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
Dec 072021
 

Finally, Ottawa’s LRT is back in service again, operating more or less reliably, at more or less full capacity for a few weeks already, after a nearly two months long shutdown following the system’s second derailment in its mere two years of operation.

Let me celebrate this triumph (er, am I being too sarcastic?) with an archive photo from the city of my birth, Budapest, from 1966 or 67.

You see, back then, more than half a century ago, they were able to maintain nearly uninterrupted streetcar service at a major Budapest intersection, even if it took laying down temporary tracks as a new underground pedestrian passageway was constructed and in the process, a lot of the old infrastructure (water mains, sewage) was also replaced.

Why is it that maintaining uninterrupted service in 2021 in a G7 capital city is suddenly harder than rocket science?

 Posted by at 12:20 pm
Sep 192021
 

A little over 50 years ago, we were all excited in the city of my birth, Budapest. This fine city, home of the old continent’s first subway line (and the world’s first that was built from the onset as an all-electric system), was about to get a modern “metro”. Using Soviet technology, the M2 line was opened to great fanfare, providing a rapid connection from the center of town towards the eastern suburbs on the Pest side. The line was soon extended under the Danube, reaching the Buda side’s main railway station in 1972.

Why do I mention this in a blog entry about Ottawa’s LRT? Simple. This 50-year old system, using technology from the former USSR, has operated reliably ever since. I know from experience: for a while, I used to take it daily, back in the 1970s and the early 1980s. The expectation of urban travelers is that barring rare, major emergencies, the system should work like clockwork; and when an emergency disrupts system operations, service is restored within a matter of hours. This expectation was, in my experience, always met by the M2 line. The most serious accident on the line happened in 2016, when a train rear-ended another, injuring ten passengers. Even in the wake of this accident, service was rapidly restored, albeit with a speed reduction at the accident location while the ongoing investigation tried to determine the cause.

Fast forward to 2021, to the proud capital of Canada, a G7 nation, supposedly one of the most advanced economies in the world, certainly one of the richest, wealthiest nations. Ottawa used to have an extensive streetcar system. Like similar systems in so many cities around the world, this system was dismantled, wantonly destroyed in the late 1950s, when urban planners looked at streetcars as unwanted relics from the past.

Finally, in the 2010s the decision was made that Ottawa needs urban rail transport after all, and the Confederation Line was built. It was opened to the public after many delays in September, 2019. The initial, 13-station segment cost approximately 2.1 billion dollars.

And… well, until now I refrained from commenting because, you know, be patient, good people know what they are doing, sometimes a system has more kinks than anticipated, all that… but no longer. This 2.1 billion dollar system is a piece of crap.

It has had trouble when the weather was too warm. Define too warm? Well, 30 degrees Centigrade. It has had trouble when the weather was too cold. Never mind that Ottawa is one of the coldest capital cities in the world; a little bit of wintry weather below freezing was enough to cause  problems. It has had trouble with train doors, trouble with the rails, trouble with axles and who knows what else. And it now experienced its second derailment.

And no, don’t expect them to rapidly restore service, repairing the affected track and perhaps as a precaution, instituting a temporary speed reduction. No, we are told, the entire system will be shut down again for at least a whole week!

And I cannot decide (I don’t have enough information) if this is gross incompetence or tacit acknowledgment that the system has severe systemic problems, and that the derailment (second in two months!) was not so much a random accident but a result of a badly built track, unsafe trains, or some such cause.

In light of this, I wish they had just imported 50-year old Soviet technology. The darn things may not be pretty (they don’t actually look bad, mind you), may be a tad noisy, but they work. And work. And 50 years later, still work.

As opposed to this piece of… stuff.

And it’s not like railway technology is a new invention. Budapest’s old, 1896 line celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. London’s Underground is even older. And that’s just urban underground systems. So it’s not like some exotic new technology that still has issues. It’s just… I don’t know. Corruption? Incompetence? Just sheer bad luck? Whatever it is, I think the residents of our city deserve better. And those responsible should be held to account, if necessary, even criminally.

 Posted by at 7:11 pm
Jun 262021
 

Recently, it felt at times almost like a fad: Questioning the legacy of past celebrities, removing statues, renaming institutions.

Often, it seemed like these denounced heroes of the past are held to an impossible standard: Not living up to the changing values of the present.

I questioned the motivation: Was it true concern that we worship the wrong heroes, or just a cheap attempt at “virtue signaling”? I questioned the outcome: Exactly how does renaming a high school or removing a statue from a public park help an Indigenous community get safe drinking water, better jobs, better health care?

But more importantly, I questioned the wisdom of judging the past by the standards of the present. Standards that evolve and (thankfully!) improve, but which, for that very reason, would have been impossible for our past heroes to live up to, as those standards did not yet exist.

Faced with the discovery of the unmarked graves of many hundreds of Canadian children that is reopening the wounds of the despicable residential school system, I was wondering the same thing. Were these schools really the manifestations of evil? Or were they perhaps no different from other residential schools for the poor, for the children of immigrants, for other disadvantaged members of a society that, let’s face it, was quite bigoted by present-day standards?

But now I have my answer. What took place in those schools a century ago was not normal, not acceptable. It was criminal, even by the standards of early-1900s Canada. It’s just that nobody cared.

How do I know? From the accounts of someone who was in a unique position to critique the system: Peter Henderson Bryce, who at one point served as Canada’s Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Immigration.

For many years, Bryce studied the health of Canada’s Indigenous population, specifically the conditions at the residential schools. He was appalled by what he saw as an underfunded system of unsanitary, crowded facilities with shockingly high mortality rates. His report was suppressed and he was instead eventually pushed out of the Civil Service. Refusing to be silenced, he published his report himself.

The title says it all:

A National Crime

So there we have it. We are not misapplying our much improved, enlightened standards of 2021 to judge people and institutions that existed a century ago. What they did back then, how they treated the Indigenous population of Canada was A National Crime even by the standards of a contemporary member of the establishment, a dedicated civil servant who was already a teenager when the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867.

Dr. Peter Bryce, M. D., who passed away in 1932 at the age of 78, is buried not far from our home, right here in Ottawa, in the famed Beechwood Cemetery.

 Posted by at 7:56 pm
Apr 042021
 

You know, I am beginning to sympathize with all those Trumpists, Fake News afficionados, anti-vaxxers, flat Earthers and the like.

The other day, I commented on a post concerning the 34 Ottawa area pharmacies that are designated as AstraZeneca vaccination sites by Doug Ford’s government.

I disagreed that this was a political decision, despite the fact that I didn’t vote for Mr. Ford, and that, in fact, I voted for the MPP in question who raised this issue in the first place. I suggested that we should leave such hyperpartisan politicking to our American friends. Last but not least, I was able to find some mapping data from StatCan and from a Twitter post (which I can no longer find — thanks for nothing, Facebook!) that, when overlaid, showed that the vaccination sites roughly correspond to the population density map of the Ottawa region.

Facebook, unfortunately, concluded that my post goes against their community guidelines as spam, despite the fact that (I swear!) I was not trying to sell any Russian brides, fake PPE, dubious cryptocurrency investment schemes, or steal anyone’s social insurance number.

None of it ever stopped Facebook from delivering Trumpist garbage, genuine Fake News, anti-vaxxer nonsense, even flat Earth propaganda to my account.

So dear Facebook… You played an instrumental part in turning America into a lunatic asylum, you played an instrumental part in helping the January 6 insurrection happen, you continue to play an instrumental part in radicalizing America and the world, you continue to let Putin’s trolls and China’s agents provocateurs own you, not to mention losing the personal data of more than 500 million of us… but you censor my post as spam because of your broken algorithms? Forgive the strong language but please, just fuck off.

I wonder if this blog post survives on Facebook or gets censored as well…

 Posted by at 8:15 pm
Oct 312020
 

Would you like me to scare you into offering me some Halloween candy?

Here are some plots from the spreadsheet that I’ve been using to keep track of COVID-19 numbers since the spring.

I am tracking global figures, numbers in the US, Canada, the province of Ontario and my city Ottawa, as well as the country of my birth (and where our elderly parents live), Hungary.

The number of cases needs no explanation. The trends are not good. Hungary, in particular, appears to be a representative case of Europe in general, where the numbers began skyrocketing in recent weeks, per capita figures far exceeding those in Trump’s America. (So perhaps it’s not politics, after all.)

The daily growth rates are also alarming. The only place with a downward trend is Ottawa. Everywhere else, the growth rate is increasing. A constant growth rate in this chart would correspond to an exponential rise in the total number of cases; an increasing growth rate implies super-exponential behavior.

This is also reflected in the doubling rate. In this chart, the higher the number, the better; a high number of days means that the spread is slow. Again, with the exception of Ottawa, the numbers are trending downward (which is bad), or at best, are perhaps stagnating (in Canada and Ontario). And look at Hungary again! According to the latest data, the number of cases there doubles every 16-17 days or so, which is frightening.

These charts show seven-day averages. Again, the usual disclaimers apply. Country-to-country comparisons need to be made with care, due to differences in testing and reporting regimes. But the trends are another matter.

 Posted by at 1:14 pm
Jul 092020
 

This may not be an all-time record-breaking day according to Environment Canada (supposedly, the peak temperature today at Ottawa Airport was 34.8 C at 2 PM) but it sure is hot.

You could be forgiven if you thought that this measurement is of the body temperature of a COVID-19 patient with mild symptoms, not the outdoor temperature on our balcony, measured in the shade:

As I said… really hot. Praise be to air conditioning.

 Posted by at 4:25 pm
Mar 252020
 

Ottawa looks like a ghost town these days. Here are a few images from this morning’s “rush hour”:

The one good thing about this is that when you actually have to go somewhere, it has never been this easy.

Oh, and gas is cheaper than… well, pretty much cheaper than it has ever been in my experience, since I moved to Ottawa in 1987.

 Posted by at 11:30 am
Mar 102020
 

And then, my Mom almost spat out her tea.

That happened when I told her about the pitiful attempt of mid-level management to deal with the persistent smell of sewage at the Parliament station of Ottawa’s defect-plagued new LRT system: the installation of bathroom air fresheners at dozens of locations around the station.

You see, I was visiting my Mom in Budapest. The city has an old underground line that was constructed back in 1896, but it also has a modern subway network, the first of which (line 2 in the current numbering scheme) was opened to the public in 1970, when I was seven years old.

That line used Soviet technology, Soviet trains, a Soviet signaling system. And it… just worked, from day one, each and every day, each and every hour of the day.

I spent one afternoon riding public transportation in Budapest. I traveled on this old line 2, which is presently using 90s era equipment and trains. I traveled on line 3, which uses recently rebuilt trains of the original Soviet variety. And I traveled on line 4, which is a modern, 21st century line with completely automated, driverless trains.

All three lines just… work. They work reliably. The rare instances when the system is interrupted are usually caused by events beyond the operators’ control, such as someone jumping in front of a train. And that 19th century relic, line 1, rebuilt and renovated in 1973, works reliably, too.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, and least the air fresheners have since been removed. But the stink remains, if you are fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to be able to visit Parliament station when the service operates, at least at a reduced capacity.

 Posted by at 2:50 pm
Nov 302019
 

Not a day goes by in Ottawa this autumn without news of yet another service interruption with our brand new light rail transport system.

You’d think that reliably operating an urban rail network is not exactly high science in 2019; especially considering that 60 years earlier, this town had an extensive network of streetcars, which operated reliably for 68 years.

Sadly, that network fell victim to the myopic urban planning trends of the postwar years, which also saw streetcar networks destroyed, or at the very least, severely diminished, as in the case of my city of birth, Budapest, where, for instance, a once popular streetcar line was replaced by an overpass carrying vehicular traffic to an already congested downtown core.

And now we have an LRT that is made unreliable, in part, by a risk-averse culture in which an entire urban transportation system is shut down because of a single door’s failure to close properly.

 Posted by at 10:46 am
Mar 292019
 

Today in the morning news, I heard about an Ottawa bartender was is about to stand trial for criminal negligence because two years ago, some young hockey players who got drunk at her bar ended up dead in a tragic car accident.

Later in the same newscast, I heard about plans by the Ontario government to start selling alcoholic beverages in more supermarkets, big box stores, and convenience stores.

In exactly what insane asylum do these two news items in the same newscast make any sense?

On the one hand, dragging a bartender, one who probably never earned much over minimum wage, to criminal court with the very real prospect of a prison term; on the other hand, making it easier for people to obtain one of the most potent psychoactive drugs known to humanity? Because, you know, the bartender is responsible for what her patrons do after they leave the establishment, but the provincial government bears no responsibility at all for making alcohol more readily available?

The mind boggles.

 Posted by at 3:03 pm
Nov 072018
 

It was a last minute decision, but my wife was once again accepted as an artisan vendor, featuring her beautiful knitted hats, mittens and other things, at the Glebe Community Center’s annual Christmas Craft & Artisan Fair. She attended this fair every year for more than twenty years. I hope she will do well again this year.

I also hope that the Glebe Community Center will forgive my little Photoshopping efforts here, as I decided to copy-and-paste one of Ildiko’s designs onto their card advertising the Fair.

 Posted by at 9:03 pm