Apr 302024

It is fashionable these days to curse our city’s transit company, but here’s some praise for a change.

I wanted to thank those employees of OC Transpo that I ran into the other day who helped me recover a lost phone. Not only was the phone located and returned to us in short order, the gentlemen I met, without a fault, were exceptionally polite, helpful, and, well, just genuinely nice! What could have been an awfully frustrating experience for us turned into something that, well, made my day.

Thank you, OC Transpo.

By the way, a large-ish city’s major bus depot is a fascinating 24/7 operation.

 Posted by at 7:58 pm
Nov 062023

Looking at this headline on CTV News this morning, you might have been wondering if our esteemed politicians have finally decided that they’ve had enough of us, this winter it’s time for the unwashed masses to freeze to death. No more home heating for you!

Fortunately that is not what the news was about. What the headline should have said was, “Calls for all home heating tax to be suspended”, referring to carbon taxes that apply to fuel, and the decision of the government to suspend this tax on home heating oil but not other home heating fuels.

Guess it was a little too early in the morning for some of CTV’s technicians this Monday! (Can’t really blame them. When does their workday begin anyway, 4 AM or something?)

 Posted by at 9:39 am
Oct 032023

Here’s my phone screen as of a few minutes ago:

That’s in Centigrade of course.

What can I say? OK, our balcony thermometer only shows 28.3 C. Even so… not exactly typical early October weather for Ottawa.

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Aug 262023

Welcome to Ottawa, Canada’s beautiful capital, home of…

… the homeless? Drug addicts? Record numbers of overdose victims? A rising threat of violence?

I should be grateful to Radio Canada for this almost 12-minute report, and I am. But the situation they depict (right on our doorstep, I should add, as we live right here in Ottawa Lowertown, thankfully to the east of King Edward Avenue, so we are not quite that badly affected, but still) makes me boil with anger.

Why? Because it is in large part a solvable problem.

Homelessness is manifestly solvable. Yes, it’d cost money, but how can I put it? A permanent solution would cost only a fraction of our botched LRT. Make affordable housing available to anyone for the asking. It need not be great accommodations, but functional and of acceptable quality. To follow the example set by Vienna a century ago, the accommodations should be good enough for many to decide to stay there for good, and nobody should be kicked out either.

Drug use and mental health problems require another old-fashioned solution: institutionalization. No, I don’t mean Dickensian insane asylums. We’re better than that. But we must recognize that there exists a small percentage among the homeless whose mental health is such that they are incapable of independent living. Institutionalizing such people is not a crime; rather, it’s the failure to provide the support and care they require that is criminal.

Unfortunately, I see no real desire to address these problems. Instead, we have this situation, getting worse with each and every passing day, within a stone’s throw of Canada’s Parliament, within a stone’s throw of venerable institutions like the Chateau Laurier… And we’re letting it happen. I find this incomprehensible.

But don’t you worry, the city has money to spend on messing up yet another street (this time, it’s Bank Street) with bike lanes that almost nobody uses, suffocating the remaining local brick-and-mortar businesses by eliminating the few on-street parking spots on which they rely for their clientele…

 Posted by at 12:36 am
Aug 242023

This is OC Transpo’s soon-to-expire summer schedule brochure for 2023. It has a graphic that I find… puzzling?

What is it supposed to represent? Let’s start from the top, clockwise: A firetruck, a walker, a life preserver, an app screenshot with a Pause button, a reindeer and a roll of toilet paper.

What is it supposed to mean? That if you ride OC Transpo, you may end up in an accident, spend the rest of your life depending on a walker, may need a life preserver to survive, even as the service is paused for yet another technical glitch with the LRT, so you end up riding a reindeer instead, and if you don’t like it, you can go shit yourself?

Fitting, I’d say.

PS: For the pedants out there, yes, I do recognize that the “firetruck” is supposed to be a bus and the “life preserver” is just the O-train emblem. Not sure about the rest of the symbols, though.

 Posted by at 4:57 pm
May 282023

Homelessness bugs me.

New York. San Francisco. Ottawa. Ottawa!

What on Earth is going on? Seriously, when did we turn the dystopian vision of a crumbling society in Infocom’s classic 40-year old text adventure game, A Mind Forever Voyaging, into a reference manual on social governance?

The fact that in wealthy societies there are thousands living on the street, not by choice but out of necessity, is beyond shameful. And it’s not like we don’t understand the causes: the rising wealth and income gap, rapidly increasing real estate prices, the lack of affordable housing.

Especially that last one. The lack of affordable housing.

Because, you know, it is so hard to solve. I mean, maybe we need divine assistance, the help of space aliens, artificial intelligence or perhaps good old magic?

Oh wait. It *is* a solvable problem. And you don’t even have to turn into a full blown Marxist to find it. A proven solution can be found in decidedly capitalist Vienna. A solution that, apparently, has worked well for over 100 years.

Though I lived in Vienna in the 1980s, I never knew the nature and extent of its public housing program. Just the other day though I read about it in a Hungarian-language Facebook post that I decided to fact-check. Sure enough, it’s true. Vienna’s solution is real. It works and it works surprisingly well.

I barely finished reading this undated article (on a US government Web site no less) when a friend of mine also sent a link to another. This one was published in the The New York Times just a few days ago. They, too, praise Vienna’s ability to maintain high quality public housing for hundreds of thousands of their residents, with principles that were originally established all the way back in 1919.

So yes, it can be done. Maybe it is time for cities like our very own shiny Ottawa to wake up and get real. Instead talking about it, instead of using it as a political platform or a platform for pointless virtue signaling, instead of building shelters, instead of moaning about the homeless, instead of building subsidized housing from which you are rapidly booted (so that the project remains slum-like, with only low-income residents) perhaps it is time to learn from those damn Austrians.

I, for one, as an Ottawa taxpayer, would happily contribute more of my taxes if our fine city were to adopt a program like Vienna’s, aiming for a stable, long-term solution.

 Posted by at 8:33 pm
Apr 132023

Once again, we have summer in April.

This picture shows the melting pile of dirty snow in our visitor parking area, photographed from our upstairs bedroom window.

The date and the temperature widget speak for themselves. (Yes, I still use Windows widgets, through a third-party tool. What can I say? I like them.)

 Posted by at 5:14 pm
Mar 232023

My wife’s beautiful creations will be at 613flea again this Saturday. Rufus the cat won’t be; he just volunteered as a model.

The Easter eggs are felted decorations. There will also be some knitted bunnies.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Jan 032023

So this is 2023. And suddenly I am reminded of the year 1973. A different world, 50 years ago, and not necessarily a happy one.

It was the year the Vietnam War officially ended for the United States. It was the year marking the beginning of the OPEC crisis.

The Apollo program was canceled but the United States launched Skylab, America’s short-lived space station.

Iconic buildings, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Sydney Opera House, were completed.

A tumultuous year in politics, 1973 saw the US Supreme Court decide in Roe vs. Wade, a decision that was overturned 49 years later by a conservative court majority. The year also marks the beginning of Watergate. Meanwhile, vice president Spiro Agnew resigns and Gerald Ford takes his place, paving his way to become America’s first, and to date only, unelected president.

NASA launches Pioneer 11; and before the year is out, Pioneer 10 (launched earlier, in 1972) reaches Jupiter.

But what makes this year especially memorable for me was that in the summer, my Mom and I traveled to Ferihegy Airport in Budapest and boarded a Swissair DC-8 taking us to Zurich, where we switched planes, boarding another Swissair flight, a DC-10, taking us to Montreal. We were visiting my aunt, here in Ottawa.

That visit was beyond incredible. Canada! Of course as a child, I was most impressed by superficial things, such as the number of channels even my aunt’s old black-and-white television set was able to pick up through a rooftop antenna. (Saturday morning cartoons!) Still, superficial or not, what I saw I suppose thoroughly inoculated me against communist propaganda. And, needless to say, this experience played a major role in my decision to leave Hungary 13 years later, eventually settling right here in Ottawa, a beautiful city that — thanks in no small part to that childhood visit — feels like my true hometown.

One of the many images from an extraordinary album by “Busman Extraordinaire” Paul A. Bateson on Flickr, showing Confederation Square as it appeared in the summer of 1973, when my Mom and I were visiting. I remember these sightseeing buses, imported from the UK, complete with right-hand drive.

And that visit was (almost) 50 years ago.

 Posted by at 12:39 am
Nov 052022

Today is November 5, 2022. Here we are in Ottawa, supposedly the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulan Bator. It is 9:15 PM.

And it is 21 degrees (centigrade — 70 F, for my American friends.)

Our A/C ran several times today, especially while we were baking something.

This is beyond incredible. I’ve seen snowstorms in this town in October. I’ve never seen summer-like weather in November.

If this is global warming… well, if folks who will likely be swept away by the sea in places like Florida don’t care, who am I to complain?

Still… weather like this in November is a bit creepy.

[And yes, I still use Windows gadgets, with the help of third-party software. What can I say? I like them.]

 Posted by at 9:23 pm
Aug 222022

Looks like classic capers are alive and well, even here in sleepy (usually, when free of trucker convoys) Ottawa.

Breaking news: Perhaps one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century, Yousuf Karsh’s immortal portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, was stolen from the Chateau Laurier, with a cheap imitation hung on the wall in its place.

Wow. Thieves with impeccable taste, thieves who appreciate history, still exist. Perhaps not all is lost in this bewildering world.

Of course, it being a photograph, unless it was signed or in some other way marked as special, it’s just, well, a copy. I hope the original negatives are in a safe place. Still, gotta love it. In this day and age of Internet scam artists, such old-school crime…

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
May 232022

Saturday afternoon was stormy. The lights flickered a bit during the storm, my UPSs came online several times. But then the storm left, and everything was back to normal.

At least here in Lowertown.

I didn’t check the news, so it was not until later Sunday that I learned, from a social media post from a friend who has been without power since, just how bad things really got.

And how bad they still are.

Hydro Ottawa’s map is still mostly red. Now “only” about 130,000 customers are affected, which is certainly less than the peak of well over 170,000, but to put that into perspective, Hydro Ottawa has a total of less than 350,000 customers; that means that at one point, more than half the city was without power.

As a Hydro official said on CTV News tonight, their distribution system is crushed.

And then there are all the downed trees, destroyed traffic lights, not to mention severely damaged homes and businesses. Not quite a like a war zone (of which we had seen plenty on our TV screens, courtesy of Mr. Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine) but close.

And of course the damage doesn’t stop at Hydro Ottawa’s borders: Hundreds of thousands more are without power in Eastern Ontario and also Quebec.

 Posted by at 7:13 pm
Feb 192022

I first heard about it from a friend, though he didn’t call it by this name.

It was a few days ago. Another convoy of trucks was approaching downtown Ottawa, to join their freedom-loving brethren to promote their message of love, peace, and, ahem, “fuck Trudeau”, “Trump 2024”, “Make America Canada Great Again” and other wonderfully delightful things representing our shared Canadian values.

But some evil, selfish Ottawa citizens, like my friend, had enough. Enough of the noise, the disruption, the lawlessness, the mob rule. And since the police were nowhere to be found, they took matters into their own hands.

Quite simply, they blocked the convoy’s path. They did exactly what free citizens are supposed to do when their community is threatened by a lawless mob: they defended it. The convoy turned back. And this event now has a name: The Battle of Billings Bridge.

Thank you, neighbors. And finally, a few days later (and arguably, three weeks late) our police are doing what they are supposed to do, and by all indication, they are doing a good job. Of course there are the inevitable cries, complaints about the abuse of power, the end of democracy, the tyranny of Trudeau. Never mind that it’s our city police (of course with help from other police agencies) and they are not doing it for Trudeau. They are doing it for us, citizens of Ottawa. To help us get our city back.

No, I do not enjoy the thought of a city under lockdown, with checkpoints all over downtown. And once the thugs with their weaponized transport trucks are gone, I hope our city will come back to normal, and that the lessons learned will not include turning Wellington Street into a copy of Pennsylvania Avenue, blocked from traffic with permanent concrete barriers, with ever present police armed with military gear. This spring, I hope I’ll be able to walk on Parliament Hill again, a free citizen, not prevented by the authorities but also not intimidated by thuggish occupiers and their vehicles.

 Posted by at 10:18 pm
Feb 192022

In the first season of Amazon’s political thriller series Jack Ryan, a terrorist cell releases poison gas in a crowded church after chaining the doors on the outside, to ensure that the victims are locked in and suffocate.

Amidst all the news unfolding in our fine city, it escaped my attention that something similar almost took place two weeks ago on Lisgar street in the downtown core: two criminals, apparently associated with the “freedom convoy”, attempted to set the lobby of an apartment building on fire while taping its front door shut on the outside.

In case anyone wonders what grants us the right to ask our police force to defend our city from those who occupied its downtown core for more than three weeks, this is your answer.

Had this attempt succeeded, it might have entered the history books as one of the worst incidents of terrorism in the history of Canada. Thankfully, the door was freed up and the fire was extinguished by a good Samaritan. The police are still looking for the perpetrators.

 Posted by at 6:05 pm
Feb 142022

Protesters here in Ottawa claim that the public supports them, but surveys say otherwise. In fact, apparently some two thirds of Canadians support the use of the military to end the illegal occupations.

I am fed up to my eyeballs with these insurgents, these seditionists who think mob rule is the way to resolve what could be a rational discussion about the value and validity of certain pandemic measures. (Of course we all know that it’s not about the mandates, it never was. The protesters might think that they are here on account of the mandates but in reality, they are just pawns, the forces behind them are much more sinister.)

But using the military? Talk about turning the propaganda into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The protesters may think of themselves as peaceful, perhaps even law-abiding, but the forces behind them actually covet violence: To them, success is measured by the number of dead cops and dead protesters that will be left on Wellington Street.

Which is why I sincerely hope that the military stays put in their barracks, and once this madness is resolved, the only thing that will need to be cleaned up on Wellington Street will be some litter and debris, and perhaps some doggie poo.

 Posted by at 2:26 pm
Feb 102022

Some random thoughts concerning this siege and occupation by an astroturfed movement.

  • Lots and lots of volatile fuel in unsafe containers in the open, and people playing with powerful fireworks. What can possibly go wrong?
  • To those concerned about the rights of these truckers, ask yourself: were you equally concerned about the rights of Occupy protesters who were evicted from Ottawa a decade ago? What about the rights of BLM protesters last year in the US?
  • A protester asserted that they cannot cut off his fuel supply that keeps him warm. It is against the law. Isn’t occupying the streets of my city, honking through the night, creating a fire hazard with fireworks and fuel in close proximity, and holding a city hostage while demanding the resignation of a lawfully elected government not against the law?
  • How an issue gets politicized, in three acts:
    Act I: Natural disaster occurs.
    Act II: Politicians in charge respond.
    Act III: Populist opportunists react: Look, the government is politicizing the disaster!
    (NB: I don’t care if the populist are MAGA-hat wearing opportunists from the US or the left-wing opposition in Orban’s Hungary.)
  • In a recent article, Toronto journalist Matt Gurney describes the protest as having evolved into a “cover to a cadre of seasoned street brawlers whose primary goal is to further erode the legitimacy of the state — not just the city of Ottawa, or Ontario or Canada, but of democracies generally,” and worries that “any move they make will trigger an incident that can easily result in dead cops, dead truckers and delighted far-right agitators.” Wish I could disagree with him.
  • One swastika flag is one too many. Why was it tolerated any more than an “I love Trudeau” flag would have been tolerated by the same protesters?
  • The Conservative Party may have done an about-face today, but it will take a long time for me to forgive them for abandoning core values of our constitutional order for the sake of short-term populist advantage.
  • Is it 1914 all over again? Looking at Ukraine, I wonder. Or is it more like 1933? That’s what Wellington street looks like, for sure. History, of course, never repeats itself, it only rhymes. But generation after generation, we keep making the same mistakes…
 Posted by at 11:54 pm
Feb 042022

Here is a quote from an internal e-mail, obtained by The Globe and Mail, that interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen authored:

“I don’t think we should be asking them to go home […] I understand the mood may shift soon. So we need to turn this into the PM’s problem.”

The evil cynicism is palpable. As is her complete disregard, contempt even, for the well-being of us, residents of Ottawa.

There was a time when I considered myself a supporter of the Conservative party. I even voted for Kim Campbell in the first Canadian election in which I could participate as a newly minted citizen.

But this sick joke of a party? I’d sooner vote for a rabid toad as prime minister than these shameless, power-hungry sociopaths.

 Posted by at 12:01 am