December 22, 2007

What a sour pickle political correctness turns out to be. To wit: in a promotion reel CBC TV announces its "holiday" lineup of movies. Of course, every single movie in the clip montage is a Christmas movie. On every news and talk show you'll repeatedly be told "Happy Holidays" by the on-air talent, as they sit on their sets replete with Christmas decorations. As I write this, I am watching CBS 'Early Show' , which is being called a "holidays" edition, and they have a phalanx of special guests singing "holiday music" which all, of course, turn out to be Christmas songs. Now, I am not non-Christian, but if I was I wonder how I would react to all this smoke-and-mirrors. Even as someone raised in the Christian faith, I find this linguistic dance rather disingenuous. If these are truly meant to be so-called "holidays" broadcasts then why aren't there menorahs and kinaras on the sets? Where are the dredles? Why aren't we hearing Haneirot Halulu along with Silent Night? Non-Christian viewers see no representation of their traditions, despite the deceptive "happy holidays" message they keep receiving. How sad to be pandered to in an empty gesture of inclusivity. The truth of the matter is that what is being said and what is meant are not one and the same. Either these networks make these shows genuinely inclusive or honestly label and market them what they really are actually about: Christmas.

December 20, 2007

Destroying New York

It's occured to me more than once the strange phenomenon that is the disaster flick, that popcorn blockbuster, is a very curious beast indeed. Poor New York is by far targeted more than any other city on earth, as the setting for large-scale battles between humans and aliens or superhumans and their foes, as the case may be.
Over the last ten years we have seen icons around Manhattan destroyed in movies such as "Independence Day", and "Godzilla"; the city done in altogether in "The Day After Tomorrow", and badly damaged in this past summer's "Transfomers" and the "Spiderman" franchise. Opening this week is "I am Legend", where the island become home to one last surviving human and overgrown with weeds, and forthcoming is the much-hyped "Cloverfield", in which some unseen nemesis throws the head of Lady Liberty through a few skyscrapers.
How many times did we hear witnesses of September 11 say that the tragic event was like a movie? I found it interesting that Oliver Stone chose not the show the actual collapse in his film "World Trade Center". Instead, he used shadows and mostly sound to cue the audience into the moments we likely have burned into our brain stems forever. In fact, we barely ever see either of the Towers in the movie whatsoever.
Yet in films not about 9/11 we see destruction of New York City of unbelievable scale and intensity, and for some reason we go in vast numbers to see them. Now we had disaster flicks well before 2001 but they appear to have gotten more vivid, more horrific, and more terrifying. I'm not completely sure what explains this phenomenon, so I'll turn to Stephen King's great non-fiction book on horror, Danse Macabre, in which he writes that horror movies show us the miseries of the damned and thus help us to rediscover the smaller, but never petty, joys of our own lives. King argues that such movies aren't a celebration of death, as most assume, but rather a celebration of what it means to be alive in the face of certain death; that when we watch such films we are gathering together to "sing the song we all know in our hearts: time is short, no one is really okay, life is quick and dead is dead".

December 4, 2007

"Bushed"--Notes on a leader

Reporting on Bush in the Washington Post, Allen & Broder (2004) noted that “White House aides describe a president who gathers a small circle of trusted advisers, listens to brief debates and then offers swift, gut-based solutions to problems”. Gergen concurs, writing that Bush “takes a minimalist, big-picture approach to learning about an issue…he [asks] that memos be kept to two pages or less. He has said publicly that he rarely reads newspapers and relies on his staff to summarize the news for him” (2003).

Although Bush has a relatively small set of advisers and any dissenting voices are effectively muffled (Allen & Broder, 2004) Woodward reports that “there is an aspect of baseball-coach, even fraternity-brother urgency in Bush” during potentially divisive meetings of the National Security Council (2002, 261). Writing about President Bush’s leadership style in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Bob Woodward notes that “He wanted action, solution. Once on a course, he directed his energy at forging on, rarely looking back, scoffing at—even ridiculing—doubt and anything less than 100 percent commitment” (2002, 256). This behaviour can achieve great short-term results but can hinder a leader over the long term, as I believe has happened to George W. Bush. As Gergen warns , “closed administrations tend to provide incomplete or misleading information to the public; their accountability suffers” (2003).

Less than a month after the September 11 attacks, Karl Rove, then Senior Adviser to the President, attempted to report to Bush his analysis of the latest polling data, which was showing the President at unprecedented 90-percent approval. Bush retorted, “Don’t waste my time with it…My job is not to worry about the political consequences, and I don’t” (Woodward, 2002, 206). Writing in 2003, Gergen’s assessment of Bush’s leadership was that “it seems doubtful that he will repeat the precipitous, 60-point drop of his father: his conservative base is too strong and loyal for that”. Clearly, Bush should have been more interested: three recent November polls show that his public approval rating sits at roughly 33 percent (Angus Reid Global Monitor, 2007). Surely the Latin expression Vox populi, vox dei was never more ironically prescient.

It is my contention that Mr Bush is doomed to be a poor leader, as he has consistently positioned himself as "the decider" beyond reproach. I believe that having little to no self-awareness and self-correction are signs of a weak leader. While a leader should have a strong will and vision, bravado and machismo are the stuff of despots and b-movie villains.

Mr Bush's actions have reflected an apparent disdain for those he is supposed to lead. He has repeatedly removed members of his inner leadership team who have questioned him or provided alternative points of view. Most damaging, in my assessment, has been his stark, binary view of the complex geopolitical context of his presidency. While propaganda such as "axis of evil" and "you're either with us or against us" was most compelling rhetoric that played well to a citizenry pumped with fear, it has ultimately failed him as a basis for developing his foreign policy, the supposedly golden face of his political leadership coin.

Allen, Mike & Broder, D. (2004). “Bush's Leadership Style: Decisive or Simplistic?”. Retrieved from November 27, 2007.

Angus Reid Global Monitor. (2007).“Most Americans Disapprove of President Bush”. Retrieved from November 27, 2007.

Gergen, David. (2003). “Leadership in the Bush White House”. Retrieved from November 27, 2007.

Woodward, Bob. (2002). Bush at War. Simon & Schuster: New York.

December 2, 2007

[released December 1, 1982]

As some of you may know, I am a December baby, and I distinctly recall my 11th birthday party in 1982 because my aunt Margaret gave me an album with some black fellow reclining in a white suit on the cover. Yes, I typed "album" as it was a vinyl record, one of the few I owned at that time. The others I had plundered from my mom's impressive 70s collection (Styx forever!).

I had no idea who this Michael Jackson character was, and as far as I can remember none of my friends had a copy of what would become a landmark pop culture phenomenon, so I guess for once in my life I was ahead of the curve.

25 years later and I can't help but have a bittersweet reaction to this cover. Michael was a legend and somewhat of a hero to millions of fans. Somewhere along the way he got lost. For the sake of nostalgia, I prefer this youthful and compelling Michael, and just keep in my mind the memory of putting "Thriller" on my turntable for the first time, and listening to the opening of what would become a decade-defining soundscape.

November 22, 2007

Total [no] Recall

A sad but compelling display of utter bullsh*t from Washington, DC, care of TPMTV. Please click here for a summary of the best of the worse testimonials of 2007. You just couldn't write this stuff.

And we wonder why the citizenry has lost faith when the privileged eat cake and let the icing fall from their lips so carelessly and without worry...

October 29, 2007

Putting the kids in GapKids

The UK newspaper The Observer broke the story on Sunday that an investigation found children as young as 10 sewing GapKids clothing, revealing that "despite Gap's rigorous social audit systems launched in 2004 to weed out child labour in its production processes, the system is being abused by unscrupulous subcontractors".
In response, Gap released a statement the very same day announcing that "a very small portion of a particular order placed with one of its vendors was apparently subcontracted to an unauthorized subcontractor without the company’s knowledge or approval".
Clearly, apparel companies need to profoundly rethink the way they do business overseas, and the way they develop relationships with manufacturers and contracters, whose business rules and values may not necessarily match those of our own. In the middle is the consumer, who needs to ask themselves hard questions about the high cost of low prices, and what they are willing to carry on their conscience.

October 25, 2007

Last night I had the privilege to host a talk by Kathleen A. O'Shea, a former nun, who is a social worker, teacher, writer, and human rights advocate. I am the chair of the Queen's University Association of Queer Employees (QUAQE) and one of our members invited her to speak on her work as an advocate for women on death row in the United States.
In the winter of 2006, Ms. O'Shea was the first scholar to be hosted by the Women's Studies Department at Queen's in their new Visitor's Program. Her work with women on death row was profiled on Women's Television Network last spring. In addition to several magazine and journal articles, she has published three books, Female Offenders: An Annotated Bibliography (1997), Women and the Death Penalty in the United States: 1900-1998, and Women On The Row: Revelations from Both Sides of the Bars (2000), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her memoir of the beginnings of her religious life, To All the Nuns I've Loved Before, is trying to find a publisher and she is working on a novel, Adios Comparera: A Chilean Memoir, loosely based on her years in Chile (1965-1973). Kathleen currently lives and works with mentally challenged adults.
About 30 of us assembled for a pot-luck dinner at the beautiful Victorian era house of the Faculty Women's Club, and then we gathered in the cozy living room to listen to Kathleen's compelling story of her path from a convent to Chile and back to America, where she somewhat accidentally became a tireless crusader for women on death row. It was moving, compelling, and a testament to the power of one to make a real difference. I feel that I've finally met a real hero.

October 10, 2007

I'm not ahead of the pack on this one but if you haven't watched "Heroes" I highly recommend it. With its intricately woven storyline, each episode has to be watched for the slow reveal of the overall arc. Details that emerge through paintings, sharply edited scenes, and some compelling acting by a talented ensemble fit together in a cosmic puzzle of sorts. There have been some pleasant surprises in the plot that don't seem contrived or forced. There are six intersecting strands of the narrative, and each is worth watching and full of sufficient pathos for the viewer to become fully engaged with this fantastical tale of a few emerging heroes who want to save the world.

October 1, 2007

Everything old is new again

The ongoing revivals of late 70s and early 80s pop culture bookmarks continue to be the hope of TV executives everywhere. What began with the mining of classic TV fodder into slighty better movies a few years back (think "Starsky & Hutch" and "The Dukes of Hazard") continues with a slew of new-and-improved editions for the post-modern audience.
Last week saw the premiere of a new "Bionic Woman", and word is that a contemporary version of "Knight Rider" is on its way. Meanwhile, the crew of the reimagined "Battlestar Galactica" floats once again, and a slightly more accessible "Dr. Who" can be seen navigating time and space via the TARDIS on CBC.
Perhaps these revivals are meant to be a comforting salve for disabused Gen-Xers, confronted as they are with a bleak future they keep seeing in polemical documentaries. For the life of me I can't imagine anyone under 35 being particularly interested in very many of these shows. If we are being honest we have to admit that they were all pretty terrible the first time around. I suspect the majority of interest is fuelled by pure nostalgia. Of course, just because I think it would be a kick to have a live-action version of "Battle of the Planets" doesn't mean a single dollar should be spent to make it so. Some things are simply better left buried.

September 27, 2007

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's announced today that it has been gifted a second Rembrandt painting from Drs Alfred & Isabel Bader, amongst the most generous of its benefactors. Valued at USD $16-million the painting dates from 1661. With this gift the Queen’s University gallery now holds two of Canada’s six Rembrandts. Both Rembrandts join over one hundred European paintings already given by the Baders over the past three and a half decades, making the Agnes Etherington Art Centre a leading public gallery in Canada in the research and presentation of Old Master painting.

September 25, 2007

I stumbled across this remarkable memoir three years ago in a discount bin. It was such an ignoble place to find such a singular work. I have read it about five times now since my discovery, and I recommend it for anyone interested in etymology and the origins of human civilization, and its accompanying deitrus. This is not an academic book but rather a very personal journey of its most poetic author. So much of humanity sprung from the sands, and our stories of creation and time can be traced back to the desert and its eternal mysteries.

September 21, 2007

It has abruptly come to my attention that we are in a state of disprepair when it comes to social graces. From sales associates, to e-mail, to meetings, to dates, to invitations, and even to the humble phone call, we have lost our way.
Seduced by the promise of technology we have utterly confused the tool with the relationship. Witness the texting of nonsense on small phones during movies, a groups of students "meet" with their laptops, the ubiquitous white chain of the iPod, the person who calls a meeting with you and then proceeds to stare at their lap the whole time, slave to their Blackberry. People are spending inordinate amounts of time (and money) in picking and personalizing their devices and the least amount of time in composing their thoughts to actually broadcast.
We have failed to maintain the essentials of good manners in our postmodern social interactions. How many couples in restaurants have you seen, ostensibly on a date, who have one (if not both) seated parties talking on the phone? How many of your clients or colleagues confuse e-mail with IM, outrageously expecting you to answer the former within minutes of their receipt? Have many people leave phone messages without any helpful information, or answer with only "Hello" or "Yeah?".
So while the accompanying image harkens back to a rather excessive focus on etiquette, it would serve us well to remember the principles behind such antiquated rules: respect, decency, courtsey, and kindness. To my mind these are worth preserving. Otherwise, why leave the house?

September 19, 2007

It's somewhat painful to realize that the U.S. is only in the midst of the nominations process. There is much more rhetoric to come, once the actual campaign for the Presidency begins. Of course in so many ways, the campaign has begun. The field of dreams is loaded down heavily, and we await the first casualties. Clearly there are those who need to stop rearranging the deck chairs and call it a day, while others need to stop listening to their handlers and try, even if for a day, to say something unscripted. One gets a sense that every soundbite, every speech, every gesture and emotion played out has been test-screened in 30 states. And how many more YouTube videos from the candidates can we be expected to take, as they reach out the masses and crave to be seen like you and me, and the guy next door, and your old-enough-to-vote niece too?
Were I a Democrat American and able to vote I would be struggling with the choices. I really want to like Hilary. No doubt she has the experience to bring to the White House but she is astonishingly wooden and deliberate. Everything she does comes off as mighty calculated and cunning. For all of his incalculable faults G.W. Bush brought his aw-shucks persona to the game, which endeared him to the electorate. Hilary has little natural charm and her intense intelligence will, sadly, also play against her in the sexist world of politics. Plus she has an albatross around her neck that may be impossible to spin and photo-op out of the public memory. I feel for Hilary's advisors. What do you do with your client's egomaniacal spouse? Sure, the Democratic public adores Bill but that's not who Hilary is after--they're already in the bag. Hilary needs the fence-sitters and the disillusioned Republicans. Parading slicky Billy around will only force those precious votes away.
As for Barack, it's pretty much impossible not to like him, but he appears woefully unprepared for the presidency. Yes, yes, So was Bush Jr. but the world has changed for Americans and I suspect that they will be especially wary to the appearance of competency. While America is likely keen for substantive change Barack may, ironically, be all those wonderful things we look for in a fictional president. I wonder if he will be able to overcome the very real obstacles of social order that still define his country.
All I can say about John Edwards is that his wife always appears to have the more intelligent, insightful, and astute observations on hand. He looks better in her company and seems out of his depth in foreign policy matters.
But hey, I could be wrong on all accounts. In the modern age perception is reality, and my sensors may be in disarray. Then again, maybe not...

September 17, 2007

Last night CBC aired the poignant documentary "9/11: The Falling Man". This unsettling photo was published word wide on September 12 but then disappered due to public anger. The print media's self-censorship contributed, the film argues, to the deliberate avoidance of a most gruesome thought: that people chose to jump to their deaths on that fateful morning. Instead the media specifically focused on presenting images of the heroic. The film reminds us that many peoples' loved ones were essentially erased from public discourse (and public grieving) simply because the jumpers had made this last act of free will.
It is impossible to watch the footage and not imagine oneself in this harrowing position. It is also impossible, it seems to me, to judge these doomed souls as they wrestled with a most horrible choice. And yet there's that iconic photo, like that of Phan Thị Kim Phúc 29 years earlier, a defining image full of grace and a strange peace amidst a cacophony of fire and terror.

September 16, 2007

According to Statistics Canada, Kingston (with a population of 152,000) ranks 7th in Canada for the proportion of its population that identifies as being in a same-sex couple! We were exceeded only by Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, Halifax, Moncton and Ottawa-Gatineau. In case you're wondering: we tied with Toronto. Of Kingston's same-sex couples, 12 per cent are married and 88 per cent are common law. Oh yeah, on July 20, 2005, Canada became the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage (after the Netherlands and Belgium). As far as I can tell, our country has not collapsed...

September 12, 2007

Queen's has just purchased the former Prison for Women (circa 1934), seen in the middle of the photo above, as part of its need to gain more space for its increasingly congested main campus. It's most likely that Queen's Archives will move into the site, once it's been renovated and prepared. And, yes, we are taking the walls down (save for the one that backs onto a residential area on the western end).
By the way, you can also see the Queen's Faculty of Education right across the street (where my partner Mark is currently pursuing his B.Ed.) and the red building is a Queen's residence hall. At the bottom of the image is the main gate into Canada's most infamous prison, Kingston Penitentiary (circa 1835). Kingston makes for an interesting locale indeed...

September 11, 2007

Given the powerful emotions and hot-button nature of the topic, I wondered how the presidential candidates were messaging today's sad anniversary on their home pages. Here's a selection:
Barack Obama
"Remember 9/11. Unite Again."
Hilary Clinton
"September 11, 2001. We will never forget".
John MCCain
Mitt Romney
From soldiers guarding our liberty on foreign shores to those of us living under the umbrella of the protection they provide, we are united in remembering loved ones lost on that day and in our determination to protect our homeland from future attacks."
Rudy Guiliani
"September 11, 2001. We will not forget. This massive attack was intended to break our spirit. It has not done that. It has made us stronger, more determined and more resolved.”
John Edwards
"9/11/2001. We remember..."
Fred Thompson

September 6, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

October 12, 1935 - September 6, 2007

August 21, 2007

It was our 6th anniversary on Friday, so Mark and I decided to do a quick get-away to Ottawa, where we stayed at the lovely Rideau Inn just off Elgin Street. We had a lovely and remarkably well-priced 4-course meal at Mamma Teresa, Ottawa's most famous Italian restaurant. The genial host seated us in a small dining room right in front of a fireplace. Our evening ended with a lovely stroll along the Rideau Canal, over to the Byward Market, and back...

August 20, 2007

Fans of the late "Firefly" series will no doubt be sympathetic towards those loyal viewers of the ill-fated NBC show "Surface". When massive, new marine life forms begin to threaten the existence of humans, the fate of four individuals become inextricably interwoven. With some high-level government consipiracy and good, old-fashioned suspense thrown in, "Surface" certainly had the potential to be as popular as any of its peers that enjoyed the sci-fi watermark during the 1990s.

Much like the recent "Transformers" movie, what really sells "Surface" is the stellar work of lead kid Carter Jenkins, who anchors the rest of the cast with an uncanny realism. You develop immediate pathos for him and, like Shia Labeouf, it is his work on-screen that makes the digital effects both believable and worth caring about.

This is a very fine piece of sci-fi and I highly recommend it, even if only for the terrifying yet brilliant scene shot high above a boat on a lake that I'll never, ever forget. If you enjoy the series, join the fight to bring it back at
Save Surface.

In memory of 907 Canadians lost as a result of the "Operation Jubilee" raid at Dieppe, 19 August, 1942

August 16, 2007

January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977
When exactly did CNN become America's Page 6?! At 2:15 PM today the top of CNN's site (ostensibly reserved for the most important breaking news) actually read "President Bush’s daughter, Jenna, is engaged to be married, the White House says." Meanwhile, the top link is about stocks tumbling, the second about Jenna Bush's engagement (in case you missed the two-inch, red banner), the third is about the Minneapolis bridge collapse, and the fourth is about an earthquake in Peru. Hmmm...for some reason apparently 450 dead Peruvians is trumped by the impending nuptials of a President's daughter.

Oh, and remember the 20 million people displaced and hundreds killed by the massive floods in Asia? Good luck getting an update on the aftermath from CNN. Hmmm...for some reason the plight of masses equivalent to the population of Australia just doesn't merit the kind of in-depth coverage they've applied to a collapsing bridge responsible for less than a dozen deaths.

Now, to be fair, CNN is covering a report that 8 million Iraqis are "without water, sanitation, food and shelter and need emergency aid", although you have to click on CNN World and then scroll down to the middle of the page to find the link. Indeed, that 8 million souls are in imminent risk does not warrant bold, red banner headline remains a mystery to me. It's not even a top world story, according to CNN.

Each of these stories is a tragedy, and surely all are deserving of our tears. Yet,
I remain baffled at the choices made as to whose lives are more important, what is news worthy, and who most deserves our sympathies and attention.

August 15, 2007

These are the places that were my neighborhoods

I've recently discovered Wikimapia, which is a great way to see the world without lining up at the airport. For fun, I've decided to look for the places where I've lived.

One of the finds to tug at my heart is my childhood home, where I lived from 1978 to 1987. I have such fond memories of living in the country on the Ottawa River, as do my sisters. In 1987, we moved down river to Aylmer, where my family has lived ever since. I moved to Kingston to attend Queen's and, save for two years, have been here ever since.

I've lived at the following addresses in Kingston: Leonard Hall, Victoria Hall, 323 William St.,154 King St East, 236 Wellington St., 558 Frontenac St. , and I currently live at 17 Rideau Street. My next place will likely be the house Mark and I stay tuned!

August 12, 2007

Are you gettin' enough? This poor little fella isn't.

August 7, 2007

Anyone who knows me can attest that I am a huge movie buff. So I was delighted to stumble across a great site called Editing Room whereby the host, Rod Hilton, hilariously rewrites the scripts of major studio releases. He calls them "abridged scripts" and they serve to mock the contexts and real-world meanings of the films. In fact, many aspects of a given film are up for criticism, and Hilton "takes a piss" of just about everyone (including actors, the dialogue, the director, etc.) so he is quite fair in his scathing and witty critiques. This is more than mere parody, and is a worthwhile comment on what passes as artistic greatness at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

August 4, 2007

As reported by Doug Saunders in the Globe and Mail, Steven Pressman, an economist at Monmouth University in New Jersey, has released an intriguing study entitled The Decline of the Middle Class: An International Perspective. In it he examines the movement of the middle classes (those who earn 75% to 125% of a nation's median income around the world from 1980-2000.

Some interesting results: The middle-income ranks in Britain shrank by 4.5%; in Sweden by 7.1% ; and in the U.S. by 2.4%. Switzerland and Germany stayed at pretty much the same percentages, while Norway and Canada were the only nations to see a rise in their middle classes. Canada saw an increase by 4% so that 37% of the population was middle class. While this did mean that Canada's upper class shrank by 1.9% to comprise 33.3% of the population, the good-news story is that more movement occured from poor to middle class.

For some context,
StatsCan reports that the median after-tax income for Canadian families with two or more people rose 1.6% from 2004 to $56,000, after adjusting for inflation. This increase in after-tax income came on the heels of a 1.3% gain in 2004. Median after-tax income of "unattached individuals," or singles, remained stable at $21,400 in 2005. About 14% of the population lived as unattached individuals in 2005, up from 11% two decades earlier.

What is Canada's secret sauce? Government. As Pressman tellingly comments, “I am not sure that the middle class can be self-sustaining. It seems to require active government policies. The market tends to produce great inequalities in income; these inequalities seem greater in a global economy.”

However, the
Canadian Council on Social Development warns that, "In one of the most prosperous decades in Canadian history, incomes among the 20% of Canadians just below the median bracket – low-income working Canadians – actually fell. Among the 10% of families with the lowest earnings, average income was $10,341 in 2000, only a slight increase from $10,260 a decade earlier." Clearly, we have more work to do to genuinely tackle poverty in our country.

Still, the Canadian middle-class, a global success story, owes its sustenation to Canada's long policy of government intervention to protect the quality of life of its citizenry. Indeed, our beloved "Soviet Canuckistan" should take pride in this tradition and progressive vision.

August 1, 2007

Today marks the official announcement that Fort Henry, the Rideau Canal and Kingston's fortifications have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canada's 14th to make the list and Ontario's first.
The stone Fort was completed in 1837 (replacing an earlier wood structure), the 202-kilometre Canal was finished in 1832, and the 6 Martello towers (4 towers and 2 redoubts) were completed in 1848.

July 23, 2007

News of the World

*After 30 years of being on top, it looks as though Toronto's CN Tower will lose its status as the world's tallest freestanding structure sometime later this year, assuming the Burj Dubai stays on target to reach an astonishing height of 2625 ft.

*A Democratic Senator is planning to introduce a motion to censure President Bush for, among many things, the greatest assault on the U.S. Constitution in its history. The effects of a censure would largely be symbolic as it is merely a public reprimand. Besides, it's clear that Bush's political savings account has been in serious overdraft for at least a year or so.

*Tammy Faye Messner passed away July 20, after a long and hard battle with cancer. She had weathered the sex and financial scandals of her former husband, televangelist James (Jim) Bakker, and she has always struck me as a great American sad clown, what with her penchant for excessive facial makeup. Still, she deserves a great deal of credit for being a voice of tolerance amidst the cacophany of conservative Christian rhetoric.

*The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Friday that butane lighters are allowed on-board planes again, although it's still pretty tricky to bring on a bottle of water.

*The National Center for Health Statistics reports that, in 2005, over 650,000 Americans died of heart disease, over 550,000 died of cancer, over 150,000 died of stroke, over 120,000 died of lower respiratory diseases, over 72,000 died from diabetes, and over 31,000 died from self-inflicted injuries. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, in 2004, 37 million Americans lived in poverty and 45.8 million were without health insurance coverage. What more will it take for the Bush administration to raise the alert level to red on the real crisis in the homeland?!

July 20, 2007

The amount of construction on the Queen's campus these days is absolutely astounding! The place is a complete mess, and even walking across the main campus is a trial in itself.
Our main artery, University Avenue, has been completely dug up, as part of a $7-million revitalization; the University's main administrative building is about to get a $12.2-million renovation; work is underway for a $3-million facelift to one of our residences; blasting is underway on our northern end and our arena is being torn down for first phase of our new $230-million student centre; and the work starts in a week or so on a new $30-million athletic field and parking complex on our western fringe.

July 17, 2007

Civil Rights, Not Special Rights

"We are not a theocracy and our rights are not and should not be determined by religious traditions. We live under a constitution, not Leviticus. We obey a rule of law, not your pastor or priest. Whoever your god is, whatever book you think communicates this god's laws, and however you interpret them is irrelevant to a debate about the distribution of rights and privileges. We are a secular nation.

Rights are too important to be left to the irrational moral sentiments or visceral reactions of others, and the law is not about enforcing the morality of the majority. We need reasons why we grant rights to some and not to others. Reasons are what hold our society together and afford all of us an equal voice.

Instead of telling a group of people that they can't have family rights and must remain social outcasts because too many of us are bigoted, perhaps we should fight against bigotry. Let's argue for moral progress rather than acquiese to bigotry and hatred. Revulsion, personal disgust, or visceral reactions are not moral positions--they are mere reactions, and they do not make for admissable arguments for public policy. My rights are not contingent on your opinion of me or my lifestyle.

If the family's role is to serve a function, namely, to raise children and to be a stabilizing force on society, and if there is no reasons to suspect that gays can't also serve this function and may even help to strengthen it, then they should be allowed to join in for the benefit of all of us. But to use a different word to denote gay marriage [civil union] sets it off as different and inferior. It doesn't treat gays as equals, but, rather, reaffirms their second-class citizenship. To classify gays differently is to deny them equal status as members of the community. It is degrading and humiliating.

Marriage as an institution is important, not just because of the rights it affords the members of the marriage, but because of the order it bestows on society through its moral message of commitment. This is an aspect of marriage denied to civil unions by its very nature as a relationship that isn't a marriage. Separate but equal is never equal for the simple reason of the stigma attached to that which is set apart. "

-Jacob M. Held, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy & Religion, University of Central Arkansas. From his article "You Can't Get Married, You're Faggots: Mrs. Garrison and the Gay Marriage Debate" in South Park and Philosophy (Blackwell Publishing, 2007)

July 16, 2007

Tasting the County

Food and wine enthusiasts are flocking in droves to beautiful Prince Edward County. What is quickly becoming the region's worst-kept secrets are the wineries and restaurants, cafes, and bakeries on this peninsula jutting out into Lake Ontario a mere hour west of Kingston. Nestled mostly in the town of Picton and the nearby village of Bloomfield, is the province's latest designated viticultural appellation, and home to a dozen or so worthy vineyards.
On Sunday I had the pleasure of taking in some of the region's most well-known treats, with my partner Mark and two lovely friends, including three hotdogs at Buddha Dog, a latte at the Bean Counter Cafe, some book-browsing at Olivia & Company Fine Used Books, an ice-cream cone at Slickers, and tasting some cheese at the Black River Cheese Company, and finally some cider at the County Cider Company.
With all the publicity the region is getting in the Toronto media one wonders how long before the County's charms are ruined. For the moment, Prince Edward County is to the Niagara Region as Sonoma is to Napa, with the charm of genuine yesteryear, a slower pace, and a grassroots sensibility.

July 13, 2007

Elections in AmericaLand

How difficult it is not to slip into bouts of cynicism, as we watch the candidates on both sides of the non-existent divide get ready to trample across New Hampshire.

There was Clinton-squared in Idaho on a flatbed truck, miming a perfect marriage, Giuliani taking heat from the largest firefighters' union over inaccurate claims made by his team, and McCain re-arranging the deck chairs on his doomed vessel of a campaign.

There was President Bush commuting Cheney's right-hand man, "Scooter" Libby, and the press blinked their eyes repeatedly, rolled over and played dead. Surely somewhere, a relaxed Rumsfield is polishing his notes for a lecture circuit that will have him laughing all the way to the bank.

July 10, 2007


Barry Zwicker's Towers of Deception (2006) should be required reading for anyone interested in the failure of the mass media organizations to uphold their fourth estate role as the gatekeepers of truth and meaning.

Centred on the events at the World Trade Center and The Pentagon that fateful September morning, Zwicker--a Canadian journalist-- methodically presents a haunting and worrisome collection of omissions, disinformation, and on-the-record evidence that cumulatively serve to irrefutably contradict the official story of "the day the world changed". Zwicker also demonstrates the profound complicity in the mainstream media outlets in perpetuating demonstrable falsities and fallacies. The entire book heightens the tragedy of the events, and it cannot be simply brushed aside as the ranting of a troubled mind in a basement apartment.

Indeed, Towers is remarkably well-researched, and painstakingly presented to do what the supposedly "final word" 9/11 Commission failed so blatantly to: ask the logical questions that follow the best available evidence. The results are frightening, enlightening, and empowering...

July 9, 2007

Witches and Demons, and Magic, Oh My

Fans of "Buffy" may well want to check out season 1 of "Hex", a British take on the battle between witches and a fallen angel now available on DVD.
While not as consistently clever as "Buffy" there are some excellent turns of phrases and a scene-stealing lesbian character named Thelma. Less-evolved North American viewers will be shocked and intrigued by scenes of partial nudity, and the depictions of various forms of sexuality, and mental illness. The show only made it to the end of two seasons, so it's a breeze to watch and digest.

July 5, 2007

The Key is the Key

For all those who dearly miss episodes of "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits", I implore you to run to your favourite rental store and get yourself the SCI-FI channel miniseries, "The Lost Room".

Starring Pater Krause ("Six Feet Under"), this captivating story centres on a motel key that opens any door in the world (provided it has a key-lock). Any door opened with the key always leads to room #10, a room that exists outside of time and space. Of note, there were roughly 100 or so objects that were once within the room, and most have been taken out by previous key-holders. Outside the room, the Objects take on supernatural powers in the real world.

A tragic set of events catapult our reluctant hero into the middle of a battle between one cabal called the Order of the Reunification (aka 'The Order')--who want to reunite all the Objects and thus directly talk to God--and another cabal called the Legion--who want to find the objects so they can hide them and protect humanity from the Order and the Objects' perceived collective power. Along the way, Joe Miller (Krause) meets other Object holders, a fierce Object collector on his own quest, and an apparently neutral Object locator, who tracks and sells objects.

One of the best things about the show is that we only know as much as Miller, so you are on the edge of your seat as each new revelation occurs. The whole series runs a little under 5 hours, so you can easily commit yourself over a couple of nights to what the New York Times calls a "beguiling" show!

Magnifique Montreal

We have just returned from a lovely romantic getaway to Montreal. We had an amazing meal on Tuesday night. Not only was the meal very fine but heightened greatly by our wonderful server and the singular ambience of our surroundings. Our genial host informed us that the building we were in (pictured above) was built in 1725, which makes it the third oldest building in Montreal. Wow!

While this old-stone is now one of our favourite places, we stayed in a most modern environment at the opposite end of the aesthetic scale, the ultra-hip W Montreal. From our personal and warm welcome from the staff to the cool, large room, we knew we had made a good decision.

After settling in our room we embarked on a whirlwind, 4-hour walk of Montreal. We started by heading over to "Le Village" (the gay village), where we enjoyed some great shops and the dozens of rainbow flags draped on just about every business. We then hopped on the Metro (subway) and up to Le Plateau district, taking in the awesome Saint-Denis street and the cozy Duluth street, and we then lined up in the rain in front of Shwartz's deli. It was worth the wait, and we were seated at the bar in this famous eatery, open since 1928. We enjoyed the classic combo of smoked meat sandwich, cole slaw, and cherry cola. Yummy!

We then decided to walk back to downtown, through Mordecai Richler's neighborhood, along Saint Laurent. We eventually came to Chinatown, browsed some more cool shops, and then wandered back to our hotel room to take a well-deserved rest. To our delight, a complimentary bottle of 2004 red wine and a platter of fruit was awaiting us. We collapsed on our chaise lounge and dug into our treats!

After a rest and clean-up we were ready to head into Old Montreal, my favourite part of the city, where we eventually found our restaurant mentioned above. We then enjoyed a romantic stroll along the narrow streets and winded our way back to our hotel.

Wednesday morning we again headed back to Old Montreal on a quest for a light breakfast. After a rather long search we found the perfect bistro where I had a coffee and a croissant and Mark had juice and a bagel. We then had a marvelous walk criss-crossing the awesome art galleries on Saint Paul street, and wound our way back to the hotel.

Although we had arranged a late 4PM check-out, we decided to check out early, and we got in our rental car and decided to head back up to Le Plateau to try and find what is arguably the most famous bagel shop in North America, St-Viateur Bagel. This turned into a small odyssey, as it was dumping buckets of rain and we weren't exactly sure where the shop is, just the neighborhood in general. And, thanks to the famed Montreal style of driving, we were almost hit about 20 times! Finally, we spotted it through the deluge, found parking, and ran into the store.

Opened in 1957, this bagel shop is really a small factory, where the wood-burning ovens go 24/7 and you can watch the bagels being made and cooked. We got a dozen, and we ate three as they were still piping warm. Mmmmm.

We then spent the next two hours getting out of the city limits, as it was now rush hour and the main entrance to HWY 720 was closed. We finally got out and then we stopped in Valleyfield for an awesome meal of poutine before heading back to Ontario. A great and memorable trip!

June 19, 2007

Move over Distillery District!

Queen's has just announced that it has picked the same firm that is currently designing the World Trade Centre Memorial Museum Pavilion to restore a former brewery & distillery (circa 1839) into a new Queen's "arts campus". The 3-acre, waterfront campus will house academic spaces for the departments of Drama, Film Studies, and the School of Music. In addition, the site will have a new performing arts complex that would contain such elements as a 500-seat concert hall, a 200-seat theatre, and other academic and performance space. This project is being funded by a gift from a very generous Queen's alumnus, and it is intended to create an artistic space not only for the University but also for the city at large. Public access to the waterfront location will be maintained and arts and cultural groups currently using the Tett Centre will continue to do so.

June 15, 2007

Proudly Marching

Last weekend I participated in my first ever Pride March! I had watched the Kingston Pride festivities from the sidelines for many years, but this year I got up the courage to join in, and I was blessed to have my partner, Mark, and my sister, Angela, along with me in support. I must admit it was an emotional experience. I was not prepared for how it hit me to the core, and what such an act truly means politically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was also so pleased that we were joined by the Sydenham Street United Church and our local NDP chapter. Other groups joining in included the Queen's student government, and CRFC radio. To his credit, Kingston mayor Harvey Rosen kicked off the event. On the ironic side of things, and unknown to most of us, the Shriners had also booked their massive parade for the very same day. So there were hundreds of older folks lined up and down our main street who ended up getting a rather colourful opening act!!

June 13, 2007

The Future is Here

Tucked away in a bland, multi-storey building on the eastern fringe of the Queen's campus is a renegade troupe of truly out-of-the-box thinkers who are busy creating the future. Strung out on enabling something called attentive user interface, the folks at Human Media Lab are Canada's answer to MIT and Stanford. As their web site states, their mandate is to "develop disruptive technologies and new ways of working with computers that are viable 10 to 20 years from now."

They are currently working on the design of organic user interfaces, an exciting new paradigm that allows computers to have any shape or form. Some amazing examples of their research can be found on their videos page, but the one getting the most attention from the media (including Wired and Businessweek) is their device for advertisers to track the effectiveness of their messages by measuring how many people are looking at their billboards and screens. This invention, called eyebox2, was unveiled at Google HQ last month.

What is so striking is that the team is currently working on creating and launching truly attentive (and interactive) work stations, computers, and cellphones, and even household appliances. And what with the Premier of Ontario announcing yesterday a grant of $21-million for Queen's to create and build an Advanced Research and Innovation Institute the stuff of cartoon fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters appear to be just around the corner...

June 12, 2007

Alumni Connections

I had the privilege and honour this past Friday to speak at the Law convocation, where I welcomed the graduands into the Queen's University Alumni Association. My speech was probably no more than three minutes long, but I had the pleasure of presenting the first alumni pin of the ceremony to our honorary graduate, George Thomson.
Queen's delights in its traditions, and our convocation ceremony has not changed much over the past 165 years. It was an extra pleasure as this ceremony took place in Grant Hall, which was built in 1905. It has a most dignified and elegant setting, and despite the oppressive humidity and heat, it was a lovely occasion.
A real highlight for me was that I was able to be a part of the academic procession, which afforded me the opportunity to walk alongside and chat with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken, Arts'68, renowned national affairs journalist Jeffrey Simpson, Arts'71, and former CRTC chair and noted political scientist John Meisel, LLD'96. It was a fun and memorable experience!

June 8, 2007

The world in your pocket

I enjoy immensely looking at random data points about the world. As a much younger geek I would actually read the encyclopedia (I was an only child until 9). One of my favourite sources is the 2006 Pocket World in Fugures from the folks who produce The Economist.
It's always a hoot to read through, because the results are often surprising, sometimes maddening, and always enlightening. For example, the country with the highest crime rate in the world is...Iceland. Now there's a surprise! Smug Canadians will be humbled to learn that Canada ranks 8th for highest crime rate, while the USA ranks 17th. Although, those same smug folks will relish the fact that the USA has the world's largest prison population, both overall and per 100,000.
Our American friends can boast that the USA dominates 5 of the 6 categories for the Nobel prize, just barely edged out by France for total winners for literature. The USA also dominates the world in books and music sales. But while the USA spends the most as a percentage of its GDP on health spending, its male population ranks 4th and its female population 10th globally for obesity; and it only ranks 40th (alongside Portugal) for highest life expectancy. In comparison, Canada ranks 11th for health spending, 27th for male obesity, and 8th for highest life expectancy.
It's striking to read about television consumption, literacy rates, population density, and a country's innovation index. This is a great introduction to that state of our world, and is a starting point to understanding the systems of inequalities that perpetuate these facts and figures. Obviously, it's crucial to understand that such figures don't explain the world, they merely reflect it as it is currently. I find it fascinating to think through the data to the underlying causes and possibilities for change.

June 6, 2007

Kingston aims to attract LGBT tourists

The good people who are part of Kingston Accommodation Partners (KAP) have launched a campaign to draw LGBT tourists to Kingston. They've branded Kingston as a "city of colours", making vague reference to the colours of the Pride flag. I salute their efforts and hope, with time, we can create a genuinely positive space for queer folks to visit and, perhaps, to stay.

June 4, 2007

I can see clearly now

I am struck at when and how it is that I have piercing moments of clarity. Such little ephiphanies typically happen to me rather organically. That is, they just bubble up on their own, having percolated for whatever time they needed to. Usually they occur when I am moving (in the car, while walking, sitting on a plane, etc). There's something key about moving and my thought processing, for some reason. I love to walk aimlessly about, while my hamster works furiously and creatively inside my head.
Overall, I do my best thinking on my feet, which leads me to wonder why we have constructed our working selves to be seated. In fact, our entire workplace design seems rather counter-intuitive to me. But that's another discussion entirely. I recall getting up in the middle of the night during my undergrad years and wandering along the Kingston waterfront. It always helped me clear my mind and find some answers, or at least ask the right questions (often more important).
Lately I've been asking myself some very good questions like what brings me happiness, what drives me, and what motivates me. This usually ends up with me having a hard time accepting our norms of acceptable ways to occupy one's daily life. In any event, I have been receiving my answers at completely unpredictable moments these last few the shower, kneading dough, on the bus...proving that wisdom can come in many forms and in many ways.

May 31, 2007

A new StatsCan report has found that Kingston has the highest proportion of people with PhDs among the country's 27 largest urban areas. Viewed as essential to a knowledge-based economy, PhDs represent the engine of innovation. Interestingly, Kitchener-Waterloo--which trumpets itself as the country's Palo Alto--ranks 10th in this report. Clearly, Kingston needs to build on this strength and create (with its industrial and educational partners) a research and innovation park/campus that can truly incubate some thought-leaders.

May 29, 2007

Imagined World(s)

I have gotten a few raised eyebrows when I have mentioned that the new "Battlestar Galactica" is among the very best shows out there. This reimagining of the campy 70s series debuted in 2003 as a miniseries, and was of such high quality that a series was inevitable. Let me state for the record that this program is shockingly good, raising the bar on how well written and acted a science fiction show can be. But don't just take my word--the New York Times, the New Yorker, and even the National Review have all given "Galactica" glowing reviews.

Anchored by the excellent Edward James Olmos (yes, he from TV's Miami Vice) and Mary McDonnell (two-time Academy Award nominee), the cast is simply outstanding. The series explores the relationship between a government and its military, and human values under the most adverse conditions, all amidst the clash between human and non-human sentient beings after our species is forced to flee from Earth after a massive attack.

If science fiction allows us to think about the here and now, albeit within a fantastical or imagined context, "Battlestar Galactica" provides a stunning canvas to examine our society's present and it's very precarious future. Hopefully, we have the magic within us to imagine a better vision.

May 15, 2007

Bearing Arms v.s. Baring Arms

As we head into the frenzy of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, it would well-serve politicians and citizens on both sides of the border to read Michael Adams' Fire and Ice. Adams is the co-founder and president of polling company Environics, and his interests have evolved from subject-by-subject polling to macro-level social values polling. This book examined the U.S. and Canada along 100 social values points, and the results contradict commonly held assumptions about these two neighbours.

I was in the last year of high school when the warning bells were struck over the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (which later morphed into NAFTA), and how it would precipitate the decline of Canadian culture and values. The rhetoric spun on both sides of the debate here in Canada, from Mulroney's handlers to the Council of Canadians was particularly divisive.

It appears the worry was not warranted. The differences among Canadian and American citizenry are rather striking. As Adams writes, "[the research] show that Canadians' values are significantly different from (and more postmodern than) Americans, it also reveals that the two countries' values are actually becoming more disparate".

Among the findings: Canadians have evolved from being much more religious than their American counterparts to being considerably less so; twice the percentage of Americans than Canadians think violence is a normal part of life; Americans are much more prepared to take greater risks to get what they want than Canadians; almost double the percentage of Americans than Canadians think the use of violence is an acceptable way to get what you want; whereas 8 in 10 Canadians are skeptical of the claims of advertisers, 4 in 10 Americans believe a widely advertised product is a good one; 77% of Canadians said that immigrants have a good influence on their country, whereas 49% of Americans felt the same way.

I am convinced that the fact that Americans kill themselves and each other with the use of firearms at ten times the rate that Canadian do is one of the most powerful influencers of the data above and on the two countries' overall political landscapes. Indeed, whereas 49% of American households have at least one firearm, only 19% of Canadian households do. What is further striking is that censorship of broadcast media on sexuality, nudity, and certain forms of violence is particularly high in the U.S., often from the very same proponents of the right to bear arms. And surely the fact that Canada abolished slavery 70 years prior to the United States represents an early defining point in Canada's social values.

In terms of the family, 49% of Americans agree with the statement that "The father of the family must be master in his own home", while only 18% of Canadians agree. Not surprisingly, 38% of Americans stated that men are naturally superior to women, compared to 24% of Canadians. Is it any surprise how the two countries differ in the recognition of equal rights for same-sex couples?

One of Adams' most astute observations is that "the two regions in North America that define the extremes of social values north of the Rio Grande--the U.S. South...and Quebec...are also the regions that have come to have disproportionate political clout in their respective countries". Both regions are clearly values incubators and each has come to define and influence their respective country's overall direction over the past 50 years.

For any potential leader, be they cultural, political, or business, understanding the social values of our two countries is a very necessary undertaking. I present these findings not as a normative exercise but as a descriptive one. It has been argued by many that Canadians solely define themselves in opposition to their American neighbours. Adams points out that through our founding ideas, our institutions, and our building of our country, Canadians have created a distinctive and enduring nation.

May 3, 2007

Kingston #6 best place to live in Canada

A new ranking just released by MoneySense ranks Kingston #6 overall for best place to live in Canada. While I am sure that the folks at KEDCO and DBIA will all clap themselves on the back, I worry that such a ranking will breed a dangerous complacency amongst the spin doctors and politicians.

Kingston has some very real social justice problems, a worrisome unemployment rate, poor physical infrastructure, and an inadequate industrial tax base. I imagine this ranking reflects only those who fall around or above the reported average annual family income of $67,000, which is surely not a fair snapshot of the city's socio-economic reality.

It would have been much more accurate to report the overall median Kingston household income, which the 2001 Canadian Census reveals was $58,413. That's a significant variance from the average! However, single-parent households (which the Census reports were 15% of Kingston's population in 2001) fared worse, with a median income of $29,872. Surely these latter households do not have 24% discretionary income as reported in the ranking.

The city has an unusually high concentration of public service institutions (Corrections, CFB, Queen's, RMC...) whose employees stack the income data on the high end. My understanding is that we have a very high proportion of citizens on social assistance, many of whom are the families of those incarcerated in the region's plentiful correctional (i.e. prison) facilities.

So I have mixed feelings on this ranking. In many ways I am proud, as this is my chosen hometown. I have made this my home for some 16 years, and I have certainly come to agree that my quality of life is higher than my friends and peers in other cities. But we fail all of our citizens if we sweep the realities of our disadvantaged off the street with another glossy ranking.