Thursday, September 30, 2010

Culture: Shocked! Elitism in US?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Right about a year ago, I cut out an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor by Em Powers Hunter. In it, she described how staying in a "ritzy" hotel in Washington, D.C. with her 13-year old son caused her to question whether the American Dream was dead. The key moment? "After taking photos of the hotel, he noted that all of the people had the same expression: disgust." The disgust was directed at their tourist clothes--"my rumped sweater, Wal-Mart jeans, and $11 tennis shoes."

My first thought was "Duh?" Did it really take her forty years and taking a teen-aged child to an expensive hotel for her to realize that there was elitism in the United States? While I will be the first to propose that the issue is more obvious and pronounced in the northeast region than the rest of the country, even in places like Seattle, Washington, or Austin, Texas, it is not hard to pockets of elitism. Ever tried wearing "tourist" attire to an opera, or an expensive restaurant? Ever tried getting an audience with one's Congressperson at their local office? How about attending a Rotary Club meeting?

I'm mystified at the level of idealism that must be involved in thinking that class doesn't play a part in the United States. I say "class" rather than "money" because while it takes a certain amount of wealth to be able to afford to go to certain restaurants or to be able to throw around $20 bills like pennies at a Rotary Club meeting (I suppose it's $50 bills by now; I haven't attended one in almost twenty years), I've known plenty of financially well-off people that did not behave in an overtly elitist manner--sending their children to public schools, funding public events when corporate sponsors disappeared, volunteering, etc. One might call these people the ethical rich--and for the record, the Rotary Club was full of them. And, on the flip side, I've known people that likely had lower net worths than I did complaining about how they were not given special treatment by government bureaucrats or the police, trying to play an elitist card.

Does that mean, as Hunter questions in the piece, that "the spirit-stirring Lincoln Memorial with the powerful words etched on the walls and Lincoln himself looking down into our eyes [is] a hoax? Were all these monuments just propaganda tools?" Of course not. There has been a certain hypocrisy in supposed United States ideals right from the start, made most obvious by things that have been modified over the years like the end of slavery and granting women the right to vote. That hasn't meant that people and even the country itself wasn't striving toward these ideals.

People in the United States seem to have a major tendency to assume that either something is in its ideal state, or it is irretrievably broken. It's white or black, never gray. If there's a crack in our idealism in the form of elitism, then the idealism must be a farce. Life is rarely that simple. There's plenty of gray. Elitism does exist in the United States. That doesn't mean it isn't striving for ideals of equality, or that it's hopeless for someone wearing "Wal-Mart" attire to became a "great man." Perhaps that person will become great by helping to chip away at the unjustified elitism, and will eventually join the ranks of the ethical rich.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Media: Still Anti-Streeter

TORONTO, ONTARIO - While long-time readers of this blog are probably tired of references to past posts, it is undeniable that I have long railed on this blog against the practice of "streeters," or man-on-the-street interviews, in news programming. Most notably, I heavily criticized CBC Television for the practice about a year ago. Someone asked me if my opinion would change if I actually heard a new idea from a man-on-the-street. I doubt it, but haven't written anything in case that scenario actually took place, since maybe it would.

I still haven't had that happen (whereas new ideas come up fairly regularly on quality talk radio programs), but an interesting "streeter" aired and forced some exploration of the topic anyway. In this Global Toronto piece about taking down portions of the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto, the man-at-a-gas-station forty seconds into the piece just happens to be someone I know. Amongst his lesser-known credentials are successful letters written to the city about traffic flow issues resulting in the city making suggested changes. As an enthusiast of sailing vessels and railways, one might call him a transportation expert.

It made me wonder if, by virtue of the greater emphasis on ideas in Canadian culture, Canadian "streeters" might actually be of greater value than "streeters" in the United States. Whereas the "man-on-the-street" in the United States would be more likely to express emotion, the "man-on-the-street" in Canada might be more likely to actually make an argument of some value. (Of course, the "Jaywalking" phenomenon on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno of finding absolute idiots on the street in California might over-emphasize such a distinction.)

Yet, I think this case pretty much seals it for me that the "streeter" is always a waste of time. In this segment, Global got lucky--they stumbled upon a guy who could probably argue the case for keeping the Gardiner Expressway as well as any traffic engineer, and communicate it in more vernacular terms ideal for the television audience. So what do they choose to air? "Tearing it down is the dumbest thing in the world." Trust me, it's almost guaranteed that he said something more specific than that, even than the next sentence that they aired, though I haven't asked him. They chose the most controversial sentence to air--it's that simple.

It reminds me of a time during a teacher's strike when I was in middle school. One of my teachers, who had traveled to the state capitol for a big protest, talked to a reporter there for about ten minutes about what they hoped to achieve in the strike, what some of the concessions might mean in the classroom, and how they thought the strike could end quickly. What made it to television? "I'm just really discouraged right now." In that case, the actuality wasn't even representative of what she had been saying--it was just what the reporter wanted for his story.

So, I'm back to my standard themes on this topic. "Streeters" are lazy reporting. If reporters want an opinion expressed, they should find an expert that voices such an opinion. Man-on-the-street interviews add nothing to a news broadcast, and they should not appear in a hard news broadcast, even in Canada. Period.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Culture: Don't Use Bright Colors in Canada

TORONTO, ONTARIO - According to Genetic Personality Type theory (which I prefer to call Meridian Personality Theory, but I guess the experts define the language), people from the "thinking" world, one of four basic worlds in theory, do not especially like bright light. Sure enough, most of the "thinking" type people I know keep their lights, even reading lights, pretty dark by my standards at night, and are mostly likely to wear sunglasses for practical (as opposed to cosmetic) reasons.

Canada, as I have argued on this blog before, has a "thinking" type culture, as exemplified by its relative emphasis on ideas and debate relative to its southern neighbor, which has an analogous emphasis on image and emotion. It somewhat surprised me upon moving here, though, to realize that the tendency of thinking types to avoid bright colors also exists in Canadian culture.

One of the first things of this nature that struck me was the packaging for Sun Chips. At the time (2006), in the United States, plain Sun Chips came in glossy, dark blue bags. In Canada, the color was somewhat lighter, and the bags were not at all shiny. Of course, since then Sun Chips packaging has become more subdued than either design on both sides of the border, so there is no longer a difference. At the time, though, I started to wonder: Does bright stuff sell in Canada?

In the United States, there are plenty of brands with bright color schemes incorporating screaming yellows, from McDonald's to Pennzoil to Hertz. While those foreign brands seem to do just fine in Canada, I had trouble finding Canadian brands that used bright yellow. Rona, for example, uses yellow, but it's subdued and almost gold. The only two I saw in the Toronto area were No Frills--which even there is pretty limited, as the yellow mostly colors the banana with no buildings painted all yellow--and Pizza Nova. Within months of that observation, Pizza Nova began a makeover to a green and red image as part of an "up-scaling" initiatives, but I had to wonder if the yellow hadn't been holding them back.

How about "day-glow" colors, such as the orange found on Winston cigarettes or even just the fluorescence added to the pastels of Arizona Iced Tea? Telus tried a neon green for awhile before backing off to a more grassy green and purple. I can't think of a single additional example. While there's plenty of red to match the flag (Canadian Tire, Air Canada and Tim Horton's, for example), it's never a glowing shade and there's nothing overtly bright and in one's face. Most Canadian brands are quite subdued, like the blue and orange of Mark's Work Wearhouse, the almost-pastel orange of Pizza Pizza, or the blue and green of WestJet.

Somehow, marketers must have figured out that they were dealing with a "thinking" world culture where flashy colors weren't going to help them very much.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Transport: Goodbye, AirTran

An AirTran Boeing 717 took off from Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts on 26-September-2006

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Today, Southwest Airlines announced that it would acquire AirTran, a rival low-cost airline with a strong network in the east. The move seemed to be mostly about gaining slots at airports like New York's LaGuardia and Washington's National, and according to the merger website, the resulting airline will be harmonized mostly on Southwest's existing practices, such as a lack of baggage fees and no assigned seating. However, it will also mean Southwest flying an airplane other than a Boeing 737 (AirTran has a sizable Boeing 717 fleet) and flying outside the United States for the first time.

There are several potential ironies in Southwest acquiring AirTran. A decade ago, there was potential confusion between two low cost carriers that conceivably could be known as "ATA"--American Trans Air and AirTran Airways. American Trans Air, which formally re-branded as ATA, went bankrupt in 2008 and its remaining assets were purchased by Southwest; now Southwest is buying the other "ATA." Some may also find a certain irony in Southwest, with arguably the best consumer reputation in the United States, acquiring an airline that had to re-brand itself through merger after a 1996 crash marred its image under the name ValuJet. For those who like aircraft call signs, the merger represents the loss of "Citrus" to the less interesting "Southwest"--and some were still mourning the loss of ValuJet's "Critter" to AirTran's "Citrus."

I have flown AirTran only once, from Boston, Massachusetts to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland for a job interview day trip on 27-January-2004. The day makes for an interesting story, though it has little to do with the airline. The weather was terrible up and down the east coast on that day, and the southbound flight was delayed for ninety minutes because of snow at the destination. Indeed, when the plane landed, the taxiways were covered in compact snow and ice, the first time I could remember that circumstance.

The roads weren't in much better shape as I drove to Rockville, Maryland and proceeded with the interview. On the radio, WTOP was reporting that the Federal government was closing early because of another impending snowstorm. While the interview proceeded uneventfully, I had to borrow an ice scraper to get my rental car in a condition to drive just as the storm moved in and large flakes started falling. I managed to brave the Beltway back to BWI and was relieved to find my return flight still scheduled on time. The initial boarding announcement was made, but then the captain of the flight came out and said that there was no point in loading the plane for two hours since there was no chance of getting de-iced until that time. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that Boston’s airport might be closed by that time as the storm reached New England.

I decided I didn't want to risk being stuck at the airport and called Amtrak. There were seats available on overnight train #66, the Federal. I left the concourse, headed down to the ground transportation area in the airport, took the shuttle bus over to the airport railroad station, and picked up my ticket from the station agent. After about an hour’s wait, I boarded an on-time train and arrived in Boston in the morning, not necessarily having gotten any more sleep, but far more confident that I would actually reach my destination. As it turned out, the flight had left about four hours late, landing in Boston well after public transit had stopped running for the night. I would have faced a taxi ride that would have cost as much as the train ticket.

AirTran left an impression on me mostly for money-saving practices. Rather than getting the traditional airline ticket printed on thick paper stock or even just an e-ticket leading to a boarding pass printed on thick paper stock (the most common scenario in 2004), AirTran had boarding passes printed on the same kind of cheap paper used for grocery receipts--and it worked just fine (the common industry practice has since become to use that kind of paper, but still in the traditional airline ticket shape). Other than the unusual lack of coordination between the boarding staff and pilot that snowy evening, there was really nothing to complain about at all.

Still, with AirTran being acquired by Southwest, the only existing North American airline that I can say has incontrovertibly treated me well on every occasion on 22 flights and counting, it's hard to complain about the merger announced today.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Photos: Five Years of Digital Photography

A tour group on Segway scooters toured the Mill City ruins in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 1-June-2007

TORONTO, ONTARIO - My Shutterfly photo site turned five years old on 25-September-2010. In honor of this milestone, one hundred photographs (with railroad and holiday display scenes excluded) were selected from the collection of over 20,000 on the site for presentation as a retrospective of five years of digital photography.

Margin Notes: Fall, Analogies, Radke and Moe

The first tree I found this year almost completely devoid of green color was on Dundas Street West in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario on 22-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The season has officially turned from summer to autumn, and with it came the first tree full of fall color (er, colour). While technically summer still had a few hours remaining, I was already in fall mode when I noted an almost completely-yellow tree on Dundas Street West in the Junction neighbourhood last Wednesday afternoon.

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A raccoon peered from the side of a 1942-built steam locomotive as it was switched at the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre on 26-September-2010

The start of fall means nightfall comes earlier, which helped facilitate a night photo session at the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre this evening. I'm sure spectacular night photos from the session will be appearing around the Internet from the real photographers on hand; my favorite shot from the night is featured above. We have had evidence and second-hand accounts of raccoons taking up residence in former Canadian National steam locomotive #6213, and first-hand evidence was attained the form of those eyes peering out as the locomotive was switched onto the turntable. Abatement plans are being contemplated.

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The raccoons apparently mistook a locomotive for a home, but would you mistake a telephone for a baby? It doesn't seem so crazy after watching this week's Search Engine videocast from TVO.

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The other analogy that blew me away this week came from Daniel Kehlmann and host Christopher Lydon on the Open Source podcast. They discussed the analogy of the Internet as God--it might seem blasphemous, but if one believes in a passive deity, a lot of the descriptions prove to be the same.

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Combining the last two topics of technology and babies, is anyone else as dumbfounded by the IBM ad running before CBC video programming available on line lately? It shows a baby with its abdomen clearly breathing with the voiceover: "Here is a baby... a baby generating data..." When I see a baby, I can see a lot of things, but data generation is pretty much never on the list.

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Somehow, I doubt even journalists Bill Radke and John Moe, both known for their wit, would ever see the baby that way, either. The two seem to keep following each other around in the media world. I was introduced to both of them at KUOW-Seattle when they were still hosting their own local shows there, Rewind for Radke, The Works for Moe. Radke left for Los Angeles and became host of the nationally-syndicated show Weekend America, but was eventually replaced by Moe, who had moved to the Minnesota headquarters of program producer American Public Media. Radke then signed on to host Marketplace Morning Report, and now, with the re-naming this week of Future Tense as Marketplace Tech Report, both Radke and Moe are anchoring for the same Marketplace "brand" on American Public Media. Just once, I'd like to hear these two guys co-host the same program at the same time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Radio Pick: Value of University Forum

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick comes from CBC Radio One's The Sunday Edition. Public forums bringing together people from across a nation can be quite informative, as was the case of CBC Radio One's forum on university education held in Halifax and broadcast this week. While host Michael Enright brought out the baseline positions of the various guests in the first hour, the really interesting side issues came out in the second hour of the broadcast, making for some interesting radio. I will not soon forget Laura Penny's outburst "All of western civilization is a bubble," for example.

Listen to streaming MP3 of The Sunday Edition "Is A University Education Worth the Cost?"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Economics: Why Isn't It Required Coursework?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I am sometimes amazed by how little the average person in North America seems to know about economics. The educated can debate vigorously about concepts or fine points of monetary policy, stimulus packages, or tax reform, and I don't mind arguing with someone that treats Milton Friedman as more of a deity than I do. What annoys me is when an interlocutor has no concept of the role of taxation, or the difference between socialism and communism, or doesn't understand that he or she might not be counted as unemployed even though they aren't working.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising. Where I grew up in Washington state, no course in economics was required in order to graduate from high school. I did take economics as an elective in high school, and despite being taught by a football coach, it was one of the most practical courses I took in those four years. That was the first time I ever saw a form from the Internal Revenue Service. It was the first time I ever looked at stock tables in a newspaper (try finding those in most papers today!) in order to see how a fake portfolio was doing (boy do I wish I had really held the shares of Union Pacific that I pretended to have then).

Despite having course materials donated by a business association (I regret that I cannot remember which one), it was not all about capitalism. I specifically remember a test question asking about the difference between socialism and communism--something that was not even covered in the college-level Economics 101 course that I took. After a unit on different economic systems, there was extensive coverage of different ways to save money--I probably would not have known about anything except savings accounts had I not taken that class, never mind the rules for contributing to an Individual Retirement Account.

Combine that semester-long high school course of the basics with years of listening to American Public Media's Marketplace, the first public radio show I ever started listening to not long after its debut in 1989, and not much more education is needed to become economically literate. Marketplace provides information on economic issues from a consumer perspective and does a great job of teaching about contemporary policy issues. In contrast, the college-level course I took on economics was so highly theoretical that I'm not sure I've used any of what I learned there outside of arguing about policy.

Economists spend a lot of time lamenting the lack of savings and reliance on credit in the United States and Canada. It seems to me that investing in a little practical education, mandatory economics courses including things like compound interest would make a lot of sense, and I don't understand why it isn't contemplated more often.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Politics: Brilliant Branding

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In the early months of 2010, political pundits really didn't know what to make of the TEA party. While the basic ideas underlying the movement were clear, it wasn't clear how much money would be involved, what kind of candidates they would back, or if they would have any actual electoral impact at all in a country that has had a two-party system for essentially its entire existence. There seemed only two long-term possibilities, (1) having its ideas subsumed by the Republican Party (as suggested on this blog), the only major party that it had anything in common with, or (2) replacing the Republican Party as the second party with the Democrats remaining the other party. There was plenty of precedent for the first (in my lifetime, most prominently both major parties taking deficit reduction seriously in the 1990's because of Ross Perot's Reform Party influence), and some precedent for the second possibility (the Whigs being replaced by the Republicans).

Now, it seems pretty clear what will happen, which could be described as a hybrid of the above possibilities. By mostly running as Republicans, using the Republican Party electoral apparatus, the TEA Party movement has not only changed the effective ideology of the Republican Party at large, but seems to be in the process of replacing it from within. The two party system has won again, and yet another "third party" possibility is no longer independent, but an integral part of one of the two parties. It may take an election cycle or more for the process to be complete, but the merger of the TEA party and the Republican party seems inevitable.

The electoral brilliance of the TEA Party is clear. Severe political damage was done by the George W. Bush administration to two brands: the political name "Bush" (nobody's talking about Jeb Bush running for anything for now), and the Republican Party. As badly as the Democratic Party is generically polling right now as the party in power during poor economic times, the Republican Party is still polling just as badly, little improved from 2008. (In fact, the latest Gallup Poll has them tied at 44% favorability, well under historical ratings.)

By re-branding conservative ideas as "TEA Party" ideas instead of "Republican Party" ideas, the baggage of the Republican brand is side-stepped, and people can get enthusiastic about it. Especially in a culture in which marketing is far more important than substance, even people that might think that "Republican" ideas didn't work can support "TEA Party" ideas, even when they are economically indistinguishable.

I would go so far as to say that the Republicans ought to seriously consider re-naming themselves formally, though it's too late to do so for the November elections. Even if in the future they ultimately tack back to the political center (which seems inevitable in the long-term), having a fresh brand will imply fresh ideas even when their ideas could otherwise be described as less than fresh. Furthermore, they could also set up a re-launch of the "classic Republican" brand at some point in the future, when they might need to distance themselves from the current era.

Somehow, I suspect the minds behind the right-wing are way ahead of me, just like they were on the TEA Party.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Culture: On Privacy, McNealy was Right...

TORONTO, ONTARIO - If you lived in Boston in the past decade--or just did any non-technical reading about technology--you likely have run into articles by Simson Garfinkel. Between MIT's "Technology Review" magazine and the Boston Globe, it seems like I read something by Garfinkel just about every time I turned around after the turn of the century. There's a reason why Garfinkel was published so often--he understands how changes in technology affect the consumer experience, and he can write well for an educated but non-technical audience. I've found myself following much of his advice over the years, whether it be converting old documents to .PDF files for archiving or not relying on the resources of Internet Service Providers which might soon go out of business.

Before the whole world seemingly started freaking out about Facebook's privacy policies, Garfinkel wrote an article on privacy for Technology Review, which appeared in the July/August 2009 issue (and isn't available on-line for free). The key point of his article--implied right in the title--was that it is no longer possible to avoid security concerns on the Internet. Whereas it was once possible to "abstain" from participating in the use of the Internet in order to maintain one's privacy at least to some degree, that is no longer possible. Garfinkel cites security cameras, reports on large transactions being sent to the government, and most importantly, commercial networked systems storing customer data even if they pay their bills in person with cash as examples of why an effort to remain immune is futile.

When Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems made his famous 1999 statement that "You have zero privacy anyway--get over it," he was thought to be speaking about specific privacy features in financial products. Had people made the same case in 1999 that Garfinkel made ten years later, it would have been clear that McNealy was right in the sense of not being able to abstain, and it was time to shift the debate. Ultimately, this is why I consider all the discussion about Facebook to be a distraction--while a slightly different issue, ultimately the battle shouldn't be about individual mechanisms, it should be about broader policies.

Garfinkel said it better than I've ever seen it in the article:
It turns out that we essentially have the technology to solve [the privacy protection] problem in the digital world as well. Yet the solutions that have been developed aren't politically tenable--not only because of perceived costs but also, ironically, because of perceived privacy concerns.
Ultimately, as Garfinkel points out, privacy protection on-line is about trust, much like financial services are in large part about trust. There's a reason people talk about Facebook and not Google right now even though arguably they have similar information on end users--Google has largely earned society's trust, while Facebook has not. Yet, Garfinkel points out that the solution here likely takes the form of a "strong electronic identity system that's free to use and backed by the governments of the world--a true passport for online access." The force of government action would protect against misuse, much like government insurance keeps the financial system stable.

Obviously, the idea of government involvement will kill any serious pursuit of a strong, worldwide identification system because the United States political climate will never stand for it, and doing anything on the Internet without the United States would be futile. So, in the end we'll keep talking about Facebook, and not about trying to do anything substantive to actually protect personal information on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Media: Is There A Difference?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - A casual viewer of CBC Television's "The National" late last week would have been left with the impression that Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" is a serious conservative show (the program appears on The Comedy Network in Canada). In talking about the announcement by "The Daily Show"'s Jon Stewart of a "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington D.C. on October 30th, the report claimed that Stephen Colbert's "March to Keep Fear Alive" was a conservative response to Stewart.

Admittedly, Colbert has created some degree of confusion ever since his show debuted in 2005. Based on the popularity of "The Daily Show" and its satire of a news program, "The Colbert Report" has been a parody of conservative political pundit talk shows in general, and "The O'Reilly Factor" in particular. While most of the humor is so over-the-top that it would be difficult to mistake for a serious show (I mean, who would ever hold a "March to Keep Fear Alive"?), some of it is subtle enough that some conservatives have been known to say they agree with Colbert's character.

Meanwhile, on KUOW's The Conversation with Ross Reynolds last Thursday, Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead stated that she had talked to a pair of Canadians who thought that "The Glenn Beck Program" on FOX News was a great parody show. Clearly, there is a sizable portion of the United States citizenry--at least 87,000 of whom (if not 300,000) attended Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally last 28-August--that take him seriously. The Canadians found the show "hilarious parody."

Yet, Winstead's observation raises an interesting question--is there really a difference between Glenn Beck and Stephen Colbert, other than the network on which they are broadcast? Beck has been an entertainer his entire life. For a long time, he advertised his syndicated radio show as "infotainment." While I have no reason to question Beck's sincerity, do we really know what is real in his presentation and what is acting, just like seen on the Comedy Channel? Would an observer from a culture outside North America be able to tell the difference between Beck and Colbert if they were just shown the two shows? If Glenn Beck were on Comedy Central with a laugh track and Stephen Colbert were on FOX News without a studio audience, would we notice?

Granted, context is important in all media, but when a foreigner has trouble telling a parody show from a show hosted by a person regarded by some as the effective leader of a political party, that doesn't reflect well on anyone referred to in this sentence.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Culture: Mental Health Stigma-Free Zone

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This month, my local Member of Parliament, Gerard Kennedy, began a campaign that was suggested by his constituent committees to raise mental health awareness. He wants to make the Parkdale-High Park riding Canada's first "Mental Health Stigma-Free Zone." Kennedy's impression based on public events thus far is that the initiative, dubbed "Change Your Mind," seems to be resonating based on people signing the associated pledge.

It does resonate with me. I was once involved in a professional situation in which a colleague turned out to be suffering from a mental health problem. It never even crossed my mind at the time that mental health might be the root cause for some very strange behavior. Instead, I was part of a management team that re-assigned the individual based on an apparent lack of judgment. Only months later, after the person resigned, did we find out from their spouse that they were undergoing treatment for depression. It's clear that had we referred the employee to a mental health professional, those talents probably would not have been lost from the company.

Further, because the company was hanging on for survival on such a thin thread, we never followed up by getting training in spotting such a situation. To this day, I don't know if I would spot the same thing if the symptoms were somewhat different, nor would I know the correct way to approach someone to convince them to get help. This is training that I would like to receive.

As for Kennedy's campaign, it calls for people to affirm that:
  • Mental illness is a health condition like any other
  • Negative attitudes about mental illness contribute to the problem
  • People living with mental illness should be treated fairly and respected--whether at work, in housing, in relationships, or elsewhere
  • I will personally promote respect and practice acceptance towards individuals who may have mental illness
  • Canadians living with mental illness must receive equally-funded health care services
It then asks then to pledge to one or more of the following:
  1. Tell at least three friends that I support promoting respect and practicing acceptance towards individuals living with mental illness and addictions
  2. Reach out to affected individuals and families I know and ask how I can support them
  3. Get my work/volunteer group involved in this initiative
  4. Promote respect in my workplace/school to support affected customers/co-workers/classmates
  5. Promote equitable funding for mental health services
  6. Support a project to improve housing and/or work for people living with mental illness
It will be interesting to see how the "Change Your Mind" initiative progresses.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Photos: Heritage Toronto Walks, August 2010

The Heritage Toronto "Faces on Places" walk gathered in front of the Household Science Building at Ryerson University on 22-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site features a variety of Heritage Toronto walks were held in the central area of Toronto in August 2010. Included are "William Lyon Mackenzie's Toronto" on 14-August, "The Royal Alexandra Theatre and its Neighbourhood" on 21-August, and "Faces on Places" on 22-August. Also included are other sights and events in downtown Toronto.

Margin Notes: Arts, Argonotes, Polls, Isom

A pair of artists carried their works toward their booths at the Queen West Art Crawl inside Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto, Ontario on 19-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The last weekend of summer led to quite a few events along my routine walk downtown this morning. I passed through the Ukrainian Festival before it woke up for the day, through the heart of the Queen West Art Crawl (shown above) as set up was going on, and past the rush lines for the Toronto International Film Festival--quite an eventful walk.

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Argonotes performed on the rotating turntable of the John Street Roundhouse in Toronto, Ontario, before crossing the street to the Toronto Argonauts game on 19-September-2010

I was heading downtown to the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre, where there's no telling who will visit the exhibits on any given day. Today, the highlight was a visit from Argnotes, the band of the Toronto Argonauts, who decided to take a spin on the centre's 1929-era turntable before heading in to the Rogers Centre for the game.

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I missed the end of the Ukrainian Festival today (well, technically it's still going on a few blocks from here), but I have one more note to offer from yesterday. Of all the local politicians, the unseated Peggy Nash seemed to get louder applause than even current Member of Parliament Gerard Kennedy, and I wasn't standing anywhere near the people dressed in orange. This is a phenomenon I've noted before, but it didn't translate into votes in the last election.

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No Federal election has been called in Canada, but there's a mayoral race in Toronto and quite a lot of controversy about the Long Gun Registry. Probably as a result, I have been asked to participate in three Internet political polls in the last week, which has to be a record in my experience. I haven't seen the results released from any of them yet.

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I wasn't polled about Islam, yet I think the quote of the week has to go to activist Jacob Isom. After grabbing the liquid-soaked Qur'an off a barbecue in Texas where a radical Christian preacher was going to burn it, he reportedly told the preacher: "Dude, you have no Qur'an!"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Radio Pick: Kelly McBride on Spark

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick comes from the new season of CBC Radio One programming. One of the more pernicious aspects of the "Ground Zero Mosque" is how that term will never be removed from the story because of Search Engine Optimization. Kelly McBride did the best job I've heard yet of describing how those with an agenda can define the language of the debate through search engines in the opening interview with Nora Young on the 54-minute season premiere of Spark.

Listen to MP3 of Spark "Kelly McBride"

Culture: Ukrainian Festival

The Ukrainian and Canadian flags preceded the Baturyn Concert Marching Band near the beginning of the Ukrainian Festival Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 18-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I haven't partaken in a lot of community festivals this summer. Part of the fun of the festivals is lost when you can't afford to sample the cuisine, so I've been doing other things. However, with the end of summer just days away, I decided that I had to attend the festival in my own neighbourhood, the Ukrainian Festival that has taken over Bloor Street between Jane and Runnymede.

Children from the Desna Ukrainian Dance Company wore traditional costumes as they rode in the Ukrainian Festival Parade on 18-September-2010

My favorite portion of the festival is the parade. While light blue and yellow dominates the event with more Ukrainian culture than I see the entire rest of the year, the businesses from the Bloor West Business Improvement Area actively participate, and there is always a multi-cultural partner to the festival. This year, it was the Polish community, whose own festival had to be canceled for 2010 because of street construction on its traditional location on Roncesvalles.

Federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton walked in the Ukrainian Festival Parade on 18-September-2010

Of course, parades and festivals mean politicians, and they literally filled the stage after the parade. Amongst mayoral candidates, the diminutive Joe Pantalone walked the route and there was a significant Rocco Rossi contingent--front-runner Rob Ford's supporters were nowhere to be seen. Former Prime Minister John Turner was hosted by local City Councillor Bill Saundercook, and Member of Provincial Parliament Cheri DiNovo and Member of Parliament Gerard Kennedy wore flamboyant Ukrainian attire. The highlight in my opinion, though, was seeing Federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton looking healthy as he walked in the parade with candidate-designate Peggy Nash and then spoke to the audience at the beginning of the festival. Jack is indeed back!

Celebrity chef Ken Kostick, acting as Grand Marshall, opened the Ukrainian Festival by cutting a red ribbon in Toronto, Ontario on 18-September-2010

The Grand Marshall, though, was not a politician. Celebrity chef Ken Kostick was selected to emphasize a new focus on cuisine during the festival. Kostick happens to be from Winnipeg, the historical centre for Ukrainians in Canada. However, as even the Consul General put it, "Toronto today looks more Ukrainian than most Ukrainian cities." [I wonder how many in the audience processed the politics of that statement, a poke at Russians living in the Ukraine.] Or, as Gerard Kennedy put it, "Today, we are all Ukrainians."

A busker handed a recently-completed balloon to a child during the Ukrainian Festival in Toronto, Ontario on 18-September-2010

The Ukrainian Festival continues for one more day, Sunday 19-September-2010, in Bloor West Village on Bloor Street between Jane and Runnymede.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Media: Still Need the Editors

TORONTO, ONTARIO - One might think that I, of all people, would understand the value of an editor in the modern media environment. During my undergraduate years, every week during the academic year (and for some periods, every week of the year), I compiled a 500-750 word summary of the week's news called "News Beyond the Farm." Besides being widely distributed by e-mail on campus at Stanford University, whose students were its original intended audience, "News Beyond the Farm" was also published in the student newspaper of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Newspeak. If this web page is to be believed, it was the most popular column in that paper in early 1996. While the official web page of the publication disappeared with the cancellation of my "leland" account at Stanford, a number of issues live on in the WPI archives; it looks like the last one they published, about four months before publication stopped entirely, is still posted here.

"News Beyond the Farm" wasn't popular because students lacked information. Most newspapers had all their important content on-line by time I ceased publication, but I was still getting new subscription requests. The value of the publication was in the compact format appropriate to the student lifestyle, and in the trust of the editor. The vast majority of the readers didn't know me personally, but they knew I was a student just like them whose filters were likely compatible with their own. The editorial choices that I was making were the key to the popularity.

A recent interview on the TVO podcast Search Engine with New York University professor Jay Rosen had me thinking back to "News Beyond the Farm." Rosen has been one of the thought leaders in interpreting Wikileaks. He's pointed out that Wikileaks had to provide its massive dump of United States war documents to a handful of news organizations first before full release because otherwise, with all that free information available to all, the "supply" of information would be so large compared with the demand that it would likely be ignored. Wikileaks needed the editors of reputable news organizations to make its information valuable in the information marketplace.

As time goes on, the Internet is making almost all information, now even state secrets, available to all. However, the world has long since passed the stage in which any given individual could process the information that becomes available. While search engines, RSS feeds, and other technology aids make it more tractable, there is still a need for people who know how to best utilize those tools to find the information that people will actually find interesting. In most cases, it's still multiple layers of people, in fact. A subject matter expert may use informatics tools to process the information on the Iraq war, and then a journalist may extract what the general public is likely to find interesting in what the expert has found, and then a meta-journalist (or, as I called myself fifteen years ago, a compiler) may put it in a form that someone will actually read and trust.

The two ends of that equation may be radically changing. A "stateless media" like Wikileaks didn't exist in 1997 to provide massive amounts of documents, and nobody was reading News Beyond the Farm on an iPad in 1997. However, what goes on in between is largely the same, and where the value in the information is ultimately created. The business models need to evolve--and it is still hard to see how that happens--but in the end, it doesn't seem possible to change that reality of value creation. Thus, it's possible to see how journalism has the economic basis to continue to exist. The Internet can't destroy it after all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Politics: Changing Files

Member of Parliament Gerard Kennedy spoke at a local community meeting at St. Pius X Catholic School in Toronto, Ontario on 16-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - While I'm far from a political junkie (I almost never figure out the mystery voice on The House and I don't watch Power and Politics), I do pay reasonable attention to Federal politics in Canada, or so I thought. Then, I went to a meeting held by my local Member of Parliament (MP) tonight and found out that his portfolio had changed.

For the bulk of the last two years since his election, Parkdale-High Park MP Gerard Kennedy has been the Official Opposition Critic for Infrastructure, Cities and Communities. In other words, he was the member of the "shadow cabinet" within the Liberal Party charged with holding the Minister of Infrastructure, Cities and Communities from the ruling Conservative Party accountable. Indeed, Kennedy has been rather visible in this role, frequently appearing in the media to criticize the government's management of stimulus funds, for example.

Not anymore. As of last Tuesday (7-September), Kennedy is now the Official Opposition Critic for the Environment. With all the talent and experience in the Liberal Party on the environment, this might seem an odd pick. However, Kennedy did earn a lot of acclaim for the "Carbon Challenge" he organized in the riding when he was still a candidate, and the riding seemed to respond to the Liberal "Green Shift" policy by electing him, about the only riding in the whole country to so readily embrace that environmental policy.

A pointed question came from the audience tonight about how Stéphane Dion, architect of the "Green Shift" and then-party leader, felt about Kennedy getting the environment portfolio. After mentioning that Dion had already called him, Kennedy pointed out "Those who remember Liberal Party history may recall that I had something to do with Mr. Dion becoming party leader." That ended the discussion. [Kennedy endorsed Dion when he dropped out of the leadership race in 2006, giving Dion momentum that eventually led to his becoming leader.]

Another audience member asked how the transition between portfolios works in the shadow government. Kennedy stated that it tends to be much more flexible than in the government, as there is information to be transferred (instead of bureaucratic briefings to attend). He expects to provide assistance to new Infrastructure Critic John McCallum on several initiatives, which as he pointed out still have overlap with his new portfolio.

"The way I view it, the environment isn't really a ministry," Kennedy said, "It's a philosophy that should underlie your whole government." He told his constituents that they should expect to see the influence of sustainability across the policies of the Opposition, as that was now part of his job.

That is, it is his job until Michael Ignatieff appoints him to some other post while I'm not paying attention.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Culture: It Isn't Green Unless You See Green

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When I went through my audio commentaries from twenty years ago to pick out essays that would seem significant this year, I ran across some that had no news value, but were simply amusing enough to be shared with everyone on the Internet. Take this one, my "Highlight" report from Sunday, 12-August-1990:
It isn't green unless you see green. That sounds like a wonderful piece of philosophy that could guide one through a lifetime. It isn't green unless you see green. This axiom etolls the virtue of comparison--don't make a judgment without thinking about similar judgments in the past. It isn't green unless you see green. The advice could save people from passing judgment too early on various important matters. Decisions of what is brilliant, revolutionary, evolutionary, beautiful, useful, ridiculous, or interesting could all be made correctly by being compared with other things of these descriptions. It isn't green unless you see green. New works of art or science might be recognized as significant if compared with significant works of the past. It isn't green unless you see green. It sounds like a maxim developed by a great philosopher...

It might sound like a great piece of philosophy, but "it isn't green unless you see green" was not written or orated by a great intellectual. My aunt Meri, not known for being a philosopher, was showing everyone a new accessory in her bathroom. Due to the lighting in the room, the dispenser really did not look green. In fact, it almost appeared to be blue. However, when she placed a lush green towel next to the device, sure enough, it looked green.

Though I was nearby, I paid little attention to this demonstration until the statement which you've already heard too many times in this report was uttered. By the time she had enunciated the sentence correctly and I understood, she had said "It isn't green unless you see green" as many times as I have in this report.

Now, before you go off and criticize this report as being too boring and repetitive, compare it with something that was really boring and repetitive. After all, it isn't green unless you see green.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heritage: Old Town Toronto

Heritage Toronto Program Chair and Walk Leader Marta O'Brien spoke in front of the 1827 Bank of Upper Canada, the oldest bank building in Canada, in Toronto, Ontario on 12-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On occasion, a visitor to Roundhouse Park will ask for directions to "Old Town." It's usually not clear where they want to be. While the location of the original, 1793 10-block Town of York is somewhat well-known, there actually aren't that many sights there. Heritage Toronto, of course, has put together a tour of many of Toronto's oldest buildings, starting within the limits of the original Town of York and working southwest, and the "Old Town" walk took place on Sunday.

Toronto's first Post Office, opened in 1834, became a working Post Office again in 1984 but was closed on a Sunday, 12-September-2010

This walk was interesting in term of content; I was surprised about how little I knew about the building that survived the Great Fire of 1849 in this part of town. However, what really set it apart were the logistics of the walk. From establishing the meeting place at the fountain in St. James Park since it had places to sit to having the walk leader across the street, with the speaker standing on the same sidewalk as the group, this walk was well thought-out. For the most part, walk leader Marta O'Brien could keep talking except during the highest periods of traffic on the street, and we had a much better view of the buildings being discussed from afar.

The Daniel Brooke Building, at King and Jarvis, had been completed in 1850 and featured small signs indicating its historical occupants on 12-September-2010

The walk was largely contained within the onetime St. Lawrence and St. James Wards of Toronto. I had not known that Toronto had been divided into seven wards in 1861, mostly named after major immigrant groups--St. George for the English, St. Andrew for the Scottish, St. David for the Welsh, St. Patrick for the Irish, St. John for French Canada, St. James for the Native population, and St. Lawrence for English Canada. St. Lawrence being the patron saint of English Canada was a new tidbit for me.

The Heritage Toronto "Old Town" walk paused in the courtyard of the Market Square Condos, a 1982 building designed to evoke a warehouse, on 12-September-2010

The walk did not strictly focus on old buildings. There were several good examples of new construction blending in to an historic neighbourhood to be seen, including condominium lowers with lower levels matching the buildings around them, the incorporation of the facades of previous buildings, and even the Market Square Condos which were designed to evoke resonance with the warehouses around it.

Warehouse buildings along Front Street East dated from the 1870's, including the Dixon Building in the distance with the only surviving cast iron façade in Toronto on 12-September-2010

The next time someone asks for directions to "Old Town" in Toronto, thanks to the Heritage Toronto walk, I will know where to send them.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Politics: Messaging and Class Warfare

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I have to admit that the "class warfare" accusation that Republicans make against Democrats has never made a whole lot of sense to me. While I can understand the "anti-business" argument Republicans make about taxation even when I disagree with it (and I don't always disagree), the idea that Democrats are trying to foment "warfare" between economic classes by implementing progressive taxation which puts a higher taxation rate on incomes over a certain level strikes me as very bizarre. As someone who has been in a wide variety of marginal tax rate "brackets" in recent years, it just seems intuitive to me that higher-income people can afford to pay a greater amount of their last dollar than lower-income people. I didn't feel like anyone had declared war on me when I paid a marginal rate of 33% on my last dollar of income.

Much of the problem seems to be that people don't understand progressive income taxes. When the tax rate on the first $1 of income is changed, that affects all taxpayers (with income, anyway, but that deserves a separate discussion), not just low-income taxpayers. On that first $1, everyone, regardless of total income, pays the same amount--currently ten cents in the United States. For single people, that rate goes up to an income level of $8,375. Everyone pays $837.50 on that income, even millionaires. It's only income above $8,375 that is taxed at progressive higher rates. For single people earning more than $373,651, the rate on their additional income is 35%. However, they don't pay 35% of the first $373,651 (which would be $130,778), they pay $108,420.24 by my calculation using 2010 rates, a 29% overall rate. If taxes on the income in the lowest bracket go down by $100, EVERYONE with at least that much income has their taxes go down by $100, the "rich" included.

So, when Republicans talk about "maintaining the tax cuts for people with incomes under $250,000," what they really mean is "maintaining the tax cuts for income under $250,000" (and it is not a coincidence that most Democrats will use the latter wording). Technically, those using the first wording are wrong. Maintaining the tax cuts for income under $250,000 means maintaining tax cuts for everybody--including those with incomes higher than that amount.

I don't understand why Democrats don't try to use this language more often. President Obama, for example, wants to maintain the tax cuts implemented in the Bush administration for the low income tax brackets, but not on the higher income tax brackets. That means he's in favor of keeping taxes lower for EVERYBODY. What he is in favor of is restoring previous tax rates on higher brackets--those indeed would affect only the "rich", though not just the "millionaires and billionaires" he cited in a recent speech. The rhetoric of neither side is especially reflective of the reality of the proposals on the table, but it's especially strange in the case of Democrats, who under the accusation of "class warfare" don't defend their proposals by pointing out that they do mean lower taxes for EVERYONE. Where is that campaign rhetoric about "one America"? (Oh, that's right, nobody is actually interested in that.)

Considering the fact that people in the United States don't seem to want to understand the basics of a tax system they've had in more-or-less the same conceptual form since 1939, I'm not very optimistic that an energy tax will be understood, especially if it turns out to be cap-and-trade--and that means that there is little hope of it ever being accepted, even if it is somehow passed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Photos: Canadian International Air Show

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds were in the "Goose" formation during the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto, Ontario on 5-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site features the Canadian International Air Show. The weather was not ideal but after a one-day cancellation the performance was on for 5-6-September-2010, featuring such acts as solo Corsair, F-16, CF-18 and transport planes, a naval demonstration, stunt pilots Rob Holland and Mike Wiskus, and old stand-bys like the Canadian Harvard Acrobatic Team and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

Margin Notes: Politeness, Signs, Conversation

Do Canadian children really need a book on how to be more polite, as found at a Queen Street West bookstore in Toronto, Ontario on 6-September-2010?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Canadians, at least by American standards, are almost obscenely polite. I thought that it was a joke that they apologized to their furniture after bumping in to them, but then I observed it, and I've even done it myself. So, when I saw the above book in the window of the above book store as I watched the Labour Day Parade, my only thought was "Are you kidding?"

* * * * * *

I don't know what was going on Labour Day morning, but as I walked downtown to the parade I ran into some unproductive canine behavior. A small bulldog was noted trying to pick a fight with a Great Dane at High Park, which looked especially ridiculous as the Great Dane tried to ignore the other dog, and along Dundas Street West a man looked perplexed as he walked two large dogs that suddenly decided to fight each other on the sidewalk. They were still barking and going at it when I went out of earshot.

* * * * * *

A sign guiding bicyclists on an "indirect left turn" was noted at Dundas and Dupont in Toronto, Ontario on 30-August-2010

Farther northwest on Dundas Street West, I ran into the above sign guiding bicyclists that wished to cross Dundas from Dupont to Annette. The whole concept of an "indirect left turn" is rather fascinating--if what they suggest (staying to the right, and then joining cross traffic on another street) is "indirect," then what is the concept of going an extra block and making three right turns?

* * * * * *

That topic might seem a bit obscure, but I bet Ross Reynolds could guide a good conversation about it. The Conversation, a call-in show hosted by Reynolds on KUOW in Seattle, Washington, turned ten years old this week, and is still going strong as a noontime show. My congratulations to the Conversation team for creating ten years of excellent radio!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Radio Pick: Homegrown Terrorism

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick comes from the only national call-in show in Canada, the CBC's "Cross Country Checkup". It's been difficult to find insightful programming on the New York Muslim community center story, especially from the Islamic perspective. A stand-out example finally emerged thanks to guest Sayyid Amiruddin on last Sunday's Cross Country Checkup. Amiruddin not only clearly articulated the difference between radicalized groups and the generic religion of Islam, but offered concrete strategies to prevent additional people from becoming radicalized. His call, 71 minutes into the 113-minute program, should be widely distributed as background to any serious discussion of this red-hot topic.

Click on the "Play" button at this link to listen to streaming audio of Cross Country Checkup "Homegrown Terrorism"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Politics: No Chance for One Nation

TORONTO, ONTARIO - One of the most significant arguments used by supporters of candidate Barack Obama as he ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 against Hillary Clinton was his embodiment of the modern United States. Rather than nominating someone from the political elite (a former first lady, even if she would have been the first female president), the Democratic party could nominate someone who had risen from community organizing to become a senator and who, simply by being born as the child of a white mother and African father, was symbolic of the multi-racial reality of the nation. By emphasizing "one America" rhetoric in his speeches, Obama reinforced this aspect of his being and created hope that he could bring to an end what had been the most divisive and partisan era in the nation's modern history.

So much for that. Those that feared heightened fierce partisanship if Hillary Clinton were elected President have watched as the election of the greatest potential healer in the nation's history has instead led to unprecedented levels of division. Rather than ending the great partisan divide of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush years, Obama has presided over new heights of partisanship. It is hard to imagine that it could have been any worse had Hillary Clinton been elected.

However, just as Hillary Clinton remains as a possible future Democratic candidate for president today, Obama would have remained had Clinton won the nomination. The partisanship that exists today would have been viewed as a result of her victory and the history of the Bill Clinton administration, and it would appear that the healing Barack Obama could still transcend the poison in the future and usher in a new era.

Instead, we know no one leader will ever accomplish what some hoped Obama would help do. George W. Bush came in talking about being a "uniter, not a divider" and that didn't happen. Barack Obama wanted there to be "no red America and no blue America" and instead the red have gotten redder and the blue have gotten bluer. Leaders cannot go where the people they are leading do not want to go.

There is no incentive for either political party to compromise--and while the system may be distorted and manipulated to exaggerate and reinforce those incentives, in the end it comes down to a fundamental reality: The people don't want the nation to heal. Until that changes, the United States will not be one nation. It will continue to be divided, and the hyper-partisanship will continue. Don't look for an super-Obama--it has to come from below, and I don't even hear a remote scent of such a movement.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Media: No Double Teaming, KIRO-FM

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I've avoided comment on changes that started last week at KIRO-FM in Seattle, Washington. However, after listening (via podcast) to the new "co-hosting" arrangement on the Dave Ross show for more than a week with two different co-hosts, I'm finished. The Dave Ross Show, and by extension KIRO-FM, is no longer part of my regular radio listening experience.

I had made KIRO-FM's Dave Ross Show a part of my regular listening habits for most of my present period of unemployment for several reasons. While Ross has a largely left-of-center viewpoint, and expresses it in the opening features (such as the "News Through Ross-Colored Glasses") of the show quite freely, he runs a fundamentally ideas-driven show. He interviews people from across the political spectrum and asks them probing questions. His constant refrain is "trying to figure out what actually works" regardless of who suggests it, and his tagline for years was "crusader for common sense." With the exception of much of the lineup of KGO in San Francisco, such talk shows are rare in the world today--even the other shows on the KIRO-FM lineup either come from an uncompromising right-wing perspective or are not ideas-based.

Such an intellectually-based show could be boring (local public radio shows across the United States offer examples), but Ross injects humor, from lines bordering on stand-up comedy to prepared musical parodies, that makes the news fundamentally entertaining. One not only learns what arguments might make sense (mostly from Ross' left-leaning perspective, but also from guests of all stripes), but one can actually look forward to being amused. On an average day, I have felt like it was worth my time to listen to his show, relative to other options available such as Rush Limbaugh, Ronn Owens, or Jim Richards on our local newstalk station here in Toronto.

That era is over. KIRO management has apparently decided that Ross needs to have a talkative co-host, emulating the competing KOMO radio show "The Commentators" or perhaps more accurately, the afternoon Ron and Don show on KIRO-FM. For four days last week, Ross was joined by Luke Burbank, best known for his lifestyle podcast, TBTL. While Burbank can be witty when discussing deeper subjects and his previously-weekly banter with Ross was often fun, three hours of it a day was terrible. There was no longer time to take calls on most days, which eliminated the ideas-from-the-masses aspect of talk radio--it's hard to imagine a Dave Ross show without his trademark "APB" for callers of an unusual background--who often do call in and offer valuable insight. Instead, we had considerably less intellectually-inclined discourse, the epitome of which was Burbank asking former United Nations ambassador John Bolton about his mustache.

With Burbank away on other duty this week, Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur has been co-hosting with Ross. While one could understand that perhaps Burbank was intended to bring in a younger audience that listens to TBTL, it's hard to see what demographic Brodeur invites. With an even more liberal perspective than Ross, she certainly doesn't add political diversity to the show. She may have a future in talk radio--I think it would be interesting to hear her on a solo show--but I just don't see what she is adding more than distraction to Ross' show.

I suppose analysis of transcripts would reveal that Ross' opinions and argumentation are still making it to the air, but the co-hosts are so distracting that I feel like I have to listen more closely to dissect it from the inanities of the co-host, and I'm simply not willing to do that. I don't feel like I'm getting what I used to get from the show, so I'm not planning to listen anymore.

Of course, my preference would be for a return to the solo Ross show, but if a co-host is required, why not a right-wing ideas person--say, Kirby Wilbur--sitting with Ross? For all its billing, the supposed debate between John Carlson and Ken Schram on KOMO is not all that heated. KIRO-FM has the potential to out-Commentate the Commentators, but it won't happen with the Dave Ross co-hosts tried thus far.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blog: The Two-Year Mark

TORONTO, ONTARIO - According to the calendar, today marks the two-year anniversary of this blog. In the Internet era, that's not saying much--the earliest blogs started almost a decade before this one, and any blog that is regularly updated for more than about three months tends to last for years.

Along more than 850 posts so far, this blog has clearly changed in focus. Originally intended to try to point out some aspects not receiving much attention in the political races in Canada and the United States in the fall of 2008, political posts are quite rare now. That's mostly because the tone of this blog was intended to be largely non-partisan (though I doubt any regular reader had any doubts who I would vote for long before the elections arrived). Nobody wants to hear that. Reasoned analysis is not considered to be of value, only partisan point-making. There's no interest in centrism.

The bulk of the posts now are of the glorified diary variety. Photo blogs of events that I've attended or places that I have visited dominate other attempts at commentary on the state of the world. Still, a perusal of any given week of posts shows a variety of topics, often including media, heritage, transportation and societal trends.

Because successful blogs stick to a single topic that has a target audience that returns regularly, this blog was not expected to be wildly successful, as I had no interest in a single-topic blog. Still, I expected that more comments would be posted to the blog to argue with points raised. Those have been few and far between. Frankly, there's been more deleted spam than challenging comments.

Near as I can tell, the bulk of the regular audience are friends and family checking in on what I have been doing. As a result it seems like the future of this blog might well be limited to the diary-type entries to save time in e-mail and phone communications with friends and family.

Certainly, the idea that this blog might directly or indirectly lead to employment has proven to be a pipe dream. I've been explicitly told that I have no blogging skills by two potential blogs I expressed interest in contributing to, and I can't say I've met anyone as a result of this blog, much less a potential employer.

I rather like the idea of reaching one thousand posts, though, so shortly of having nothing of consequence on my mind, the near-daily posts will likely continue in the present format until that milestone is reached.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Culture: Attractiveness to Migrants

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Somehow, I missed a Gallup poll released back in April on international immigration patterns. I don't recall attention to it in the Canadian media either, which is rather remarkable considering the fact that it reveals trends favorable to Canada as compared with its rival for attracting quality immigrants, the United States.

The United States and Canada are clearly the most attractive nations in the world to immigrants, if the Gallup poll is to be believed. 165 million people would like to move to the United States, while 45 million people would like to move to Canada (which, I would point out, is more people than live here presently). The fact that more people would like to move to the United States is not the most interesting part of the poll. Only the younger and less educated potential immigrants prefer the US--the older (25 and up) and more educated (high school and higher) prefer Canada.

At some level, this seems somewhat counter-intuitive. When North Americans think about the differences between the two countries, they consider Canada to be the more socialist country, the one with more social programs and safety nets. The older and more educated immigrants generally don't need these social programs nearly as much as the younger and less educated. One might think that the more educated would be attracted to the lower taxes of the United States, and the less educated to the programs that help the less privileged in Canada. Yet, that's not the case. In the most extreme demographic polled by Gallup, college graduates from Southeast Asia, Canada was preferred to the United States by a more than 3:1 margin!

What are people seeing? The poll doesn't directly address that, but I suspect a lot of the difference comes down to cultural reputations. For the past decade, the United States is increasingly known as an intolerant place where immigrants are not welcome, at least if they are in any way identifiable as a immigrant. In contrast, Canada's reputation for being multi-cultural is spreading. The educated around the world understand that in Canada they will be allowed to be bi-cultural--both Canadian and whatever they were before they migrated (this blog has addressed this idea before).

The poll mentions what likely is also a major factor--Canadian immigration policy clearly favors well-educated, skilled immigrants, whereas the mess that can barely be called a system in the United States mostly offers no such preference. If somebody knows they are desired, they tend to find that place more attractive.

Whatever the reason, this isn't good for the United States. If the best and brightest are starting to prefer Canada instead of the United States, the increasingly globalized economy will inevitably start to move to Canada's favor as the Canadian work force becomes more qualified relative to that in the United States.

The United States has many reasons to reform its immigration policies. The Gallup Poll is just yet another reason.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Photos: World Cup, York, and The Ex

After Spain won the World Cup on 11-July-2010, celebrations completely engulfed a streetcar on College Street in Toronto, Ontario

TORONTO, ONTARIO - With the Canadian National Exhibition closed for another year, this seemed as good a time as any to present the Heritage Toronto walk through the Exhibition Grounds that took place on 28-July-2010 in the update to my photo site. Also in this update are scenes related to the World Cup and a Heritage Toronto walk through central York on 10-July-2010.

Holiday: Labour Day Parade

The Service Employees International Union included this float with a message about health care in the Labour Day Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 6-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Rain fell during most of the duration of the Labour Day parade in Toronto, Ontario, today, but that did not stop thousands of union members from walking the parade route down Queen Street West from downtown Toronto, turning south on Dufferin Street to reach the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

The Association of Chinese Electrical Workers was one of many union locals walking in the Labour Day Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 6-September-2010

Every union, large and small, walks in the parade each year. I like to look for the sign for the most obscure union that I had not previously known. With the inclement weather, signs were harder to read underneath umbrellas, so this year I have to give the nod to a relatively large group, the Chinese Electrical Workers.

A carrier full of Canadian-built automobiles from Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors participated in the Labour Day Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 6-September-2010

The Labour Day Parade likely has the smallest spectator to participant ratio (well under 1, contrasted with the Santa Claus Parade) of all the parades in Toronto. In part, this is because there aren't a lot of things to see and experience. Some larger unions built floats, quite a number have rousing musical acts, and a few bring their products--like the Canadian-built automobiles in this year's parade. In terms of entertainment, though, it isn't exactly full of interest.

The Amalgamated Transit Union's pipe band resumed its performance on Queen Street West in Toronto, Ontario on 6-September-2010

The parade is in part a political event. Only the endorsed mayoral candidate, Joe Pantalone, was invited to march in the parade. Two others had announced their intention to crash the parade. Whether because of the weather or other reasons, I didn't see any of them. Each year, a group tends to do a skit along the sidewalk near the "Hug Me" tree against the Federal Conservative government. This year, it wasn't especially clever, implying that Prime Minister Harper receives kickbacks from businesses, an allegation that seems to have no grounding in facts.

A side skit along the parade route implied that the Harper government was corrupt during the Labour Day Parade on 6-September-2010

A major incentive to participate in the Labour Day Parade is free entry to the Canadian National Exhibition's final day. Now, the parade and the exhibition are over until next year.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Transport: Canadian International Air Show

A variety of rescue equipment, including a Navy Zodiac, a Coast Guard vessel, and in the background a CP-140 Aurora plane, was included in the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto, Ontario on 6-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - It would have been hard to top last year's Canadian International Air Show (CIAS), the annual event held in conjunction with the Canadian National Exhibition over Labour Day weekend. Having the Blue Angels and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in the same show was simply phenomenal, with other stunt planes, historic aircraft, and military aircraft thrown in for good measure. Sure enough, the 2010 CIAS will not displace the 2009 edition from my memories, but it was a decent show.

The Corsair "Gray Ghost One" flew with the "Golden Centennaire" CT-114 Tutor in the tribute flight of the Canadian International Air Show on 5-September-2010

Saturday's edition of the CIAS was actually canceled because of high winds--which were actually of greater concern to the water rescue teams than the fliers. So, the Sunday show that I attended today was actually the first of the weekend. A big theme of this year's show was the centennial of the Canadian Navy--a CT-114 was dressed in a special livery, and the sea side of the Navy took explicit part in the show with the HMCS Fredricton firing off its guns and a zodiac boat from the Fredricton buzzing the shore repeatedly. The Fredricton's display gave a great example of the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound, with the noise reaching the shore well after the smoke from the firing had dissipated in the high wind.

The HMCS Fredricton fired off its guns during the Canadian International Air Show on 5-September-2010

The show was relatively light on stunt pilots. Perennial participant Mike Wiskus put on his regular display in the Lucas Oil S-1-11b SS. Perhaps because of the novelty and speed of his performance, Rob Holland probably made the greatest impression in the Window World MX2.

Rob Holland flew practically on the surface of Lake Ontario during the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto, Ontario on 5-September-2010

While the weather was windy and cloudy, the crowd built until it was time for what many people came for--the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. While their traces of a heart in the sky were rapidly blown away by the wind, their graceful maneuvers made heading down to the lake shore worthwhile just to see their performance.

Seven of the nine Snowbirds passed overhead during the finale of the Canadian International Air Show on 5-September-2010

Of course, the best part of the CIAS is that the free viewing area is only marginally worse than the paid viewing areas--approaching the shoreline just west of the Western Gap from the Jameson footbridge or from the Sunnyside area puts one right on the flight line. There will be one final performance at 12:30 on Labour Day, viewable from Marilyn Bell Park along Lake Ontario in Toronto.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Radio Pick: The Late Show

TORONTO, ONTARIO - As the summer radio season comes to the end, one more CBC Radio One summer show has made my weekly radio pick. New examples of quality story-telling on the radio are always welcome, and the second season of "The Late Show" provided several. This final 27-minute episode for the summer on the life of artist Sue Klabunde may have been the most inspirational of series.

Listen to MP3 of The Late Show "Sue Klabunde"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Culture: Islamophobia, Act 1?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On 16 September 2001, I made my way to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts to catch one of the first trans-Atlantic flights after the "9/11 Attacks" in order to make a business meeting in Europe. The trip was memorable on a number of levels, from being driven to a nearly-deserted Terminal A (since demolished) in a Corvette and being dropped off right at the door to flying right above Ground Zero as it was still burning in order to catch a connecting flight from Newark, New Jersey.

As Islamophobia has clearly taken over the United States, another memory from that day has come back. In that nearly-deserted terminal at Logan, as I awaited my commuter flight to New Jersey, there was a young man hanging out in a corner of the waiting area, alone. Looking extremely nervous, he was bearded and appeared to be of middle eastern origin, despite wearing stylish western clothes. He was younger than me, probably college age. Even if he wasn't from the middle east, he was likely facing suspicion wherever he turned around the airport. Nobody went near him that I noticed. He really looked like he was suffering.

In retrospect, I wonder if he was one of the elites from Saudi Arabia or other middle eastern regimes with strong ties with the United States that was being evacuated to his home country. Some royal family members allegedly moved on military aircraft, but others moved on commercial aircraft as soon as they started operating, and it seems entirely possible that he was in this category.

I didn't approach him to find out, not because I feared him or didn't want to be associated with someone that "looked like a terrorist," but because I was exhausted at the time. When I went to work that day, I didn't have a plane ticket and wasn't expecting to get one, so it was a mad scramble to head home, pack, and make it to the airport in time to catch my flight. I simply didn't have any social energy at the time.

The man was on my flight to Newark, and I remember him in the boarding area for the trans-Atlantic flight to Zurich. By that time, I was so engrossed by the radio coverage of the recovery efforts on WNYC that I paid attention to little else. I don't remember seeing him when we left the plane in Zurich.

I wish I had spoken with him. Perhaps he wouldn't have wanted to talk. Perhaps my suspicions now are completely incorrect, and he was actually a young banker heading back to a home base in Zurich, or some other equally mundane story. Regardless, I bet he would have had a interesting perspective to offer on traveling when everyone was wary of you.

Now, it's not just young Islamic-looking men traveling on airplanes that are viewed with suspicion. Now, it seems to be that any Islamic person in any role in the United States is viewed with suspicion. Looking at how miserable the man at the airport seemed to be, I can hardly imagine what it must be like to deal with that all the time. If the man was heading to his home country, it was unfortunately a very wise move. Islamophobia may not have instantly gripped the United States as some had feared, but it would rise, and this year, we have learned just how widespread it has become.