Wednesday, September 05, 2012

How to be a successful journalist in Canada today

Lie and make shit up.  Well to be precise, lie and make shit up that fits in with the existing conventional wisdom that you've already lied about and made up.

So here is the phrase that is ringing in my ears right now and making me want to drive down to the CBC building and mash my cat's droppings into the keyboard of everyone who had any editorial influence on it being written:

"Language tensions are as common in Montreal as warm bagels."

Excuse me for a moment while I go attend my primal scream therapy class.


Okay, aside from the super-lame and cliched reference to bagels, this statement is just flat out wrong. Language tensions are extremely rare in Montreal.  We pride ourselves on being a mixed-up bunch of polyglots.  There is tension about traffic on the bridges.  There is tension between cars and bikes.  There is tension about parking and snow removal.  When I think about it, Montreal is just not a very tense city.  That's one of the reasons I like it here.  Sure there are little conflicts here and there over language and culture, but no more than in any other Canadian city.  I've seen way more acts of overt racism in Vancouver than I've seen here.

So first of all, this statement is wrong.  It's just made up because it's what the CBC wants the rest of Canada to believe.  But that's not even what makes it so bad.  What makes it so bad is that some nutcase killed a person last night and yelled out "Les anglos se reveillent" (in a québécois accent by the way).  His statement than ties his horrible, insane act to the issue of relations between anglophones and francophones in Quebec.

We still don't know what was going on in this guy's brain, but it is conceivable that he wants to exacerbate these relations.

We don't want this.  We want to get along and exist peacefully with all the different cultures and languages around us.

Don't we?

Well judging by the conversations I have had with my workmates, my basketball buddies and a bunch of people on Twitter, the answer is yes.  The hundreds of people, anglophones, francophones and allophones marching in a candlelight vigil in front of the Metropolis tonight seem to further confirm the desire for us all to live in a peaceful society.

The media doesn't seem to have this same desire.  No, they seem quite excited to take the words of this nutcase and amplify them by making up a version of Montreal where language tensions are a common part of the daily existence.  A teacher friend of mine that I play basketball told me that many students of his 4th grade class asked him if Quebec was going to separate now.  This is what you are doing, Canadian media.  You are freaking out little children by making shit up, sending that message to their parents and then freaking them out.

That is one phrase that I heard while making the mistake of listening to the CBC for 5 minutes.  I can only imagine the bullshit I could have heard on the even more stupid anglo news stations here and god only knows what the rest of the country's shit media is saying.  I already saw an editorial in the Globe and Mail that suggested that it was now Harper's move to counteract the PQ in order to get ahead of them in this big new conflict that was for sure going to happen (at least in this case the majority of commenters called bullshit on that).

So if anyone is reading this out there, please, please, please stop listening to the mainstream media.  CBC, Global, CTV.  All purveyors of lies.

We're doing just fine here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Language of Fear is the language of losers

Again, a lot of my impressions may be because much of my information on the candidates' positions is coming through the english media (and even that is basically about 45 minutes a day of CBC radio one), but I am noticing a real trend with the sovereignist and francophone stances coming from the the candidates and especially the PQ.  They are coming from a place of fear.  They talk about the french language being in jeopardy on the island.  All their proposals are negative ones.  Don't let people do this, fine people for doing that.

This kind of thinking is the thinking of losers.  A loser is someone who has already lost, has a tendency to lose and spends most of his energy worrying about the repercussions of losing and how to avoid them.  The winner is thinking about the next victory, enjoying life and planning for future challenges.  We all walk between those two extremes to some degree.

It's very odd that these politicians have such a loser mentality.  They are the ones who have already won.  They succeeded in throwing off the oppressive yoke of the old english and catholic establishment and turning Quebec into a unique society, dynamic and independent and deeply culturally different from everyone else around it.  They have created an entire generation of francophones who are deeply connected to their cultural roots, history and language.

Instead of pride and confidence, they react with contempt and insecurity.  They ignore their idealistic students and they put laws in place to suppress the minorities who come here to participate in their rich society.  They treat immigrants who want to come and be a part of this rich society with suspicion and disdain.  And then they wonder why they all want to move to Ontario.

How about some positive laws?  How about expanded french language programs?  How about government assistance for immigrants who want to work in the civil service to help them learn french?  How about a corp of translators to help immigrants navigate the provincial and municipal bureaucracies (which makes for great jobs for fully bilingual members of those ethnic communities, thus further embedding them in Quebec society)?  How about scholarships for francophones to go to english CEGEPs and universities so they can then increase the opportunities for english-speaking service companies to install themselves in Quebec (like the thriving videogame industry here)?

This province has so much potential.  We have an incredibly motivated and integrated youth who are more deeply connected to their polity than any other province in the country.  We are a creative powerhouse (Cirque de Soleil is the tip of the iceberg of cultural exports we could be selling).  We have skills in agriculture, industrial development and resource extraction.  We breed great soldiers.  We have the urban jewel of North America in Montreal (probably the second-most fun city to visit in North America after New Orleans).

Bref, Quebec is a kick-ass place that should be kicking more ass and stop cowering in a corner worrying about who is or isn't speaking french.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Voting in Quebec, a pleasant experience (unlike the election itself)

Though the Quebec election has been pretty frustrating for the most part, with the major parties deliberately avoiding the crucial topics like corruption, student tuitions, the economy and the environment and instead focusing on emotional and divisive calls to nationalism, the actual act of voting here in Quebec is quite pleasant.

My wife and I decided to take advantage of the advanced polling option and so we went out after dinner to our polling station, a few blocks away.  It was held in the common room of an old folks home.  There was a very short line-up.  Unfortunately, my wife forgot her wallet at home.  We debated about what to do and then asked the woman at the door if we had any options.  It turned out that I could attest (assermenter) to her identity, which involved a little bit of paperwork.  I had to prove that I knew her name, her address and her birthday and then I had to sign a document.  She then voted.

We left and had walked about two blocks when we heard somebody yelling. I turned around and there was the préposé (the official in charge).  He had come running after us.  At first, I thought that I had left my ID there, but it turned out that my wife was also supposed to sign a paper.  It was the first time any of the people working there had encountered this situation, so they hadn't realized it until after we had left (my wife had found it a bit funny that she didn't have to sign anything).

So we went back and finished the paperwork.  Everybody was exceptionally friendly and polite during the entire process.  The whole experience was very pleasant, with a sense of civic responsibility that one can sometimes forget about.  The two people working there were francophones but spoke good english and were apologetic about speaking french when they learned my wife is more comfortable in english. 

It's easy to forget what a warm and open society Québec is when your exposure to it is through the news media.  I am grateful to live in a democracy where I can both make a choice as to who will lead us and interact with the other people in my community in a way that reminds me the pleasure of living in a gentle and civic society.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hey Quebec Anglos, stop voting (or not voting) from a place of fear

I know the CBC and other anglophone media love to emphasize this stuff for the sake of controversy or whatever is driving their agenda these days, so I may simply be reacting to media hype.  On CBC Radio 1 they are now having this inane series called "None of the Above" which purports to examine why anglos in Quebec aren't voting.  Then they go and inteview people who complain that nobody represents them. 

It drives me bonkers when I hear this argument.  It's actually code for "these people are all francophones and therefore they don't represent my interests."  It's true that none of the leaders are addressing the concerns of the anglophone majority and many of them are actively supporting policies that are antithetical to anglophone concerns in Quebec (growing the hated OQLF, planning for a referendum, restricting growth of english schools, etc.).   The biggie is separation.  Again, I don't know if this is actually real or just the media creating, but it has become kind of a deal-breaker issue.  This plays big time outside of Quebec to the idiots in Ontario or the even bigger retards in the west who love to get angry about Quebec even though they do not have a fucking clue about anything having to do with anything here.

[Aside: I have to rant about this, because it makes me so crazy, but here is a prime example of the kind of stupidity I am talking about:  Unfriending Marois on Facebook because she is "a politician whose only goal in public life is to break up the country that I live in."  Okay, what the fuck?  Really?  Let's review the logic one more time.  You hate separatists and all that they stand for.  They stand for an independent Quebec nation based on their cultural values.  So therefore you hate their cultural values.  So why do you want them in the country that you live in?  How do you propose to keep them in Canada if you hate everything they stand for?  Should Quebec be like a giant amusement park controlled by the Federal government where anglos can come and look at the quaint Quebeckers with their emphasis on the arts and education instead of the hard realities of pure commerce?  It's like you are a big family and everybody hates one aunt who married into the family, but if she tries to get a divorce everyone is outraged because that will "destroy" the family.  Is this just a geographic argument then?  Should we just round up all the French-Canadians and ship them out somewhere so Canada can keep the land and resources and the Québécois can keep their culture elsewhere out of our hair?  Talk of "destroying Canada" is just a bullshit argument and anybody who brings it up needs to get slapped.  If, as you read this, you are thinking right now that Quebec separating is "destroying Canada", please feel the virtual stinging slap of either my open hand or my back hand, depending on how I feel at the moment.  Then when you have stopped reeling, come to your senses.  Okay, I feel much better now and so should you.]

I got distracted from my main point here, which is that as an anglo voter in Quebec you should just ignore all the talk about separation and a referendum.  Look at your candidates from a practical perspective and choose the one that fits your economic and political positions the best.  The main thing is that WE HAVE TO GET RID OF CHAREST.  The corruption that he has allowed to flourish must be stopped. It's far and away the biggest problem in this province, it's why our roads are so bad, why our publics works projects are so shoddy and slow, it's tangentially responsible for all kinds of other inefficiencies and high prices that we suffer here.  If you are a leftie environmentalist like me, vote Quebec Solidaire.  If you are more of a rightie business-type (who might have voted for Charest in the past), then vote for the CAQ.  I can't really support Marois--her stance on immigration and other cultures reflects a profound and problematic racism of ignorance in Quebec and I don't really see the PQ doing much about the corruption since they were deep in it not so long ago themselves--but she is still a better choice than Charest if you are more of a centrist.

Quebec is stagnating and it has been allowed to stagnate because voters playing it safe have allowed Charest and his cronies to remain in power.  They have done nothing for anybody, except their mafia developer friends.  It's time for him to go and the anglos in the West Island can help by knocking out a few bricks in the wall this election. 

Do not worry about a referendum.  It's not going to happen.  The PQ will not get a majority and if they do, they will see the moment they start talking about actually doing a referendum what a mess it will create for them politically.  Marois is just parrotting to the powerbrokers in her party to appease the old guard who actually fought for sovereignty back in the day and can't accept that they have lost that war (despite having won many great battles).

Go vote.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Young Québécois need to work more?

So this week's cultural/political meme is the reaction to François Legault, the leader of the CAQ (does caquiste sound as bad in french as it does in english?) said that young Quebeckers need to work harder and be more like their Asian or Jewish counterparts.

As a middle-aged curmudgeon, my first instinct was "damn straight!"  I deal with a lot of these young Quebecers in my job, idealistic college-age men and women, on a daily basis.  They are pretty fun, lively people but very entitled and painfully uneducated in basic life skills.  There is also that sense of entitlement that is some mix of their age (generation Z?), their culture (despite the Révolution Tranquille, Québec mamas still do everything for their kids, it seems) and their sphere of interest (educated environmentalists often do not get their hands dirty).  As the administrator, I am often the bad guy when I tell them basic realities.  At times, I think a good year at a work camp would be of great benefit to all of them.

However, when I started to think about it, despite their soft bourgeois sensibilities, I realize that they actually work quite hard.  Many of them are full-time students who are also working 20-30 hours a week at the same time.  They also volunteer for many non-paying activities and participate in trainings and workshops that can take up an entire weekend.  They haven't chosen money-making career paths, but they are certainly putting in the hours and the sweat to put themselves in a position to fulfill their ideals and help improve the future of Québec.

Perhaps m. Legault was referring obliquely to the student protests and this was his way of courting the votes of the frustrated suburbanite voter who couldn't undersand or sympathize with their movement.  You may have many criticisms of the student protest movement, but I don't think you can say they were lazy.  For the students that I spoke to, their anxiety was all centered around feeling very strongly about the cause but also feeling really stressed out that they couldn't finish their studies.  There was nobody who was "yay! no school!" (which would have been my reaction).  In terms of political engagement and activity, the Quebec student movement is arguably the least lazy population in all of North America since Bush invaded Iraq.

I know that droput rates are really high here, and I know that I am talking about a very small statistical slice of people (and quite possibly outliers).  However, when I look around at Quebec society, it's not the young people who are not working hard.  To me, it looks like the middle-aged people who are the ones not working hard.  The dozens of pot-bellied dudes standing around a street being repaved, all sharing their expert opinion while two of them actually spread the tar.  The STM workers who refuse to get up out of their chairs at the Metro kiosks to come to the interior side to talk to a customer.  The guys at the plumbing supply store who can't even be bothered to say "what can I do for you?" before they steer you to the wrong overpriced, cheaply-made product.  And finally the fleshy, pink-faced politicians who all look way too much like they have been overfeeding from the public trough.

So m. Legault, I think maybe you were pointing to the wrong age group.

Working hard to take down another plate of poutine à l'italienne (okay, cheap shot, I know, but come on...)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fantasia 2012 - The Haunting of Julia

We wavered on this one, but decided this morning that we should go see it.  I biked down and picked up my tickets and biked back, Then we met some friends at this new Russian-style donut place Chez Boris.  Delicious!  And pretty authentic according to our Russophile friend.  I recommend it.  Transport en commune was running on their slow Sunday schedule (shouldn't they fit their schedule around the busy summer weekend activity, especially when it's festival season?) so I got into the line up at the Sève pretty far back,  Interestingly, the VIP lineup was almost as big as the hoi-polloi line-up.  Kier-La Janisse, who was hosting the event, has contributed a ton to the Montreal film community, so I'm sure everybody wanted to be at the launch of her new book, The House of Psychotic Women.  We picked up a hardback copy.  It's a beautiful book and looks really compelling.  My wife and I hadn't seen and barely heard of the first four movies in the compendium at the back and they all looked interesting.  Always a good sign.  Get it.

The Haunting of Julia, also known as Full Circle, is based on a book by Peter Straub.  It starts with Mia Farrow preparing breakfast with her daughter and distracted husband ("just cofee" he says, pushing the just completed plate of eggs away; how did dudes get away with that kind of behavioiur?).  Suddenly and horribly, the daughter starts choking on a piece of apple.  The worst happens.  After weeks in the hospital, Julia makes a break, flees her husband and buys her own place.  She is struggling to deal with her grief over her daughter's death while maintaining an independent lifestyle.  It's odd, because as a wealthy (due to a family trust) married but separate women in 1970's London, she doesn't have anything to do.  She doesn't have a job. She has only one friend (a friendly antique salesman who may be attracted to her), no family and no hobbies other than tracing her fingers in the pattern of the rug for hours on end.  No wonder she starts to go crazy.

"Maybe I should adopt..."

Weird shit happens and she learns that the new house she is in has a history.  Meanwhile, her husband, who wants access to her trust, starts to stalk and harass (i.e. be a 20th century white male).  This middle part of the movie is quite good.  There is a real backstory here and it is fun to follow Mia as she unravels it.  There are some skin-crawling moments here as well and one truly freaky encounter with an old lady at an insane asylum.  Ultimately, I found the ending a bit simplistic.  There were several plot threads that were either ignored or just snuffed out with death and the ambiguity developing around Julia relationship to the haunting was not treated with the depth it could have had.  But the ending comes quickly and it's weakness doesn't take away much from the overall pleasure of an atmospheric and creepy lead-up built on a solid ghost story.

This is a mood movie, with lots of music .  Some of it quite good british '70s electronic organ stuff a la Get Carter and the Hammer television series, but it can get a bit imposing and there is excessive musical cues that remind us that this kind of crutch is sadly not something new.  Also, the version we saw was a digital copy of an original 30mm.  Unfortunately, it was way too dark so some scenes in an attic were just black for several seconds.  Also, the dialogue was slightly out of sync.  The latter is particularly frustrating because it's something that could have been fixed during the projection, assuming they were using some decent software and had someone that knew what they were doing there.

Technical problems aside, it was a really enjoyable screening.  The audience was respectful and engaged (no cellphone usage! Yay!) and the movie was gripping.  I definitely got quite freaked out at two points in the movie.  Good start to the festival for me.  

Finally, Fantasia

So I'm back in Montreal.  Got back last Sunday and it took me a couple of days to get my sea legs back.  During that time, Fantasia launched and I wasn't quite prepared.  I think I've finally gotten my shit together, though my lateness has already created a significant casualty.  I'm going for a low participation this year, though definitely a step-up from the last two years.

First, though, I have some bones to pick with Fantasia 2012:

  1. Why is it so hard to get programs in the Plateau?  Club Videotron on St-Laurent doesn't carry them anymore, neither does Boîte Noire. What the hell?  This is probably the choice of these outlets, but I spoke to the guy at L'Échange (used bookstore on Mont-Royal where they do carry the programs) and he said that it didn't cost the store any money to have them.  What's the deal here?  Anybody got any answers?  Who do I complain to?
  2. The DVD of trailers is all lo-res.  I'm pretty sure previous year's trailers had only some lo-res but most were at least watchable on a flat screen.  These look like they were all downloaded directly from the internet.  Hey, Fantasia, what's the point of a DVD if you are going to only give us web-quality trailers?  I can just watch them on my computer anyways.  I don't care if you can't fit all the movies in.  Give us fewer with better quality. It makes a major difference in attracting me to a movie.
  3. Why no google calendar or iCal links this year?  In year's past, they had the entire schedule that you could import into the online calendar of your choice.  You could also add movies individually with a click of a button. This was a huge help in organizing one's festival.  Why did it go away?  I asked that in a comment, got no response.  I sent an email to Fantasia and to Plank the design team on Saturday so I hope I get a response during the week.
  4. Why only one real kung fu movie this year?  Now I admit that I am bitter that Fist of the White Lotus sold out ("Accupuncture versus Pugilism!" oh my tears are bitter indeed), but those old restored Shaw Brothers used to never sell out.  It did this time because IT'S THE ONLY KUNG FU MOVIE.  This festival was built on kung fu.  Yes, there are a bunch of Wu Xia films, but those all look hyper-produced with wirework and special effects replacing real kung fu choreography.  Yes, I know that is what the industry is producing now, but maybe we get rid of some of these teen romances and throw a few more classic kung fu movies.
  5. Finally, what is up with the programming in general?  I swear it seemed like every other trailer was a sappy Asian teen love drama.  I get that that is a sub-genre and we should have a few, but this year it seems like they are dominating the festival.  Do we really need more than one movie about an awkward/cute/goofy Korean guys who meet loner/cute/quirky Japanese girl and then there is a love song for the last minute of the trailer.  What gives?  Can we please get back to some good old-fashioned ass-kicking?

On the positive front, I am really glad to see an excellent selection of midnight movies, with midnight showings on both Friday and Saturday of the entire fest.  

Despite almost killing myself during the first two hours of insipid, schmaltzy teen romance trailers, I did manage to find a decent list of movies I want to see.    [Movies in brackets are maybes due to scheduling issues.]
There were at least a good 10 other films that I wanted to see but that I've already missed or they conflicted with something else.  So once you clear away the anime-teenybopper stuff (can't they just ship all those films to Otakuthon?), there is still an impressive number of interesting and potentially entertaining films at Fantasia this year. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

SF - Stinson Beach

When you are retired and you see that there will be beautiful weather at Stinson Beach on a Monday, you just have to go.  That's what my parents did and I may or may not have tagged along.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

SF - insignia on the San Francisco Fire Department Fire Truck-Haight Ashbury division

enough said

SF - Mount Diablo

Mount Diablo is the highest mountain in the Bay Area and was the meridian point for all the surveying that was done in California's early days.  Before that, it was a home to the Miwok people as well as a spiritual point for all the tribes of the region (who were brutally and sadly the victims of colonial genocide when they were forced off their land and subject to disease and privation such that most of them died).

We had a team-building weekend planned there, which meant basically a night of camping.  It was beautiful weather, hot but not too hot.  We did a long 3.5 hour hike in the afternoon on Saturday around the front and up the side and then I did a shorter hike on my own from the summit to the shorter north peak, where I lost my watch.

It's beautiful, desert-like hills with turkey vultures catching thermals and little gophers running around.  Glad I had the opportunity to go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SF- Claremont Canyone plus Goats!

This hike is right behind my parents house.  It was my brother-in-law in his constant need to run and run and run who found it.  He was looking for the famous fire trail, which was cut into the hill following the big fire in the Berkeley and Oakland hills and is now a great, nearly flat place to run on.  The one big problem with this hike was that I couldn't figure out how to make a loop of it and ended up having to walk for about 20 minutes on Grizzly Peak boulevard, which has no sidewalk and lots of blind corners, so not very pleasant.  Checking on the map, it kind of looks like it's not really possible.  Oh well.  Among all the other beautiful moments of the outdoors of Northern California, the big highlight was that the goats were out.  I guess the parks department hires them from time to time to come and graze and the bottom part of this trail goes right by their hangout.  They were pretty awesome to see, but boy they didn't look like they had much to graze upon.  I threw them some greener stuff and they chomped it down quickly.  Goats are awesome.

You can see them here, dotting the steep hillside.

I forgot to say that the highlight of this hike is a spectacular view of the entire bay.

Same view from a slightly different angle coming back down.

A little memorial for peoples dogs that have died.  There are dog tags attached to it.

Okay, that's enough goats for one day.

Friday, May 25, 2012

SF - Wave warning!

This should appeal to those in Quebec protesting the new Hydro-Quebec wireless meters!

SF - another trike!

What is the deal?  Should I be getting one of these?

SF - Portrero Recreation Center

Check out this awesome old gymnasium I found walking around upper Portrero Hill:

And this is the building that houses it.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

SF - Ashby BART station

Creatives been at work around here!

SF- Murals of the Mission, plus Pancho Villa's Mexican restaurant

Just some things everybody sees up and down 16th Street near Mission and Valencia.

SF - Bars of the Mission

San Francisco (and the Bay Area) has so many bars.  And so many of them have cool signs, cool interiors and cheap and plentiful liquor.  This is what America does right and Canada does oh so wrong.  Here are a couple in the Mission District.

SF - Wikipedia Man

Hmm, I wonder what company this guy works for?

SF - Bars: Thieves Tavern

I watched the end of game 6 of the Boston - Philly series here.  They were offering free grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches and I had one.  Quite a nice little pit stop.