Apr 052017
 

I don’t often post pictures of my friends, but this time, I have my friend Perry’s permission.

Perry was flying west the other day. While waiting at the airport, he encountered a familiar face. The familiar face belonged to Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh Sajjan.

The Honourable Minister was probably flying back to his Vancouver riding, which he represents in Parliament.

Whatever the reason, the remarkable thing is this: Mr. Sajjan was traveling the same way most other Canadian would travel. On a commercial airliner, flying coach.

Let me repeat that, this time in boldface: Canada’s Minister of National Defence, traveling cross-country on a commercial airliner, flying coach.

I am so glad Mr. Sajjan allowed Perry to take this selfie, and that Perry kindly permitted me to repost it. This was not a moment designed for publicity. As far as I know, Mr. Sajjan does not publicize the manner in which he travels. He just… does the right thing.

And the other remarkable thing is that he can do this. It speaks volumes about our country and our government.

 Posted by at 12:37 pm
Mar 072017
 

There is a piece of North American technology that was responsible, among other things, for the “most successful failure” in the history of America’s space program, the successful return of Apollo 13 after a major explosion on board.

A few weeks ago, when chatting with a family member from Hungary who happens to be a proud, freshly minted engineer, I learned, much to my astonishment, that this technology is still not commonly used (if available at all) in Europe.

And today, much to my delight, I found out why: Perhaps it’s because it is still manufactured domestically, in my case right here in Canada.

Here is what I am talking about:

Yes, the mundane duct tape. Proudly made in Canada, as the label on the inside informs me.

It is my understanding that duct tape was included in the emergency repair kit of every American spacecraft launched to date. On Apollo 13, it was with the help of duct tape that they were able to adopt CO2 filters, extending the time they were able to spend in the lunar vehicle, which was used as a lifeboat during the long trip around the Moon.

I am beginning to wonder if this technology should be placed on strategic export control lists. Who knows what duct tape can do in the wrong hands! Imagine Kim Jong Un with a roll of duct tape… or Vladimir Putin. Or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The world would be a lot less safe if every despot had free access to copious amounts of duct tape.

Oh well, enough ranting. I need to do something useful, like some vacuuming. Recently, the wand of my vacuum broke. Rather than ordering a costly replacement at a price higher than an old vacuum cleaner is worth, I fixed it and so far, the wand is working like new. As to what I fixed it with, you guessed it… it was duct tape. Works wonders.

 Posted by at 5:18 pm
Feb 112017
 

For the second time in a row, I am seeing a report on CTV about the protests against the Trudeau government’s decision to scrap electoral reform. Their coverage suggests that these are significant protests, representing widespread anger among Canadians.

They aren’t. Let me be generous: Although CTV’s cameraman did his darnedest best to make the crowd appear bigger than it really was, there were maybe a couple of dozen people, tops, behind this young gentleman leading the protest.

Mr. Rae told his followers, by the way, that “Mr. Trudeau does not get to decide what is and what isn’t an issue for Canadians.” Forgive me Mr. Rae, but you are wrong. Mr. Trudeau, the duly elected prime minister of Canada with a majority government, does get to decide what is and isn’t an issue for Canadians. In turn, we Canadians do get to decide whether or not we wish to keep Mr. Trudeau and his government after the next elections.

Meanwhile, I am actually happy that Mr. Trudeau listened not to loud-mouthed protesters but to the facts and was willing to spend some of his political capital to make the right decision. While first-past-the-post has its shortcomings, it is not inherently worse than other electoral systems, and it is absolutely better than any system that involves, e.g., party lists, legislators that do not represent a specific constituency. And messing with the electoral system could very well have established a precedent that, in the long run, might lead to American-style gerrymandering.

But I still don’t understand what CTV’s game is, pretending that these protests are more significant than they really are. I am, in fact, questioning the journalistic integrity behind the decision to give these minuscule protests disproportionate coverage.

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
Jan 312017
 

A short while ago, I turned on a computer. Like several of my other computers, this one is also configured to display a weather widget on the desktop. Here is what it showed:

If only it were true! Alas, the reason for this overly optimistic weather report had to do with the fact that the computer in question has last been turned on more than four months ago, back in September. In reality, this is what our weather is like right now:

And even that is a significant improvement over the −21°C that greeted me early in the morning.

Yup, this is Canada.

 Posted by at 8:52 pm
Jan 302017
 

It appears that we are entering the era of flawed democracies.

Our country, Canada, remains firmly in the category of full democracy. But that is no longer true south of the border. In an annual survey by The Economist, the United States slid down the list (and this is based on data from 2016, before Trump’s inauguration). It is now one of the leading flawed democracies, with a democracy score virtually identical to that of Japan.

And even as the number of full and flawed democracies, put together, remains roughly the same (80 in 2008, 75 in 2016 if I counted correctly), the number of full democracies is rapidly shrinking. There were 28 full democracies on the list back in 2008; by 2016, this number shrank to 19, a more than 30% decrease in just eight years.

Meanwhile, the examples of India and Mongolia demonstrate that democracy is not just a privilege for the rich. These countries are decidedly third world economies with GDP per capita roughly one tenth that of Canada or the US, yet they manage to maintain democracies no more flawed than the regimes on the eastern fringes of the European Union, such as Hungary or Romania.

 Posted by at 10:20 am
Jan 102017
 

I just finished listening to Obama’s farewell address.

Now why do I have the feeling that this may be the very last time in my life that I’ll be hearing an American President preach goodness and decency instead of contempt and hate? Uplifting thoughts instead of fear and loathing?

Meanwhile, there appears to be a multitude of clowns on the Interwebs who think repealing Obamacare is okay, because they are insured through the Affordable Care Act:

What can I say? Enjoy your improved healthcare starting next month, folks. Glad I live in pinko commie Canada where we have had decent (albeit far from perfect) medicare for half a century. Of course once Trump, along with his BFF Putin, manage to blow up the world, none of this will matter anymore.

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Dec 042016
 

Last night, I went for a nice, long walk, maybe the last before the real snow comes and walking is no longer fun.

My route took me around several government buildings here in Ottawa Lowertown. Here is one of them, with some rather unusual light effects due to some low-hanging clouds and a partially closed bridge that is under renovation:

The picture doesn’t really give justice to the eerie, otherworldly light effects that I saw.

Later on during my walk, I looked through the glass front of an important government building that shall remain unnamed. Why? Because when I looked into the lobby, I saw not one but two uniformed security personnel… with their backs facing the front door, as they were both intently watching a television screen on which a hockey game was playing.

Ah, Canada! What a blessed country we are. And I am not naming the building because I don’t want these good people to get into any trouble, nor do I want to give any bad people ideas.

That said, I was tempted to snap a picture of these two. I decided not to do so… discretion is the better part of valor, and besides, who knows, maybe someone else was watching me, after all, through a security camera.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm
Nov 102016
 

I have been worried now for many years that the world will end this period of peace and prosperity with another bang, like the one that happened in 1914.

I am not alone with my concerns. I just read an excellent article, written back in July, that argues the same. Indeed, like me, the author considers it an inevitable cycle of history.

As I said in the wake of Trump’s victory, I am in my 50s and I have no children, so I have much less at stake than most. I can afford to be a spectator. Still, I desperately hope that when the world goes bonkers, Canada manages to stay out of it. Is it even possible, in this globalized era? Isn’t Canada just too great a prize, with its abundant land and natural resources? I hope never to find out. But on this day, the eve of the 98th anniversary of the Armistice at the conclusion of The War to End All Wars, I think it is the right question to ask.

 Posted by at 8:05 pm
Nov 092016
 

I didn’t vote this Tuesday… I am not an American citizen.

Instead, I voted last year.

I voted for a government that promised to help refugees.

I voted for a government that was promoting diversity and minority rights.

I voted for a government that promised to listen to its scientists, rather than muzzling them.

Will they deliver on all their promises before their term is up? Of course not. But the fundamental message remains: it is a government that embraced good over evil; humanity over fear; decency over hate.

Tonight, I am more grateful than ever to be a citizen of Canada.

 Posted by at 2:01 am
Jun 152016
 

The CRTC told me that it is the cable companies’ fault. The cable company told me that it is the provincial emergency agency that makes the decision. The provincial agency, on its Web site, tells me that these alerts are at the discretion of the television channel.

But the reality is that they are interrupting all channels, as well as recorded programs, with pointless messages: some are tests, some are amber alerts from half a continent away (yes, Ontario is a huge province.)

If they did this to the public airwaves, that might be forgivable. But they are messing with a privately owned service for which I am paying good money. Serious money, as anyone can attest who is paying for a cable subscription nowadays.

I am uploading this video to YouTube because I hope to use it to bring attention to this blatant abuse, all in the name of the public good, of course. Alerts such as this that completely hijack all channels for a whole minute should be reserved for genuine, imminent, major emergencies such as a tornado, flash flood, military or terrorist attack. They should not be tested recklessly, and they should not be used excessively for events that do not meet the criteria that define a serious, imminent, life threatening emergency that actually affects the region in which the alert is shown.

I wonder if a clever lawyer might find a way to sue the government for illegally appropriating private property.

 Posted by at 11:22 am
May 182016
 

In the fourth volume of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy”, we learn that just before the Earth was about to be destroyed by the Vogons to make way for a new interstellar bypass, the whales left. They left behind a simple parting message: “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

Which makes me feel rather alarmed now that I am learning that hundreds of North Atlantic right whales went missing. I hope it’s not a bad sign.

 Posted by at 7:55 pm
Apr 212016
 

Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada (and a bunch of other countries that I care a great deal less about as I don’t happen to live there) was born 90 years ago today.

She is my favoritest Queen. May she enjoy many more happy birthdays in good health.

 Posted by at 10:23 am
Mar 222016
 

Today is a remarkable day. I spent more than the usual amount of time peeking at either CBC Newsworld or CNN, and I have yet to see the face of a certain American real estate magnate turned reality TV show host turned politician; not that I particularly miss the sight of his toupee.

The reason why Mr. Trump didn’t appear on screen is the multitude of other things happening.

For us here in Canada, the most consequential news are the federal budget, the first by Justin Trudeau’s recently formed liberal government. As promised, it’s a budget about spending and spending some more; the projected deficits are huge. The premise of this budget is that deficit spending is necessary in order to help the stagnant economy.

News of the budget were almost dwarfed by news of the death of Toronto’s larger-than-life former major, Rob Ford. Rob Ford was intensely disliked as a politician, but I think few people wished him to die a miserable death from a rare form of cancer. As Ford himself said, his tenure as major, for better or for worse, will be remembered.

Then there is, of course, that terrible series of coordinated attacks in Belgium, with dozens dead. In addition to an impotent, and likely excessive response by inept authorities (I just saw that the airport in Brussels will be shut for three days), it will also likely trigger a new wave of islamophobia, xenophobia. A message that, thankfully, has few followers in Canada, as splendidly evidenced by the negative response in Quebec to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s visit, which is coming to its conclusion.

What was supposed to be the big news of the day is the end of another politician’s trip abroad, namely Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba… but the CNN anchors broadcasting from Havana are talking mostly about the Brussels attacks and their aftermath.

The other big news of the day was supposed to be the “winner-take-all” Arizona caucus… but with all the other stuff going on, I have not yet heard this mentioned on CNN or CBC Newsworld today. Thus, no Donald Trump on my television screen either.

All this news makes me wonder if The Globe and Mail tomorrow might end up being published with not one but maybe three consecutive cover pages.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm
Mar 202016
 

Recently, it was proudly announced that Canada now has a state-of-the-art emergency preparedness system, with the participation of major telecommunication companies like Bell or Rogers.

The problem… well, here is an example of the problem:

This is what was on my television screen a little earlier this afternoon, in place of CNN, for something like a full minute or so.

And not just in place of CNN. In place of every channel. Even if I was trying to watch a recorded show on the PVR.

What’s wrong with it, you ask? Well, I live in Ottawa. That is more than 400 kilometers from Toronto, and the last time I checked, a 1997 Toyota Camry is not a hypersonic jet aircraft.

But even if the abduction happened next door… I don’t mean to be heartless, but this kind of dramatic alert is something I would expect to see if World War 3 was imminent, or if my city (not Toronto!) was about to be hit by an F5 hurricane. Not in case of a domestic abduction (which, in the vast majority of cases, is just a family member like an estranged father, taking a child without permission.)

The last time this happened, I wrote to the CRTC, who told me that it’s not their responsibility (even though they were the ones who mandated it!) but that of provincial agencies and the telecommunication companies that implement the system.

Today, I wrote to Rogers. I do not expect a meaningful reply*.

As if I didn’t already have enough incentives to cut the cable.


*Update: A day after I sent my e-mail complaint to Rogers, a gentleman by the name of Aaron called me from the “President’s office”. He very patiently listened to me as we discussed not just the emergency alert system but also other issues related to the digital transition, the cost and limited choice of decoder equipment, and other topics. We spent more than 20 minutes on the phone. I still don’t expect anything meaningful to happen, but I appreciated it that my complaint was taken somewhat seriously.

 Posted by at 6:06 pm
Mar 182016
 

Yesterday, I went to see my barber. When I found the shop open, I was delighted that he kept his promise: he planned to retire at the end of last year, but on my last visit, he told me that he’d be keeping the shop open for a while longer. (Yes, it’s been that long since my last haircut. I don’t like haircuts, but when even my wife notices that I am beginning to look like Albert Einstein, I remind myself that you first have to match Einstein’s output as a physicist before you’re allowed to look like him.)

When I entered the shop, I noticed that it was under renovation. But the sign said that it was open! In fact, it was a brand new electronic sign that advertised the business hours. I didn’t see a soul in sight so I hollered, “hello?” and a young, brown-skinned man soon emerged. He assured me that the shop was indeed open for business, so I made the requisite leap in logic and realized that Michel, the old barber, must have retired after all. I asked the young man if he was going to be my new barber.

Soon, I learned a little bit about Paulos the barber. He came to Canada from Ethiopia about five years ago with his brother. Since then, they managed to sponsor several family members. Paulos is a lean, tall 41-year old man, though he looks much younger. He told me that he found the shop advertised on Kijiji and decided to go for it. He told me of his plans to hire 2-3 additional barbers, and create a much more welcoming shop with Wi-Fi and a coffee machine. I took a closer look at his hours: He is keeping the shop open, for now all by himself, from 9 AM until 8 PM every weekday, and until 6 PM on Saturdays.

paulos

Meanwhile, Paulos finished my haircut. When I asked him how much I owe, he told me that it’s whatever I used to pay Michel. So I paid the same amount, with tip, that I used to pay.

As I left the barber shop, I was shaking my head. Damn immigrants, I thought. They have the audacity to come to this country in search of a better life. And the cheek! Never mind making a living, working extra long hours, they actually plan to create jobs! How dare they.

And the cultural rift. It is hard to find a pair of countries more culturally different than Ethiopia and Canada. Yet he has the chutzpah to do this… finding his place in Canadian society, taking over a business from a retiring French Canadian gentleman and daring to be successful.

What a horrible thing that these immigrants are doing. What hubris… instead of being on welfare and being a burden on society, they dare to make this country better, enrich it with their hard work, contribute to its colorful multiculturalism. It is absolutely intolerable. Just what is this place coming to?

 Posted by at 9:50 pm
Mar 092016
 

Our long-serving Member of Parliament, Mauril Bélanger, was the recipient of an unprecedented honor today: He was named honorary Speaker of the House.

Unfortunately, we could not hear Mr. Bélanger speak. That is because he is suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease (its most famous sufferer alive is the physicist Stephen Hawking), which is rapidly progressing; since his initial diagnosis last fall, he lost the ability to speak, so it was his iPad that was speaking for him.

The illness also ended his dream of becoming Speaker of the House, which explains the honor that has been bestowed on him today.

I have a lot of respect for Mr. Bélanger. Over the years, I wrote to him a few times with my concerns, and on more than one occasion I received a personal response, either in the form of a latter or, in one case, in the form of a telephone call. In short, Mr. Bélanger appeared to take the idea of representing his constituents very seriously.

He may have lost the ability to speak but he has not yet lost all his mobility. Although he needed some help, he was able to walk into the Chamber on his own two feet.

It was a moving moment, and I am glad I caught it on the CBC. Thank you, Mr. Bélanger.

 Posted by at 4:30 pm
Mar 052016
 

I always wondered what it must have been like to live through the rise of fascism in Europe, especially in the early days. Most didn’t recognize the danger. Many applauded. A few were concerned, but they were seen as panicmongerers or worse, maybe as communists, Bolshevik collaborators, traitors.

And now I am beginning to understand what it must have been like to be one of those Cassandra-like souls.

The far right in Europe is applauding. “Si j’étais américain, je voterais Donald TRUMP,” tweets Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s far right National Front party. “I hope Donald Trump will be the next US President,” chimes in his colleague from Holland, Geert Wilders, who founded the Party of Freedom. People in my country of birth, Hungary, who cheered their prime minister when he erected a razor wire fence along the country’s southern border to keep refugees out, now feel vindicated when they hear Trump talk about a wall along the US Mexico border.

Trump wants to “make America great again” by undermining fundamental constitutional guarantees such as the First Amendment, and by reintroducing torture into America’s arsenal. He is proposing to keep Muslims out and even suggested that Muslims should be registered (just one step short of having them wear visual identification… yellow stars of David, anyone?)

Where will this end? Just how far will the world go this time?

Lest we forget, in the 19th century, Germany was the center of European civilization. The center of culture, music, and science. The country that gave us Gauss, Beethoven, Einstein, Kant or Goethe. Perhaps the most important lesson of Germany is that none of it matters: A horror regime backed by populism and the ideology of fear and hate can arise anywhere.

We have lived mostly in peace since 1945. And those of us lucky enough to have been born in Europe or North America, in unprecedented freedom and prosperity. There are no guarantees that this will last forever. History has not come to an end; we are living it.

And every time I see Trump on CNN, ever time I watch Trump give another election speech, I shudder. Is this it? Is this how Mussolini, Franco, Hitler and others rose to power? Especially Hitler… who, let’s not forget, was Germany’s democratically elected and appointed leader when he assumed the chancellorship on January 30, 1933.

And lest we forget, most of those who supported these horrific regimes denied that they were supporting hate or racism. In fact, they probably rejected any such insinuation indignantly. They weren’t racists… they are trying to defend their nation! Protect its values! They were the smart ones who recognized an existential threat to their culture and way of life; others, who failed to see the coming end of civilization every time they saw a Jewish child were naive fools.

I don’t usually engage in overused comparisons with the Nazis and fascists. But this time, I think the concerns are warranted. Our world is no longer following a path towards greater freedom and more respect for human rights. Walls and fences are being erected everywhere. States once famous for their liberalism are cracking down in the name of fighting terrorism. Europe, which once celebrated the vanishing of internal borders, is in the process of rebuilding them. And the really scary part is… this is what the people want. These measures are popular. Politicians who go against the tide, like Angela Merkel, who promised that Germany would accept as many refugees as it can, are embattled. The nationalist right is rising everywhere. Canada bucked the trend for now, but who knows what happens if Mr. Trudeau loses the next election and the Conservatives return with a vengeance, as the left remains divided.

Know what? I hope I am wrong. I hope I have succumbed to hype and that my views are detached from reality. I hope that Trump doesn’t get elected, or that if he does, he will turn out to be just another crooked and pragmatic politician, one who keeps few of his election promises and one who is more interested in getting re-elected than in plunging the world into some abyss.

Unfortunately, if I am right, it will be too late.

I’ve never been happier that my wife and I were not blessed with children. As we are getting older, we have less and less to worry about. As we have less at stake, we can more and more afford to be just spectators, watching a spectacular train wreck.

It’s not like there’s anything we can do about it.

 Posted by at 11:14 pm
Feb 212016
 

Here is a message to the citizens of the United States from the “Canada Party”.

What can I say. If Trump becomes president, being way ahead may not be a bad idea.

 Posted by at 8:42 am