Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nothing to do with the beige, everything to do with the Ottawa hockey team...

The creator of this blog, Jon, is no doubt very happy with the developments of the past week. First, Wade Redden moved out of town, though it would've been nice if he'd waived his no-trade clause so that the Sens could get something for him. Secondly, Ray Emery is off to Moscow for next year, after being wisely bought out by the Senators. Both of these are cases of addition by subtraction.

The Rangers are more than welcome to pay $6.5 million per year for Redden. Same goes for Atlant Mytischy and their $2 million for Emery. The Sens made the right choices there. Now if only they could get someone to overpay for Spezza...

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Green Shift

It appears that the beige is turning a little bit greener. The Liberals released quite possibly the most significant, wide-ranging political policy piece in years yesterday when they released their Green Shift plan yesterday.

As a long-time supporter of carbon taxes and ecological fiscal reform, I look at this and say... it's not perfect. But it's good. And as I was told often last year as I entered the policy world, perfection is the enemy of good. I see some room for improvement here, but not much. Congratulations to the Liberals. I support this plan.

I had recently moved towards the NDP and voted for them for the first time in the last provincial election, but I am dismayed at the NDP for disagreeing with this (though I understand why). I think that the Liberals plan does as well as can be expected to mitigate the impacts of a carbon tax on the poor, and on Northern communities that have fewer options and colder weather.

It should be noted that there is NO increase in gasoline taxes through this plan. I disagree with that, because taxation is a good way to minimize gasoline consumption and drive other energy efficiency policies. But raising gasoline taxes is a losing proposition for a political party, so I understand their choice.

Taxation is also fairly low cost for the government to administer; cap-and-trade has significant administrative costs.

I have made personal choices to prepare myself for a carbon tax. I believe that I should not be able to use the atmosphere as a free dumping ground. I believe that our taxation system should be designed to promote good things (the three I's mentioned by Stéphane Dion: income, investment and innovation), and should discourage things that cause harm (sin taxes on pollution and wasteful overconsumption). Unless the other parties get this, I will be (holding my nose for other reasons but will be) voting Liberal next election.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good bye...

...Wade, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

It would've been nice to, you know, 'get something' for him, but he refused to waive his no trade clause twice, once last off-season, once at the trading deadline last season.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Roy "Fritz" Koerner

At times, it's easy to underestimate the impact that some of the people who walk the same halls as you do have had.

On May 26, Fritz Koerner passed away. I had the pleasure of seeing Fritz give a presentation back in October. He was engaging, friendly, lighthearted and illuminating. Few people could make glaciology as interesting as Fritz did. I didn't realize that he came up with ice core sampling, a crucial measurement strategy in determining previous climates.

RIP, Fritz.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Obama and Clinton

This has nothing to do with Ottawa, but...

Does anyone else think that there's some strategy to the Democrats continuing on with a 'race', even when it's pretty evident that it's over? Sure, there's infighting, but everyone's talking about the Democrats, and having their names out there a lot more than McCain is likely going to be to their benefit. The Republicans, who've proved much more capable recently at the mud-flinging that accompanies a campaign (until this year - I think the Clintons are giving them a run for their money), still have to hedge their bets and dig up dirt on both candidates - that's twice the effort, and twice the cost (granted, it's a small cost overall in a race). Maybe there's a bit of logic to them dragging this out, perhaps until August, even if most of us know that the race is over. Of course, this means doubled efforts on the Democrats side to take on the Republicans.

Anyhow, recent developments in the campaign have made it easy for me to decide who I'd prefer to see win. Obama's policy stands on energy and the environment have been far ahead of McCain's, and ahead of Clinton's. His stand against a gas tax holiday was a courageous move, in comparison with the populist pandering that McCain and Clinton showed.

This is my voting issue - whichever party comes up with the best environment/energy platform in the next Canadian election will get my vote. Even if, as it appears right now (sigh), it is the Liberal Party...

June 4 Update: Oops, guess I was wrong on this one...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Charles Caccia

I haven't posted in a while, but I feel this is something worth posting about.

On Saturday, Charles Caccia, one of the few men who tried to make Ottawa green instead of beige, passed away. I had a chance to see Mr. Caccia speak last fall. He had much stronger pro-environmental views than virtually all other parliamentarians. He was not afraid to make his views known. It probably cost him upward mobility in the Liberal party post-Trudeau.

His "resignation" from the Liberal party roughly coincided with when I gave up on the Liberals as well.

RIP Mr. Caccia.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cards close to the chest

Lately, I haven't written anything of consequence that would have Ottawa at its centre, for better or worse, as the original intent of the blog claimed. Inspiration was coming from all sorts of oblique angles and strange, unlikely, sources but never from the capital of beige.

As usual, it takes a visit to Montreal, rushing to the rescue of senses. But it also took a visit from an out-of town friend to refocus and reload, so to speak, to gain further ammunition in the back-and forth shoot-out over Ottawa. The combination of the two perspectives, plus maybe the sunny, crisp weather we'd been having, it all helped crystallize a few more impressions.

First, Montreal.

Unlike many of the locals, my roots or family or even university experiences have nothing to do with the city of Montreal. My eyes, when I go there, are strictly the eyes of a visitor, perhaps beyond the mere tourist stage, but definitely an outsider. I don't know all the street names, McGill is a bunch of historical buildings, not my alma mater, and I never got to "party" in Montreal, most likely because all my partying happened in Alberta...or Ottawa. Therefore, when I go to Montreal, I am still in awe of the stained glass windows on Notre Dame, I eat crepes somewhere in the Vieux Port, I repeatedly climb 'the mountain' and revel in Mt. Royal's natural views as well as the, let's say observation of local humans in their natural habitat. My senses still get relatively intoxicated by the fine curves and angles of 18th and 19th century architecture and equally by the fine curves on the Quebecois ladies. And I'll add that the opening hours of restaurants seem a bit weird, my stumbling through la langue francaise quickly leads to a normal English conversation. But I do appreciate the slightly off-the beaten path attractions, will have a beer or a coffee at a 'local' joint as opposed to something completely touristy, and I have scoured the museums and galeries, perhaps more than the locals do...because locals, everywhere, tend to get complacent. To me, Montreal has always had this slightly heroic stature; things are faster, more colorful, heavier-hitting than in English Canada. Church spires straight from the old continent almost rub shoulders with risque sex shops, and anarchist punk kids do their thing in city parks. One can actually run into a street demonstration of some sorts, on most weekends. One will always hear new music or see very original art in Montreal. And then there are the statues of important men, with and without horses, including Dollard d'Ormeaux who'd saved, in the 1640s, the then-fledgling French settlement from a big Iroquis raid. A geniune hero, in the physical mould, pictured in the Three Mousqueteers era garb. My friend simply remarked: "hey, this is old, because the guy is dressed like a mousqueteer...we don't have d'Artagnan in Western Canada".

Pondering what that statue of a guy from the 1600s meant, my reaction is not (anymore) the polite and deferential Western Canadian "this is old and gorgeous stuff". It is more along the lines of "Ottawa has some great bronze statues of some important people, too, but none of them kicked ass like that." Which brings me right back to the meaning of Beige.

When you look across the still frozen Ottawa river back to the Parliament Hill, sharp in the morning air, with the noble spires rising out from the equally impressive natural setting, it is a view to admire. My friend really liked it. Many of my visitors, in fact, have remarked about the scenic and tranquil walk across the Alexandra bridge (facing the parliament and Chateau Laurier, not the other way around) - it was almost the best city skyline in the country, according to one person.

What Ottawa has and what Ottawa does very well are the facades, the large cultural institutions, the occassional dash of neat and always monumental architecture. It is what capitals are made for, after all. What Ottawa does not do as well, especially if the Montreal comparison comes into play, is the life that animates these spaces. Not that there aren't the ever-present tourists; au contraire, the tourists help make the Byward market the place that it is and the tourist always come. There is no truly low season for visitors. But what happens with the touring itself is that Ottawa is a disjointed mosaic of several interesting areas, centered around the Hill and the Market, with the rest of the city being spread very thin and quite unremarkable. Instead of the expansive and lively streetscapes of Montreal (old and not-so old), the streets here all exist in isolation. Elgin Street is a microcosm. Sussex drive and the adjoining few blocks present another microcosm. Wellington street is the "power corridor" inhabited by suitcase-carrying nervous types, usually in a hurry to make that next meeting. Ottawa shows the visitor a tableau of disjointed, albeit stimulating, urban existence, a grouping of insular communities that rub shoulders..and rarely come together. In Montreal, the spirit of the city, even though it is a very diverse and complicated city, is something that just hangs in the air. It's a restless and simultaneously hedonistic spirit. The spirit of someone who is not in a hurry for that next appointment.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Snowjob 08'

No, I am not referring to the annual MuchMusic concert series held at some ski hill. And no tongue-in cheek references to anything else, including sex acts in snowbanks.

I am simply wondering where all the headlines about global warming and global climate change retreated, indeed retreated like glaciers do, since this mega-huge, unheard-of late winter onslaught dropped another metre of snow on our collective doorsteps.

So, Ottawa is up to 411 cm of cumulative snowfall. Interesting time to wade into the, hmm, the proverbial snowbank in search of some lost some factual items. The National Post writer, in the meantime, exploits the relatively slow newsday by another Gore-bashing article.

What I have never understood about the climate change debate, about the politicized end of that debate, is the grasping at the straws by proponents of both the extreme accounts of the theory - either you hear the 'global warmers' shout at any instance when some warming trend has been detected somewhere...or you will hear the 'deniers' pointing out some trend that does not correspond with the alleged warming prediction. But not much middle ground.

So, I ask, where is the "change" in the climate change political equation?

When the original theory of climate change came out, and when the first large-scale computer modelling of its effects started, the buzzword was change. Including erratic patterns, unpredictability, loss of reliable benchmarks for certain weather related processes. Parts of the Earth were going to gradually warm up, even dessicate, while other parts would experience cooling. Cyclical effects such as La Nina and El Nino were going to be accentuated or more pronounced. Everyone was told -look, we can't predict a reliable range of outcomes but let's prepare for the unexpected. And let's study the issue further.

By now, you see an article after article about Anctartic ice sheets breaking off, extent of northern sea ice (it's actually bigger this year than it has been for a while), disappearing snows on Kilimanjaro and the more frequent flooding in places like England that haven't seen any major floods in decades. It's all got a negative, almost apocalyptic narrative running through it.

I admit, climate change is afoot. No doubt. I will even say, based on some education in the matter, we are partially to blame for it. But don't feed me the diet of "Earth is steadily getting warmer". That's too generalistic and will simply not mean a damn thing if I am to be the decision maker in some specific place, in a specific polity. There's no such thing as some generalized citizen of the world.

Consider Ottawa, with the Ottawa valley and the nearby Laurentians as the local region, local ecosystem. Are we experiencing climate change?Maybe. Are we getting warmer...? No one will be able to say "yes" if you ask a person on the street today. But are we experiencing more and more of the so-called extreme weather? That, in my mind, ought to be the question. The scientific and political question.

So, let's look at the past five winters:

2003/04 - very snowy, lots of cold spells

2004/05 - more snow than previous year, colder, too

2005/06 -mild winter, ended early

2006/07 - another mild winter, with a very warm January

2007/08 - long winter...411 cm of snow..but not the coldest on the record

Anyone detect a bit of chaos in this 5-year pattern?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

See the Light...Jeff Healey - 1966-2008

I am a big fan of his work, and there's not much more to say than "rest in peace, and hope you'll be jamming with Jimmy Hendrix or some New Orleans jazzmen in the sky".

Monday, February 25, 2008

Of horses and cows

If you ever get interested in what contribution horses and cows have made to modern sculpture, there is one show and one show only that you should see. It's the Joe Fafard retrospective, currently on display at the National Art Gallery.

I'd viewed Fafard's creations before, in art magazines, but never actually seen them, first-hand, until yesterday.

The artist has devoted four decades of his life...and scultping objects out of clay, ceramic, and increasingly bronze and steel. He has sculpted people, too, but really found his stride with the animals. Some of the works are small, quirky and almost intimate, while many of the recent ones are huge, verging on heroic. If cows and horses can be heroic, that is. And funny. And twisted. And beautiful. And dead-pan, straight up realistic, too. Joe Fafard is someone who has grown up around and amidst farm animals, so he honors them by constructing their striking likenesses. Some of it is high-tech stuff: laser cut steel sheets and large scale (think life size and bigger) poured bronzes. There is also a 25 minute film created spcifically to give one a sense of the tremendous process that goes into creating these sculptures. I mean, the man works in conjuction with a foundry...yes, a foundry in a small Saskatchewan town.

In some ways, this show struck me as the most Canadian of all art objects. Our country was opened up largely with the help of horses and our fields tilled by farm animals, for generations. In some provinces, the rural economy still shows vestiges of that not-so distant pioneer era. It takes a small-town Prairie artist to tap into all of this, then mix it up, inject it with a good dose of Pop art, add a pinch or two or humour - and you have Joe Fafard, abridged version.

Go and see the show. Much like the Ron Mueck exhibit last year, it'll be worth the admission price and more.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

This poll demonstrates that...

...on average, Republicans are jerks, and are becoming bigger jerks. You'd think that dealing with the problems of the poor would be important for a largely Christian base (this is kind of how I was brought up in my Catholic household).

Is terrorism really such a major concern for them as well? 86% of Republicans view terrorism as a major concern, while 76% viewed the economy as one. Really? At least it's no longer the #1 concern. While terrorism should be a concern, I don't view it as all that important, because in the end, there are many more people affected by other things in the world than terrorism. There are plenty of other things killing many more people, unless you live in Iraq.

I'm also interested that there are no points that really discuss America's place in the world (trade, immigration, and terrorism kind of touch on it, but I don't think these issues cover America's place in the world). That's important to me - how our country is playing in the world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John Woo would be proud

So, let's get this one started by saying - and I mean it quite earnestly - that one should be happy this is not happening on a regular basis in Ottawa.

Apparently, gangsters shooting other gangsters is not going out of style, any time soon. This one reads like a true case of some of the incidents that populate the screen in the 'hard-boiled' fantasy Hong-Kong film school. Gun play, expensive restaurants, fancy cars, more gun play. No one is busting out awesome karate moves, though, as these are utterly useless against rapid automatic pistol fire.

I would not be so fundamentally troubled by organized crime feuds if they weren't playing out, or at least occassionally spilling out, into the public and semi-public space. The mafia, the wise guys, the Cosa Nostra, the Triads or whatever other shadowy association happens to be fighting for turf, sending high-profile messages or simply punishing and removing inconvenient is all a sordid but understandable price of doing this kind of business. I, for one, actually have sympathy for some of these guys as they tend to want to become 'respectable' businessmen, except the products they deal with are stuck in the strictly illegal zone.

What is troubling - and potentially a political powderkeg to go off - is the implication that a similar shooting, similar fight or assassination attempt could very well not only kill innocent bystanders but that it could kill a visiting celebrity, in a swanky part of a nice city like Vancouver. The effect would be like the Jane Cerba killing (Boxing Day shooting in Toronto), multiplied tenfold.

Imagine if the actor mentioned here or anyone of similar stature got "clipped" and either died or sustained a serious injury. The consequences would be harsh and the ripples would travel far, further than I can imagine at the moment. Imagine, if you will, headlines splashed across US and other foreign newpapers, advertising Vancouver as the destination where big-time actors get shot in random crime incidents, unable to protect themselves...imagine for a moment that all restaurants and night clubs were to start hiring body guards, frisking all customers, metal detectors and all. Police would have a heyday as well. Things we take for granted would get crazy and complicated, just like flying and cross-border business have become following the terrorist incidents of 9/11. Whenever crime has social stability repercussions, civil liberties and our own convenience suffer.

Having said all of this, I am aware of the homegrown Ottawa-area gang problem, even if it doesn't have the high-stakes appearance and the hyperviolent edge that Vancouver's 'scene' seems to be having. We have had history here, with Hells Angels, with Vietnamese crime syndicates, with the Italian-derived mob (centered mainly in Montreal these days but with branches in O-town) and also with the more low-key street gangs who are busy on the drug dealing front. Fatal shootings and stabbings happen here, too. What we haven't had - and I am tremendously relieved we haven't had it - is a gun fight say at "18" or Helsinki or Vineyards. We also haven't had the image of playground for internationally wanted mobsters. Let's keep it that way.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

East vs West - the ski culture clash

As someone who had originally spent many years in Calgary, close to the mountains and able to rip down some huge verticals and taste the powder (on the seasons we had powder) in the Rockies and the Purcells, I could be considered a ski snob. And the corrollary to that argument would have me not appreciating the skiing in Eastern Canada and being bored with the local hills.

After the last few years in this fine town and after having skied some of the Quebec ski resorts, I must admit...the hills are obviously not as big, the terrain not as scenic, the conditions not always reliable, at least when compared to the majestic and seemingly always snowy mountains out West. But I am learning the love the skiing (and snowboarding) culture out here.

When you ski at Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Kicking Horse, or at the heavenly place known as Whistler, you are one of many. People come there for the views just as much as they come to glide down the slopes. Sure, the terrain is potentially awesome but it is only a small fraction of the clients who are actually able to ski it or ride it. For an elite skier, it's a dream come true on a clear, bluebird day, or after that dump of fresh pow'. But for most of the crowd on these hills, it's a trip to tackle congested blue runs, overpriced beers, coffee and snacks at the on-mountain lodges, a few hours spent negotiating all this terrain - and for a steep price. Sunshine used to cost 45 bucks when I'd started university in the early 90s, now it's almost 80 bucks for a daypass. Parking situation is getting crazy on all the major Alberta hills. The popularity of the venues also brings out the sheer snobs, who would otherwise not ski anywhere else. And, I couldn't help notice a lack of kid's races and events...there are too few people out West to support strong local ski club organizations.

By contrast, when you ski at Mt Ste Marie or at one of the rather miniature Ontario hills, or even at the much-higher Orford, Mt Ste Anne or Tremblant, you will be surrounded mainly by people who want to ski (or snowboard). No one is there for the stunning vistas of 3000 m peaks, no one has decided "it's nice today and there's nothing else to do, so I might as well hit the slopes", no one is there to take a pause from his 'regular' alpine touring or ice-climbing schedule. You are unlikely to rub shoulders with British lads on a Canadian drink-and ski expedition, high-rollers from Toronto or New York, or the ubiquitous groups of Japanese. No one is here squeezing in that one day on skis between the shopping, dining, spa at Banff Springs hotel or something like that. 95% of the people who ski out here are there because they love it, can not stand to go through the winter without practicing their religion so to speak, or because their kids are enrolled in a local ski training programme. Those people here who ski regularly are hard-core, dedicated, willing to go out on minus twenty five windchill days, put up with ice, flat light and generally shitty conditions. They will often drive ridiculously long distances or grab a very early morning bus, if there is one. There is never going to be a World Cup downhill event around these parts, even if some of the disciplines could actually be held on some of the runs.

When kids learn to ski in Ontario and Quebec, it's hard work and a school of hard knocks. It's not very trendy and, unlike junior hockey, not many girls chase after the best slalom skier in the school. And this is why Ontario and Quebec continue to produce some of the best technical skiers on the planet. Kate Pace, Brian Stemmle, Melanie Turgeon, Eric Guay, just to name a few from last fifteen years. And thousands of ordinary men and women who simply love the sport, the way of life, and make the trip to the local hill every weekend.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sometimes, the best arguments for something...

...are the arguments against it. For example, these specious arguments against wind power. I have no idea who Howard Hayden is. He appears to be an old grump who would rather a few smokestacks spewing out particulate matter, sulfur and nitrogen oxides than the much more attractive (to me, anyway) windmills that don't pollute as they generate.

Wind power already provides 20% of Denmark's electricity. So the U.S. must be a pretty special place if wind can never provide more than 10% of its power.

Other environmental concerns do exist, but that's why there's an environmental impact assessment process - to determine if the extent of those problems. Turbine blades turn slowly enough now that birds are at less risk from a turbine than they are from tall glass buildings.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Money, money, money

Seeing that the last two pieces I'd contributed have been on civic events and on the strange turns of weather in the Ottawa valley, it's time for a departure into the land of green. As in the greenback, as in green with envy, as in the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence.

We now take it for granted that we live in a world where top pro athletes make huge money. We also take it for granted that NHL is a venerable institution, sometimes embattled and criticized, but always there in the background of the mind of the sportsfan...and more than that, it's really a national institution. And I think we can all agree that Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most talented humans to ever lace up a pair of skates and wield a hockey stick. I love to see his moves, it is like the highlight reel of the week, over and over. It's like the best Gretzky moves or the Stevie Y early years in Detroit, and the sick goals that Jaromir Jagr used to score for Pittsburgh, all combined in one package.

But, $124 million...over ten years? That is a lot of dough, ladies an gentlemen. Enough to buy out several smaller companies, enough to provide a sizable foreign development budget to a Third World country, enough to kickstart a major infrastructure project in a big city. If someone had agreed to donate $124 mil to a conservation-minded foundation, that would buy and protect lot of land, and I mean a lot of land. You could have a new national park for that and more. And if you're guarding the coast, you could refurbish a fleet of patrol ships and buy some state of the art helicopters, too.

When some athletes make this much money, I wonder if the "whatever the market can bear" adage is actually still relevant. It tells me that some players are worth ten other players - and that makes me ponder what it would feel like being one of those 'other' players, perhaps on the same roster, same dressing room, donning the same jerseys.

Those of us who play or have played competitive sports, especially on a high level, can attest to the fact that sports careers as such are highly varied and that it is an inherently unfair world. Some sports personalities may gain fame but can, at the same time, struggle to make ends meet, never mind make a pile of cash. So-called amateur sports are a ticket to poverty and inadequate Sports Canada grants (whatever these grants are called).

When I see a young guy like Ovechkin, all I see is someone who had bet on the right sport. Most athletes end up in non-paying or low-paying sports. The discussion need not be in abstract. Most of us know someone who has or is playing a game or n individual sport at the highest level. I know several nationally ranked, "carded" athletes who have all risen to the elite levels and represented Canada on international stages. My brother-in law rowed at the Henley regatta several times, went to the worlds, and narrowly missed out on the 92' summer Olympics. My former triathlon training buddy Marc (from the UCTC fame) posted some world-class times, competed on the World Cup triathlon circuit and donned the national team uniform as well. My friend Waine had competed twice at the world duathlon championships, once finishing the course with a broken arm (!) A guy from my high school ran the 100 m under 11 seconds and later got a big college football scholarship in the US. These are all exceptionally gifted, tough, resourceful people with phenomenal physical abilities. It makes me a bit sad that none of them ever saw any substantial sum of money, either from a sponsor, a circuit, or from the state.

In the meanwhile, a cool $124 million. Hope Ovechkin doesn't spend it all on himself.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bobby Clarke should be suspended and fined

OK, maybe, as an Ottawan, I have a beige outlook on sports teams. I tend to think that their players shouldn't attempt to damage the careers of individuals on other teams.

A while back, I wrote about the thuggishness of the Philadelphia Flyers. Shortly after that, another one of their players, Riley Cote, was suspended.

So when Steve Downie sucker punched Jason Blake, I thought, here we go again. The Broad Street Criminals are at it again. But why is a team consistently like this?

Those that know me well know that I have an intense dislike of Bobby Clarke. When I had a radio show in Kingston back in 2000-01, on several occasions I ranted about the standoff between he and Eric Lindros. Bobby Clarke is about the only man that could drive people to sympathise for Lindros. I think back to the incident when Lindros suffered a collapsed lung, and had he followed the Flyers' instructions, he may have died.

I'm building up to something here. That is, that Bobby Clarke is a despicable human being, and quite probably a sociopath. Approving of a sucker punch by one of his players is just another example of this. I think hockey would be a much more noble sport if they were to take his words and use them to finally let loose and give him a suspension and fine. And not a 1- or 2- game suspension. Something to show that they're serious about protecting their assets, their best players. When you have guys like Jason Blake and Patrice Bergeron, useful, productive players who give the fans what they want (i.e. scoring), being attacked by marginal players such as Steve Downie and Randy Jones, respectively, who are openly being egged on by their manager to do such things, you're robbing from hockey to appease the lowest common denominator. The game can do better. Punish Bobby Clarke - remove him for the rest of the season (perhaps the Flyers coach, Paul Holmgren, should suffer the same fate). That would teach them, and hopefully change the dynamic of the game.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Last night, I made a point of walking up to the Samuel Champlain monument, perched above the river. It was the strangest scene and the most out-of norm weather I've ever witnessed, given that it was January 7th. And this is not a piece about the alarming march of climate change. It's a snapshot of an unsual moodswing in the Ottawa valley.

First, one couldn't see one shore of the river from the other through the thick, shifting fog that seemingly enveloped all objects. At one instant, the lights on the Parliament hill appeared hazy, as if many miles away - and that's from the middle of the Alexandra bridge. The next instant, they disappeared completely, shrouded in fog and rain. The cityscape took on a distinctly 19th century look, recalling book portrayals of Jack the Ripper's London - eerie, surprising, maybe treacherous. Remnants of Christmas light displays glowed faintly here and there, painting the fog various shades of green and blue. Below, the half frozen river sat still and partially obscured, breathing cold air like some glacier meandering through an alpine valley. The cloud of fog wasn't stationary, rather it drifted between the Quebec and Ontario shores and also rising and falling. And then the rain started to fall. Not the usual freezing rain of the season; an autumn night rain, droplets ample and heavy, soaking my hair and my coat in minutes. It felt oddly liberating and disconcerting at the same was, after all, January 7th, and very few of us had ever been in the rain in Ottawa in mid-winter. Near the National Art Gallery, a random group of revellers who looked to be the fringes of a bachelor party or some bus tour were hollering "Signing in the Rain". A figure of the odd runner passed the bridge from time to time, soaked, clenched and animal-like in the raw elements; this is when humans resemble other creatures the most closely.

What I connected to the most the entire hour or so I'd spent in the fog and the rain was not how strange it was - it was the sheer immediacy of my sensory environment, the heightened feeling of exposure to the environment. I usually get that sense high up in the mountains or trekking through a wet forest, or out on a large expanse of water in a kayak. City life does not ordinarily create these experiences.

We could as well have a discussion about the La Nina effect or dissect the winter storm systems and their anomalies, or have the predictable commentary about global climate change. It would all be valid and to the point. What is wouldn't do is it would not capture an extraordinary moment in time, one of Nature's whimsically beautiful moods.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

1857 and 1608, a tale of two cities

So, with a mild hangover and another smallish snowstorm to welcome the New Year, Ottawa is safely into 2008.

What begun as a seemingly ambitious year, supposedly devoted to celebrating the 150th anniversary of good, ole' Bytown being named the nation's capital, became a procession of low-key, poorly advertised events, and eventually ended with spectacular fireworks, timed for 18:57 pm on New Year's eve.

The fireworks could have been the almost-saving grace as they were grand and strategically placed...however, I couldn't keep from thinking that this move should have welcomed the year 2007 instead, rather than closed off that year and brought in the 2008. Somehow, just like the overall year of mediocrity, the grand finale didn't appear to connect organically with most of the spectators. There was no ramping up to it, it was rather like a surprise symphony concert thrown randomly in some city park, with only a few posters put up the night before...the people I've spoken with barely seemed to notice that the event was connected to the 150th anniversary.

The press around the 1857 anniversary was low-key, too, throughout the year. We didn't even manage to provoke a proper controversy, apart from a few days of the summer when some 19th century lord had to be withdrawn from banners...someone complained that the said governor was, uhmm, not quite nice towards the French. Typical tempest in an Ottawa teapot. Over-managed and superficially slick, indifferent from pretty much any other year.

More on that...Unlike this year's Quebec anniversary of the first settlers' arrival in 1608, there was no central focus, no specific historical gala or something akin to a pageant. When you consider Quebec's 400-year celebrations, as much as they are being downplayed, the press loves the very idea of them, even the PM was asked about it during his New Year's day fireside chat on the Queen going to be there, and if not, why not? To mark the anniversary, there's a spectacular outdoor performance by exactly 400 dancers, and there are other massive scale events planned in the lead-up to the October 19th finale. Half of the games in the men's world hockey championships this year will be staged in Quebec city ( contrast this with the 2007 junior FIFA championships, a great tournament to be certain, where games were held sprinkled throughout Canada, with the Ottawa venue essentially feeding on round-robin games and other morsels, not even getting to host a semi-final). Unlike the nation's capital last year, Quebec is sure to seize the spotlight on their big anniversary. Europeans will come there in droves and spend their strong euros, schools will send busloads of naughty schoolgirls (and boys) to drink and break curfews through the old town in the name of education, and some dude will don a Samuel Champlain period costume and wade to the shore. Even Celine Dion will leave Vegas for a while and party with les habitants. (okay, I don't exactly like her but what the heck, she's the prodigal daughter) It'll be brighter and merrier than usual - unlike Ottawa which was exactly the same in 2007 as it is on other years.

I plan on writing more, on other random topics, but this one had to be put out of the way first.

Well done, Bytown, you get the totally unsurprising 6.5 out of 10 for your party! And that's with the Russian judge being heavily bribed, too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Resolutions and such

Welcome to 2008. I hope you're all recoved from hang-overs and fake resolutions and what not.

I'm thinking my resolution is that I'm going to retire from this blog. To be honest, my heart just isn't in it any more and my head is in a space that requires more thinking in other areas.