Saturday, January 30, 2010

Honey, get my picket sign

You might already have heard about it from this Ottawa Sun article by Jon Willing or this Sun column by Earl McRae, but I learned about it from browsing through upcoming City Hall agendas.

On the agenda for next Wednesday's Transportation Committee meeting, Councillor Georges Bédard will be presenting a motion that would make it illegal, while on a City street, to:
engage in loud, boisterous, threatening, abusive, insulting or indecent language, or engage in any disorderly conduct or behaviour
or to:
engage in any activity so as to interfere with or become a nuisance to the general public using the highway or to adjacent property owners.
Pretty broad-reaching stuff, and at Transportation committee no less.

According to the Sun article, Bédard got the idea from the Police, who wanted a way to deal with rowdy folks spilling out of bars and clubs after closing time in the Byward Market. That is, a way that didn't involve all the mess and paperwork of criminal charges.

The thing is, that's not the only thing this law does. It allows police and by-law officers to charge you for a wide range of vague activities, phrased in a list that allows officers to pick and choose what they want to enforce: "insulting language," "indecent language" are both on the menu, as are "any disorderly conduct" and "any disorderly behaviour" (presumably so officers can avoid boredom while writing tickets by alternating between the two terms).

In the Sun column by Earl McRae, barfly Art Cormier points out the absurdity of these powers:
"who the hell is going to decide what’s loud and boisterous or insulting? Will some cop show up with a meter in his hand —oh, oh, you’re over the line. Loud, boisterous, and insulting. Like, gimme a break."
And if that broad mandate doesn't scream "police state" to you, Byward Market BIA Executive Director Jasna Jennings cements it with that famous line:
"If you behave, you have nothing to worry about."
Sorry Jasna. If I get hit by a car, I'm not the one who should be getting a ticket because I called the driver a motherfucker—especially not on top of the one I'd get for being a pedestrian.

And despite Bédard's stated intentions, this law could also be used against his other nuisance, panhandlers and homeless people. And never mind that silly bylaw requiring protests to be across the street—this law will get protesters off the street altogether!

We already have a noise by-law that works pretty well against late-night boisterousness, plus the existing criminal charges that the police don't seem intent on enforcing.

I won't go into the constitutionality of such a law, because it's such a patently obvious violation of free speech that even Bob Monette should be able to realize it. If this motion passes Transportation Committee (and I highly doubt it will), the City's top lawyer will probably talk Council out of approving it like he did with the attempted ban on Atheist bus ads.

I've already sent an e-mail to Committee members expressing my disapproval of such a regulation, and I managed to restrain myself from using words that would earn me a visit from the green hornets.

As a member of the Committee, Georges Bédard has the right to present this motion. But in this case, it would be wiser for him to exercise his right to withdraw it.

- RG>

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and Conservative rhetoric

Browsing the headlines and came up with a second post in a row about federal crime policy.

So you know all those times that the Conservative Party of Canada (currently serving as the governing party) claim that they want to pass tough-on-crime legislation, but they can't because they're only a minority government and the opposition is blocking it? Or because the Senate won't let it pass?

You know, even though the Liberals and even the NDP have pussied out lately and supported Harper's crime agenda whenever it came up?

Well, two reporters from the Canadian Press, with the help of some research by the Liberal Party, have discovered that the main obstacle to their stupid, stupid tough-on-crime legislative agenda is not the senate, but Stephen Harper himself:

Records compiled by the Liberals suggest the Senate has not actually posed a big obstacle to the Harper government. Indeed, Harper himself has done far more to delay his own crime legislation, by proroguing Parliament and other stalling tactics, than Liberal senators have ever done.

During the last session of Parliament, the government introduced 19 criminal justice bills, 11 of which were still wending their way through the House of Commons when Harper suspended Parliament on Dec. 30, essentially wiping the legislative slate clean.


Of the eight bills that actually made it as far as the Senate, four were passed by the then-Liberal dominated chamber.
Of course, the only new part of this is that the Liberals are finally clueing in.

Ottawa Citizen columnist and sensible journo-blogger Dan Gardner pointed out nearly a year ago that Harper's strategy is to perpetually milk the political tough-on-crime cow by claiming crime laws aren't powerful enough, then finding ways to blame everyone but the Conservative party for the lack of changes on this front.

The only worry is if the Liberals try to out-Conservative the Conservatives. Their strategy should be to denounce neo-conservative tough-on-crime legislation; not to say that they can do it better!

Don't forget about this opportunity to tell the Liberal Party what you think about crime laws!

- RG>

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tell Liberals what you think about crime and safety

This invitation came through my inbox. While I can't attend myself, I hope those who are rightly-minded can express the view that the best way to tackle crime is to tackle the social issues at its source.

I was going to make a comment about "when the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to look at every problem as a nail," but apparently I already nailed the Conservative Party on that note. The Liberals need to stop kowtowing the Conservative Party line and start making some real sense. You know, like when Chrétien let loose and started toward decriminalizing marijuana. Those kinds of crime policies would at least help the Liberals look "green".

Dear Community Member:
On behalf of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Caucus, I am pleased to invite you to a non-partisan roundtable and public forum on crime and community safety, taking place on Parliament Hill on February 4th from 9am-12pm.
Though Parliament has been prorogued, we are continuing to work on the issues that matter most to Canadians. This event will explore effective public policy solutions to the issues of crime and community safety.
For it to be effective, we need your participation. Your experience and knowledge is a valuable asset to our discussion and understanding of the issue, so I do hope you can find time in your busy schedule to participate.
Please feel free to distribute the invitation below to anyone in your network that you feel would be interested in participating. I look forward to our discussion next week.
Mark Holland, M.P.
Liberal Party Critic for Public Safety and National Security
On behalf of our Leader, Michael Ignatieff, and the National Liberal Caucus,
You are invited to a special roundtable and forum on Community Safety
When: Thursday, February 4nd, 2010 beginning at
9:00am – 12:00pm
The Roundtable will feature a panel discussion with community advocates, criminologists, and members of law enforcement about the creation of a national action plan to reduce crime, prevent victimization and enhance community safety in Canada.
Where: Room 253-D, Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
With the Presence of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff
Panel Participants and Complete Agenda to be distributed prior to February 4th
RSVP and for more information, please call 613-995-8042 or email
Mark Holland, M.P.
Liberal Critic for Public Safety and National Security
- RG>

Friday, January 15, 2010

From the weather variations that brought you Winterlude...

The National Capital Commission recently announced that they will not have the Snowbowl outdoor concert stage this year as part of Winterlude. They said that the big expense applied to that venue can be used for many other attractions during the winter-themed festival, which starts in three weeks. One of the reasons cited by the NCC is the impact on global warming caused by the CO2 emissions from the heaters on the stage.

In a heaping pile of irony, the Rideau Canal, the world's largest skating rink, opened yesterday, and is looking to be rather slushy over the next few days as temperatures hover around zero. This will prevent them from flooding the ice to get a good smooth skating surface. Trends suggest that Ottawa's climate is getting warmer, with winter temperatures being more conducive to freezing rain than to frozen canals.

Bummer. One of the things I like about winter (aside from motorists' misery in snowstorms) is skating on the Rideau canal. It's free, it's car-free, it's fun.

But only when the ice is good.

[I re-used this logo in a 2011 post]

- RG>

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm with Elizabeth Taylor and the tattooed guy in the wifebeater

So in the Land of the Free--Mesquite, Texas--a four-year-old boy is not being allowed into pre-kindergarten classes at Floyd Elementary School (not this one set in the past in its own way) because his hair violates the school board's dress code. The boy's dad is pissed.

So what's wrong with his hair? Is it purple? Does he have a swastika shaved into his head?


It's longer than his ears.

Look at him: is this not an adorable child?

And I know what you're thinking. No, this isn't a story from the Onion, it's a real live true story. The Elementary School Dress Code of the Mesquite Independent School District's (a public school district) states that boys may not have hair longer than their ears, and is dead set on enforcing those rules.

If this were Canada, resolving this would be a quick trip (or even just a letter) to a Human Rights Tribunal for discrimination by sex/gender. Hopefully some national media exposure will pull this school into a century where people have rights and freedoms (the 18th century seems to be the most applicable, if we're considering boys with long hair and Bills of Rights).

For all the problems public schools have in the US, it's bizarre that they even have resources to deal with issues this petty.

But then schools don't encourage creativity anyway, so maybe they are doing their job.

- RG>

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New kid on the blog

The other day I met up with a friend (who is a fan of the blog) to show her the ropes on blogging.

Give a big Ottawa Blogger welcome to Sweet Willow Organic Community Garden at!

- RG>

Clown therapy

I'd like to talk about the Parable of the High Note, from the book of Seinfeld, chapter 9, verse 16. In that episode, Jerry counsels George to apply the Vegas showmanship trick of "walking off on a high note" after making a well-received joke in a meeting.

I have known and used this principle for a long time. Through high school, I was the one in music class (when it wasn't the teacher) to make every and any possible (often terrible) pun. The theory was, and still is, even if you have a whole string of bad and unfunny (yet theoretically clever) jokes, eventually you'll hit a really good one--a high note. As with games of chance, you hang around with the odds around 50/50, and when you get a statistically inevitable blip in your favour, quit the game and collect your winnings.

For a class clown, the 'winnings' are laughs at a particularly good joke (or groans at a very bad one).

Tonight I realized that this principle applies to practical things, beyond gambling and tomfoolery.

A friend of mine was having some emotional issues, and like me, she considers emotions to be those things that get in the way of logic. She had discussed her problem with various friends, and even some therapists, to no avail, but tonight she told me about it.

Now, I enjoy helping people and making them genuinely feel better (instead of just placating them, as some people do, until the person seeking advice just damn pretends to feel better in order to stop being placated). I also think I have a bit of a knack for it, and, to be honest, I never feel better than when I help a good friend turn from miserable to cheerful. (I also thoroughly appreciate my friends who can do the same for me.)

When someone comes to you to feel better, they're not really looking for you to say things (even if they're asking you 'for advice'), they need you to shut up and listen to them. Often the person feels better by mere virtue of having put it into words.

Of course I said things I thought would make my friend feel better, but most of the time it was stuff she'd heard already from other friends, or therapists or considered herself, or otherwise didn't help. She and I were both patient, we continued to talk, and eventually, I managed to say the right thing, in the right way, to make her feel better. And then we changed subjects.

So the important aspect in both the class-clowning and the advice-giving, is persistence and patience on both parts. Eventually, the Right Thing will be said. When it is, leave it on that high note.

- RG>

Monday, January 04, 2010

Interesting video on motivation and "flow"

XUP (and others, I'm sure) was wondering in a comment to a previous post how I could possibly forget to eat meals.

This TEDtalk presentation by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi* explains it well, and presents other paradigms to help me understand other things about myself. Specifically, he describes the state of ecstasy (being outside your normal functioning) around 9 minutes in, and talks about "flow"** (a.k.a. '[being in] the zone') further on, which is an extension of this. Around 15 minutes, he shows a really neat graph*** to describe one's state given variable skill and challenge when faced with a given task (or lack thereof).

It's a bit longwinded, but it gives lots of food for thought:

Unfortunately for me, I tend to experience "flow" right around the last hour or two of my work day. Sometimes I'll work late to take advantage of it, or I'll stay at the office after work to tackle some non-work project (thank goodness for internet access at work! That doesn't block Google and other stuff****!)

Similarly, when I plan to spend a weekend doing an hours-long project, I usually have the most energy to begin it around 11pm on the Sunday.

* I copy-pasted it; I haven't tried pronouncing it yet.
** No, I'm not talking about the monthly kind.
*** Fans of graphs should enjoy the webcomic Indexed
**** No, by "other stuff" I don't mean porn, thank you.

- RG>