Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The New Normal: How Social Networks Make "Migrating" Possible

Last year a photo of African migrants holding cell phones up in Djibouti won the World Press Photo prize.  The men were trying to pick up a good signal in order to communicate back home.  Beautiful photo illustrating something that seemed exotic.

But that's not really the case, it appears.  Having a good smart phone is essential to trying to get out of war zones these days, according to The New York Times.   The price traffickers are charging has dropped, in fact, because of competition from what might be called "self-guided" migration.  Facebook pages also have helped people live through crises: one FB group told of safe water outlets in Aleppo when water mains were broken through during fighting.

Fascinating, and also testimony to the degree of sophistication and education of these displaced people from unstable regions.  They could be you or me, were we unlucky enough to live in one of the hotspots.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Tomatoes and the Hundred MIle Diet

August is a month of many pleasures, not the least being the arrival in markets of real tomatoes.  Most of the years I don't buy them because they don't taste like anything.  But now the choice is almost overwhelming and the possible uses for the lovely golden or red fruit/vegetables are legion.

Now, I can't be sure that these beauties were all picked within a hundred miles of the Jean Talon Market in the centre of Montreal where I found them.  But certainly they are from much closer than the tomato-shaped objects usually on sale around here in other seasons.  Worth waiting for...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Saturday Photo: The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test--Or What the Rich Drive

Not that I'm going to make fun of the environmental  concerns of these folks who are shown powering up their two electric cars, but I mean, don't low gas-guzzlers and public transport have more effect on green house gas emissions and all that tra la la?

The house and cars are a couple of blocks over from us, on a street where the houses are single family, very large, and extremely well-kept.  (They were repointing all the brick work when the photo was taken: a good $10,000 or more right there.)

The vehicles also are really classy, and I'm sure the people are cool too.  But I really can't think that these early-adapters represent the wave of the future.  Progress on the environmental front is frequently far more low-tech.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Proof the Bees Were out

We may end up with more pears this year than the squirrels can eat!  Last year we had perhaps a half dozen but this year there are lots.  I've started picking the ones that look ripe-ish, trying to keep ahead of our bushy-tailed scavengers.

I had feared that last year's dismal crop was due to an absence of bees to pollinate the  pear blossoms, a very sad thought.  The alternate hypothesis centers on the fact that the week the trees were in bloom coincided with a sudden cold snap.  Perhaps teh bees were dissuaded from flying around by the weather, I thought hopefully.

But this year the weather was fine when the trees bloomed, and the fruit set was good.  Now the only thing is to hope that I can pick faster than the squirrels can eat.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Orange Wave...

This is from a photo I took of a clementine back in 2011, just after the amazing sweep of Quebec by the New Democratic Party.  Election night was amazing--nobody believed what was happening really, old stalwarts were crying, the young were ecstatic.

Of course, I was glad and amazed at the Orange Wave, but I also was worried because the election ended with Stephen Harper and his Conservatives with a majority government. They were going to have a blank cheque to do whatever they wanted to do.  No matter how effective an opposition the NDP was--and it has proved to be very good--the Harper program was bound to be approved.

The Canadian Federal election called today, six weeks earlier than necessary, will be decided by people who are fed up with Harper and his gang.  It could be that the NDP will win a complete majority--I hope so--but even if the Liberals split the vote, the chances are good that the Conservatives will bite the dust.  I certainly hope so, because, while the NDP has moved to the centre more than I'd like, Thomas Mulcair is a better leader than Justin Trudeau, and the Canadian people need a Prime Minister who cares about issues that matter.

Friday, 31 July 2015

The Only Reason for an Early Election Call Is in Order to Spend More on Advertising

Don't get me wrong: there have been times in my life when I just loved political campaigns.  Hard to explain, but the kind of rush a political junkie gets after the writs are dropped and the canvassing begins is amazing.

This time, though, I'm simply angry that Stephen Harper will start the 2015 Canadian Federal election campaign next week, six weeks earlier than necessary.  The only reason for him to do this is because his Conservatives have a lot more money than any other party, and will be able to spend it on lots and lots of advertising.  To counter that is going to take a lot of work on the part of people who are fed up with Harper and his agenda to make Canada a different country from the one that has been admired around the world.

I won't mince words: polls now suggest that Thomas Mulcair and the New Democratic Party have an excellent chance of winning,  but they don't have the  same war chest that the Conservatives do, particularly in Quebec.  You probably saw the news reports last week about the difficulties many riding associations are having coming up with enough money to run a decent local campaign. The July 23 story in The Globe and Mail puts it bluntly: "vulnerable Quebec New Democrats are at risk of being outspent by opponents."

So consider this an appeal for contributions--to your local campaign, the federal Canada-wide one, and other ones that are going to need help from outside. There  are several campaigns that I think deserve extra help: here are five of them.

First of all,  those of two young women who were among the surprise NDP victors in 2011, and who have done great jobs in Ottawa: Ruth-Ellen Brosseau (Berthier-Maskinogé, Deputy critic for agriculture) and Laurin Liu (Rivière de Mille isles, Deputy critic for science and technology ). 

Then there are three campaigns outside of Montreal where the NDP incumbent is not running again: those of Danielle Landreville (Joliette), Brigitte Sansoucy (Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot) and Hans Marotte (St. Jean)

Federal election laws allow each citizen and permanent resident to give $1,500 a year to a Federal political party and $1,500 to local riding associations.  These contributions are eligible for a sizeable tax credit. For example a $100 donation works out to only $25 after the credit.  Were you to give $50 to each of the five campaigns mentioned above plus your local campaign,  your  total cost would be $75.  Were you to give an additional $100 to the federal campaign, your total cost for all the contributions would be $100.

The easiest way to contribute to  local campaigns in Quebec is on-line at

For a donation to the country-wide Federal campaign, see!step1

Or if you like, write a cheque: if you live in Montreal, I'll come and pick it up.  Please feel free to call me at 514 276-9257, or write me at

To find out more about these candidates:

Ruth Ellen Brosseau,  Berthier-Maskinogé, Deputy critic for agriculture

Laurin Liu, Rivière de Mille isles, Deputy critic for science and technology

Running to replace current NDP MPs.

Brigitte Sansoucy: Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot

Danielle Landreville: Joliette,-nouvelle-candidate-pour-le-NPD-dans-Joliette/1

Hans Marotte:St-Jean

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Saturday Photo: Resilience and that Other Goldilocks Planet

There's been a lot in the news this week about the discovery of a planet that might be hospitable to life as we know it.  The scientists have amused themselves, calling it a Goldilocks planet since it is not too close to its sun, nor too far away.

Others have also joked that at least now there's an exit door if things get too bad down here.  No matter that Keplar 452b is about 1500 light years away, some may find the idea of another place to mess up comforting.  Of course, given the fact that it appears to be about a 1.5 billion years older than us, the chances are that, had life evolved the way it has here, there's not much left.

But when things get really depressing I like to remember Dylan Thomas's line about "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." Life on this planet is amazingly resilient, as this treeling demonstrates.  I like this photo particularly because of the bus passing in the background.  A shift from individualistic, carbon-fuel dependent modes of living will be the key to making sure that this planet remains habitable for a while longer.