miraculous growth in Ontario’s economy?

(Yes, all the parties are being somewhat unrealistic in their fiscal promises. The PCs are just the most so.)

Update: A rather damning and very detailed examination of just how much the numbers don’t work, courtesy of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Graphs in Conservative Changebook misleading: At least three of the graphs present data that is clearly false. All of the others contain major errors.

Taxes probably will go up under Hudak

I’m not saying he’ll raise provincial taxes or the HST. But as several have pointed, he will not say whether he will continue to take over the cost of certain municipal programs, as the Liberals plan to do. If he does not (and remember he does have to cut somewhere), it is likely our municipal taxes will increase. OK, they always increase. But they will increase more. And unlike with provincial and federal taxes, which give credits for things like RRSP and charitable donations, there’s nothing you can do to protect your income against those ones.

Addition: The anti-green energy stance

Mr. Hudak wants a better world for his daughter (which I believe), but he’d cancel every green energy project he could? While there do seem to be some flaws in the Liberals handling of the alternative energy file, from what I’ve read, I still applaud the general direction. I believe it’s one of the most progressive in North America. It’s even earned a rare, specific endorsement from David Suzuki!

Xenophobia

Why are politicians allowed to bald-faced lie during elections campaigns, again? In election ads, which can’t be dismissed as an unfortunate slip of the tongue?

Because nothing, nothing has been more appalling to me than this party’s response to the Liberals plans to give tax credits for immigrants who are having trouble finding jobs in their field.

Hudak calls them “foreign workers”. He says the funding will go “outside Ontario”. “Ontarians need not apply.”

But only Canadian citizens would qualify for this tax credit—being a landed immigrant would not be enough. And it’s only for jobs in Ontario.

Hudak is just lying, and in the most xenophobic, divisive, hateful way possible.

Now, I don’t know that the Liberal plan is that wonderful. That professionals who immigrate have trouble finding work in their field is a real problem; I’m not sure how much this would solve it. And I don’t think comparing the PCs to the Tea Party is all that helpful a response, either.

But I do know that all Canadians are equal, no matter how long they’ve been Canadian. And if one group is being particularly discriminated against, it is reasonable for the government to see if something can be done to rectify that.

I won’t vote a party that promotes near-racism.

Unfortunately, what I do won’t make a difference.

Rest of Ontario: Good luck to you. Sorry I can’t be more help.


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Election positivity

At times, this election campaign has made me really cranky. With politicians. With the media. With other Canadians.

But it hasn’t had all been bad. To my surprise, some things have actually been inspiring. Who would have expected that?

Votes mobs: The enthusiasm of youth

Inspired by a Rick Mercer rant, vote mobs are groups of young people who swarm political functions or other public spaces, encouraging people to vote.Will they actually turn around the typically dismal showing of voters under 25? I don’t know, especially that the timing couldn’t be worse for university and college students.

But regardless, they’ve left behind a nice YouTube legacy, like this one from McMaster:

Civil online debates: Yes, we can

The typical comments section on most political articles (or YouTube videos) tends to make you despair for humanity as a whole. But under this article in an American online publication (decent in itself) is a bunch of really well-informed, civil, intelligent comments from what seems to be across the political spectrum. (Until a spammer joins in at the end. Ah well, better that than a troll.)

And though I’m biased from knowing the blogger, the non-partisan Procedure and politics has been a nice oasis of rationality, showing that you can calmly dissect how politicians and the media sometimes get it wrong, all without calling anyone a “stupidhead”. (Also a great place to learn about Britain’s upcoming referendum, if you were wondering about that. Or maybe you didn’t even know they were having one?)

The return of oratory

I’m a sucker for a great orator. Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kennedy… I don’t know if these guys were great leaders. But they sure talked nice. I loved listening to all of them.

In Canada, we haven’t  had a great federal orator since… What… Pierre Trudeau, I think?

Or so I thought. Until I actually started listening to Michael Ignatieff speak. It started at their platform announcement, part of which I watched online. This was in the midst of all the commentary about Harper’s “bubble” — not taking questions, hiding from the public. So to see Ignatieff speaking so easily, so clearly, sans notes or teleprompters, answering questions from everyone, at such a strategic juncture—I was kind of impressed.

But it was only after coming back from vacation, having missed the debates (where, I hear, Ignatieff didn’t do that well), I found this YouTube video getting a lot of play:

That I became really really impressed. I liked what he said. And how he said it. And apparently, that wasn’t even him at his best.

I started to wonder if I was just in some weird Liberal spell here, when Rick Mercer (him again!) commented on a similar experience:

And then there was Prince Edward Island, where, in a curling club, Ignatieff showed off a set of skills I had no idea that he possessed. From a pure showbiz perspective he killed. Speaking without a teleprompter or notes he gave perhaps the best speech I have heard since watching Gen. Rick Hillier address the troops in Kandahar.

His speech also inspired this non-partisan song on voting for what you believe in–“Rise Up Canada!” (A song for Canada’s 2011 Federal Election):

Of course, people like Blair, Clinton, Obama, and Kennedy all had such personal charisma, their elocutionary skills were just icing on the cake. With Ignatieff, it’s the whole cake. In this day and age, that seems to not be enough. But damn, it’s nice to hear anyway.

Creative protest: Hanging with the cool kids

I like civil debate, and I like neutral calls to vote, but I have picked a side. So, I’ve also appreciated the many people, much more creative and eloquent than I, who have to the same conclusion about who they are voting for, and produced online materials as to why. There’s tons of it, but I’ll just mention a few. I’ve already tweeted about Shane Koycan’s powerful “Wasted Votes” video. (He’s the spoken-word poet who appeared at the Olympics by the way: the “We Are More” poem.) I also enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s comparison of the Conservatives to a vaccum salesman who insists you buy his product, but won’t tell you the cost.

And this mock ad—Too Smart for Canada—made me laugh out loud. So close to the actual ones, some people think it’s real.

The NDP surge

Of course, we don’t yet know if this will stick and have a real effect in the end. All we can know for sure, is that among those that were polled, there has been a shift. In Quebec, the NDP has risen considerably; that has been spreading to other regions. And why does this please me?

  • It’s thwarting the ambitions of both the Conservatives and the Bloc, my two least favourite parties. Although I don’t believe it will turn out that way, one poll actually had the NDP + Liberal seat count at greater than the Conservative–without the Bloc at all. That would be good for Canada.
  • It shows that many Canadians will respond to a positive message. (Even the NPD “attack” ads were kind of chirpy positive.)
  • It shows what a political leader can achieve when not hobbled by two years of personal political attack ads run by the party in power. (Why is it even legal to run election ads between elections, by way?)
  • They’re the only major party talking about electoral reform, one of my pet issues.

I’m not afraid of NDP policies or what them having more power might mean. All evidence shows that the NDP becomes very pragmatic once handed power. And if you look closely at what they’re proposing, it’s full of caveats that gives them plenty of wiggle room to ensure Canada does not become a deficit-ridden, high-tax, socialist mess.

But this is in no way changes how I plan to vote. The conditions, for me, remain the same. Local polls show no evidence of an NDP surge. Plus, my local NDP candidate is a 27-year-old with no political experience at all, whereas the Liberal one is a past MP with a record for actually going with his conscience against his own party, which is a rare thing indeed. And another thing I view positively.