Monday, April 30, 2007

A heretical idea

Do you ever look at maps that emphasize our national parks, with blobs of dark green? Did you notice how relatively few of these parks aren't anywhere near the reach of your average Canadian? (and I don't mean the relatively accessible ones like Banff, Jasper or Mauricie, I mean the ones in the middle of Northern Ontario or the middle of Nunavut, as remote as the Moon)

I think it's time Canada made some new national parks, particularly in Central Canada, on the 'shield country'. After all, it's the landscape that covers so much of our country, it's made us sort of famous through the Group of Seven paintings...and who hasn't gone canoeing, walking, spent a weekend at someone's cottage or at least went car-camping in this part of the land.

We could start right here, in our backyard. There are at least four or five major reasons why it would make sense. The Gatineau park is ideal, from a natural perspective, it contains all the right features and eco-zones that would qualify it from a naturalist's perspective. Canadian shield landscape, boreal forest, a totally unique lake (the Pink lake), and, of course, bears. You gotta have bears, it's Canada.

Administratively, the Gatineau park is part a Monty Pythonesque farce , part quagmire. It is both a Quebec provincial park (they call these creations 'national'in La Belle province, yeah, right, national my foot...) and a part of the NCR, thus partially managed by National Capital Commission (NCC). The NCC has about as much transparency and accountability as the Sopranos on a bad episode; consequently, it has been the favourite whipping boy of aspiring local politicians. No one would weep or lose a minute of sleep if the government just decided to yank the Gatineau park, all 361 square kilometers of it, from the NCC and unilaterally pronounce it Canada's newest national park. The hiking, skiing and snowshoeing would still go on, the trails would still be maintained, even the little ski hill within its bounds could remain (check out Banff, a national park with 3 massive ski resorts in it, plus a town). Imagine, you could actually get to stay in one of those chalets without playing in the "I have a better chance of flying the space shuttle" lottery the NCC runs for winter camping spots there....

Another reason why Gatineau should be made into a national park is the lack of other similar parks in Central Canada. Algonquin is nice, but it's only a provincially protected area. Ontario's only bona fide national park that contains the Canadian shield landscape and ecology is Pukaskwa park. Pu-what? I am willing to bet that at least 75% of Canadians have never heard of it...and there's a good reason. Pukaskwa is located in a remote corner of Lake Superior's north shore, an awesome stretch, naturally speaking, but that also means it's about as accessible to people as Greenland. I mean you have to get to either Thunder Bay or Sault Ste-Marie and even then it's still a long, long drive from those towns. The odds that most Canadian kids will never, ever set their feet there are overwhelming. (Yes, I know that national parks were intended for the wildlife but they had also been set up, ostensibly, as places for the public to access and explore pristine, or nearly pristine wilderness).

Last but not least among the reasons why Gatineau should have the national park status is simply that it is near the nation's capital. We are already known to have a penchant for large, arbitrary projects... Colonel By went into the middle of swampy nowhere to bring us the Rideau Canal, then the aptly named Bytown was bequeathed with the 'capital' title and built-up from a rough village into a magnificent city (yes, hyperbole, but I do like the Parliament buildings). So why not take the much easier step of designating a new national park on Ottawa's doorstep? It's not like the park isn't already there.

Monday meme

In case you haven't stumbled across it yet here's the world's oldest rock band The Zimmers cover of The Who's My Generation. If I had a cane, I'd shake it at some young punks to the beat of these old codgers.

I was impressed by Iggy Pop reaching senior status and still tearing shit up but the bearded dude at the end of this one, who flips you the bird, is 100. There's just something about a rock group whose average age is 90 singing the ultimate anthem of youth without a hint of irony that I love. There's utter joy and jubelation in this song, which seems to make it that much more meaningful than the angst of anyone under 90 ripping it up. This jubelence is a slap in the face of anyone making millions (and million dollar videos that get less airplay) out of righteous anger without any basis for that pissed-offedness. This is a group that has a definite reason to be pissed - being screwed over and forgotten as they age. Plus, it's pretty solid and just weird to see.

*For the uninitiated an internet meme is like those e-mail jokes you used to get daily when you first got e-mail - only they're slightly more organic in that nobody sends them directly to you.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Some travel a little, some travel a lot

Spring is here and like a good bureaucrat, I am looking forward to more time off (thanks to unions, "the people who brought you the vacation"), spinning summer travel plans. Not that I hate winter; there is plenty of recreation still possible from going skating on the Canal to local ski hills, to snowshoeing, to that tropical getaway. But, all these qualifications aside, true wanderlust hits me only around this time of the year.

Now, I'll preface this by saying I am a fairly well-travelled individual. From the Yukon to Spain, from Costa Rica to Cape Breton Island, I can lay a claim to having been to a plenty of interesting, scenic and sometimes culturally different locations. First-hand travel experience is, in my opinion, the only reliable way to figure out this wide world and also get a sense of how we are living at home, the context of it all. Aside from foreign travel, I happen to do a lot of personal and business travelling within Canada and have gained a decent, if somewhat superficial, understanding of our vast's geography and people. Hiked a lot mountains and swam in many a lake.

All this said and done, some of us are true travellers - take, for instance my long-time friend Lee.

Lee's deep interest - and some might say obsession - on the travel front dates back to mid-90s when he'd heard about my backpacking trips through Europe. Since then, Lee took on what he calls a "10 year travel project". It has been a series of trips, some short (a few weeks), some longer than a year at a time, punctuated by working in his hometown of Vancouver. The guy has stood on all 7 continents (yes, including Antarctica) and been to places most of us will only read about in the National Geographic...places like Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, like Tibet, like the Great Barrier Reef, and the Angel Falls. His friends sometimes join him on parts of these adventures (I have had the privilege of trekking with the fellow in the Peruvian Andes in 2004 and shared a part of a trip to Alaska with him some years ago). But at the end of the day, he travels mainly solo and is the most travelled individual (at a relatively young age) that you and I have ever met. If there were airmiles for every single flight he's been on, it would furnish several free vacations for an average family for several years, I'm sure...

Lee runs a website, purely devoted to places he's been. The photography is quite high-end, almost professional in some instances. Have a look at

This is as a way of saying, sometimes you don't need a guidebook, just ask someone who's been there.

The Out-of-Towner

I'm off to Toronto for the weekend to see the MFA show by my friend Mary Porter at the Free Gallery. It's the last weekend it is showing and you should do your best to go see it as well. She's done flip-books and idyllic landscapes on condo design posters.

Also, Saturday morning I'll be attending the recording of CBC Radio programme Go! As I've told my wife, Brent Bambury is the only person I don't know personally who has directed my musical taste so much. I'm looking forward to it, although it's early. If you like the show, check out their website to see if they'll be in your neck of the woods sometime - tickets are free.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oh, if only I had the time to blog this one appropriately

Just got back from Berlin Sunday night. Let me tell you, that city KNOWS how to do beige (except they call it sandstone). So so so much more beautiful than Ottawa - it's what a capital should look like.

I hope to post more about this later.

Good Luck Young Sir

2006 Green Party Candidate Chris Tindal has started up a blog on Torontoist - Campaign Confidential. I hope it turns into an insightful little column about the human aspect of federal party politics. Chris is a decent guy who was generally decent to work with, if my memory serves me right.

But on a humorous note, I'm sort of going to use the column to map how long it will take him to leave the party disgusted and frustrated like the rest of us that left.

Two quick updates

If you haven’t seen it yet, get thee to the National Art Gallery for the Ron Mueck installation. It runs until May 6th, so get there while the getting is good. It is simply captivating. The statues feel like they will turn to you and ask you to stop looking at them, thank you very much. You enter into their space and it will definitely affect you. When you see the smaller statues, you’ll want to pick them up. When you see the big statues you’ll want to touch them. Fantastic stuff.

Secondly, if the Senators don’t win the Stanley Cup this year, I’m suing the writers of The Secret.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Warning: Advertising can be “Suggestive”

And by suggestive, I’m of course talking about teh sex. But not any old sex, that's fine, but sex between men seems to be appearing in newspapers aimed at a gay audience. So, consider yourself warned.

I woke up this morning to hear CBC Radio talking to someone from Capital Xtra about some recent goings on at city hall. Apparently a parent at a community centre decided to read Capital Xtra and complained about the suggestive advertising to a councilor whose name I forget. What followed was the councilor passing the matter off to city staff and said staff then conducting seven days worth of research to find out whether or not a free gay culture newspaper should have the right to be distributed in city run community centres.

This entire situation just reeks of the type of activity that utterly disgusts me about this city. This matter could have been dealt with in a matter of minutes with a PFO (please fuck off) response from the councilor. It’s not about whether or not you are willing to listen to your constituents, or whether or not you agree with them, it’s a matter of being the type of leader that defends all the people you represent. Trust me, you can be polite to people who are trying to bring up non-issues with you, I used to do it all the time with the Green Party. I could have saved you seven days. Seriously. Here’s a response off the top of my head “Thank you for voicing your concerns I am always open to listening to my constituents, however the city, and myself allow all our citizens the right to free expression and we embrace all communities who live in Ottawa.” Can I get some consultant fees for that? It took me under a minute, you can buy me a large double-double and if I win a free cookie, I’ll even give it to you.

But what I think we’re all missing here is the real story of how Capital Xtra has miraculous powers. Think about it for a second. The parent who made the complaint must have been totally blind and deaf until he picked up a copy of Capital Xtra only to be exposed to advertising for the first time. I can imagine the experience of suddenly having sight only to see an advert in a gay newspaper would be a bit disconcerting. I’m thinking we should start rubbing Capital Xtra on lepers and see what happens – could reduce wait times.

I’m seriously shocked over someone concerned over suggestive advertising. Where have you been for your entire life. Heck, when Henry Ford rolled the first Model-T off the assembly line he drove down town with it and put up a poster that said “If this Model-T’s a rockin’, it’s because we’re doing God’s work.” Or Flittermaster and Sons Corsets – “These corsets will make him lose his breath too." I think Shakespeare advertised Titus Andronicus with “Avail thyself to the wanton ways of yester-year. Alas, and alack with public approval only the finest beef liver is used for the utmost clarity in life mimicking personal tongue removals.”

There’s a similar faux moralism being brewed up in the comic book geekery over an upcoming cover that has a well endowed man. It’s covered much better by Chris and Dorian - warning, if you click those links, you’ll see penises in underpants. The deal in the comics isn’t about whether or not the artist is talented or can actually draw anatomy, it’s that suddenly there are male bits rather than over sexualized women being presented. What is telling isn’t that there’s anatomy but the reaction to it which I find fascinating.

This unnecessary local scandal isn’t about advertising, it’s about homophobic behaviour being given credence by city hall. Did we really need to consult with other municipalities to find out that everyone in this city has the same rights?

Rockin' out in Ottawa

I have been meaning to sing praises to the Live lounge recordings for a while.

In this day and age, venues for original live music have been on a slow decline in the nation's capital. More places feature DJays, fewer places can offer new, fresh, independent acts strutting their stuff.

Enter Live lounge, a unique combination of a recording studio, music club and an extension of the Live 88.5 station. As you may have guessed, it has indie rock written all over it...and, yes, it is not entirely uncommercial. Au contraire, the bands that play at the 128 York Street (it's right by club Surface) club on Thursdays are hoping to get signed, hoping to get more radio exposure, in short make money.

Based on what I have read and seen, the concept is new, at least within Canada. No other rock station runs its own live music venue and works with up-and coming acts who use that venue to attract live audiences they otherwise might not get.

The recording sessions/concerts are truly eclectic. Various musical tastes will be satisfied, unless you really yearn to hear hip-hop or country...pretty much everthing else goes. The formula is, you pay $5 and get to see three bands. First time that my girlfriend and I ventured into Live lounge, the three bands on that particular bill were an art-rock duo (with a cello and electric guitar), a three-chord punk band, and a metal act whose members were about 22 years old on average and yet playing 80s influenced metal (inlcuding an Iron Maiden cover). I banged my head and did a little slam dancing, for old/new times' sake. An entertaining evening.

I think the iPod generation is used to having any kind of music piped into our all-consuming ears, sometimes just to fill void and block the daily chatter on a bus ride or some other public place. Then there's the age factor. After university, fewer of us get to see the journeyman 'neighbourhood band' on a regular basis, the guys (and girls) with guitars as they struggle to become a bona fide rock band. Seeing the shows at Live lounge made me realize again that making music is a lot like making sausages at the best of times. And that's not even accounting for all the screw-ups, personality conflicts and lack of song-writing skills.

What I'm saying is - instead of turning on Much Music or buying a CD from someone you already know, go see these Live lounge shows. Get surprised. Go see a couple of intense, entertaining, hard-working and technically proficient local acts, the ones that have withered a few inevitable personal storms and are on the verge of making it. Support your local musicians without getting on any bandwagon-type causes. You and your date/drinking buddy/out-of town friends will have a good time.

The only senior who goes topless and crowd surfs

This should have been posted on April 22nd, his actual birthday but here's a clip of Peter Gzowski interviewing Iggy Pop. I, like a lot of people I know, really only came to Iggy Pop after Trainspotting. I did know about The Stooges and his album American Caesar but not much more beyond that before my twenties but it's really only been a decade that I've been a true Iggy Pop fan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Most Depressing Movie Night Ever

Last night I went to the Mayfair Theatre and watched a double feature of The Last King of Scotland and The Wind That Shakes the Barley. I have never felt worse after leaving a cinema. The only possible moral I can gather from both of those movies is that you should never ever be a doctor from a Celtic nation that had trouble with the English. No good can come of it.

They are both good movies mind you, just back to back were a bit much. A Scottish doctor gets over his head with Idi Amin in Uganda or an Irish doctor gets caught up in the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army. Take your pick to which movie was more bloody depressing.

After last night I want to make sure I’m never given any power whatsoever for as long as I live or to be anywhere near anyone who wants power, has power or thinks power should be redistributed. Thankfully, I’m not a doctor, so at least I won’t be around, or required to, shoot people I know - which if I based all my knowledge on these two movies, is pretty much what doctors do - then meet horrible ends themself.

Green-Grit dealing and wheeling - Part II

The Green-Grit saga continues, much to my surprise and imitigated sense of disgust. Now, it seems as though the May-Dion non-aggression pact is about to get some significant play among other Green members and potential candidates...the following is a short excerpt from the Ottawa Citizen..

Saying he was taking a page out of Elizabeth May’s strategy book, Green party member Jim Fannon has proposed throwing his party’s support to the Liberal nominee in the St. Catharines riding rather than run a Green candidate in the next election.

....He was quoted in the St. Catharines Standard saying his resolution is another example of doing politics in a different way: “Canadians have recently elected two minority governments. They want parties working together, and that is what this is all about.”
Former Liberal MP Walt Lastewka said he would welcome the help in the next election since he only lost by 250 votes to Dykstra and he believes many of the Green votes would come his way. But he denied being involved in any discussions with Fannon or any other local Greens.

So, there you have it - one party (The Greens) are promising another party (The Libs) a free ride in order to help defeat the big, bad government of the day. I see how this would please the Liberals tremendously and how it would legitimize the strategic voting pattern even more.

The obvious question, then, must be - Why have the Green party in Canada at all? At least on the federal level.

This entire story reminds me of other, albeit very rare, examples around the world, like when the Hungarian Communist party voluntarily voted itself out of existence in the early 1990s. The big difference being the Communists had actually ruled that country for 40 years, had internal schisms and had realized their era and their ideology were coming to a close. They were no longer needed or relevant. The Canadian Greens are engineering a similar end to their own existence, with the distinction of never having elected a member to the Parliament, never having influenced a single major policy or piece of legislation, never having put their stamp on a piece of Canadian political heritage.

So, Hungarian communists get a 120 on the political IQ scale. Canadian greens get about a 12.

RIP - Boris Yeltsin

This is all over the news today so I won't expand unnecessarily but let's just say, have a vodka or two today for the big guy. Or seventeen. Just don't try climbing on any tanks afterwards.

But seriously now...not expand? who am I kidding? This is an occassion upon which to expand and ruminate. The Russians wouldn't have it any other way.

Credited by some to be the true architect of the demise of Soviet Union, Yeltsin presided over what became a genuinely free (if very troubled) country, probably the only time the Russians had experienced democracy. Even though Boris essentially drank himself out of office and out of relevance, I've always had a warm spot in my heart for this character. He was a populist in the best sense of the word and not a control freak like the current Russian president.

Boris was such a personality that the only possible Canadian equivalent would be some bizzare combination of Ralph Klein with the late-period Chretien, plus a massive dose of political courage a la Trudeau in 1970 (but with much more at stake). ..and if you have to go further abroad in your imagination, add a touch of Nixon to a Churchill-type personality, and then marinate in vodka and copious doses of intrigue. Easy to criticize, not easy to emulate, and impossible to recreate. The world politics is a little poorer, a little less entertaining, a little less human without him.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ottawa Citizen - saving the lazy blogger

I meant to link to this article in the Ottawa Citizen by Randall Denley on Saturday, but life, sunshine and warm temperatures got in the way.

From the title to the content this pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. We don’t need swagger, we need city governance – and firing the one guy who says it won’t work doesn’t really help all that much.

When we had to drain the municipal reserves just to make ends meet this year, I doubt we’ll be astonished, in a good way, by the services we receive but possibly by the crippling tax increase to ensure even the minimum of municipal works gets done. I wonder if that new idling bylaw going to council applies to the mayor as well?

Oil country and skiing powder in April

Oil Country - that's what the billboard says at the outskirts of Edmonton. A blue-and orange study in simplicity that pounds out a single, heavy note, reminding who has won five Cups and recently nearly added a sixth one. No fuzzy mascot. No fancy pictures of Alfredsson and the boys like in our Ottawa beige.

Oil Country - the $400,000 -500,000 price tag on a very modest bungalow in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood in Edmonton. My friends, a professional working couple, admit they will never own a house here, as they nervously study the menu at a local café where prices seem to go up every few months. In the meantime, the Calgary rush hour is two to three hours long. I come here twice a year and yet the cityscape is changing quicker than I can remember it. The hive-like condos and new office towers have successfully colonized the remaining reaches of the big sky view from downtown. Unlike Ottawa, there is no Peace Tower to act as a height ceiling to their development.

Oil Country - the four golf courses that ring Canmore, in beautiful Rockies. The local grizzly bears must be forming guerrilla warfare units by now. The Grizzly Paw brew pub features an awesome view of the Three Sisters from the main street but parking is hard to find parking among the SUVs here. House prices out of this world, with Brits and Americans happily driving them up even more.

Oil Country - the young, skater-like dudes and their girlfriends sending a tidal wave of cash through the bar at "Diamonds", an upscale strip club where a pole dancer is performing on roller skates, part Quentin Tarantino, part kitsch, part innocence slowly lost as these guys discover she is very nice to them for money. Shades of Alberta rodeo pervade the scene. An announcer heralds the up-and coming "amateur, all-female water fight", the signature event of the week. I regret not staying.

Skiing powder in April - we ascend to 8000 ft and play in the untracked powder, high up on the slopes of Commonwealth peak in Kananaskis. 10,000 ft mountains and grey ridges erupt out of the sparse alpine forest, out of the fields of white. Avalanche danger is low, the sun is high and the cliffs pierce the dynamic sky above our playground. I am very happy to be here with my sister and with friends who are experienced; this is a potentially dangerous spot, but not so much today. Our day seemingly stretches on forever. Haikus are the best poetic form to describe this stuff. Ski-touring here is world-renowned. This adventure reminds me what has been missing from my Ottawa winters and why I would rather be doing this than going to Hawaii, Mexico or the French Riviera.

I [heart] corporations

You hear that alarm in the distance? Yeah, it’s the fairly useless post ahead warning.

I just wanted to say that I have my own personal Ralph Nader. I’m married to her. No she doesn’t have her own billions or a desire to become the next American president, but she is my own personal consumer advocate.

Yep, my wife sent an e-mail to Danesco when the Jamie Oliver flavour shaker™ she bought me for Christmas broke. They sent us a new one, no questions asked. It’s as close to a back-room mafia deal as I’ve ever had. Well, the first time I used the replacement, it broke so my wife sent yet another e-mail and the Jamie Oliver flavour shaker™ mark 3 is now at home and seems to have a better connection set up – there’s an actual “click” when it’s shut.

I just wanted to give you all a heads up since it was recently featured in the LCBO magazine Food & Drink. It’s actually a product I really like, and yes, smartass, I was using it properly. But seriously I was given replacements really quickly and an e-mail where they apologized for my “misfortune.” It seemed a bit melodramatic for a bit of broken plastic but hey, they really care about flavour.

So if you’re a kitchen gadget type of person, check this out. If you haven't clicked on the two links above, it's basically a herb crusher only you put all the stuff into the Russian doll looking impliment along with a ceramic ball, close it and shake the living bejeezus out of it and voila - tasty goodness. It’s really cool but ye gods make sure you have that thing properly shut before you start knocking it about.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

N is for Nightmares

Michel Gagne’s Frenzied Fauna from A-Z is now posted online for your viewing pleasure. It’s my favourite alphabet book just after The Gashlycrumb Tinies only with slightly more nightmare fuel as previously found in Insanely Twisted Rabbits.

Wyld Stallions

I knew it. Mayor Larry O’Brien actually thinks he’s Yul Brynner. I’m a bit worried with the Ottawa Citizen acting as enabler to this delusion as it could lead to our elected officials having more closed door meetings to decide the fate of the city. I guess we should all just accept the fact that he’s blatantly holding closed door meetings instead of the regular deals struck behind the scene.

I’m particularly fond of this quotation from the Citizen - “"We can and we must conduct ourselves in a more businesslike manner," he said. "At the end of this process, I want you to feel spoiled by the abundance, value and level of service you get for your tax dollar."” By insider trading, giving yourself a raise then raising user fees, or do I just not understand business? I mean Nortel and Corel are both paradigms of Ottawa success stories aren’t they? They what? Ah crap, that doesn’t bode well.

I’ve seen how business is done in this city and I’m not sure we need a Leon’s Furniture Warehouse approach to governing our city. Save now, definitely pay later. If I were a city employee I’d start looting the supply cabinet for compensation right about now – heck, call dibs on the printer because soon that floor you share with all those other employees will become someone’s office. Then in a few years it can be rented out as a call centre.

Wait, there may be hope.

Mr. O'Brien even suggested a line be added to tax bills that would allow
residents to give the city a tip for great service.

This is the greatest idea ever. I have a few suggestions for tips to get you started:

  • The shaved head is the new comb-over, you’re not fooling anyone.

  • Don’t eat yellow snow.

  • Give your by-law enforcers those huge sumo-suits so we can pummel them when they issue tickets without inflicting bodily harm.

  • Get advisors who don’t fake press credentials to be conveniently parked at City Hall.

  • Try to look less like an actual penis, you’re making it too easy.

Yeah, you get the idea.

And I’m sorry, I don’t want someone who thinks he’s a cowboy governing the city like the wild-west. And people, don’t encourage him by using words like “swagger.” Let’s try words that actually apply, like “unaccountable to the electorate.” Ah well, at least it'll make the next few years of kvetching that much more justified.

And someone has to say it - but doesn’t the culture of excellence at city hall make you think of these two?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dropping First Past the Post Voting Like a Phat Beat.

Okay it appears that during the next provincial election here in Ontario we’ll get the chance to vote on proportional representation. I do like the irony that the referendum vote for this to pass doesn’t require 50% +1 to be valid, but instead 60% total support plus at least 50% support in a minimum of 64 ridings. Chucking a political bone to the masses? Maybe, maybe not.

To be honest I’ve had too many arsewipes at the Green Party rave on about proportional representation for me to associate it with anything good and wholesome. It makes me think that we already have enough idiots in government, why add more? Just once I’d like someone with an actual PhD in Political Science to tell me why this is a good thing instead of random loud angry white guy number 12 try to prove me wrong because he read a book or knows someone who knows someone.

Okay, for the most part I tend to agree with proportional representation. I do think the arguments against first past the post are inherently weak. Whoever gets the most votes wins. Doesn’t get much simpler. Claiming a government doesn’t represent people because more people didn’t vote for the winning party than did is kind of like that vaseline on the lens effect that makes Luke Skywalker’s car appear to hover. You’re blurring what is there. It’s not like more people voted for one different party than the winner. We have more choice which is a very good thing but after experiencing party politics I don’t think simply starting a political party should allow you to have a seat in the legislature. That’s just what happens when you get more choice – you get more chances to dilute the system.

The big questions for me, is how do you run a by-election for a proportional seat? With a party list being presented to voters during an election, what happens if that proportional MPP steps down, for whatever reason? I don’t want the party to simply patch in the next person on the list – that’s a bit too open for flagrant abuse. Run a fantastic first person on the list, get him or her in then have them step down so person number 2 gets a seat? – no thank you. And just exactly who are these proportional MPPs going to be accountable to? Their own party or can we voters contact them?

I just find this a very boring subject so I’m probably not the best person to be commenting on it here but Adrian is in Berlin and Jan is in Edmonton, so I’m stuck watching the home-front. I do think that having governments that are forced to take into account different points of view results in much better governance. I actually like minority parliaments and think we should have fixed election dates whenever there is a minority parliament (provincially or federally) as that generally amounts to the same thing as proportional representation, except everyone there is accountable to the local voters.

I need to read a bit more of the proposal to know more about the system being offered, but I’m generally against anything that gives more insane people a public voice. Isn’t that what the internet is for?

Zen and the Art of Video Games

I'm posting this here for all of those like me who realize you'll never be in a video game shop at the exact time a Nintendo Wii arrives - thus you'll never get to actually purchase one. Here's a contest open only to Canadians that allows you to win what basically amounts to a professionally graffitied Wii.

Only just recently have all the artists been revealed and I have to say that while I’m not a fan of Kardinal Offishall, his entry with Allister Lee done to look like a Jack Kirby creation or a character out of Gødland (not religious) makes me really really happy I entered.

Go, enter, and enjoy the fact that for the first time ever you’re in a contest for cool stuff open only to Canadians unlike all those other contests for cool stuff, like ever. This is a prize that money can’t buy – even if you could actually find the vanilla Wii in the first place.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Plato Smash!

I’ve been a fan of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s Action Philosophers! From the moment I finally got my hands on their Giant Size Thing a few months back. Whoa, that doesn’t sound right, and hello Google searching deviants.

For those of you that don’t think comics are anything but questionable physiques, juvenile male escapism, or terribly un-funny newspaper strips then this should go a long way to dropping some education on you. This is a series that explores the life and theories of various philosophers while simultaneously exploring the medium of comics itself. In the very first issue they have Plato as a masked luchadore smashing through his Socratic dialogues while learning he actually was a wrestler and Socrates was probably semi-illiterate.

This is a bit of a late update as the comic has since come to Ottawa and sold out a little while back but I thought I’d share the link to Comic Book Resources that has a preview of "You’re a Good Man John Stuart Mill." Scroll to the bottom for the images.

The individual issues are being collected into multiple volumes for your convenience. If you’re looking for something to read that is both quick and jammed full of information and fun, then visit your local comic shop or order online. Volume one and volume two are now available.

Green Party gets crap together - for about five minutes

The only thing I've ever seen the Green Party do effectively was get rid of people. They've managed to actually do it in a fairly effective manner this time with Kevin Potvin. Now it's only a matter of time before the rest of them chirp up.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dan Baril has thrown in the towel. Why hire political advisors and strategists when you can do it all yourself?

Monday, April 16, 2007

This time it's really light

Who agrees with me that about half of the buildings between Elgin to the East and Bronson to the west, to Sparks to the north and Laurier (and maybe farther) to the south, could be demolished without a tear shed? What the hell were those guys thinking when they built that stuff!?!? This doesn't portray it perfectly, but there is way too much nasty-a$$ 60's concrete and windowless walls, especially facing the south (WTF!?!? The sun is in the southern part of our sky, you'd think it might save them money on lighting and heating in the winter - what do they teach in architectural schools?).

Long story short, we could use a redo of our downtown. TOO MUCH BEIGE!!!

And now for something a bit lighter...

Not sure if this is where this belongs, but I'm in shock and really saddened by the massacre at Virginia Tech. I feel for the families.

First off, I'll put my very unbiased point of view out here. I've seen guns, but mostly on my travels and on security men. I don't see a lot of guns in my day-to-day life (except at Shawarma Palace, because there are always some sort of officer of the peace in the place, be there Ottawa cops, RCMP, or military police). I don't see much of a need for them, and those that might "need" them are those that are out hunting for sport (and the aforementioned officers of the peace). So I'm pro-gun control and pro-gun registration.

This massacre begs two questions:

1) Will this be enough for America to do some serious reflection on its gun culture (my guess is no, if Columbine didn't do it)?

2) What should we be doing in Canada about guns? Is the registry effective? I keep in mind that I've heard that Robert Pickton's farm was initially searched on a gun registry warrant (can anyone find corroborating evidence on this? I can't in my initial search), and the horrors at that farm may have been cut short by that search (if I'm right, which I can't guarantee).

This is also in light of what happened at Dawson College, and, reflecting on the attack that probably affected Canadians the most, the Montreal Massacre.

I always viewed the gun registry in parallel to an automobile registry. Cars have utility to many people, but in the wrong hands, can be deadly. Same with guns. Thus, it's worth tracking the existence of both tools. Is this a fair comparison?


Change the velociraptors in this comic to zombies and that's pretty much me on a road-trip (or just wandering around Ottawa).

Also, please welcome the latest contributor - the artist formerly known as Umar. Oh wait, he's still known as that.


Go vote for the winning teams and watch the art bleed out into the street.


Yet another great online speakeasy for artists to break out a little bit of fun - heck it's got Paul Pope drawing Ring-Girls and just a fantastic assortment of entries from some great artists.

I am a lumberjack and I'm okay

I don't know if most of us look around and ponder what's in a name. Buildings, streets, bridges, the mundane stuff, you know...One of the large institutional buildings in the Portage complex in Gatineau is named 'edifice Luc Montferrand'. I must confess that upon discovering who Luc Montferrand was, I immediately thought about a Jack Granatstein lecture (sometime in the late 90s) that bore the theme "Who Killed Canadian history"?

The Americans have their Paul Bunyan and almost all the kids in Canada have heard about this mythical logger-cum giant creature, whether anyone with that name and occupation had actually existed or not. It's one of those pop culture references, the benign strongman, a Disneyfied character that nevertheless come out of a tangible, not-so removed past when many of the settlers on the continent would have to have been loggers, clearing patches of land, wresting a living from a homestead...the whole heroic, hardscrabble, "when men were men" period of time. Okay, I take it that the American media machine has been really, really successful at colonizing the terrain of public imagination. But still, Canada can do better with these stories. I (being a history buff and all) had never heard of Luc Montferrand in my home province of Alberta or anywhere else in the country, never read about him in history books, seen stories of him, not until I'd moved to the nation's capital.

Luc Montferrand was not only Bunyan-like, not only Canadian, but he bore the distinction of being a real, documented person. He's never had a cartoon modelled after him or a comic-book. This guy was a giant among the relatively small-statured population of the early 19th century. He stood at 6' 4'' and was so strong that he would entertain people by lifting objects that were not meant to be lifted and bending objects that were not meant to be bent. Today, he's be on TV, playing in the NFL, or in the world's strongest man competition.

In the 1830s and 40s, Luc was simply a very efficient logger. And a sort of pre-union advocate for workplace equality. That meant knocking heads, earning respect by being very good at knocking heads, and knocking more heads. So much so that Luc's most famous episode - for which he is celebrated in Quebec till this day - consisted of him single-handedly fighting and holding back a "mob" of mostly Irish lumberjacks, on a bridge. See, the French-Canadian and Irish forestry workers in the Ottawa valley did not get along back then....the French-Canadian contigent felt threatened by the then-recently arrived Irish 'taking their jobs'. Things would get predictably violent, one might almost want to draw a comparison to the feuding between rival mafia clans or between soccer hooligans. The times were rough beyond our belief, with Bytown having one of the highest assault and murder rates on the continent. In this harsh corner of the Empire, Luc was a highly respected guy, partially because he used his natural advantages sparingly (beat up ten people instead of twenty, etc) and never went overboard by actually killing anyone.

So, there you have it, a genuine frontier hero, a larger-than life but real life character. He gets a few honorable mentions here and there, but, no textbook space, no TV show, no statue, not even a good spoof on Rick Mercer. It almost doesn't matter today what the causes are; the fact the guy was French and fell victim to the 'two solitudes' schizoid cultural personna, or whether he's been drowned out by the tide of Ottawa beige, the relentless drive to sanitize and render our own region's history as boring as possible.

Whatever the giant lumberjack character stands for, for you (you can laugh at the hick past of Bytown, if you want), the story actually makes me little bit sad. It makes me sad because we, as a city and as a culture, are so weak and spotty in acknowledging our past, so slow to celebrate the bits of history that were entertaining, noteworthy, and so inept at preserving a good story for future generations. If Seinfeldt was successful by being a show about nothing, is Ottawa's story a story of multi-generational Seinfelds?

Passive Aggression, thy name is Ottawa

Well, here’s the honest to goodness introduction from my point of view. Jan got his up already and you’ll probably soon find out, he’s the brains of the operation here and I’m sort of the internet version of a little kid at a wedding – off in all directions, over stimulated and pretty unfocussed. It could also be that I just didn’t have my coffee yet and there’s another ten centimeters of snow on the ground (grrrr).

The whole idea for this place started as all good ideas do, in a pub over one too many pints of Wellington County Ale. Actually, good idea isn’t always right because I think it was over many pints of beer that I thought trying to become a 3D animator was a good idea. I got the certificate but never managed to get a job doing that although I still think it would be a great job, I just ran out of money while improving my skills and portfolio and ended up working for the Green Party of Canada about three years ago. There I met a good friend who first introduced me to the term Ottawa Beige. No, it’s not for the Italian Sports sandals although that is a deftly brilliant description of the perfect footwear for this city. Nope I was just, once again, talking about how frustrated I was by the passive aggressive attitude that seems to permeate this city. He mentioned how during one of the rumblings about the Ottawa Lynx moving he suggested we just get a new team and call them the Ottawa Beige. And like London Fog, Ottawa Beige struck me as the perfect description of my perception of this city.

Now, there are a lot of parts I love – most of it embodied in the form of the Ottawa Senators, although they pushed it on Saturday, and The Manx Pub – but from the day I arrived I felt like there was just something off. I’m still not one hundred percent certain what it is but I’ve come to think of the underlying uneasiness I have is that there is just entirely too much passive aggressive behavior here. The morning commute is an absolute nightmare – thankfully I don’t drive, because I’ve never seen a bigger collection of passive aggressive arseholes in my entire life as on the roads of Ottawa. I’m sorry but nobody in Ottawa needs to ever run a red light. Nobody here is THAT important. Sure there’s ambulances, fire trucks and the various police forces but they have sirens and flashing lights. The rest of you need to chill the fuck out and accept that being five minutes late will not result in the world crumbling around you.

I kind of think it stems from being caught between Toronto and Montreal. If you’ve ever been to a Senators' game when either original-6 team is visiting you’d understand. Playoff games against those teams suck because they essentially get 7 home games – an unfortunate effect of having a newer team with established fans for other teams, but understandable as well. Regardless, I was at Saturday’s game and too many of the Ottawa "cheers" were boos directed at either Fleury or Crosby. Me and my wife didn’t boo Crosby because it just doesn’t seem classy or relevant – and I’m the guy who suggested Ottawa fans adopt the song “Tie Domi’s got a fucking monkey’s head” sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine*. But now he's retired and I'm thinking it can be adapted to Paul Maurice.

I guess that’s what it all boils down to, with the general state of passive aggression and middle-class angst that permeates Ottawa from the self-righteous bicyclists dodging traffic all winter, to the addicts jogging on the frozen canal, to the passive aggressive motorists and hockey fans that spend entire too much time hating the Maple Leafs (although I can see why and do encourage that) I needed an outlet to explore things I love here and anywhere else as well as seeing if someday I can find that something rotten in the state of Ottawa.

*Yes, it was over pints of beer and I am a member of the Toon Army**
** Newcastle United fans – they come from “the toon” or go downtoon.

Friday, April 13, 2007

So, you think you too need a shelter from the beige?

I like to think of the excitement factor of cities as an 'alert' type of scale. Kind of like the domestic terror alert now adopted in the States. Orange means medium. Red means a significant scare or significant risk. You get the color idea...

Ottawa Beige may not be a new term but it has been reinvented as a label by the founder of this blog. Beige is inoffensive. Beige is the kind of conversation at Starbucks in the Glebe when you have returned from a vacation in some more exciting place and your friends have been gardening all this time or something lame like that. Most of our buildings are beige, their materials blending in nicely with the overcast, often rainy weather. Beige is the mood of a room full of senior-level bureaucrats making routine, yet highly diplomatic decisions; it's the color of not stepping on anyone's toes too hard, too often or not at all. If the city had a medeival-style crest of arms, it would have to feature a lot of beige...

If you need a shelter from the ever-creeping tide of beige, we will endeavour to bring it to you, contruct it for you and let you play in that shelter. To prove that Ottawa doesn't suck or doesn't suck as badly as the popular lore would have it. To praise cheap, good restaurants and tell the world who has the really good beers on tap. To review a book or two. To provide quick, off-the hip, occassionally caustic social commentary while not taking sides and not flaunting any obvious ideology or a bent(say, I will remain very discreet in my support for the Oilers and may even heap a small amount of praise on the Sens one day). To point out the neat, innovative, off-the beaten path cultural opportunities to be found in the city. To guide anyone who wants to be guided through a neighbourhood or a piece of obscure local history. To entertain and provoke and kick at that oversized punching bag known as civic smugness , and to poke holes in our blindfolds, may that be political correctness or snobism or other social affections.

We'll also do weird things. Maybe an interview with a performance artist - or a 900-pound elephant seal. Maybe an article about the chaotic and lawless past of Bytown. Probably lots of references to comic books, geekdom in general and to random acts of evolution.

Anyhow, welcome to Ottawa Beige.

Green Party 2, Sanity 0

Well I wanted to get a proper introduction post ready before going live but those wacky Greens forced me to jump over the top early. As you can see the kinks are still being worked out here as I populate the sidebar and finish inviting the other contributors.

So I’ll give the most cursory of backgrounds then jump right in to what will most likely be a running theme in my posts – The Green Party is Stupid. You see, I worked for them for the last three years, and the two most important general elections for the party to date but I left out of utter utter frustration. Yes, I used two utters they are that frustrating. So, there’s that plus I just wanted to kind of have an outlet to talk about Ottawa and pretty much anything else that strikes my fancy. I’ll get into more details on the real intro post.

So while we have an acclaimed candidate out west claiming 9/11 was beautiful, and he stands by those claims we have Elizabeth May making a coalition of the willing. If I actually had a membership in the Greens I’d be asking for some answers pretty damned quickly or turning it in and just jumping to the Liberals, which is apparently okay – well from what Dion and May are saying anyway. There is no need for a Green Party when the leader is endorsing the Liberals and the Liberal leader.

There is a difference between doing politics differently and doing politics poorly. Guess which one it is when you’re supporting the competition? Oh well, at least they don’t have the party structure or apparatus to get rid of the guy who thinks passenger planes smashing into buildings killing thousands of New Yorkers is beautiful.

You know those stories of people who survive grizzly bear attacks? Today, I understand. I'm grateful to be alive and out of its grasp.