Monday, August 24, 2009

Ken Gray posts Ottawa's AMO briefing notes

Ottawa Citizen editor Ken Gray has posted on his blog, The Bulldog, a bunch of private briefing notes and related materials that the City of Ottawa brought to the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference.

They cover a variety of topics, from transit to housing to policing to rural issues. Most deal with different ways of asking for more money, with varying degrees of believability. I believe this link should link to these briefing notes after these posts have fallen off the front page of the blog.

Some of them are really interesting, and some of them are really dry. For a policy wonk like me, This one is educational. It talks about how the Federal Government's decision to sell many of its properties and lease them back causes the City to take in less money in property taxes. The reason? Even though the Federal Government is exempt from paying property taxes, they pay payments-in-lieu of taxes as a goodwill gesture (since it still costs the City to service these buildings). But the entire amount of this went straight from the Feds to the City, now that it's private companies paying the taxes, a portion is now going to the Province to cover education taxes, resulting in a few million dollars less revenue for the City (and as much as $25 million less if the Feds sell and lease-back lots more of their properties).

So read up, and you'll know as much as Jim Watson does on these issues.

- RG>

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You'd almost think they were on crack

In early August I was invited to be part of a focus group session for the "Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment". Our focus group was one of many being held in Toronto and Ottawa, interviewing over 300 different stakeholders (community members, drug users, health providers, etc.), about eight at a time. Here's the backgrounder attached with the invitation (click to enlarge):
There are a couple important points to note:

1. Ottawa has the highest new rate of HIV infections amongst injection drug users in the province.
Just because Ottawa doesn't look like Vancouver's infamous Downtown East Side, we certainly do have social problems that stem from drug abuse. Unlike Vancouver's, however, our problem isn't with drug users and paraphernalia littering the streets, but rather a health problem that is next to invisible.

2. Nobody is proposing a Supervised Consumption Site for Ottawa at this time.
They're simply investigating what effect, if any, such a site would likely have on Ottawa's drug situation (and HIV infection rates) in the event one were installed.

3. The researchers don't suggest that drug use is "safe."
While I thankfully haven't seen this argument made in the current flurry, it's common among boneheads to accuse proponents of whitewashing by incorporating the word "Safe" in the facility name. It came up frequently in the Safe Inhalation (crack pipe) program discussion, and did much to distract from the discussion on the merits of the program itself. The term used in this study is "Supervised Consumption Site," not "Safe Injection Site," and certainly not "Shooting Gallery," which the Sun has likened to calling them. The effect is that the consumption of drugs (be it through injection or inhalation, as with a crack pipe) is supervised, so that the drug user doesn't contract diseases from dirty materials, and so that they don't overdose.

4. The City of Ottawa is not funding this study.
I saw a few comments on one of the news stories or blogs criticizing City Council for wasting money on this study, that Council should tackle some other newsworthy story, or some such comment (it's always the same wags every time and it's never relevant to the discussion at hand). The backgrounder explains that the study is being funded by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, an arms-length non-profit funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care that works in various ways to attack HIV problems.

Since this was a research study, we participants signed confidentiality documents. I can't speak for the others, but it made me more uncomfortable than a "we'll make all your comments public" clause: Since we were all there as Community Association representatives, I'd assume we are used to having our opinions being public, and reporting back to our respective associations. We're also not used to being reimbursed for our input (I personally think it to be a conflict of interest), and since they didn't let me refuse the reimbursement, I decided to pass it along to the association as a donation.

I think this closed format is the reason it didn't make the papers until a week later, in this Ottawa Sun story.

Already in that story, Ottawa Police Chief Vern White begins spreading some FUD: Since Vancouver Police received $6 million when Vancouver's Insite opened, his department would need that much, too, and that's not a good way to spend money on reducing crack use, right? But as described earlier, Ottawa's drug problem is primarily a health problem, as there's little public disorder requiring Police intervention. The Sun should have interviewed Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Isra Levy, not the Chief of Police.

But once the story hit the papers, the Blogosphere soon followed. On the same day the Sun story came out, River Ward blogger Blake Batson blogged:
The premise was that [Supervised Injection Facilities] allow drug users to safely exchange needles thereby reducing the incidents of Hepatitis and HIV. I am not going to argue the point that these blood diseases actually reduced because of SIFs but I am going to focus on the “collateral damage” inflicted on the cities involved.
Essentially, drugs are illegal because they are harmful. Even if these sites mitigate the harm, the drugs are still illegal, so Blake is against them. This is the same ideology behind the argument that Graffiti murals should not be allowed because they encourage graffiti elsewhere even though they successfully eliminate unwanted graffiti on the mural walls.

To his credit, Blake says he'd support the study if it proves these sites reduce drug use (as opposed to only reducing infections that follow from drug use), but he requires that information to come from "unbiased" researchers. When you say 'I only support the study if it says what I want to hear,' you miss the point about being unbiased. So forgive me for being skeptical of Blake's claim of open-mindedness.

Eric Darwin, who was at the meeting, also blogged it on his blog, West Side Action, once the story came out in the media. He garnered from the discussion, as I did, that
I do not think that there is an "open" or public shooting-up problem in either neighborhood, which was supported by data showing fewer and fewer pipes and needles being found...
From several hours of discussion, guided by questions from the facilitators, I learned about the nature of the problem, that it is largely "indoors" in our neighborhood, that DTE [Vancouver's Downtown East Side] solutions are not transferrable to here as our problem is very different.
While he talks about the problem, Eric falls short of describing what the problem is: the high incidence of HIV.

Ken Gray linked to Eric's post, as usual, without adding any substance (I hate how journalists these days always leech off us hardworking bloggers). David Reevely does so too but with commentary and an opener mind, suggesting it's worthwhile to at least study it. Unfortunately, because of Eric's omission of the HIV problem, the only comparison Reevely has to go by is the "visible" drug problem, which isn't nearly as big in Ottawa (specifically in Lowertown) as in Vancouver.

I believe the researchers said they were doing another consultation on the East side of the canal, for Byward Market and Lowertown representatives. There must have been one, because the cover story on the Ottawa Sun the next day was "SPLIT OVER SAFE DRUG SITE":

So not only is a Supervised Consumption Facility being proposed for Ottawa (as far as the Sun cares to suggest to you), but there's apparently a battle between East and West side community associations as to whose neighbourhood to put it in. Since there's no one spot where drug use is really problematic, I had suggested at the meeting that they use a mobile site, in the way the crack pipe and needle exchange is done with mobile vehicles, and not unlike how the bloodmobile acts as a mobile blood donor clinic. This would prevent any one neighbourhood from attracting crack users around a permanent site (though the methadone clinic in Centretown doesn't have such a problem).

But we still need someone to defend our City from the lefty druggies. In swoops suburban College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli with some wholesale fear for the Sun to monger you at retail: Even though the article says the study's results won't be out until next Spring, Chiarelli asserts that a Supervised Consumption Facility would be a bad for Ottawa, and it wouldn't do anything. Who needs research, anyway?

There are a lot of myths about a Safe Consumption Site in Ottawa, a lot of them pretty farfetched. I don't know exactly who started them, but you'd almost think they were on crack.

- RG>

Friday, August 21, 2009

Graffiti, Art, and Ideology

Next week's Transportation Committee meeting at City Hall has an item on the agenda called "Graffiti Management Program Enhancements - Mural Program/Legal Graffiti Wall Monitoring," which includes many provisions to enhance the Graffiti Management Program, specifically by allowing murals on graffiti-targeted walls and allowing legal places for graffiti to take place (such as the Ottawa Tech wall).

This seems like a good opportunity to bring up this message I received a copy of last month. It's a detailed response by André Brisebois, Executive Director of SKETCH Orléans, to a call to arms against graffiti by someone by the name of Francis Rizzo. The entire message was so long, Gmail trimmed it.

To briefly summarize Rizzo's message to various local politicians and leaders (which you can read in full in the Ravensview blog post linked at the end of Brisebois' message), he suggested that the City's Graffiti Management Strategy is being tainted by art mural projects. One of the people included in the message forwarded both messages to a list I'm on.

Rizzo makes many unsupported claims, which he uses to spread dissent, a tactic known as FUD, which Brisebois calls him on. These are highlighted in Brisebois' response (copied to the original list of recipients), which responds to Rizzo's comments point-by-point and is reproduced in full below with permission. (For clarity, excerpts of Rizzo's original message are shown here in blue italics).
From: André Brisebois
Subject: RE: Graffiti in Ottawa - A response from SKETCH Orléans
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 2009

Dear Council Members, Community Leaders, Business Improvement Areas, Mr. Rizzo,

Graffiti art VS. graffiti vandalism in Ottawa has been a very hot issue for the past few years. It seems to come back every year around Spring-Summer time.

I am writing to you in order to set the record straight for the Orléans Youth Resource Centre, operating as SKETCH Orléans - a local non-profit community organization with the mandate to “involve and empower Orléans area high school youth in the realization of social, cultural and recreational initiatives.”

Firstly, I encourage you to contact us if you have any concerns with some of our activities. We strive to be as open, inclusive and collaborative as possible with both youth and the community as a whole. We seek positive solutions in order to address some of the youth issues in our community. Furthermore, we seek to involve youth in the development of our/their community. This is no easy task so we are open to constructive suggestions and positive ideas. We are willing to sit down with any group that has a problem or issue and work collaboratively towards a community AND youth based solution.

With that said, I wish to respond directly to Mr. Rizzo’s comments on the graffiti issue. I will have more to say at the end of this message.…
With this behavioural trend in mind, some things you should know so that you and your communities aren’t taken advantage of, embarrassed, or exploited by graffiti vandals presenting themselves as legal mural painters.
Mr. Rizzo talks about being “taken advantage of, embarrassed, or exploited by graffiti vandals”. In our case, when we worked on the Orléans Auto Tech mural, a private initiative requested by the business owner on his private property, we talked about involving youth at risk in a supervised activity, with permission and for positive results to the community. Please know that nobody was embarrassed nor exploited.
  • The function of an art mural is to beautify and enrich a community. An art mural becomes the face of a community. Mural content should have community in mind…as it infringes on “air rights” and, like advertising billboards, could create visual sprawl that may negatively impact residents and communities…or may offend local property owners who have been fighting graffiti vandalism attacks against their properties.
In our case, this has always been done in collaboration with the property owner, Mr. Copeland from the Orléans Auto Tech. In this case, the mural WAS his effort to fight graffiti vandalism – and it worked, as it is often the case in many other cities! SKETCH Orléans even prepared a Graffiti Art Day in order to raise awareness to the issue and the proposed activity in the community.
  • Art murals do not curb vandalism
– It worked at the Orléans Auto Tech and the 174 sound barrier, both of which are still tag free since 2008.
- If you wish to curb vandalism on a surface do not put up an art mural. The most cost effective and successful remedy for vandalism is to repaint the surface…and maintain it rigorously immediately after. Graffiti vandals choose surfaces for their visibility and the lack of maintenance/care to the area (in order to maximize the effect of their paint and effort). Maintaining a previously vandalized surface that has been newly repainted will wean vandals off of that surface.
I encourage Mr. Rizzo to talk to business owners, such as Mr. Copeland, to see what they think of this solution… I believe that murals are much more cost-effective in the long run than constantly repainting the same surface. Murals also have other positive impacts such as enabling youth involvement in community development.
- Vandalism may be immediately curbed on a specific surface by installing a mural wall, but typically this will end up drawing and redirected vandalism onto adjacent properties, turning your problem into the problems of your neighbours
Since the beginning of Gatineau’s graffiti prevention initiatives, back in 2001, they have seen a 70% decrease in graffiti-related complaints. (Source: Commission jeunesse de Gatineau,, Contact person:, 819 243-2345 poste 2418. [Brisebois' emphasis]

Gatineau has 50 legal graffiti walls spread out in 29 sites in the community and they have not run into this problem. a=culture&c=en-CA&p=quoi_faire/murs_graffitis_autorises

Note: the Orléans Auto Tech mural has not been vandalized since it was done in the summer of 2008. The business owner’s graffiti problem has been solved with the mural.
- If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, the mural may be supporting active vandals with financing, excess paint supplies for future acts of vandalism, and recognition/visibility/acclaim
Unfortunately, I am certain that graffiti artists can find and buy their own paint supplies without the “support” of mural clients. Nonetheless, I agree that owners could keep the excess paint instead of returning it to the artists… This however might cause a new problem which I talk about further below…
- If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, the mural may include the graffiti tags of vandals and raise their visibility and profile. Ensure that you put thought/control into the content of a graffiti-style mural…and make it community-oriented and meaningful
Content is always approved by the owner – it was in our case at the Orléans Auto Tech. Artists were allowed to sign their art work in their own way.
- If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, the mural may draw fans of graffiti to the area to admire the mural…and they may choose to leave their own vandalism marks nearby out of inspiration/homage to their graffiti idols
Quote: “They may choose to leave their own vandalism marks…” Well, they also may choose not too! So far I have not seen this happen at the Orléans Auto Tech mural…I have also never heard youth talk of their “graffiti idols”…
- Using graffiti mural opportunities as a means of rehabilitating graffiti vandals and reintroducing them into our community can promote a business model where young vandals are presented with a toxic example of success. This example encourages them to continue building their skills via acts of vandalism, in the hope of one day becoming paid mural artists like their vandal idols. If you are going to select artists, reward artists who have chosen to work within the system…not against it. They will respect your property and the property of others, both during and after they have finished your mural.
What about youth who are not “in the system”… how would you bring them back in the system? How else would you do skill development with them? What if you could use their illegal hobbies to train them to use them for something positive, maybe even “bringing them back in the system”.

There are two sides to the coin: A toxic example of success might actually turn into a life-changing success story for a young future entrepreneur. I believe youth deserve that chance. See KeepSix’s mission:
-If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, they may take the opportunity of being in the area to scout out interesting locations to put up graffiti, and vandalize the surrounding area after their work day is done (as they make their way to/from the site)
“They may take the opportunity…” They also might not… This is not fact based. This comment seems to be meant to inspire fear. I could come up with many other positive “what ifs”. For example: What if young artists appreciate the time they had to paint a mural with permission and stress-free so much that they get tired of doing it illegally and actually take a step down the right path… Sure, some have not “kicked the habit” yet, but there are some graffiti artists who have. Mike Mesa is a wonderful example and I applaud his hard work.
  • When selecting artists to put up a mural wall…consider the following:
- Select a professional and legitimate mural painter (it may be more expensive but you will not be supporting graffiti vandals or drawing additional vandalism to your community)

We have the mandate to involve local youth and provide them with positive and rewarding experiences. We involve local youth in community development.
- If someone if offering to paint your mural for cost or for supplies…it’s probably too good to be true. They may have their own agenda…and use the opportunity you present to further it.
How else do emerging artists build a portfolio? All artists need a portfolio to make it in their industry, to develop their career. What could be on their secret agenda that is so bad? This comment is not fact based and only inspires fear and ignorance. However, it also implies that artists are approaching businesses to see if they are interested in a mural. Hence, the artists are offering local businesses a solution to a common issue. This is a good thing. Let’s not be afraid of positive and new solutions to a common issue.
- Create your own Do It Yourself (DIY) painting team by enlisting the involvement of your local community (children, artists, community leaders). You’ll build stronger bonds in your community, create a team building exercise, and involve/invest community interest into the care and maintenance of your community and the mural surface
That is precisely what we did at the Orléans Auto Tech mural. We connected local young artists with a local business owner. The owner requested a “professional” mural – a very nice and colorful one… Considering that graffiti is a valid art form, we thought it best to hire artists in order to meet the owner’s request. In order to fulfill our own mandate, we thought it would be good to get local youth and to facilitate the relation with the business owner. We even organized a graffiti art day (GART) to raise awareness in the community and to facilitate dialogue between young artists and the business owner.

The original highway 174 mural, with cartoon butterflies and flowers, was done in the way Mr. Rizzo is suggesting. Result: it was very nice but it was also mocked by many for being too childish and amateur. Hence, it got vandalized. If we want a mural to portray the image of our community, it must be a professional mural that makes us proud. Cartoons and flowers did not make teenage youth proud of Orléans and in the end, the mural got a makeover with Mike Mesa and other artists. Note that I agree that the original mural was a good initiative, I just think the mural is better the way it is now than the way it was before. It has also not been vandalized since its graffiti makeover, apart from one early incident where the graffiti community publicly condoned the unfortunate act and came out to clean it up.
- If using “Graffiti Artists”, know who you are dealing with. Review IDs, request criminal record checks, and collect information on who will be painting your mural (and be present during the painting to ensure the same “artists” are actually doing the work and not being substituted) in order to weed out vandals/criminals
We have not come into a situation where artists were substituted. I am starting to assume that Mr. Rizzo does not work with youth at risk. By his standard, all ex-convicts, even if rehabilitated, should not be allowed to work. This is not constructive for our society, nor is it for youth at risk who wish to turn their life around. SKETCH Orléans believes that youth deserve a chance to do something good for their community and need various opportunities to do so.
- Set some conditions/guidelines on what expectations you have from the artists following the completion of the mural…for instance that they do not engage in future vandalisms and inform them that their actions now represent you and your community
This is a good idea but it is impossible to follow-up with the artists. Unfortunately, it is not realistic.
- Set some repercussions for breaking the guidelines you set….for instance, that their tags be removed from the mural…and that they will not be trusted with involvement in future mural initiatives
It will be very hard to judge if the set guidelines were broken… ie. You can accuse the artist of tagging another property after he/she completed a mural. The artist could respond that it was not him/her or that it was already there… Innocent until proven guilty is the way we work in our society.

Personally, I believe that this negative consequence will push at risk youth even further away from “the system”. Any where you work with youth, it is all about positive reinforcement – not negative put downs. Having positive consequences will reinforce a positive activity done in a proper way – with permission, supervision and professionalism. We should work with youth, not against them.
- Keep/recycle any leftover paint used by graffiti artists so that it does not end up being used to vandalize properties in Ottawa/your community
I agree. This is a good idea. However, this means that we will be stuck with graffiti spray paint cans… What else could we do with leftover paint other than offer more graffiti activities in order to get rid of leftovers. And the cycle will then continue… If, and I emphasize the “if”, we are to do more graffiti activities, as this is not specifically our mandate, then it is clear that a strong education and awareness-raising component should be present.
- Play a role is selecting/directing the theme/content of your mural. Have a design produced in advance by the mural artists…and review/approve it. Don’t give a graffiti mural artist carte-blanche to paint your wall. They will use the opportunity to incorporate their graffiti tags into the mural design out of selfishness
All artists sign their work somehow. It is not done out of selfishness, but rather for recognition and respect. Ministers and Bureaucrats sign their reports; Academics and Scientifics sign their research papers and articles; Accountants sign their reports; I will sign this email; Artists sign their artwork; Graffiti artists sign their murals in their own way. As far as I know, a design is always produced and approved. It was done so at the Orléans Auto Tech.
- Involve local residents/businesses/communities in the design and planning of the mural. Don’t surprise them with graffiti-based murals when they may have had their own negative personal experiences combatting vandalism. Use the opportunity to build community bonds and create dialog.
In the case of the Orléans Auto Tech mural, it was the owner’s initiative and request to have a graffiti mural. SKETCH and CAVE helped the owner in realizing his wish. The owner is very pleased with the result and was involved in its realization since the beginning. It is a perfect example of collaboration between non-profit community groups, a local business and local youth. The actual objective was to “build community bonds and create dialogue”. The objectives were met. The wall is much nicer with a mural than without.

Also, the mural was definitely not a surprise. We organized a “Graffiti Art Day”, GART, last year before the realization of the Orléans Auto Tech mural. The activity was announced in local papers in order to raise awareness to the issue so as not to surprise the community. It also created a dialogue between young graffiti artists and a local entrepreneur. Both parties were able to meet, talk, share their concerns and agree on a design for the mural.

If Mr. Rizzo is serious about building community bonds and creating dialogue, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with him and local Orléans youth to discuss the graffiti issue. I could also invite Mike Young, Mike Mesa and some graffiti artists. Both sides could share their opinions and concerns in a professional and respectful way, hopefully come to a consensus on solutions and then we could all move forward on this. My contact information is at the end of this message.
Some “Graffiti Mural” teams/advocates to stay away from:
Again, I would be happy to meet with Mr. Rizzo to hear his concerns. Communication is very important at all levels of our society and I do sincerely wish to find solutions to some of the youth issues in the Orléans community. If Mr. Rizzo or anybody else has any positive ideas, constructive suggestions, or even legitimate concerns about some of our activities, I encourage them to let us know so that we may come up with a solution. I think we all agree that it is important to involve youth in the community. So let’s find the best way of doing so… so far, we have had nothing but positive responses and feedback from youth. Personally, up until today, I had not heard any negative feedback on the Orléans Auto Tech mural.

SKETCH is an innovative, young new organization with the mission to involve and empower Orléans area high school youth to realize social, cultural and recreational initiatives. We have a volunteer Board of directors from the community as well as a bilingual youth committee composed of 11 local teenagers coming from 8 different local high schools. I am not surprised that some people are uncomfortable with some of our new and innovative activities. However, we would not be as successful as we have been so far in our development with youth if we had always “stayed in the box”. Our mandate is for youth and so far, from my experience and discussions with them, they approve and support what we do. However, I appreciate Mr. Rizzo’s concerns and feedback and will definitely keep it in mind if we do any other future graffiti-related activities.

I would also like to point out that the vast majority of youth, not to say all of them, who I have spoken to truly appreciate the mural on Orléans Auto Tech. They find it beautiful! The owner of Orléans Auto Tech, Mr. Copeland, is the one who initiated and requested a graffiti mural on his own private property. A sample drawing was done before hand by the artists and approved by the business owner. The mural has not been vandalized since. According to Mr. Rizzo, the best solution to graffiti vandalism is to repaint the area and keep it clean. Mr. Copeland tried that for a long time, at a very high cost, and did not get any results… If you ask him, the bylaw has not solved his vandalism problem; the solution was the graffiti mural, as it has also proven to be in many other Canadian cities with graffiti mural programs such as Gatineau, Toronto and St John’s.

Please see the attachments for before and after pictures of the Orléans Auto Tech Wall. We have also included in attachment the plaque that was put on the mural to commemorate the moment.

Finally, I encourage all to take the time to read Mike Young’s graffiti blog where he presents both sides of the picture. There are also many links and statements that highlight the positive impacts that graffiti murals have had on communities, and especially on youth.

I have been collecting his (Mr. Rizzo’s) messages and my responses online in a long blog post.

This is the link to the “con” side

And this is our link to the “pro”

Blog and pics -

Street art murals -

Please contact Mike Young if any questions or comments about his blog, ravensview - at - gmail -dot- com. Mike Young and KeepSix’s views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Orléans Youth Resource Centre.

Sincerely and with best wishes,

André Brisebois
Directeur général / Executive Director
SKETCH Orléans
Centre de ressources des jeunes d'Orléans /
Orléans Youth Resource Centre
211-210 boul. Centrum blvd.
Orléans, Ontario K1E 3V7

Kudos to André and those like him, who not only reach out to youth at risk and help to give them stability, but who also take the time to reach out to ideologues who champion ineffective and uncreative ways of solving social problems.

Oh, and for calling him out on the FUD.

- RG>

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Larry O'Brien: Great Mayor, or Greatest Mayor?

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien is a great fan of George W. Bush. Meeting the President in August of 2007 was for O'Brien "the highlight of nine short months of being mayor." So I think it only fair to carry on this comparison, even if "Luck Farry" isn't as catchy as "Buck Fush".

I've heard lots of whining about O'Brien getting beating the rap for electoral misconduct charges. Indeed, most of the people I spoke with prior to the verdict said they hoped he would be convicted. Not that they thought the evidence supported a conviction, but that they hoped he would be convicted, as if it would make a difference.

I, frankly, didn't.

Notwithstanding the merits of the case (or lack thereof), a conviction would have been too convenient. I sure as hell don't want Larry O'Brien to be our mayor, but I don't want him out on a technicality, either; there's no satisfaction in that. Plus, he could have appealed, drawing out the painful affair like so much blood.

I'm also open-minded enough to realize that if he can beat these charges so ballsily, maybe--just maybe--he'd be able to get us out of the multimillion-dollar Siemens lawsuit he got us in. If he can't, at least it's something else to put in the "zero-means-go-fuck-yourself" pile that he'll eventually face.


When O'Brien was first accused and people called for his resignation, I did too. When he was charged and people suggested he should (or predicted he might) resign, I also wanted him out.

But I didn't want him to resign because of the charges--I couldn't give fuck all about the charges. How can people think that's the worst thing about him when it's so obvious that he's a terrible mayor. On that note, he can blame the rest of Council all he wants, but he still has to work with them to get things done--and this he hasn't.

The most good he's accomplished--the most--is a bunch of "strategic planning" exercises with Council, and a number of Mayor's Task Forces, all to develop plans that are promptly forgotten and ignored. All talk, no swagger.

Long before the trial started, I figured he probably wouldn't be convicted. Instead, I hoped that people would see how well the city ran in his absence and would riot to keep him from coming back. (A man can dream.)

Now that the charges have been dismissed and O'Brien's back in the captain's chair (with the Deputy City Clerk at his side to hold his hand), the best we can hope that he takes some sound advice and doesn't run for re-election in 2010. There are plenty of ways for him to do this while saving face. Whatever bullshit excuse he uses, I promise to go along with it.

The City is facing a lot of major issues that need to be resolved, and the last thing we need is for the 2010 mayoral debate to get bogged down with the inevitable distractions that will arise if he is on the ticket.

And here's where Bush returns with a bald head.


When George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, everyone wanted him out. Or so it seemed to those who disliked him: He was a terrible ideological president, he got his country into two wars, there was skyrocketing national debt, etc., etc. He stole the last election through the electoral college, but he'd lose handily this time.

Anti-Bushites across the country had their smug heads so far up their own asses that they thought they had a golden ticket to the White House. Instead, they fucked up big time and gave Bush a clear majority of the popular and electoral college vote.

Look at where we are now in Ottawa. We're back in the 2004 Democratic primaries, and our best candidates are all unelectable. At least the Democrats only had a single name on the ballot.

Like Bush, O'Brien won his first election with a minority of the votes, but many seem to be taking it for granted that O'Brien won't be around after 2010. It's a consoling thought, but it's hardly realistic.

If O'Brien is going to be defeated, we can't have a John Kerry as the alternative (or worse, a bunch of John Kerrys). What we need is someone who is more than just "anybody-but-O'Brien". Someone who can disrupt O'Brien's voter base of people who read the Ottawa Sun and listen to CFRA. Alex Cullen, Peter Hume, Jim Watson, Clive Doucet--none of these potential candidates is likely to get to the forefront, particularly with all the bickering between them.

Even though he couldn't run for a third term, I refused to believe the Bush nightmare would be over until it was. He might have had one more trick up his sleeve, like maybe forcing Congress to skip the year 2008 to prevent the election. Or starting another war and declaring a state of emergency to prevent the transition. It wasn't until Barack Obama was inaugurated and Bush was finally, officially, no longer President of the United States of America that I could finally take relief.

Likewise, until Larry O'Brien is no longer our Mayor, I won't dare to anticipate the day Ottawa can wake up from this terrible dream. If he can help make that happen, I would be ever so gracious.

- RG>

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book release Friday: "SUN, FUN & SLAVERY : How to South Became the North's Playground"

Exile Infoshop is hosting a book release this Friday. Below is the text of the announcement.

SUN, FUN & SLAVERY : How to South Became the North's Playground

a new book by our very own, Nelson Ross Laguna

"In our attempts to re-invent our own little paradise in someone’s else’s
backyard, we have in turn recreated a system we were determined to

Friday, August 14th, 2009

8:00pm - doors open
8:30pm - one-on-one with the author

Exile Infoshop 256 Bank St. (at Cooper) Second Fl.

In the sixth Exile Press release, Sun, Fun & Slavery, Nelson Ross Laguna
explores modern day tourism in the americas and its intersections with
terrorism. Exposing modern tourism's calculated and disastrous effects in
South and Central America. As tourism, and the production of tourist
infrastrure entrench the priviliges of the North, and reinforce the
racilaization of poverty, we ask: What are our hidden histories of modern
slavery? How is the path of western imperialism continuing today? What is
to be done? Join us on Friday, August 19th for a discussion with Nelson
Ross Laguna, who will share his experiences & perspectives on sun, fun,
and slavery.
If you've never been to Exile (especially since they moved across the hall to their current space), check it out, it's a great space with lots of interesting stuff that you won't find in a regular bookstore.

- RG>

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Office Temps

Normally in the office I work in, the office temp is 20-22. Occasionally, we get 18s, or even 17s, more often in the summer. In the winter we can frequently get 24s and 25s.

Today, we got a 29.

This wouldn't be so bad if "office temp" was shorthand for "temporary worker," but unfortunately in this case it refers to the office temperature, according to the thermometer in my Planet Bike cycle computer (which I only really use for telling temperature).

What better thing to arrive to after a long weekend with important things piled up (plus the late night last night fixing my laptop), than a sweltering office with no windows that open. The landlord gave a story of why it couldn't be fixed.

A couple summers ago it was even worse. Every day I'd come into the office and it would be 17 or 18 degrees, while it was in the mid to high 20s outside (and, I might add, in my home). Not only could I not acclimatize to the high temperatures, but I couldn't wear any of my summer clothes. I wore sweaters and cycling gloves with cut fingers to keep my hands from freezing. I even have a space heater, which is fucking insane to have to use when it's 26 degrees outside. I started keeping a log of what the temperature is each day, both when I get in and when I leave.

The worst part is the complete randomness. Some days, irrespective of season, it'll be freezing cold, and others it will be boiling hot. Getting dressed in the morning isn't so much an exercise in fashion as in survival.

The last office I was in was similar, although it had windows that you could open, and it was at least consistently freezing cold in the summer. A family member of mine who works in a federal government department told me she has a blanket in her office to keep warm, leading me to believe that most offices are like this.

It's no wonder, then, that buildings produce over a third of GHG emissions! And no matter how high a LEED rating some new building has (which may not even have lower energy usage - PDF), it's still adding to the total amount of energy consumed by our building stock. Maybe if energy prices skyrocketed again building owners would pay more attention to this waste.

In the meantime, I think I'll go someplace for a cold drink.

- RG>

Solders in tight places

My laptop has had a couple of problems since I bought it in September 2007. Right off the bat, I didn't like that you could only adjust the volume through the software, requiring Windows to be running. This was an unwelcome change from my 2003 Toshiba laptop, which had a little wheel on the side so you could manually adjust the volume.

In April '08, the hard disk died. While this was stressful and took me a month to eventually deal with, Dell's warranty support was very helpful and got my drive replaced quickly. I was able to recover the information off of it, and since then I've always* backed up my hard disk (*read: I backed up once right after the incident, and have never crossed "back up" off my to-do list since then).

Earlier this year, my laptop battery reached the end of its life, and would no longer hold a charge. I had to weigh getting a new laptop versus simply replacing the battery.

If I bought a new battery, it would be about $200 instead of $600 (neither amount I was pleased with spending), and I wouldn't have to reinstall all my programs or worry about Windows Vista or Yogourt. But it also meant that I'd have to live with the other problems my laptop has.

A while ago, sometime after the one-year warranty expired, the audio jack started thinking that there was always something plugged into it, even if there wasn't. If I had earphones plugged in, audio went to the earphones. If I didn't have them plugged in, it still thought I did, so it didn't play sound on the onboard speakers. I eventually learned that if I stuck a mini jack cable in partway and used strong rubber bands to pull it sideways, it would work. I also couldn't rip records to mp3 because the line-in wasn't reliably carrying both channels.

This audio problem had a number of influences on my battery-or-new-laptop decision:

- I wouldn't be able to sell the Dell as easily

- A new laptop (i.e. one with working speakers) is that much more attractive

- While it's faster than my 2003 Toshiba laptop with the broken screen (which I use as my 'desktop'), it doesn't have audio to complete the audio/visual experience, and it doesn't have a parallel port for my laser printer.

I decided that if the price was under $200 and if I could get it by the end of the following week, I'd order the new battery. I phoned them up and spoke to some guy in southeast Asia who assured me that I'd get it by the prescribed time. Of course, he's from one of those cultures where customer service only goes so far as telling the customer what he wants so he'll buy the thing from you, and not a culture where it matters if this information is true.

On Friday of the following week, Gabby at Dell customer support got a call from an irate customer. I had been assured that I would receive the battery by the end of this week, and it has not arrived yet. Gabby told me it was shipped out that day, meaning it wouldn't arrive until the next business day--Monday--which is precisely the kind of waiting I deliberately tried to avoid. If I had known it would take that long, I would have bought a new laptop, and not from Dell!

So fast forward to tonight, and I plug in my earphones, and I hear a quiet electronic "click" and get no audio. I try jiggling the jack and putting pressure on it, with no luck. My audio is dead.

On top of this, I notice that the audio jack is very hot, which is quite unusual. I figure there's probably a short circuit, meaning the laptop's not safe to use.

Time to open 'er up.

I had previously opened up the laptop and gotten to the sound jack, only to discover it was hardwired into the motherboard. If it were connected by a plug, I'd have ordered a new one long ago to swap it out. But it isn't, so I couldn't.

And it's a long process to get that far into the machine. Dell has excellent documentation for disassembling its machines, including step-by-step instructions on how to get in to the motherboard (and how to get it back together). However, it still took me about an hour to get inside. While I had it open, I cleaned some of the parts of dust and other dirt.

Diagnosing the problem was hard. There are contacts that push against each other when you put the plug in, and I saw that the ones for the audio jack weren't making good contact. I did some fiddling around and got the contact working, but there was a second one in an angle I couldn't see, and I was hoping that it wasn't a source of the problem, because I didn't want to open this thing up again.

But the loose contact wasn't the only problem. I tried to inspect the connection to the board, and it was tough. The contacts are very small, 0.6mm wide. The solders are even smaller. I had a magnifying glass, but I couldn't get it close enough without blocking the light.

So I used my camera's macro mode to take a close-up photo, which I could then zoom in on the camera's screen to investigate.

This, too, was hard, as the lighting was poor, and it was hard to get the camera to autofocus at the right distance. I held up a bright bike light to the board, and took the photo top-down to make focusing easier. Unfortunately, a top-down angle also makes it hard to inspect the solders.

Nevertheless, I could tell that the all three solders in the leftmost cluster were broken.

So I knew I had to solder them back together. I plugged in my soldering iron and put some electrical tape over the neighbouring parts so that I didn't accidentally melt them off, as I was working with very small bits at a very tight angle. The furthest contact was easier, because there was about 0.3mm of space next to it, whereas the other two contacts were less than 0.2mm apart. That big black tarp on the right in the photo is the electrical tape.

I appeared to be successful with the first one, but the other two were too close together, and I would have difficulty trying to get a glob of solder on them without accidentally soldering the two of them together, which would be very tough to fix.

I tried anyway--without the glob of solder on the end of the iron--and took a photo to see if this made any progress.

Success! There was enough original solder on the contacts that I just had to melt it and it reestablished contact on its own (much more elegantly than my fix on the far one).

Of course, success wouldn't be conclusive until I get the machine back together.

Midway through reassembly, I find a screw that belonged somewhere inside. I taped it under the keyboard for future consideration (I am NOT going to take it back apart now!), and screwed the keyboard back into place. It's late, goddamnit.

When I turned on my laptop, I got onboard sound, for the first time in months!


Let's hope it stays that way.

- RG>