March 30, 2005

Night vision

Crow Lake, Ontario
Another photo from a recent cottage visit, but this time by night -- and playing for the first time with my cable shutter release for long exposure shots.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Star trails, Crow Lake, Ontario
Star trails: Release shutter, go inside for dinner, return to close shutter.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Orion star trails, Crow Lake, Ontario
Orion on the move.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Moon, Crow Lake, Ontario
And of course the requisite moon shot.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2005

Lists

Yesterday, Moxy Fruvous' Jian Ghomeshi wrapped up CBC Radio's second installation of "50 Tracks" -- the Canadian version -- counting down these top ten songs:

  1. 'Four Strong Winds' by Ian and Sylvia (1963)
  2. 'If I had $1000000' by the Barenaked Ladies (1992)
  3. 'Heart of Gold' by Neil Young (1971)
  4. 'Northwest Passage' by Stan Rogers (1981)
  5. 'American Woman' by The Guess Who (1970)
  6. 'Canadian Railroad Trilogy' by Gordon Lightfoot (1967)
  7. 'Both Sides Now' by Joni Mitchell (1969)
  8. 'Suzanne' by Leonard Cohen (1967)
  9. 'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell (1970)
  10. 'Early Morning Rain' by Gordon Lightfoot (1966)

The full list is available on the 50 Tracks website. This Canadian rendition was a spinoff of the highly successful summer version, which enumerated the top 50 tracks of essential popular music. Apparently Alanis was the only artist to make both lists. Go figure.

I speculated yesterday that the CBC had realized they were on to something with the whole list-making thing -- witness not only the two slates of 50 Tracks but also "The Greatest Canadian" (itself a spinoff of a model already played out in a number of other countries and no doubt coming soon to a south-of-the-49th superpower near you).

I have to admit, though, that 50 Tracks was carried out with a great deal more dignity that The Greatest Canadian. Let me say up front that I am a strong supporter of the CBC. That said, I am not always as big a fan of the CBC, and unfortunately there were a lot of reasons to hate the Greatest Canadian (the show, not winner Tommy Douglas).

It's hard to know where to begin. There were, of course, the serious and valid criticisms (of the "great man" view of history, of the lack of gender and other diversity in the top ten especially, etc.). But even if you were able to get past that, there was the quality of the production itself. There were the relentlessly grating puns of the advocates (each of the top ten nominees had an advocate who made the case for their greatness in their one-hour episode.) There was the obviously staged and embarassingly uncreative changeroom riffing from David Suzuki advocate Melissa Auf der Maur (of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins fame). There was MuchMusic host and producer George Stroumboulopoulos detonating an outhouse -- "ACME" cartoon style -- to make a point about one of Tommy Douglas' contributions (plumbing in rural Saskatchewan, if I recall correctly -- the explosion was distracting.) And there was -- who would have expected it? [rolling eyes here] -- Don Cherry advocate Bret "The Hitman" Hart physically beating up a mock David Suzuki, Wayne Gretzky, and Pierre Trudeau in a fake wrestling ring to demonstrate why his was the Greatest Canadian. It was quite sad. You could just see the CBC executives with dollar signs in their eyes, begging the 18-34 demographic to tune in: "You want exploding toilets? We'll give you exploding toilets!"

The sad thing is that all of this was just in the lead-up to the grand finale -- the Greatest Circus, as it were.

The Greatest Circus was actually two separate episodes. In the first, the advocates all stated their case again and then spent some time screaming incoherently at each other. It was just like an all-party election debate on the CBC! They also brought in pinch-hitters like Justin Trudeau to spice things up. I believe the phrase "You can't say that about my father" was shouted at least once.

Nothing, however -- not the insufferably trite advocacy or the juvenile pseudo-political theatrics -- could hold a candle to the final episode. The voting was in, and the countdown was on. CBC made the mistake of inviting Shaun Majumder to join Wendy Mesley in hosting the final episode. Between the two of them, the phrase "I've never been so proud to be Canadian" was officially used to death. And in what appeared to be a blatant, last-ditch effort to blunt one of the show's most stinging criticisms, David Suzuki was referred to as an almost-suitable proxy for women on the top ten list at least twice during the final episode. Um, right.

Here, however, is the real clincher. As the top 10 were counted off in reverse order, each of the "non-Greatest's" advocates was asked to throw their (symbolic-only) support behind one of the candidates remaining in contention. As the evening reached its climax, support was building for two camps -- eventual #1 and #2 Tommy Douglas and Terry Fox.

As the fourth advocate joined the Terry Fox camp, Shaun Majumder said -- and I am not making this up -- "Support for Terry Fox is spreading like cancer!"

This was a live broadcast, and I've never seen a faster cut-to-commercial. Somehow it was fitting that in a series featuring Don Cherry as the seventh Greatest Canadian of all time, the CBC's 7-second tape delay should have been reserved for someone else.

Posted by anatole at 01:27 PM | Comments (4)

March 25, 2005

Politics and Art

Parliament, Centre Block
Another photo taken on this beautiful day.
Ottawa [view large]

National Art Gallery
National Art Gallery, from behind the Library of Parliament.
Ottawa [view large]

Posted by anatole at 03:15 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2005

Hello spring

Melting snow on the canal
Goodbye canal, hello spring.
The canal was open for a near-record 66 days this year -- 68 is the highest ever.
Ottawa [view large]

Posted by anatole at 11:29 PM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2005

A Day in the Life

A day out in Ottawa
It was that sort of day on the canal (conditions: slush).
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Some people were braving it. Most were just strolling along.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Lana
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
The weather was spectacular.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Soon, these little babies will end the skating season for real.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
The conference centre formerly known as Union Station.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Lana stares down "the Man".
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Rattled by Lana's intense gaze, the Man tries to regain his cool.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
I don't want to know how many times this photo has been taken before.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Miriam and Lana act out Canada-U.S. relations.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Mirian and Lana put aside their differences to cooperate.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Et voila. Even snowtourists visit Parliament hill to snap a few photos.
Ottawa [view large]

A day out in Ottawa
Capping off the day with a visit with the Parliamentary cats. Mr. Le Cat Caretaker was there today. Naturally, he is bilingual. Also rather appropriately, he was way more interested in people's pets than in the people themselves. Only in Ottawa ...
Ottawa [view large]

For a parallel blogging experience, check out Lana's take on things at: http://www.placeandthyme.com/001036.php

Posted by anatole at 11:20 PM | Comments (2)

Hopeless?

After an entry in which I labelled a Globe and Mail missile defence story as "hopeless", George suggested I post some thoughts on missile defence. So here goes a first crack at that.

I don't actually think missile defence is "hopeless," per se. That is to say, I don't actually think the desired feat is, strictly speaking, impossible.

At the same time, it appears to be -- and I will use some fairly scientific language here -- damned hard. Humanity has accomplished some pretty impressive things and turned "nearly impossible" on its head enough times that I'm not suggesting this not be pursued simply because it's out of reach. At the same time, it bears consideration that the task at hand is subject to a particularly discouraging set of obstacles -- a lack of predictability (e.g. where's it coming from?) and substantive notice (surprise!), (consequently) an absolutely miniscule window of opportunity for action, a negligible margin for error, and the likelihood that the "other side" is actively aware of and trying to thwart your defences.

I have never read a reassuring argument about why anybody will get this to work anytime soon. The test results, as everyone knows, are not only discouraging but downright embarassing. The system has failed -- repeatedly, including twice in the past few months -- even under highly controlled testing conditions. The results are always spun positively to the point of ridicule (the last time it was apparently encouraging that the failure was caused by the ground control and not the missile itself -- phew!).

Now add to this the fact that I'm not convinced by the arguments that this is the best way to defend against nuclear attacks from rogue states. The U.S. is spending billions and billions of dollars on BMD development, while it and the rest of "the West" can't be bothered to put together a half-assed plan to secure nuclear material in former Soviet Union countries, including Russia.

Finally, throw in the arms race argument -- I hear China's spending in the military department these days -- whereby others try to outdo the U.S. ("my missiles can kick your missile shield's butt").

So let's see. A system that doesn't work, that wouldn't represent the best approach for addressing the threat even if it did, and that could spawn a whole new legion of problems? What should Canada have done?* Well, this brings me to my last point. I hated (and continue to hate) the Canada-U.S. politics on this whole issue. For the most part, I find them to be infantile.

For starters, I can't believe that, for some people, repairing Canada-U.S. relations equated to signing on to missile defence. Jean Chrétien's Director of Communications called Americans morons? Better make up for it by signing onto a multi-billion dollar, arms-race driving act of futility.

Then there was the fact that nobody really knew what we were talking about in the first place -- what exactly was Canada being asked to do? Without knowing, it was hard to judge the "it will all be o.k." assurances (and the "run for your lives" critiques) of warring Liberal party members. George W. Bush promised Paul Martin that this won't lead to the weaponization of space? Okey-dokey! Sounds good to us. No doubt Paul Martin has a good gut feeling about the guy who had a good gut feeling about Vladimir Putin. I don't often find myself agreeing with Stephen Harper, but I think he was right to hammer the Liberals on this one.

Now, things weren't quite embarassing enough, so we recently threw our newly minted ambassador, Frank McKenna, into the fray. Frank, it seems, wasn't briefed very well on this issue. Or he didn't internalize the brief. Or he was on hard drugs. Hard to say. Either way, his first diplomatic faux-pas was to announce that effectively we had already signed on because of changes to NORAD -- and what more did the U.S. want? The NORAD makeover was not new news, but it didn't quite square with the Liberals' insistence in Parliament that no decision had been made.

So a firestorm erupted -- right around budget time -- but Paul Martin steadfastly stuck to his lines in Parliament: we haven't yet made a decision, and we'll make one when it is in our best interests. Now, it was pretty clear to everyone that in "our best interests" the "our" refers to the Liberal Party and not Canadians. The surprise was that "we haven't yet made a decision" actually means "we already decided and told the U.S. about it two days ago."

Now, you'd think at this point that the situation is about as bad as it can be. But you'd be wrong, because now Frank "Did I say we were in?" McKenna suddenly has to explain about how we're out (because, you'll note, Paul Martin failed to do so). So he blames it on our trade disputes. And so we're back to square one. Canada-U.S. relations are not about two steadfast friends who are fiercely loyal but can also be brutally honest with each other when they think their companion is going astray. No, no. Let's just put it all out on the table, Frank: Canada-U.S. relations are a crassly realpolitik zero-sum equation. Keeping out our cows? How do you like our gay marriage and marijuana! Take that! Sorry we can't help you out in Iraq, but would it make you feel better if we met up in Kabul instead? Still holding firm on softwood lumber? No missile defence partner for you!

We should be able to disagree with the U.S. without having to check the balance sheet ("Oh dear ... looks like we're a little low in the U.S. Satisfaction Account this month -- better agree to their plans to annex France.").

Ultimately I think we made the right decision, but I think we made it for the wrong reasons. I've heard the argument that we had little to lose by signing on and that we were unlikely to influence the U.S. either way. Fair enough. But given the significance of what we're talking about here, I don't think that's good enough. And I see value in delivering a strong and clear dissenting message to friends on issues of such importance, even if they are unlikely to have a major (direct) effect. I would go so far as to say one owes it to one's friends to do so. Sadly, our diplomacy, if you can call it that, on the BMD issue squandered the opportunity to deliver a message worth anything at all. No matter what decision we had taken, the way we handled the situation was pathetic and the U.S. deserved better. No doubt exasperated U.S. officials couldn't help but laugh when Martin followed up the official (Canadian) announcement with his "would you mind giving us a ring before shooting anything down over our heads?" request.

And so here's the irony in all of this. First off, for those who hoped BMD offered an opportunity for improved Canada-U.S. relations, the effect has been the opposite. I'm sure this stings much more than the infamous comment from a Chrétien political staffer (whether it stings more than the cumulative snubs of our previous Liberal government remains to be seen -- in the end Chrétien's populist style and directness may sit better with President Bush than Martin's dithering and flip-flopping). Second, the way we said "no" rendered the "no" essentially worthless.

Meanwhile -- and speaking of fleeting agreements ("we're in, we're out") -- If Frank's not careful, he may fall prey to the "now you're ambassador, now you're not" fate of Alfonso Gagliano.

* [Note: I've been sitting on pieces of this post for a long time, but better late than never, right?]

Posted by anatole at 10:24 PM | Comments (5)

March 10, 2005

Pondering photoblogging

Friend and fellow Ottawa-area blogger Lana wrote a great article about photoblogging for "Get Guerilla". An excerpt:

When defining blogs, columnists like to use lofty words like "democratic" and "dynamic" to suggest that these sites will cure cancer, bring about world peace and make puppies cuter. But these terms just make my eyes roll around in cinnamon bun patterns. Writers love to dissect the "mystique" of blogs, but the interest is quite easy to understand. Put simply, humans are curious and inquisitive snoops and blogs let us freely meddle in other people's lives.

Check it out!

Posted by anatole at 09:25 PM | Comments (2)

Let it snow

Photographing an ice-fishing shack, Crow Lake, Ontario
During a walk out on the lake, I took a photo of Madhava as he snapped some of his own, including this one, of an ice-fishing shack. There was a beautiful snow storm raging, with big, fluffy flakes.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Snow storm, Crow Lake, Ontario
I took this photo as we walked back across the lake to the cottage.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 09:13 PM | Comments (2)

March 05, 2005

Old School

Late night skating, Crow Lake, Ontario
Who needs the NHL anyway? Hilary made herself a cute little skating rink on a frozen lake. Amazingly, the ice was like glass.
You can see ("see") Hilary at centre and Miriam on the right.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:58 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2005

Joining the swelling ranks

Well, much like amazon.com (except without all the success and riches and mind-boggling global operations and audience), I couldn't resist the temptation for a brand extension -- specifically, a foray into the world of photoblogging. Some of you may have noticed a new link lurking on the left side of this blog, along with a new display of thumbnail photos.

From now on, my photography posts can be found at http://www.sobersecondthought.com/photoindex.php. The latest entries in the photoblog will continue to appear on the left sidebar of my main blog.

Any other content I post will continue to appear here at http://www.sobersecondthought.com.

Posted by anatole at 12:22 AM | Comments (2)

Things are looking up

Tree at the cottage, Crow Lake, Ontario
Got away to a friend's cottage for the weekend, and the weather treated us very well.
Crow Lake, Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)