Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Parole Office Pandemonium

[Note: this is a long post, so I'm experimenting with bolding the highlights. I think it's ugly, so I'll only do it again if people find it useful.]

For those who have been on Mars the last little while, there has been quite the brou-ha-ha over the Ottawa Parole Office.

Last night, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) had a public consultation meeting on its proposal to move to 1010 Somerset, literally between the Plant Bath Recreation Centre and the O-Train tracks. West Side Action has a number of posts documenting before, during, and after the meeting.

A majority of the vocal residents have spoken against the relocation to this spot, citing proximity to the Plant Bath and Devonshire public school as their primary arguments. Another one I heard today was that unless a community vehemently opposes a parole office in their area, not only will it go in, but other related services will see it as an invitation to come on over.

My main take is against 1010 Somerset. But not for the reasons you might think--the site and I are at opposite ends of the Dalhousie Community Association's catchment area. Bear with me here.

It mainly boils down to its similarity to the current Gilmour street site. The primary reason the Parole Office is moving in the first place is because a handful of parents on Elgin Street Elementary's council raised a hell of a lot of ruckus about the parole office being kitty-corner to their children's school. Why were they not consulted before it was moved into their neighbourhood? Why did they even consider a site so close to a school? What are their policies and guidelines that drive their decision of where to locate the parole office? Not bad questions.

Constant pressure from this group, the community association, and the local councllor got CSC to agree to vacate their current location by the end of their lease in September 2009. And the race is on. CSC, using new guidelines for public consultation, now must find a new location before its lease is up.

Now, I have a hard time buying the argument that the Parole Office, by its very proximity to Elgin Street Elementary, is a hazard. It may be that I'm an assertive adult white male, or that I don't have elementary-school-aged kids, but I spend a lot of time in Minto Park, just across the street, and I even take naps in the park on nice summer afternoons, and I have never felt the slightest bit threatened there.

You wouldn't even notice the parole office if it weren't pointed out to you: I always thought the entrance to the parole office was the main one on Elgin with the "Government of Canada" signs, until I recently saw a photo indicating that it was actually the small door on Gilmour. I chalk that up to spinning it to more closely associate it with Elgin Street public school.

I'm also not aware of any empirical or objective argument opposing the current location. For all I've heard, the opposition to Elgin street is a purely emotional argument.

But let's assume for the sake of argument proximity to Elgin Street school is problematic. There certainly are a lot of people who seem to feel it is.

If Elgin is a bad location because of its proximity to Elgin Street Elementary and Jack Purcell Recreation Centre, then certainly 1010 Somerset is just as bad for its proximity to the Plant Bath and Devonshire. Barring any other advantage of Somerset over Elgin, you're just moving the problem from one community and dumping it on another. So keep it in my backyard until you can find a better location.

Now, I didn't go to the meeting, but Eric Darwin (writer of Dalhousie blog West Side Action) did, as did Megan Butcher, whom I've never heard of before. Megan wrote an excellent blog report on the meeting with a very clear head on the issue. Lots of other bloggers (including Eric, Hella Stella and Miss Vicky) have linked to Megan's blog entry, though I think I'm the first to do in a blog entry listed on Blogawa. (Vicky only mentioned it in the comments on her post. Also, I ran into Eric at another public meeting tonight, and as I was leaving I bumped into Erigami, who runs Blogawa, and introduced the two to each other. Hopefully this will facilitate West Side Action's addition to Blogawa!)

Eric pointed out that the parolees have long been complaining that the current Gilmour site is too far from the Transitway. The Somerset site is no closer. Another similarity between the two sites to support the status quo.

But Megan, who supports the 1010 Somerset site, brings some new information from last night's consultation that begins to tip my opinion.

Apparently, CSC needs to move from Elgin and Gilmour not only because of community opposition, but be because they've outgrown the space and their lease is running out. Of course I knew about the community opposition, and the end of the lease follows from it. But I didn't know that they outgrew the space. In fact, they don't even mention this on their consultation website. Is this a contrived excuse? Contrived or not, this detail tips my Elgin-Street-is-Good-Enough mentality.

So then the question shifts to why is 1010 Somerset a good site (or at least not a bad one).

Megan makes some good points, including:
  • There are already 75 parolees living in the area, and two halfway houses within 500m of the proposed site, but crime has not gone up. (Interestingly, this links back to the "invitation" argument I mentioned earlier. If this argument is used, then the halfway houses are in fact inviting the parole office!)

  • Different parolees have different regulations. Ones who are a risk to children can't go within a certain distance of schools, so they can't visit either location anyway. Those without this parole condition are presumably not a risk to children.

  • The parole office receives about 8 visits a day from parolees, the rest are visited in their houses or elsewhere in the community, and the number of parolees has gone down from 250 to 200 (though CSC apparently did say they had outgrown the current space...)

I think the most cutting point is in the comments, particularly this one by Centretown resident Sunny Marriner, who wrote the following (excerpted) to the CBC in response to Jeff Leiper of the Hintonburg Community Association appearing on one of their shows:
"Your guest kept referring to an "intuitive" reaction to describe what the response really is - bigoted. Even though he acknowledged in the interview that the fear was irrational and baseless, he provided no argument to support the community reaction and instead bafflingly asserted that you cannot "glibly" dismiss it. By that argument, if everyone in the community is afraid of an ethnic group, the community has a right to reject that group. This is the same position that has always been used to support racism, and it betrays our justice system, which is premised on the notion that individuals can serve a sentence and then rejoin the community." (my emphasis; this is an excerpt)
People on parole, by definition, are making the transition from months or years in prison to a (hopefully) wholesome and productive life in the community.

How healthy is it for our society when that community tells them they're not welcome?

- RG>

Friday, March 27, 2009

Here's to 8759 unearthed hours

Celebrations can be so unkind. I try not to partake (parades excepted), so I have a tendency to miss them.

Except, you know, when they're shoved down your throat from all angles. Which is always.

There was Kindness Week a few weeks ago... I was unfortunately kind to people on each of the three days after it ended. Had I been more up-to-date with my newspapers, I would have realized my awkward timing and kept my kindness to myself. Apparently Ottawa-Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi wants to take Kindness Week provincewide, which is the kind of thing a back bench parliamentarian does to try to feel like he's doing something. At least a provincewide Kindness Week is fairly benign, unlike Naqvi's proposed SCAN legislation.

But the occasion for today's rant is of course Earth Hour, that one hour of the year where you pretend to care about the earth by turning off your lights. My blog entry on Earth Hour last year, titled For Every Light You Turn Off gets a lot of hits, thanks mostly to Italians and Germans searching Google Images for the associated graphic that I myself had located the same way in preparation of the post.

It's somewhat ironic that I post more about Earth Hour than I do about National Grouch Day, but I guess that just proves I'm not biased when it comes to non-celebration.

For a good rant against Earth Hour, I suggest reading this entry on the blog of Citizen editor Ken Gray. For assorted ramblings about Earth Hour, continue reading here.

Earth Day, in its simplest form, is--

Sorry, Earth Hour. My brain has a hard time acknowledging that people can hold an annual celebration in the span of an hour. I can barely get a blog entry written in that much time. Even though most people only celebrate it at 11am, November 11th is still called Remembrance (or Armistice, or Veteran's) Day. Now the 2003 blackout, that's the kind of thing we should be doing every year. That brought people away from their TVs and cell phones and into the streets communing with neighbours. (For reference, Earth Day is April 22nd.)

Anyway, Earth hour is an insane concept because it asks us to turn off our lights for one hour on a Saturday night once a year--something that nearly everyone does for many hours every other night of the year anyway. Then again, the idea started in Sydney, Australia, so maybe the lights there are normally on during the night because of the time difference...

This year, Ottawa City Hall made a big motherfucking poster for Earth Hour. Literally three stories tall:

And I'd be really surprised if the amount of energy saved by Ottawans' horoterrestrial delumination will balance out the amount of energy that went into making that damn thing.

But people say that Earth Hour, even though it's symbolic, inspires people to make real changes in their lives. Yeah, like changing their vote to the politician who promises the most smiles and rainbows.

It's a way to get people to feel smug about caring for the environment, and for those who don't care about the environment to get their annual lip service out of the way and feel equally smug. You can even drive to the coffeeshop and tell your friends about how great you are for having turned off your lights off at home while you're not there.

Another aside: you'll release a lot more CO2 emissions by burning candles than you ever will with lightbulbs, and those emissions are released right in your house, not at a power plant hundreds of kilometres away.

Considering how little of the household energy bill goes to lighting, does anyone really think that Earth Hour is responsible for recent reports that Ottawa's average electricity demand is going down? I'd also be interested to know the response when people are asked to cut energy use in order to feel good as compared to, say, being threatened with rolling brownouts.

There's a general shift in the public consciousness toward environmentalism and conservation, and it doesn't need a celebration to happen. It makes sense to reduce your energy consumption, and can save money, too, since energy use often has a direct cost factor somewhere up the line, and people are. People are making changes in their lives; Earth Hour is just a contrivance to let them talk about it. And talk is cheap.

Be it kindness, grouchiness, or energy consumption, if you want to change your habits, don't wait for a bloody holiday to do it.

- RG>

Monday, March 23, 2009

Leveller? I 'ardly knew 'er!

So I'm sitting here in Bridgehead (yesterday, actually) reading the latest issue of the Leveller, a great little new paper put out by some students at Carleton University, and I feel compelled postpone my dinner in order to tell you about it.

I picked up its first edition in late February, when the buses came back from their strike:

I instantly took a liking to the way they treat objectivity: they proudly throw it out the window. They're left-leaning and not afraid to let you know it.

The current edition has lots of interesting stories, including a discussion on de-amalgamation with Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet, whose riding includes Carleton University. (I've recently blogged about de-amalgamation of Ottawa here--be sure to check out the comments for my discussion with Klaus)

The main spread of this issue includes a map and article on food deserts--areas which do not have a supermarket within a kilometre.

It's great to see new newspapers cropping up, even in this struggling media and economic environment.

The leveller is published every two weeks, at the beginning of the week, and is free. You can pick it up on the Carleton U campus and at Herb & Spice (among other places, I'm sure), or download it from their website, www.leveller.ca Check it out!

- RG>

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Illogical Unviersity Doodles

I'm clearing out my old university notes, and I've came across some doodles which I feel compelled to share.

While a recent study suggests that doodling can help memory, these doodles were mostly to occupy my mind while bored in class.

This first one depicts the "Velotone", which I drew in Cognitive Psychology class (with a professor who was otherwise really fun and interesting!):

The rest are all from a philosophy course. I had already taken two other formal logic courses in my studies, and did astoundingly well in both. So when we got to the logic portion of this philosophy class, things between me and Steve (the guy who sat next to me) began to get silly.

Aside from things like deriving equations for pi and writing it out to 101 digits from memory, there was evidence that I was indeed paying a minuscule amount of attention to the subject matter...
Do deaf people hear sound arguments?

If an argument takes place in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, is it still sound?
Then I got to the doodling:

Some of it was even on-topic!

On the next page, Steve and I started to pass notes back and forth. I think he was trying to write with his left hand:

Me: That guy is particularly stupid.
Evidently people didn't understand these really simple logical principles, as evidenced by my note "He's [the professor] making this way too complex."

I even had the foresight to predict that "eventually, he will start saying stuff we don't understand, and we'll completely miss it." (My subsequent test scores proved otherwise, luckily)

Then I got to more doodling, and the creative juices started flowing. Here is an illustration of those juices, as well as the exclamation "Fart-in-a-hat!" (Making use of the equals-sign-three technique of illustrating wind, which I got from watching Art Attack years ago)

On the next page was another doozy:
All straight lines are phallic.
Therefore, geometry is full of phallacies!
Here's a tip for when you're bored: grab a black pen and draw a line that crosses itself before meeting up with the end. Then fill in the alternating segments. If this doesn't occupy you enough, when you're done, rotate the page to look at it from different angles to see if you can pick out anything. Here's a bear doing a somersault:

Eventually, he got into stuff that I didn't already know, and my doodles turned into notes. I will leave you to ponder the logical implications of the statement "if this is boring, then I will not say so."

- RG>

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Swapboxes on CBC Radio

Ooh! I was checking out my blog stats and found a link on Ian Capstick's blog to mine. In that post he revealed that Elmaks, creator of the swapbox, was on cbc radio on Tuesday morning talking about swapboxes, as was a friend who is making a film on swapboxes.

Listen! Now!

I'm wondering what to do with The Annoying Protester Kit. It was posted in early May '08 on Elgin just North of Somerset, and was taken down a few days later.
Someone who recovered the box when it came down contacted me a couple weeks ago after learning about what I had done with the flower box (which, by the way, is still going strong!) and gave it to me (in pristine condition, I might add) hoping I'd return it to its creator. So now it's in my possession.

I assume that elmaks' silence on the matter is a blank slate.

Maybe someone can build a really big swapbox, and I can put the Angry Protester Kit inside...

- RG>

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sent to City Council this morning...

10 March 2009

Dear members of Council,

There are far better things for Council to do than spending hours (or even minutes) discussing whether OC Transpo should accept advertising money from Atheists. There are better things for me to do than writing you about it, but the matter is on the agenda for tomorrow's City Council meeting and I feel compelled to do so.

The preamble to Councillor Cullen's motion makes a very solid case for doing so on freedom of speech grounds. In addition, OC Tranpo can use all the revenue it can get at this point.

To deny the ads because some people "might" be offended is, frankly, offensive to non-believers and to those who support freedom of speech. Ottawa is not a nanny state.

Neither OC Transpo nor City Council has done anything about the "Lock up your daughters" campaign, which DOES offend many people. And instead of calling for these ads to be banned, those offended by this campaign have pressured the radio station into removing their ads, without having to resort to censorship from the municipal government.

Please carry the Cullen motion and move on to important issues.

- RG>

Saturday, March 07, 2009

How many ____ does it take to fill in a pothole?

On Thursday, I overheard a report on CBC radio from my boss' radio, something about the Mayor's task force on governance and how it would concentrate power in too few people.

I went to the CBC's website in search of more details, but found nothing. The City's website didn't have anything either, but I did discover notice of a media event that afternoon to demonstrate a new pothole repair technology.

As a cyclist, pothole repair certainly interests me. For example, here's a rough spot right outside the Mayor's office on Elgin, which has clearly been patched a number of different times, leaving an ad-hoc rumble strip to massage your derrière as you ride over it:

I figured I'd try for some amateur reporting, in preparation for the Impending collapse of the news industry (after which bloggers will no longer be able to link to newspaper articles for their sources).

It's no longer a fresh story, and the Citizen's Patrick Dare actually did a pretty good job of capturing the story, but I wanted to tell the story again anyway.

The media release said it was on Queen Elizabeth Drive and Ralph Street, which was a street name I didn't recognize. I plugged the intersection into Google Maps, which couldn't find Ralph Street either. I went to the City's eMaps (which I blogged about previously, which to my surprise couldn't find Ralph Street either.

Queen Elizabeth not being very long, I eventually found it on the map manually. The intersection in question was in fact at Broadway.

This is right beside Burrard's Inlet, and the City had brought their own portable media station. A Generator whirred near a parked parade of journalists' vehicles.

Councillor Doucet started off his speech with the words "Welcome to Pottawa," a line which the Citizen didn't shy away from using to headline the early version of their story. Actually a reference to the the fact that we were in pothole-ridden Capital Ward, one could be forgiven for thinking it to be a reference to Crosstown Traffic, also in Doucet's ward.

Councillor McRae later commented, "I'm not sure, Councillor Doucet, if I agree with the term "Pottawa" for maybe other reasons, related to that cannabis thing."

The Mayor took the stand podium to read off the press release. In this photo, he looks so lonely, yet so serene.

Okay, here's a slightly more charitable photo of him, which I can't help posting because of the "no right [wing] turn" sign immediately behind him.

Then the gaggle of reporters, politicians, and City Staff moseyed down the street to the demo place.

Once everyone was in place, Councillor McRae took the lead and asked for a shovel. Her gucci shoes didn't shy her away from getting down and dirty as she put some hot asphalt into the pothole.

"If politics don't work out..." the mayor joked.

Clive took the shovel next and exclaimed "finally, I get to do something useful!"

Someone (possibly the Mayor again) then observed "Councillor Doucet, building more roads," and Councillor McRae, who was there in her role as Chair of the City's Transportation Committee said, "he can shovel it."

Councillor McRae then took a rake and smoothed down the asphalt before handing the rake to Councillor Doucet to do the same. The mayor opted to only watch this step.A worker took a hot metal iron over the asphalt to flatten it down.

"So where's the new technology?" asked Councillor Doucet. Silly as the comment sounds in retrospect, I have to admit I was wondering the same thing.

But the new technology is this propane-powered "asphalt recycler unit" that is small enough to be pulled behind a pickup truck. This allows them to heat the asphalt before laying it down, making the pothole patches more durable and bonding them better to the existing roadway.

They laid down some test patches on Feburary 28 and will be reporting back in April on how well this technology fares compared to the cold patches.

So you know the old joke about how many City workers it takes to supervise a pothole repair? I think this scrum of politicians, City workers, and media people has them beat.

And that's it! About fifteen minutes after the start of the first speech, the councillors had gone back to their offices, and the journalists went back to their cars to file their reports.

The road crew, of course, stayed to finish patching the potholes on Queen Elizabeth!

- RG>

Friday, March 06, 2009

Will this fucking week ever end?

All week there have been plenty of things that I have wanted to do, that I couldn't because I've been dealing with one thing after another--all of them having to do with things that used to work properly all of a sudden failing to do so.

I've had to reschedule appointments, shifts at work, and a ride had to cancel at the last minute. My internet has been screwed up at home in ways I'd never thought imaginable before, and the spare router/modem combo I had kicking around didn't work. At work, I've had untold messes because of the latest "upgrade" of Microsoft Office, and the conflicts caused by reinstalling the old version. The latest version of OpenOffice.org is fucking up in its own work-precluding way as well. And the task that was supposed to take only half of Thursday--leaving room at the end of the week for some of the three other important projects that were due--took me almost until the end of Friday.

I hung up yesterday after about a half an hour on hold with Bell, trying to get my cell phone number switched over to the warranty replacement they sent me. As I left the grocery store with my weekend groceries last night, I consoled myself that at least it was Friday. Except it was still Thursday. Fuck.

I tried calling Bell again today and they called me back while I was on my way home, so I had to stop mid-commute to take out the paperwork. As much as I wanted to do it from the office phone--switching cell phones while you're on one of the phones being switched is never an easy thing to do--I couldn't because I had to hurry home to make sure I'd be here by 6pm so that this guy would be able to pick something up, and I haven't heard from him in any medium, so my evening waiting for his call was totally wasted.

I've had a few ideas for time-sensitive blog entries in the last few days, but I've been so exhausted with all this bullshit that I've gone to bed instead. And my house is a mess, too. I couldn't go to my usual online place for cooling off because someone was starting a flamewar with me which I just don't want to bother with. I went to Bridgehead after work and completely failed to enjoy it (I had to listen to the two guys next to me talk about marketing some dime-a-dozen software to disinterested customers. Protip: don't use the word "Paradigm shift" when talking about winning over customers--especially not twice in the same conversation. Those who don't understand the word will be scared by what it suggests, and those who understand the word will be scared by what it means.)

This is to name a few of the things that have gotten on my nerves. There were even some good things this week, which I recognized as such, but simply couldn't bring myself to be happy about because I'm trying so hard to forget this week entirely.

Even though most of these things worked out, or will eventually work out, the fact that they went wrong (not to mention the time they consumed) is really stressful and really pisses me off. I'm in a really bitter mood, the kind which isn't conducive to meeting new people. If I feel the same way in the morning, it will keep me from going to the bloggers' breakfast that has otherwise been the light at the end of this week's tunnel.


- RG>