Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Culture: Viva Forever and the 17-Year Rule

TORONTO, ONTARIO - About a year ago, this blog mentioned The Imbayakunas, an Andean-Canadian group that was performing near the base of the CN Tower in Toronto. They've been back on a number of dates this year, and when I take the volunteer post in the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre at the foot of the 6213 steam locomotive on one of those days, they can be heard playing in the background.

While most of their repertoire is classic Andean music or at least in some way related to it (Simon and Garfinkel's "El Condor Pasa" was, in fact, derived from a Andean folk song), the group includes some popular music. I'd grown used to them playing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" and The Eagles' "Hotel California." This past weekend, though, I heard a new melody coming from the pan flutes, rondador, drums, and other instruments--"Viva Forever" by the Spice Girls.

I have to admit that as much as I've been somewhat dismissive of the semi-manufactured Spice Girls, I've always thought "Viva Forever" was actually a pretty good pop ballad. A collaboration between the group and producers Matthew Rowe and Richard Stannard, it has a catchy melody and the lyrics mixing Spanish and English are reasonably creative. I happened to be in Europe when it was at the peak of its popularity there in late summer 1998, so there was no way I could miss it--unlike in the US, where the single was never even released (though it was part of the "Spiceworld" album). It's the only Spice Girls song that has ever made any of my personal play lists. Apparently Pavarotti thought it was worthy too, since he did a collboration with the group and included it on one of his own albums.

I've noticed in my lifetime that many songs tend to come back with a cover version that is in some way musically superior to the original. To cite two examples off my lifetime top-10 list, the 1986 Crowded House hit "Don't Dream It's Over" returned seventeen years later in 2003 with a Sixpence None The Richer cover, and the 1988 Roxette single "Listen to Your Heart" returned seventeen years later in 2005 with a dance version but also an amazing unplugged version from D.H.T.

My prediction is obvious: In the summer of 2015, seventeen years after its original release, some group is going to do a cover of "Viva Forever" that will blow the Spice Girls away. Maybe they'll even include instrumentals from the Imbayakunas.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Personality: Scientists and Engineers

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Back in March, this blog spent several posts looking at the opinions of Henry Petroski, the Duke University professor who has argued that the United States undervalues engineering relative to science. One of the side points that Petroski made was that scientists have larger egos than engineers. I mentioned that there might be a personality-based explanation for Petroski's observation, and it's time to provide it.

I want to repeat my disclaimer from the previous post: While Petroski may have a point on average, this observation is completely useless in generic interactions with scientists and engineers. In my lifetime, I have encountered a number of engineers with significant egos and plenty of scientists with much smaller egos than accomplishments. The variation in each pool is too large to make any assumptions about any individual scientist or engineer. I daresay that the distinction is basically a useless stereotype.

Yet, Petroski's observation may have its origins in the kinds of personalities that are most drawn to each discipline. Scientists are basically concerned with explaining the world around them and testing hypotheses about those observations. Of the four personality worlds identified by meridian theory, it is the "thinking" world that lines up most closely with that mind-set. The thinking world fundamentally deals with ideas, and it is novel ideas that usually are required to explain previously-unexplained phenomena. The analytical nature of the thinking world, jumping from one idea to another without concern for the details of the jump, serves them well in science. The "stomach" type within the "thinking" world is best-known for interdisciplinary thinking, bringing in ideas from outside disciplines to explain something perplexing in a defined field. The "brain" and "kidney" types in the "thinking" world are best-known for becoming extreme, deep experts in a field.

However, it is the "brain" type that also is well-known for arrogance, or at least appearing to be arrogant. The "brain" individual tends to exude an image of royalty, that their ideas are somehow to be deferred to, and others are less important. They don't tend to pay a lot of attention to the feelings of others, which are often imperceptible to them. It is likely the prevalence of "brain" types in science, or at least people in the "thinking" world with some "brain" traits, that lead to the observation that scientists have large egos.

Engineering primarily involves using scientific knowledge to make new things. This tends to attract people of action, which is to say the "physical" world. They tend to be good at putting things together, and then improvising to make them work. While not afraid of first principles, they will readily focus on what actually does the job in the real world, not in a book, if there is any conflict between the two. While the physical world can tend to be "macho" (both men and women), that doesn't come across as "ego" quite as strongly as the arrogance of the "brain" type.

Petroski's observation likely comes down to that--the "thinking" world (especially "brain") types in science come across as having bigger egos than the "physical" types in engineering. For those of us in the "spiritual" or "emotional" worlds that work as scientists or engineers, we just shake our heads at the stereotypes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Photos: Shriners International Parade

Fast miniature cars from Kingston, Ontario performed during the Shriners International Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 6-July-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site looks back to the Shriners International Parade. Not long after the Queen exited Queen's Park, the Shriners moved into position for the Shriners International Parade. A long string of Shriners from across the continent showed off their bands, miniature racing and stunt vehicles, clowns, and more, viewed from the eye level of a child on 6-July-2010.

Margin Notes: Dining Car, Steampunks, I-Lean

Arno Martens and Michael Guy enjoyed the first meal aboard the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre's dining car on 28-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Those wandering through Roundhouse Park in Toronto, Ontario this weekend were treated to an unusual sight--an approximately one-eighth scale dining car in use on the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre's miniature railway. The car debuted this weekend. The first meal? Barbecued hamburgers and water--what did you expect, wine and cheese?

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A group of steampunks (note the steam-powered gun at left) gathered at the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre in Toronto, Ontario on 29-August-2010

Across the street from Roundhouse Park, FanExpo Canada was going on at the Convention Centre. That can result in some interesting comic book characters running around, particularly when FanExpo becomes so crowded that some cannot get inside. This year, the only significant spillover to Roundhouse Park, appropriately enough, were a large group of steampunks. Could there be a more fitting place for steampunks than a place where steam engines were in operation?

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Some in Washington state must be thinking they would be better off if they had a steam-powered ferry. The new ferry Chetzemoka's acute vibration problems were apparently solved by a software change this week, but the vessel suffers from a multitude of other design issues, large and small; read this thread on the West Coast Ferries forum for details. Amongst the issues is a four degree list, which has led to the ferry's new nickname--"I-Lean" or "Eileen." Eileen is still on target to replace Bob in a few weeks. Bob, of course, is the Steilacoom II leased from Pierce County--so nicknamed because of its propensity to bob in the rough waters of Admiralty Inlet.

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Water is central to Harry Shearer's new film, The Big Uneasy, about the flooding that caused the damage in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina passed through. The only problem is, Shearer's key point in the whole film, that the problem was flooding, not the hurricane, has been rejected by NPR. As told this week on Shearer's weekly radio show, LeShow, he wanted to buy underwriting announcements for his new film, but NPR claimed that only factually incorrect wording for the announcement would be acceptable. Anyone that believes that Shearer is some powerful influence at NPR or that NPR is not corporate radio should give his story some close attention.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Radio: On Charlie Chan

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week offered a lot of candidates for the weekly radio pick, but in the end I have to give the nod to On Point. Very rarely does a talk show bring up a cultural topic on which I am somewhat ignorant, discuss it at length, bring up another cultural topic on which I am totally ignorant, and have callers offering great insights into the interplay between the two. On Point from WBUR and NPR this week managed to do that in a 46-minute show on the character of Charlie Chan which at the insistence of a rather obnoxious guest branched out to Guan Gong. This was public radio talk at its best.

Listen to MP3 of On Point "Sleuthing Out 'Charlie Chan'"

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There was a long list of runner-ups this week. Perhaps I'll divide them by category, with On Point earning the honor in the "talk show" category. In the "entertainment" category, the clear winner was the CBC's ReVision Quest episode "What's So Funny About Being Native?" which offered insight into the interplay of humor with the native condition as well as a lot of straight comedy material.

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In the category of "interviews," the clear winner was Wisconsin Public Radio's To The Best of Our Knowledge and its episode Losing Religion. I don't often hear multiple authors with perspectives I haven't heard before on the same show, and the team from Madison pulled that off this week.

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In the category of "commentary," Ira Basen of the CBC blew me away with a scathing analysis of the Harper administration's political strategy, comparing it to Stephen Colbert on this week's episode of The House.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Heritage: A Hidden Air Raid Siren

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Recently, while reading the latest edition of Spacing magazine, I was surprised to find a short article on air raid sirens in Toronto. It featured a nice Matthew Blackett photo of an air raid siren on a pole in Bayview Village Park and a short explanation of its history. What really attracted my attention was that, almost in passing, it mentioned that there are two more such sirens, one at the Harbourfront Centre, and one at the northwest corner of Dundas and Shaw near Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Was there an air raid siren hidden in the background of this view of Dundas and Shaw in Toronto, taken from the edge of Trinity Bellwoods Park, on 21-August-2010?

While definitely not in my neighbourhood, the corner of Dundas and Shaw was hardly an exotic place to me. It's on the Garrison Creek discovery walk, for one, not far from the route of the annual Good Friday Procession, for another, and Dundas Street West is part of the fastest route for me to walk downtown. Yet, in the multitude of times I had walked past this location, I had never caught a whiff of an air raid siren overhead.

It just happened that the next time I walked past Dundas and Shaw was within a few days of reading the article, and as I approached the corner, despite being in a bit of a hurry, I decided to cross the street and see if I could find it on the northwest corner. Sure enough, behind the first row of trees lining Shaw Street, there it was. As it was basically hidden by trees on three sides, I could see why Blackett chose to feature the one at Bayview Village Park. Still, it was definitely there.

The air raid siren was indeed towering above the trees outside a retirement home in Toronto, Ontario on 21-August-2010

It looked about the same as not only the air raid siren Blackett had featured, but also just about every other Cold War-era air raid siren I've ever seen in the western United States. According to Blackett, they remain in Toronto because "the City claims the Province is responsible for them, Provincial staff say it's a Department of National Defence matter, and the DND claims the city has the right to remove them."

They've been there so long now that they practically qualify for a heritage designation, or at least placement in Toronto's city museum, if that ever comes to be. To think that I walked by one for years without ever noticing rather boggles my mind. Thank you to Spacing and Matthew Blackett for causing me to take note.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Politics: On Anger

TORONTO, ONTARIO - North America seems to be a hotbed of anger this year, at least politically. The TEA party in the United States has famously risen from voter anger at government, and here locally in Toronto, the candidate who has made anger the main theme of his campaign, Rob Ford, is leading in mayoral polls. The problem with anger is the candidates who ride waves of anger rarely have effective policies and almost never solve the problems that created the voter anger.

The TEA party's main solution is to all problems seems to be paring the size of government, and, in many cases, lowering taxes. With effective tax rates at historical lows, the faction of the TEA party favoring that idea really has no precedent to cite that this will actually lead to balanced budgets, the main driving goal of the organization. For those members of the TEA party who simply want to cut government to balance the budget, not necessarily lowering taxes, they may have a fiscal point, but cutting government means cutting government jobs. Economist Dean Baker on Sunday put it best, "I fail to see how eliminating government jobs is going to help the economy at this time."

The bottom line for most economists is that there is no simple solution to the current economic malaise and deficit problems. Solutions need to be very nuanced, with strategic tax increases, strategic cuts, and even strategic stimulus combined with a clear long-term plan to balance the budget all elements of working our way out of the problem without making it much worse in the interim. If we actually follow the TEA party prescription instead, in all likelihood things will get worse in the short term as the unemployment rates goes up, and people will only become more angry.

Locally, Rob Ford talks about reducing the size of Toronto's government, but it's quite unclear exactly what he can get through city council to actually eliminate. Even left-leaning mayor David Miller ended up with a civic worker's strike--does Ford not anticipate the same sort of thing happening if he tries to change the fundamentals of the game? In Ford's case, it is less flaws in his anger-driven policies--it's his ability to actually implement anything if elected.

I tried to go back through past politicians and find one who was elected based on angry backlash who proved to be effective in government. I couldn't find one. Arguably, the most successful proponent of the same fiscal policies that the TEA party supports was Ronald Reagan, and he wasn't about anger, but "morning in America."

Ronald Reagan--and Barack Obama, for that matter--provided a template for how to ride a wave of discontentment: Turn it into hope instead of anger. Maybe Obama monopolized that theme in the last cycle, but I'm having trouble finding any candidates trying to provide a hopeful vision on the left or the right, at any level, in this year's elections. I'm convinced it's possible even in a down economy to be hopeful and realistic. Candidates seem to be so afraid of voter anger that they can't channel it into anything positive.

There's still time before the fall elections. If any candidates finally do strike hopeful themes, I suspect they'll do well come election day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Heritage: Faces on Places II

Heritage Toronto's "Faces on Places" walk gathered in front of Ryerson University's South Kerr Hall and its Dora de P├ędery-Hunt bas-relief art on 22-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Terry Murray has become a bit of a celebrity around Toronto for her book, Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto. I was first introduced to Murray when she gave a Heritage Toronto walk past some of those faces in the downtown area in 2008, and this blog previously addressed her appearance at the Swansea Historical Society. When a revised Heritage Toronto "Faces on Places" walk was announced for this year, I had to be there.

Ivy was partially obscuring this Elizabeth Wyn Wood bas-relief of a figure skater on Ryerson University's Recreation and Athletic Centre in West Kerr Hall on 22-August-2010

The previous walk had been criticized for having its key objects too far from the ground and thus difficult to see. This walk featured faces and art much closer to pedestrian level. The early stages of the tour focused on Kerr Hall at Ryerson University. While Murray was able to point out and talk about a variety of controversial pieces, ivy had obscured others, a fact she has already lamented on her web page.

Terry Murray talked about the faces on Kerr Hall at the Ryerson University campus in Toronto, Ontario on 22-August-2010

The champion for this walk in sheer density of faces came at the 1848-era Oakham House, located on the Church Street periphery of Ryerson University, with twelve heads hanging off the building. Of those, the identities of only original owner William Thomas and his wife Martha were known.

A bowed head stood atop the seventh story of the Toronto Hydro building at 14 Carlton Street on 22-August-2010

One set of faces was well off the ground--up on the seventh story of the Toronto Hydro building on 14 Carlton Street. Murray claimed to have walked by the building for twenty years before noticing the bowed heads on top of building--since she had them in the walk guide, they were readily noticed by the approaching group. Sometimes, that's all the reason one needs to go on a Heritage Toronto walk. Interestingly, the building was originally intended to be much larger, so these faces would not have been on top of the building.

John Lyle, known as an advocate for Canadian content in architecture, included this farmer on a tractor on what had been a Dominion Bank and was an Elephant and Castle restaurant on 22-August-2010

The walk ended with a real gem, the one-time Dominion Bank at 380 Yonge Street which is presently an Elephant and Castle. Its architect, John Lyle, was a strong proponent of Canadian themes, and it featured both Canadian wildlife and medallions with the images of France's King Louis XIV and Britain's Queen Victoria--which I had never noticed in all my walks down Yonge Street. The mix of low-level faces that most people had likely also overlooked was a recipe for a very interesting Heritage Toronto walk.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Culture: On A Four-Letter Word

Those that cannot handle unimaginative crude language should just not read this post.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - A German colleague once told me, "The English language has this wonderful word, 'shitty.' You can use it in so many ways and convey implied meaning. The German language has nothing like 'shitty.'" Perhaps obviously, he was being ironic, trying to insult English speakers for being lazy with imprecise language and pointing out that his native German had more precise demeaning adjectives for different situations.

However, by using the word in a joke, he was demonstrating perhaps the most noble use of that word and the four-letter noun from which it derives--in humor. Take this piece from the Onion News Network. Would it be nearly as funny if they had used, say, the word "stuff" instead of the bovine version of the four-letter word? I think not.

My all-time favorite use of the four-letter word was on a summary of comparative religions. The GNU humor archive has an on-line version of the piece. Would it really be as funny if it listed Confucianism as "Confucius say 'Garbage happens'" or Catholicism as "If garbage happens, it is your fault"? No way.

As a clearly colloquial word, the four-letter s-word conveys a casual, less than profound mood. The very vagueness of the word gives it a joint flexibility and universal inappropriateness, above and beyond its appearance on the list of seven dirty words.

Other "swear" words have little more than shock value (and less of that every year). For all the supposed part-of-speech flexibility of the "f-word," it isn't very funny. Richard Pryor, amongst others, made a career of using a variety of foul words, and for the most part, wasn't actually that funny.

It takes skill to use a swear word in a truly humorous fashion where it actually adds to the humor. The "s-word" seems to be the most useful in that regard, and my German friend and the Onion understood how to use it properly. Why haven't I used it, except in a quote? I know this piece isn't funny, and using it wouldn't help. If laughter is needed, go back and view the links again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Heritage: Toronto's "New Town"

One of the first stops on the "Royal Alexandra and its Neighbourhood" Heritage Toronto walk was the site of the third Toronto location of Upper Canada's Legislature on 21-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I spend a fair amount of time around the CN Tower in Toronto, and walk to the northwest on a rather regular basis. Yet, in all of my wanderings through what was once "New Town," I had never passed some of the most historic buildings in that neighbourhood, as I learned from Saturday's Heritage Toronto walk, "The Royal Alexandra Theatre and its Neighbourhood."

31 Mercer Street was constructed in 1939 as offices for the Pilkington Brothers glass manufacturers in the art moderne style, seen on 21-August-2010

Even Simcoe Park, where the walk led by Janet Langdon began, offered surprises. I had never noticed the small holes in the tent of the "Campsite Founding" monument to Elizabeth and John Graves Simcoe--it turns out they are designed to create the constellations that the Simcoes would have seen in the sky. The biggest surprise of the walk, though, turned out to be Mercer Street between John Street and Blue Jays Way (once Peter Street). It turned out to have a wide variety of historic buildings, including a 1879 brick building and a 1939 art moderne office building shown above. Being introduced to this block alone justified going on the walk.

This block of King Street West featured a variety of one-time townhouses constructed between 1856 and 1880, viewed on 21-August-2010

The walk centered on far more common places, such as the block of King Street shown above. I had always thought it was an interesting stretch of King Street, but I had not known that the buildings dated from as far back as 1856. Furthermore, I did not know the "Bell Lightbox" being constructed for the Toronto International Film Festival had been the site of the 1819 York General Hospital.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre had opened in 1907 and was still in operation on King Street in Toronto, Ontario on 21-August-2010

The jewel of the neighbourhood, lending its name to the walk, was the Royal Alexandra Theatre. The 1907 Beaux Arts structure, designed by John Lyle, had been saved in 1963 by "Honest Ed" Mirvish and now serves as the anchor of the theatre district, along with the much larger and more modern Princess of Wales Theatre from 1993.

The walk ended at the 1875-built St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church at the corner of King and Simcoe on 21-August-2010

The biggest problem during this walk was construction, leading to narrow sidewalks and background noise. At one point, a construction worker kicked us out of a parking lot, saying we required safety shoes to be there (which wasn't posted). As I was wearing safety shoes and overalls from a work session before the walk, I pointed at my feet and said, "Good! I'm wearing steel-toed shoes, so I'll stay here." The guy shook his head and ignored me as he continued to insist that everyone leave. Such are the interesting moments of the Heritage Toronto walk.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Photos: Queen's Park

David Bogart led the Heritage Toronto Queen's Park walk inside the West Wing of the Legislative Assembly building on 17-July-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Coverage of summer in Toronto, Ontario on my photo site continues with a three-part look at Queen's Park. A Heritage Toronto walk featured the monuments on the grounds and went inside the Legislative Assembly building on 17-July-2010, a Heritage Tour walk focused on the trees in the park on 14-August-2010, and the most unique event was the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 6-July-2010.

Margin Notes: Their Way, Birds, Plinky

A "their way" sign seemed to have taken the place of a "one way" sign at the foot of Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Sometimes it's better not to be able to read road signs. I have no idea what to make of the above one-way sign, seen looking west on College Street at the south end of Queen's Park Crescent. Is this a political statement about what goes on in the Legislative Assembly? Am I allowed to go "their way" if I want to? Does this mean I can go the other way if I don't like "them"? I'm pretty sure that sign doesn't appear in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for Canada.

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Continuing in the theme common on this blog of never knowing what you'll see next in on the streets of Toronto, I decided to walk on Gerrard Street this afternoon west of Yonge, which is not an especially busy street. On the sidewalk, I found a man in a wheelchair clearly enjoying some pot. I knew what city I was in!

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A great white egret flew high above the Humber River in Toronto, Ontario on 18-August-2010

It's easy to forget that one is in the city when walking along the Humber River. On Wednesday night, I was treated to quite a variety of large birds, with a great white egret choosing to make several fly-overs and a great blue heron perching in a tree right across the river from me before it decided to head downriver. For some reason, the sight of the herons in a tree never ceases to elicit from me a degree of awe.

A great blue heron took off from its perch in a tree along the Humber River at dusk on 18-August-2010

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Dave Wetherald was at the throttle of the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre's steam locomotive #3, in front of steam locomotive #6213 during a test run on 7-July-2009

Those bird pictures are unlikely to ever appear beyond this blog, but the picture above is in today's Toronto Sun. Mike Filey asked for an appropriate picture for an item on the 6213 steam locomotive from the Toronto Railway Historical Association, and they ended up sending the above photo. However, Filey's column does not appear to be on-line anymore, so the only evidence will be a physical copy of the Sun.

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I've noticed more and more posts on various blogs citing Plinky prompts. Plinky markets itself as a service to overcome writer's block by asking provocative questions. I have no problem with people using Plinky, but if I ever suffer from writer's block, I will simply not write something on this blog for that day. As the past nearly two years have shown, this does not happen very often--in fact, probably not often enough for most readers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Radio Pick: Mario Andretti

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick delves into commercial radio. In the realm of general talk, there are relatively few masters of the trade, and one of them is Ronn Owens of KGO in San Francisco. Granted, Mario Andretti is an easy guest on the radio because of his laid-back style and good humor, but Owens does a great job of handling callers in this 54-minute segment of his show. Furthermore, for those familiar with Owens' show and his attempts to bring his guests into the Sleep Train ad, Andretti offered a challenge that might have been the most amusing I've heard yet.

Listen to the Ronn Owens Show "Mario Andretti"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Heritage: The Howards of High Park

A stop along Grenadier Pond during the Heritage Toronto walk "The Howards of High Park" was interrupted by the passage of the tour train on 15-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On this blog, probably the second most common local geographic reference (after the Humber River) is High Park. The 399-acre park not far from my residence is so large that even today there are likely corners I have not visited. I have grown to appreciate High Park, but I knew little about its history. That was rectified by Heritage Toronto's walk, "The Howards of High Park," last Sunday.

Catherine Raven of the Colbourne Lodge museum introduced the Heritage Toronto walk on the Howards of High Park on 15-August-2010

John Howard, a local architect, had set his sights on the property that is now High Park not long after he arrived from England in 1832. He first leased land in what is now Swansea, and then purchased the land when it came on the market in 1836. He built Colbourne Lodge as a one-storey cottage the next year, as it was effectively a legal requirement to build on one's land within a year, even though he didn't regularly occupy it until his retirement in 1857. By 1890 when he died, it had taken on its present two-storey appearance with an art gallery to its rear. Particularly intriguing to me was the fact that he installed indoor plumbing, one of the first buildings in North America to have it. The window he added to his bathroom was pointed out prominently during the tour.

One of the first bathroom windows in North America was found at Colbourne Lodge in High Park, Toronto, Ontario on 15-August-2010

John Howard and his wife Jemima did not long wait to share their property with the city. In 1873, about 300 acres became High Park, one of the first urban parks in North America. The Howards kept about 100 acres, but interacted with community in the park. People were invited to come down to the gardens at Colbourne Lodge, where on one day in 1883, Howard counted 10,993 bulbs.

The Heritage Toronto walk gathered at the tomb of the Howards in High Park on 15-August-2010

The single most impressive portion of the walk was probably the Howards' tomb. Constructed in 1874 and 1875, the stone cairn pays tribute to Jemima's Scottish ancestry, and the Maltese Cross at the top to John's association with the Masons. The most amazing thing is that Howard had the fence from St. Paul's Cathedral in London, one of the earliest cast iron fences made between 1710 and 1714, shipped to Toronto to surround the tomb. It may be the single most interesting artifact in High Park, certainly the oldest.

The cast iron fence around the tomb had been cast by 1714 and had served at St. Paul's Cathedral in London before coming to Toronto, seen 15-August-2010

When John Howard died in 1890, the final portion of his property became part of High Park, under strict terms ensuring that it would never charge admission or allow alcohol, amongst other things. It is thanks to the generosity of an immigrant architect that today we can enjoy this urban treasure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Politics: Demographic Trouble? Yeah, Right

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The left wing seems to be taking some kind of weird solace in the "time bomb" of demographics in the United States. The Republicans might do exceptionally well this election cycle, the thinking goes, but Hispanics vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and will make up 25% of the electorate by 2050. It's only a matter of time until the Republicans are in big trouble. Unfortunately for those promulgating this theory, it's delusional.

It is true that about two-thirds of Hispanics voted for Barack Obama in 2008, a rate greater than just about any group other than African-Americans. Their votes turned the tide for Democrats in states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. Yet, in the long-term view, that may prove a blip. In 2004, George W. Bush attracted about 45 percent of Hispanic vote, within striking distance of his overall share of the electorate.

George W. Bush, while occasionally campaigning in Spanish and clearly making an effort to court the Hispanic vote, was hardly a Hispanic icon. He did not resonate with the immigrant experience which is fresher for many Hispanics than much of the rest of the population. Besides emphasizing relations with Mexico, his foreign and economic policies did little to entice Hispanics. While he often talked about immigration reform, little was accomplished in this regard in two terms as president.

It's not hard to imagine that if Republicans nominated a Hispanic (think Marco Rubio after a couple terms in the Senate, or even former Florida governor Bob Martinez now) that they could really break through. If that candidate made real immigration reform with some sort of limited amnesty a campaign plank, it would seem believable that he (or she) could attract two-thirds of the Hispanic vote just like Barack Obama did.

Republicans argue that Hispanics, who are more likely to be Catholic, are fundamentally social conservatives, more opposed to gay marriage and abortion than the general population, and therefore are a more natural fit with their party. Democrats counter that while that might be true, Hispanics are more likely to vote on the basis of economic issues than social issues, and in that realm the Democrats are a better match. So far, the Democrats have been right, but I don't think the Republicans have really tried yet.

I don't expect the Republican Party to shrink into a small TEA party in the long term, and for the sake of robust democracy in the United States, we should hope that it doesn't. If for the sake of its survival, the GOP starts to reach out to diverse groups, it strikes me that it could reverse the demographic time bomb. Marco Rubio is not the only right-wing Hispanic. The Democrats that think time and demographics are on their side are ostriches, and I suspect they may have a big surprise ahead of them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Heritage: Mackenzie's Toronto

As close as I could get to Heritage Toronto in the stocks--walk leader Danielle Urquhart was viewed through the replica of the stocks across from St. James Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - With a current population of more than 2.5 million people, it is hard to believe that when it was incorporated, Toronto had fewer than 10,000 people. When William Lyon Mackenzie became Toronto's first mayor in 1834, the population was only 9,252. The second Heritage Toronto walk of the weekend, on William Lyon Mackenzie, attempted to take us back into that 1834 world.

It is hard to believe that today's sleepy Colborne Street had been the theatre district in 1834, seen during the Heritage Toronto walk on 14-August-2010

Most of what Mackenzie is known for, such as the Upper Canada Rebellion, took place after his one-year stint as Toronto's first mayor. However, as we learned from our walk leaders provided by the city's Mackenzie House museum, the political battle lines were clearly drawn in Toronto--Mackenzie led the reformers against a faction of establishment Tories, and that dynamic dominated his time in office.

The Heritage Toronto walk paused in Courthouse Square, near the site of the 1820's courtyard replaced in 1853, on 14-August-2010

The core of the story came down to gridlock in the city council after Mackenzie used the rhetoric "baneful domination" to describe British rule. The riled up opposition stamped so hard one day that the public gallery collapsed, killing four, and Mackenzie was blamed for having started the whole thing. That doesn't sound entirely unlike 2010.

Many of the victims of the August 1834 cholera epidemic were buried in this corner, of St. James Cemetery now a parking lot in St. James Park, observed on 14-August-2010

The crisis only resolved itself when a cholera epidemic hit Toronto in August 1834, lending cruel perspective to the situation. The opposition cooled, Mackenzie set his sights on other political beyond Toronto, and life went on.

Mackenzie had lived at Church and Richmond Streets in 1834, a stop on the Heritage Toronto walk on 14-August-2010

The organization of the walk was geographically oriented, rather than chronologically oriented, so the story came out a bit disjointed in some ways. Still, with a little imagination, it was possible to imagine the Toronto of 1834 that Mackenzie had governed, and reflect on how it compared with the Toronto of 2010 for this year's mayoral candidates.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Railfanning: Always More Change

Brand new GO Transit MP40PH-3C #647 was sitting at the Canadian Pacific Lambton Yard Office in Toronto, Ontario on 17-August-2010, the first locomotive of a ten-unit add-on order

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Last weekend, I was actually excited that I had gotten a picture of the last of GO Transit's new order of locomotives that had been arriving in 2010. GO, which had relied on the F59PH locomotive type since the late 1980's, needed new, more powerful locomotives in order to run 12-car trains. The result was the Wabtec (Motive Power Industries) MP40PH-3C, a new model for GO. The model had a variety of teething problems, and while the new units were expected in 2007, the full first order of 27 units, numbered 600-626, did not all arrive until the end of 2008.

The units apparently performed well enough that GO decided to proceed with standardizing on the new type, and an additional 20 units were ordered (#627-#646). Those units started to arrive this spring, trickling in through this summer. I saw one of the new units, the 627, for the first time in March. While I haven't really sought to see the new units, preferring to try to photograph the F59PH locomotives they are replacing (as discussed on this blog previously), I did try to pay attention to any MP40PH-3C's that came into my sight, just in case they might be one of the new units.

When I stumbled upon #644 on a Lakeshore Line train last weekend, that was the last of the twenty that I had not previously seen. I felt like I could now ignore MP40PH-3C's and just pay attention to the few remaining F59PH's, which are becoming quite rare in revenue service, and even considered writing about completing the set of twenty on this blog.

Then, today, the railroad enthusiast network on the Internet was alive with news of a new MP40PH-3C in my local neighbourhood yard. It had been known that GO had exercised an option to purchase ten more units for late 2010 delivery. In light of past history, I thought late 2010 would mean late fall and winter. Instead, the two orders seemed to have been run together. The first unit of the additional order, #647, shipped out of the manufacturing plant in Boise, Idaho less than two weeks after the last units from the previous order. When I took a walk this evening, I found it sitting right where it was expected to be.

So, instead of being 20-for-20, I'm now 1-for-10. On the railroad, change rolls on.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Heritage: The Trees of Queen's Park

Todd Irvine spoke about one of his favourite trees, a 250 year-old red oak, to a Heritage Toronto walk in Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On 11-September-1860, Edward, Prince of Wales, opened Queen's Park in what has become central Toronto. 150 years later, Queen's Park is getting quite a bit of attention, including a Heritage Toronto tour of the grounds focusing on its botanical history led by well-known local urban forestry consultant, Todd Irvine, last Saturday.

Horse chestnut trees such as this later planting observed on 14-August-2010 once lined University Avenue in the area of Queen's Park

Once, the area around Queen's Park had been full of white pines and red oak trees. When the legislative assembly building was built, many of these trees were removed to make way for the building and to open the area to its south. However, to the north, the forest was initially left in place, meaning that 250 year-old red oak trees have survived, now some of Irvine's favourite trees in the park. White pines are being replanted, so while some oaks are not in good health, the northern part of the park may slowly start to resemble its original appearance. In the meantime, many waves of different appearances have graced the park. Once, horse chestnut trees lined University Avenue, and now mostly later plantings of this species dot the grounds.

The interesting-looking seed pods of the Kentucky coffee tree generally held three seeds, seen at Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

As always on a Heritage Toronto walk, there was a lot to learn. I didn't know that the Scadding Cabin, the oldest building in Toronto, had been built of the same white pine species that had once dominated Queen's Park. I didn't know there was such a thing as a tulip-tree, even if it doesn't really resemble the flower. One tree that was especially interesting was the Kentucky coffee. Not only did I learn how its seed pod could actually be used as a coffee substitute, but that its leaves were actually compound, and what I would have thought were the leaves were actually leaflets. Come autumn, first the leaflets will fall, then the remainder of the leaf structure.

Todd Irvine held what was actually a single leaf of a Kentucky coffee tree, pointing to the leaflets in Queen's Park on 14-August-2010

Different walk leaders have different styles, and Todd Irvine tried something I hadn't seen before on a Heritage Toronto Walk--showing historical pictures using a laptop computer. It didn't work--besides the outside glare issues, the screen simply wasn't big enough. Sticking with laminated print-outs that can be passed around seems to be the optimum alternative.

The use of a computer to show pictures during the Trees of Queen's Park Heritage Toronto walk was largely ineffective on 14-August-2010

Early in the walk, someone asked about black walnut trees, and upon seeing one near the north end of the park, Irvine decided to divert the walk to it and end it there. Such serendipity is the joy of going on Heritage Toronto walks.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Photos: Fireworks and Tall Ships

The bark Europa, originally built in 1911, found itself far from its home in The Netherlands during the Parade of Sail in Toronto, Ontario on 4-July-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site continues coverage of summer in Toronto, Ontario with events along the water. The Festival of Fire filled the skies with fireworks above Lake Ontario on 3-July and 10-July-2010, and the Parade of Sail featured Tall Ships passing through the Western Gap of Toronto Harbour on 4-July-2010. Other scenes along the waterfront round out this week's update.

Margin Notes: India, Ice Cream, A-Rod, Ross

The Parade for India's Independence Day in Toronto, Ontario took place on 14-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have trouble finding something to do between two Heritage Toronto walks held yesterday in downtown Toronto, and I was right. Figuring that something would be going on at Yonge-Dundas Square, I stumbled upon the parade for India's Independence Day heading down Dundas Street. A good smattering of India's states had representative floats, and a wide variety of music was played. In some sense, the event was one day early, as the holiday is normally celebrated on 15-August, today.

* * * * * *

An ice cream truck sat right across the street from my residence on the afternoon of 6-August-2010

Sometimes, I walk all over Toronto to come up with photos used on this blog, but all I had to do was look out the window recently. There's a daycare facility in the next block along Jane Street, and they apparently arranged to have an ice cream truck come in the afternoon--they had him park right across from my residence and brought the kids out the back and down an alley to the truck. It was very tough to stay inside after I saw that.

* * * * * *

One of the enticing things about the ice cream truck is the music it plays as it approaches. While that music does not come from Muzak, it has been compared with that variety of generic music that comes from the company of that name. What I did not learn until recently is that the end of the company name was derived from "Kodak," basically because Muzak inventor Major General George O. Squier thought it was a cool name.

* * * * * *

A lot of people thought that "A-Rod" was a cool nickname for Alex Rodriguez to the point that pretty much nobody uses his real name anymore. I was asked if I was going to write anything about A-Rod after his recent attainment of 600 career home runs, but frankly while I remember watching many baseball stars in my life, I don't have any notable memories of A-Rod despite seeing him many times in his early career with the Seattle Mariners. That seems to be the plight of the shortstop (A-Rod only became a third baseman upon going to the Yankees)--the good ones just are more reliable than flamboyant, more clutch than memorable.

* * * * * *

A-Rod left Seattle and eventually found his way to New York, but broadcaster Dave Ross did the opposite. As an update to this post on his disappearing podcast, it should be noted that WCBS has quietly restored the podcasts it had taken away, with the Dave Ross commentary here. WBZ still hasn't followed suit. Meanwhile, I have to say it's very weird to hear Ross doing the voice work on Duxiana ads running on ABC affiliate KGO in San Francisco--Ross is clearly identified with CBS.

* * * * * *

As one final radio note, satirist Harry Shearer has brilliantly picked up on the story about National Public Radio becoming simply NPR, resulting in this report.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Radio Pick: Divorce Evolution

This week's radio pick again draws from the CBC summer schedule. A summer series that I thought had substantial potential value was Asunder, a show about divorce. I haven't learned much from the majority of the episodes, but this week's show, which focused on cohabitation and the consequences to break-ups presented a perspective that I hadn't heard before in the 27-minute program.

Click on Episode 7 - "Listen" at this link to listen to streaming media of Asunder "Divorce Evolution"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Culture: Life as High School

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For reasons that were apparently so ethereal that I not only don't remember them, but can't seem to re-create them, a rash of radio talk shows about a month ago brought up the topic of life as an extension of high school. Some had quite a bit of fun with the idea, putting well-known radio personalities from their stations in stereotypical high school roles. Regular readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to find out that I argue that this concept is absurd, that life is not particularly like high school. However, I suspect many will be surprised at my reasoning--high school is in many ways a better place than the "real world" because of the sense of community there.

For all of the ills of high school school, there is a certain camaraderie amongst its disparate students. Cliques may not associate with one another on a regular basis, but faced with the prospect of associating with a hated clique from their own school or one from a sports rival school, the choice is easy. Sports have a nice unifying impact, as everyone agrees to cheer on their mascot and not somebody else's mascot.

There's plenty of other things to unify around. Displeasure with authority figures, whether an individual teacher or district policies implemented by the principal, create ample opportunities to create community. It's not all negative, either, as at the high-school level there are plenty of student-run events to look forward to and bring people together. Some will be left out, whether on purpose or by accident, but it's rare for that to result in genuine backlash. The popular people in high school tend to be the ones that cross various groups and bring them together; it's those coalitions that create support for getting elected to student government or the homecoming court. The real villains, when they exist, usually manage to get themselves expelled and don't remain around for long.

Contrast that with general society. While major league sports can have a powerful unifying influence, one rarely knows any of the players, so the effect is not nearly as deep emotionally. Furthermore there's no student pass to attend the games, so sports exacerbate economic divides rather than cut through them. While some get mileage out of railing against government, in republican forms of government, the people elect the government, so that is almost by definition a minority proposition in the long term.

Furthermore, while politicians certainly try to build coalitions in broader society, often the most effective campaign technique in the United States is to try to divide people and energize them in opposition to something to get them to vote. This has resulted in a fragmented society where people are taught to be afraid or at least antagonistic of the "other" and thus broad communities encompassing more than a slight majority are almost non-existent.

Perhaps I'm kind to the high school environment because I went to school with a group of people that even at the time, for as much as I hated to be there and never expressed this thought at the time, were recognizable as a fundamentally pretty decent group. I had a hard time arguing with the choices we made for student government or homecoming events; I might never be able to be them, but they were class acts who were going to do the roles well. The number of true jerks was remarkably low, and some of them were indeed removed way before graduation. There was a sense of community and quite a lot of general interpersonal respect all around the building.

So, no, life in society at large is not like that in high school--it's worse. It lacks broad communities and it lacks unifying tendencies. If I had read this article in high school, I would have found that prospect very depressing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Politics: On Rostenkowski

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Former Illinois Representative Dan Rostenkowski died yesterday at the age of 82. The long-time chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the main tax writing body, he is probably best known for a scandal that in which he eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud and served 17 months in prison. However, when I think of Rostenkowski, the Chicago Democrat, what I most remember is his forthrightness about taxes and his ability to work on a bipartisan basis, something that seems impossible today.

In one of his most iconic moments, Rostenkowski stated on CBS' Face the Nation in 1989 that he was "not in favor of any tax decreases. I'm in favor of increasing taxes, because I believe that is fundamentally what needs to be done." Imagine even a Democrat saying that today! The interview resulted in one of my all-time favorite Charles Osgood verses:
Rostenkowski faced the nation,
He was forthright as can be,
How the nation faces Rostenkowski,
We'll just have to see.
As it would turn out, taxes were increased in that budgetary cycle. Republican President George H.W. Bush worked with Congressional Democrats to come up with a way to reduce the deficit that involved some tax increases. The decision is regarded by most economists as a fundamentally sound one, yet despite that, Bush was crucified for breaking the "no new taxes" pledge from his 1988 campaign. Rostenkowski had argued with the President that he should "spend some of his popularity" on economic policy, but Bush spent more than he had. Rather than blaming Rostenkowski or the Democrats for the taxes, Bush received the blame and lost the Presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992. Rostenkowski would be indicted that same year, and would lose his re-election bid in 1994.

It's hard to imagine that world today. Now, in the United States, not even the Democrats seriously contemplate the kind of tax increases that a Republican president supported in 1989. The two parties barely speak to one another; cutting deals like the one seen in 1989 is not a serious possibility. Dan Rostenkowski was definitely from another era, and I daresay that the political environment in that era was much healthier than the one that exists today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Economics: No More CEO's?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In a recent opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Vineet Nayar proposed the idea of eliminating the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position as we know it in companies. Rather than having a driving, top-down leader that makes and enforces decisions, he explains a more bottom-up, empowering approach that he has implemented at the company where he is now an unconventional CEO, in India.

I can certainly see his argument. I've seen a number of CEO's, at small and medium sized companies, make decisions that were ill-advised and not supported by the people told to implement them. In a particularly egregious case, I watched as a head of software at a company tried to figure out how he was going to make the outsourcing of work to India be productive, when by his every estimation it wasn't going to save money in the short or long term. The CEO had not given him a choice--a certain percentage of work had to be outsourced. Never mind that the industry this company was in was not one which easily lent itself to software outsourcing, or that intellectual property was a significant issue, or that a small single digit number of hires was going to allow the company to complete all projects internally on-time. Perhaps needless to say, the outsourcing didn't save money, reduced morale internally because of resulting staff reductions (despite some cleverness on the part of the manager to minimize that impact), and was a minor factor in that CEO's eventual firing.

The nominal reason for the all-powerful CEO is that the Board of Directors needs to hold a single individual accountable for the success of the company. However, there's no reason that the Board can't hold a reasonable slate of people, in most cases the Executive Vice Presidents, responsible for the performance of their various assigned areas and the new-style CEO responsible that they worked together. Too many boards (though certainly not all of them) do not earn their pay and truly analyze the performance of the company at any deep level.

A nice side benefit of such a change is that high CEO pay would no longer be justifiable, as responsibility would be distributed. Furthermore, with less absolute power, the CEO job would be less attractive to power-hungry personalities and more attractive to those interested in making teams function. It would represent an enormous change in corporate culture, perhaps the very kind of change needed to make corporations better local and world citizens.

Yet, Nayar's idea suffers from the same problem I often point out on this blog--there's no incentive to make the change. The current CEO's and boards of directors have no incentive to give up the nice scheme they have going. Even a few companies like Nayar's being successful under a different model will not be enough, as there are a thousand reasons to pass off their experiences as not relevant. The only way I ever see it happening is if there is a tax incentive to adopt an alternate structure. That, of course, would require legislation, and unfortunately, I just don't think there will be political incentives for such legislation, in any country, in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Politics: Last Refuge of Scoundrels?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - A few weeks ago, Walter Rodgers chose to write in his Christian Science Monitor column about the ring's wing perversion of patriotism in the past decade. I think he actually lets the right wing off easy--whenever I've actually been confronted by the kinds of people he describes in the article, I didn't just have my patriotism attacked. They didn't say "you're not a real American" or "you don't love your country as much as I do" or even "you support the terrorists" or some-such.

Instead, they seemed to just assume all that was the case and went straight to "people like you are the biggest threat to the future of the country that has ever existed in its history" and "you should have no right to live in this country." Exactly what line I had crossed to provoke such language was never clear, though any opposition to any aspect of the Patriot Act seemed to be enough (how could an opponent of the "Patriot Act" be anything but "unpatriotic," I guess). Even more strange is exactly where they thought I should go, if I should not be allowed to live in the United States. I seem to have found somewhere, but did they really expect the millions of people that opposed aspects of the Patriot Act or that didn't support the Iraq War to all move to Canada?

Rodgers wrote his column before South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, normally one of the less divisive Republicans, made his comments about repealing the portion of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution which makes children born to illegal immigrants citizens when born on US soil. I actually have mixed feelings about that issue--most of the rest of the world's countries don't grant citizenship in such situations, but then again most of the people actually calling for a change in the 14th amendment are the same people that seemed to think I had no right to live in the country, either. Is there a slippery slope from one to the other? One wouldn't think so, but that's thinking logically. If the people that don't think children of illegal immigrants are legitimate citizens also don't think I'm a legitimate citizen, what's to stop them from finding a way to take away my citizenship? Just because they'd need to deport millions of people doesn't seem to phase them.

Rodgers points out that people can't even agree what constitutes patriotism anymore, but again I don't think he takes that idea far enough. Each side thinks the other is ruining what made the United States great, though only one is explicitly invoking patriotism. Thus, we can't even agree about how to apply Samuel Johnson's famous 1775 quote, from before the United States was even born, that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." (Funny how the left won't invoke "original intent" on that one.)

The sad thing about the right's perversion of patriotism is that they may have made meaningless the very concept that they were trying to monopolize, denying the United States one of its elements of cohesion that served it well for more than 200 years.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Media: Not the CBC's Credit (Again)

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The abrupt departure of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)'s head of English services, Richard Stursberg, on Friday, has opened discussions on his impact on Canada's public broadcaster and what changes his successor may bring. While most of the facts surrounding this event have yet to come out, emotions about Stursberg are flowing freely. Most people seem to view his largest impact on the CBC to be an emphasis on ratings--for better or for worse, ratings for CBC Television and Radio One are clearly up during his tenure (Radio Two, er Radio 2, is a different story with declines in nearly every major market after re-formatting). Most attention will be paid to television, which costs more and was the focus of Stursberg attempt to bring in more revenue through advertising, which required more viewers. However, there is a point to be made about the increase in ratings of CBC Radio One, the news and information network, in recent years.

Much like similar trends in the United States, where public radio stations are at the top or near the top of the ratings in many major markets including Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., CBC is not gaining in the rankings because its programming is getting better. Instead, in my opinion, it is attracting listeners because the commercial alternatives are becoming less enticing.

The trend may be easier to follow in American cities, where the decline in the quality of stations like KIRO (now FM) in Seattle and WBZ in Boston is clear. Two decades ago, I could leave the radio on either of those stations for hours and not become bored. Now, one news cycle (we can argue if that is really 30 minutes or 15 minutes on these stations) is about all I can stand before the repetition of stories and injection of tiresome personality takes its toll. With talk stations generally vapid, that leaves turning to public radio if one does not want music.

Here in Toronto, just spin the dial in the morning. News 680 is okay but like its analogs south of the border is generally only listenable for a half-hour news cycle before it becomes repetitive, AM 640 is generally spewing unlistenable anger about local politics, Radio 1050 is simulcasting television news (never a formula for great radio), and Newstalk 1010 takes on far fewer serious topics than it did just four years ago when I moved here. Furthermore, those information alternatives are on AM--some young people I know have portable radios that do not even have AM capability, just MP3's and FM. On the FM dial, about the only information programming is on CBC Radio One. So, between dial placement and the competition, there's little wonder that Metro Morning on the CBC does well in the ratings with those seeking information, which during morning drive is a sizable portion of the audience.

The story is similar across Canada. In major markets, most often the real commercial competition for CBC Radio One (which is now on FM virtually everywhere) is on AM, and has declined in quality. If anything, CBC Radio One has declined in quality, with more repeat instead of original programming and decreased budgets. However, that decline pales in comparison with the decline in commercial radio, and results in net increased ratings for CBC Radio One.

It would be nice to credit the CBC (or even Stursberg) for the change in radio ratings, but I'm afraid it is not their doing, just like the flow of talent discussed here some months back. It's the decline in commercial radio that has led to increased ratings for CBC Radio One.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Photos: Canada Day 2010

Everyone rose for the singing of the Canadian National Anthem at the re-dedication of the Memorial to Chinese Railway Workers in Toronto, Ontario on 1-July-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Coverage of summer in Toronto, Ontario on my photo site begins with Canada Day. The re-dedication of the Memorial to Chinese Railway Workers opened the day and fireworks over Lions Park in the Weston Neighbourhood ended the day on 1-July-2010. Also included are aerial shots of Toronto and scenes near the Canada Day sites.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Radio Pick: Promised Land

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick turns to summer programming. One of the interesting concepts for summer shows from the CBC this year has been "Promised Land," which tells stories of escapes from other countries ending in immigration to Canada. Some of the stories have been amazing. This week, it seemed like the show might become cliche in its 27-minute broadcast as it followed a Vietnam War deserter from the United States. Instead, it proved just as gripping as the rest of the series, and ended with considerable insight into the two cultures.

Listen to MP3 of Promised Land "Escape from the USA"

Friday, August 6, 2010

Culture: The Humber Inuksuit

Those walking along the Humber River north of the Old Mill have been treated to this impromptu art display in the river, seen 6-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Sometimes the best public art is not commissioned, but is a spontaneous act of an individual or group who sees an opportunity to improve the appearance of something and just goes for it. Some consider this vandalism, but on rare occasions the result is so amazing that a clear consensus emerges that not only is it art, but it should be preserved in its own right.

These inuksuit in the middle of the Humber River seen on 6-August-2010 were the work of local resident Peter Riedel

Such is the case with a group of 39 rock sculptures (a reporter counted; I didn't) in the middle of the Humber River that suddenly appeared earlier this week, just a short walk from my residence. Some resemble native inuksuit, other resemble animals. At first, some people thought they had gone up overnight on Sunday night (as reported in the initial Toronto Star article), and there was all kinds of wild speculation about how many people it would take to erect them and even whether glue had been used. After it appeared in the newspaper, the actual story came out.

This sculpture resembled a seal in the middle of the Humber River north of the Old Mill on 6-August-2010

As reported in the Toronto Star, photographer Peter Riedel actually made the sculptures in about four hours on Sunday afternoon, and he had an audience. He's made rock sculptures before, using them as a chance to document them photographically before they naturally degrade from the elements.

The artist's favourite of this set of work--resembling the egrets common in this stretch of the Humber River--was observed on 6-August-2010

Yet, there seems to be a large number of people that don't want to see this set of sculptures disappear. Rather than being victims of vandals, these sculptures are substantially maintaining their form. When I visited today, five days after their construction, I could find only one that was clearly no longer in intended form. Nature will take its course, but it's not being helped along.

Peter Riedel has given us a fine example of the best of impromptu art.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Culture: Remembering the Goodwill Games

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Twenty years ago today, the Goodwill Games were coming to a close in Seattle, Washington. Living in the Seattle area at the time, I managed to attend only one night of track and field events during the game. Here was my summary in the "Vacationer's Notebook" feature from Tuesday, 24-July-1990:
The Goodwill Games are finally here! After years of planning by Turner Broadcasting and the Seattle Organizing Committee, competition finally began last Friday, though the opening ceremonies were not until Saturday. Some people think the games are the best thing to happen to Seattle since the World's Fair [in 1961] with the entire world looking at the Gateway to the Pacific. Others, like Art Thiel, think the games are scaring off tourists and will attract growth we don't need. I think Art needs to spend some time at the venues...

As a Seattle-area resident, I felt obligated to attend at least one Goodwill Games event. When my mother won tickets to track and field, I was set. Last night, my farther and I took a crowded Metro bus to Husky Stadium. We had excellent seats, just six rows away from the track near the finish line.

For a person used to watching athletic games on television, actually being there was extremely exciting. The biggest stars were just a few feet away, and just the athletes. Ted Turner and Jane Fonda walked by several times.

Of course, the real highlights were the athletes. Jackie Joyner-Kersee put on her usual show of excellence in the pentathlon events, even seeming to take it easy in the 800 meter race. Patty Sue Plummer ran an excellent women's 1500 meters, staying at the back of the pack until the last lap. Little Joe Falcon led the entire men's 3000 meters. Vicki Borshiem looked like a mannequin before high jumping, as the Soviet jumper Telesina dominated the competition but was unable to set any records.

Perhaps most amazing were the men's sprinters. In the 110 meter hurdles, Roger Kingdome was victorious in a photo finish. Carl Lewis--and his ponytail--were defeated in an amazingly quick 100 meters.

One truly cannot experience the Goodwill Games without being there.
A lot can change in twenty years. While the goal of bringing United States and Soviet athletes to each others' soils in the wake of Olympic boycotts was clearly successful, Ted Turner never made any money from the Goodwill Games. He would eventually sell the games to Time Warner Australia, who held a final event in 2001 and then canceled the series. That same year, Jane Fonda and Turner divorced. By 2006, Ted Turner would step down from Time Warner and largely leave the public eye.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Education: The Anne Rice in My Life

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The author Anne Rice has been in the news recently for publicly renouncing her Roman Catholic faith. She used her Facebook page to make the announcement. Some questioned why this was news at all--Rice had previously left the church when she was 18 and only re-avowed the faith ten years ago. Certainly, NPR News has received quite a bit of criticism for its eight-minute interview of Rice on All Things Considered, which aired Monday.

However, Anne Rice has never been an author to me. Anne Rice was the best Reading teacher I ever had, in the sixth grade at Odle Middle School in Bellevue, Washington. The middle school gifted program I was in had self-contained classes, most taught by two gifted specialists, Linda Oman and Anita Bhat. However, there were more classes for the three grade levels than they were contracted to teach and thus outside specialists were brought in for various courses, usually Science and Math, but in this case, Reading.

Mrs. Rice made an impression right from the first day of school. For students already reeling from the structure of middle school compared with free-form elementary school, entering her classroom was an additional shock. Her diction was absolutely perfect, and it would remain that way the entire year. She made it clear that she would not tolerate students being late or any distractions in the classroom. The fact that we would learn that Mrs. Rice was sensitive to sunlight just seemed entirely appropriate for a strict Reading teacher. Yet, rather than feeling threatened by the expectations, I think most of my class viewed it as a chance to prove we were mature enough to handle it.

Fundamentally, this group of gifted students rather liked Reading, so the fact that we had a teacher that was going to push us was actually rather nice. I don't remember most of what we read in that class, but I do remember being questioned about vocabulary and learning more about the origin of words than I had ever encountered before. Through it all, Mrs. Rice wasn't actually that stingy about giving positive reinforcement, but it did have to be earned, and when you heard a comment like "Very good!" you knew that she meant it.

I believe her class was the first time I ever tackled any Shakespeare, and I specifically remember reading "Romeo and Juliet" aloud. We would be assigned the various characters at the beginning of class, and mostly those assigned Romeo and Juliet would be working for their grades on a given day. One day, I was assigned Friar Laurence and managed to go through a fairly long passage (perhaps the beginning of Act II, Scene III), barely taking a breath. At the end of class, someone commented that they hadn't gotten a chance to get a good grade that day. Mrs. Rice just stated back, "I bet our Friar Laurence today thought the same thing at the beginning of class. Sometimes you have to take advantages of the opportunities you do have." Those of us listening learned an important life lesson that day.

While most of even my high school teachers are now retired or teaching elsewhere, I was amazed to find that Mrs. Rice is still at Odle as she has been since 1981, though she now mostly teaches Social Studies. She even has a web site which expresses her philosophy exactly as I remember it, that discipline creates a level of comfort that leads to everything else one should expect from an education.

I bet today's students are still getting that education in her classroom, and furthermore that Anne Rice is still making sure that they're paying attention to it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Media: No Podcast, Forget It

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)'s radio division in the United States, which has gone by a variety of names in recent decades, has had a poor history with the Internet. When the reviled Mel Karmazin, now CEO of Sirius XM, was running CBS radio under the Infinity name, he stated that he would never put a CBS station in the Internet, and indeed none of the famous CBS news or music stations were available on-line.

After Karmazin moved on, all that changed. The big CBS news stations, from KCBS in San Francisco to WINS in New York, started live streams on the Internet, and so did their music stations. A few stations went all-out for podcasting, with WCBS in New York creating a variety of podcast streams, even including the CBS network's Dave Ross commentaries. Over time, a variety of CBS podcasts, from the weekly 60 Minutes and Face the Nation to the four-times-daily Osgood File, made it onto my podcast list.

The signs that trouble was coming started when The Osgood File began to feature advertising. It really didn't bother me that much, since the radio version has a minute and a half of advertising associated with it, and the podcast had only thirty (later forty-five) seconds. If that's what it takes for the podcast to continue, so be it. The information was still free, just like the radio broadcast, and it was easy to listen to at my convenience.

Then, in mid-July, the CBS-owned-and-operated news station in Boston, WBZ-AM, dropped the podcast of its Jon Keller commentaries when it revised its web site. There remained a Jon Keller blog on the web site, but the audio was no longer available as a podcast. One had to visit the web page and click on the link so that an advertisement would show in a special window as the commentary played. I e-mailed to complain and pointed out that Keller's commentary was worthwhile to me if it came as an automatically-downloaded podcast, but if I had to actively go to their web site and click around, I wasn't going to bother. Indeed, I don't know what Keller's cynical mind has contemplating since.

Today, I discovered that they've done the same thing with the network Dave Ross commentaries. The podcast is gone. The commentaries remain on the WCBS-AM web site, but one has to click on them to listen, and an ad comes first. I'm not going to bother--I might think about doing that when I'm home in the evening, but there's no way I'm going to do that while traveling and my time on the Internet is limited.

If CBS is going to stop podcasting, then I'm going to stop listening to CBS programming. There's too much quality programming out there that I can get more easily. The really annoying thing is that they already have a model for incorporating advertising--used for the Osgood File of incorporating the advertising into the podcast--that serves the same purpose of accommodating advertising. They don't need to eliminate their podcasts in order to get advertising revenue. They're making their content harder to access, and I won't be the only one that will ignore it as a result.

Some companies don't get it, and it appears that CBS is in that category again. I've spent my whole life enjoying CBS programming, but it looks like that era may be coming to an end because they're going backwards in their use of the Internet and eliminating podcasts.